Secrets of Mystara

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.