Immediately upon their return from looting the zargonite fortress, Morgan calls a meeting of the entire party. “Once again we find ourselves with all we came here for,” she begins. “Not only do we have enough preserved food to last us two weeks through the desert, we have more treasure than we can likely carry. We have overthrown the zargonites and driven off the humanoids – the three factions are united, in control, and rebuilding their city. We have no more reason to stay…so who wants to?”
Remmy and Wolfbane immediately announce that they are done with this place, and more than ready to leave…but to group’s surprise, everyone else votes to stay. Apparently there are still unanswered questions about the pyramids, upper and lower, the humanoids, the volcanos, even the Cyndicians. Ironically, now that the threats and impediments to their departure have been removed, nearly all of them suggest new reasons to stay. Thrud is the most emphatic, “Now we kill Zargon, ya?”
“Kill Zargon?” asks Remmy, dumbfounded.
“Anyone can kill monster, can kill warrior, ya?” explains Thrud. “How many time we have chance to kill GOD!”
While Remmy and Wolfbane commiserate with one another, neither is willing to leave the pyramid by themselves – or in the company of solely the other. They agree to hang on a bit longer. Discussion then turns to what they should do next, but this quickly becomes speculative and eventually even fanciful. Party members drift in and out of the argument until eventually it is simply set aside without resolution.
With no enemies in sight and Thrud apparently cured, with access to as much food and drink and even light as they ask for, with reasonably comfortable beds in the hide tents of the Enclave courtyard, the party actually relaxes. For the first time since they entered the pyramid some two weeks ago, they don’t feel an immediate sense of threat. Morgan, their “battle leader”, sets the tone by being seemingly unconcerned about anyone’s whereabouts as she comes and goes freely about the city. The others soon follow suit, although the first day is mostly spent sleeping, eating, resting and tending wounds (physical and emotional).
Eventually, after many long sunless hours, a man from the Magi finds the party. Ember notes that his entrance does not attract attention and she doubts the Great Mother was even notified, although he is escorted into the Enclave and accompanied by a maiden.
The man tells Bhelgarn that his boots are, as he suspected, boots of speed. Their command word is “Tessillya,” and when this is spoken they will speed the wearer to double normal movements for the next minute and a half or so. He cautions Bhelgarn that using them thus will be costly to his metabolism, and age him prematurely. After the mage leaves, Bhelgarn congratulates himself that he possesses dwarven constitution and a lifespan several times that of humans.
A magi of Usamigares
The Magi promised the party that they would be identifying one item “every long sleep”, so the return of the boots seems to mark the start of a new day for them here in this timeless place. They all prepare for the “day” ahead, and several of them already have plans. They are interrupted, however, by the obvious preparations of the maidens around them.
When the party asks what is happening, the maidens respond that they are preparing for the funeral of the maiden squad leader killed in the great battle. This was not held immediately, as there were too many things to attend to, with the crowds of cityfolk needing food and healing. But now, with the situation in the Undercity seemingly secure, the entire Enclave is assembling for the ritual. Eventually the High Priestess emerges from the tower and takes her place at the temporary altar that was consecrated for Thrud. The party wonders whether this service would traditionally be held in the Tower, but notes that the chief mourner is an adolescent boy who they take for the woman’s son and doubt that he would be allowed inside.
After everyone has assembled, the body is brought out of the Tower. It has been cleaned and washed, and dressed in a simple green shift. There is no sign of the combat wounds which slew her. The alabaster skin contrasts sharply with the moss color of the short dress. Her bronze mask has been freshly polished and gleams in the light of the thick candles on the altar. There is no smell of decay and no incense – there must be some magic about.
The service is short. Neither Bhelgarn nor Morgan translates for the party so as not to interrupt. The High Priestess leads the service, but the Great Mother speaks as well, and there are some group prayers recited from the crowd; men, women, and children alike. When it is over, a maiden priestess removes the mask and carries it back into the Tower. Once the mask is inside the altar candles are extinguished but an oil lamp is lit. Pallbearers lift the body and proceed to the open Enclave gate, with many in the congregation accompanying, as well as Morgan, Ember, and Iris.
The procession walks slowly and reverently up Alexander Way, through the rows of tall marble columns. At first they pass under the light that still shines above the fallen zargonite temple, but soon proceed into darker territory when they cross Zenobia Way. For the three women of the party it is a surreal trip – the main street, so recently the sight of a great battle of hundreds, then the center of a combination of relief effort and victory celebration, is now nearly deserted.
Once they move along the dwellings of the cityfolk, however, people come out in throngs. They seem amazed and disbelieving, and justifiably so. It is the first funeral procession any of them have seen – under the zargonites, the Maidens were forced to carry their bodies in secret, without public ceremony, and certainly not on the main thoroughfare. The only thing they have seen like it has been the public processions heralding the march of unfortunates to be consumed by Zargon, and this is somehow the opposite of that. The maiden could not have been known by many, if any, of them, but they clutch hands and sob as if she was family to them all.
The funeral procession passes the entire length of Alexander Way, from the gates of the Enclave to the far end near the Brotherhood Stronghold
At the end of the great street, past the Brotherhood Stronghold, the procession turns. Here the going is slower, as the cavern floor is rough, cracked, and pitted. To their left are still crowds of cityfolk, but to their right are empty cavern walls. The light of the single lantern is barely enough to show the massive extent of the walls and not enough to reach the ceiling of the cavern, so the women feel like they are beneath a night sky.
When they have finally left the buildings of the city behind them, their way is blocked by a deep channel which goes to either side as far as they can see. The procession wends down narrow steps cut in the stone, wades across a knee-deep sluggish flow of ice-cold water, and climbs up steps on the other side.
Now the procession passes through the mushroom fields outside the city
Here they pass through a rugged mushroom forest. Great toadstools tower over their heads as they tread a confusing path. In glades and clearings they catch glimpses of bodies – dozens of bodies, mostly human, but grey-green goblins and hairy bugbears as well. Here there is a strong smell of death, of rot and decay, but also of earth. They walk not on the stone cavern floor, but on a soft, yielding layer that could be soil were it not so spongy.
The other side of the forest is bordered by another water channel. Crossing that, they come to, if not a mushroom forest, at least a mushroom field. Low bushes of fungus are everywhere, and the lantern light hints at thicker and taller copses. Animal noises are omipresent – the grunt of pigs and squeaks of rodents, but above all the powerful chirping of crickets, adding further to the illusion that they are outdoors at night.
They cross a third channel and come up in yet another mushroom field. Here there is a mix of “normal”, fist-sized mushrooms, as well as taller bushes and trees of fungus. Different colors abound and the air is thick with spores. Ember looks around her, fascinated. So many colors, so many forms! Surely some of them must have medicinal value! She dares not interrupt the ceremony to ask, though. The procession finally ends at a secluded grotto, a semi-circle of thick mushroom trunks partially enclosing a glade.
The high priestess kneels, and with a long bronze knife carves open a deep furrow in the ground. Then, with her own hands, she pulls back and tears at the spongy loam, lifting bricks of “earth” from the ground until a human-sized grave has been excavated. All the while she is chanting. When she finally stands, the pallbearers lay the body of the maiden in the shallow grave, and reverently place the clumps of soil in place on top.
The High Priestess resumes her chant, and this time all those present excepting Morgan, Ember, and Iris take it up. As they watch, amazed, the roots and hyphae in the soil grow, twist, and rejoin, until there is no trace that the ground had ever been opened, just a slightly raised portion in a field of uneven hummocks. Then tiny fingerlike mushrooms rise from the soil, growing just a few inches. They are of the palest green color. The High Priestess selects them carefully, one at a time, breaking them off and passing them to each person present for them to consume.
After the strange mushroom communion, the celebrants disperse in twos and threes, talking quietly. The High Priestess remains, one hand on the shoulder of the dead maiden’s son – it may be there is more to the ceremony, but it is private. The maiden who bore the oil lamp is about to blow it out, but then sees Ember and decides to pass it to her. She says something softly which Morgan translates as “Please return this to the Enclave.” Ember nods and thanks her.
The three women return through the mushroom field slowly, Ember stooping and using the lamp to examine the many different kinds of mushrooms. Already she has lost count of how many kinds she has seen. Fortunately they are not so far behind the last of the mourners to return that they can’t find the way down and through the water channel. When they come up into the field on the other side, Iris tells them that she would like to investigate the animal sounds.
She leads them to what before had looked like dense stands of mushroom forest, but as they approach they see they are actually cut mushrooms, bound together to make a tall fence or stockade. The walls slant inward, though this appears to be by design. The structure in places is crumbling, and there are mushroom “trunks” missing. Two maidens, themselves recently arrived from the funeral service, are there, appraising a pile of dried mushroom stalks and debating which will fit best in the gaps. Long lengths of cord are nearby, for them to tie the stalks into position once they are chosen.
Iris steps up to one of the gaps in the fence and looks through. “Crickets!” she exclaims, astounded by the size of the giant cave crickets within. Each is fully the size of a large dog.
Through Morgan, Iris asks the maidens what the crickets are used for. The maidens explain that they are primarily raised for meat. They normally feed on the fungus of the fields, but can be fed pretty much anything organic that needs to be recycled. (At this point Iris notices that inside the pen with them is a half-eaten bugbear body). Their frass is a good fertilizer for more mushrooms. As they grow, they shed their exoskeletons and these can be used to make many things – the material is hard, thin, light, and durable. The women reflect back on the strange beige substance they have seen the Cyndicians use in place of wood to make plates, combs, flatware, tool handles, jewelry, and such. Previously they had assumed it was some kind of horn, but now they think it might be cricket exoskeleton. The crickets have wings and thus can leave the pens at any time – but they have learned that they are protected and fed there, and it is a safe place to molt.
Morgan is translating but not terribly interested; Iris is fascinated. As Morgan turns to return to the Enclave, Iris begs her to ask the maidens one more question – can Iris get their permission to train the crickets? They shrug, respond that the crickets are not very smart, but they see no harm in Iris trying. Iris tells the others to go ahead, and that she will return to the Enclave later. She spends the next several hours working with the crickets, trying to determine their personalities. She scours the fields for fungi to bring to them, and takes note of the ones they really like. She watches how they react to the presence of the maidens, and to each other. By the time she is tired enough to rest, she has a plan worked out to begin their training in the “morning”.
Meanwhile, Ember and Morgan have returned to the Enclave. Ember asks Morgan to ask the maidens whether there is someone who can teach her about the medicinal properties of the mushrooms. This request works its way around the maidens and eventually comes back – one of the priestesses is a skilled mycologist and healer, but she has much work to do visiting the cityfolk, seeing their living conditions, and tending to illnesses and injuries. She understands that Ember is a healer as well. If Ember will accompany her on home visits and assist in her case load, she will have time to show Ember some things about the mushrooms. Ember agrees enthusiastically.
While the women were away in the funeral procession, FluffyKitten was busy as well. First she asked Bhelgarn how to say “princess” in Cyndician, and learned that the word is Amira. Since then, she has been insisting that the Cyndicians, and everyone in the party when Cyndicians are around, call her “Amira FluffyKitten.” Bhelgarn, himself an actual noble, regrets having told her this and refuses to use the honorific or do more translating for her, but the others in the party mostly comply. All of the maiden children quickly take up the title and now differ to her in the games they play, though Bhelgarn notes that they also call her “Amma Amira,” “the blind princess,” because she cannot see in the dark.
Through hand gestures, since she now lacked Bhelgarn’s help, FluffyKitten has asked to be shown how to make clothes from mushrooms, and has received assurances that someone will do this for her.
Otherwise, life at the Enclave has returned to normal. The funeral ceremony seems to have been a necessary catharsis after the trauma of the battle, and the adults and children both are going about their many duties with renewed vigor.
A maiden of the Enclave preparing for her bath
The day starts with another visitor from the magi, this one announcing that the suit of plate mail coveted by Thrud is magically light and protective, but has no other power [plate mail +1.] The northerner tries it on excitedly, with Ember and Morgan helping him adjust the straps and buckles.
Soon after, a Madaruan priestess arrives and asks for Ember. Together, the two set out to visit as many Cyndician homes as they can during the day. Ostensibly, they are there to survey the health and resources of the families – who has good living conditions, who does not. Who has access to food, water, sanitation, who does not. Along the way, they treat wounds and diseases. There are cooking burns, cuts and bruises from domestic chores, and in more than one case, lash wounds from the whips of the former zargonite overseers. There are withdrawal symptoms from the mushroom addiction – these are the easiest to minister to, for one drought of the divine healing water the party recovered cures them. By far the most common complaint, however, are lung problems. In the Cyndicians, living in the dark, damp, cold, moldy undercity, Ember sees many, many cases of pneumonia, bronchitis, and most troubling, fungal infections of the lungs. Fortunately, she has had plenty of experience treating such complaints in her Mother Temple during the cold, wet Nordic winters. Without her herbs, there is little she can do to treat here, but she can help diagnose. She impresses the maiden priestess in that she knows how to listen to the lungs with the bronze listening bell.
The Madaruan priestess has numerous pouches, purses, and bags with dried or powdered fungi, and as she treats patients Ember watches attentively. Some are made into poultices, some teas. The worst cases are given magical healing, but this is carefully rationed, and the maiden is especially grateful for Ember’s help here.
As they visit apartments and tents, Ember notes that the Cyndician common folk are much more varied in the use of masks than the religious factions. The only time she has seen a maiden without her mask has been during sleep or, the day before, death. Even while eating, they just tilt them back to expose their mouths. But the common folk hang their masks by the doors of the their living areas and only put them on when they go “outside”. Ember comes to see the mask as sort of a social persona, not needed within the family. Some of the Cyndicians put their masks on for the important vistors, others do not. Children, of course, do not wear masks, and Ember sees many of these.
While Ember is doing home visits, “Princess” FluffyKitten returns to the mushroom forests with a group of maidens, though she knows this only by sounds, since she can’t see anything. Together, the maidens search for the tallest mushrooms they can find, but those that are broken, bent, or rotted. Fluffy learns later that the most perfect of stalks are destined to be trunks and planks in the animal corrals, while the tall but imperfect ones are for making cloth. As each one is found, it is harvested, until they have as many as they can carry. They return to the Enclave, and store the long trunks in shelves and trays on top of the communal hearths and stoves of the compound, there to dry for “many, many, long sleeps”.
As the fresh-cut stalks are stored, the maidens inspect the stalks already there, argue about them, and finally choose two as being sufficiently dry and ready. These are taken to a corner of the compound and oil lamps lit, much to FluffyKitten’s relief. The two stalks are then threshed, by beating them with a stone tied to long leather straps. After a bit of instruction, Fluffy takes a turn threshing, and the women of the work crew admire how strong she is, how much endurance she has, for a child. The pounding by rocks does not last long, for it is only to break the stalks up into manageable pieces. In particular, the pieces are kept as long as possible but broken thin. This is the most intense work of the day, and the threshers sweat freely, even in the clammy undercity. When one maiden briefly removes her mask to wipe her brow, FluffyKitten catches a glimpse of her face and thinks she recognizes her from Pandora’s patrol group in the pyramid.
Then, the stalk pieces are sculled with bronze knives, dragging the knife along the stalk at just the right angle to peel off thin fibers, which are collected in baskets. This is the longest and most arduous task of the day. It takes hours, and the women take turns, sing songs, eat, and sharpen the knives continually during the practice. At the end of the “day” FluffyKitten is exhausted and her hands are covered in blisters, but she has won the goodwill of the women with her perseverance and skill in knife-handling, and they have several bags full of fibers collectively. With gestures, they ask the halfling to return after her sleep to see what happens next.
Iris gets up “early”, and borrows a number of bags, pouches, and leather straps from the party and the maidens. She journeys out to the fungus fields alone, but is relieved to see many common Cyndicians working there, often under the direction of maidens. Once near the cricket pen, she collects as many edible mushrooms as she can fill her bags with. The she enters the pen and attempts to “harness-break” the crickets. Working with those who seem most interested, not forcing the situation, she works out a system of rewarding with food the crickets that allow her to drape straps over them, fasten bags to them, and so forth. By the end of the “day” she even has one that is consenting to being led on an improvised lead rope and halter [successful animal training check].
Morgan and Wolfbane begin the day talking about the chest full of silver coins in the zargonite treasury. When the others are off or otherwise occupied, they sally forth. It takes Morgan several more tries with the grapnel than it did Remmy, but eventually she lands it securely in the window ledge and is able to climb up, then pull Wolfbane up after her, the mage carrying several empty sacks. In the room outside the treasure chamber, Morgan locates and opens the secret door. The chest with the silver is still there, but so is the poisoned rug. The women retreat as far as they are able, cover their mouths with cloths, and then Morgan again uses the grapnel, this time to hook the chest. After several misses and slips, she is able to drag it five feet across the carpet and out into the room. There is still the cloud of green gas when it moves across the carpet, but they seem to be out of range and the effects produce nothing more than a mild cough.
After waiting the better part of an hour for the gas to disperse, the women approach and open the chest and unload all of the silver into their bags, then lower them one at a time out the window.
At the Magi Complex, Alyria grants them access to the common room, and gladly accepts their heavy, clinking bags. When she returns, she gives them a printed list of all of the spells known by the Magi of first and second level. They can’t read the list, but Morgan has the communication disk still and jots her own translations as Alyria reads. The list includes one spell, “Strength,” that neither of them has heard of – not surprising for Morgan but more unexpected of Wolfbane. Alyria explains that the spell can be cast on a single person, and will raise their strength proportionate to how strong they already are. It lasts for “quite a long time, but not a long sleep”. She also says that with the number of coins given over, the Magi are prepared to offer plaques for eight first level spells or four second level spells or any combination thus.
Wolfbane and Morgan spend some time in discussion. In the end, Morgan asks for Hold Portal, Read Languages, and Knock, while Wolfbane desires Charm Person, Ventriloquism, and Levitate. Alyria notes their choices and says that the Magi will begin preparing the silver spell tablets for them.
Odleif has petitioned a glue the Cyndicians use to affix leather, and spends the day re-feathering as many of the arrows captured from the zargonite fortress as he can salvage.
Remmy relaxes most of the day, but he also packs and repacks a few times, trying out the most efficient arrangements for his gear, and trading with the Cyndicians for things like sacks and waterskins. Despite his declaration that he will stay, he appears to be very prepared to leave.
The day starts with another visitor from the Magi, this one announcing that one of the shields recovered, though small, has potent protective magic [shield +2]. The shield is actually small enough for FluffyKitten to use, an oddity that the party decides should be taken advantage of, and they grant it to her. The magi also brings a silver plaque with the embossed magic runes for a Charm Person spell.
Soon after, Ember is sought out by the Madaruan priestess she worked with the day before. Through gestures, she explains that today they will be gathering mushrooms. Ember asks Bhelgarn to accompany them, as she has far to many questions than can be conveyed by hand signals, and the dwarf agrees – he had been interested to visit these “fungi forests” the women had spoken of. The trio set out, using the same route as the day before, but are overtaken by Iris, herself on the way to the cricket pen.
For the rest of the “day,” the priestess shows Ember many different types of mushrooms and how to recognize them, describes their preparation and their healing properties, and has her gather many of them. They have brought only waterskins with them – the priestess also shows them which fungi are for eating, and they snack as they work. A number of them are familiar to Bhelgarn, and he can attest to Ember which ones are common in underground caverns and which can even be found in moist areas of the surface lands, though his knowledge is limited to range, not use.
Iris continues her work with the crickets, getting them to carry bags and more than one to be led.
Wolfbane and Morgan spend the day studying the new spells, practicing committing them to memory. Unfortunately the concept of quality ink is foreign to the Magi, so they work from the silver plaques, and do not copy anything into their books. Morgan succeeds in learning all three spells she requested.
Princess FluffyKitten joins a maiden work group. They spend the day spinning the fibers threshed and sculled the day before into thread. Spinning is of course familiar to FluffyKitten, though she does not have much experience with it. She does note that they use a small bronze spinning wheel rather than a large wood one, but otherwise the process is very similar – carding and teasing the fibers, twisting and spinning them, gently looping the thread produced. She tries a bit, but is not very good at this, and it is delicate work. The maidens are as relieved as she is when she decides to stop and watch. Eventually she amuses herself by practicing words and phrases in Cyndician, repeating work songs the maidens sing.
The day starts with another visitor from the Magi, this one bearing a silver plaque with the Knock spell, and a human-sized shield she attests to be of protective magic [shield +1]. As it is sized for anyone but Fluffykitten, Morgan claims it for herself. She decides to spend the day sparring, leaves the Enclave to go to the Brotherhood Stronghold, and is granted admission when she makes her intentions known.
Many of the brothers are away patrolling and watching borders, but the leaders among those remaining willingly set up practice sessions between her and the younger brothers. Morgan has a number of objectives – getting more practical experience in her relatively new bronze plate armor, adjusting to her new magic shield, which is larger but lighter than her old one, keeping in general fighting trim, and even scouting the brothers themselves. At the same time as she trains, she can tell the brother officers are watching as well – evaluating both her fighting style and the skills of their own warriors.
Morgan has trained with a sword for years, but in this last month she has had more real, practical experience than in the entire rest of her life. She feels close to making a “breakthrough” in ability – there are things she is starting to understand. As she spars with the brothers, she realizes that their fighting style is different from that common in Darokin.
The Darokite fighting style she has trained in, with some elven flourishes, is balanced between offense and defense. Most of the defense involves engaging the opponent’s blade with your own, for which a longsword (with its reach and balance) is well-suited. A sword can be used to parry a blow or even disarm an unwary opponent.
The Cyndician style, on the other hand, is entirely based on attack. Strokes are short, direct, and rapid, involving stabbing thrusts and do not interact with the opponents’ weapons. The strategy is to quickly strike killing or disabling blows before the opponent can respond. As she reflects on this, Morgan realizes that probably most of the fighting they do is in the dark, or near-dark. Even infravision would allow them to see their opponents, but not necessarily their blades, so that the parry, block, deflect, and disarm strokes of the surface fighting style would be impossible. Furthermore, even though the brothers have more iron weapons than the other two factions, including many captured from zargonites in the recent battle, Morgan notices that all of their training is with bronze swords, the iron weapons being too valuable for such routine work. Since the bronze does not hold an edge nearly as well as iron, and since it is more liable to break, the parries and deflections Morgan is used to would take their toll on the brother’s blades much more rapidly.
Through the course of the day, Morgan uses the experience of defending against a different kind of attack to improve her skill in the fighting style she knows. [When Morgan next levels, she will spend a new WP in becoming skilled with longsword].
At the end of the day, sore and exhausted, Morgan has decided on one particular brother for further weaponless sparring work.
A member of the Brotherhood of Gorm (ask Morgan)
Ember spends the day in the Tower of Madarua, with the priestess she collected fungi with the day before. Bhelgarn is still not allowed in the Tower, but the High Priestess has been kind enough to grant them the use of communication spells. The priestess explains more about the uses of the fungi as she prepares them to use on the cityfolk. Some are ground into powders, some are steeped in infusions, some are sliced thin and layered in cloth for ready-made poultices. A few are combined with other ingredients. It is fascinating work, but also sweaty, working in a chamber with several different fires going under cauldrons. The chopping and grinding require both light and attention to detail, and the priestess works most of the time without her mask, making Ember feel that the work is strangely intimate. Ember takes notes, draws pictures, and works to retain as much of the knowledge as she can. [The next time Ember gains a NWP, she may use it to add Mycology to her Herbalism proficiency, and be able to produce all of the same effects with access to appropriate fungi].
A priestess of Madarua, mask removed for working in the mycology lab
Princess Fluffykitten spends the day watching maidens spin mushroom fiber into thread, much as the day before. This appears to be the most time-consuming part of the process of making robes.
Iris continues her work with the crickets. Today she allows Pooches to accompany her. His presence agitates the crickets, as she had expected, so she just spends the day reinforcing what they have already learned, and getting them used to distractions.
The day starts with another visitor from the Magi, this one bearing a silver plaque with the Hold Person spell, and the boots that Odleif recovered from the first warrior slain in the zargonite temple, during the prisoner raid before the battle. He explains that they are boots of striding and springing and will allow Odleif to both move more quickly and freely, regardless of the load carried, and jump and leap great distances. There is no command word involved – he just needs to think clearly his intentions. Morgan considers these a great find, in terms of being able to carry water and treasure out of the pyramid. Odleif is more interested in their tactical application, and spends the day practicing shooting headless arrows at Thrud. Thrud charges while Odleif shoots and leaps out of the way at the last second. The landings are tricky and Odleif falls and bruises himself more than once but is still quite pleased with his acquisition.
Ember and the Madaruan priestess return to the cityfolk, this time with more healing supplies, having collected and prepared the specific mushrooms needed to treat the ailments they recorded on their first pass.
Iris continues training crickets, and is getting some to follow her without the use of lead ropes.
Morgan has another day of sparring practice at the Brotherhood.
Princess FluffyKitten reports for work duty with the maidens, with whom she is now very familiar. Today they demonstrate how to weave the thread on small hand-looms. FluffyKitten is familiar with this in theory, though she has not had much practice. By day’s end she has enough cloth for two sets of child-sized robes.
The visitor from the Magi today brings a silver plaque with the Levitate spell, but no identified items. With all of the permanent magic items distributed, the party holds a meeting. It is noted that everyone but Wolfbane now has a magic item (weapon, armor, or boots), and that three of them have two such items. The Madaruans gifted the party Thrud’s cure, and the Magi are gifting their identifications. The Brotherhood pledged them a gift in gratitude for their help in the liberation of the city, but did not specify what they would offer. The party decides that they will ask for a magic item for Wolfbane – a ring or wand if they have one, but a magic weapon, most likely a dagger, if they don’t. Morgan travels to the Stronghold with the petition, and the news that she will not be sparring soon, but possibly later.
When Morgan returns to the Enclave, she finds Ember and Remmy readying for a trip to the docks. At the edge of the underground lake, at the end of Zenobia Way, are the ancient docks where fishing ships are moored. The docks and the ships themselves are neglected and in a poor state, but magi are there leading the cityfolk in repairs. The three members of the party have asked for a tour of the lake. The crafts superficially resemble canoes in shape, but as they settle in they find them very strange. With no wood, it looks as if sheets of leather have been sewn together, then boiled over a frame of cross-pieces made from exoskeleton. Morgan and Remmy have seldom been aboard a boat and have lower expectations, but Ember is slightly squeamish at the unstable-appearing construction. She prays for each of them as they enter, each to a craft with a guide, as the vessels do not appear capable of supporting more than two people.
They cast off, their guides propelling them with short framed leather paddles strapped to their forearms, that are worn more than wielded. They travel first along the coast in a counter-spiral around the lake, passing first the buildings of the city and eventually the fungus fields. On the sunless sea, it is easy to remember the crossing of the water with the skeletal boatman, but the happy noises floating over the water from the city keep them from dwelling on such somber thoughts. Their guides explain to Morgan as they pass the channels between the fields that these ducts bring in fresh, cold water to feed the lake, but that the fishing is poor on this side.
The underground lake
After passing the last fungus field, the shoreline suddenly rises in a steep cliff. The skin-vessels are taken out deeper into the lake now. The guides explain that the cliff-faces are honeycombed with the cave entrances of the hobgoblins. The fishing is best closest to the cliffs, but the fishers fear approaching within range of a thrown rock. When the zargonites held sway, the fishers believed that they were under some sort of protection, but now they fear what will happen – the humanoids could even swim out to attack the ships!
As they move deeper into the center of the lake, they can see that the tops of the cliffs are still lit with the red glow of the volcano, “Zargon’s Eye.” Now, a week after the eruption, it is much dimmer, but still easily visible in this world of darkness. Less obvious is the silent mound of rock emerging from the center of the lake. Morgan sees it first, even before their guides. The island is small, but high, with cliff faces nearly as tall and steep as those of the volcanic plateau. Their guides call it the “Isle of Death” and explain that in ancient times when fire and food were both abundant, the Cyndicians had their bodies burned and the ashes transported to this island. Of course, since their spirits could not be absorbed into the mushrooms fields, they were restless, and haunt the place. The most powerful of zargonite priests were said to visit the island when they wished the aid of undead more powerful than zombies. It is a cursed and dreadful place than no sane person would go.
Leaving the island behind, the ships travel to a dark cliff-promontory three quarters of the way around the lake from the docks. The guides say there are many stone buildings above, once part of the city but now abandoned due to the humanoids. They have heard that the Brotherhood is exploring and fortifying them to serve as a bastion against the hobgoblins, ogres, and bugbears of the plateau. Perhaps some day they will be occupied by human families again! At the base of the cliffs their guides take out small nets, made of thin leather straps rather than cord, and weighted with stones. They ask their guests to be silent, then carefully drape them over the edges of the ships. The skin-ships drift aimlessly for some time, and every so often a guide hauls in a net. There are many tiny white creatures like crayfish, but these are all tossed back. First one, then another, and finally the third of them has a large, blind, cavefish. With these flopping in the bottoms of the craft the guides resume their tour.
As they continue their counter-spiral along the shore, the cliffs lower and they come to a sandy beach with a small stream. Onshore, Morgan can see the outlines of giant fungus-stalks, but other things as well – statues perhaps or other structures. Their guides say that it is Morpheus Park, once a recreational area before the humanoids and the drug-enslavement. The factions have talked about rehabilitating it, but that seems a long way off when faced with the immediate concerns of food, health, and security. It is not long after that when they arrive again at the docks. They are cheered to see the maskless children waiting at waters’ edge, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the fish and their parents.
Iris continues her work with the crickets, trying to get them to respond to simple directional commands. By this point they seem willing enough, but not particularly capable of fine distinctions like left and right.
With actual cloth to work with, FluffyKitten is now in her element. She asks for bronze shears and needles, grommets and thread. In short order, without help from the maidens, she has cut out a simple robe for herself in the style of the ones worn by the Magi, and one for her favorite playmate among the children of the maidens, done in their style. For her playmate’s robe she uses the grommets and course leather lacing to close the two halves of the robe together – the child’s mother will be able to let the lacing out as the child grows. For her own robe, she asks for the finest thread they have and sews a hidden seam all the way around, taking the better part of the day. It does not take her ten stitches to realize she is not working with mushroom-fibre thread – it is light and clear but strong, like silk. Eventually it is explained to her that the thread is harvested from the molt-cocoons of the giant crickets. Silk, indeed! While the children still call her the “Blind Princess,” among the adult maidens more than one now refer to her as the “Princess of Seams”.
A representative of the Magi does appear this morning, bearing a silver plaque with the spell Read Languages as well as two potions and explaining that one is of climbing, the other of levitation. Wolfbane chooses the latter. Morgan had already made arrangements for sparring, but tells the other party members to wrap up their business in the undercity, for after their next sleep they will be returning to the upper pyramid.
With her two newly-tailored robes, FluffyKitten now visits the Magi, asking for the secret of the rainbow colors. Several of them take her to the mushroom fields, gathering ten different kinds, each to be used as either a colorant or color-fastener. Back at the complex, she is shown how to boil the mushrooms down, and what minerals to add to release the colors. The preparation of the dyes takes the first half of the day, and the actual dyeing the second half. For her playmate’s robe, a simple deep green will do and the robe is soaked in a pot of dye with little effort. For the rainbow patterns, much more work is involved – coating most of the robe in cricket-wax for a temporary waterproofing, starting with the darkest color and soaking until it sets, then chipping away at the wax to expose an area of the cloth for the next-lighter color. This done in succession over hours, and then the final treatments of fasteners. FluffyKitten is sure that she will not remember all of the mushrooms, minerals, and steps involved, but at the end of the day when she sees that she will have her own rainbow robe she is more than content.
Iris spends another day working with the crickets. She does not think directional commands are going to work, but some of them have gotten quite good at carrying loads and following her. She debates whether to bring some with her into the pyramid on a trial run.
At the conclusion of their weeks’ vacation, diligent practice means that Bhelgharn now speaks passable Cyndician, Ember can communicate in rudimentary Halfling, and Wolfbane is now speaking Common.
As the party beds down for the “night”, Morgan decides to impose a watch schedule, something she has not done in days. She wants to impress upon them that their “civilian” life is again coming to an end and it is time to start preparing for the dangers above.