Secrets of Mystara

Post 44 - A Shrine to a Foreign God
A Shrine to a Foreign God


With the growing darkness of the evening behind them and the yawning darkness of the cave before them, the party cautiously enters the mouth. Morgan’s infravision sees that the tunnel opens up into a larger chamber, but she does not note any sources of heat.

The cave mouth beckons

Odleif lights his lantern, opens the front shutter, and shines the beam into the space ahead. Somewhere inside the rough, natural walls of the cave have given way to smooth, worked stone. The circular room before them has a statue of the grotesque Cretia in its center. Two greenish gems glitter in the statue’s eye sockets. The entire floor of the room is covered with a foot high layer of grass.

From somewhere deep within the shrine comes a disquieting, throbbing, chanting – or so some in the party maintain. Others claim it is merely a trick of the wind in the cave mouth. The sound does not seem particularly louder down any of the three exits from the chamber, so Morgan elects to lead them north – but first, she takes an empty gear sack, crosses the grass, climbs the pedestal of the statue, and covers the head of the foreign god. Even she does not want the eyes of that god staring at their backs.

The first door they come to is of stout wood, and has an iron-plate lock set in it. Morgan ushers Poncherius to the front, and he examines the lock, then shrugs. “No…tools,” he says in halting Common, and Bhelgarn smiles with satisfaction. The next door is the same, and the next.

The corridor continues past the door, running deeper into the mountain than Odleif’s lantern light can penetrate. Morgan doesn’t want to go that deep into the shrine without first knowing what is behind them, so they head back to the entry chamber. This time Morgan watches their rear while Thrud and Odleif take the lead.

To the north, a series of doors are all locked

The next circular chamber (64) is the same size as the first, and also has a statue of Cretia. This statue, however, is cast from solid gold and two fist-sized emeralds glitter from its eyes. Instead of grass, a circular rug, 30 feet in diameter, surrounds the statue. The rug is made of bright silk, and has been woven with a mosaic pattern in reds, golds, and black. A ring of the stone floor, 10 feet wide, circles the outer wall of the room. Thrud and Odleif walk completely around the room, but do not approach the statue.

A second chamber…and a second statue of the god Cretia

Ember does not know anything about the god Cretia, or the religion of the Ethangari, but the motif of successively more holy sanctums as one goes deeper into the shrine seems clear and universal. The room has but one other exit, though, and it leads to the right, not further back into the mountain.

Following the corridor leaving the room, they round a corner and come back toward the mountain face. There is a door to their right, and the corridor continues beyond.

They try the door, and find this one unlocked. It goes down a short hallway, and then opens into a small chamber, heavy with the scent of wood smoke. There is a sack of grain, a quern, and a recently-used griddle, with a small stack of wood near-by. There is an oven and a stew cauldron, and a few assorted pots and pans hanging from iron spikes driven into the stone walls. The ceiling above the fire pit is black with soot, but a fissure in the rock hints at a possible natural flue. There is a barrel half-full of water and a ladle, but no obvious source of the water itself.

A kitchen, and a hallway with doors

There is little else of interest in the room (63), but on a wooden shelf there are several brown woolen robes. Morgan puts one on, slipping it over her armor, but Ember shakes her head and no one else in the party dares. Morgan tells them to mark the room well, as it seems a defensible spot should they need to retreat and rest at some point.

Emerging back into the hallway, they proceed. The corridor splits, with one branch returning to the entry chamber and the other ending, but having three wooden doors along its length. Listening at the first door, they hear the voices of men engaged in casual conversation, but when they try the door, they find it barred from the inside. Immediately the men’s voices rise in alarm, and they begin shouting. A few seconds later the other doors open, men’s heads dart out and assess the situation, and the doors are rapidly closed again. More shouting, room to room, ensues, but it is all in Ethengari. The unmistakable sounds of metal-on-metal, of men arming and armoring, are heard. The party withdraws to the end of the corridor. Wolfbane casts her shield spell, preparing for the inevitable combat.

After many tense minutes, there is a commanding shout, and all three doors open at once. Fifteen men pour into the corridor, screaming zealous cries. The first three, from the nearest room, are clad in plate and shield, while the dozen at their back are in chain. All of the men have swords. The men in the lead charge Morgan, ignoring the rest of the party, who are arranged along both branches of the forking corridor.

The guardians of the shrine pour into the hall. To the left wait Odleif, Thrud, Ember, and Pooches – to the right, Morgan, Bhelgarn, Wolfbane, Poncherius, and Fluffy

Morgan is knocked back by the charge and has taken a few blows when Wolfbane fills the hallway with webs. She manages to ensnare the first three temple guards, the ones in plate, but Morgan and Pooches are caught up in the sticky strands as well and held immobile. As the men struggle in their bindings, just inches from Morgan but unable to reach her, they hurl curses at her in Ethengari. The webs completely block the corridor, so that the dozen men behind their leaders can do nothing for the time being.

Wolfbane and Fluffy, in the northern branch, draw their daggers and begin to cut Morgan out of the webs. Bhelgarn, nearby, is stuffing rags and stray bits of web into the tops of his oil flasks. In the eastern branch, Odleif tosses his boot knife to Ember, and the priestess tries to free Pooches without cutting the dog, who is struggling desperately and barking incessantly.

Poncherius, on guard at the rear of those in the northern branch, calls out “Scary people!” Bhelgarn looks up from his work and sees two men in robes crossing the open chamber with the statue. The dwarf drops his flasks, activates his boots, draws his sword, and charges the men, with Fluffy right behind him.

Ember succeeds in freeing Pooches from the webs and now turns her attention to Morgan, who is hurling curses in elven back at the temple guards. Wolfbane seizes one of the flasks dropped by Bhelgarn and throws it into the webs, only belatedly realizing that there is no source of fire at the moment. Odleif has the same idea, and is just about to toss his unlit lantern underhand into the webs at the base of the still-bound men, when he trips over Pooches, who is now leaping about the hallway in his excitement at being free. Odleif’s lantern crashes to the floor, spilling a large pool of oil in a big slick.

Ember cuts the last of the webs away from Morgan, and pulls her into the northern corridor, touching her breastplate briefly while whispering “Hjerte bedringens vei.”

As Bhelgarn crosses the chamber to attack the robed men, he hears a rumble. From beside him the statue of Cretia animates and strides across the grass. As he turns to look he sees the statue surrounded by a fiery glow and realizes it is not the statue, it is the god Cretia incarnate – arrived from hell to smite him, and carry his soul back to the pits! As the tunnels collapse and all his friends are buried in the rubble, Bhelgarn screams in panic, turns and dashes out of the shrine into the darkness of the night.

From her perch standing high atop the statue’s shoulders, Fluffy sees the Cretian priest cast a spell on Bhelgarn, sees the dwarf’s face twist in terror before he bolts away. The priest laughs wickedly. Fuffy stamps her foot angrily. “Stabby staaaaaab!” she shouts, leaping through the air and coming down with both daggers on the man who just scared her dwarf. Wolfbane shoots a ray from Zenobia’s scepter, paralyzing the other priest.

Morgan is at the edge of the webs, readying her sword to strike at the struggling guards, but Ember tells her to back away. Touching her thumbs together, Ember spreads her hands open, and a flame shoots from each digit in a wide arc in front of her. The temple guards scream as the flames hit them, then again as the webs around them catch, and burning, sticky strands fall across their bodies. Finally the burning webs collapse, dropping them onto the oil-soaked and now flaming floor. A second later the oil flask thrown by Wolfbane drops to the ground and explodes, splashing both the men and Ember with burning oil. The dozen guards who, moments before, had been pressed up tight against their entangled brothers, now back away from the conflagration.

Poncherius sees Bhelgarn disappear out the mouth of the cave. He retreats and grabs at Ember. “Kahina,” he says urgently, “Bhelgarn!” Ember turns away from the flames and the screams of the dying men and sees Fluffy and Wolfbane fighting the two priests, with no sign of the dwarf. She takes off down the hall, with Thrud just behind her.

Morgan stands with her sword at guard, warily watching the men waiting for the flames to die down so they can charge her. “Really, people?” she says, mostly to herself. “It takes six of you to fight two priests, but I get a dozen swordsmen by myself?” Behind her, she hears the creak of Odlief’s bow being drawn. ‘At least I have the woodsman and the dog,’ she muses to herself. ‘Now I just need a scarecrow and a lion and I’ll be unstoppable.’ To buy herself some time, she quickly sheathes her sword, then shoots her own webs over the flames and farther down the corridor.

Bhelgarn runs at double speed down the trail, then trips and screams again as the chasm rises up to swallow him. Shaking and sweating, he crawls gingerly along. Pebbles disturbed by him skitter and bounce off the trail edge down the side of the cliff face. Poncherius runs after him, calling, but Bhelgharn hears only the sound of Cretia screaming for his soul. Ember stands at the mouth of the cave, eyes straining into the darkness. Stars are out, but there is no moon to light the trail.

Fluffy takes down the priest she is fighting with, and Wolfbane stares at the paralyzed man in front of her. From down the hall, Odleif is calling for back-up. Outside, Poncherius is calling after Bhelgarn, and Ember has disappeared. With the combat still raging, she doesn’t have time to tie this man up – but how long will his paralysis last? Should she kill him now and be done with it? She imagines if she were him – is he conscious? Can he see her? Will he feel the blade? Odleif calls again, and Wolfbane gasps, draws her dagger, and sinks it into the neck of the priest, above his metal collar. He makes no sound, but blood spurts from the wound, staining her dagger and hand.

As the flames reach her new web, Morgan casts another, this time capturing five of the guards. By the time the fire has burned through the webs and men, there are only a half-dozen guards remaining, against her, Odleif, and Thrud.

As the battle rages in the hall outside the guard quarters, Wolfbane and Fluffy stand over the body of the paralyzed priest

It seems the more-experienced men were in front, and they clear the back ranks quickly. Sweating, crouching in the hallway to avoid the thick smoke, it seems the battle is over.

Poncherius, on two legs, finally catches up to Bhelgarn on all fours. He dives on the dwarf, grabs and holds him tightly. Bhelgharn struggles feebly, but mostly screams. Eventually his screams fade into sobs, and then, a few minutes later, he tells Poncherius he is alright now, he can let go.

By the time everyone is back in the corridor, the bodies of the priests and guards have been searched. Wolfbane has taken a heavy ring of iron keys from the priest she killed. Morgan has gone through the gear of the guards. The arms and armor are of fair quality, not exceptional, and now much of it has been marred by fire. One shield, however, borne by one of the trio from the first room, feels light to her touch. She raps it against the floor to test its strength, and at once the blood and soot fly off it as if she had plunged it into water. It now shines bright as if just polished.

When Ember is done healing them, Morgan included, Morgan presents her with the shield.

The doors are no longer bolted from the inside. The first room (62c) contains three beds, a table, and three comfortable chairs. On the table are spread dice and a few hundred coins, in gold, electrum, and silver. Thrud sweeps all of these into a bag while the others search the room. There is little of interest; clothing in small footlockers, whetstones, rags, sand, and oil.

The other two rooms (62a, 62b) contain six bunkbeds each, six chairs, and a table. The furnishings are of lesser quality than the first room, but serviceable. There are coins and dice on those tables as well, and these go into Thrud’s sack. Several of the mattresses (of straw-stuffed cotton) are moved into the first room, and then the party takes some time to move the seventeen bodies of the guards and priests into the last room. They set up camp in the first room, resting both for the evening, and for Ember to recover her healing spells.

Bhelgarn is unwounded and has infravision – he takes first watch in the hallway outside the room, after Wolfbane has cast invisibility on him.

The party camps in the quarters of the temple guards

[DM’s note: At day’s end: 54 skins, 8 food rations.]

Ninmonth 26
(ninth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Ember’s sleep is troubled by disturbing dreams. When she wakes in what she takes to be, with no external references, the middle of the night, she feels physically rested but emotionally drained. There are candles aplenty in the room and she lights one to meditate on the flame, spending an hour and a half in prayer. She feels the presence of her goddess, even in this cursed place, and she receives the spells for which she petitions – but they come as if from a long way off, and arrive without the guidance and encouragement to which she is accustomed. When she is done, she spreads the resulting eight orisons and two remedies among the most needy of the party.

Some four or five hours later the party begins to stir. Ember’s second rest has been as troubled as her first. She has received spells, though with equal effort as before. Those on watch confirm that while the torches in the hallways have long since burnt out, the statue chamber is dimly lit with the natural light of a new day. As breakfast is prepared, they take stock of their supplies – enough water for a day and a half, but their food will be gone with the evening meal. Morgan is hopeful that they will find food stores as they press on in the shrine today. She takes it as a good sign that there were no encounters in the night – they may have eliminated all of the guards in the shrine, or those that remain may be holed up with the “real Xanathon”, preparing for the final confrontation. In any event, there are apparently none patrolling, for it has been ten hours or more since their last fight and no one has seen or heard anything.

After Ember has used her full complement of spells they set out.

Moving north, they stop at the first locked door, where Wolfbane tries the ring of keys she recovered from the priest, and quickly finds one that fits the lock. Inside, (57a) the walls of the room are lined with huge bins that take up most of the floor space, allowing only a small area on which they may walk between them. The bins are filled, floor to ceiling, with yellow grain – months, perhaps years, of food for a small group like theirs. They immediately feel better about their supply situation. It is dry and dusty in the storage room, and they leave after a cursory inspection, before anyone can start sneezing.

The grain room

The next room (57b) opens to the same key. It is much the same, but only a third of the bins have grain in them, and even these are but half full. The party spends even less time here.

A second grain room, this one not full

The third room requires a different key, but Wolfbane does locate it on the ring. In this room (58), several dozen small casks are stored on a series of racks around the walls. They count 48 casks in all. Thrud hefts a cask down from the rack and sets it on the floor – Morgan removes the stopper from the bunghole. She sniffs at it and says that it is wine. A rather common grade, but, as she says, “any port in a storm.” The casks are small enough that Thrud can heft one on his shoulder, so after Morgan has replaced the stopper he takes it with them when they leave. He is slow carrying it, but no slower than Morgan in her plate armor.

The wine cask room

They set off down the unexplored corridor, using Bhelgarn’s sword to light their way. They soon arrive at a four way intersection. Their light shows that the northern branch turns a corner – while the other two branches disappear into darkness. They go down the short corridor, which turns into a locked door. As Wolfbane tries various keys, a fruity scent becomes noticeable. Inside the room (59) are several large tubs, two huge, tightly lidded vats, and a cluttered workbench. A sickly sweet odor fills the air. The tubs hold squashed grapes, and are the source of the odor; while the vats contain liquid in more advanced stages of fermentation. On the bench are a number of piles of herbs and some large bottles of liquids, ranging from a thick, blue syrup, to a watery reddish brew. The party is uninterested and retreats to the intersection.

The distillery

They next try the long corridor to the south. A branch to the left leads to two doors. Although these have locks, they are not locked at the moment. In fact, their doors both stand open. The rooms are furnished simply and identically – each with two beds, a desk, a table, two chairs, and a small, stone statue of Cretia on the desk. The desks hold a few pieces of blank parchment, some old quills, and nearly empty bottles of ink. Under the mattress of one of the beds, Morgan does find a bone scroll tube, but the scroll inside is written in Ethengari.

Bedchambers of the priests

“Four beds,” says Morgan. “And we killed just two priests.”

“They may be away from the shrine at the moment,” suggests Ember.

“They may. Or they may be waiting with Xanathon deeper within. Let’s keep going.”

They round the corner, which ends in an unlocked door. When the door is opened, there is a moment of confusion, for behind it is a bare stone wall, as if the door frame was simply set into a small recess in the stone designed to hold it, and nothing more. But before this can register, there is a resounding clang as an iron portcullis crashes to the ground behind them. A few in the back ranks are able to leap out of the way, but poor Pooches is pinned to the stone floor under the portcullis, and commences to whine piteously. It takes Morgan, Thrud, and Odleif, working both sides of the portcullis together, to be able to lift it and free the dog.

A false door and a portcullis trap!

Once the portcullis is lifted, it takes only one of them to hold it up. Morgan remains in the hallway, taking the weight of the heavy iron gate on her shoulders. She tells Oldeif and Poncherius to investigate the false door for any winch or locking mechanism, while she sends the others back to the bedrooms for a bed frame with which to brace it. While she is waiting, Morgan notices something odd about the wall next to her. When the others return, and the portcullis is propped up with a heavy wooden bed frame and two chairs, she explores the wall by feel, and eventually finds the mechanism to trigger a secret door.

The narrow chamber beyond is completely bare. Morgan does not understand its purpose until she sees tiny holes in the wall. Not even as wide as arrow slits, they are just large enough to act as peep holes on to the corridor. So that, she concludes, whoever was in this chamber could spy on those trapped by the portcullis? Spy…and, she realizes, cast spells. But how would they get here to begin with? Some more searching reveals a second secret door – this one opening into the bedchamber.

The clever extent of the trap is revealed

With only one way deeper into the shrine, the party lines up at the intersection, but Morgan hesitates. “We may have cleared out the active defenders,” she muses, “but who knows how many more traps they have?” She organizes them along the hallway. The lead pair searches for traps as they go – probing with poles, and checking the walls, floor, and ceiling. Once they have advanced far enough so that they are spaced along an 80 foot section of the hall (including having just turned a corner (69a)), with ten feet or so between them, they each spend ten minutes checking their area for secret doors. Finding nothing, they advance another 80 feet and try again. By the time they have advanced a third 80 feet and turned a second corner, a four-way intersection and deeper recesses of the shrine lie ahead and Morgan calls them back into marching order.

What follows next begins as odd, progresses through eerie, and ends with some of them in dread. Taking the north branch, they find two bedrooms, similarly furnished to those of the priests, but one with no chairs and just a mattress on the floor in place of one bed. Rounding the corner beyond, they find a portcullis propped up with a bed frame and two chairs.

The cornered corridor leads to a parallel world?

At this point it is obvious that they are in some sort of reverse-image of where they were before. To test this, they go to the wine room and find that it is, indeed, missing one cask. Cooler heads think that they have just been turned around or disoriented. Fluffy seems more bored than concerned. Ember grins, tight-lipped, when anyone looks her way, but to herself mumbles “magic mirror…we are trapped in a magic mirror…”

When there is no doubt but that they are still in the shrine they were before, Morgan leads them back, back around the cornered corridor…and into the same hallways as before. Trying to calm the increasingly spooked group, she tells them that they will rest for a bit in the bedrooms of the priests. This is merely a work of magical trickery, and they will have to think their way past it. She will prepare Read Languages, in case the scroll she found offers some clue to defeat the trap, or perhaps they can find some glyphs or runes on the walls of the enchanted corridor, and Ember will pray for Sense Magic, in the hope that she can find the source of the effect or a way around it.

Midway through their four-hour rest, grumbling stomachs call for their mid-day meal, and they even get to eat it “at table”. They all note their dwindling supplies of food and water. Thrud shares his wine cask liberally with his companions, but Morgan is not in the mood to partake. Fluffy tries to feel her forehead for fever until Morgan swats the halfling away.

Morgan is still pouring over her spellbook when Ember announces that she is ready. She removes a long-unseen and carefully-guarded piece of chalk from her pack, and takes Pooches and Poncherius with her – one for his eyes, and one for his nose, she says. Once out of the bedrooms and away from the lantern light, Ember calls forth the a flame from her essence in her palm. She hopes that by the light of her goddess she may be able to see something that was hidden before.

Ember burns her own essence to light the way

Ember chants her orison of sense magic and starts off down the hallway, Pooches and Poncherius following her closely. As she approaches the corner, she can definitely feel the tingling of an enchantment. The feeling mounts and mounts until she turns the corner, then begins to lessen. She turns back to mark a note on the wall with her chalk – and sees that Pooches and Poncherius are no longer behind her – in fact, they are nowhere to be seen in the hallway!

Poncherius and Pooches follow the priestess a few steps behind, the flickering light from her palm just enough to keep Poncherius’ eyes from truly adjusting to the dark. She rounds the corner in front of them – and her light goes out! Poncherius dashes around the corner, but she is not there. Pooches, feeling the anxiety of his companion, sniffs the ground, circles a few times, then begins to bark in alarm.

Ember moves back and forth in the area of the corner, still sensing the magic but unsure of its source. Down the hallway in front of her, she can hear Pooches barking. Behind her, she finds the hallway she came from is gone. In its place is a stone stairway descending into darkness. She advances to the first stair and increases the intensity of her light. The darkness below seems impenetrable, but it smells dank. She shudders.

In the bedroom, Thrud hears Pooches barking. Cursing himself for letting Ember explore while he guarded the party, he dashes his wine cup to the floor and bolts into the hallway. Reaching Poncherius and Pooches, he demands answers, but the dog only barks and Poncherius is so flustered he has lost his Common. Thrud curses again and bellows Ember’s name at the top of his lungs. When he pauses, he can barely hear her calling back over the sound of Pooches’ barking.

Ember retreats from the stairwell. She begins using her chalk to draw on the floor. She goes around the corner again, toward the sound of the barking, and then answers Thrud’s shout when she hears it. She continues down the hall, going slowly, sensing for magic, drawing an unbroken line of chalk, and holding her flame aloft. Eventually she makes it back to the corner, where the party is gathering. She pulls up her chalk and they return to the bedroom to discuss.

Ember begins with the magic that she sensed at the corner – at both corners. Once Poncherius has his command of Common back, he explains that Ember disappeared in the moment she went around the corner. There is talk about the staircase, and the corridor. Morgan explores the corridor by the light of Bhelgarn’s sword, but finds no runes to read. She does note that no matter how many times she advances down the corridor, she always returns to where the party is waiting.

Slowly a hypothesis is developed, a map sketched out in chalk on the stone of the bedroom floor. What if, when someone turns the near corner (65a), they are instantly transported without knowing, to the far corner (65b)? Then, should they continue, they would eventually return to where they started from. But, if as soon as they turned the corner, they immediately turned around – would they then be able to find the staircase, as Ember did?

With people spread out along the hallway, this approach is tried – and, one by one, they each find themselves in front of the stairway leading down into darkness…

If the secret of the corridor is known, a stairway down can be accessed…

Post 45 - What lies beneath
What lies beneath


Ninmonth 26 (continued) – Afternoon?
(ninth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

The party proceeds down the dark staircase, to a lower level of the shrine to Cretia. The stairs are straight and even, the stonework old but not worn. At their bottom, the stairs open on to a large chamber (66). The room is lined in two rows with a series of statues of an Ethangarian warrior. The statues each traverse the ten feet from floor to ceiling. After a brief examination, Bhelgarn confirms that they do in fact serve as supporting columns, and the plain, unadorned granite was carved as one piece from the same rock that once filled this space (before the chamber was hollowed out). It is considerably cooler and damper here than the level above, and more than one of them is shivering as they adjust. Two corridors leave the chamber – the one to the left turns a corner of worked stone, but the one to the right seems to open on to a natural chamber with rough rock walls. Pooches sniffs the air and whines.

A lower level to the shrine

The party takes the passageway to their right. Around the corner is a long stone hallway, and an open passageway to a chamber on their right. More of them then Pooches are now wrinkling their noses in disgust, for the smell of rotting flesh is coming from the side chamber. Bhelgarn sticks his sword in and has it generate the maximum amount of light. Twenty raised stone platforms line the walls of the chamber (67), ten to either side. Upon each platform lies a moldering corpse, laid out as if in a funery room or mausoleum but only recently dead. None of them care to enter, so they dim their lights and proceed, with some of them speculating that these are sacrifices to the ape-god.

Twenty recently dead bodies, laid out on platforms

At the end of the hallway the corridor splits in a T-intersection, continuing forward to both their left and right, but also opens to their left. The large, irregularly-shaped chamber (71) has three statues in it; one in each of the alcoves at the southern end. The statue in the middle bears the hideous likeness of Cretia, while those to the sides are smaller, and have horns, claws, and wings. Ember believes they are representations of demonic servitors of the ape-god, but others in the party see a resemblance to the living stone statues they once fought in the pyramid. Regardless, they do not enter, but choose the passageway to the right.

A statue of Cretia, with guardians?

The passageway to the right turns again, and enters a long colonnaded hall (72), similar to the entry chamber at the base of the stairs. As before, these statues traverse floor to ceiling and were carved from the living rock of the mountain. Unlike the previous room, where all of the statues were identical, each of these statues seems to depict a different warrior. Some bear scimitars, some spears, some bows, while some have reins in their hands. All are clearly martial figures.

Another hall of statues

The party enters the room cautiously, many of them now remembering the living statues and suspicious that these may yet animate. From behind them a man hisses in Ethengari, and they turn to see a priest casting a spell, flanked by the two stone gargoyles from before. When the priest completes his spell, Poncherius, Pooches, and Thrud all struggle against the feeling that dark iron bands are binding their limbs but eventually free themselves. Ember, however, is held fast in the grip of the magic and cannot move. Eyes open, she remains all too aware of the ensuing fight.

Morgan casts a magic missile at the priest to suppress any further spell-casting until Wolfbane paralyzes him with her scepter. Bhelgarn flashes light from his sword, temporarily blinding both the gargoyles and Thrud. Together, Odleif and Fluffy strike at one gargoyle until it dis-animates, Bhelgarn slays the paralyzed priest, and Morgan brings down the other gargoyle with sword and spell.

It is over in but a moment. By the time they ascertain that Ember is alive, breathing slow and shallow, Pooches is whining pitifully. When he has their attention, and several of them have asked “What is it, boy?” he drops to the floor on his back, legs in the air.

“What the hells?” says Morgan, but Thrud nods.

“He’s playing dead, ya?” says the northman. “The dead are coming!”

Quickly, Wolfbane drops back to defend Ember, first casting invisibility on the priestess to hide her body and then shield on herself. The others drag the huge, stony corpses of the gargoyles across the entryway to the hall, so that anyone who tries to enter, living or dead, will have to climb over them. They then position themselves just beyond the bodies to strike at anyone attempting to cross.

From around the corner come low moans, and then the dead begin to shuffle into sight, almost certainly the ones they saw before laid out on pedestals. With their shambling gait they are indeed having a hard time walking over the gargoyles, and many of them fall and begin crawling forward. The party is set to receive them when Fluffy grows impatient and bounds over the nearest gargoyle and into the scrum. Blades flashing, she is making short work of the dead when Morgan curses and goes in after her.

With their attention focussed on the frontal assault, no one in the open chamber sees a second priest, leading another cohort of zombies, coming in the far entrance until it is too late. His initial spell is cast on Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Odleif, and Wolfbane, and this time it is Wolfbane, standing next to Ember, who is paralyzed. Even as Odleif and Poncherius turn and begin firing at him, a second spell from the priest sends Bhelgarn fleeing in terror, then cowering and whimpering behind one of the columns.

The second wave of zombies enters the room, splitting up to attack the party. Two in particular grab and bite at Wolfbane. Inwardly she screams but still cannot move. She is being being devoured alive, a fitting punishment for having herself killed the priest she paralyzed before. She is at the point of losing consciousness when Thrud barrels his way past the other dead to strike down the ones ripping into her flesh. Then she does black out, but the barbarian binds her wounds while the battle rages around them. Morgan and Fluffy finish off the first wave of zombies, struggle over the bodies of the gargoyles, then join their comrades facing the second wave. Morgan kills the priest, and one by one the dead are struck down until the only sound in the cold stone hall is the party gasping for breath.

The battle had been loud enough for anyone on this level to hear. After several moments go by and no reinforcements arrive, Morgan says that the party will camp here until Ember and Wolfbane recover. She directs the others in barricading both entrances with the stacked bodies of the dead, then completely blocks the way by means of one web spell each, anchored in the piles of bodies. Meanwhile, Thrud opens Wolfbane’s bindings one at a time, rinses her wounds with the wine from his cask (hoping the alcohol is strong enough to kill whatever diseases might have been carried within the rotting mouths of the dead), and then rebinds them carefully with fresh linens. Every so often he returns to Ember’s location just to verify that she is still there, albeit invisible. The others bring out bedrolls and make camp on the stone floor, while Fluffy takes out the pots and wistfully fills them with the last of their supplies.

[Note: after this evening meal, the party is without food, and Pooches was given only a half ration for the day. They have 20 skins of water remaining]

It is perhaps an hour and a half later when Ember gasps deeply and finally finds that she can move. Soon after that Wolfbane stirs as well, groaning and twitching, but remains unconscious. Morgan’s webs are still intact, and those on watch have not heard anything, nor has Pooches warned them of anything approaching, so Ember agrees that they should keep their campsite here until she can pray for spells.

By Bhelgarn’s internal count it is early evening when Ember rises and kneels in prayer, and another hour or so later when she finishes and then moves among the party, healing. Glöð’s Remedy restores Wolfbane to consciousness, and Ember distributes four heartmendings among the others.

Morgan, meanwhile, has restored her complement of offensive spells, but has taken read languages as well. By the flicker of candlelight she now examines the scroll she recovered from under the mattress of one of the priests. Her spell reveals it to be speak with animals. Her initial excitement fades when experimentation reveals that she cannot use it, since it is a clerical scroll, and Ember cannot use it, since it is written in Ethengari (and Morgan’s spell for reading languages affects herself, only). Nonetheless, she packs it carefully away, with an eye toward selling it later.

Despite Ember’s ministrations, many in the party are still battered or bloody, and most had already begun to sleep anyway. Ember and Morgan agree to maintain camp for another watch. Perhaps an hour later the webs sag, fade, and disappear, but Morgan does not bother to renew them – they have been resting some six hours by now with no signs of hostiles about.

Ninmonth 27
(tenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Ember rises early in the new day and begins another round of prayers. She may not be able to hear the wisdom of Glöð, but even here in the bowels of this accursed shrine, her goddess has not forsaken her. When she has cast two Remedies and eight Orisons, she and Morgan agree that the party is ready to press on.

Yawning and stretching, the party clears a path out the western entrance, and proceeds deeper into the shrine.

The party breaks camp

They have not gone far into the hall when Pooches scents something. This time his reaction is not to whine, but to growl, low and menacing. They proceed cautiously, to where the corridor splits, but both branches end in doors. The doors are of stout wood, thicker and more imposing than the other doors they have seen so far. They open out, with the hinges on this side, and a thick bar of wood as well – as if they were keeping something in.

Morgan approaches and listens, hearing deep, guttural grunts and heavy bodies moving about. While listening, she cannot help but smell as well – there is a strong animal-like musky smell clinging to the doors. Pooches’ hackles are raised, and no one in the party believes that whatever is beyond the doors should be freed, so they continue down the open hall.

Halls with iron doors

The corridor splits again, but down each way are identical iron doors. These are even more strongly reinforced than the previous doors, having two iron rods each preventing them from opening out. After a bit of exploration, the party finds that flanking hallways contain another two identical doors.

FOUR iron doors in all

The party hatches a complicated plan wherein they will bang on one of the doors, and then open the opposite one, catching whatever is inside off guard. After arranging and rearranging themselves, the entry team carefully and silently removes the bars from their door. When the distraction team bangs on the iron, it echoes throughout the lower level and the entry team goes to throw open their door – only to find it locked!

After a few moments of hurried conversation, Wolfbane’s key ring is found to have a key to these locks. The distraction team then sets up a loud banging, which covers the clicks of her turning the key and opening the door – on what turns out to be a single, empty room (74).

The room finally revealed

Inside, the large, square room has a metal door set into the middle of each of its sides. A circular hole about 30 feet in diameter leads upward from the middle of the ceiling into the darkness above. The visible ceiling is 15 feet above the floor. Carefully searching the room, they find nothing, except some old and dried stains on the floor. Odlief wagers that these are blood, and notes that they are all on the part of the floor where the ceiling is not visible. The party is at first perplexed by the curious room and why it is so heavily fortified from without. Then Bhelgarn asks to see the maps. Looking at them both in turn, the upper and lower levels of the shrine, he says that this room is directly beneath the second statue of Cretia (the gold one).

Which means, they realize, that if the multicolored silk carpet was covering not floor, but this gaping hole, anyone who approached the statue would surely have fallen thirty feet or more onto this stone floor. And, once here, would have had no means of escape without help from above. A chill goes through them and they decide to leave – but they make sure that they leave one of the metal doors unlocked behind them.

The party proceeds around one of the corners, which turns again and ends in a door. As Morgan approaches it, a serpentine horror slithers out of a cave mouth to her left. The creature is red and green striped, and nearly twenty feet long from its snout to the wicked spine on the tip of its tail. She draws her sword and takes a step back, while the snake rears up, bringing its huge head level with her own. The snake’s eyes whirl with all the colors of the rainbow, and Morgan feels herself getting drowsy. Her sword tip droops for a second before she shakes her head to clear it. The snake hisses in frustration, and its tail darts forward, the spine knocking into Morgan’s armor.

Trussst in me!

A door…and a hypnosnake!

Morgan grimaces, then sinks her sword into the snake’s neck. From behind her, Thrud charges forward, burying his axe deep into the snake’s back. Fluffy darts past Morgan, dashing to the side of the snake and opening up a pair of vicious slits along its belly. From over Morgan’s shoulder, Ember hurls a ball of flame, striking the creature in its face. The bright flame mixes with the rainbow color of its huge eyes and it lashes about violently. Finally, it is still.

As Morgan cleans her blade, Thrud feels something stir in his backpack. Bemused, he calls for a halt as he takes it off and begins unpacking things. When he reaches the horn of Zargon he gasps and drops back. The horn now has six tiny tentacles at its base, each no thicker than a man’s finger and perhaps twice as long. As the party watches in horror, the horn uses its tentacles to pull itself forward, struggle free of the pack, and begin laboriously dragging itself across the stone floor. Thrud shudders and empties a sack, then uses the sack to pick up the horn without touching it. The tentacles writhe ineffectually in the air. Turning it over, he discovers a tiny mouth with six miniature teeth in the center of the tentacles. Thrud asks Odleif for a flask of lantern oil, then pours it slowly over the base of the horn, dowsing the tentacles and mouth. When a torch flame is set to it, the tentacles jerk, burst in a spray of ichor, then harden and shrivel. Thrud continues to apply the flame until all trace of the tentacles and mouth are burnt away, and only the horn remains. Ember notes with concern that the horn does not seem in the least affected by the flame – it is not cracked, charred, or even discolored – but remains its deeply polished black.

The party discusses what this portends in low tones as Thrud repacks. When he is ready, Morgan re-orders them and heads to the door. She opens it, sword drawn, but finds only a short corridor ending in another door.

An empty hall

Looking at the floor, Morgan notes that it is considerably more dusty than every floor they have seen before. The priests and warriors apparently kept the rest of the shrine swept and tended, but have not come here in quite some time. At first she is discouraged – this cannot be where the real Xanathon is holed up. But then again, why have that magic snake guard this door if there is not something important beyond? She resolves to keep going.

Morgan proceeds to the next door and tries to open it, but it does not budge. She checks it – there is no lock, but it appears swollen and stuck from disuse. Sheathing her sword, she takes the handle in both hands, braces one foot on the wall, and heaves.

As the door is forced open, the party is immediately assailed by a terrible wailing, as if a thousand souls were crying in eternal torment. All of the party is affected, but Morgan, Pooches, and Poncherius most of all. They immediately retreat while the rest of the party braces themselves for attack from some unholy horror.

No attack comes, though, and the party sees only an empty room beyond. Morgan has forced herself to halt by the body of the snake – Pooches and Poncherius are by now around the far corner.

The party retreats and confers with Morgan. By now, she seems more sullen than scared. “Nay, nay, I’m alright,” she tells them. “I’m just not going into that accursed room.”

“Well, where should we go?”

“Oh, you all can keep going – with a guard and now a ward, what is beyond must be important – you’ll just have to do it without me.”

The rest of the party gathers up Pooches and Poncherius, and leads them back to Morgan, by which time she tells them that the three of them will keep guard of the party’s rear while they proceed. Odleif shrugs, then stoops to enter the cave mouth from whence the snake came, seeking a safe place for them to rest. Ember follows after him.

The cave (75) opens up into a large space, but the floor is littered with bones and shed skin. Odleif carefully shines his lantern over every surface of floor, concerned that there might be eggs or young about, and Ember notices a glint from the corner. Investigating, she finds a black iron mace inlaid with symbols of silver. It feels light in her hand, and perfectly balanced. Coming out of the cave, she passes her own mace to Thrud while she carries the new one.

Morgan, Pooches, and Poncherius enter the cave, and clear a place to sit. Pooches worries at a bone.

The smaller party reassembles in the hall, led by Ember. She takes them to the threshold of the wailing room (76), but has them wait while she enters. It is cold in the room, and she shivers but proceeds. Closing her eyes, she tries to open her mind’s eye, sense whether there is still an evil presence here, but feels nothing. Perhaps it was just a magical trap. She chants and calls upon Glöð to bless this place, and release any souls that are trapped here in undeath. Finally she calls for the party to enter.

The lair of the snake, and the wailing room

Ember opens the next door, to a corridor that is colder still. Dust swirls in eddies on the floor at the opening of the door.

Another empty hall

By this point, Morgan’s heart has stopped pounding in her chest, and she can actually see beyond the pinpricks her pupils had been. She sighs and stands. “Poncherius, you ready?” she asks. The man doesn’t answer, but his ferret-mask nods slowly. “Pooches?” The dog continues to work at his bone. “Pooches!” she commands. He yelps as if he has been kicked, and pivots to turn his back to her. Morgan supposes she can’t blame the dog for not doing something she was unwilling to herself a few minutes ago. “Fine, mutt,” she says. “But you have to guard our backs.” The dog barks his agreement.

Morgan and Poncherius proceed gingerly through the wailing room, then join the rest of the party who are standing in front of the next door. They give way to allow Morgan to the front but she waves them off. “No, no,” she says, “It’s good practice for you. Let’s see how you do.”

Thrud opens the door. The room is dark, and empty except for a single figure that lurches forward. At first they take it for another zombie, due to its obvious wounds, but it is moving far too fast and as it approaches they realize it is emanating an aura of icy cold.

The wight

Thrud steps into the room and knocks it back with a massive blow of his axe. It stumbles, then falls on its back. As it struggles to rise, Odleif runs forward and buries his sword in its chest – its struggles cease.

Tomb of the barrow-wight

Ember stands over the corpse. Even now, she can feel the presence of the evil spirit, seeking to re-enter the body – any body. She says a prayer to Glöð and forces the spirit to move on, then shudders. It was powerful – as powerful as any undead they have faced, equivalent to the spirit that had inhabited the body of Queen Zenobia – a barrow-wight. This wight, though, did not have a queen’s burial chamber to haunt – just an empty room of stone.

“Well done,” says Morgan, entering the room. She looks about. “No treasure, but another door – that thing was another guard. Whatever is behind that door, Xanathon does not want us to find, that much is certain.” She throws open the far door, but finds only a small hall or antechamber, barely ten feet square.

She makes for the next door, but as she approaches it, gives pause. It is not cold – that effect seemed to be generated by the wight. But she feels a very real sense of dread, a foreboding about this last door. She turns to order the party into position, but finds that her throat has gone dry. She struggles to swallow, then arranges people in their positions, and finally opens the door.

The room of the gem

This chamber is lit with a pulsating, eerie light that seems to be emanating from a giant gem. The gem is on a chain looped over a huge stone throne, and seated in this throne is a shadowy image of pure evil. It rises with with menacing slowness…


The chamber is filled with riches. Many coins lie along the sides of the vault, and several leather items and bottles are also visible. Ignoring these, the first rank of the party (Thrud and Odleif) enters the room, giving way for the second rank (Morgan and Ember). When Ember sees the figure she gives a wheeze as if the air had been knocked from her. With shaking hands she holds aloft her symbol of Glöð and tries to banish to foul being.

A soundless, mocking laugh hangs heavily in the air. Wordlessly, and yet heard in every mind, the spectre intones, “Fine, priestess, you will be the first to fall…” The form drifts from the throne toward them, its feet not touching the floor.

Aldri!” bellows Thrud, and he runs forward to interpose himself between the spectre and Ember. It strikes at him but he dodges, then returns to his position guarding the priestess.

Morgan shoots a magic missile at the gem, knocking it back, so that it clatters against the stone throne, still tethered by its golden chain. Odleif leaps forward with his boots, swings his sword at the spectre but misses, then leaps back away out of its reach before it can turn on him.

Du vil aldri skade henne, sjofel skapning! Ikke mens det er pust i kroppen min!” shouts Thrud, and slices through the form of the spectre with his axe. He meets little more resistance than cutting through smoke, but there is a sound like the tearing of paper.

“Well, then we will just have to remedy that,” says the spectre wordlessly. It lunges suddenly at Thrud, and it is only just in time that he brings his axe up between them.

Morgan shoots another magic missile, this one at the spectre, and sees its form waver as the bolt impacts. While it faces off against Thrud, Bhelgarn and Odleif flank it, and Odleif lands a hit with his sword.

“Mrrraaaagggh!” it curses soundlessly, and reaches forward, grabbing Thrud by his throat with an insubstantial hand. The barbarian’s body goes taut, and all color drains from his face. Forcing his limbs to work by sheer will, Thrud brings his axe up and cleaves down through the form of the spectre, dissipating it into thin air. A second later his axe clatters to the stone floor, and he collapses.

[Note: Thrud has been drained of 17,121 xp and has gone from Level 5 to Level 3].

Ember rushes to Thrud’s side, trying to minister to him, but aside from black, necrotic frostbite on his throat, his wounds seem more spiritual than physical. Bhelgarn approaches the throne and lifts the gem by its chain, being careful not to touch the gemstone itself. It is the largest diamond he has ever seen. As he peers into its faceted depths, he feels dizzy and his knees go weak. Just before he collapses, he spots an image – there is a body floating in the depths of the gem – an old but powerful bald man – Xanathon! He closes his eyes, sets the gem down, and swoons.

Ember helps Thrud to the edge of the room, so that he can sit with his back supported by the wall. His face is pale and he is trembling. She remembers when Remmy was drained of his life force by the wight in the pyramid. This seems similar, but even stronger. Remmy’s loss was due to his greed, and she did not shed a tear for him, but Thrud’s downfall was caused by his bravery and loyalty and Ember finds herself openly weeping. She knows what has happened to him is beyond her power to cure.

Once Bhelgarn recovers his balance, he sets the gem carefully in a crook of the stone throne and draws his magic sword. He brings the blade of his sword down with all his might on the gem. Sparks fly, his blade is turned, and it cuts a deep nick into the stone – but the gem is untouched.

Odleif turns his lantern up to a full wick and sets it on the floor as he looks about the room. There is a large leather sack amidst the piles of coins and this strikes him as odd. Even more striking, the bag is as supple as if freshly tanned, without a hint of mold or dry-rot, despite lying in the dark for who knows how many years. He shakes it, but nothing falls out. He sticks his hand in…and cannot find the bottom. He gets Bhelgarn to hold his lantern up while he opens the neck of the sack with both hands. Peering inside, it looks like the bag goes down ten feet or so, and is some fifteen or twenty times larger on inside than it is on the outside! Odleif and Bhelgarn grin foolishly at one another in the lantern light. Morgan comes over to the pair and, when she realizes what is going on, tells everyone to start sorting the treasure.

Ember leaves Thrud reclining against the wall, but ignores Morgan’s command. She approaches the throne and squares off against the gem. She had prayed for a new spell earlier, Gutter, Flicker, and Flare, assuming that they would be facing Xanathon or at least other evil priests, but perhaps she can use it against the gem. She casts the spell at the gem…and it is as unaffected as it was previously by Bhelgarn’s sword and Morgan’s magic missile. Ember sighs ruefully. Whatever magic it has, it is a permanent effect, and beyond the power of her spell.

In ten minutes, the party has sorted all of the treasure. There are hundreds of platinum pieces, thousands of gold, tens of thousands of silver coins, and they have been heaped into neat piles. There are more than a score of gems, large and small. There is a pair of boots, their leather in as fine a state as that of the bag, a ring, and two flasks of brightly colored liquid.

Morgan takes the two potion flasks.

Wolfbane tries on the ring. After concentrating on it, she is sure that it is a ring of spell turning – any spells cast at her will automatically be reflected back at the caster! The party agrees that she should keep it, though Ember cautions her to remove it before she asks for healing.

Bhelgarn tries on the boots, which fit him very well. He tries running, jumping, lifting things, all to no effect. The party notes that anything he does, however, is nearly soundless. Since he is more than content with his own boots of speed, the party decides that these boots should go to Thrud. The barbarian waves his acquiescence disinterestedly.

The gems are given to Ember to hold as party treasure.

At that point, the party begins filling the bag with coins – first the platinum, then the gold, then the silver. The bag seems not only larger on the inside, but to be affected only minimally by the weight of what is put inside as well. Far more than half the silver has been put in when it is finally full, but there are still several thousand silver coins left over.

After this, the party falls to debating. Morgan was sure that they would find the real Xanathon in the shrine, and be able to slay him. She had been quite looking forward to carrying his head back to Rhoona. Now, she is not so sure. What is the meaning of the image of him in the gem, and why was it protected so fiercely? Does his real body perhaps lie entombed in the shrine somewhere they have not been? They have recovered the gem, which is of obvious importance, but what do they do with it, and what do they do now?

Wolfbane says that while the gem may appear indestructible, nothing is truly indestructible – at least nothing made by mortals. Magic always comes at a price, and the more protected an item is, the more vulnerable it must be to a certain thing – the toll of a bell, the laughter of a child, the eyelash of a giant. The trick is figuring out to what the gem is vulnerable without a clue in a world of possibilities.

The conversation has gone around a few times, but still nothing has been resolved. Ember asks for time to rest and pray. She will call on Glöð for guidance. Up till now she has not received anything other than spells, but perhaps with the spectre dispelled and the gem in her possession, she will be able to make contact with her goddess. Morgan agrees to the rest, but none of them wish to remain in this room, and then they remember that Pooches is still in the snake cave.

Leaving the empty throne and the extra silver coins behind them, the party retreats back to the hallway and a relieved Pooches. The snake cave is a bit cramped for all of them, but there is still a hallway down which they have not been.

A natural cavern

The hallway opens into a large, apparently empty cave (69). Much moisture is present here, dripping down the walls and collecting in shallow pools on the floor. To the right, a narrow passageway ends in a large stone door, without a handle or hinges, as if it was made to block the way rather than provide access. To the left, twin tunnels disappear into the darkness. There is enough space on the cavern floor, near the hallway where it is still dry, for the party to spread out, and Ember nods her agreement that she can rest and pray here. No one seems interested in investigating the tunnels, and Morgan does not force the issue. The party takes out their bedrolls and a watch is set.

Several hours into a fitful dozing, frequently disturbed by Thrud moaning in his sleep, Morgan finds herself shaken fully awake. Fluffy is tugging at her elbow. “What is it?” she asks suspiciously, looking about at the quietly resting party.

“I iz hungary,” complains Fluffy.

“We all are, but we are out of supplies. You know that. We’ll get food when we return to the first level. Be quiet and let Ember rest.”

“Snicky-snake?” asks the halfling brightly. “I can make snicky-snake snacks?”

Morgan considers. She has eaten snake a few times, herself – generally timber rattler, and has no objection to it. But the snake they killed was obviously magical, and more than likely cursed. She doesn’t need the party all tucking in to it and then being hypnotized by the end of the meal. She mentally goes over what they have killed in the shrine besides the snake – people (no), the dead (shudder), living statues (probably inedible). “No Fluffy, no snake snacks. Have something to drink, fill your stomach with water, and go back to sleep. We’ll eat when we get upstairs.”

As the halfling turns away petulantly and drinks from a waterskin, Morgan looks at the small pile of skins in the center of their camp. By the time they break camp, she estimates, they will be down to nine skins, more or less – not a half-day’s worth for a group their size. She remembers the barrel in the kitchen above, but doubts that will be enough to get them the day and a half out of the mountains to the last stream they crossed on their way here. She keeps that thought to herself.

It is dawn, more or less, by Bhelgarn’s estimate, when Ember rises from her rest. Her eyes are sunken and she looks more tired than before. Glumly, she reports to the party that she tried for hours to reach her goddess – but that every time she got close, the words of Glöð were drowned out by the thunderous hoofbeats of hundreds of horses and the savage cries of apes. She has no guidance for them – not what to do next, nor what to do with the gem.

“But I do,” says Thrud resolutely. Everyone turns to him. He is still pale, but no longer trembling or distant. “I have dreamed a powerful dream. That abomination we destroyed was the spirit of a great Ethangari Khan, held in servitude to Xanathon. He was forced to guard the gem, for the gem contains Xanathon’s soul. If we bring the gem to Xanathon, we will be able to harm him.”

“That may be, valiant Thrud,” Ember says. “But when one is contacted by spirits, one must never trust them. We are in an evil shrine, surrounded by evil dead. It may be that your dream was true, but we cannot know for sure.”

“True or not,” says Morgan, “It is our only lead. And whether it makes him vulnerable or not, we know Xanathon is going to want his gem back. We have something he wants, and he has something we want. It’s high time we headed back to Rhoona.”

The party remains in the cavern just long enough for Ember, Wolfbane, and Morgan to recover a full complement of spells, and then breaks camp. Before they head back to the stairs, however, Morgan insists they first investigate at least one of the tunnels. They proceed to the closer of the two, which opens on a small cave (69a) with a strange wooden frame mounted in it.

Cautious of magic, they approach carefully, but find it is just twin supports holding an axle, about which a rope is wound. There is a hand crank on one end of the axle, and a hole in the ground goes down twenty feet to where a bucket, tied to the rope, hangs just below the surface of water.

A natural well

They bring up the first bucket, and find the water to be cold, clear, and refreshing. Morgan calls for a watch while they take their time filling all of their water skins, and drinking, and filling them again.

More relieved than she lets on, Morgan then leads them back to the stairs.

Post 46 - Have Gem, Will Travel
Have Gem, Will Travel


Ninmonth 27 (continued)
(tenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

With full waterskins, the party ignores the unexplored tunnels and returns by the paths they know to the stairs. They ascend to the first level of the shrine. There is a brief discussion about how to escape the teleport trap, but trial quickly proves that they need do nothing special, they simply walk forward down the hallway and soon find themselves in the intersection between the wine-making room and the priest’s quarters.

Their goal is the kitchen but they pass first through the entrance chamber to gauge the time of day and find it to be early morning, dimly lit with the sun not yet high enough to clear the mountaintops. That fits what their bodies are telling them about the need for breakfast.

In the kitchen they find enough wood, flour, fat, salt, and water to make a reasonable breakfast of griddle cakes, and don’t even have to unpack their camp gear. Thrud insists that they all drink deeply from his wine cask, as he will not be taking it with him. There is very little food left over in the kitchen after breakfast is apportioned – perhaps enough for a lean lunch, but certainly not enough for a five-day trek back to Rhoona.

They have the key to the grain stores, which contain more food than they can eat – but also more food than they can carry. Morgan doesn’t expect that her plow horse is waiting patiently at the trail head, or even alive by this point. There is a hand quern in the kitchen, and they could grind the grain into more portable flour, but a trial run suggests that will take hours and hours, if not a day to make enough flour to take with them. Finally, Odleif suggests that they not grind the grain all the way down to flour for camp-bread, but rather just crack the hulls. Now that they have plenty of water, the cracked wheat can be boiled into a porridge over a campfire, and two hours’ work will get them enough for tonight and tomorrow’s breakfast at least. If they can get out of the mountains into the hills, they can hunt for game. They take turns eating, grinding, and packing, and by mid-morning they are ready to leave.

With no horse to ride or carry gear, all of their loads are re-assessed and re-assigned. Odleif, as ever, carries the lion’s share of water, for with his boots, he is like their own personal camel caravan. Ember, entrusted with the party’s treasure, carries the bag of holding. Morgan resigns herself to packing, rather than wearing, her plate armor. Thrud is feeling loaded, and not from the wine he drank. Rather, he is carrying nearly 800 coins, which is his own personal treasure plus what he collected from the warrior defenders of the shrine. He has to admit that he will not be able to carry all of it and still keep up with the party. Morgan tells him to forget it, as it has to be less than his share of what Odleif is carrying, but he shakes his head and goes off to think for a bit.

When Morgan calls out that it is time to get marching, Thrud returns with a plan, for which he asks Bhelgarn’s assistance. The two of them stand on the narrow ledge outside the cave entrance to the shrine. With Bhelgarn belaying, Thrud carefully makes his way up the nearly vertical mountain face, driving in pitons as he goes, until he reaches the manticore ledge. Once there, he clears a space from the bones and fur-balls in the back of the small cave, then places two sacks with all his accumulated coins as far back as he can, covering them with bones and loose rocks. He removes the pitons on the way down.

“What, are you coming back for that?” asks Morgan incredulously.

“No,” says Thrud happily. “But my children will – I will tell them of this place and they will seek it to earn glory and find their arv, their fødselsrett, ya?”

The party sets off in the mid-morning in good spirits. Dwelling on thoughts of children and their own legacy is more pleasant than thinking about their upcoming confrontation with Xanathon, certainly. At the trailhead there is no sign of the horse beyond days’-old hoofprints going in all directions. Lunch is on the narrow mountain trail, and they are fortunate to have cooked, though cold, leftover griddlecakes without having to unpack their camp gear and with no wood to be had even if they could.

By evening they have made it out of the steepest mountain switchbacks and knife-edge trails. They camp early in an alpine valley, at the first place there is enough scrub-brush to gather for a fire, and cook their cracked wheat to make porridge. It is filling enough but exceedingly bland, and they are all looking forward to the next day’s hunting. Morgan sets the watch schedule before they turn in for the night. [one half day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona]

Ninmonth 28
(eleventh full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Odleif has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, he has advanced to 6th level. He gains the xx NWP]

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Morgan has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 5th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level – but still doesn’t know any! She is, however, now able to summon two magic missiles when she casts the spell.]

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Ember has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 6th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level, and awareness of the specific prayers for Detect Magic, Mother’s Eye, and Fireball. She will no longer earn experience for casting orisons.]

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Wolfbane has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 5th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level – but still doesn’t know any! ]

[Note: Shaken from his encounter with the Spectre, Thrud had been drained down to 3rd level. After a good night’s sleep, however, he has recovered enough to advance to 4th level.]

[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Poncerius has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, he has advanced to 4th level. He gains the NWP of Danger Sense]

The party awakens in their mountain valley. In the early morning light the alpine flowers are pretty, but they are all wondering whether there is any food to be had about. Over their breakfast of cracked-wheat porridge they discuss their plans for the day. Fluffy, Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Wolfbane and Pooches will tend camp for the morning, while Odleif, Thrud, Morgan, and Ember spread out and look for food. The plan is to meet back at camp by mid-day, hopefully with enough food for a quick lunch and eventual dinner, and then get in a half-day’s march along the caravan trail to Rhoona.

Odleif heads upland into the mountains that ring the valley, ranging far until he finds a salt lick. He improvises a snare from the party’s supply of rope, then works his way along the cliffs, tracing the salt layer to several other outcrops and setting snares by them as well. Finally he finds a high point from which he can survey the land beneath him, in the hope of seeing some prey animal he might take with his bow. After a few hours, he retraces his steps, finding every snare but the last one empty. [Set snares, hunting, woodland survival, roll is 6 meals found]

The last snare is in a curious state – the rope frayed and broken, the area of the lick torn up, covered in blood and feathers. Casting about, he finds a hind-quarter haunch of mountain goat, snare still around its hoof. As near as he can make it out, he caught a goat, but then some huge bird of prey found the goat and ripped it apart, consuming or carrying off most of it but dropping the leg. Still, a leg in the hand is worth more than a goat in the bush, so he heads back to camp content.

Thrud heads southeast roughly along the trail, but checking the thickest tangles of scrub he can find. It is fall and nearly everything has been eaten, hoarded or is rotten. After a full morning of searching, he has found only a handful of dry, wizened blueberries. Not worth much by themselves, at least they can be added to the cracked wheat porridge for a bit of flavor. [Survival, Coastal Forest. Roll at disadvantage is 0 meals].

Morgan travels in circles around the camp, increasing her distance at each circuit and looking for game. Eventually she comes upon a pika warren. Approaching from downwind, she is able to shoot a single pika before the rest bolt. She waits a long time, but they do not venture forth again. Not much eating, but in their current situation they will need every bite. [Survival, Forest. Roll at disadvantage is 1 meal.]

Ember goes to the southwest, down into the valley floor, looking for seeps and streams that run through scrub tangles. After a morning of work, she emerges dirty, muddy, and hair full of twigs – and has filled a large sack full of mushrooms! [Mycology, roll is 7 meals].

Back at camp, the party has a wonderful lunch of goat and mushroom stew. [total 14 meals – 8.5 eaten is 5.5 left]. There is even enough left over to save and combine with the last of the cracked wheat for dinner. Camp is broken and they march for the rest of the afternoon, across the open valleys and up and over steep passes. Some of the broader and deeper valleys have thick stands of pine and fir trees that line the trail, but the steep slopes and passes are just dry, dead grass.

Morgan calls for a halt in a valley dense with mountain spruce. She gathers firewood as camp is made, but hears the sound of something large snorting on the other side of a rock outcrop. Returning silently to the party, she gathers a few of the fighter types and seeks out the source of the noise. As they creep around the edge of the rocks, they come face to face with…the old plow horse!

The horse is covered in plastered mud and dust. It is clearly dehydrated, with pinched skin and froth around its mouth, dried salt around its eyes, but is otherwise in good condition. It follows them eagerly back to camp and gulps down water so fast that Morgan has to give it only a few swallows at a time, making it wait before she allows it to drink a bit more. As the party sits around the fire after dinner, they take turns inventing fanciful tales of what happened to the horse and what it did to survive out here in the wilds.

the party ends still in the mountains, at one full day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona

It is after midnight when Morgan, on watch, hears a growling, screeching, and wailing. She moves back along the trail through the woods until she comes upon two huge owlbears. The creatures appear to have been following the trail, perhaps even following them, but are currently scratching at one another and buffeting each other with their wings. She can just barely make out that one of the ’bears has clutched in its paw a goat leg, flesh picked off down to the bone. This appears to be the point of contention, as the one without it tries continually to wrest it from his companion. When she returns to camp, Morgan chides Odleif that it looks like it was the owlbears that “got his goat”.

After Morgan, Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Thrud, and Odleif have armored up, they return along the trail. The owlbears are still fighting. The party whistles and shouts to attract their attention. Without hesitation the two owlbears cease their hostilities and charge through the trees at them. By the time they reach the party, one of them has succumbed to several rounds of missile fire, and the second one does not last long in melee.

Odleif tries a few sample cuts and finds the ‘bears covered in thick muscle, marbled with fat. He licks his lips. “Fetch me lantern!” he says eagerly. "I gots some dressin’ t’ do." Skinned and field-dressed, even one of the huge owlbears is as much meat as they can carry, and more than enough to see the entire party back to Rhoona.

Ninmonth 29
(twelfth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

After a breakfast mostly consisting of owlbear bacon, the party continues south along the caravan trail. All morning is spent passing through the alpine valleys, but from their mid-day camp they can see down the long slope sloughing off the mountain sides into the highland valleys below. Morgan has insisted that everyone carry their own gear, as the plow horse is still recovering from dehydration and it will do no good to load him and then have him founder.

It is late afternoon when Morgan, walking ahead, crests a ridge and sees a group of three ogres coming north along the caravan trail. She darts back quickly before they can see her and warns the party. They retreat a bit along the trail until they find a place where some boulders offer natural concealment and plan an ambush. With the wind direction as it is, it is likely the ogres will get a whiff of them, or the horse, soon after crossing the ridge, so it is decided that the ambush needs bait. Fluffy volunteers.

When everyone is in place, Fluffy ascends to the crest of the ridge and waits. When she judges the ogres are at just the right distance, she climbs on top of a rock and shouts down at them, “Who dares approach Fluffy’s hill? Ogreries? Silly ogreries? Fluffy is on rock, on hill, so Fluffy much bigger than all you! You better run from Fluffy, stupid ogreries!”

At first the ogres look up at her, dumbfounded that anyone so small and alone would dare challenge them. When they finally realize what is going on, they start to chortle and guffaw at her impertinence. This incenses Fluffy, and she hops up and down on her rock, shrieking insults shrilly. One ogre, perhaps craftier than the other two, attempts to sidle his way up the trail, thinking to beat the others to the halfling and so claim her as his meal, alone. When the other two realize what is going on, they stop laughing, and begin racing pell-mell up the trail, throwing elbows and jostling to be first at Fluffy.

At this, Fluffy jumps down, turns and runs back ahead of them.

As she sprints down the trail, Fluffy can hear the ogres coming after her. With every stride they are covering three times the ground, or more, as she is, and they are closing fast. She fears she has misjudged the effect of her chain armor on her speed, and begins to shout, “Now! Trappy now! NOW! NOOOOW!”

The lead ogre is less than ten yards behind Fluffy when the party stands. Odleif and Morgan each get off bow shots, and the ogres halt their charge, confused by the appearance of so many foes when a moment before it had been a single halfling they were chasing. Then Ember calls out, “Ved smia av Glöð!” She makes an overhand swing of her arm, and when her hand reaches the height of her waist a sound rings out like a hammer falling on steel. A single spark flies forward, drifting lazily toward the knot of confused ogres. When it lands at their feet, it erupts in an fiery explosion so intense that all three of them are knocked to the ground. The force of the explosion is accompanied by great gouts of flame, and the caravan trail and nearby rocks are charred, the ogres burned.

After the roaring of the fires fades there is silence for a moment. Then the ogres climb to their feet and start racing away from the party. Odleif and Morgan fire one more shot each, just to convince the ogres to continue their retreat. As they disappear over the ridge, one of them can be heard lamenting in broken Common. “Magic no fair! Bad halfling wizard burn poor ogres…”

The party takes a brief rest and then moves on. This time Odleif is scouting ahead, to pick up any sign of the ogres, but he reports that they went off-trail shortly after running away, and he sees nothing more of their tracks for the rest of the afternoon. The trail has now come off the mountain slope and into the heavily eroded ridge tops and dry washes of the hill country. In the early evening they make camp in a valley bottom.

Ember has been turning things over in her mind all day. In the shrine, she warned Thrud that the spirit he contacted could have been malevolent, could have been lying. But now, having had some days free of the evil influence of that place, she is recalling a tale. She heard it as a novice, when the sisters would tell tales at night. It was the tale of a giant who had hidden his heart so that he could not be killed. A young hero, the son of a king, was able to find the heart and squeeze it until the giant died, thus rescuing his brothers and a princess besides. Now, squeezing the gem is out of the question – they have tried many different ways to destroy it and have not found anything that can harm it. But if there is truth in the tale it may be that the spirit of the Khan was telling Thrud truly that the key to making Xanathon vulnerable is to bring the soul gem near him. Tonight, around the campfire, Ember tells the tale to the party.

after two full day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona

Ninmonth 30
(thirteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

[Note: During her rest, Ember learns that she has now been granted use of the spell Forge of the Mother, which will allow her to temporarily make weapons more potent.]

The day’s travel is the long and arduous climb up the side of one valley, across the dry uplands, down into the next valley, and across the valley floor. If the valley wash is dry, keep going. If a stream is running, fill the skins. Then repeat the process up the next valley side.


This goes on all day. The only encounter comes in the afternoon, down in a thickly-forested valley with a permanent stream, when Odleif, scouting in advance of the party, comes upon two giant weasels lapping water from the stream. Their summer coats of dusty brown are greying – in a month they will be pure white. They are downwind of him and seem not to have noticed his presence. At first he reflects on how valuable their furs will be in the winter, when he could trap them, skin them, and sell the coats as ermine. Then he laughs to himself, thinking of his share of the platinum coins alone in the strange magic bag carried by Ember. He watches them a good while until, having drunk their fill, they move on. Then he returns to the party and leads them across the stream.

In the late afternoon the caravan trail swings east and finally follows a valley rather than cutting across it. Although they are in the valley, they are still climbing as the floor rises and the walls descend. Eventually they emerge on the slope leading to the mountain pass that will take them to Rhoona. There is still daylight enough to push on, so Morgan says they will continue and make camp in the pass itself. But Pooches grows agitated, whining more and more frequently, stopping and sniffing the air. Finally he stops altogether, sits down on the trail, and barks at them as they walk away.

Ember turns and goes back to him, kneels by his side. “What is it, boy? Something not right ahead?”

He turns and looks back across the way they have come, whines again.

“Is it Iris?” she guesses. This time he barks, two short, choking barks. “She’s still out there, isn’t she?” More whines.

Ember stands and looks down at the dog. When he found them a week ago he had been starving, and covered in mud, dried blood, and burrs. Now his coat is sleek and shiny – for early on Fluffy stole Wolfbane’s hairbrush and she has been brushing him whenever the mage is sleeping. He has put on weight with them, and gorged himself on owlbear meat in the last two days. He looks to be in better condition now than when they left the pyramid. And if Iris is still out there, somewhere, she surely needs him more than they do.

“Okay, boy,” she says. “Go find her. Go find Iris!”

Pooches jumps to his feet and starts jogging back along the caravan trail, away from them, with the long, loping strides of a wolf that will be running all night.

“Glöð be with you,” whispers Ember, just before he disappears from view.

They camp as planned in the mountain pass, though with one less of them on watch for the night.

The party’s progress after three days of travel from the shrine

Tenmonth 1
(fourteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

The party spends the morning climbing, and then descending, the narrow mountain pass that is called the “Vestfjord Gap”. On their way down they can see the waters of the fjord far below them, as well as the thick band of dense forests that border the fjord. The city of Rhoona itself is too small and distant to be seen at this point.

The rest of the day is spent crossing the rugged, sparsely forested hills. Morgan and Odleif are expecting to see patrols or scouts for the Ducal Guard, but none are encountered. Some speculate the situation has already been resolved, others that Draco simply isn’t expecting the dwarves to come from this side. Morgan has previously expressed that she doesn’t believe the dwarven army is coming, but now she is curiously silent on the subject.

The party’s progress after four days of travel from the shrine

Tenmonth 2
(fifteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

The party travels along the pine-covered ridgetops of the hills. By mid-afternoon they have passed the ravine where the forces of the temple ambushed them. After that, when there are breaks in the trees, they can see the farms and fields clustered on the north shore of the fjord, and, across the fjord, the buildings of Rhoona. The fjord itself has numerous fishing vessels traversing its waters.

By late afternoon they are emerging from pine stands more and more often, and Morgan worries that they will be spotted from the farmhouses or by any scouts for the guard. Fluffy, slower than most of them but always difficult to see outside, remains on the trail but the main party parallels the trail, working their way from copse to copse. When they spot a familiar stone farmhouse and adjoining barn, Morgan unloads their supplies from the plow horse, points it at the trail, and slaps its rump. Confused at first, by the time it reaches the trail it has its bearings and soon is walking in the direction of the barn.

It is not long after that when Morgan calls a halt for the day. They camp off the trail, in a particularly rugged and densely-forested location that is nonetheless near the village on the north shore. Their campsite is on a hill overlooking the fjord and Rhoona. Although they are surrounded by fields and holds, this patch of land is too rocky and steep to make good cropland or pasture, so there is little chance of the local farming families coming upon them by accident.

After a fifth day of travel, the party arrives at the village on the far shore of the fjord from Rhoona

Tenmonth 3
(sixteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

After an uneventful night, the party wakens early. There is a long discussion of whether they should attempt to return to Rhoona or not. In the end, it is decided that it is too dangerous – they will almost certainly be immediately set upon by either the Ducal Guard, or the Cretians, or both. If they go, it will have to be either at night, or with all of them invisible. Still, they need information – they need to know what is going on in the city – how is the Duke, what is Draco doing, how close are they to war?

After breakfast it is decided that Thrud and Ember, who know the language, will be sent into the village on the north shore, invisible, to gather information. They should be able to find out most of what the party wants to know just by eavesdropping on conversations.

Thrud and Ember do some quick exploration of the village. The docks must have been active in the pre-dawn, but all the fishing boats are out now and there are just a few old men and women there repairing nets. The town dairy farmers are similarly mending tools – having gathered their summer hay, they milk all morning and then have little to do these fall afternoons. It is quickly apparent that the only place to gather information in the village will be in the taverns of inns, of which there are several.

Their first impression of the tavern is that it is huge for the few customers gathered. Ember soon realizes that it was built for the summer caravan trade but is beyond anything needed for local use. A few grizzled men cluster at the bar and sip their ale slowly as they talk, while the large public room sits empty and dark. Near the door are hung posters – reasonably accurate sketch drawings of Morgan and Thrud, less representative pictures of Ember, Poncherius, and Odleif. The sparse text declares them to be criminals and enemies of the state, and offers a large cash reward for information leading to their capture.

Behind the bar are posted copies of the Ducal Decrees. Four of them Ember recognizes – taxes must be paid in beer, horses must be ridden backwards, the declaration of war with the dwarves, and no fires after sundown. One, however, is unfamiliar. She checks the date – after their departure from Rhoona – and then reads the proclamation in its entirety:

“Whereas, the riders of Rhoona must be capable of great and heroic deeds in the imminent war,

and whereas, the condition of their steeds is of utmost importance to the success of the cavalry,

it is hereby decreed that all meat items in the town – to wit, beeves, sheeps, and fishes – shall be declared horse-feed!

Any human found to be consuming said meat, or feeding other than said meat to his steed, shall know the wrath of the Duke!

Such is the word of the Duke of Rhoona."

The mood in the tavern is pretty grim. The men talk about the approaching dwarven army, how long it will take to get to Rhoona, what will happen to the city if it does not immediately capitulate – whether the dwarves will merely loot it or will want to burn it as well, whether the father-flung communities like theirs will be spared. All of the men have kin in the city, and they discuss their plans to get them out. The timing is the tricky part. All of them have boats, or access to boats, but if they make their rescue attempt too soon, before the fighting begins, the Guard could confiscate their boats or even arrest them for sedition. There are rumors of more than one wealthy city merchant who even now sits in the Ducal Guard prison for trying to sneak their family out of the city – apparently Draco considers any public expression of concern about the coming assault to be treasonous. So it will be best to delay any rescue attempt until the fighting has actually begun and the Guard are occupied – but by then it may be too late, and how can they land their boats without being swarmed by refugees?

In each tavern they visit, the talk is the same, variations on this. But in the last one, there is a different angle to the conversation. There, a burly man with one eye claims that the Duke is dead – and has, in fact, been dead for weeks, since his last public appearance. The man says Draco Stormsailer has murdered the Duke and is issuing the decrees in his place. While there is some disagreement among the men in the tavern about this, a few support this man’s claim and even the ones who don’t agree have to admit that it is possible. Ember is chilled to think that the Duke may be dead, and has to keep reminding herself that they saw the Duke alive, and that after four of the proclamations had already been issued. She is curious about why the man is speaking ill of Draco though, and why the others are tolerating such talk. No one in the city dared speak that way. Is it a sign of the desperateness of the situation, or merely that this village is not under the thumb of the Guard?

Ember and Thrud stay until the afternoon, then return to the campsite to report on what they have learned. The situation is discussed over the campfire, long into the night, by everyone except FluffyKitten, who bores quickly and goes directly to bed. It is agreed that they need to arrange an exchange of the gem in return for Xanathon removing the curse on the Duke. Between a description of the shrine and the name of the spectre, it should be obvious to Xanathon that they have the gem. For as much trouble as he took to guard it, it must be very valuable to him. So most of them agree that negotiating a trade – gem for cure – is possible. The hard part will be arranging the transfer, since they can’t do that in town. Eventually, it is agreed that Ember and Thrud, still invisible, will board a boat on the morrow and attempt to reach Rhoona to send a message to the priest. Ember and Thrud retire early, with plans to take the middle watch.

Tenmonth 4
(seventeenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

At midnight, Morgan (who was on first watch), wakes Ember and Thrud. They watch over the camp until a few hours before dawn, then wake their replacements and walk into the village. They arrive before dawn, just as the fishermen are preparing their boats for the day. Most of the craft are small, with two or three men on hook and line, but there are a few larger trawlers. Ember chooses one of these – both to have less chance of them being discovered, and more chance that the boat will actually dock in Rhoona to sell its catch at day’s end.

They spend all day on the boat in the fjord, listening to the men and watching as they lower and raise nets, adjust the sails, row, gut fish, and gossip. They are only a few hours into the day when they learn that there are no plans to land in Rhoona. Over the last week, anyone that has docked in Rhoona has had their boat seized (“temporarily requisitioned for the extent of this brief conflict”) by the Guard. There have even been two attempts by the Guard to seize the ships of the village, but fortunately it is obvious when they are crossing the fjord and every seaworthy vessel in the village was long gone by the time they arrived. Apparently, the scouting forces of the Guard are crippled by the deaths and ill health of the meat-fed horses, so they have taken to using fishing vessels to patrol the fjord road, which is assumed to be the route the dwarven army will take to arrive at Rhoona. Other ships are being prepared to fight off an amphibious assault, should the dwarves try that, and still others have simply been impounded to prevent people from fleeing the city. All the fish that are caught today will be brought back to the village, as every day for the last week a Guard-approved vessel has arrived to take them to the city. So far, the prices have been fair, so the fishermen don’t complain much. They are worried that Draco will start paying less once it is clear that they can’t sell their fish on the open market any more. But then, they are more worried that in a few days’ time Rhoona will be burnt to the ground and the Rhoonese enslaved by the dwarves.

When the talk turns to the Duke, they have a different theory than the one-eyed man of the day before. All of the fishermen on this boat agree that the Duke is suffering from an inherited form of insanity that has afflicted his family for a century. This has never been publicly disclosed since the sickness has never before appeared so openly, but the oldest among them attest that the Duke’s father, once a great man, went mad at the end and had to be put away – and that was how the young Duke came to power! Now it seems it is his turn, but without an heir there was only Draco to take over from him.

Tired, queasy, and smelling of fish, Ember and Thrud leave the boat when it docks in the village in the afternoon and make their way back to the hidden camp. Morgan is frustrated that they were unable to deliver the message to Xanathon, but quickly sets to work devising another plan. Eventually they agree that Ember will write a message to the temple of Forsetta, asking them to deliver a second message to the temple of Cretia. The message to Xanathon will read “We have your soul gem, taken from the shrine at the mountain pass. Khan Khaquor sends his regards. If you want the gem back, bring the Duke with you to the third copse west of the village on the north shore. Come at noon tomorrow. Come alone. Remove your curse on the Duke and we will return the gem to you.” Ember, using Wolfbane’s inks, writes the letter by the light of the campfire, and then a second letter to the temple of Forsetta asking for its delivery. All that remains in the morning is to convince a fisherman to deliver it.

Tenmonth 5
(eighteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Before dawn, Ember (now visible) goes down to the village. She has borrowed a robe from Wolfbane and bound her hair differently to look as little like her wanted poster as she can, and she wears her holy symbol inside her robes. Thrud, invisible, accompanies her. She finds a fisherman preparing to set out alone in a two-man boat with a step-down mast. Her initial offer of 5 gold coins is rebuffed, and the man nearly walks away – and then counters by asking for fifty gold.

“Fifty!” she asks incredulously.

“Oh, ya. Fifty would pay for my boat, should the Guard take it, and what’s more gives me an incentive not to turn you over to them for the reward.”

Put that way, Ember decides to accept – but specifies that it will be twenty-five now, twenty-five when the man returns with proof the message has been delivered. They shake on it, a packet is handed over, and the man sets out across the fjord.

While Ember returns to the camp, Thrud lingers invisibly in town to listen to rumors. All the talk is of the great dwarven army. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who actually saw it approaching along the fjord road. Depending on who is doing the telling, it is either hundreds or thousands strong, dwarves clad in bright plate armor glinting in the sun. Some versions have them pulling huge siege engines, others accompanied by hosts of crossbowmen mounted on mules. Everyone agrees that they are only a few days away.

What follows is a long, tense day of watching the boats on the fjord – followed by anxious excitement when the man is seen to be returning in the afternoon. Ember is dispatched to meet the man at the docks. He turns over a simple leather pouch, tied closed at the top with a fancy knot. When asked what is in the pouch, he shrugs and says he does not know – he was just told by the Forsettan priest to hand it over.

After working a bit on the knot, Ember finds no easy way to open it, so resorts to borrowing a cleaning knife from the man and slitting the bag open. Inside is a scrap of parchment and a small silver coin. The parchment reads, “Message delivered. Don’t trust Xanathon!” The coin is a mystery, but proof enough to warrant giving the fisherman the rest of his payment.

Back at the camp, the coin is discovered to be of Cyndician mint, which is even more of a puzzle – until Ember recognizes it as the coin Morgan took from her to give to Brother Eric is his disguise as a beggar [see Post 41].

Now there is nothing to do except prepare for meeting Xanathon at noon on the morrow!

The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body
Ember's tale

The Princess, Boots, and Greylegs

Once upon a time there was a King who had seven sons, and he loved them so much that he could never bear to be without them all at once, but one must always be with him. Now, when they were grown up, six were to set off to woo, but as for the youngest, his father kept him at home, and the others were to bring back a princess for him to the palace. So the King gave the six the finest clothes you ever set eyes on, so fine that the light gleamed from them a long way off, and each had his horse, which cost many, many hundreds of gold sovereigns, and so they set off. Now, when they had been to many palaces, and seen many princesses, at last they came to a King who had six daughters; such lovely king’s daughters they had never seen, and so they fell to wooing them, each one, and when they had got them for sweethearts, they set off home again, but they quite forgot that they were to bring back with them a sweetheart for Boots, their brother, who stayed at home, for they were over head and ears in love with their own sweethearts.

But when they had gone a good bit on their way, they passed close by a steep hill-side, like a wall, where a giant’s house was, and there the giant came out, and set his eyes upon them, and turned them all into stone, princes and princesses and all. Now the King waited and waited for his six sons, but the more he waited the longer they stayed away; so he fell into great trouble, and said he should never know what it was to be glad again.

“And if I had not you left,” he said to Boots, “I would live no longer, so full of sorrow am I for the loss of your brothers.”

“Well, but now I’ve been thinking to ask your leave to set out and find them again; that’s what I’m thinking of,” said Boots.

“Nay, nay!” said his father; “that leave you shall never get, for then you would stay away too.”

But Boots had set his heart upon it; go he would; and he begged and prayed so long that the King was forced to let him go. Now, you must know the King had no other horse to give Boots but an old broken-down jade, for his six other sons and their train had carried off all his horses; but Boots did not care a pin for that, he sprang up on his sorry old steed.

“Farewell, father,” said he; “I’ll come back, never fear, and like enough I shall bring my six brothers back with me;” and with that he rode off.

So, when he had ridden a while, he came to a Raven, which lay in the road and flapped its wings, and was not able to get out of the way, it was so starved.

“Oh, dear friend,” said the Raven, “give me a little food, and I’ll help you again at your utmost need.”

“I haven’t much food,” said the Prince, “and I don’t see how you’ll ever be able to help me much; but still I can spare you a little. I see you want it.”

So he gave the Raven some of the food he had brought with him.

Now, when he had gone a bit further, he came to a brook, and in the brook lay a great Salmon, which had got upon a dry place, and dashed itself about, and could not get into the water again.

“Oh, dear friend,” said the Salmon to the Prince; “shove me out into the water again, and I’ll help you again at your utmost need.”

“Well!” said the Prince, “the help you’ll give me will not be great, I daresay, but it’s a pity you should lie there and choke;” and with that he shot the fish out into the stream again.

After that he went a long, long way, and there met him a Wolf, which was so famished that it lay and crawled along the road on its belly.

“Dear friend, do let me have your horse,” said the Wolf; “I’m so hungry the wind whistles through my ribs; I’ve had nothing to eat these two years.”

“No,” said Boots, “this will never do; first I came to a raven, and I was forced to give him my food; next I came to a salmon, and him I had to help into the water again; and now you will have my horse. It can’t be done, that it can’t, for then I should have nothing to ride on.”

“Nay, dear friend, but you can help me,” said Graylegs the wolf; “you can ride upon my back, and I’ll help you again in your utmost need.”

“Well! the help I shall get from you will not be great, I’ll be bound,” said the Prince; “but you may take my horse, since you are in such need.” So when the wolf had eaten the horse, Boots took the bit and put it into the wolf’s jaw, and laid the saddle on his back; and now the wolf was so strong, after what he had got inside, that he set off with the Prince like nothing. So fast he had never ridden before.

“When we have gone a bit farther,” said Graylegs, “I’ll show you the Giant’s house.”

So after a while they came to it.

“See, here is the Giant’s house,” said the Wolf; “and see, here are your six brothers, whom the Giant has turned into stone; and see here are their six brides, and away yonder is the door, and in at that door you must go.”

“Nay, but I daren’t go in,” said the Prince; “he’ll take my life.”

“No! no!” said the Wolf; “when you get in you’ll find a Princess, and she’ll tell you what to do to make an end of the Giant. Only mind and do as she bids you.”

Well! Boots went in, but, truth to say, he was very much afraid. When he came in the Giant was away, but in one of the rooms sat the Princess, just as the wolf had said, and so lovely a Princess Boots had never yet set eyes on.

“Oh! heaven help you! whence have you come?” said the Princess, as she saw him; “it will surely be your death. No one can make an end of the Giant who lives here, for he has no heart in his body.”

“Well! Well!” said Boots; “but now that I am here, I may as well try what I can do with him; and I will see if I can’t free my brothers, who are standing turned to stone out of doors; and you, too, I will try to save, that I will.”

“Well, if you must, you must,” said the Princess; “and so let us see if we can’t hit on a plan. Just creep under the bed yonder, and mind and listen to what he and I talk about. But, pray, do lie as still as a mouse.”

So he crept under the bed, and he had scarce got well underneath it, before the Giant came.

“Ha!” roared the Giant, “what a smell of Christian blood there is in the house!”

“Yes, I know there is,” said the Princess, “for there came a magpie flying with a man’s bone, and let it fall down the chimney. I made all the haste I could to get it out, but all one can do, the smell doesn’t go off so soon.”

So the Giant said no more about it, and when night came, they went to bed. After they had lain a while, the Princess said—

“There is one thing I’d be so glad to ask you about, if I only dared.”

“What thing is that?” asked the Giant.

“Only where it is you keep your heart, since you don’t carry it about you,” said the Princess.

“Ah! that’s a thing you’ve no business to ask about; but if you must know, it lies under the door-sill,” said the Giant.

“Ho! Ho!” said Boots to himself under the bed, “then we’ll soon see if we can’t find it.”

Next morning the Giant got up cruelly early, and strode off to the wood; but he was hardly out of the house before Boots and the Princess set to work to look under the door-sill for his heart; but the more they dug, and the more they hunted, the more they couldn’t find it.

“He has baulked us this time,” said the Princess, “but we’ll try him once more.”

So she picked all the prettiest flowers she could find, and strewed them over the door-sill, which they had laid in its right place again; and when the time came for the Giant to come home again, Boots crept under the bed. Just as he was well under, back came the Giant.

Snuff-snuff, went the Giant’s nose. “My eyes and limbs, what a smell of Christian blood there is in here,” said he.

“I know there is,” said the Princess, “for there came a magpie flying with a man’s bone in his bill, and let it fall down the chimney. I made as much haste as I could to get it out, but I daresay it’s that you smell.”

So the Giant held his peace, and said no more about it. A little while after, he asked who it was that had strewed flowers about the door-sill.

“Oh, I, of course,” said the Princess.

“And, pray, what’s the meaning of all this?” said the Giant.

“Ah!” said the Princess, “I’m so fond of you that I couldn’t help strewing them, when I knew that your heart lay under there.”

“You don’t say so,” said the Giant; “but after all it doesn’t lie there at all.”

So when they went to bed again in the evening, the Princess asked the Giant again where his heart was, for she said she would so like to know.

“Well,” said the Giant, “if you must know, it lies away yonder in the cupboard against the wall.”

“So, so!” thought Boots and the Princess; “then we’ll soon try to find it.”

Next morning the Giant was away early, and strode off to the wood, and so soon as he was gone Boots and the Princess were in the cupboard hunting for his heart, but the more they sought for it, the less they found it.

“Well,” said the Princess, “we’ll just try him once more.”

So she decked out the cupboard with flowers and garlands, and when the time came for the Giant to come home, Boots crept under the bed again.

Then back came the Giant.

Snuff-snuff! “My eyes and limbs, what a smell of Christian blood there is in here!”

“I know there is,” said the Princess; “for a little while since there came a magpie flying with a man’s bone in his bill, and let it fall down the chimney. I made all the haste I could to get it out of the house again; but after all my pains, I daresay it’s that you smell.”

When the Giant heard that, he said no more about it; but a little while after, he saw how the cupboard was all decked about with flowers and garlands; so he asked who it was that had done that? Who could it be but the Princess?

“And, pray, what’s the meaning of all this tomfoolery?” asked the Giant.

“Oh, I’m so fond of you, I couldn’t help doing it when I knew that your heart lay there,” said the Princess.

“How can you be so silly as to believe any such thing?” said the Giant.

“Oh yes; how can I help believing it, when you say it?” said the Princess.

“You’re a goose,” said the Giant; “where my heart is, you will never come.”

“Well,” said the Princess; “but for all that, ’twould be such a pleasure to know where it really lies.”

Then the poor Giant could hold out no longer, but was forced to say—

“Far, far away in a lake lies an island; on that island stands a church; in that church is a well; in that well swims a duck; in that duck there is an egg, and in that egg there lies my heart,—you darling!”

In the morning early, while it was still gray dawn, the Giant strode off to the wood.

“Yes! now I must set off too,” said Boots; “if I only knew how to find the way.” He took a long, long farewell of the Princess, and when he got out of the Giant’s door, there stood the Wolf waiting for him. So Boots told him all that had happened inside the house, and said now he wished to ride to the well in the church, if he only knew the way. So the Wolf bade him jump on his back, he’d soon find the way; and away they went, till the wind whistled after them, over hedge and field, over hill and dale. After they had travelled many, many days, they came at last to the lake. Then the Prince did not know how to get over it, but the Wolf bade him only not be afraid, but stick on, and so he jumped into the lake with the Prince on his back, and swam over to the island. So they came to the church; but the church keys hung high, high up on the top of the tower, and at first the Prince did not know how to get them down.

“You must call on the raven,” said the Wolf.

So the Prince called on the raven, and in a trice the raven came, and flew up and fetched the keys, and so the Prince got into the church. But when he came to the well, there lay the duck, and swam about backwards and forwards, just as the Giant had said. So the Prince stood and coaxed it and coaxed it, till it came to him, and he grasped it in his hand; but just as he lifted it up from the water the duck dropped the egg into the well, and then Boots was beside himself to know how to get it out again.

“Well, now you must call on the salmon to be sure,” said the Wolf; and the king’s son called on the salmon, and the salmon came and fetched up the egg from the bottom of the well.

Then the Wolf told him to squeeze the egg, and as soon as ever he squeezed it the Giant screamed out.

“Squeeze it again,” said the Wolf; and when the Prince did so, the Giant screamed still more piteously, and begged and prayed so prettily to be spared, saying he would do all that the Prince wished if he would only not squeeze his heart in two.

“Tell him, if he will restore to life again your six brothers and their brides, whom he has turned to stone, you will spare his life,” said the Wolf. Yes, the Giant was ready to do that, and he turned the six brothers into king’s sons again, and their brides into king’s daughters.

“Now, squeeze the egg in two,” said the Wolf. So Boots squeezed the egg to pieces, and the Giant burst at once.

Now, when he had made an end of the Giant, Boots rode back again on the Wolf to the Giant’s house, and there stood all his six brothers alive and merry, with their brides. Then Boots went into the hill-side after his bride, and so they all set off home again to their father’s house. And you may fancy how glad the old king was when he saw all his seven sons come back, each with his bride;—"But the loveliest bride of all is the bride of Boots, after all," said the king, “and he shall sit uppermost at the table, with her by his side.”

So he sent out, and called a great wedding-feast, and the mirth was both loud and long; and if they have not done feasting, why, they are still at it.

Post 47 - Showdown at High Noon
Showdown at High Noon


Tenmonth 5 (continued – afternoon)
(eighteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

They have been encamped in the copse since the evening of the second, so Morgan and Odleif have had three days to explore. Before the afternoon is over, they have agreed on an ambush spot, or, as they say when around Ember, “a spot to parlay”. A goat trail leads from the village, through the pasture, and up into the copse. Near the center there is a small clearing with a stream and several large boulders to hide behind. Their own camp is nearby but higher, where they have a better view of the fields and fjord, on a hilltop next to the spring which is the source of the small stream.

Once the spot is selected they all look it over in the evening twilight. It is agreed that Ember, Thrud, and Bjelgarn will wait in the open, while Morgan and Wolfbane are behind a large outcrop to their rear, Odleif is on a rise to their left, and Poncherius is concealed in the brush on their right.

The Plan. Left to right: Odleif, Poncherius, Ember, Bhelgarn, Thrud, Wolfbane, Morgan

They talk around their low campfire at dinner, the flames carefully ringed with rocks so as not to be visible from the village or across the fjord in Rhoona. Everyone agrees that Fluffy will watch the trail to the copse and give them early warning of the approach of Xanathon (and the Duke?). As for what to do when he arrives, they are more divided. Morgan asserts that if the presence of the soul gem does make Xanathon vulnerable to harm, they should immediately attack and kill him if possible, for once he recovers the gem they will not likely get another chance. Ember is more hesitant – if they agree to exchange the cure for the gem and accept him to parlay, she is honor-bound to treat him as a “guest”, under her protection. To attack him then, without warning, would make her an oathbreaker – and there are few sins worse than that. Morgan is (uncharacteristically?) non-insistent. Having made up her own mind that Xanathon will not be leaving these hills alive, Morgan chooses to ignore the moral quandary that Ember is facing and instead concentrates on honing her blades. “Too much talk and not enough action”, she mutters as she works her whetstone on her dagger.

There is some discussion of tactics “in the event the parlay becomes a combat”, posited on treachery on Xanathon’s part, not theirs. It is agreed that the signal for a coordinated attack will be for Bhelgarn, who still bears the soul gem, to say “…and now that you have the gem…”. At those words, everyone is to attack.

Tenmonth 6
(nineteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Fluffy spends the morning sunning herself on a rock and watching the fishing vessels ply the waters of the fjord. In the late morning a sleek ship distinguishes itself by sailing straight out of Rhoona and across the fjord, but not deploying nets or lines. It rapidly crosses the fjord, but does not dock in the little port town on the north bank. Rather, it makes for the beach nearest the copse in which they are encamped. Although the deck of the ship is busy with figures, only two disembark. She watches them cross the pasture and move on to the goat trail. As they head for the copse, Fluffy gathers up her cat, which has spent the morning stalking field mice and drinking the milk Fluffy liberated from a passing nanny goat. Together, they hide where Fluffy will be able to see the two figures clearly as they pass. When they come into view she can see that the lead figure is clearly Xanathon. He is dressed in the same, or at least a similar, robe as he had before at the temple, and has his great black mace on his belt – but wears no armor. The other man wears similar brown robes, but with a cowl so great that she can see only his chin. It could be the Duke – but it could be any other human male of similar size. He doesn’t seem to be moving like a dog, though, or even a zombie thrall. He has no weapons visible, no suspicious bulges beneath his robes, and walks without the clink of chain or creak of leather armor.

Fluffy considers slowing the pair by climbing a tree and tossing her cat down on them, but worries for its safety (and her own, should she reveal herself to the priest). She wonders if she might grab a kid and throw that at them – but the goat herd she has been watching all morning is now too far away. In the end she turns and moves quickly through the forest, racing silently ahead of the pair on the trail.

Fluffy dashes into the clearing, but is not seen by any of the others until she betrays her position by shouting, “Baldy man coming! Other man with him!”

Shocked at first, Ember manages to reply, “Is it the Duke?”

“Don’t know! Too hidey!” Fluffy shouts, then turns and sprints off.

Ember gathers the rest of the party to her and invokes the blessing of Glöð upon them, and then sends them to their positions.

The party clusters around Ember to receive the blessing of Glöð

By the time Fluffy catches up to the figures on the trail, they are not far from the clearing. She waits for them to pass, then falls into line behind them, far enough back that they are unlikely to see or hear her. [Unbeknownst to Fluffy or the rest of the party, while she is gone Xanathon has cast Bless on himself and his companion, Resist Fire on himself, and Striking on his mace, while his companion has cast Detect Invisible, Wizard Eye, and Protection from Normal Missiles on himself, and then used his Wizard Eye to scout the clearing before they enter it.]

As soon as Ember spots Xanathon and the second figure approaching, she casts Glöð’s Wise Discernment. The priest, reacting to the motions of Ember, immediately halts and stiffens, while his companion begins a spell of his own. A moment later both men are glowing with the deep blue hue that indicates their intention to do harm, but the cowled man in addition has three magic missiles poised above his head, ready to fire at his slightest indication. Behind the boulder, Wolfbane protects herself with a magic shield.

Ember and Bhelgarn are prepared to make the exchange, Thrud is poised on a rock above them, while Wolfbane and Morgan remain concealed behind boulders

Fearing that this will quickly escalate, Ember holds up her open hands and shouts “Fred, fred!” Xanathon hesitates, and then walks forward into the clearing, followed closely by the cowled man. “Tell your companion to show himself,” Ember says, when they are close enough for her to speak without shouting. Xanathon gestures dismissively at the other man, and he lowers his cowl.

None of them but Fluffy have actually seen the Duke, and she is hidden, unseen by any of them at the edge of the clearing. Bhelgarn, however, does recognize the man – it is the mage who grabbed the tapestry from him and then disappeared during the attack of the temple berserkers. “Tha’ nae be th’ Duke,” he growls at Ember.

“You agreed to bring the Duke,” Ember says accusatorially.

“I agreed to nothing,” Xanathon says haughtily. “You sent a message demanding that I bring the Duke. And also demanding that I come alone – as if it were possible to do both.”

Ember has no ready response to this, but is still trying to make this exchange without bloodshed. “And yet, you have done neither. But we do have something you want. I assume you do want the item?”

Xanathon glowers for a moment, then waves the mage off. He walks slowly backwards, keeping his eyes on the figures in the clearing, stopping only when he reaches the shade of the trees at the edge. He does not see Fluffy, creeping from bush to bush, and she is able to get within a few paces of him, with his back to her.

When the mage is out of earshot, Xanathon says sourly, “You do have it, then?”

“Aye,” grunts Bhelgarn, and pulls out the cloth-wrapped gem, still affixed to its chain. He unwraps it just long enough to show the faceted sides to the priest, then covers it again, careful not to touch it. The dwarf notes that the stone no longer pulses with light as it has for the week since they obtained it. Instead, it is now emitting a constant, unwavering glow.

Xanathon is composed, restrained, but if there is one thing a dwarf recognizes in others it is covetousness, and desire for possession. “So, ye be wantin’ it, then?” Bhelgarn asks, but he can see the answer in Xanathon’s eyes long before the priest nods coldly.

“Our offer,” says Ember, now careful not to say they had an agreement, “was to exchange the gem for you curing the Duke – but as you have not brought the Duke, I do not see what you have to trade.”

“Draco is a fool,” spits Xanathon, “but even he is not fool enough to let me spirit the Duke away from him. He knows well that the people support him only because he claims to serve Steven. For my end, though, I am prepared to offer the cure…” As his hand reaches for a pocket in his robe, Thrud raises his axe above his head and prepares to leap down on him. The priest freezes.

“I am reaching for the cure,” he says coldly, and Ember nods at Thrud. The barbarian lowers his axe, and Xanathon produces a crystal vial, filled with a white powder. “Throw this in the Duke’s face, and he will return to normal,” he says, “though if I were you, I would wait a few days more.”

“And why is that?” demands Ember.

“If you restore the Duke now,” says Xanathon drolly, “his noble honor will require him to face the miserable dwarves in battle. Hundreds will die on both sides, but mostly northmen. Perhaps Rhoona will even be looted and put to the torch.” Seeing the looks of shock on the faces of Ember and Thrud, Xanathon smiles cruelly. “But if you just wait a few days,” he continues, “when the townsfolk see the dwarven army amassed outside their gates, they will beg Draco to depose the mad Duke. Then Draco will declare himself ruler, ride forth and apologize, the dwarves will return home, and no one,” he sneers with mock tenderness, “has to die.”

Ember is sickened, but can tell that the talking is serving Xanathon’s pride. She can use that. “So what do you get out of all this? Why do you care?”

Now Xanathon smiles. As Ember had hoped, his hubris is his weakness, and he is all-too-eager to explain his plan to them. “Draco and the Duke are both fools,” he says with relish, “but of the two of them, Draco has proven far more willing to work with me, for the benefit of my people. He will be a better ruler for Rhoona.”

“So Draco is to be your puppet, then?”

Xanathon shrugs. “Call it that if you wish, but think of all those innocent lives you will be sparing.”

Ember’s rage is rising. The innocent lives spared should not have to live under the twisted control of one so wicked as this, she knows. If she has to make herself oath-breaker to stop him, she is willing to pay that price. Tight-lipped, she nods to Bhelgarn. “Make the exchange.”

“Back orf!” says the dwarf sternly, and the priest looks at him confused. “Back orf,” he repeats, but it is not until he waves his hands that Xanathon understands. He retreats some twenty feet until Bhelgarn motions at him to stop. Now the dwarf comes forward ten feet, unwraps the gem, and lays it on the ground. Were it not broad daylight the glow would be overwhelming. Now Bhelgarn backs away and motions Xanathon forward.

The priest walks up until the gem is at his feet, stoops and lays the vial of powder on the grass, and retrieves the gem by its chain.

When he stands, it is Ember who says loudly, “So now that you have the gem, you should remember…”

TWANG! sings Odleif’s bowstring, then swish! and thud! goes the arrow as it sinks into Xanathon’s back. He does not flinch or wince, and his face betrays surprise but no pain.

Ember continues speaking to him, “…that, just as you said, we agreed to nothing!

At the moment the arrow sinks into his back, the brilliant light of the gem goes out. Bhelgarn (later, when re-telling the tale) swears that he sees a ghostly form of the priest, the same as that he saw in the depths of the gem, fly from the gem and into Xanathon’s chest.

Morgan dashes out from behind the rocks and sends two magic missiles at Xanathon. These strike at his chest, burning away the robe and knocking him back – it is the first they have seen him damaged! Bhelgarn slashes him with his sword, and the blade comes away bloody. Thrud jumps off his rock, landing in between Xanathon and Ember, and protecting her from both priest and mage. Ember calls for the Forge of the Mother and the blade of Thrud’s axe begins to glow red-hot.

Xanathon turns and begins to run, allowing Thrud to strike at his back with his glowing axe, which slices his flesh and sets his robes to smoldering. Bhelgarn hangs back to activate his boots, while Thrud is guarding Ember, and Morgan is summoning more missiles as she disappears behind the rocks again. Thus with no armor and no pursuers for the moment, the priest makes it across the clearing, practically collapsing beneath the shelter of a pine tree.

Morgan completes her spell and then, confident in the ability of Wolfbane’s new ring, pushes her out from behind the other side of the boulder, yelling at her “Draw fire! Draw the mage’s fire!” Wolfbane attempts to paralyze the mage with her scepter, but finds that she expended the last charge back in the shrine.

With his magic boots, Bhelgarn sprints across the clearing. Then Xanathon’s mage completes a spell, and a purple ray shoots from him to the dwarf. Bhelgarn’s form crumples and collapses, leaving nothing remaining in the clearing. Ember cries out in shock and horror. (Later, retelling the tale, Odleif claims that from his vantage point on the rise, he saw Bhelgarn actually shrink down to the size of a small lizard, and remain a dark form in the low grass).

“Oh-no-you-di-n’t!” shouts Fluffy, emerging from concealment to stick both her daggers into the mage’s lower back. He shrieks and wheels about, then with a gesture shoots all three of his magic missiles at the halfling, sending her reeling. Fluffy shakes her head and stabs a dagger into the mage’s belly. He doubles over and collapses on the ground.

Crouching in the cover of the tree, Xanathon waves an arm. Instantly ten fallen pine branches transform into black, writhing snakes that encircle the ground around him protectively. Poncherius impales one with a crossbow bolt, but nine remain.

Across the clearing, Morgan can catch glimpses of Xanathon’s robe behind the tree, and she sends two magic missiles at him, spoiling his next spell just before its completion. Fluffy dances nimbly over the snakes to cut Xanathon with both her blades, and he falls back motionless on the ground among the serpents. With a sound of shattering crystal, the gem still clasped in his lifeless hand turns to powder and vanishes in the breeze.

Odleif sees the curious black lizard moving preternaturally fast towards Ember, so he stows his bow and runs down the ridge. He scoops the creature up in his hands, discovering it to be a black newt with curious red spots on its head and copper-colored eyes.

Wolfbane puts the remaining snakes to sleep before they can bite anyone. Morgan cleaves off the priest’s head and then goes to confirm that the mage is indeed dead. By the time she turns back around, she sees Fluffy working her daggers in the priest’s face.

“Hey! That head is mine!” Morgan objects.

“S’okey,” Fluffy shrugs. “Me just want googly-mooglies.” Indeed, she has freed both of Xanathon’s eyes from their sockets and is even now holding them up in her small hands.

Morgan searches Xanathon’s body while Wolfbane checks the mage. On Xanathon, Morgan finds his mace, his holy symbol, and, deep inside a pocket in his robe, a glass vial with powder seemingly identical to the one he left on the ground. “That treacherous bastard,” Morgan mutters to herself as she marks the cork top with her dagger to make sure she can later tell them apart.

Wolfbane finds a ring and a dagger on the mage, but has to hold the dagger above her head to keep it out of the grasp of Fluffy.

Across the clearing, Odleif shows the newt clasped in his hands to Ember.

“What is that?” she asks.

“I reckon itta be ther dwarf.”

Ember gasps. “Bhelgarn, is that you?” she asks. The newt bobs its little head up and down rapidly.

“Okay, I can do this…I can do this. I just need time to pray.”

“Well, don’t take too long,” says Wolfbane, joining them. “The danger with polymorph other is that the longer the victim is in the new form, the more likely he will lose his mind. Eventually the Bhelgarn we know will be gone and that will just be a newt.”

Odleif passes the newt to Ember and she moves off into cover to rest and pray after quickly healing FluffyKitten. As the others begin cleaning their weapons, Poncherius, who has not left his vantage point, calls down, “Someone’s coming!” He has seen the glint of metal in the noonday sun at a distance from between the trees to their north.

[Note: When Poncherius leveled after the shrine, he took Danger Sense NWP]

The party hurriedly re-arranges themselves to ambush the newcomers. They are assaulted by four fighters and three priests, all in the robes of the temple of Cretia, with armor underneath. After Wolfbane entangles one in a web, the melee that follows is brief. All but one of the Cretians are slain, with none of the party wounded. One priest escapes, fleeing when his fear spell is reflected back at him by Wolfbane’s ring. Morgan is keen to pursue him at first until she realizes that he is fleeing away from the fjord and the ship, into the hills. At that, she lets him go, but insists that they take turns watching the ship, which is still pulled up on the beach below the copse.

It is late afternoon by the time Ember has rested enough that she can pray for spells (although she does not rest enough to recover her spell of third level), and early evening by the time she has actually prayed for them. Morgan and Wolfbane have taken the opportunity to rest and recover their own arcane magic.

Ember holds the newt in front of her. “Is it still you, Bhelgarn?” she asks. The newt again bobs its head, though less vigorously than before. She sets it gently on the ground in front of her. “Don’t move,” she cautions.

Ember closes her eyes and open’s her mind’s eye, trying to see the magic transformational aura that surrounds Bhelgarn, imprisoning him in the form of the newt. When she thinks she can see it, she imagines it as tendrils of flame, and in her hands a bellows. As she casts her spell, she works the bellows, hoping to stoke the magic flames so high that they exhaust their connection to the otherworld and snuff themselves out.

[Ember does not have Dispel Magic. By using Gutter, Flicker, and Flare, she is trying to “blow out” a temporary magic effect, but with a chance to make it stronger. Each round she forces another save vs. spells for the magical effect, based on the save of the caster. Dervill (MU9) needed a 10 or better to save against spells, and he will save at + 3 since he was three levels higher than Ember. However, if the save is made, the amount it is made by becomes a penalty on the next round, as the magic has burned too intensely. Likewise, if the save fails, the amount it fails by will become a bonus to the next save. Only if it fails by a modified roll of one or less will she be able to end the spell.

(1) Roll 18 + 3 = 21 (over by 11). FLARE – Bhelgarn has to make another save to retain his mind.
(2) Roll 20 + 3 – 11 = 12 (over by 2). FLICKER.
(3) Roll 5 + 3 – 2 = 6 (under by 4). GUTTER.
(4) Roll 8 + 3 + 4 = 15 (over by 5). FLARE – Bhelgarn has to make another save to retain his mind.
(5) Roll 2 + 3 – 5 = 0 (less than 2). SNUFF OUT – The spell is broken!]

Although Ember comes dangerously close to trapping Bhelgarn forever in the body of a newt and losing his dwarven mind, in the end she manages to blow out the spell and free him!

Once Bhelgarn is returned to them as a dwarf, they quickly strip the bodies of the fallen priests and warriors. Their plan is to disguise themselves as Cretians and approach the ship, with Bhelgarn and Thrud (unmistakably non-Ethengarian) as “captives” and Fluffy hiding. Everyone else will be dressed as a priest or fighter. With the cowls of the robes up, they hope to be able to get quite close to the ship before their deception is recognized – close enough to board it before it can set out at least.

Disguised, they leave the copse and head down to the fjord as the sun sinks low in the west.