Secrets of Mystara

Post 16 (Looking for a lost kitten)
Looking for a lost kitten

Morgan and Bhelgarn, with their infravision, are able to see where they are running, and surge ahead of their companions. They sprint down the hall, turn right at the first intersection, and push their way in to the room with the burnt door and empty sarcophagus. Hearts pounding, they race around the room looking for another exit, too panicked to realize where they are or remember that there are no other doors. Finally they cower behind the stone slab on which the sarcophagus lays, closing their eyes, holding their breath, clenching one another and praying the ghosts do not find them.

Wolfbane, Odleif, and Remmy, stumbling in the dark, flee the scene of the apparitions. All of them are lightly encumbered, but none can see. Separately they stagger forward, crashing into walls and each other. Without knowing it, they turn right at an intersection, and right again, until they separately push their way into the room that had housed the white apes. Someone collides with an upright sarcophagus, and it topples to the floor with a resounding crash. All three scream, and their screams echo in the room. Exhausted, they collapse into whimpering heaps in the darkness.

Ember, Thrud, Iris, and Pooches pelt down the hallway. The flame in Ember’s lantern gutters and flashes as she runs, casting long shadows that heighten their terror. They continue straight at the intersection and pile into the ramp room, blood pounding in their ears. Iris, barely lucid, crashes her fist into the tiny door on the mosaic to lower the ramp, but the others are scrambling up it before it has even touched the ground. Through the ruined temple they run, heedless of helping one another, tripping over one another. Out into the hall, and suddenly Thrud veers off into the darkness, his footfalls lost to them. Ember, Iris and Pooches plunge ahead until faced with a door. Iris is about to push it open when Pooches snaps at her hand. She turns on him, terrified herself but finally able to see his fear despite her own. In the pause, Ember looks about, realizing for the first time that they are on the third level, and that the door before them is the door to the fungus room. The two women slump to the floor, spent, while Pooches whines and circles nervously.

Several minutes later, Ember and Iris hear a man’s voice shouting “Hjelpe!” Although exhausted both from panic and from running in armor, they rouse themselves. Ember tends to the lantern, while Iris looks around the corner into the darkness with her infravision. The figure of a solitary man approaches cautiously, axe at the ready.

“Thrud!” both woman call.

“Iris?” he responds, and then the three of them are together, with Pooches at their heels. Although he wants to press on, the women tell him they need to rest more. After ten minutes or so, they decide to set out for their base on the second level, hoping the others will have the same idea. The rotating corridor opens to them, fortunately, which puts them out on the side of the stairs up. They would rather enter through the gorm temple, but none of them carry the two known keys.

They cautiously ascend the stairs to the second level, pass through the room under the statues, and go around to the hall outside their base. Thrud lays his shoulder against the door they know is blocked inside by the anvil and pushes with all his might. Muscles straining, the door moves slowly inward, with the sound of the iron anvil scraping across the stone floor echoing down the hall behind them.

They pass quickly inside and let the door close behind them. As Ember raises the lantern to inspect the room, Thrud hefts the anvil. Biceps bulging, he staggers across the floor mumbling, “Løft med bena, ikke med ryggen…” as he goes, and then carefully lowers it into place. He turns to the others, “We make sign for door, ya? Sign says knock, knock?”

Iris stifles a giggle while Ember says seriously, “No, Thrud, we will be in the bee room and are unlikely to hear anyone knocking.”

A brief inspection reveals that everything is as they left it several hours ago, so they pass into the bee room and find it lit! Sunlight, glorious sunlight, unseen by any of them for at least a week, is coming in the bee slit and filling the drab stone room with a wonderful golden glow. Ember immediately turns down the wick and blows out the lantern – this is her last flask of oil and it is less than half full. They make themselves comfortable on the mattresses on the floor, share food and drink, and wait.

Wolfbane, Odleif, and Remmy sit in the dark, each straining to hear the breathing of the others and hoping that their own labored breathing cannot be heard. Finally, Odleif ventures a cautious “Who’s there?”

Remmy has flint and steel; Odleif and Wolfbane have torches. Pooling their resources, they light the torches and look about, finally realizing that they are in the room with the white apes, slain nearly a week ago. The only sign of them is bits of fur and deep stains on the floor. The wooden sarcophagus has been knocked to the floor – Morgan’s old sword is here but the body she left it with is gone, save for scraps of bandages. None of them are keen on waiting around to find out what has eaten everything. Lighting a second torch, they proceed outward into the hallway. Odleif goes first, bow drawn, and the other two follow.

They proceed through the hallways, past the skeleton room, and out into the main hall.

Morgan and Bhelgarn slowly come to their senses crouched behind the sarcophagus slab, locked in a fearful embrace. Bhelgarn seems to come to full consciousness with a start, disentangling himself and leaping to his feet. “We speak of this to NO ONE,” he says with menace.

“Speak of what?” says Morgan coldly, rising to her own feet and turning away. Relying only on their infravision, they leave the room and proceed down the hall to the intersection. There, they pause and listen carefully, each waiting for the other to suggest returning to where the ghosts were seen, but neither wanting to make the suggestion. After a few minutes they can see torchlight approaching from the north corridor and hear footsteps. They retreat around the corner and peek.

Three figures, bearing torches and spoiling their infravision, come into view. One has a bow and could be Odleif, but it is hard to tell. Morgan and Bhelgarn toss coins toward the figures, hoping to attract their attention without being seen, but the figures seem not to notice. After a few minutes, they proceed east toward the ramp room. Bhelgarn hisses Odlief’s name and then the figures stop. They move toward one another and become a group of five.

Morgan, Bhelgarn, Wolfbane, Remmy, and Odleif proceed together to the ramp room, ascend, and wait twenty minutes on the upper level to see whether any of the other five appear. Finally they continue on. In the rotating corridor, they select the button leading to the gorm temple, and Bhelgarn uses his key to enter. They proceed up the trapdoor into their base, finding it undisturbed. Thrud, Ember, Iris, and Pooches are in the bee room, meaning they are missing only FluffyKitten and Hazrad. Everyone’s sense of time got a little hazy during the flight from the ghosts, but they estimate it has been about two hours since their flight, perhaps seven or eight since they originally set out.

Their rest is broken only by eating, and once when Remmy leaves to check on the things he has hidden in the secret room. They have all been at base perhaps an hour and a half when the trapdoor opens again, and Hazrad enters. They rush to greet him, but immediately ask about FluffyKitten. He shakes his head ruefully. “She was with me a while, after you all ran. She went ahead of me into the darkness – I heard her scream, and nothing more. I looked for her a while, but then thought it safer to return here.”

Ember announces that they will finish a rest period for her, then immediately return to the Tombs to search for FluffyKitten. However, she has not been three hours resting when, even from the bee room, they hear a frantic pounding on the anvil door. As they rush to the room next door, Thrud says contentedly, “I tell you, ya? Knock, knock!”

With weapons drawn, they surround the door but go no farther. The desperate pounding continues, accompanied by shouts. Hazrad exclaims that they are cries for help in Cyndician (as the pyramid dwellers call their language).

At that, Bhelgarn moves the anvil and the door swings open. Five humans push in as fast as they can, then help Bhelgarn to close the door. They wear tan-colored robes and masks with long camel faces; there are three men and two women. They babble excitedly before Hazrad can get them to speak slowly enough for him to understand. Finally, he says incredulously, “They say the hallway is full of snakes, more snakes than they could count.”

Members of the party start shouting questions at Hazrad – “Where are they from?” (Morgan), “What do they want?” (Odleif), “Will they serve as our beasts of burden?” (Remmy).

With much back and forth, Hazrad leans that they left the Undercity on a journey, but that they were plagued by snakes the entire way. They would like to rest here, safe from the snakes before the next stage of their journey. When pressed about where they are going, and what is the next stage of their journey, they will say only that it is the journey itself, not the destination, that matters. Few in the party feel comfortable with five strangers staying at the base, even friendly-but-delusionally-philosophical strangers. Bhelgarn opens the door to the hall, prompting the camel-people to cower. He swings his sword about (seeing nothing) and comes back in, then asks one to have a look. The man says he appreciates that Bhelgarn killed a few, but that the floor is still covered by snakes. Shrugging quizzically, Bhelgarn and Morgan both go into the hall, walking up and down, swinging their swords for several minutes, and even adding in sound effects that they imagine slain snakes would make.

The camel people look in to the hall, then cautiously move out. “Oh my,” translates Hazrad, “The carnage! The absolute carnage…” They continue talking among themselves until they are out of earshot.

With the camel people gone, Ember completes her rest and prays for spells, while Morgan takes stock of their supplies. They have plenty of food and water left from what they captured in the gorm ambush. The problem is light. Bhelgarn has a full flask of oil and Ember a nearly-empty one; less than eight hours’ worth. They fill their empty flasks with the machine oil they had stored at the base, but Bhelgarn cautions them against using it in the lanterns – it is thick and tarry, and could easily gunk them up. Instead, they plan on using the torches they made from the bunk beds. At one point they carried six each (except for Remmy); Hazrad used his to burn the corpse of Jon. Odleif’s group used three in their return from the Tombs. That leaves forty. Burning two at time; not quite a days’ worth. Although she does not express her concern to the party, Morgan is wrestling with the problem of what they will use for light in two days’ time.

With Ember ready, and torches apportioned, the party proceeds back down to the tomb level. Upon entering the ramp room, Hazrad goes immediately to the door, opens a bag, and lets a cat out into the hallway. At the same time, Pooches starts acting strangely, cocking his ears at a vase in the corner and whining. Then he yelps, and it is all Iris can do to keep him from slinking off, whimpering. Ember, Thrud, and Odleif make for the corner, and gasp when they find FluffyKitten’s body, her side damp with blood.

Ember drags her out to the center of the room and finds her breathing. At the same time, her torch dims unnaturally, then Morgan charges at Hazrad and strikes him with her sword. The room erupts in chaos. Several people try to come between Morgan and Hazrad, while she drops her sword and attempts to wrestle him to the ground. He slips out the door and begins sprinting down the hall. Iris lets go of Pooches (who slinks away into a corner), and then tries to take Ember’s torch.

Morgan pushes Remmy out of the way and bolts out into the hall, casting her sleep as she goes, and manages to target Hazrad just before he rounds the corner. By the time she retrieves his sleeping body and carries it back to the ramp room, Ember has cast two heartmendings on FluffyKitten. She oversees Hazrad’s hands being bound, then demands to know what is going on from both of them.

Morgan begins. “He looked like he was casting – the torches dimmed. I hit him with the FLAT of my sword to keep him from casting. What the hells was he doing with Fluffy’s cat?”

Hazrad’s tone is level, unemotional. “As I said before, I heard FluffyKitten scream just before she disappeared to me. I found her cat, but didn’t want to look for her until I was with the party. Now that we are together, on this level, I let her cat go thinking we could use it to find her. I didn’t know she was already here.” He darts a resentful glance to his former employer. "What mistress calls “casting” was me praying that the cat would help us find the halfling."

Ember considers the words of both of them. “Fine. Take his weapons, and keep his hands bound, but leave his feet free. Hazrad, I will want to cast a spell on you, but when we get back to base.”

After returning to their stronghold on the second level, Ember casts Glöð’s Wise Discernment. To her surprise, the spearhead of Hazrad’s staff glows bright blue, but she picks up nothing from the nomad himself. She speaks slowly and carefully; “Mother Glöð is revealing to me that you mean me no harm – but your spearhead has been evilly enchanted – can you tell me why?”

Hazrad shakes his head. “No, I do not know.”

“I think we must remove it from you, at least until we learn more.” Bhelgarn, nearby, takes the spearhead from the shaft, wraps it in a cloth, and puts it deep into his backpack.

Ember then turns to the unconscious form of FluffyKitten, laying on hands and praying through another four heartmendings. When FluffyKitten comes to, her eyes open wide. She sits up, and seeing everyone’s attention on her, points at Hazrad. “Hazzard stabby-stab a me! Stabby-stab a me!”

“Can you tell us more of what happened?” asks Ember.

“Oooooooh! Ooooooh! Then, pretty candle. Looky-look with Hazzard. Looky-look for don’t tell doors! Don’t tell! Then, come home. Come home, come home, but Hazzard stabby-stab a me!”

Her words seem incriminating, but also unclear. Ember says she needs to rest more, and wonders aloud what people want to do next. To her relief, no one is in favor of returning to the tomb level, magic weapons or not.

“The Maidens spoke of a room where the walls talk, on the way to the Undercity. I think we need to see that before we leave,” offers Morgan. There is general agreement to visit this room first, then proceed directly to the Undercity.

“At last, al-Khalim be praised! We have known for a week that this Undercity is the source of these heathens’ food. Let us be done with grave-robbing, find the Undercity, and get enough supplies to leave this accursed pyramid,” says Hazrad.

Ember indicates with a gesture that Hazrad’s hands are to be unbound, and then goes off to rest. Hazrad rests and prays, but more than one person in the party is watching him surreptitiously. FluffyKitten keeps herself as far from him as possible without leaving the room. The light coming in the bee slit indicates that it is late afternoon passing in to evening, and the walls turn red before going to black. Ember puts her lantern on low for the last two hours of her rest, and by the time she is ready to depart has less than a quarter of a flask of oil left in it. Morgan feels better, for having recovered FluffyKitten they have another full oil flask and six more torches, but she still counts out torches before they head out. They have forty-two, having used two in the process of recovering the halfling.

Post 17 (Mother? I'm home!)
Mother? I'm home!


The party organizes, then marches to the Maidens. Hazrad asks for guides to the room with the “walls that talk”, and then the Undercity. Pandora asks for volunteers and four women step forward; Pandora chooses three of them.

Pandora turns to FluffyKitten, then feels her forehead. Seeing the blood-encrusted robe the halfling has, she examines her side and finds the stab wound. Her tone is of great concern, and Hazrad translates that she is suggesting the “girl” remain with them. Ember decides to heal her completely, both as a practical matter and to demonstrate the power of her own Goddess – she uses six orisons of heartmending. Seeing FluffyKitten completely healed, Pandora gives her assent for her departure, but Ember declares that the party will rest before setting out so that she can recover her spells.

The maidens share their food and drink with the party and Ember keeps her lantern on low but it lasts for only two hours before her remaining oil burns out; FluffyKitten’s lantern is then lit and one quarter of her flask used before the group sets out.

The party leaves the Maidens with three of them as guides. The lantern is extinguished and torches are lit for the lead and rear of the party. They proceed down the ramp room to the tomb level, along their known route to the ladder down to the fifth level, and through the kitchen complex. They pass through the room with the iron statues, which are easy to outrun, and through the room with the stone statues, which are harder. Wolfbane trips and falls during the crossing; Iris scoops her up before the statues can get her. Thrud leaves a lit “candle” behind, and the group waits outside the door, but hears no explosion.

At the hallway intersection, the Maidens lead the party in traversing the “corners” without stepping into the intersection itself. Iris and Pooches go last – Pooches misses his jump, and when he lands on the floor of the intersection, his weight causes the floor to tilt along an axis. Iris dives, grabbing his forelegs, and the two people behind her grab for her legs. Everyone strains, and Pooches is pulled to safety, but not before Iris catches a glimpse of what lies beneath the trapped floor – a ten foot drop on to metal spikes! The party resumes their marching order and proceeds to the “Great Temple”.

[two hours, down four torches, thirty-eight left]

They pass the broken statues and descend the stairs of the dais. The maidens take deep drinks from their waterskins and then refill them in the fountain, indicating by gesture that the party should do the same.

As they fill their skins, a pair of figures approaches from along the central aisle. They approach unthreateningly, a man and a woman. The woman wears a sword, but it is sheathed. They have brightly-colored clothing, red hair, and bronze fox masks.

The maidens draw their swords, but at a few words from the woman, sheathe them again. The maidens begin talking with the pair. Hazrad listens intently, but much of the conversation flows too fast for him to follow. He does notice that the man is staring intently at one of the maidens.

Bhelgarn feels the gaze of the woman on him, and feels increasingly uncomfortable. “Time ta go,” he says, and begins to pack up.

“What?” asks Morgan.

“I don’ like them, an’ we need ta go.” The dwarf offers no further argument, but sets off. Most of the party begins to follow. Two of the maidens take their leave of the pair, but one lingers. Her two companions speak to her sharply, but she waves them off. Hazrad tries to speak to her as well. She answers him, but does not take her eyes off the man.

Hazrad and the other two maidens begin conversing, as the torchbearers retreat and light fades on the fountain. The maidens grow increasingly agitated. Hazrad takes the arm of the maiden lightly, and tries to lead her away, but she resists. The other two maidens draw their swords and start forward aggressively – though it is unclear whether they mean to menace the fox-man or Hazrad for his temerity at touching one of their own. Morgan, Iris, and Odleif had hesitated, withdrawing but not leaving with the rest of the party. Now, Morgan and Iris return, while Odleif nocks an arrow and draws. Morgan takes the maiden’s hand, replacing Hazrad, but the fox-man takes the other. For a second it looks as though they are about to have a tug-of-war, but then the fox-woman draws her sword and advances on Morgan. At that, she drops the maiden’s hand and draws her own sword. Odleif risks one shot, which flies over Morgan’s shoulder but misses the fox-woman. Then, as the party retreats further, the scene at the fountain fades into darkness.

In the dark, Hazrad grips his spear but can do little else. The fox-man begins to lead the maiden away. The other two maidens flank the pair, but do not attack. Morgan, Iris, and the fox-woman begin to fight, and with a few mighty slashes Morgan cuts the woman down, then turns and charges at the retreating fox-man and maiden. He is now moving quickly, having ascended the stairs and is making for the door. He still has the maiden’s hand in his own, but she is going with him quite willingly. They have just reached the door when Morgan catches up to them. Unarmed, and facing Morgan’s sword, the man pauses, shrinks, and turns into a fox! The maiden is left standing confused as the fox darts away to disappear among the rubble.


At the sound of combat, some in the party have returned. Light falls across Morgan just in time for those watching to see her wind up and slap the maiden hard across her face. There is a sharp intake of breath from all the maidens, but then the formerly enamored one begins thanking Morgan, rapidly defusing the situation. Morgan leaves her to talk with her sisters about what happened, while she goes to examine the body of the fox woman. There is little on it besides her mask and sword, but under her robes Morgan does find a necklace, which she turns over to Ember, though FluffyKitten clambers for it. Morgan is more interested in the sword, as is Bhelgarn. Examining it by torchlight, they find it is a fine, sharp, and well-balanced blade, with no signs of wear. Glyphs are etched along the base of the blade on both sides. Wolfbane identifies these as magic runes, and claims that she would be able to read them, had she prepared her read magic spell. Morgan agrees that Bhelgarn can carry it for the time being.

When everyone is back in order, the party proceeds through the open north corridor. After about eighty feet, it opens into the second largest chamber they have seen in the pyramid, after the great temple. The maidens assure the party that this is the room where the walls talk. The high, arched ceiling of this room is supported by a double row o f pillars. Each pillar is carved into a statue of what, from their crowns, the party takes to be a king or queen of Cynidicea . A series of mosaic pictures decorate the walls of the room. These start in the southwest corner near where the party entered and continue clockwise around the room. The maidens seem amazed by the mosaics, as if they had never seen them before. Gradually the party realizes that although they have been in and out of this room all their adult lives, they have never entered it with a light source until now.

In the center of the north wall is a pair of huge stone doors. At the base of the double doors, the floor is covered with sand. They are on the fifth level – the one that, from the outside, looked partially buried by sand. Furthermore, Bhelgarn noted the change from limestone blocks to bedrock as they descended to the next level. He is sure that they are now level with the ground, and that the doors are a second means of exiting the pyramid. However, the doors open out – after a few attempts, Bhegarn is equally convinced that they will only open if several tons of sand are excavated from the other side, first.


Remmy is left to watch the entrance, while the rest of the party examines the mosaics by torchlight. They are, in order…

(West wall)
1 . A tribe of squat, heavy-browed humanoids wielding crude stone weapons worship a lizard-headed god.

2. A large band of tall, black-haired people battle the humanoids and take over their hunting grounds.

3 . A village rises over the scene of the battle. The lands around the village are an open grasslands, not a sandy desert. There are fields of grain and vast herds of cattle sheep.

4. An army of snake-headed warriors marches on the village. A great leader arises from among the humans, uniting them in defense of their homes and fields and driving off the invaders.

5. The victorious leader is crowned king, thus founding a line of rulers. The likeness of the king is recognizable as being that of the man on the first of the pillars of the room.

6. A stone city is built on the site where the village stood. Bhelgarn spends a long time looking at this panel, and eventually pronounces his belief that the city represented is the city above, outside the pyramid. The pyramid itself is not shown, but he believes that many of the largest buildings, as well as the general layout, is the same.

7 . Scenes of the splendor of the kingdom at its height; abundant harvests, rich trade, wealthy nobles, lavish temples.

8 . The births of a king and a queen. Although depicted in their cradles, their “future selves” float nearby, presaging the rulers to come. Many in the party recognize their features as those of the ghosts they found in the tombs, which would make them King Alexander and Queen Zenobia. FluffyKitten points to the queen and says “boing, boing!” until the party realizes that she is referencing the queen in the mural in the burial room of the jester.

(north wall, west of doors)

9 . The great pyramid is built under the direction of King Alexander and Queen Zenobia. Worship of Gorm, Usamigares, and Madarua is now centered on the pyramid and the temples in the pyramid.

10. Workers digging under the pyramid uncover the foundations of a pre-historic temple. Priests exploring the ancient temple discover and begin to worship a great, tentacled being. This worship is not supported by the King and Queen but it is tolerated.

(north wall, east of doors)

11 . The death of King Alexander and Queen Zenobia and the burial of them and their court in the pyramid. Certain scenes are recognizable as being from the tomb level.

12. The worship of the old gods Gorm, Usamigaras, and Madarua is replaced by the worship of the tentacled god among most people. Even the new king and queen are shown taking part.

(east wall)

13. Life becomes a year-round carnival for the people of the city. Apparently the city now controls a vast hinterland, and the rural dwellers and trade routes are taxed so that the city folk can live in luxury. All city folk are now masked, and the pyramid becomes a permanent center of celebration.

14. A barbaric, golden-haired people contact the kingdom. Based on their appearance and weaponry, Ember believes that they are an attempt to represent the nordic peoples of her homeland.

15. The final picture is not a mosaic. It is a crudely painted sketch that shows the barbarians looting the city. Noblemen and priests are fleeing to take refuge in the pyramid.

There is room on the wall for more pictures, but the space is blank.

Odleif examines the tracks on the ground – they are a bewildering mix of human sandals and boots, snake tracks, lizard feet, and insect legs. The heaviest traffic runs along the central corridor, but few of them approach the sand of the blocked doors. Odleif pauses near the northwest-most pillar – there seems to be a heavy concentration of human feet in the area. As he carefully triangulates, approaching step by step, one of the maidens casually walks past him and pries open a stone plate from the floor, revealing stone steps leading down. She says something which Hazrad translates as, “This is the entrance to the Undercity.”

The party enters the stairwell, one at a time. Narrow at first, the stairs quickly become a broad spiral staircase, carved out of the bedrock that underlies the pyramid. The last one through is a maiden, and she carefully replaces the stone plug in the trapdoor above her. The maiden in the lead passes several turns more ahead, but then stops and sits on the stairs. Through Hazrad, she explains that it is a long journey to the Undercity, and it is traditional to rest here before continuing. The monsters and animals of the pyramid do not come this way, so they will be safe.

However, the party has not been resting long when they begin to feel a clammy coldness seeping into their bones. Several of them start to tremble from the chill. Hazrad asks the maidens about it, and is told that it is an effect of the stone that happens sometimes, not always. They say that it is best to keep moving to stay warm. The party starts up again, descending the spiral staircase for what Bhelgarn says is at least two hundred feet. Many are sweating, but despite the labor still feel cold.

Here there is a landing, leading to the side a bit, and then another staircase descent, though this one not as well-hewn. The party continues like this for quite some time, shorter descents and longer flat stretches. Natural caves and pockets appear in the limestone bedrock, and eventually natural tunnels and passageways. Eventually the cutwork all but disappears, except as necessary to link together these passageways. The result is that the pathway of descent is highly inefficient, traveling over a great distance and area to achieve a little net travel forward and down. It is rough going, for although the floor has been worn smooth by centuries of passage, many openings are narrow, stalactites hang from the ceiling, and the floor is often wet and slippery. There are several long stretches in between descents and ledges where there is a pronounced slope, and a fall would risk taking out everyone in front of the faller. Stairs are cut in the steepest parts, but many difficult passages remain. Eventually the cold sensation does subside, but it is at least three hours and innumerable twists and turns before the maidens again call for a halt.

[twenty-eight torches left]

The maidens tell the party, through Hazrad, that they are approaching the entrance to the Undercity. Sometimes it is guarded by Zargonites, sometimes not, but the party should be prepared for a fight. Furthermore, their torches will be a giveaway, alerting anyone in the city to their presence, so they ask that the party extinguish them now.

The party puts out their torches. Those without infravision grasp the cloaks, or place their hands on the shoulders of, Bhelgran, Iris, and Morgan. They creep ahead, traversing a few more twists and turns in complete darkness.

Senses heightened by the dark, everyone notices a distinct change. The air grows more humid, muggy even. There is a rich smell of loam, rotting vegetation, a slight tang of mushrooms in the air. As they round one last corner they hear or feel the tunnel open up into a vast vault in front of them – a huge open space where the sound of their shuffling feet is lost in the distance rather than echoed back to them along walls. Low but insistent are the innumerable sounds of a city – hundreds of people moving, working, speaking, singing. There are even animal sounds – distant lowing and squealing. Here and there the darkness is pierced by pinpricks of light, slits of red and yellow as of hearth fires. In the far distance is a different light – a dull red that is before and above them, as if of a vast fire on the side of a far-off mountain.

The maidens explain that the Enclave of Madarua lies before them, but that they must traverse a good part of the city to get there. The safest way is to go along the cavern wall, as far from eyes as possible. The party divides into three groups, each with a maiden as guide, a party member with infravision as leader, and two or three others holding a short length of rope pulled by the leader. They agree that they will give about five minutes time between groups, avoid any conflict, and re-unite at the Enclave.


As they work their way along the wall, the maiden in Hazrad’s group whispers what they are passing. First, the Stronghold of Gorm – a complex with a thick stone outer wall and two tall towers. Next a series of stone residential buildings, apartment complexes for the city dwellers. Third, a series of stone pillars with a thoroughfare between them. The cavern floor they tread on is rough, with stalactites to avoid. In between the pillars the rock has been hewn flat and worn smooth. Next, the Lyceum of Usamgares – a large complex with a low stone wall and corner towers no higher than the wall itself. Finally, the Enclave of Madarua.

The Enclave consists of a high stone wall with a single huge stone tower rising even higher above it. All three groups actually pass beyond the Enclave, then come back around the far side and meet up at the entrance gate, which is on the city-side of the complex.

The maidens with the party call up to guards along the wall and the gate is opened – an ancient, rusting, iron portcullis that is raised. The party proceeds into the courtyard surrounding the tower. The space is filled with hide tents and lean-to’s, and people. Several of the tents are illuminated from within – the wan, flickering light indicative of low fires, though it does not smell of wood smoke. Though a few armed and armored maidens are about, most of the people in the courtyard are men and children, with clothing only and tools, but no weapons.

The maidens speak with a woman who has the bearing of a watch officer, then explain to Hazrad that the men of the party must wait in the courtyard, but they may rest and will be brought food and water if they desire. Only women are permitted in the Tower, and generally only full members of the Warrior Maidens – an exception is being made for Wolfbane, FluffyKitten, and Ember, for some reason the maiden does not know. Hazrad starts to object that his mistress needs a translator, but the maiden tells him that that will not be necessary. The men watch as the women disappear into the Tower. Eventually they are shown to a cluster of tents that look like they have been hastily vacated by their former occupents. Floor mats and stuffed leather cushions are on the ground inside, but there is no other furniture. There is nothing to do now but wait, although Hazrad tries to make conversation with some of the nearby males.

The women of the party pass by guards at the iron door of the Tower and inside. The stone structure is thirty feet across, but the walls are easily five feet thick, so that the interior is a twenty foot-diameter circle. A single, narrow, stone staircase is set into the wall, and spirals up and around the circumference of the tower. Narrow windows are set at head height all along the spiral of the stairs but nowhere else in the Tower.

The ground floor is filled with leather bags and ceramic jars of supplies, and the maidens leading the party proceed immediately to the stairs. Ascending, they pass by three floors of dormitories. Morgan tries to count the crowded beds to estimate the number of maidens present, but they are moving fast and none of the rooms are lit. The fourth floor up is obviously a temple, and resembles the temple of Madarua the women know from the pyramid, but set in a circular room. There are two women there, obviously leaders, as well as a number of guards. The whole room is filled with a dim light of no apparent source.

One of the women, dressed in elaborately embroidered robes, says a prayer before the altar, and then turns to face the party. When she speaks, they find that she is speaking in their native language, each in their own. She welcomes the party to the Enclave of Madarua and introduces herself as the High Priestess, one of the leaders of the Warrior Maidens. She indicates the other woman, dressed in a full set of bronze plate armor and bearing a long spear, as the other leader, whom she refers to as the Great Mother.

The High Priestess thanks the party for their service so far, and says that she has learned from Pandora how the party eliminated the base of the Gormites, claimed it as their own, and defeated a priest of Zargon and his hobgoblin guards. She says that they are welcome to all the hospitality that the Maidens have to offer.

After they have been brought bronze and copper goblets with drink, the Great Mother motions the guards away – some depart to the stair above, some below. “There are things we need to speak of, which are not common knowledge among our people,” begins the High Priestess.

“I am told that you studied the walls that talk, so you know something of our history. And no doubt Pandora has spoken to you of our present. But I wish to speak of the future. I am told that you come here seeking supplies to leave into the light void, and healing for one of your own. You will receive these – now that you are here in the Undercity, you are welcome to as much food as you can carry out. And Madarua is a kind mother, and does not refuse healing to those who ask with a sincere heart.”

At this point, the Great Mother interjects. “But you must know something before you take our gifts and depart. Long have our people suffered under the rule of the Zargonites. Long have we opposed them. For more time than can be remembered. But three generations ago, in the time of the grandmothers, our wisest crone had a vision, a prophecy. She foretold that strangers would appear from the light void and that they would be able to unite the three factions. Together, we will be able to overcome the Zargonites and restore our city to peace. After this vision, we fought to retake our temple in the upper pyramid. For three generations now, we have sent maidens there, waiting for the arrival of the prophesied ones. Officers like Pandora know that they are to be watchful for the arrival of strangers, but only a few leaders of the maidens know of the prophecy.”

The High Priestess now continues. “We will not ask you whether you are the prophesied ones. Even if you were, that is no guarantee that you would know you were. But we will ask you this – are you willing to stay and aid us? No matter your decision, you are welcome to what we have to offer.”

“This is a decision of great import. You would do well to ask us questions, and speak among yourselves. Take the time to carefully consider your answer. We ask only that you not speak of the prophecy to any not of your group who do not already know of it.”

There is a stunned silence among the women of the party. The Madaruans are offering them everything they thought they wanted – but the situation has changed so much none of them are sure what to do.

“How big is the city? How do the Zargonites keep control? How many of them are there?” begins Morgan.

The Great Mother answers. “You will have to forgive us for not providing detail on some things. Tactical information is highly valuable, and highly guarded. I would be happy to share it with you, once we know that you intend to stay and help us. But not until then. For now, I can say that the Zargonites rule through fear and intimidation, through punishment, but also through reward. They organize the work crews that harvest the food-mushrooms, and distribute the vision-mushrooms. These are sacred, but the Zargonites misuse them to keep the people of the city deluded and disorganized.”

“I will not at this point tell you the number of Zargonites, or our numbers. But I can say this – although they are more than we are, they cannot stand against the three Factions united. This is the promise of the prophecy – together we can defeat them.”

Ember speaks. “But if that is such an easy conclusion, why have you not united before? Why do you need us?”

The High Priestess responds. “Ultimately, it is an issue of trust. Ever since Zargon appeared, the other two factions have been corrupt. Gorm is supposed to represent bravery and loyalty – but his followers have become blindly obedient to their leaders, who see every interaction as a contest of strength. Usamigares was supposed to represent individual will and creativity, but the Magi now are self-serving and manipulative. At least…” here she pauses, “…that is what we have been taught, and what we continue to teach. We do not deal directly with the other factions, we do not speak to them. But we sometimes do meet them in the city, do encounter them on raids. We sometimes even combine together to attack Zargonites – nothing planned, just by circumstance. I think we could work together, if we could trust one another. Sometimes, when there has been betrayal in a relationship, it takes an outsider to bring two people together again. Perhaps that is why the prophecy depends on strangers.”

Morgan asks, “If the Zargonites are stronger than you, why have they not destroyed you already? If you do not work together, what keeps them from wiping you out one Faction at a time?”

At this the Great Mother asks to see Iris’ bow. She holds it up, turns it around, examines it. “We know of such weapons – weapons that can throw things through the air – we have legends of them. But we have none of these of our own. This does not exist in the city, among any of the factions or the Zargonites. Their priests can cast spells, it is true, but most of their strength is in the swords, clubs, and whips of their hobgoblins. Our fortress is stone, and well-protected. They have tried to take it, many, many times. We throw rocks from the walls. They take great losses and leave. It has always been thus. When they find us in the city, or in the pyramid, it is different. There, we must be stealthy. There, we are vulnerable. But not here. It is the same with the other Factions. Though they outnumber us, they do not have the numbers to take our strongholds.”

The Madaruans wish the party well, and bid them discuss their feelings and return, rested and with an answer. In a louder voice, the Great Mother calls for guards, who escort the party back out of the Tower.

Confessions of a Half-Elf

As the companions sit in the semi-darkness outside the fortress of the Madarua huddled around the dim light of a lantern, a mantle of responsibility and indecision seems to settle over the group. For some this imagined weight may be welcome; others may be indifferent to it; but for Morgan, it is unwelcome and sobering.

Clearing her throat, she addresses the party. “Elendil, Friends, we are faced with a very important decision. One that we each must search our own hearts for the answer to. What we decide in the next few hours will be a decision that will affect not only our lives, but possibly the lives of the pale ones of this city.”

Looking out across the dim courtyard, Morgan continues, “I am heart sick of this place. I have not seen the sun or felt the wind on my face for too long. I feel trapped in a grave. — No, Bhelgarn, please do not tell me how far under the ground we actually are. — This place may be the death of us, and I for one want to die where the isilme, moonlight, may find my body.”

“I put little faith in prophecies. I am not a hero; I am not a chosen one; I am not a fulfiller of destinies. I am zenar – less than half. The priestess in the tower behind us sensed it in me – my halfness.” Morgan drops her head into her hands, “I am sorry my friends. It is the darkness of this place that has filled my mind with shadows and despair.”

Shaking her head as if to throw off her dark mood, Morgan continues, “ While I respect the gods, I have had little faith in them. But within the last week I have seen Ember do amazing things, all because of her faith and devotion to her goddess. She is a good person and obviously loved by Glöð. Thrud’s devotion to Ember is a rare and wondrous thing. Odleif has been a steady and stalwart companion. Bhelgarn, Remy, Iris, Fluffy and Wolfsbane have not faltered. None of us are cowards. But are we the chosen ones?”

“I am hesitant to take up the calling of another culture’s prophecy. Unlike Ember, I have no goddess watching my back. I ponder why these people cannot save themselves. I am motivated to look out for you, my companions, and myself. Who are the Gormites, Magi or even the Maidens to me!? …You may feel otherwise, and I respect that.”

“Haldamir put me in this ‘leadership’ role, but I am impulsive, impatient and make mistakes. I was the first to suggest and then execute the Gormites in the bee room. Maybe I am responsible in some part for the mess with the Magi, and joining the Maidens was only a means to an end – to get the hells out of this gods forsaken tomb. I, we, have made enemies of the ones we are to unite. How can we hope to be successful?!?”

Staring into the dim lantern light, Morgan seems lost in thought. Abruptly turning towards Hazard, she announces, “I may have wronged Hazard. My actions in the ramp room against him were impulsive, and my thoughts may have been clouded by the lingering dread of the ghosts. I thought I saw something, but this place plays tricks on the mind. Was the enemy Hazard? Was it a ghost? Was it something from the bottomless urns in that room? Was the room cursed or something in it? … Hazrad’s explanation of events could be true. FluffyKitten’s tale is a bit more difficult to understand, but it could be true as well. And it was pitch black in that room after the candle was dropped. Only the cat knows what really happened, and it is not talking…”

“It is true; I am not fond of Hazard, and we have had our differences from the beginning.” Morgan pauses and looks each companion in the eye, “But, Hazrad has saved each of our lives at least once: in the bee room, from apes, baboons, hobgoblins, rat-men, and ghouls. He has suffered grievous injuries while protecting each of us. Why would he risk himself then only to turn on a companion later? This makes it difficult for me — did he attack FluffyKitten or was it something else?…”

“And our future? If we separate, death most likely awaits us – either in the undercity or out in the hot sands of the desert. We still need each other; we still need to work together. Hazrad is the only one who can speak Cyndician, and he is the only one who knows the desert stars outside of the pyramid.”

Sighing Morgan says, “We know that battle awaits us in this dark place. And the soldier in me knows it is not right to send a man into battle unarmed. I would like to see Hazrad’s spearhead returned to him. Many of us are now armed with magical weapons that we took from the tombs — the taking of which Ember has cautioned against. Are those weapons evil? Are they cursed? Are they possessed? Are we?!? … Only the gods know.”

“Is there something about the spearhead that is different? Yes, but it belongs to Hazrad and he has used it to save our lives. If it is evil, he has carried it, understands it and controls it.” Turning to Bhelgarn, Morgan whispers, “And like the helm you tried in the bee room, does it not make you nervous – carrying a magical ‘evil’ object?!?”

Standing and dusting herself off, Morgan’s words drift over the party. “Whether we are to die in this place or out in the desert wasteland, we should be armed with the weapons that best suit each of us … ”

“There are decisions to make, so I will leave you, each with your own thoughts…I for one wish to see the sun again.”

“Abarad”, whispers Morgan as she walks into the darkness.

The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades


As Morgan walks off, Ember’s eyes close as she falls to her knees. Faint words begin to come from her lips, “Glöð…….Moter Hilda…..please hear me now. My friends are in need, I am in need. Please hear my words.”

With eyes closed Ember puts her finger to the floor and starts drawing symbols.




(Protection, Guidance, Courage)

There is a short pause before she mumbles, “Never have I encountered so much fear, pain and oppression. The darkness of this place surrounds me like a thick dense fog. It confuses my thoughts and chokes me like a candlewick under a douter. Please give me guidance, my thoughts are confused.”

“Morgan’s words burn my ears, I too am heartsick. I feel the darkness and despair of this place reaching for the light I hold within but I am confused, does this place mean to extinguish me? Have I been pulled here to replace something long lost?”

Her mind flickers, the verse for compassion and conflict surfaces through the fog, “Have compassion, always. Seek to help others, always.”

Embers pauses. She can hear the blood coursing through her veins. The rhythmic pattern of her heart calms her senses and she clearly chimes out, “I can not leave.”

Her words are sobering and she returns to the here and now. As she opens her eyes she can see 3 familiar faces looking down at her. Thrud, Bhelgarn and Odielf all look as if they’ve had the wind knocked out of them.

“I can not leave this place in such despair. No creature deserves to live in such fear.” she says.

Ember tries to stand but her legs pull her back to the ground. Thrud and Odielf grab her arms and pull her upright. Bhelgarn quickly offers her his water skin. Each face peering at her looks concerned, worn and tired. Ember sympathetically looks at her companions and announces, “Outlanders, NO, Hearthmates! in this dark and evil place, we need to be the light that shines in dark corners. You have much to think about.”

Ember gives Bhlegarn his water skin and walks off into the darkness.

Post 18 (Don't pay the ferryman)
Don't pay the ferryman!


After Morgan and Ember withdraw, the rest of the party falls to debating their next course of action. A few, like Ember, want to stay. Most, like Morgan, could go either way – not liking the situation in the city, but unwilling to strike out on their own and waiting to see where most come down. After much talk, no one has come foreword to say that they definitely want to leave, and in the end this decides it.

Once there is a tentative agreement that they are staying, Morgan and Ember return. There are a few hasty and hushed conversations as people speak privately in twos and threes. Ember offers Hazrad healing. He is still wounded from the fight with the ghouls, some 24 hours ago. He accepts, and Ember finds that afterward she has just enough heartmending left to attend to Thrud’s last wound from the rat-men as well.

The maidens have prepared hide tents for the party, or at least ushered men out of them – the ones indicated look like they have been hastily vacated. There are hides and stuffed pillows on the floor, a basin for water and a chamber pot, but little else. One has a large stone, hollowed out to make a fire-proof hearth in which a small flame burns fitfully. Odleif tries to ascertain the fuel, for it surely is not wood or coal, and finally decides it is a dried animal dung. “That’ll heat yer dinner, but wha’ do they use ta forge metal?” wonders Bhelgarn.

Bhelgarn, Hazrad, and Remmy bunk in one tent; Odleif, Wolfbane, Iris, and Pooches in another; Morgan, Thrud, Ember, and FluffyKitten in a third. Hazrad tosses and turns in his sleep, and occasionally moans – while he wakes his tent mates, they do not wake him.

Later, when the rested party re-assembles, Morgan announces loudly, “If Hazrad is staying with us, if we are to trust him as a fighting companion, he should have his weapon back.”

Bhelgarn nods, kneels, and opens his pack. He takes out, then unwraps, the spearhead and offers it to the nomad. “Noooo!!” shouts FluffyKitten, and shakes her hands and head. Bhelgarn pauses, looks between the halfling and half-elf, and then extends the weapon again.

“No!” insists FluffyKitten. She looks imploringly at each party member in turn, but none are willing to champion her side, and she is unwilling to physically come between the dwarf and the nomad.

“No.” she says petulantly, and stomps off.

Hazrad accepts the spearhead, but leaves the wrappings around it, and in fact wraps it up again himself. He faces Ember. “I do not know why your foreign god tells you this object is evil,” he says, “but out of respect to you, and the rest of our group, I will keep it packed away, and only bring it out in true need.”

Wolfbane prepares her Read Magic spell, and then has a look at the runes on Bhelgarn’s sword (recovered from the fox-people). She shows the dwarf how there are two symbols on one side of the blade, and the same two symbols, plus a third, on the other. She says (with Odleif translating into Common) that the third is more of a modifier than an actual symbol, and tells the dwarf that on the one side it is read “Lumos” and the the other “Ex-Lumos”.

The dwarf listens and nods, but is still nonplussed as to what to do. Ember offers, “If these magic runes work like nordic runes, the magic is stored when they are written, but they have to be read, that is, spoken, to activate them.”

“But she did read them,” says Bhelgarn, jerking his thumb at Wolfbane.

“Yes, but you are holding the sword,” says Ember.

Bhelgarn stares at her blankly.

“So perhaps you have to read them,” Ember suggests.

“Yes, well, that,” blusters the dwarf. “Lumos” he says, reluctantly.

The courtyard is flooded with light. Cyndiceans scream and run about; there is a flurry of activity along the wall. After a second the party-members adjust and can see that the light is coming from the sword – equal in intensity to full daylight for about thirty feet from the weapon, and then tapering off to torchlight beyond that. The Cyndiceans seem unable to adjust, and are shielding their eyes and wincing in pain.

Ex-lumos,” says Bhelgarn, and the light is gone. The Cyndicians, however, continue to be run about, as ants when an anthill has been disturbed.

“Sorry, sorry,” says Hazrad, speaking in his best ancient Alaysian. Eventually the courtyard is restored to order.

“Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about running out of oil and torches,” says Morgan.

“Yeah, if we don’t mind alerting the whole city to our presence,” comments Odleif.

The women of the party form up in front of the Tower and ask to enter. The are told to wait, but eventually are escorted inside and up to the temple where they spoke before. Both the High Priestess and the Great Mother are there, but no guards. This time, watching carefully, Ember notes how the High Priestess touches the altar, then begins a spell to allow her to communicate, then touches the Great Mother to pass the spell to her as well.

The party tells the women that they have decided to stay and help. The relief and gratitude on the faces of the two women are obvious.

“Very well,” begins the priestess. “It is a tradition among the warrior maidens that the members propose courses of action and the leaders decide; but the leaders cannot decide on something that the members have not proposed. In that spirit we would like to offer you three possibilities of how you might begin to help. These suggestions have been made by the handful of maidens who know the prophecy – myself, the Great Mother, and a few others. We do not agree on which would be the best course of action, so please do not ask us personally, as we will not say – but rather, decide among yourselves. Once you have chosen a path, we will provide more information.”

Now the warrior takes over. "The first possibility is an immediate, direct assault on the Zargonite temple-fortress. This is not as foolhardy as it sounds, for the Zargonites are typically lax and unorganized. We believe that their priests constantly struggle for power among themselves. Those with more power head tasks such as the harvest of crops or the “taxing” of citizens, things that they can profit from. The less powerful guard their fortress and run worship ceremonies, while the least among them get stuck impressing people into work crews for things like dredging the irrigation canals. By attacking them first, before they know that you are in the city, you should meet with the least resistance. The advantage of this approach would be that you would be able to use the surprise to inflict maximum damage on them in one raid, as well as scout their fortress for future assaults. The disadvantage is that once they are attacked directly, they will likely put their petty squabbles aside, and will never be as easy a target again. And, all of your subsequent missions in the city will become more difficult, as they will surely be looking for you from that point on, so that anything else you might want to do will be hindered."

Now it is the priestess’ turn to speak. “A second path is that of building an alliance with the other factions. Ultimately this must happen – if we understand the prophecy correctly, we will overcome the Zargonites when you have united the Three True Gods. However, this may be difficult until you have achieved some successes in other areas – they have, at the moment, little reason to trust you.”

“Finally, a third option is to find a cure for the mushroom addiction that plagues the city. We all use the mushrooms to receive visions – among the maidens, it is only during religious ceremonies, and never often. But the Zargonites encourage the cityfolk to use them often and to excess. Almost all the cityfolk are addicted, and the Zargonites use this to control them. Denied access to mushrooms, the people of the city suffer horribly and soon will do whatever they are told. However, our lore speaks of a cure – the Gods have placed a magical cure for the mushroom addiction in some caves near the city.”

The warrior speaks. “If you could recover this for us, we could administer the cure to the cityfolk and break the hold that the Zargonites have over them, allowing them to rise up and resist. The advantage of this path is that it may be possible for you to complete this task without anyone in the city knowing, without the Zargonites discovering you or even knowing that you are here yet. The disadvantage is that of all of the three, we can help you the least in this effort. We can show you how to get to the cave, but we can not accompany you and we do not know what is inside besides our lore telling us that the cure is to be found there.”

Having listened to the options, the women of the party request time to discuss among themselves, and the maidens agree. As they prepare to leave, the Great Mother calls to Morgan specifically. “As you know, the High Priestess leads us in religious matters, as I do in worldly affairs, including war. If I am not mistaken, the same relationship exists between you and your priestess.”

Morgan nods noncommittally.

“As a war leader, you need to understand something about our situation. Before, you commented that you could not save us when we were not even willing to save ourselves. It is a fair criticism, but the real situation is more complex. As a war leader, you understand acceptable loss and unacceptable loss. Any one of our maidens is willing to die to overcome the Zargonites, and I have no reluctance to commit them thusly. We can skirmish with the Zargonites and, win or lose, recover. But if we lose our leaders, the maidens are done. The line protecting our culture, unbroken for centuries, would be sundered, and we would never recover. This is why we do not assault the Zargonites directly. To do so, we would have to commit all of our leaders, and the cost of failure would be not honorable defeat, but the complete extermination of our people. It is true that we are asking you to fight on our behalf, and it is a painful truth to admit. But I promise you this – in the final battle with the Zargonites, I and all of the maidens under me will fight by your side.”

Morgan nods but does not respond.

Once outside the tower, the women discuss with the men what to do next. They have been enjoined from telling anyone about the prophecy, but they trust that none of the men, maidens, or children in the compound speak Common.

None of them are particularly eager to assault the Zargonites directly. Most favor a combination of either the cure or the union. They decide to play one into the other – perhaps finding the cure for the mushroom addiction will allow them the first step in unifying the factions. Ember and Morgan return to the temple and ask to be briefed on the mission for the cure.


The maiden leaders explain that the next building over from their Enclave is abandoned, but that it guards the entrance to a series of catacombs beneath the Undercity. They will send maidens to guide the party inside the building and operate the giant winch that raises a huge stone slab. Under the slab is the entrance to the catacombs, and somewhere within them is a portal to the underworld. The party must find the portal, pass through it, and receive the cure from the Gods.

As Ember and Morgan prepare to retire, the maidens send commands to assemble a guide party of three maidens. Ember says she wishes to rest and then select spells. The Great Mother says that is just as well, for they will need time to watch the building and make sure there are no Zargonite patrols about. Also, they will raise the Enclave gate just enough to allow the party to slip out, but this will make noise, so it is better to raise it and then wait a few hours before they leave.

Several hours later, the party is ready, with Ember having selected a full complement of heartmending as well as a hearthglow, and Wolfbane back at two sleeps. There had been talk of a scouting mission to the city, but this is soon abandoned when it is realized that only one of those wanting to go will be able to see. As they prepare to slip out of the gate, the maidens explain to Hazrad that it is important not to use light or make noise, because the Zargonite temple is nearby. Typically Zargonite patrols avoid their destination as an abandoned building, but sometimes Cyndiceans on bad trips take refuge in the upper stories.

There is a single door on the ground level, leading to a huge open room. In the center of the room a massive stone slab has four chains bolted to it, one in each corner. These feed through a huge pulley in the ceiling, and then to a larger chain that enters a winch. The winch has a crank and a ratchet, and looks like it will need at least three women on the crank to lift the slab. As Bhelgarn examines it, he notes that the winch mechanisms and chain are all of (rusty) iron, but that the crank handle is of bronze, a poor choice given the softness of the metal.

As the party stares at the slab, they realize that they will be unable to open it from inside, and the maidens caution against leaving it open, which would alert any patrols to their presence. Iris offers her cloak, tied to a rope. Positioned correctly, it should be able to be pulled through the gap between the slab and the floor, creating a signal. The maidens will check on the slab every few hours, and when they find the slip of cloak missing they will raise the slab.

With their plan agreed upon, the maidens set to work on the crank. The iron chains rattle and clank, and the echoes of the ratchet locking in place fill the stone building. When the slab is raised enough for Bhelgarn to stick his head in, the dwarf lies prone on the floor, then indicates for the maidens to keep turning. He slides under the slab and drops eight feet to a stone ledge, just slightly smaller than the slab itself. After a few moments, he calls for the party to join him.

Once everyone is on the ledge, Iris tosses her rope-bound cloak to the floor above, and pulls it in as the maidens lower the slab into place. The air below is cold and damp, but without the earthy smell of the undercity. “Haz light?” asks FluffyKitten, and Bhelgarn draws his sword and speaks the word of command.

The ledge floods with light, revealing that it is more like a platform high above a cavern floor below. The four sides are sheer drops, but one edge has a steep staircase carved into the rock. The party arranges themselves in single file and descends some fifty feet to the floor below.

They are in a large vault, intersected with numerous natural tunnels. One wall of the vault contains a large arch, which looks like it has been carved into the rock. Below the archway is a scene of a rocky beach on a nighttime shore. The beach is in a small rock alcove, but soon opens up to a vast, expansive sea and a black sky with no stars or moon. The scene has deep, realistic color, but is not painted – it looks more like the rock itself has been dyed somehow.


Above the arch are carved words in the ancient Alaysian script that Hazrad can recognize, but not read. Bhelgarn probes the portal with his pole, and finds it solid enough. When the pole brushes against the archway, however, the script glows faintly and a sound, as if of a long-dead voice, reads it.

“قبل هذه البوابة، المصير النهائي. ترك الجسد وراء، لأنك سوف تجد إلى الفراغ وحيدا، يمكن أن تمر الروح فقط.”

Hazrad listens carefully, then bids Bhelgarn probe the archway again, several more times. Finally he says, “There is a word for meat or flesh…something cannot pass beyond the gate, only spirit.”

Remmy inspects the arch, checking for traps. He finds three sections where between the carved arch stones it looks like small rectangular stone sections may be removed. These don’t seem to be connected to any wires or gears, so he doubts they are traps. Pulling one out, he finds the stone handle of a stone knife, the handle carved with the symbol of a snake. The other two are also knifes, but the symbols carved on them are of a lightning bolt and a sheaf of grain, respectively.

The party experiments with various ways to enter the portal, but without success. They try walking in, walking in holding a knife, cutting their palm and then walking in. Frustration mounts. Hazrad presses the arch, hears the words one more time, and unwraps his spear head. Before anyone realizes what he is about to do, he grabs the head with both hands and plunges it through his chain armor into his heart. A second later, his body crumples to the ground.

Ember is instantly by his side, getting ready to staunch the blood in the wound…but curiously, none is produced. The faintest show of red rings the spear head, but it seems the blood itself is not leaving his body. “Look!” exclaims Odleif. Inside the archway, in the strange mural, a form is visible, standing on the shore, dyed in a pearly color. Although the form is distorted by the angular rock surfaces on which it plays out, it is somewhat recognizable as being that of Hazrad.

“Is that what we have to do? Kill ourselves?” whispers Ember, aghast. She feels neither pulse nor breath in the body of Hazrad, but, laying her hand on the chest, feels a faint and very occasional heartbeat.

“He did say that flesh cannot pass through the gate, only spirit,” murmurs Morgan.

Remmy snorts derisively. “This is obviously a trap by the maidens. They fear attacking us, so they have led us here to try to get us to kill ourselves, one and all.” And yet, several minutes later, he is the first to take the stone knife and plunge it into his own breast. One by one four other party members do so, until only Ember, Morgan, Thrud, Bhelgarn, and Pooches are left. One by one, pearly forms appear on the rock wall, even seem to jump about, almost to move.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the shore of the sunless sea, six of the party members look out across the seemingly endless black waters, and up into the black sky. They are in a rocky alcove, with water before them and walls around. The beach itself is perhaps twenty feet wide, then the water laps at the base of the sheer rock walls. Remmy finds he can climb the walls, but finds no where to go. Wolfbane ties to fly, but cannot. FluffyKitten puts her feet in the water and finds it cold.

Behind them, the rock wall has a long section as if of the back side of the arch. Light comes from it, illuminating the beach, and they can see the forms of their companions, as if through a smoky window. No amount of calling to them seems to command their attention.

“Is the water the cure?” asks Remmy, and he fills an empty vial in the sea, marveling that his spirit form possesses all the same gear that his real body did.

“But do yer body have th’ water?” asks Odleif. After several minutes of gestures, Remmy manages to get Ember to pull a vial from his body. It is difficult to tell, but the vial looks empty.

Remmy pulls out another vial and stoops to fill it, but now sees the glint of several coins under the gentle, lapping waves. He soon has gathered a handful. Hazrad examines one and finds the inscription in ancient Alaysian.

“Oooh!” says FluffyKitten and fishes for a coin of her own. “Wishy well? Makey wish?” she says, then tosses the coin out into the sea. The splash it makes echoes on the rock walls behind them, and almost instantly a boat appears in the distance, approaching slowly.

“Ahhh…PudgyKitten,” says Hazrad carefully. “No matter what we are offered from here on, do not eat or drink anything!”

“Nothing?” interjects Remmy, his lips on the second vial he had filled.

“Nothing,” says Hazrad firmly.

“I can haz cookie?” asks the halfling pleadingly.

“No!” shouts back half the party.

As the boat slowly approaches, the party can see it is a small vessel, just large enough to hold them all. There is no mast, and though a single robed boatman stands in the stern with an oar, he does not move and it is not obvious how he is propelling it. The design appears that of a fishing vessel.


The boatman brings the craft within a foot of the shore, but does not beach it until Remmy holds up a coin, at which point the hull scrapes gently against the rock beach and the robed man gestures at a bench seat. Remmy has one foot in the boat already when Hazrad grabs him from behind, preventing his boarding.

Hazrad holds up his own coin for the boatman to see. “This coin is for my passage there AND BACK,” he proclaims loudly. “All of us are paying for a round trip, and we are not paying until the end!” The boatman nods silently, and gestures for Hazrad, too to take his seat.

Remmy sits near the boatman and gazes up into his cowled face, but sees only a skull looking back at him.


The boatman waits until everyone has boarded, but still he does not launch. Rather, he raises his arm to point at the light section of the alcove wall. As the robed sleeve falls away, a skeletal hand is visible, pointing. On the other side of the archway, Ember feels a chill. It is impossible to tell from the mural, but she feels the boatman is pointing directly at her.

“I, I have to go…” she falters.

Thrud turns abruptly, looks at her pleadingly. “Please, Elskerinne, please! I have pledged to protect you…but I cannot follow you there…”

The priestess puts her hand on the warrior’s arm soothingly. “Det er greit, Thrud, it’s alright. You will guard my body here. That is important.”

“Yes,” says Bhelgarn coldly. “Wouldn’t want something coming out of one of those tunnel mouths and eating her, would you? That’s why I’m staying.”

To Ember’s surprise, Morgan kneels and takes a stone knife from the cold grasp of another party member. “You don’t have to…” she begins.

“Whatever,” says Morgan, interrupting.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

Once Morgan and Ember have entered the boat, the boatman gives a single push with his oar, and the vessel pulls away from the shore, pulls about, and starts out into the sea. The light from the archway grows smaller behind them, but can be seen for quite some time as the only source of illumination in the inky blackness. Some of the party look down into the water, or up into the sky, but no one sees anything.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

As the boat fades from view in the archway, both Thrud and Bhelgarn hear a voice, in the same ancient whisper as that of the arch, but in their own language. In Nordic, it says; “You have failed the Test of Faith,” while in Dwarven, it says “You have failed the Test of Trust.”

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

It may be hours later, it is difficult to say, when an island is seen. A grey shoreline against the black water, it is visible from far off but grows steadily. It is as barren and rocky as the alcove was, but much broader. There are no rock walls or cliffs, just a flat expanse of rocky shoreline sloping gently upward inland.

The greyness of the shore is odd, for the sky is still dark and there is no obvious source of illumination, but the ground is light enough to discern a pebble-strewn path leading inland. The party follows the path. They have not been walking long when there is a distant screech, as if from a bird of prey.

As they walk on, the call repeats several times, each time louder.

The cry comes from above, from a now lead-grey sky. A huge form is circling far above with vast wings, easily eight feet long and with a twenty foot wingspan. It is circling them, but descending a bit on each rotation. The party tries hurrying forward, but the creature is flying faster than they can run without barely a wingstroke.

“That,” says Iris cautiously, “is not a natural bird.”

“Oooh! Feathers!” says FluffyKitten. “I can haz feathers!”

When it is clear that they cannot outrun it, the party groups together defensively. They look for cover, but are on a vast, flat rock plain. The creature is low enough now to be recognized as having a vulture-like head, and long clawed arms in addition to its huge wings. “Elesther shaitan…” whispers Hazrad. “A vulture demon…I think you call them vrock?”

Iris sends a magic missile at the demon. As it hits, the demon emits another piercing cry.


As the demon-bird descends, Odleif, Remmy, and FluffyKitten try to shoot at it, but they are untrained in shooting straight up, and the demon keeps in a tight circle above them. A poison dart from Remmy misses the bird, but falls and lodges in Fluffy’s hair. Wolfbane casts her sleep spell, prompting Hazrad to retreat from the group. She is fairly certain she has the demon in the range of the spell, but it seems unaffected – whether because it is a demon, because no sleep is needed in a world freed from the body, or whether it is simply too powerful she does not know.

Just before the demon reaches the ground, Morgan feels a jolt of force and she is knocked to the ground, her sword clattering away across the rocks. For the next several minutes the force pushes her away from the confrontation.

The demon tries to land near FluffyKitten, and it attacks the halfling with both its front and rear claws and a vicious beak strike. The halfling nimbly dodges all its blows, however, deftly running between the demon’s legs, or tumbling out of the way just before a strike. With the demon in melee range, it is now Wolfbane’s turn to retreat, and she runs behind Hazrad, who has his spear out, but is not advancing.

Unable to land a blow on the halfling, the demon turns and fixes on Odleif. The woodsmen fires one last arrow before pulling out his axe, but the arrow flies past the demon and sinks into Remmy’s shoulder. Ember swings her mace at the demon, but is wounded and then engulfed in a cloud of darkness and blinded.

The demon leaps into the air with two flaps of its massive wings, landing on Odleif and rending him cruelly with its rear talons. As the man collapses under the demon’s weight, its front claws rake his face and its beak plunges savagely into his neck. He is dead before he hits the ground.

Seizing the moment when the demon’s back is turned, Remmy and FluffyKitten advance. Remmy stabs the demon in its back with his magic dagger; Fluffy runs under it and slices her own dagger across its leg.

Fluffy trips over the body of Odleif, and the demon pounces on her, delivering several savage wounds. She crawls away under the cover of her comrades, and Remmy and Morgan (finally permitted to fight) are wounded as well, Morgan seriously. Things seem grim for the party, as the demon’s skin seems to turn away most blows.

Ember calls forth the fire of her goddess. Her skin shining with hearthglow, her brilliant form pierces and then dissipates the darkness around her. As the vulture head swivels toward her in apprehension, Morgan lands a massive blow, crushing one of the demon’s wings. Without the ability to hop aloft, the demon cannot use its rear talons, and seems substantially wounded. It turns and begins to back warily away from the party. Hazrad charges, impaling it with his spear, and Morgan lands another sword-blow. The demon crumples to the ground.

Ember checks Odleif, but he is beyond her aid. She uses two heartmendings on FluffyKitten, just enough to get her ambulatory again.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

For Odleif, everything is black, and the horrid pain is mercifully fading. A muscled, bearded man appears, and tells him that he has failed the Test of Might. He finds himself lying on the stone cavern floor, with Bhelgarn and Thrud standing over him.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

The party continues up the path. The ground around them becomes more rugged, with larger rocks and finally boulders that the path winds among. The sky lightens to a twilight grey, and shadows appear under the rock overhangs.

Rounding an outcrop, the party finds themselves facing a young boy, who sits cross-legged on a large, flat stone. With no greeting or introduction, he says simply, “Before the city’s fall, there were four statues, one of each of the gods, in the central plaza, all in a row. One was iron, one was bronze, one was marble, and one was stone. The stone statue was somewhere to the right of the statue of Gorm. The marble statue was somewhere to the right of the statue of Madarua. The statue on the far right was neither the statue of Usamigares nor the stone statue. The statue made of iron is somewhere to the left of the statue of Gorm.”

“Tell me, what was the order of the four statues, and of what were they made? You have three minutes.” A sand glass appears in the air near the boy, with the sand already running.

By the time Morgan, Remmy, Wolfbane, and Iris have taken paper and quill from a pack and distributed them, the sand is half out. None of them have an answer when the time has run out, though Remmy makes a guess. “You have failed the test of Insight,” the boy says in Elven, and Morgan and Iris vanish. “You have failed the test of Cleverness,” he says in Darokite, and Remmy and Wolfbane disappear.

Hazrad and Ember, drawing on their practice of memorizing lengthy oral prayers without reading, have been mumbling to themselves the whole time. When the boy turns to Hazrad, the nomad says confidentally, “At the right is the statue of Zargon, of Marble. To its left is that of Madarua, of stone. To its left is that of Gorm, of Bronze. To its left is that of Usamigares, of Iron.” Ember nods her agreement.

The boy smiles, almost imperceptibly. “You two have passed the test of Knowledge.” He turns to face FluffyKitten.

“Boy haz cookie? I can haz cookie?” she asks.

“You, little one, are in luck. Disguising yourself is a mark of cleverness – you will not be judged by this Test, but may pass.”

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

Wolfbane, Iris, Morgan, and Remmy are back in the cavern.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

The man, woman, and halfling continue up the path. The boulders lessen and grow smaller, the sky brightens to the golden shade of morning. Grass appears among the stone, and the land begins to swell and roll. After an hour of walking, it is open rolling meadow land. They find an old crone sitting in the grass.

She smiles pleasantly at them but does not speak. Hazrad goads Ember into beginning. “Do you have a cure for the mushroom addiction, reverend one?”

“Oh, that,” sighs the old woman. “I have cures for all ills, deary, but what matters it? If I gave you the cure, and you took it back to the city, the people would still suffer. Under the yoke of Zargon they would still be, they would still sicken, they would still die. There is no difference. In a hundred years, you will all be dead, you and the cityfolk both, and it will be of no consequence.”

“Even if they still die, some of their suffering is relieved. There is a difference,” Ember says more boldly. “A good parent, a good mother, would want as much for her children.”

“Is that a good parent?” asks the crone incredulously. “Sacrificing for her children even if it does no good?”

“Yes,” says Ember firmly. “That is what a good parent does.”

“Very well, then.” The crone opens her withered fist. Inside is a tiny, delicate, pure white flower. “This flower, placed in water, will produce a drink that can cure any addiction. But I am cursed to remain on this spot, unmoving and undying. I cannot carry the flower to the boatman unless someone takes my place.”

“I will take your place,” says Hazrad. Immediately roots spring from the ground, wrap around him, and drag him under the turf. His screams are muffled by earth.

“Foolish man,” says the crone. “Only a woman may bear the flower.”

“Why you no go boatman and come back?” asks FlufflyKitten. “I wait here.” In a second, she too has been dragged underground by roots.

The crone chuckles. “Ah, the impertinence of youth.”

Ember stares at the crone for several minutes. “I will stay here,” she says. I will take your place, if you will deliver the flower to my hearthmates."

“You will take my place? Sitting on this grassy knoll forever? Helping the cityfolk who do not even know you?”

“Y..yes.” Ember sits on the grass, immediately feeling rooted to the spot.

The old woman rises slowly, stretches. “Then, deary, you have passed the Test of Compassion.” She hobbles off, down the path from which they came.

Ember sits and lies in the grass, lies and sits. Hours pass, but she does not hunger or thirst, tire or need to relieve herself. She supposes that is the advantage of being without her body. She is just bored…and alone. For eternity.

“Well, perhaps not quite eternity,” cackles the crone as she hobbles back into view. “Care to swap out a spell, deary?”

“But, why?”

“Much as I appreciate your sacrifice, young one, Glöð is not so keen on you taking my place. Have to keep peace with the neighbors, you know.” The crone eases her frail body down into the grass. “Now go kick some Zargonite tail for me, will you?”

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ember appears in the cavern, alive and with the rest of the party. The tiny white flower is in her hand.

The party mounts the steps to the platform, and Iris pulls the rope tied to her cloak. Almost immediately the slab begins to rise above them. “Lights out,” says Morgan to Bhelgarn. “And maiden feet – make sure they are maiden feet before anyone slips out!”

The party reunites with three maidens on the ground floor. They decide to split into three groups, sending one group with Ember carrying the flower back to the Maiden’s Enclave and the other two groups covering them from the building they are in.

A maiden guide, Ember, Thrud, Morgan, and Odleif slip out the door, on the side of the building opposite the Zargonite complex. Bhelgarn, FluffyKitten, Wolfsbane, Hazrad, and a maiden stay on the first floor, with Bhelgarn at the window facing the Enclave. Iris, Pooches, Remmy, and a maiden start up the stairs to take a position in a second floor window facing the Enclave.

As the outside group rounds the corner of the building, the maiden in the lead literally runs into a figure, perviously unseen to those with infravision. Instantly the stench of decaying flesh is overwhelming, and those around her begin to hear the sounds of a struggle, as the figure gropes at her with rotting but unnaturally strong fingers.

Morgan draws her sword. “Ambush – undead” she hisses to the rest of the group, reasoning that undead creatures would be the ones most unlikely to show up to infravision. A second later, both she and Thrud are grappling with unseen assailants of their own. She manages to “slay” hers, but is wounded by it. Thrud buries his axe in the head of the one trying to bite him, and it falls to the cavern floor. While the maiden has wounded hers with her sword, it has overborne her, and is now on top of her unconscious body, tearing at her throat. Odleif and Ember have hung back, hearing the noise of combat but unable to see anything. When Morgan hisses “undead,” however, Ember grasps her holy symbol and channels the divine power of Glöð. She feels a connection to the creatures in front of her – zombies. Originally they were five, but now two have been dis-animated by damage from Morgan and Thrud. She drives the remaining three back, forcing them to turn and shamble slowly off.

“Fall back to the building!” commands Morgan. The maiden on the first floor slips by Bhelgarn in the open window and runs over to the fallen body of her comrade. Thrud lifts the body across his shoulders and enters through the window, while Bhelgarn helps Ember and the maiden through. Odleif and Morgan retreat around the corner of the building and make for the door.

By this time Iris and Remmy have done a quick scan of the second level and, finding it currently unoccupied although trash-ridden, have taken up a position in the window. From there, they can hear the sounds of the struggle beneath them. Iris is beginning to see faint forms of the retreating zombies, as their bodies get slightly warmer when they move. She sends an arrow into the one directly below the window, and is about to fire again when she sees, bright and living, five men in armor at the far tower crossing the gap to the building. Hazrad is running up the stairs, calling for the maiden with Iris to come down. Iris shouts at him to tell the others that human fighters are approaching the building.

As Morgan guides Odleif toward the door, she sees a gang of hobgoblins at the edge of her infravision, preparing to charge. She pushes him at the window, instead, and begins her sleep spell.

FluffyKitten and Wolfsbane, on the ground floor of the building, can’t see anything in the dark. FluffyKitten, however, standing by the window facing the hobgoblins, clearly hears their cries as they charge Morgan and Odleif. She runs to the mage and moves her to the door, imploring her “sleepy time outside! sleepy time outside!”

On the second story, Iris spots a man in the tower above the battle outside. By his gestures and the snatches of words that carry across to her, she is pretty sure he is casting spells. She sends a magic missile over, burning his face in a flash of light. That is enough to get him to crouch behind the parapet. As she fits an arrow to her bow, she hands three other arrows to Remmy, and he dips their heads in different vials.

Odleif tumbles through the window while Morgan backs up to it. She is now completely surrounded by hobgoblins, and takes a crushing blow from a club, knocking her to the ground just as she completes her spell. When she regains her feet, she finds that the six hobgoblins closest to her are all asleep, while four others farther off are trying to pick their way over their fallen cavemates to get at her. Before one is close enough to strike, however, Wolfbane completes her own sleep spell. It engulfs Morgan, but she resists and remains standing even while the remaining hobgoblins drop. Morgan turns and hauls herself through the window as Bhelgarn manages to light a torch.

In the light of the torch, Hazrad leads the maiden to her fallen comrade while Ember examines her wounds. She is unlikely to survive even the short journey across the gap between the buildings and arrive at the Enclave alive without assistance, so Ember uses two orisons of heartmending. She is still not conscious, but is at least stable. The torchlight also reveals that Odleif is enveloped in a shroud of darkness. It obscures his face, and he keeps repeating that he cannot see.

Bhelgarn tells him to hold still and passes the torch off to him, then returns to the window just in time to drive back a man attempting to climb in. Outside the window are five men in bronze plate armor and bearing swords. Bhelgarn uses his own sword to block the window, stabbing at any of the men who try to enter.

Iris keeps the man in the tower pinned down by sending one poisoned arrow after another at him. These fly off into the darkness, but he is unable to cast more spells at the combat below.

FluffyKitten moves to the door, then slips outside. Enough wan torchlight comes out the window to keep her oriented with respect to the building, but she cannot see the shapes of the hobgoblins on the ground. Their snores, however, make them easy to locate, and she crouches and moves among them, one-by-one slitting their throats. “Stabby-stab, stabby-stab, rainbow stabby-stab…” she sings to herself as she works.

The man in the tower is shouting directions down to the armored men, and some move past the window and around the corner. Hazrad and Thrud move to guard the door. One man spots FluffyKitten among the hobgoblins, even though she kneels and tries to hide behind a pile of one hobgoblin collapsed on top of another one. She sees the briefest of forms as he crosses the light of the window, but easily keeps track of his creaking, clanking advance. When she hears the whoosh of his sword, she rolls neatly out of the way and comes up at his side, burying her dagger into the back of his knee where his plate armor affords little protection. He screams and drops to the ground, but she silences him with a quick jerk of her blade across his throat. “RAINBOW stabby-stab…” she hums.

Bruised and bleeding, Morgan stumbles over to the window defended by Bhelgarn. She completes a second sleep spell, this one bringing down three of the men outside, including the one at the window. “You can’t see?” she asks Odleif, and when he confirms, she takes his bow and a handful of arrows.

The door to the building crashes open, and lifeless Cyndiceans, more zombies, begin to shamble in. Thrud, Hazrad, and Morgan bring several down before Ember forces the rest to retreat.

Bhelgarn heaves himself through the window and out into the open, dispatching the remaining warrior and then turning on the sleeping ones. The figure in the top of the tower vanishes behind the parapet. FluffyKitten, having slain all the sleeping hobgoblins, now moves among them, searching the bodies. “Coiny-coin, coiny-coin, knife!” she sings.

With the field finally free of enemies, the two maidens bear their wounded companion to the gate of the Enclave. Ember follows them closely, and slips into the courtyard of the Enclave.

Morgan, Thrud, and Hazrad leave the building. Morgan tells Bhelgarn she doesn’t want any of the Zargonites getting away, and orders him and Thrud into the tower through a large bronze door at its base. Meanwhile, she moves to the corner of the building closest to the Zargonite fortress to scan the darkness with her infravision.

Hazrad joins Thrud and Bhelgarn in examining the door. It has a simple latch, opening out, and no lock. But as Bhelgarn reaches for the latch, he feels a sense of dread roll over him – the tower is full of dark magic, he is sure of it. It is several moments before he can master his feelings and open the door. Stone spiral stairs lead up and down – from the shaft leading down come the sounds of footsteps in retreat.

Bhelgarn, Thrud, and Hazrad cautiously descend the stairs, and now the feeling of dread affects the barbarian and the nomad as well. By the time they reach a narrow stone corridor, below, all three are trembling, and they manage to get only about 30 feet down the corridor before Bhelgarn insists on returning. “Cannae catch him, too far a lead,” he mumbles, as he retreats back up the stairs.

Morgan hears a bang, then sees a figure sprint across the cavern floor, leaving the far tower and heading for the Zargonite fortress. She lets fly an arrow. A second figure emerges from the tower. She keeps shooting until both figures are beyond the range of her vision.

Thrud and Hazrad turn to follow Bhelgarn back to the surface. The torch, held by Thrud, flickers and sizzles, making as if to go out. For a second the tunnel is dark. When the torch brightens again, Thrud is alone – Hazrad is nowhere to be seen, and there are no footfalls to be heard. Thrud looks about warily, then hastily exits the tower himself.

Morgan is upset about the two escapees, but quickly organizes a search-and-loot operation. She claims one of the suits of plate mail from the fighters. Thrud and Bhelgarn look, but cannot find any armor broad enough for them. The men have no coins or other gear, but all bear rather normal-looking swords. She collects the knives and coins that Fluffy has retrieved from the hobgoblins, and does a quick search herself by torchlight. Finally, she leads a search of the third story of the building, which none of them have entered yet. It is much smaller than the first two, containing only a single room with windows on each wall. In one corner is a pile of filthy rags that served as a mattress for an emaciated-looking corpse. A small pile of rotten mushrooms is near his hand. Later, speaking with the maidens, Morgan learns that the cityfolk are forced by the Zargonites not only to grow mushrooms, harvest them, but to dry and process them as well. Occasionally one of them escapes with a bag full of the hallucinogenic kind. This is the typical result – a man finds an abandoned corner of the city to hide in, and eats only the mushrooms, tripping continually until he starves to death.

With no further avenues of investigation, Morgan leads what remains of the party back to the Enclave.

Post 19 (Trades and Negotiations)
Trades and Negotiations


Upon their return to the Enclave, the females meet with the Great Mother and High Priestess. They reveal that they have been successful in their quest and recovered the cure. The Madaruans are elated and naturally curious about the quest, but they respect the party’s spiritual journey and do not press them for details. They thank the party sincerely for tending to the maiden who was wounded during the ambush.

Ember does reveal that the cure is in the form of a small, white flower, and that she was told that when placed in water, it will make the water capable of curing any addiction, without reducing the potency of the flower. She recalls that there is an underground lake that is the water supply of the city, and asks whether she should put the flower in the lake and and thereby cure everyone.

The Madaruans respectfully ask her not to do that. The party has assuredly braved many perils to recover the flower – they deserve the honor and recognition of bringing the cure – the cityfolk should know who they have to thank. In terms of strategy against the Zargonites, it will be valuable for people to come to the Maidens looking for the cure, rather than simply finding themselves cured without cause. Furthermore, they might be cured without even knowing it, and then fall prey again to the vision-mushroom addiction the next time they visit the Zargonite drug dens. The Madaruans believe that they should start by curing only those who wish to be cured, only those who are actively opposed to the Zargonites – this will enhance the status of the Maidens, and the acceptance of the party among the cityfolk.

Ember recognizes the wisdom in their words and agrees – she says that she will turn over the flower to them, to administer the cure as they see fit. The High Priestess takes a bronze chalice, filled with holy water, from the altar, and offers it to Ember, who places the flower within it. The Priestess than says that they party should have the honor of the first use. Each of the women drinks in turn from the chalice – Ember, Morgan, Iris, Wolfbane, FluffyKitten. The Great Mother says that word will be spread by their sympathizers in the city that the cure is available to any who would visit the Maidens.

Ember says that one of the men in their party went missing, in the tunnels beneath the towers, and asks whether they know anything about them. The Great Mother responds that no Maidens have entered those tunnels within her lifetime – the Mausoleum that guards the catacombs is a sacred place for the Maidens, and while they patrol the outside, they seldom venture inside the building and never in the towers.

Ember says that now that the cure and the maidens are safely back in the Enclave, they must search for their missing companion. Morgan has been wounded, and Ember asks whether the Maidens can heal her before they set out. The High Priestess says that they could heal her – but would prefer to wait. Given the number of Zargonites involved in the ambush, and its failure, it is possible that there may be a reprisal – the Zargonites could attack the city, or even the Enclave. The Maidens wish to reserve their healing in case it is needed for those situations. If Morgan will be going out on another mission, putting herself into obvious danger, they will provide healing, but would prefer to wait and see what develops.

Ember and Morgan say that they understand – Ember agrees to provide what healing she has to Morgan, and then stay and rest in the Enclave while Morgan leads the search for Hazrad. FluffyKitten says (in strangely perfect language while under the influence of the Maiden’s communication spell) that she will not be going on the search expedition and she would be perfectly happy if Hazrad was never found, and that it serves him right.

Ember and Morgan quickly return the conversation to strategy against the Zargonites. They remind the Maidens that their long-term goal is to unite the factions, and ask about which faction they should approach next – The Gormites or the Usamigari, and how they should negotiate.

Although the Great Mother has said “Zargonite” and “Zargon” repeatedly in the past, she pointedly refrains from using the names of the other two True Gods. Rather, she says that the Magi will be far easier to approach than the Brotherhood, emphasizing the groups’ secular names. The Brotherhood respect only strength, and that while recovering the cure is of huge religious significance, to them it will rank as less important than beating Zargonites in an open combat. She discourages the party from approaching the Brotherhood until they have the Magi in a firm alliance, as the Brotherhood will be much more likely to respond once the party is negotiating from a position of strength.

Furthermore, continues the High Priestess, the Brotherhood operates under a strict hierarchy. None of them will be permitted to speak with the party until their highest leader approves of it, regardless of the feelings of anyone else. Whereas among the Magi, if there are some who oppose negotiation with the party and some who are in favor, those in favor will be able to do so, regardless of their rank.

“Very well then, obviously we start with the Magi,” says Morgan. “What is our strategy? What do they value?”

“Before the fall of the City Above”, says the High Priestess, “the Child God was not only the patron of magic-users, but also of merchants, thieves, messengers, travelers. He represented anyone who made their living through social interaction. Whereas the Storm Father represented interactions within closed authoritarian institutions like the military or the government, and Our Mother oversaw the organic interactions of people within their families. Because the Magi honor free social interaction above all else, they are traders and negotiators. Approach them asking for something of value – and offer something of value in trade. They honor such free dealings and exchanges above all else.”

Simultaneously, Wolfbane and Iris jump in. “Spells! We need spells and they have them!”

Morgan nods in agreement. “And in exchange, what do we have that they would want?”

“Well,” says Ember smiling, “we have the cure…”

  • * * * *

In the compound, Ember provides Morgan with four heartmendings, and then retires to her tent to rest. FluffyKitten “stands guard” to keep her from being disturbed, but it is not even a full 20 minutes before she is drawn into the games of the children. Leaving her chainmail behind, she is soon completely absorbed in “Blind Maiden’s Bluff” and “Mother May I”.

Morgan organizes the six others and requests the gate be raised enough for them to leave, with Bhelgarn providing a halting translation. There are more Maidens on the wall then before, and the atmosphere is tense. It seems not only the Great Mother is expecting a reprisal from the Zargonites.

Returning to the Mausoleum, the away team finds a group of maidens busy dealing with bodies left over from the ambush. The hobgoblins are left in place – their bodies will feed the cave centipedes and feral pigs and their gear is worthless. The humans, however, could be recovered and re-animated by the Zargonites, so their bodies must be removed. Their bronze armor, swords, and daggers will make valuable additions to the Maidens’ armory, as they have no forge or smiths of their own. As to what the maidens actually do with the bodies, here Bhelgarn’s translation fails.

Morgan takes them into the first tower, the one the spellcaster used in the ambush. With the bronze door closed behind them, Bhelgarn lights a torch. “Odleif first,” says Morgan. “What do the tracks tell us?”

The woodsman studies the impressions in the thick dust. “Two sets onna stairs up – comin’ an’ goin…too many ter count onna stairs goin’ down.”

“Two sets on the stairs up? Is one of them Hazrad’s?”

“Not tha’ I kin reckon – Hazzerd’s got sandals – both these fellers ‘re wearin’ boots.”

Morgan indicates that they will ascend, Odleif in the lead. Up they go in a stone spiral staircase, eventually coming to a landing and then a short iron ladder to a trapdoor. Odleif points at the floor of the landing. “One a’ ter fellas stays here, waitin’ – only t’other one goes up ter ladder.”

Just Morgan and Odleif ascend. The trapdoor leads to a battlement above, with a great view of the city – at least for Morgan. Odleif sees only darkness and occasional points of wan light. The Zargonite fortress is ablaze – lights going in many of the windows, and shadows passing in front of them incessantly. “I guess we stirred something up there,” she mumbles with satisfaction.

Collecting the party, they descend to “ground” level, and then lower, beneath the “floor” of the cavern, into a tunnel system. Over a length of the narrow tunnel, Odleif is eventually able to pick out five sets of tracks – Bhelgarn, Thrud, and Hazrad, plus the two sets from the tower stairs. He notes that while the first three are placed slowly and carefully, the second set are far apart and on their toes, indicating that they were running.

The party passes down the tunnel, Odleif in the lead. He stops, motioning them to keep back, lowers his face to the floor, scratches his head, pulls at his beard. Finally he tells Morgan that here is where Hazrad…disappeared. The two men from the tower ran on ahead. The three men from there party walked to here – but only Bhelgarn and Thrud returned. Hazrad didn’t go on, and he didn’t come back – he just vanished. Thrud looks about fearfully, half expecting a spirit-Hazrad to be there yet.

They continue on, finding no branches, a single exit to a stone staircase up at the end. The same two tracks of the men, running up and out, the bronze door open. Carefully checking the area outside the tower – just a slung stone’s distance from the Zargonite fortress – the same two tracks, headed for the fortress. A torn bit of fabric on the ground, Odleif’s arrow (shot by Morgan). The tower stairs up – no tracks at all, a thick carpet of dust. The same battlemented top, a closer view of the activity at the fortress, though all internal – no forms moving about outside.

Aboveground, behind the Mausoleum to the next tower – the same doors, stairs, tunnels, battlements. No tracks, no signs of Hazrad. The final tower, closest to the Zargonites – still no sign. Morgan leads the party back to the Enclave.

Back at the Enclave, Ember uses another seven heartmendings to bring Morgan to full. Then everyone retires to tents to rest – everyone but FluffyKitten, who after playtime took a nap before the main party returned. She is sought out by one of the maidens, who saw her playing and now wishes to include her in the weapons training given to the older maiden girls.

First they practice drills; cutting, slashing, and stabbing with dull stone knives. Then one pair at a time is given blunted bronze daggers for dueling. When FluffyKitten is called for her duel, she easy outmatches one girl, then another. The maiden presiding halts the duels and calls another maiden over, this one in full armor.

She escorts Fluffy to where the adult maidens are having their own weapons practice, with bronze short and longswords. Fluffy indicates by gestures that she wishes to use a dagger. The instructor pairs her with some of the less experienced maidens. She appears intrigued – FluffyKitten has obvious skill, and easily outmatches the incautious maidens who charge at her. With rolls and dodges, she lets them stumble past her and then runs her dagger across their grieved legs from behind.

The instructor then pairs FluffyKitten with more seasoned opponents. Rather than rush in, they take their time, circling and using the longer reach of their weapons to hold Fluffy at bay until an opening arrises. Now it is FluffyKitten who fares poorly, taking many more hits than she delivers. The instructor calls a halt to the duels, sets the women to drills, and brings FluffyKitten to her. She gives her a second dulled bronze dagger, shows her how to stand when holding one in each hand. Using another maiden to attack, she shows Fluffy how to block and parry with the first blade and strike with the second, how to switch roles between them, how to control the rhythm and tempo of the fight. After some demonstration, she sets FluffyKitten to work practicing the steps, and trades maidens out as partners. At the end of the session, Fluffy is exhausted but smiling. The maiden instructor presents her with a real dagger – belt, scabbard and all. Fluffy draws it half out of the scabbard- it is iron! One of a few iron weapons she has seen among the maidens. The instructor points to her head and says one of the few words in Cyndician that Fluffy knows; “Zargonite.” Fluffy curtsies politely, and awkwardly buckles on the belt – that will have to be adjusted, as it is lacking holes for the size of Fluffy’s hips. FluffyKitten draws the blade, waves it in the air. “Stabby-stab Zargonite!” she says happily, and the maiden smiles broadly.

While FluffyKitten is training, and the rest of the party is resting, Morgan wakes from her sleep. She does sleep, yet another thing that separated her from her mother, from the elves of her village. She seldom dreams, but when she does it is more like the lucid trancing reverie of the elves than the dreams of men. Just now she woke from trance, and remembers her trance – the words of a spell danced on a page, moved and arranged themselves in front of her eyes – until they made sense! Symbols she understood separately now revealed their interdependance, their conjoined meaning – she understands! Morgan lights a candle, grabs her spellbook, opens it to the page where, in her own handwritting and Ember’s ink, she copied Iris’ magic missile spell. She traces the lines slowly, then with gathering speed – yes, yes, and here, yes! By the end, she is convinced that she has learned the spell that had eluded her before.

  • * * * *

The party gears up and prepares for their initial expedition to the Magi. When Bhelgarn asks where the entrance is to their building, the maidens shrug. “No entrance, just walls.” Thrud is positioned at the maiden’s gate, ready to cover a hasty retreat. Morgan ascends the wall, watching the party with her infravsion and covering them with Odleif’s bow. Certainly from this side, there are no openings visible, doors, gates, or windows, in the wall that surrounds the Magi’s complex.

The other seven members slip under the half-raised gate and make their way to the cavern wall, and along it to just behind the Magi. Once in position, Remmy moves ahead to the wall. He can’t see his hand in front of his face, but he can see the looming wall against the backdrop of lights from the Zargonite temple. Doing his best to move silently and remain hidden, he slips along the wall, running his hands up and down the smooth stone, searching for any entrance. When Iris and Bhelgarn see that he is halfway along the wall, they move the party to the corner behind him and follow at a distance.

Done with the “rear” wall, Remmy turns the corner and starts along the wall facing the Gormites. When he reaches the end of that, he waits for the party to catch up. They hold a hushed conversation. None of them wish to try the wall in full view of the Zargonite fortress, but are at a loss for what else to do.

“Maybe we should just knock,” Remmy says flippantly, and taps twice on the stone wall. Twenty feet back from the corner, a pale yellow glowing circle appears at chest height along the wall. Astounded, the party hustles over to it, and Remmy touches it. Instantly a woman appears before them, translucent and “standing” a few inches above the stone floor. Within the yellow circle, a palm-sized silver disk appears, then falls to the ground. Bhelgarn picks it up cautiously, looking at the many carven runes on its surface.


“Greetings,” says the woman, in perfectly accented Dwarven. “My name is Alyria, and I am the Gatekeeper for the Magi. What you hold we call a communications disk – it will allow you to understand me, and me to understand you. Please make sure that only the person addressing me is holding it, so that I may understand what you are saying.”

The party pass the disk around, introducing themselves one by one. They explain that they are travelers from the light-void, recently come to the city, and that they are interested in acquiring scrolls. At this Alyria hesitates, but it turns out she does not understand the word “scrolls” – when it is explained that the party is desirous of learning new spells, she bids them continue.

When they finish, she replies that while she is not authorized to grant the party spells herself, she will certainly relay the message inside. She tells them that the Magi value silver for ceremonial reasons – it is important in their faith. They know that there are many treasures of silver, and caches of silver coins in the upper pyramid, and doubtless many more that they do not know of. While she cannot agree to any specific spell, she suggests to the party that they might consider a trade of 2500 coins of silver for a first level spell, or 5000 coins for a spell of second level. After some further polite conversation, she thanks them and asks for the communication disk back. When Ember hands it to her, it slips through her incorporal hand and falls to the ground. She says something in Cyndician, then, after Embre retrieves the disk, apologizes. “I’m sorry – I quite forgot you were dealing my my projection, not myself. You may leave the disk near the wall, under the illuminated circle. I hope to see you again. Follow your path.”

The party returns to the Enclave and explain to Morgan and Thrud what transpired. Morgan thinks for a few minutes, and then addresses them. “Who among us has not been saved by Wolfbane’s sleep spell? Who among us will not benefit from her having more potent spells at her disposal?” When no one answers, she continues. “Okay, silvers out then – go through your bags and pockets and see what we have. We are not keeping track of who puts in what, this is a community expense for a community good.” Then, eyeing Bhelgarn and Remmy, she says more firmly, “And we all know we are not walking out of here with silver. There is more valuable stuff to take with us in a hike across the desert than silver coins, they won’t be worth their weight.”

In the end, Morgan puts in 577 silver pieces; Iris adds 60; Ember and Wolfbane put in ten each. Everyone else claims to have either switched out their silver for gold in the tapestry room or to have left their coins in the former Gormite base. Morgan frowns.

“Well, I was afraid of that. My sack included, we aren’t even a third of a way to a first level spell. Of course, we will negotiate – their price is ridiculous, but even so, we need more.”

She lets the others think of the obvious answer before she states it.

“So it looks like I’m going back to the tapestry room. There was easily thousands of silver pieces there, even before the rest of you dumped yours.” She sighs. “Just to that room, and no higher in the pyramid – I don’t want to waste more time or risk more encounters than we have to. Who’s coming?”

Remmy, Ember, Iris, Odlief, Thrud, and Wolfbane volunteer. Bhelgarn and FluffyKitten say that they will stay, and Iris says her animals will stay behind as well. “Just as well,” says Morgan. “We want to travel as light as possible, so we can divide up all those coins between us. I’m not running past those statues carrying a chest. Leave anything not immediately useful behind, and give Bhelgarn an accounting of it. He will be in charge of guarding our stuff. And apparently Fluffy is in charge of playing hopscotch.”

FluffyKitten puts her hands on her hips indignantly. “No! No hoppyscratch! No can see stone, silly-billy! FluffyKitty play Bluffyblind! And Stabby-stab! Now TWO stabby-stab! Ooooh!” she says, drawing and waving both daggers in the air.

Morgan turns away from the halfling. “Bhelgarn, by my count we have enough torches to get us to the tapestry room and back – but then we won’t have enough to ever leave this place again. I’m sure we’d all appreciate it if you lent us your sword – once we are out of the city I don’t think it will be a problem to use.”

The dwarf eyes Morgan carefully. “Lent in exchange for yours.”

“Of course.”

As a final preparation, Morgan asks for two maidens to guide and accompany them. Once volunteers are found, they leave the way they arrive, around the far side of the Enclave walls and then the outside wall of the cavern, all the way to the entrance.

They are not far when Morgan spots several human-sized forms ahead; standing about as if guarding the entrance to cavern. She asks the maiden next to her about it with gestures, but the woman acts as if she doesn’t see anything. They continue to creep ahead, the whole group trying to be silent. When they have closed half the distance the maiden stops as if in sudden recognition of the forms ahead. She calls the other maiden over and, crouching, they watch for a while. Finally Morgan whispers to them, “Zargonite?” but the maidens shake their heads. One of them points upward.

“Up?” whispers Morgan. Without Hazrad or Bhelgarn, they are not getting anything besides gestures from the women. “Surface dweller like us?”

“No,” says Ember softly. “The Sky Father. Gorm.”

The women nod, and say what sounds like “Ohunwe,” which might be the Cyndician word for Brotherhood. Apparently neither one of them will use the words “Gorm” or “Gormite” either.

Morgan points to her sword. “Fight?” she asks the maidens, and again they shake their heads. “Then what are we waiting for?” She calls to the party to stand up, then leads them striding boldly and directly toward the cavern entrance. The Gormite men draw weapons…and then put them away as the group approaches. And then, as Morgan keeps going, they give way and move aside. It is hard to judge facial expression with just infravision, but Morgan would not be surprised if what she was seeing was surprise and respect. She also notes, for future use, that her infravision, and that of Iris and Bhelgarn, is clearly superior to that of the Cyndicians. That could be of great tactical significance in any encounter with Zargonites.

The journey up through the tunnels is long, difficult, and tedious. On the way down they were kept going by the excitement and suspense of seeing the Undercity. Now it is simply work traversing stone tunnels, chasms, and shafts. Morgan continually reminds herself to pay attention when her thoughts stray. It is boring, but being surprised in an encounter would still potentially be deadly.

Hours later they finally arrive at the landing just beneath the floor of the pyramid. The maidens call for a rest, not the first on their journey. To the party’s surprise, there is no cold feeling. Later they continue through the room with the talking walls and the great temple, pausing only to fill their waterskins. They pause again outside the room with the stone statues. As they run through, Wolfbane trips, and Iris helps her to her feet before the statues can bear down on them. This time, they make it through the room with the iron statues without anyone even being hit.

In the room that had the priest’s robe, the party leads the maidens to the secret door in the wall, and opens it. The maidens are amazed. “Thousands of years, and they didn’t know this was here?” Remmy asks incredulously. He strides over to the chest, opens it. “See this?” he says as he holds up a handful of coins to the maidens. “This is our stuff! Ours, get it? Not yours!” His gestures, jerking his thumb and finger at himself and the maidens, are rapidly understood.

With several of the party acting together, they manage to tip the chest and spill out all the coins onto the floor. By the light of the sword, they spend all the next rest period sorting them by metal, putting everything but the silver back, dividing the coins among them, filling bags, sacks, backpacks, pouches, and purses. Remmy tells them that they are between them carrying over six thousand silver coins.

After a bit more rest they again venture forth. Traveling this direction the iron statues are not the problem, it is the stone ones. It is a narrow escape, but a clean one. Wolfbane makes it across the room on her own. Filling skins in the fountain, down the tunnels (not cold!), and when they finally smell the rich loaminess of the city ahead Morgan figures they have been gone half a day.

Back at the enclave, they combine the retrieved silver with the small cache of mostly Morgan’s, dumping the masses into two thick blankets. Not the best way to carry it, but it is just the next building over and the blankets will make the coins easier to display. Again Thrud and Morgan stay back, but this time the party proceeds directly to where they found the yellow circle before. Although it is not there now, they knock confidently and in a trice it, and Alyria, appear. They open the blankets and spread the coins out to be “seen.”

Alyria considers. “For all that, we would be willing to trade you one second level spell, or two first levels.”

Ember gently shakes her head and smiles. “Two first level, AND two second level.”

Alyria shrugs and shakes her head. Bhelgarn pulls forth a silver necklace, and lays it on the pile. “Two first level, and two second level.”

Alyria bends forward. “You see, it is not the value we are after. It is the silver itself – we will melt it down, use it for daggers and tablets and other religious purposes. The necklace, though beautiful and of fine workmanship, does not represent more than a few coins worth of silver. Still, it is pretty.” She feels her neck softly, probably not even noticing the gesture, though the party are keenly aware. “Two first level and one second.”

Ember lays two waterskins down onto the blankets. “The silver, and the cure for the mushroom addiction.”

Alyria’s eyes widen. “The cure! We had heard that in the city…so it is true then?”

Ember nods.

“All the silver, including the necklace, and the cure for two second level spells and one first, " Alyria proposes.

Ember smiles. “Agreed.”

Alyria touches her palm to her forehead, then holds her hand forth. A pentacle is drawn? tattooed? on the palm. “Agreed.” she says. “Do you know which spells you desire?” Now it is Ember’s turn to widen her eyes, as that had not been considered. “Then return when you know their identities.”


The party bundles up their treasure and return to the Enclave to discuss. First, between Wolfbane and Iris, they manage to come up with what they think is a comprehensive list of first and second level spells. Morgan is familiar with some of them, others not. Each of them decides on one spell. Morgan, Web(2nd). Iris, Phantasmal Force(2nd). Wolfbane, Shield (1st).

With that done, they hustle back to the Magi. Alyria confirms that they can in fact provide those spells, and tells them that they will need time to create the tablets. She bids them leave the treasure outside the walls, but they balk. “Trade is built on trust,” she says to encourage them.

“Trade is built on trust,” agrees Ember. “We will leave half of the coins and the cure here. You will receive the other half of the coins and the necklace when we receive the spells.”

“Agreed – please return after a long sleep. Send only two people, at least one of them a magus.”

The party returns to the Enclave, less one blanket of coins. They are ready for a “long sleep” indeed!

Post 20 (Meet the Magi)
Meet the Magi


Wolfbane (as the magus) and Ember (as a high-charisma negotiator) return to the Magi with the rest of the silver, and the necklace. When they knock, Alyria appears as before, and Iris and Pooches, who had guided the two women in the dark, retreat.

Alyria requests that the women place their palm over the glowing yellow circle. When they do so there is a jolting shift, and they find themselves in an indoor room, dimly lit. Numerous magi, all adults but evenly divided between men and women, surround them. Far from being menacing, they sit or even lounge on numerous stuffed leather cushions throughout the room. Short tables provide focal circles for their seating arrangements, and each table has a glowing rock crystal on it, providing light to the room. Each crystal glows in a different hue, providing a myriad of tones throughout the room as a whole. Numerous tapestries with abstract color designs hang on the walls but there are no windows or obvious exits. Most of the magi stare at them, obviously curious, but there is little other reaction to their sudden appearance.

Two magi walk up to them, then gesture for them to take seats on the cushions around an unoccupied table. One of the magi they recognize as Alyria. The other is an older man with a warm smile and intelligent eyes. Once Ember and Wolfbane have seated, Alyria takes out a communication disk and places it on the table between them.

Ember reaches for the disk. “Trade is built on Trust,” she begins, and the man smiles at her words. “We have brought the silver, have you our spells?” She passes the disk to the man, and it remains in steady trade for the rest of the conversation.

“Trade builds Trust,” the man says, and motions to a group of magi at another table. Three of them come over, each bearing a silver tablet roughly the size of the page from a large book. They lay these on the table in front of Wolfbane and Ember and then retreat. The tablets are a dull gray, not shiny – likely an alloy such as pewter to make them more resistant. The women can see that the tablets contain runes – not inscribed or carved, but raised, in relief. Wolfbane furrows her brow and studies the runes, then quickly realizes that they are magical symbols, ones that she recognizes and can read. There is no color contrast between the symbols and the tablet background, so it requires effort on her part to make out each one, especially the complicated ones.

“How do you read…” she begins, “I mean, I get that you don’t have much paper, but aren’t these hard to memorize?”

The man frowns, begins to trace the symbols on a tablet with his index finger, his eyes closing as if from habit. “These tablets are first-casts,” he says with just a hint of indignation. “Feel them, they are as sharp as anything.”

Wolfbane realizes that the tablets are meant to be felt rather than seen, and hurries to apologize. “I’m sorry, I meant no offense. It is just that where I am from, we study spells by reading, I mean by sight, by seeing them…”

Alyria interjects. “That seems terribly inefficient. Don’t you use up an awful lot of candles?”

Wolfbane struggles to explain. “Where we are from, in the light-void, light is all around and free – it doesn’t really limit anything, at least in the day.”

Although neither Alyria nor the man seem to recognize the word “day”, they relax and seem satisfied by Wolfbane’s explanation. Wolfbane takes her time examining the tablets, and whispers to Ember that she believes the trade is good. Ember opens the blanket, spreads the silver coin out on the floor of the room, withdraws the necklace from a pocket and places it on the table between them. The man nods at Alyria, and with evident satisfaction she picks up the necklace.

Ember waits a prudent time, then begins a new conversation. “Trade builds Trust,” she says. “We were hoping that you might wish to discuss taking common cause with us, with the Maidens, against the Zargonites.”

The man nods sagely, as if he had been expecting such a question. “Our astrologers have long had a prediction,” he says. “This is an extremely important time. Interpretations vary, but all of them recognize this time as one of great change, as one of union and one of dissolution. It is the hope of many of us that the other two factions would finally see reason and unite with us to liberate the city from the priests of the Zargon.”

Ember feels a flush of excitement. “So you have been waiting for this? Should we set up meetings between you and the Maiden leaders?”

The man holds up his hand for her to pause. “Trade builds Trust,” he says, “but Trust takes Time. We need to know that you, and the Maidens, value the Magi for ourselves, not just as your tools or pawns. Let me propose another trade, first.”

Ember nods attentively but leaves the disk with him.

“The Zargonites occasionally capture one of our members, a sad truth. Currently they hold one – a man who had been working undercover with sympathizers in the city when he was betrayed. We believe that he is currently being held in their prisons. We can provide you with the means to rescue him. If you do so, we would be willing to begin negotiations with the Maidens.”

Ember is aghast at the thought of entering the Zargonite fortress, but equally aghast at the thought of a man suffering as one of their prisoners. “How long ago was this man taken, do you know that he is still alive?”

“The Zargonites break their prisoners, but do not kill them, at least not intentionally. Their goal is to first break their will, cause them to despair through physical and psychological tortures. Once a prisoner has given up all hope, he or she is taken to the Under Pyramid, to be fed to Zargon as a sacrifice. Since our member’s capture, we have watched their stronghold closely. We have not seen the priests emerge with a sacrificial prisoner. No Zargonite force has left the city for the Under Pyramid.”

“So you know that he is still there?”

“They do not intend to kill their prisoners, but sometimes it happens. I must admit,” he says ruefully but with no trace of shame, “it happens more frequently with us Magi than the other two factions, for we are not trained to resist physical suffering as they are. If a prisoner is killed, he usually becomes another undead guard for their fortress. It is possible our man is already dead, but if so, we would value that knowledge as well.”

Ember nods solemnly. “How is it that you will be able to help us? What do you offer in trade?”

“Another spell tablet, at no cost to you. This one is Invisibility, and you may keep it. It will serve you well in this venture, and in the future. A magic ring, with five castings of Knock stored in it. This will get you into the complex, through any door, open any prison cell, release any chains. Information on the entire first floor of the building, and directions on how to find the prisoners.”

Ember looks to Wolfbane, who nods agreement with the value of the magic offered. For her own part, Ember understands the tactical significance of the map the man has described.

“Trade builds Trust,” Ember says. “I will need to discuss this proposal with the other members of my group.”

“Of course.”

Without seeing the man make a gesture, Ember and Wolfbane find themselves outside the walls of the Magi stronghold. Arranged neatly on the cavern floor around them are the three silver tablets.

Post 21 (Plans and Preparations)
Plans and Preparations


Ember and Wolfbane gather up the silver tablets, then meet Iris and Pooches to return to the Enclave. Ember tells the party about what the Magi have proposed.

The discussion is somber. None of them except Remmy shows any enthusiasm for entering the fortress of the Zargonites. But they all agree that the mission is just in its own right, and immensely worthwhile if it brings the Magi into alliance with the Maidens. They are also encouraged by the fact that the Magi are so willingly offering up assistance (as opposed to what little the Maidens did for them when they were sent to recover the cure). Iris holds forth that they need a “show of force” to earn the respect of the gormites, and there could be no better one than bearding the zargonites in their own lair, and there is even the possibility of coming away with gormite prisoners. Thus, in the end, they decide that this mission is too valuable to pass up, despite the risk involved.

After that, the talk turns to strategy – just how are they going to get in, and what role will each of them play in the operation? Wolfbane explains that the invisibility spell will last until the recipient takes an aggressive action or casts any spell. Thus, it will be possible for the three spellcasters (assuming Morgan can learn the spell) to repeatedly cast it until everyone in the party is invisible. Then, if they rest one more time, the mages can be at full spells after 16 hours of preparation.

What if they have to attack – it will be obvious they are not zargonites. And what of the prisoner, or even prisoners? They could be made invisible, but at the cost of the one casting the spell becoming visible. Morgan declares that they all need a back-up disguise. She asks to speak with the Great Mother.

The Great Mother is surprised that they are even considering entering the zargonite fortress, but is clear in that she appreciates the party being willing to do it in order to win the support of the Magi. She explains that when not in armor, zargonites wear plain black robes. Their station or rank is communicated by their mask. For example, the fighters the party slew in the ambush had simple, smooth bronze masks that made them appear faceless, for they were of the lowest rank. Morgan asks whether the Maidens have any such robes or masks, and the Great Mother says they have a store of both as they are useful for stealth missions in the city. She says that the party is welcome to as many as they need, except that none of them will fit FluffyKitten.

“Is ok, is ok!” the halfling chimes in. “Me is so good at hidey-hide!”

Morgan asks for eight robes and masks, whichever can best fit the party members, plus another two sets to give to any prisoners found.

After this, there are further tactical talks lasting the better part of an hour. In the end, it is concluded that Ember needs to return to the Magi to ask for three specific items of further help from them. Before that, however, the three mages, Morgan included, need time to study the new spells. Morgan sets great store by the web spell, for example, and the party’s tactics may change based on whether or not she is able to master it.

The three mages retreat to a single tent and hold a long “study session,” helping each other with the spells. Wolfbane has the best knowledge of spell theory, but Iris has considerably more practical experience, and Morgan – is just trying to keep up. After five minutes of trying to study from the monotone tablets in the dim light, their eyes are swimming. Morgan puts one of the precious torches onto the dung fire. Once it has been reduced to coals, she uses the coal to darken just the raised symbols of the silver tablet, providing a natural contrast that allows them to “read” it like they would a page in their spellbooks. It will need to be re-applied later, but it gets the job done. After six hours they emerge, each confident in the knowledge that they could cast any of web, phantasmal force or shield.

  • * * *

The women are taking a break, sharing food with the party as a whole outside their tents. A few “maidens” are with them – playmates of FluffyKitten, and a man Bhelgarn has asked to join them so as to work on his conversation. The maidens on the wall call down an alert, and people begin running through the courtyard.

The party moves to the gate (all except Fluffy, who is encouraging her friends to eat as much as they can before the grownups return). Outside the gate are five people, two women and three men, apparently a delegation from the Magi. They have traded their rainbow robes for plain brown traveling cloaks that cover and obscure their hands. They have called up to the maidens on the wall and now are waiting calmly and passively.

After the Great Mother is summoned, there is a good bit of conversation between them and her. Most of it is too fast for Bhelgarn, but he catches the overall tone well enough – the Mages are requesting entry to the Enclave because they wish to speak to the party, but they are doing so in a very formal and polite way that makes it clear they are asking, not commanding. The Great Mother remains perfectly poised, but the other maidens are having difficulty understanding both that the Magi would want to enter the Enclave, and that the Great Mother would even consider allowing them. It is obvious that this has never happened before, at least not in their lifetimes. All the time they speak, more armored maidens are arriving from the tower, and with none-to-subtle gestures, the Great Mother is directing their placement along the walls or in the courtyard.

Finally, the Great Mother turns to Morgan and asks whether the party wishes to meet with the Magi and Morgan nods her agreement. The portcullis is raised to barely two feet, so that the Magi are forced to crawl on their hands and knees to enter. Their faces betray no emotion despite the snickers of the maidens. The Great Mother motions them over to the party’s tents and the children who had been with FluffyKitten scatter to the winds. The magi are followed by a small contingent of maidens, while the rest disperse or go back to their duties on the wall. Morgan notices, however, that even the ones that have “left” are still hanging about in the courtyard in groups of twos and threes, while the Great Mother herself seems to be having an informal “conversation” with the Captain of the Watch.

By the light of the campfire, Ember recognizes the man she spoke with inside the Magi Complex, but does not see Alyria among the two women present. The man’s introduction and pleasantries are understood by all, and those looking for it note that he has a communication disk in one hand. After a brief and vague well-wishing, the man asks whether the party has considered their “proposition”. He chooses the words carefully, as he looks about and notices the number of maidens within earshot.

Morgan says that they have considered it, and are in agreement, although there are a few points of negotiation remaining. One of the magi opens a leather case to reveal a silver tablet, and this they pass across the fire to Wolfbane. Another magus takes a small silver ring out of a pouch and hands it to Morgan.


The lead magus shows Morgan how the ring has a pattern of five knots around it. He tells her that each time it is “used”, one of those knots will untie. When all of them are gone, it will be a simple silver ring.

A third magus hands over a small, flat sheet of silver, no bigger than a hand held flat. On it is etched in fine, delicate lines a map of the entire first floor of the Zargonite fortress. Morgan remembers asking the maidens for a map and having them completely miss the concept. Apparently the magi have retained more abstract knowledge. The lead magi makes sure she is aware of the symbol for the staircase that leads to the prison area.


Finally, these transactions complete, they ask what more the party requires of them. Ember leans forward over the campfire to whisper, and everyone present cannot help but notice how the red glow accentuates her face, how becoming it now appears, how the odd strands of red in her sable hair seem to leap and dance like fire.

“First, we will need to communicate with your man. We ask for the disk you have for this means,” says Ember.

The magus whispers back, in a voice so low that many of those around the fire cannot even hear. “I will leave the one I carry when we go. You will return it to us.”

Ember nods her agreement, then turns and pulls something out of her backpack – an ancient looking green-glass flask with a stoppered top. “We found this in the pyramid, but don’t know what it is. If you can identify it for us, it might be of use.”

The man takes the flask, turns it around in the light, twists but does not open the stopper and inhales deeply as he holds it to his nose. “In the time it takes you to read the tablet we brought, we will know what this is. Send someone for it.”

“When we leave, we may be pursued. It is closer to your hearth than ours. We request that you take us in immediately after our return.”

Now the man, who had been leaning in to whisper, sits back. He takes several long moments, eyes closed, to reflect before leaning in again. “Return our man directly to the side door. Place his hand on the circle if he cannot do so for himself. Only he will enter. But if you are pursued, will will provide you with cover and protection enough for you to make it back here.”

Satisfied, Ember nods. Each of the magi, all five of them, hold up their right palms, so that their pentacle brands can be seen in the flickering light. They remain there, arms outstretched, for an awkward moment. Then FluffyKitten slips by those seated closer to the fire and raises her own palm, placing it flat against the one of a female magi, who smiles and bows her head. Following her lead, four more of the party reach over the fire and meet the magi, palm to palm.

The lead magus hands his disk over to Ember, and then they take their leave.

Post 22 (In and out, and nobody gets hurt...)
In and out, and nobody gets hurt...


After the departure of the magi, the three spellcasters again retreat to their tent and spend the next six hours studying invisibility. At the end of that time, all of them find that they have successfully learned the spell. What follows then is many hours of waiting, as they cast the spell, rest to memorize it again, cast it a second time, and so forth.

During this time, the potion is recovered from the Magi. As fate would have it, it is a potion of invisibility. The Magi explain that the entire draught will produce invisibility for an hour (subject to the same dismissal by attack or casting), but that the potion may be drunk in portions – half of it will grant 30 minutes of effect, for example. The party rapidly incorporates this into their plan for use on the prisoner, or as a back-up should one of them have to attack.

Finally, more than a day after Ember and Wolfbane brought the first set of tablets back from the Magi, the entire party is invisible and at full spells. Morgan and Bhelgarn have taken turns on the wall, watching the Zargonite fortress. In all this time, no one has come in or out of the temple door, but several patrols have used the barracks door to enter or leave, although with no discernible schedule. As they prepare to leave the Enclave, Morgan assigns them all numbers so they can do a “count off” to find one another (they are invisible to one another, as well).

They leave the Enclave as a group, heading for the courtyard between the temple and storage wings of the fortress. All of them but FluffyKitten have their robes on over their armor and have their masks handy.

No one is about. There are lights in some of the upper-story windows of the place, but not many. Once they are across the street, the main group waits, while Thrud and Bhelgarn peel off to investigate the window of the storage room as a possible entry point.


The window is over Bhelgarn’s head, but about chest height for Thrud. Thrud boosts Bhelgarn up to take a look. The dwarf reports that the walls themselves are about five feet thick of stone, and that there are metal bars about halfway in, just out of Thrud’s reach. With Bhelgarn boosting Thrud, the barbarian might be able to reach the bars, and possibly even rend them with his great strength considering their likely age, but it would definitely be noisy. Bhelgarn stays as a lookout at the corner of the storeroom wing, while Thrud returns to the main party and reports. Thrud is then left at the corner of the temple to watch, while the others cluster about the temple door. It is thick, iron, and locked. It is the most iron they have seen in one place since they entered the pyramid.


Remmy listens at the temple door and hears chanting, but from a solitary voice. He checks the door and finds it locked. Taking his time, he slowly and carefully picks the lock but keeps the door closed. At this point, the “prison team” moves into position. The plan is for Remmy, FluffyKitten, and Iris to penetrate the prison layer – they have been chosen as the ones most likely to remain unseen even if they are forced to lose their invisibility. The rest of the party is to provide support and back-up, acting as lookouts and creating distractions as necessary. Remmy wears the knock ring in case his lock-picking fails or he runs out of time. FluffyKitten carries two extra sets of robes in her back. Iris has the invisibility potion and the communications disk.

Remmy opens the door just enough to slip inside. Immediately everyone outside is awash in the thick, cloying smell of incense. Remmy holds the door until FluffyKitten and Iris have squeezed past him. They immediately have to descend steps, for the Temple has a sunken floor. Fortunately it is lit by candles, as only Iris has infravision. The trio move out into the temple.


The temple occupies the entire width of the central wing of the fortress, notwithstanding the five foot thick stone walls. The vaulted ceiling is more than 20 feet overhead at its peak, meaning that the temple occupies both the first and second stories of the building, as the windows along the walls of the barracks indicate that floors are about ten feet high. To the left of the trio are steps up to an altar, upon which are set the illuminating candles as well as braziers with incense. Behind the alter is the robed figure of a Zargonite priest. His mask depicts a large central eye surrounded by four tentacles. He bows his head and moves his shoulders as he speaks in a monotonous and seemingly never-ending chant.

There is a clear central aisle in the temple, but on either side of this are wooden pews. Stylistically they are the same as the pews in the Great Temple on the lowest level of the pyramid, but whereas those were dry, cracked, and worm-eaten, these are well-oiled, glossy, and in excellent condition. It is as much wood as they have seen in one place since entering the pyramid. In the frontmost pew a figure lounges in full bronze plate armor. He appears to be a guard but is more dozing than on-duty. The wall behind the trio is bare stone, but the wall across from them has a huge, full-length tapestry from floor to ceiling and front to back. The tapestry depicts an enormous, monstrous creature with a single eye, central horn, and numerous tentacles. It is surrounded by dozens of worshippers, mostly human though some are humanoid. Its tentacles reach into the crowds of adulants, grabbing people indiscriminately and drawing them to its maw to be devoured. The rear of the temple is shrouded in darkness as the only light comes from the altar candles.

Iris moves back to the door. The thickness of the walls means that the door is deep in a recessed alcove, and opening and closing it are unlikely to be seen by anyone not directly opposite it in the room. She opens the door and whispers the situation to Morgan, then returns to the central aisle. Morgan follows her in, but remains in the recessed alcove of the door, watching the priest and his guard.


Iris, Remmy, and FluffyKitten proceed up the central aisle to the rear of the temple. They go slowly and cautiously, trying not to make noise on the stone floor or bump in to one another. Iris is in the lead, as she can see even as the candlelight fades. She and FluffyKitten both notice, as they proceed, that there is an unpleasant oder, as of rotting flesh, underneath the heavy incense.

Across the entire back of the temple are several steps up, bringing the floor beyond level with the ground outside. Above, flush with the second story, is a railed balcony. Iris is continuing forward when she collides with a soft upright body. It moans lowly and shifts its weight. Iris recoils in horror, but the zombie does not pursue. Heart beating wildly, Iris tries to see if she can go around. The body is the same temperature as the air, so she cannot see it, but it is somewhat warmer than the stone wall behind it, so by moving left and right she can get a sense of where it is as a silhouette blocking her view. However, the more she looks left and right the more bodies she sees – it appears that a row of zombies is completely blocking off access to the stairs in the back of the temple. Worse, the more she moves in front of them the more she seems to be attracting their interest, as several are now tracking her movements and moaning though not leaving their position on the stairs.

Iris whispers “zombies” and retreats, with Remmy close behind her. FluffyKitten has taken refuge underneath the closest pew.

Having anticipated that the prison trio would be advancing through the rear of the temple, Morgan, Odlief, Ember, and Wolfbane have all entered to back them up. Remmy and Iris collide with them upon their retreat and there are several moments of confusion. Morgan hears enough of what is going on to decide that it needs to be discussed, but not here. She leads the party back outside the temple. A quick sound-off reveals that Odleif and FluffyKitten are missing – presumably still inside. Morgan does her best imitation of a chirping cave cricket and brings in Thrud and Bhelgarn for the conference.


Morgan and Ember have a quick conversation. Ember believes that the zombies aren’t moving because they have been ordered to stay in one place or to guard the stairs. Ember believes that she can force the zombies to give way long enough to let the prison team through. But she doesn’t know, and Wolfbane doesn’t know, and no one thought to ask the Magi, whether Ember turning back the undead would count as an aggressive enough action to end her invisibility. Ember presents another conundrum: if she turns the zombies, and they are under the control of the priest, he might be able to feel or sense her meddling. On the other hand, if they attack the priest, the zombies might have been previously commanded to attack anyone who attacks the priest. So she doesn’t know which opponent to tackle first.

Morgan considers the options and makes a decision – Wolfbane will be sent in, to sleep both the priest and his guard. With luck, once the priest is removed the zombies will be directionless and will not react. Even if they do attack, Morgan prefers to fight them without the priest active.

While this conversation is happening outside, FluffyKitten has crept forward, right up to the very line of zombies. She knows they are slow, but wants to see if they will follow her. She pokes one in the leg; it stirs and moans. She pokes it again, and it begins to shuffle forward, out of its place in the line. She dashes back to hide under the pew.

Wolfbane is sent in, with Bhelgarn next to her as protection and Ember just behind to watch the zombies. Wolfbane casts her sleep spell, making sure to target both the priest and the guard.

The priest, lost in his own droning prayer, has not heard her. The guard is alerted by the sound, but it takes him several seconds to come to out of his torpor before he can act. Odleif, however, responds instantly. He had been close to the base of the pulpit stairs. Upon hearing Wolfbane’s voice, and recognizing the sleep spell, he is afraid of being caught in its effect. He runs straight toward Wolfbane’s voice, figuring that would be the safest place. Unfortunately for him, he collides violently with Bhelgarn, and both warriors are sent sprawling to the ground.


Wolfbane completes her spell – she is now visible. The priest slumps over the altar, in complete slumber. The guard leaps to his feet, but then stands there woozily reeling, fighting for consciousness. Bhelgarn and Odleif struggle to their feet. Odleif moves to protect Wolfbane while Bhelgarn charges up the steps to the altar.


The guard draws his sword and turns to face Wolfbane. Odleif decides to wrestle the guard to the ground, hoping that this is “non-aggressive” enough to not spoil his invisibilty. As he lunges forward, however, he becomes visible. With excellent combat reflexes, the guard turns and positions his sword between himself and Odleif. The woodsman suffers a nasty stab wound and collapses. This has given Wolfbane the chance to cast her shield spell, but as the guard turns back to her she does not feel secure. He takes a step forward and swings, but before he can connect, Morgan strikes him from behind.

Bhelgarn reaches the sleeping priest, rapidly binds and gags him, then props him up behind the altar so that he is not visible from the temple proper.

Hearing the sound of combat, FluffyKitten stays hidden beneath her pew, watching for the zombies.

Thrud charges in as Wolfbane fades back. Odleif regains his feet again. Thrud, Odleif, and Morgan surround the guard. He is both tough and skilled, but surrounded at three-to-one he eventually succumbs to their blows. His mask was of an eye surrounded by eight tentacles, ornately carved. This was split in two by Thrud’s final axe blow that claimed his life, however. After he falls, Morgan pushes his body under the front pew. He is bleeding out all over the floor, but might be missed from far enough away. Odleif and Morgan note that although he is wearing bronze plate armor, he does not have grieves as the other zargonites did. Rather, he is wearing knee-high leather boots dyed forest green. These look different enough, and very well-made, so Odleif takes them for later.

As the noise of combat fades, FluffyKitten comes out from under her pew and announces her presence. Most of the party are listening hard for any signs that they have been detected, but the only sounds come from the increasingly distressed zombies, moaning and shuffling, but still in place on the stairs.

With Thrud, Odleif, Morgan, and Wolfbane all now visible, and Ember on hand to watch the zombies, Bhelgarn goes outside the door to stand guard invisibly.


All three members of the prison insertion team are still invisible, so they approach the zombies. The undead, however, are clearly reacting to their presence and growing more agitated at their approach. Wolfbane suggests that since the invisibility spell is an enchantment that affects the mind, and the zombies are mindless creations, it may not work on them.

Ember collects the trio behind her, then approaches the line of zombies as closely as she dares before holding forth her holy symbol and calling on the power of Glöð. She is not seeking to drive them completely away, just force them back far enough to create an opening for the trio to move through. Indeed, the foul creatures are repelled by her holyness and back off on one side long enough for the elf, halfling, and man to slip by.

Beyond the stairs a wide corridor leads down a hallway to the left to a closed door, while just ahead there is a stone archway to a narrow alcove whose far end is blocked by a hanging drapery. The trio make for the alcove. At first, the zombies slowly pursue them, but then return to the stair once the trio passes beyond the archway.


Emboldened by their success, Ember makes a temporary passage for Odlief and Morgan to slip by as well. They are hoping to set up a line-of-site relay to communicate from the team out to the temple.


The trio slip through the central slit of the curtain. To their left is a stone stairway leading up, to their right a long open room. At the end of the room is a large wooden table bathed in candlelight. Three men in plate armor sit around the table. They are talking and drinking, but not drunk. Arched recesses line one of the walls in the position that the Magi’s map indicated as cells for novices.


Odleif whispers to Iris to give him the potion; he drinks about half of it and disappears, then returns the flask to her. The trio slips noiselessly into the room and past the men at the table. The novices’ plate armor is bronze and they have the bronze “faceless” masks of low-ranking zargonites. The stairwell down is open without a railing to separate it from the room and the trio have to be careful not to fall into it in the dark. The top of the stairs is nearly against the far wall, so they pass the men at the table, turn, and begin to make their way down the stairs, led by Iris as she can see. Odleif stays half a room behind them, and as they descend the stairs he takes a position in the corner, near a closed portcullis that appears to guard the entrance of the entire storeroom wing.


Iris is about halfway down the stairs when her footstep triggers some sort of trap. The entire flight of stairs folds into a smooth slide and all three of the team tumble to the bottom. Iris manages to roll out of the way and sprawls across the dungeon floor, but Fluffy slams into the wall at the bottom of the stairs and, a half second later, is further injured when Remmy collides with her. Everywhere else the walls are flat and well-fitted stone, but here at the bottom of the stair the stone blocks have been deliberately left with irregularly projecting surfaces and edges for maximum damage upon impact.

Odleif hears the sound of the stairs and the trio falling, as do the three men at the table. They leap to their feet and rush over to the stairwell, each carrying a candle with them, but fail to see the body of Remmy covering that of Fluffy due to their invisibility. They call to the cells behind them and a few moments later two men emerge in robes and faceless masks but without armor.

In the dungeon, the trio stand and Iris tries to get her bearings. There is a large, open central room with the bulky shapes of numerous items of furniture. The near wall has a row of several iron doors, each with a barred window at face height and a food slot near the floor. Iris checks the first one and finds it empty, but the second one contains a man.


On the floor above, Odleif watches as the men argue a bit, then one of their number moves to the head of the stairwell. He presses a stone on the wall, though Odleif does not see which stone, and the chute resets to stairs with a grinding sound. He begins to descend, calling to the others in Cyndicean as he goes.


Iris holds the disk in her hand and whispers to the man in the cell, “Are you a Magi or a Brother?”

He rises from the bench on which he was sitting, and turns to face the barred window. His movements are slow and deliberate, but unfocused, as if he is in a daze. It does not look like he is confined within the cell. He mumbles something, but Iris does not hear his response.

She tries again. “We are here to rescue you – hold up one finger if you are with the Magi, two for the Brotherhood.”

The man raises his right hand, but is holding up no fingers. He looks at it, as if he does not recognize his own hand, and then holds up his left hand, with the index finger alone.

Iris turns away from the cell and hisses, “Remmy – he’s our magi – get this door open!”

Remmy moves to the cell door, takes out his picks, and tries to open the lock on the door, but does not have any luck. He knocks softly on the door with his ring-hand and there is a satisfying “click” as the door is unlocked. [first use of knock]

Iris opens the cell door, calls FluffyKitten over, retrieves the robe and mask from her, and tells the prisoner to put them on. He does as she tells him, but his movements are agonizingly slow. Iris closes the door.

Remmy hears the footsteps of the novice descending the stairs. He moves to the corner by the stairwell, ready to backstab.


As the man reaches the bottom step, he shouts up to the novices above him, and they down to him. Remmy decides that now is not a good time to silence him. Instead, he listens carefully, and falls into step behind him. The man enters further into the dungeon, looks about, but does not see anyone. He moves to a sconce on the wall, takes down a torch, and lights it with his candle. He again looks about the dungeon, but does not see anything amiss. In the light of the torch, the trio can see many more features of the dungeon. The bulky furniture is in fact instruments of torture, such as racks, thumbscrews, braziers with tongs, and iron boots. Several benches have ropes attached and look like they are used for tying people down. The floor is covered in bloodstains, some old, some fresh. On the walls are mounted whips, scourges, and bone saws. There is a large cask in one corner.


The novice starts toward the nearest cell. Remmy knows that he needs to buy some time for Iris, as the mage prisoner is still standing and dressing. He throws a pebble to the far side of the dungeon, where it plinks off of a cell door. The man immediately whirls about and heads cautiously away. When he is halfway across the floor, Iris whispers to the magi – “Lie down like you were before.” He obediently resumes his place on the bench.

As the man crosses the room to the far side, Remmy shadows him from behind, using his torchlight to discern more about the dungeon. Before the man reaches the far cells, he stops outside an iron door with no window or food slot and carefully checks that it is still locked, then continues to the cell.

The first cell he looks in contains a woman. Remmy can see that she is dressed in filthy, ripped rags. Most of her flesh is exposed, and she has huge purple bruises about her face and neck. Her wrists and ankles have welts as from rope burns, but she is not tied or manacled at the moment. The rags about her thighs and legs are blood-stained. She sits, unmoving, on a bench and does not even react to the torchlight sliding across her face. Remmy catches a glimpse of some sort of upright wooden device in her cell, but does not see any details before the torch-bearing novice moves on.

The next two cells are empty, and the novice looks inside quickly before continuing. The fourth cell, last along the far wall, contains two men, both large and well-muscled. They have both had their right hands cut off and the stumps cauterized. One of the men appears otherwise unharmed – he is not chained, and his simple clothing is dirty but intact. The other man is manacled to the wall and his body is a maze of marks – he has been badly and repeatedly beaten and whipped, and looks poorly-fed besides. The novice spends some time watching them before turning his back and returning to the near side of the room. As he does this, FluffyKitten moves to the large rack in the center of the room.

Remmy follows the novice with the torch halfway across the room, then pauses and lifts a scourge from its mounting off of the wall. He returns to the cell with the two men and waits for the novice to look in the far cell, at which point he knocks [second use] on the cell door and enters. He wishes to tell the unmanacled man to be ready, but he has no words in Cyndician. He simply whispers “Gorm” and places the scourge in his hand. The man stares at the weapon mutely.


The novice with the torch makes his way along the near wall, looking in the cells. When he reaches the cell with the magi, Iris backs away. He raises the torch and looks inside, sees the magi lying on the bench as he should – but wrapped in the black robes of a zargonite, not his prison rags. Immediately he turns and heads to the bottom of the stairs, yelling up to his companions. Two of them, the ones who had been on-duty in armor, move to the stairs. Odleif sees one of them press the wall, though the second man’s body blocks his view and he does not see which stone it is, and they both descend. The two novices who emerged from the alcoves remain warily at the table.

When the two novices reach the bottom of the stairs, they are met by the novice with the torch. Iris slips inside the cell and tells the magi to take off the robes. When he stands up, she helps him, as he is so slow. Standing right in front of him, even by infravision, she can see that he looks frail and emaciated, as if he were starving to death. She also notes that his right index finger has been cut off at the second knuckle.


The novice with the torch leads his brothers to the cell, triumphantly waving his arm at the magi – who at this point is sitting up on his bench but who has no robe on. The novices start arguing amongst one another – Iris, with the disk, can hear the two new ones calling the one with the torch a fearful idiot and him insisting that he saw what he saw and they certainly didn’t volunteer to check the dungeon after the stairs went off…The argument grows more heated until one of the men strikes the door to emphasize his point…and it responds to his blow by rebounding outward, obviously unlocked.

One of the novices charges into the cell, hand raised to strike at the old magi, and Iris trips him. He sprawls across the floor and his head bounces off the edge of the cell bench. Iris is now clearly visible. Reacting to the argument, the free gormite opens his cell door, advancing across the dungeon with a faltering but determined step and the scourge raised. The second novice turns, draws a shortsword, and moves to intercept the gormite. The novice with the torch stands his ground, torch raised but confused and frozen in inaction.

“Drink this!” commands Iris and she shoves the stoppered flask at the magi. He gulps down some of the potion, but more of it falls on his chest than is swallowed. When half the flask is empty, she takes it back from him and finishes it herself. By the time the novice in the cell with them is on his feet, both Iris and the magi are invisible and outside the cell.

The novice with short sword drawn advances on the gormite and smacks him across the side of the head with the flat of the blade. The prisoner collapses on the floor. The novice kicks away his weapon, drags him back to his cell, pushes him inside, and locks the door with a key on a key ring.

FluffyKitten runs, jumps, and snatches an unlit torch from a wall sconce before tumbling to the floor. She lights the torch and returns to her position at the rack. The novice emerges from the magi’s cell, holding his head.


(Back in the temple, Wolfbane’s shield spell has expired. She casts invisibility on herself)

FluffyKitten tosses her lit torch near the novice holding the torch, aiming not to hit him but to have it land nearby and catch his robe on fire. It rolls close to his foot but he does not seem to notice. Fluffy becomes visible but immediately dives under the rack before she is spotted. The novice emerging from the magi’s cell crosses the room and begins speaking with the one outside the gormite cell. The novice with the torch makes for the stairs. Iris follows him closely, the magi on her piggy-back. FluffyKitten follows at a distance, staying in the shadows. She sees which stone he presses before he ascends the stairs.

Remmy picks up the torch thrown by FluffyKitten and starts a smoldering fire burning on the rack. While the attention of the novices remains divided between that and the gormite prisoners, he uses the ring to open the windowless iron door, expending two charges as the door is double-locked [uses three and four].

Inside, Remmy finds the room is packed full of baskets, hampers, and nets. Each one contains copious amounts of dried mushrooms. Remmy tosses his torch at a particularly thin basket, hoping to start a fire, then moves back out into the dungeon.


As the novice with the torch ascends the stairs, he calls up to the other two. “There are cell doors open – one of the prisoners has escaped – call for the guards!” Odleif waits until the man with the torch has passed him, then strikes him down with an axe; Odleif is now visible. He scoops up the fallen torch. The two novices who had remained by the table see the woodsman, turn, and begin running toward the temple. Odleif pursues, throws his axe into the back of one and strikes him dead.

The second novice passes the alcove outside of which Bhelgarn waits (Bhelgarn having been recalled from watch duty, and then made his way past the zombies to take Morgan’s place). The novice starts shouting and running up the stairs. Bhelgarn throws an axe after him, but it clatters to the stone steps uselessly. Bhelgarn leaves it where it falls and joins Odleif in falling back to the temple.


By the light of the burning rack, the novices spot FluffyKitten, draw their shortswords, and advance on her. Remmy stabs one in the back, and the man dies from the wound before the scorpion venom can even affect him. The second novice and Remmy begin a deadly dance around the burning rack, striking at each other, shortsword vs. poisoned dagger. Fluffy slips nimbly out of each of their ways.


As Bhelgarn and Odleif return to the the temple, they are mobbed by zombies. Odleif slips by, but Bhelgarn goes down under a wave of them. Ember calls upon her goddess at full force now, driving all of the zombies back. She has broken their command to guard the stairs; they begin to retreat down the hall and Bhelgarn struggles free of the grasps of those who had him.


Thrud charges the zombies not fleeing, swinging his great axe wildly. Iris passes the table as she crosses the floor above with the mage on her back. By the time they reach the temple, there are no animated zombies in sight. Iris passes the mage off to Thrud. The old man feels practically weightless to the barbarian.


After several nicks and scrapes, Remmy manages to strike down the remaining novice. As he regains his breath, FluffyKitten searches the body and pulls forth a set of keys. Together, they re-open the gormite cell and unlock the manacled man. Now they can see that one of his legs is broken and he is unable to walk. His comrade begins helping him slowly limp toward the stairs.

Remmy and Fluffy unlock the cell of the maiden. When she does not respond, Remmy takes her by the hand. She follows mutely as if by rote. The three prisoners and two liberators converge at the bottom of the stairs and FluffyKitten shows Remmy which stone to press. As they pass through the alcove into the temple they can hear shouts ringing and the sounds of men donning armor and grabbing weapons on the second floor.

When Remmy and FluffyKitten appear with the men and woman, they shout to the rest of the party that these are the last of the prisoners. As Morgan begins to organize them for their expeditious retreat, Ember takes the torch from Odleif. She runs it along the length of the tapestry in the temple until it looks as though the entire wall is ablaze. Morgan begins ushering people out the door just as forms appear in the back of the Temple.

The party runs from the temple. The sound of boots and armor follows them. Thrud has returned the old magi to Iris and she has him piggyback; both are still invisible. Thrud is now carrying the beaten gormite, from behind and under his arms, while the man’s thighs straddle Bhelgarn’s shoulders and his broken leg hangs limply. The other gormite leans on Odleif for support but stays close to his comrade. Morgan leads and steadies the dazed maiden, simultaneously scanning ahead and calling out to keep contact with the others. Remmy and FluffyKitten, streaked with sweat and smelling of smoke, stay close to the torchlight produced by the invisible Ember. Wolfbane, also invisible, tries to stay with the group, though she trips and stumbles on the rough cavern floor.

When they are half the distance between the Zargonite fortress and the Magi complex, forms spill out of the temple in pursuit; zombies, warriors, priests. Shouts and curses fill the air, spells explode around the party, but no one goes down. Morgan insists that the three women still invisible keep calling out to her.

Their pursuers reach the center of the street just as the party reaches the walls of the Magi. Then the Zargonites pause, with only a few zombies continuing pursuit. As these corpses approach the walls, arrows of energy shoot out, sizzling as they pierce the flesh of the dead. One collapses, two others stop and then retreat.

The party rounds the corner of the Mages. Remmy knocks on the wall, and Iris moves to the yellow circle that appears. Carefully Iris lowers the mage to the ground, feels for his hand, then holds it out and presses his palm against the circle. No one sees him vanish, as he is still invisible, but Iris can no longer feel him nor hear his labored breathing. She considers returning the communication disk, but then decides against it. They still have the gormites with them. Ember did promise to return the disk – but she did not say when, as far as Iris knows.

The party makes their way around the back of the Magi’s complex, and then up the alley between it and the Madaruan Enclave to its front. Maidens line the walls. The portcullis is closed at first, but it is raised, fully and loudly, upon their arrival. As they enter the Maiden’s compound Iris slowly becomes visible. Transparent and ghostly at first, she is full-bodied by the time the last of them are inside and the portcullis is lowered.

Post 23 (War Clouds Gather)
War Clouds Gather


The compound is filled with Maidens, their men, and their children – more of them together than anyone has seen up to this point. There are gasps as Morgan enters with the maiden, and then she is surrounded by a throng. The High Priestess herself pushes through the knot of women, puts her arm around the maiden, and guides her gently to the tower.

The gormites are met by guards – allowed through the gate with the party, but then their way immediately blocked. The crowd below is torn – affronted by the unthinkable insult of having men of the Brotherhood in their Enclave, but not immune to the sympathy elicited from the obvious bruises and broken leg of one of them. Murmurs and protests sweep through the crowd, accompanied by shouts from along the wall. Voices are raised – it is getting heated and unruly. Invisible, Ember and Wolfbane are being pushed from all sides.

ASKITAH!” bellows the Great Mother from atop the wall, where she has been watching the Zargonites without pause. Immediately the courtyard falls silent. Just a few children, too small to know any better, continue to whine or babble, and these are rapidly removed by their fathers and taken into their tents.

“Maidens,” begins the Great Mother in a voice loud and practiced from years of command. Iris, still holding the disk, translates for the party. “Mark these events well, for someday you will tell your daughters of them, and their daughters!”

“Already you have seen things undreamt of – strangers from the light void. A delegation of Magi, requesting admittance to our Enclave. Men from the Brotherhood, here to ask for our help.” Her arm gestures toward the two men below. Morgan and Ember note how skillfully, with a single phrase, she has neutralized the threat of these two men, subverted their power, and calmed the crowd.

“But stranger things are ahead! Look there! Even now, the Temple of Zargon is burning! Who did this? FOUR WOMEN AND A CHILD. How did they do it? With our help, and with the help of the Magi, working together. Our Mother teaches us to hold strong and secure in our beliefs, to stay true to the roots of our faith, but also to be open to change as we grow. Relationships are living things, and they grow and change as all living things.”

“And now it is time. It is time for us to join together the factions, to unite the Three True Gods. These strangers are here, sent by the Mother, to show us the way. Already they have vanquished a Patriarch of Zargon and his hobgoblin guards. Already they have journeyed to the Underworld and returned to us the cure for vision mushroom addiction. Already they have entered the very fortress of Zargon and returned our precious Nehelli to us, she who many of you had lost hope of ever seeing again. But now, it is our turn. The Maiden calls to you, calls to each of you, to rise up against the Zargonites. This is the time of War. Remember your faith! Remember your vows! Each one of you have pledged to defend the honor of the Maiden, with your own blood.”

“Blood of the Maiden!” she cries.

All those assembled shout back, “BLADES OF THE MAIDENS!”

“The Mother protects!” she cries.

THE SISTERS DEFEND!” they answer.

“Let them hear you!” she shouts, gesturing over the wall.

The crowd takes up the chant, “BLADES OF THE MAIDENS! BLADES OF THE MAIDENS!”, repeating it louder each time, until the whole undercity echoes with their cry.

The Great Mother descends the staircase along the wall, gesturing to Morgan as she goes. Morgan gathers the party, including the gormites. The maiden guards are busy chanting, and offer no resistance to the men’s departure. The Great Mother leads them away from the wall, up to the very base of the tower, and halfway around, so that they can hear one another over the roar of the crowd. Seeing the disk in Iris’ hand, she holds out her own until the elf passes it to her.

Away from the crowd, the face and tone of the Great Mother change dramatically. “I don’t know whether you are the biggest fools I’ve ever met or too clever by half. You could have slipped in, grabbed a prisoner, and come out. Killed a few guards, sure, but nothing they couldn’t hide from the people. But you had to set fire to their temple?”

“Yeah, and that’s not all we set fire to!” says Remmy snidely. “We burned their torture room and their mushroom stores, too!”

“Fire pretty!” says FluffyKitten brightly.

“Indeed,” says the Great Mother. “Regardless, they cannot deny your assault – the whole city has seen it. You have forced them into responding. They will attack us, in force, and soon.” She turns to Morgan. “You said you wanted to see us save ourselves. Well, you have done a masterful job of ensuring that we have no choice other than to do that. I can only hope your negotiations with the Magi were as skilled. If you still plan on getting the Brotherhood into this alliance, I suggest you get these men back to their redoubt before the Zargonites attack.”

Her voice softens somewhat. “Some of you are wounded. I will ask the High Priestess to visit you as you prepare to leave, but don’t ask for more, or wait around. And if your own priestess ever shows up, have her reset that man’s leg – it’s poorly done and won’t heal well, but I doubt he wants one of us to do it.”

The Great Mother returns the disk and takes her leave, and she is not out of earshot before she begins shouting orders to the maidens in preparation for the attack.

“That went well,” says Morgan sarcastically. “If the Great Mother had been invisible, would that have counted as an aggressive act?” She takes the disk and moves over to where the two gormite men are on the ground, one sitting, one lying. “How much of that did you get?” she asks the one who wielded the scourge. The other looks to be delirious from the pain of being transported with his broken leg.

“It is all very confusing,” begins the gormite. “I understand that you rescued us. I believe you are not of this world. The Maiden general thinks the Zargonites will attack soon. You would like the help of the Brotherhood?”

“That’s pretty much it. Who’s higher rank, you or him?”

“He is – I am but a Brother, he is an officer.”

Morgan looks around for Ember out of reflex, but she is still invisible. Morgan says loudly, “You have healing left?” Ember answers in the affirmative, from right next to Morgan, making her start. “Can you get him lucid?”

Ember runs her hand over the man’s leg, checks his forehead, listens to his heart. She stabilizers his knee and has Thrud pull on his ankle with all his might. There is a squishy crack, as his poorly-healed shin separates into two pieces. He doesn’t even have time to scream before he passes out from the pain. Ember is now visible. Thrud moves to his shoulders, holds him down in case he regains consciousness before Ember is done. She carefully but firmly guides his lower leg back together at the correct angle, uses two torches as splints and wraps the leg tightly with cloth. Then she passes her hand over the leg, murmuring “Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei”.

The man’s eyes flutter and he gasps, then he looks about and tries to get up, but Thrud continues to hold him down. He was a strong man once, but Thrud has no difficulty in keeping him still. “Fill him in,” says Morgan to the other man. Several minutes of conversation follow.

At the end, the gormite officer looks at Morgan expectantly. “You are returning us to our Redoubt?” The other man’s cheeks are moist with tears.

“Yes,” Morgan answers, “and in return, we would like you to get us to speak with the highest officer you can.”

“Fair enough. I would suggest you leave us just outside the entrance, and then retire. I will do what I can.”

The party moves back to their tents. Wolfbane decides that she will begin her rest now, in order to more rapidly recover spells. The rest of them take off their zargonite disguises. The High Priestess emerges from the tower and joins them. “The blessings of the Mother be upon you. When I learned you were planning to rescue the magi, I did not mention our Nehelli out of fear of endangering your mission on a false hope. But you returning her to us has done more for the morale of the Maidens than you can know. We are ready for this war.”

The Priestess examines Iris, finds the bruises from when she fell down the stairs. She casts a cure light wounds and brings her to full. She looks at FluffyKitten, covered in more bruises, and uses a cure moderate wounds to restore her to full health. She finds Bhelgarn to be a mass of scratches, cuts, welts, and bite marks from the zombies, and uses a cure serious wounds on him, restoring all but a jagged cut across the back of his neck. Morgan is unwounded.

The Priestess inclines her head respectfully at Remmy and Odleif. “I honor your bravery, good men,” she says, “but I may use the power of the Goddess only on those who are members of the Maidens. I hope you understand.” She turns to Morgan, offers two small skins of liquid. “Here are two potions of healing. I trust your judgement in their use.”

Finally, she addresses the two gormite men. “We have our differences. But it is time to unite the Three True Gods. Commend me to Azerius. Tell him the Maidens are ready to fight alongside the Brotherhood.” Without waiting for a reply, she retreats in their stunned silence.

Morgan examines the “potions” – they look like small waterskins, with bone necks and wax seals. Not exactly a leaded glass potion bottle, and delicate to transport.

“How you both doing?” she asks Remmy and Odleif.

“Okay for now,” says Remmy. Nicks and cuts cover his forearms, but nothing too serious.

Odleif lifts his chain shirt, shows her the nasty stab wound in his abdomen. “I kin use some ’freshment.” Morgan looks around to be sure the High Priestess is out of sight, then lets Odleif drain one of the skins. The other she saves for later.

Leaving Wolfbane behind, the rest of the group takes to the rear wall of the cavern. The undercity is noisy, but it is a restless, tense noise, with none of the singing they heard when they first arrived. As they near the Magi Complex, they hear shouts ringing out along the road in front. Those with infravision can see a zargonite, most likely a priest, flanked by guards. Around them are a ring of cityfolk, following them and listening as he makes an announcement.

“People of Cyndicia! Strangers walk among you! They are not like us! They are here to destroy our world!

They have set fire to our stores of food, and of release! They want to rob you of your right to eat, and to dream!

They have desecrated the temple of Zargon the Great! Our Master stirs and is wroth! Soon he will prowl the streets of the city, and no one will be safe!

We urge you, for your own safety, to turn these people over to us! Anyone who has information that leads to their capture will be rewarded with a lifetime exemption from work duties! Anyone who captures and turns them in will receive a lifetime of release!

But until these people are found, we can give you NO release, and NO food. We must guard what supplies remain for the safety of the city. Stay away from the docks, stay away from the fields – anyone found there will be detained. Anyone found helping the strangers will be punished as a traitor to the city. Be alert! Protect yourselves from these murderous strangers and their traitorous accomplices!"

The longer he speaks, the more agitated the crowd becomes. Remmy takes out his blowgun, while Morgan helps him estimate the distance and direction. He is just about to dip a needle in poison when Ember places her hand on top of the tube. “Listen!” she whispers. “There are messengers all over the city, probably with the same speech. At best this is a distraction and we don’t have time. At worst, that crowd could turn on us, and then we would have to fight cityfolk. Focus on the mission – there will be time for fighting later.”

Remmy reluctantly puts away his weapon. “Morgan, you and Iris talk to the Magi,” says Ember. “We will drop off the gormites. Meet us outside their fortress.”

Morgan and Iris approach the Magi Complex. They knock, and Alyria bids them put their palms on the circle. They appear in the same room as before with the tables and lights. There are fewer people this time, and their conversations are more earnest. Alyria greets them.

“Thank you both. The Master is weak but recovering – mostly he was starved but not beaten. You can count on the Magi as allies. Have you heard what the zargonites are announcing in the streets?”

“Yes,” says Morgan, “we just came from that.”

“They will attack soon.”

“How soon?”

Alyria looks over her shoulder, leans her head in, and whispers. “Although we are not as strong, we believe our intelligence gathering is superior to that of the other two factions. By our estimation, the zargonite high priest is eighth level, and therefore capable of casting fourth level spells. If he had already prayed for spells before your raid, and then needs to change them for an attack, he would need to rest at least six hours and then pray for maybe another hour or more. We estimate the attack will come any time after the next six hours, most likely between eight and twelve.”

When Morgan translates for Iris, the elf exclaims, “Wait, you know about hours?”

Alyria points to a wall-mounted sand hourglass. “We Magi have retained more abstract knowledge than the other two factions.”

Morgan wonders what else they know about that will be useful. “Those crystals – do you have a magic light source we can use?”

Alyria frowns. “Those are permanent magic items, and we have just a few. Everyone is preoccupied with the coming attack, and is unlikely to notice one is missing.” She looks about carefully, then slides the one on the table between them into Morgan’s waiting bag. “Make sure we get it back after the fight – along with the disk,” she says pointedly, then returns the two women to outside the Complex.

When the women rejoin the party, they are told that the gormites have already taken the two men inside, and now they are waiting for a response. Perhaps ten minutes later the gates open – massive twin interlocking iron-bound gates that are set into grooves in the ground and slide laterally. A single man comes forward. He is tall, nearly as tall as Thrud, powerfully built, and clad head to foot in plate armor. His sword is long, as long as Bhelgarn’s bastard sword. When he takes off his helm, he reveals two things – first, a long scar that crosses his forehead, the bridge of his nose, and and his opposite cheek, and second, that his left hand is limp and withered – it can barely hold his helm and certainly wielding a weapon would be impossible.


“I am Azerius, Commander of the Brotherhood of Gorm,” he announces. “I understand we have you to thank for the return of our two brothers.”

Bhelgarn steps forward. The party agreed that as a male, he should represent them to the gormites. “That is correct. We have come to ask you to join an alliance against the zargonites.”

“That is of potential interest to us. Please enter our Redoubt.”

The party enters through the narrow gate in the thick stone walls. Their way is flanked on each side by Brotherhood warriors standing at attention. More than one of them feels uneasy about seeing the familiar blue robes and gold masks.

The courtyard has numerous small stone buildings, but they are dwarfed by two massive stone towers. “That is the Tower of Might,” says Azerius, indicating the one on the left. “And this, the Tower of Justice. Gorm teaches us that both of these things are equally important.” Unlike the courtyard of the maidens, there is no one but soldiers about – no women, no children, and no tents. It seems very sparse and utilitarian.

Azerius continues, “If you are willing, I would like to invite your leader to a ceremony…” Bhelgarn steps forward. “…we call the Rite of Truth. For there can be no Justice without Truth.” Bhelgharn hesitates, looks over his shoulder at Morgan. She has no idea what is transpiring, but moves next to Bhelgarn, receives the disk from him, along with a quick summary.

“Meaning no disrespect, Commander,” she begins. “I am what we consider our leader, at least in situations of combat. If you will accept a woman, I will undergo your Rite of Truth.”

Azerius looks at her, then pointedly at the symbol of the Maiden on her wrist. “We recognize that our way is not for everyone. For your sake as leader, you may enter the Tower of Justice – but I would ask that the other females of your group remain outside, as well as any who are not warriors.”

While Iris and Fluffykitten loiter outside, Odleif, Thrud, Remmy, and Bhelgarn follow Morgan and Azerius into the tower. A number of guards bring up the rear. The entrance feels like a tunnel, due to the massive ten foot thick walls.

The entire first floor of the tower is an open temple – there does not appear to be a staircase, ladder, or any other way to proceed to the higher floors. It is lit with a dim light of no obvious source. The space resembles greatly the temple in the pyramid above – the walls have been painted a sky blue, the ceiling is blue but also has grey and white clouds. In the exact center of the room is a gleaming gold statue of a man with a bronze balance and a silver lightning bolt – the statue is larger than an actual person and is mounted on a base of marble so that the arms of the lowered balance are just within reach of a tall man but the raised bolt is above everyone’s head. Near the statue are two pillars of marble, with a crossbeam of bronze running between them. The tops of the pillars are chest high and they look like they might serve as some sort of altar. Crossed weapons are hung on the walls, but there are no chairs, pews, or benches in sight.

A robed man stands near the marble pillars. He bows his head at Azerius’ approach. Azerius reaches up to the statue, takes down the bronze balance, hangs it on the crossbeam. The robed man produces two handfuls of stones and gives one to Morgan and one to Azerius, who addresses her.

“Each of us may ask questions, in turn. This is our temple, so I will begin, but for every question you answer me, you have the right to ask a question of your own. When we have stated our answers, we will each place a stone on the balance, and the Sky Father will judge our words. Truth has weight; lies dissipate like air. If our replies are equally truthful, their weights will balance. If one of us lies, it will be shown as the more truthful words outweighing the lies.” Morgan nods her understanding and acceptance.

“Six long-sleeps ago, we sent a squadron of Brothers to the upper pyramid. They were supposed to relieve the squadron we had on duty. Neither group has returned to us – they are long overdue. Do you know what has happened to them?”

Morgan composes herself. Time for truth. “Many long-sleeps ago, we arrived from the light-void. We were starving and dying of thirst. When we entered the pyramid, my only thought was of survival. When we found your first squadron, I ordered my people to engage them in combat. We killed them all. Later, we were set upon by others I presume to be your second squadron, most likely in retaliation. We killed them as well. Do I regret the killings, now that I know what your people are like? Yes. Would I change it if I could? Yes. But we did what we did.”

Azerius’ face is somber, but he accepts her words without anger. “You may ask your question.”

Morgan says simply, “Are you interested in the overthrow and destruction of the Zargonites?”

Azerius smiles grimly. “That is something the Brotherhood has worked for since before the fall. It is always our goal and has been for generations immemorial.”

Azerius places a stone on the balance, and his end sinks down. Morgan places hers in the opposite pan and the two sides move up and down, coming to rest at the same level.

He leads again. “What have you done to oppose the Zargonites?”

“We have slain a priest and his guards – the Maidens say he was a Patriarch, but I do not know what that means. We have returned a flower from your underword that has the potential to cure anyone of their mushroom addiction. We have attacked the Zargonite fortress and rescued the two prisoners we returned to you just now. We seek the destruction of the zargonites as much as you do.”

Azerius nods with satisfaction. Morgan asks, “Are you sincerely interested in an alliance with the other two factions, to work together to overthrow the Zargonites?”

“If they are willing to respect our ways, to treat us as equals in the alliance and not pawns, we are prepared to join. If they show themselves worthy of our aid, we would help them. If YOU show yourselves worthy of our aid, we would join with you and them.”

Again stones are placed and found to be in balance. Azerius continues.

“You bear the mark of the Maidens, although you say you are from the light-void. Will you favor the Maidens? If we manage to overcome the Zargonites at last, will you take the side of their faction in any disputes which follow?”

“It is our only interest to help you defeat the zargonites, and restore the rule of the Three True Gods. We have no interest in one faction prevailing over another. If the zargonites are gone but you three continue to fight one another, than anything we have done here has been wasted. We wish that you can come to settle your differences peacefully, without our involvement.”

Morgan reflects for a moment. She has the right to a matching question, but has resolved what she had come to ask already. Then she hits upon something. “Do you have a prophecy regarding us, regarding the coming conflict?”

“A prophecy, no. The Brotherhood does not produce prophets. But we have carefully preserved all of the religious texts that we could recover after the fall. There are some that speak of such a time a this, of the time when strangers would arrive during the rule of the zargonites. The texts say that “the strangers from another world will lead us in victory over the forces of the false god.” There are many among us who believe that they refer to you."

Again the stones balance. Azerius looks at the robed man. “I have no further questions. The Rite of Truth is ended.” The man collects the stones, and Azerius re-hangs the great balance on the golden statue.

“The truth of your words pleases me, as I hope my words have done for you.” Morgan nods. “But there is still the matter of Justice. You have, by your own admission, proclaimed your guilt in the slaying of a score of Brothers. Do you accept my Judgement?”

Morgan swallows. “If it will allow you to enter into an alliance with the other two factions, I will accept your judgement. I ask only that your judgement fall on me, and no others. As their commander, I accept complete responsibility for their actions.”

Azerius squares his shoulders. “The men you killed were guarding the entrance to the light-void to fulfill what is written in the texts. They were all volunteers. Every one of them had pledged their lives to help you get here to the city. Their food and water sustained you. Their armor protected you. Their honey cured you. You would have died without their gifts to you, although neither you nor they knew it. They fulfilled their responsibilities honorably, and fulfilled the word of the texts.”

“Justice cannot ask the impossible. I cannot ask you to bring those brave men back. Justice can only demand that you do what you can. Return their masks to us, so that their spirits may aid the next generation of warriors. Return the helmet of their leader to us, for it is a powerful item, and will be important in our struggle. Return their bodies to us, any that are left, so that we may honor them with our rites. If you do that, you will have proven yourselves worthy and we will join your alliance against the Zargonites. If you do not, we will watch you and them destroy each other, and we will rebuild the city ourselves.”

“I accept your judgement.” Morgan bows, collects the men of the party, and leaves the tower.

“Well?” says Iris upon their exit.

“Do you remember the last time we went up to the pyramid?” says Morgan, then thinks to slip the disk into her belt so that her words will not be understood by any Brothers. “When I said we needed to get anything important so that the NEXT faction wouldn’t give us a quest to go up again?” She lets her tone serve as an answer to Iris’ question as she gathers the others.

Once they are out of the Redoubt, she whispers to the others. “We need to get to the pyramid and back BEFORE this war starts. Go to the Maidens, drop anything you can, take the bare minimum. No food, no gear, just water. This is a forced march – you carry your armor, not wear it. I know that stinks – but if you can’t keep up, don’t go. Who has gorm masks here, and who left them topside? Okay, gather the ones you have here and be prepared to move out. Iris and I need to see the Magi again.”

  • * * *

The common room of the Magi is eerily empty. Just Alyria and the two women. “Everyone else is resting or preparing spells,” she explains.

Morgan gets right to the point. “There was a magic helmet. It was with the gormites in the pyramid, but we gave it to the magi. We need to get it back – it is the only way the Brotherhood will join the alliance. Can you help us?”

Alyria looks concerned, checks to make sure that indeed they are alone. “That will be difficult. Auriga is very interested in personal power. The other two factions rotate their watches in the pyramid – but Auriga has been up there since before I was the gatekeeper. If he thinks it helps him keep power, he won’t let it go.”

“So what do we do?”

Alyria sighs, then a hard edge comes in to her voice. “We will need every mage we have in this war. We were about to send a paper tablet up recalling them to us, and Auriga, too. I had been tasked with organizing that detail. Will you deliver the tablet for us?” When Morgan agrees, Alyria adds “Then I will add to the writing, tell him to turn the helmet over to you.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Auriga would be good to have here when the war comes. But if we have to choose between him and all the Brotherhood, it would be better to have the Brotherhood and not him. Do what you have to do to get the helmet back, just try not to hurt anyone you don’t have to.”

Morgan says she understands. Alyria produces a scroll, and Morgan recalls that Wolfbane told her the magi did not have a word for “scroll”. Just now she called it a “paper tablet”. By the light of an enchanted crystal, she adds a few lines at the end in the indecipherable Cyndician script.

“Good luck” she says, after handing it over to Morgan.

Back at the Enclave, the party readies their gear. After much reflection, Ember decides that she is not going. She has no healing spells at the moment, and would need to rest to have some. But resting defeats the purpose – she does not want the whole party to wait for her, leave late, and be away when the attack starts. Morgan accepts her decision.

“We know the way, with luck we won’t have to fight anything, it is better that you stay here and prepare for an attack,” Morgan says.

“You should take the potion at least,” says Ember.

“We will, and maybe another…” Morgan sees the Great Mother directing preparation for an assault and speaks with her. She requests another potion of healing, in return for delivering a message to the maidens in the pyramid about the impending attack. The Great Mother had not planned on alerting the maidens above, because she did not think she could spare messengers who likely would not be back in time anyway. She is very willing to trade a single potion for the chance that the entire squad could be recalled in time.

With Wolfbane, Ember, and Pooches staying behind, the seven remaining members of the party set out. There is a momentary stop at the Redoubt, as they leave off the few gold masks they had carried with them. Then they leave the cavern. Traveling light, it is a quick two hours up the tunnels. They don’t rest, and arrive at the pyramid winded, but in good shape. There were a few wrong turns in the tunnels, but between Bhelgarn and Odleif they quickly got back on track. They fill their skins in the Great Temple and catch their breath.

The stone statues and iron statues are easily passed, traveling as quickly as they are and with only seven in their group. None of them like the sensation of moving about with their armor in their packs, but it is quicker. They climb the ramp from the Tombs to the third level, and use the spinning room to arrive at the maidens. Morgan delivers the message – the war is coming, and all of the maidens are recalled to the undercity. Pandora says that it will take them a while to pack up and secure their base, and after that they will be traveling slowly in armor, so most likely the party will return before they do. But regardless, they will see them in the city before a long sleep. Pandora leans in close to Morgan and whispers, “I knew you were the ones we were sent to find. Thank you for making this happen.” They leave the wide-eyed maidens securing gear; preparing everything they will take for travel, and everything they will not to be moved to their locked temple – they will leave the dormitory room empty except for the table and chairs.

The party approaches the electrified entrance to the gorm temple, and Bhelgarn secures the key to his pole with practiced ease. Morgan realizes that Hazrad has the other key, and curses under her breath. As soon as they open the door to the temple, they smell the bodies. It is overwhelming, and they have to work to avoid retching. The sheets are stained and discolored.

Iris, looking green in the light of Bhelgarn’s sword, can barely speak. “I don’t think…(she gags, then controls herself)…I don’t think I can carry those…not without being sick…”

Odleif lights a torch, which he says will burn off some of the smell. He looks at Iris sympathetically. “‘Twill get better in t’a halls. It’s jess built up in t’is room, is all. Once we’re movin’ it’ll air out a fair bit.” Then he looks at Morgan. “‘Course, we’ll be smelt fer two levels away by any monsters hereabouts.”

Morgan grimaces. “Then let’s start airing them out. Me, Odleif, and Iris will move these into the hall – Bhelgarn, leave the pole and key please. You, Thrud, Remmy, and Fluffy use the ladder to check on our base. Bring all the gorm masks, plus as many of the candles as you can carry without slowing yourself down.”

After the others depart, the three remaining begin moving the sheet-wrapped corpses to the door. Even Odleif has to work to keep his stomach down as he lifts and drags the limp bundle.

“Ugh, shouldn’t these be stiff or something?” Morgan asks.

“Nae, t’at be only t’a seconn anna t’ird day dead,” responds Odleif. “T’ese ones been dead morrin a week, I reckon.”

The others find their base above undisturbed. They take the masks, and Bhelgarn distributes the “candles” from the box they are in to different sacks, breaking up the load between each of them. There are 19 small sacks full of powder, 23 “candles” of powder wrapped in waxed paper (like the ones taken previously), 16 candles that are longer, slimmer, and have a wooden holder or support stuck in them, and 45 strings set with little clusters of cylinders, somewhat like bunches of grapes. Many of these strange items are leaking powder, have their paper rotted through, are cracked, etc., but some are intact. Bhelgarn believes that he could sort through them and separate out the good from the bad, but he would need time to do so.

The party reunites in the spinning room, and Odleif selects the button for the magi’s corridor. At the statue in front of the false wall, Remmy struggles to remember which way he pulled the wand. He finally guesses more than remembers and tries to the left – the wall slides away and the party proceeds. They knock on the temple door and receive no answer. They knock on the dormitory door and are rewarded with a multitude of surprised voices.

Several minutes later, Auriga opens the door cautiously. Behind him are arranged a dozen mages, all with hands free and prepared to cast.

Morgan is in the front, with Iris, Remmy, and FluffyKitten behind her, and the others farther back in the hall. Morgan has the scroll from the Magi in one hand and the disk in the other, and her sword is sheathed.

“What is it?” demands Auriga. He is wearing the helmet.

“I have a message for you all, from the Magi of the undercity,” she says.

“Well then, give it over,” Auriga says imperiously, and holds forth his hand.

“My instructions were for it to be read to ALL of you,” Morgan insists.

“How DARE you…” begins the mage, but Morgan cuts him off.

“Will someone here read it out loud?” she asks.

Auriga moves away from the door, and does a half-turn so that he can keep track of Morgan but stare down the magi in the room. At first, they are silent. Then, hesitantly, a woman raises her hand. Auriga turns full on her in rage and Morgan seizes the opportunity to toss the scroll over his head. It is caught neatly by the woman and opened. Auriga glares at her, then says. “Fine, read the scroll.”

“By the hand of Skirtos, under the direction of the High Council of the Magi of Usamigares, in the year 1813 FC. The Council has strong reason to suspect an immanent attack on the Complex from the Zargonites. You are all hereby relieved of your mission in the pyramid and encouraged to return as soon as practical to the undercity to assist in the defense of the Complex. Choose your path well.”

“It’s a fake,” scoffs Auriga. “The council would never send a non-Magi to deliver us a sensitive message, much less ones such as these. We already know they have attacked us, then betrayed us to the Maidens.”

“There is more,” the woman continues. “It says that Auriga is ordered to return to them the helmet he took.”

Auriga’s eyes go wide, then narrow to slits. “Let me see that!” he demands, and wrests the scroll from the woman’s grasp. “This is a trick, written by them.”

Morgan shrugs. “I have no knowledge of your script; I can neither read nor write it. I am only delivering the message as Alyra the Gatekeeper asked me to.”

The mood in the room changes immediately. Morgan can tell that her namedropping has had some effect, and that many of the magi are now seriously considering the scroll. Auriga senses the change as well. He can no longer command – he will have to convince. His voice adopts an even tone.

“Brethren,” he says, “think about this. If there is to be an attack on the Complex, we need this helmet. It makes no sense to give it to the strangers. Look here,” he holds up the scroll, shows it to those nearby. “See how the hand changes? How the second part is not signed? Perhaps the first part is real. PERHAPS. But even so, the second part is obviously forged. The most reasonable explanation is that a messenger was sent to us, and the party waylaid him, took the message, and wrote their own end. We cannot go anywhere until we have a verified message.”

Morgan shrugs again. “The Magi need you all. War is coming.”

The magi present begin to murmur amongst themselves. With tentative steps, the room begins to re-arrange itself, with those supporting Auriga on one side, and those opposing him on the other. Seeing the doubt in many of their eyes, Auriga is enraged, and turns on Morgan.

“You have NO place here, stranger!” he shouts. “Incarcellus!” A brownish light shoots from his hands, strikes Morgan in the chest. Thick ropes spring about her, binding her head to toe. A gag appears across her mouth. She falls from the doorway back into the hall.

The room fills with the shouts and accusations of the magi. Iris and FluffyKitten rush forward to Morgan. Iris tries to cut away at the ropes, but it seems like the more she severs, the more appear. Fluffy looks perplexed, then shakes Morgan and tells her, “No rope! No rope!”

Some magi in the room begin casting. A light spell blinds Auriga, and he curses. “I will destroy you for this!” he shouts. A sleep spell from one of his supporters goes off in the hall, and Morgan loses consciousness. FluffyKitten says “Nappy time,” smiles sweetly, and sinks to the floor.

Thrud and Bhelgarn, hearing the shouts, come running up the hallway. Remembering Morgan’s orders, they do not draw their weapons, but are prepared to. They shake Fluffy and Morgan awake, but Morgan is still bound.

“Enough!” shouts a woman – the same woman who read the scroll? Over her head floats a glowing arrow. Her hand is up, held in front of her. Iris knows from experience that all she needs to do is point, and the magic missile will fly instantly and unerringly at her target. “You know this is capable of killing any of you. Don’t make me use it.” The mages fall silent, even Auriga. “Those who want to return to the Complex will pack up now and leave, with no interference. Those who want to stay are welcome to stay.” She lowers her voice to address the mage next to her. “Jannis, pack for me please.” The woman moves so that her back is to the wall, near the door, and she can watch the room. In the end, eight magi move out into the hallway, the woman with the arrow being the last of them. Four, plus Auriga, stay. As the woman and the man named Jannis pass Auriga, they turn suddenly and both grab at the helmet, ripping it from his head and bolting out the door. He is taken by surprise and hurls curses at them, but can do nothing as he is still blinded. His followers start forward, but are stopped by the sight of the magic missile.

By the time Auriga finishes his tirade, Morgan is free from the ropes. She addresses those remaining. “I just want you to know, you are making a big mistake. There are five of you now, alone against all the monsters in the pyramid. Meanwhile your brothers and sisters are being attacked by Zargonites. Bad decision.”

The party, along with the eight magi, retreat down the hall. As a precaution, Remmy pulls the statue wand back to ints central position to close off the wall behind them. The woman with the magic missile addresses Morgan.

“This spell won’t last much longer, and it is my only one. Most of us didn’t take combat spells for today. Do you suppose we could travel with you back to the Undercity?”

Morgan looks at her incredulously. “That one missile is your only spell today?” The woman nods. “Well played,” says Morgan, and chuckles. “Yes, you can come with us, as long as you can keep up, and don’t mind the smell.” The woman raises an eyebrow quizzically, but then the door of the spinning room opens and the wave of stench rolls over them.

Surprisingly, the party makes it down the ramp, through the Tombs, and on to the fifth level without encountering monsters. Odleif finds his “friend” and insists on walking with him, grinning all the while, though (fortunately?) they cannot communicate. The part of lowering the corpses down the ladder to the fifth level is grisly, and none of them care to remember it. Morgan calls for a pause outside the door with the iron statues.

“Okay,” she says, “I think the iron statues won’t be a problem this direction, but the stone statues will be. Anyone carrying a body is going to be slowed enough that they will not be able to make it through before they animate. We will separate into two groups, with those carrying bodies going in the second group, and a few more to defend them. Anyone who can’t take a few hits should be in the first group across.”

“Excuse me,” says the woman whose missile has long since vanished. “When we need to cross the gargoyle room, we usually have a few people take protection from evil. Since the gargoyles are enchanted constructs, they cannot physically attack the spellcaster, so the caster can shield the rest of the group.”

Morgan is dumbfounded. “Well, did anyone take that spell?” A single mage raises his hand.

The mages, all but that one, and FluffyKitten are sent first. All of them make it through before the gargoyles fully animate. While the statues are at the opposite door, the rest of the party enters the room, with one person at the head and one at the foot of each corpse. They pack as tightly as they can three abreast, and stay along the wall. The mage, his spell cast, walks beside them. When the gargoyles see them, they literally fly across the room, but come up short when the mage interposes himself. The next minutes are torture. As they walk, hands holding a week-dead rotting, stinking corpse, no armor on and no weapon in hand, the gargoyles claw and snap at them, often coming within inches or even briefly grabbing their shoulders before the mage can interpose himself, constantly dashing between the two gargoyles and the outermost bearers, Morgan and Odleif. By the time they have traversed the room and are waiting outside, Morgan decides that she has paid proper penance for the killings and has no more use for remorse.

Cornering the pit trap is hard, going down the ladder to the tunnels is grim, but they finally enter the tunnels. Odleif and Iris are sent back to collect water, since Morgan did not want the bodies in the fountain room for any longer than necessary. Then they begin the long, grueling descent. After she is asked for the third time, Morgan makes it clear to the magi that she will not answer why the bodies or the helmet are needed in the undercity, only that they are.

They have been traveling in the tunnels perhaps half an hour when Morgan hears the tramp of boots approaching, close at hand but around the corner of an intersection between the fissure they are in and another. Without speaking, Morgan lowers her end of the body to the ground, and motions for the others to do the same. She peers around the corner.

Morgan sees the forms of five or ten humanoids approaching, then hears a human voice shout “Charge them!” The boots break into a run.

Morgan dashes across the intersection and into another branch, then turns about to face Iris, just as a wave of hobgoblins crashes on the front of the party. Iris takes a nasty slash the length of her torso before Morgan can compete her sleep spell.

Five hobgoblins and Iris fall asleep. By the time Bhelgarn and Odleif pick their way over the corpses and the bodies of the hobgoblins, the Zargonite priest has assessed the situation and is running back down the tunnel from which he came. His chain mail hauberk deflects the blows of two thrown handaxes before he is out of sight.

FluffyKitten slits the throats of the hobgoblins while Morgan wakes Iris and Odleif retrieves the axes. Iris is bleeding lightly and has her shirt slit open, but says she can continue. Morgan debates for several minutes armoring up, even going so far as to unpack her mail from her backpack before stuffing it back in. Bhelgarn says “Let’s jess gae noo, or thar woon’t be nae more gobbo’s ta slay! Be a shame tae get thar after tha war’n all.”

Morgan laughs grimly, hefts her backpack, grabs the feet of the corpse, and continues down the tunnel.