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Chapter 5 — Stumblesparkle's Journal
"Curse you, elves!" shouted Hakam. "You are worse than anarchists!"

   "And you are a racist!" replied Leokas.

   "He was going to give us the chest, and then you tried to kill him!"

   "He betrayed our trust," argued Belvin. "You do realize, do you not, that now Allu knows that we are coming for him. As if defeating a genie would not be difficult enough!"

   "Yes, admittedly, that was an unfortunate turn of events," said Hakam, "and I was at fault for not adding a clause to our agreement about not contacting anyone by magic. However, now Allustairimarinastralmindivu knows that we are coming and we have lost the chest. That is unarguably a worse case."

   "You can call him Allu," said Szordrin. "The hobgoblin is not here to impress anymore."

   "Pause your fighting for at least a moment," said Solisar. "Kytharrah is need of our aid."

   Kytharrah's red and white patched fur was scorched black, and he lay on the ground moaning from the burning sensations that he felt.

   They had to wait a minute more for the flames to vanish, and then they encouraged him to come back to them on the other side of the trap's trigger. Hakam used multiple spells to ease the pain and restore his fur to its natural color — that is, what fur had not already fallen out from the mummy's curse. The right side of Kytharrah's chest was bare, leaving the powerful musculature of his pectorals exposed. The skin looked like that of a corpse.

   "He is going to be naked by morning, at this rate," said Szordrin.

   "How are we going to stop Allu now?" asked Leokas. "For all we know, his goblin wizard is already inside the Spinning Keep. We cannot allow Calim or Memnon to be freed. It will spell the end of Calimshan, Tethyr, and the elven Wealdath. We do not have the time to chase Durbuluk to the Marching Mountains!"

   "We have our remaining wish," said Hakam. "We can simply wish the chest back into our hands."

   "What will prevent Durbuluk from simply wishing the chest right back again?" asked Belvin. "We have only a single remaining wish; Durbuluk may not have such a limit."

   "Genies use their own power to grant wishes," said Hakam, "and it is not infinite, nor can they grant wishes more than a few times per day. It is doubtful that Durbuluk will have limitless wishing power. Nevertheless, your point is taken. We only have a single wish, and we cannot be certain how many Durbuluk has remaining."

   "Speaking of wishes," said Szordrin, "why does Allu not simply wish the omlar gem back into his possession?"

   Leokas had a moment of panic and immediately checked to see that the omlar gem was still on his person. It was.

   "If I remember what we learned about wishes correctly," he said, "a genie cannot grant wishes for himself, nor can he command another being what to wish for if granting one. The wish must be a genuine and personal desire of the wisher."

   "I did not get the sense that Durbuluk cares enough about Allu's restoring of Memnon to power to waste any remaining wishes on the omlar gem," said Solisar.

   "We have to do something!" exclaimed Leokas.

   "We need at least until dawn," said Hakam. "Kytharrah will not be fit for combat until I can remove the curse on him, nor do I have any power left to send a message to the Prince."

   "Here," Leokas said to Kytharrah, "wear my periapt."

   "It is pretty," said Kytharrah, as the elf wrapped the magical necklace around his thick neck.

   "That will prevent the disease from spreading," said Hakam, but it will do nothing to restore the health that he has already lost."

   "I suppose that it must be that we wait," said Leokas. "To be honest, I think that Durbuluk's sword was magical and left a wound that your magical healing did not fully restore. I feel weaker myself. Was there not a monastery northeast of here?"

   "St. Liwan's," said Hakam.

   "Let us fly there. Perhaps they will know of the location of the Spinning Keep. At the very least, we will be somewhat closer, and we can decide on a course of action tonight and be ready to move first thing in the morning."

   This plan seemed agreeable to everyone.

   "The traps," Szordrin reminded them.

   "I can leave through the tunnel from the portal room and fly back to the spelljammer," said Solisar.

   "What if more mummies or undead or, worse, the dragon spot you?" asked Szrodrin.

   Solisar completed a quick spell and vanished from their vision. "They will not be able to see me," came back his disembodied voice in reply.

~~~~

Solisar had returned with the spelljammer and picked up the others from the sands at the front entrance to Allu's tunnels without incident. Then they flew northeast until they could spot an ancient caravanserai, resting atop a low hill just off the Coast Trail that connected Teshburl to Memnon and skirted the edge of the Calim Desert along the coast. The sands here looked too hard to set the flying vessel down safely, so they had to land it in the waters at the base of the sea cliffs to the west.

   As he often did, Belvin remained on the spelljammer with Kamil and Ilthian, having little interest in socializing with human monks and priests. He only asked that Leokas or Solisar bring him some herbs. He raised the ship back into the sky as two rowboats filled with the others made their way to a tiny beach at the foot of the cliffs.

   Only Hakam had come this way before, but he assured them that their was a walkable path from this beach to the top. Leokas had stayed with Belvin last time, but Mythlos had talked so much about the food that he decided to come along.

   The path between the opening in the cliffs was steep, but they arrived at the desert's edge and headed north along the Coast Trail as the sun was setting.

   "It figures," said Hakam. "We shall be arriving for the evening vespers."

   A rather fat monk met them at the gates. He wore the traditional red skull cap of the Ilmatari, followers of the god Ilmater. Hakam was recognized. "You have returned, servant of our lord's lord. What brings you back to our humble house? Will you need a night's rest? Surely, you will require dinner! If you wait for the end of Father Akkabar's sermon...."

   "We shall not be able to spend the night," interrupted Hakam. "We are on a quest of great import to the security of this nation. We are looking for the location of some ancient ruins in the desert. Is Brother Harakhti, your diviner, still here?"

   "He is. I am sure that he is at evening vespers."

~~~~

The party had little choice but to wait till the end of Father Akkabar el Souvlak's sermon, but afterward, they were invited with open arms to dinner. Leokas found that he agreed strongly with Mythlos' positive review of the food, and Kytharrah even experienced one of his first sensations of an overfull stomach. There were fresh, spiced breads; an assortment of camel and goat cheeses; shrimp and shellfish; veal stew; grapes from the vine; and pomegranate juice. It was a true delight.

   The multi-course feast went on for a couple hours, before Hakam insisted that they had important matters that had to be discussed so that they could return to their waiting vessel.

   In a side room with Father Akkabar and Brother Harakhti, they discussed the mummy's curse that had befallen Kytharrah and the location of Spinning Keep. In neither case were the friendly monks able to offer much help. The Spinning Keep was only a thing of ancient legend, fairy tales of when elves walked no-longer-existing forests of Calimshan. "Brother Jabal could remove such a curse," explained Harakhti, "but he has traveled south to Teshburl and will not be returning for a tenday. Any healing that we would freely offer you would have no effect until a curse of that power be removed."

   So, by darkness of night, the five returned to the shore and their rowboats to be picked up by Belvin.

   "Well, that was a wasted journey," said Leokas. "I am sorry that I suggested it."

   "The food was worth it, at least," said Szordrin, rubbing his stomach.

   "Yum," agreed Kytharrah.

   "It matters not," said Hakam. "I know how we can safely retrieve the journal."

   "How?" asked Solisar.

   "You will see in the morning," the cleric replied with a smile, proud of his own solution.

~~~~

"I wish for an exact copy in my hands of the journal of the gnome Stumblesparkle now in a chest with the hobgoblin Durbuluk."

   Hakam had just finished his morning prayers, and his first task following had been to send a message to the Prince of Jhothûn, their powerful ally.

   "Your wish is granted," came the great qorrashi's reply.

   There, in Hakam's open palms, now rested a scuffed up leather journal, bound with cord, the result of their final of three wishes.

   The others were highly impressed.

   "May I see it?" asked Solisar. "I can translate it while you tend to Kytharrah." Hakam handed it to him.

   Hakam approached the minotaur and placed a hand upon his shaggy form. "By the power of the Lord of Justice, be free from the curse of death and evil that torments thee!"

   Kytharrah looked down but could still see the bare, thick skin of his chest. Belvin placed another hand on him and chanted wildly. "There," he said in Common, "it will grow back now, but it will take some time."

   Now everyone joined together around Solisar on the lower deck. "It is written in gnome," he explained. "There is indeed a map here. Look." He held the open book to them to share.

   Leokas looked at it. "I can certainly take us there from the air."

   "The Keep itself is a twelve-sided, floating structure," explained Solisar. "It should be easy to spot once we are in the area. It is 70-feet wide, but it is rather translucent, so you have to be looking for it to spot it."

   "How do you get past the magical defenses?" asked Szordrin.

   "That will take me longer to determine," said Solisar. "If she explains how, she must have done so in some sort of code, because she only mentions off-hand that she stood upon the surface of the keep working on the mechanism for several hours until she succeeded and then entered. She only spends two sentences on how she got in. The rest of the pages describe what she saw when she was inside."

   "Which was?"

   "She says that it was bitter cold and highly confusing, because there was no gravity. She had to fight against powerful illusions and was having difficulty knowing whether she was in a hallway with doors or an open space with razor-covered walls. She was not there long before she was spotted by elemental beings and had to flee."

   "We do not need to know about the inside of the Keep," said Leokas. "We only need to arrive at the site and stop Allu's goblin from entering it. Belvin, take the helm and bring us back down to the surface."

   "Wait!" said Hakam suddenly. "I am getting a message from Jayce. He says that he has good news and bad news. He talked with the priests of Gond on Lantan. They say that Samber went crazy when his wife left him. He went into hiding and was never seen again."

   Hakam responded, "Keep learning about Samber. We must stop Allu, who is trying to free Memnon. Will rendezvous after. Does anyone else look like Samber's other creations?"

   "He never told us his bad news," said Szordrin.

   "He is sending a second message now," said Hakam. "He says that our news was worse news than his. He says his bad news is that someone stole aboard The Daisy and took all of Obert's star charts and maps. Without them, he cannot find Samber's island again."

   "That is a shame," Hakam replied.

   "Ilthian's memory is nearly perfect," said Solisar. She was standing quietly by and lit up when she heard them mention her. "Ilthian, do you think that you could draw the stars that you can see overhead when you are at home?"

   "Of course I can," she said.

   "We can worry about Samber and his island after we stop Allu," said Leokas.

   They all agreed. Belvin went to the magic helm, and the rest remained to discuss a strategy for defeating a genie of fire and a powerful goblin wizard.
Session: 100th Game Session! - Wednesday, Jan 24 2018 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Tags: Chapter 5 , Recap
Chapter 5 — The Inner Chambers of Allustairimarinastralmindivu
They escorted Durbuluk back down the stairs. The going was slow, because Durbuluk was so badly injured and struggled to walk, but he gave no complaints. As they walked, Solisar remained in the rear of the group and was casting a long spell.

   They reached the red metal tiles in the midst of the four large columns. The violet wall of flame that had injured Szordrin earlier had now extinguished.

   "If you bring us back any treasures in addition to the journal," said Szordrin, now feeling confident to speak again, having left the vicinity of the zone of truth, "we will offer you a cut of that treasure."

   "I only care about the treasures that I brought here with me," said Durbuluk. "I will simply bring you the entire chest in which Allustairimarinastralmindivu stores the journal, and you may have whatever is in it that you like."

   "How do we know that you have not kept anything inside it for yourself?"

   "You will be watching me, will you not?" He motioned toward Solisar, who was still in the process of casting powerful divination magic.

   It took several more minutes for the sun elf to complete the spell. When he had done so, he notified the others that he was ready to proceed.

   "To clarify our agreement," said Durbuluk. "I am to bring you the chest with the journal within it, and in return, you will let me live and let me return to my home beneath the mountains."

   "Agreed," said Hakam.

   Durbuluk turned and walked away from them, crossing between the wall and one of the pillars. The fire trap did not activate. The six of them stood some ten feet from the traps and watched as he walked calmly toward the remaining tunnel. Leokas, Solisar, Belvin, and Hakam, were between the western wall and the center of the chamber, facing north, while Szordrin and Kytharrah stood parallel to the other trap, between the northern wall and the column, facing west.

   Solisar appeared to be in a trance, but he was mentally directing his arcane eye to follow along behind Durbuluk and monitor his actions. The elf began to describe everything that he was seeing, once Durbuluk vanished from everyone's sight by descending down a slope deeper into the tunnel, from which a red-violet glow emerged.

   "He has just passed two columns, embedded in the stone walls and made of red brick. They are similar to the ones in this chamber but about half the size. As he and the hobgoblins whom we rescued explained, the walls of this hall are walls of fire, violet, like the traps. The hallway of fire is about 25 feet wide, and the walls are perfectly straight now. It makes a right turn after a dozen paces.

   "Durbuluk just yanked the arrows out of his body. He is still walking, but he is waving his hands symbolically. I believe that he is casting a healing spell. Yes, his hands are aglow with positive energy. Now his wounds are closing up. Another spell now. He is clutching his unholy symbol. If his motions match those of Hakam when he casts divine magic, he is boosting his endurance.

   "He made the right turn and is walking down a wider hallway now, still walled with violet flames. A pair of columns appears on each side every 20 feet or so. The flames traverse from column to column.

   "He just healed himself again. He is no longer limping.

   "The hallway has reached a tee. There is an altar in the center and beyond that a black, iron throne. He is making another right, so he is now heading south. He just vanished. No, he walked through the wall. I shall follow with my sensor.

   "He is now in a tiny 'chamber' with four walls of fire. There are several iron pieces of furniture here, chairs, a desk, but they are small. He just passed through another of the walls, to the west. I follow. This is a slightly larger room. Except for the one we just passed through, the walls here are the natural, irregular stone. This room is furnished in a Calishite style, if I am not mistaken. There seem to be a collection of pillows, where one might recline or sleep. I suppose that they must be enchanted to be immune to fire.

   "Ah, Durbuluk has just moved into a small alcove off the southeastern corner of the room. It is an irregularly shaped space, and there is an iron chest here. It looks heavy. Apparently, it is not too heavy for Durbuluk to pick up. He is carrying it back into the 'bedroom'.

   "Now he is opening it. He had a key in a pouch on his belt. I shall see if I can position my sensor for a view inside.... There are an assortment of items, some clothing, some tools, some jewelry and coins. He is taking the jewelry and coins and transferring them to the pouch on his belt. One of the items seems to be an amulet. The coins are likely platinum. There may be a couple dozen of them. I suppose that these are his things. There was a longsword in a sheath in the chest, and he is attaching that to his belt also. Now he has two swords at his belt. He has taken out a brass mug. It looks rather ornate, but he has decided to set it aside. He just transferred what looks to be a silver hair comb to the pouch, but he set a silver chalice next to the mug. He is leaving all of the clothing within the chest, and he is locking it again.

   "He is returning the chest. Now he is walking to an iron desk. He opened a drawer and removed a roll of metal wire. He snapped two lengths of it from the roll. Oh, he is using it to attach the chalice and the mug to his belt so that he can more easily carry them.

   "It looks like he is finished in this room. He just passed through the fire into the other side room, and through the second wall of fire into the throne room with the altar. He is coming back toward us, walking west through the wide hallway now.

   "He has reached the left turn; he is almost back to us. Ah, but now he has turned right and is walking toward the wall. He has passed through the flames again. I shall follow.

   "This is a rather large square room with four walls of fire. A piece of the stone wall of the cavern juts through at one point bisecting the flame. This must be a storage chamber. There are several chests and boxes in here, all of them made of metal. Durbuluk seems to be glancing around, looking for something or thinking.

   "He has approached one of the chests and bent over it. Now he is trying to open it. It seems to be locked. He is removing his handaxe from his belt, and now he is swinging it at the lock. He broke it off in two swings. It must not be magically protected. He just opened the chest; yes, there is a journal atop an assortment of coins and silks and other things. Durbuluk is closing the chest. He seems satisfied.

   "He has picked up the chest and is carrying it back through the wall of fire. He is in the hall, coming back toward us. Odd, he just set the chest down. He is making divine hand motions with his right hand and clutching his unholy symbol with the other. He appears to be praying. If I am not mistaken, Hakam, he is making similar motions to those you make when you are preparing to contact someone."

   "Are we going to just sit here while he summons some fiend to attack us?" asked Leokas.

   "It is taking him too long to be a summoning spell, and as of yet, he has not violated our agreement," said Hakam. "He seems to have collected his things, just as he claimed he would do, and he has the chest with the journal for us as well. Furthermore, I have not sensed any chaos in him. It appears at this point that he still intends to bring the chest to us."

   "Never trust a goblin," muttered Leokas.

   Nearly ten minutes passed, however, and the duration of Solisar's scrying spell ended. "My spell is spent," he informed the others. "Just before the image faded, he appeared to be still in prayer."

   "To send a message by will of the gods does take a good deal of prayer," Hakam confirmed.

   "Whom is he hoping to speak to?" asked Belvin.

   "We shall ask him;" said Hakam, "he is coming now."

   They saw the hobgoblin priest come into view, stepping into the wide cave chamber, dragging a metal chest behind him with his left hand. He looked much healthier than when they had last seen him. A piece of his skull was no longer bloody and exposed, and no arrows were stuck in his torso. He was still moving his right hand in a rhythmic motion and chanting something under his breath.

   The winged, horned hobgoblin then tossed the chest a few feet, as if it weighed less than it appeared. It landed a yard in front of him with a thud.

   "To whom are you sending?" Hakam called out.

   Durbuluk smiled and spoke clearly. "I found the ones who have the gem key. They are coming for you. The mummies are dead. I wish that I were home."

   "Oh, no you do not!" shouted Belvin, raising his bow and nocking an arrow. Twice as quickly, Leokas nocked two silver arrows simultaneously.

   Arrows flew. Durbuluk roared in pain and clutched the hanging figure of crossed broadsword and handaxe around his neck.

   "Hold your fire!" Hakam shouted.

   "He is leaving the chest for us," agreed Solisar. "He kept his word. Let him go."

   It was too late. A curtain of violet fire encircled Durbuluk as he motioned with his hand.

   "Lunk! Grab the chest!" shouted Szordrin.

   The minotaur charged, rolling into a somersault and back to his hooves again, as he triggered a burst from another wall of fire. Unhindered, he continued and passed through the second blazing barrier, shrugging of the intense burning sensations and ignoring the pain. Within the ring of heat, he saw the chest and reached out his massive clawed hands, but so did Durbuluk.

   "Not anymore," said Durbuluk, grabbing the other handle. "The agreement has been broken."

   Both tugged on the chest, but neither let go of the handle he held tightly. The minotaur was surprised by Durbuluk's strength.

   Kytharrah was not certain, but he felt like he heard a deep voice from above him speak a single word. "Granted." Durbuluk gave a sudden jerk, and the chest slipped from Kytharrah's fingers.

   Kytharrah fell flat onto his back into the ring of fire, and Durbuluk and the chest were gone.
Session: 99th Game Session - Wednesday, Dec 20 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — Durbuluk
The fiendish hobgoblin dropped back to the ground, his goo-covered, arrow-punctured wings barely preventing him from crashing. Landing on one knee and bent over in pain, he dismissed his spell. Then, he strangely began laughing.

"What is so funny?" demanded Leokas.

"I find it humorous that even his enemies do not know his actual name."

Szordrin continued to point his wand at their captive. "One more taunt and you will not be left to recall his true name. Now, tell us all that you know about him. Do not try to hide a thing." The tiefling made a motion with his other hand to imply that he was watching the hobgoblin closely.

"I want a guarantee that you will let me live to leave this cavern and return to the Marching Mountains, before I speak," replied Durbuluk.

Kytharrah had seen the others interrogate prisoners before, so he figured he'd try to imitate them. Tapping the bottom of his axe handle on the ground, he snorted, "Talk!"

"By Torm," swore Szordrin, choosing a god who supposedly cared a lot about oaths, "if you give us all the information that we seek, we shall allow you to go free... eventually. If we intended to kill you, we would have done it by now."

Belvin and Leokas stood by defensively, while Hakam and Solisar seemed to be studying the hobgoblin's body language.

After a short pause, Durbuluk finally answered. "His name is Allustairimarinastralmindivu. Most pure-blooded hobgoblins are too stupid to remember something with that many syllables. I do not have such a handicap."

Now that this was revealed to them, it was not too shocking to Hakam. He remembered learning a little known fact that the names Calim and Memnon were also shorted forms of those famous genies' true names.

"As for who he was," continued their prisoner, "I do not know much of anything about his past. He has never told me his true background, but I suspect that he was just someone at the right place at the right time."

Leokas suddenly seemed to recall something and interrupted the current topic with a new question. "Wait! You mentioned the Marching Mountains. Are goblins gathering in force under the Marching Mountains? Are they preparing for an attack?"

"I promised to tell you of the efreeti, not of the Marching Mountains. Nevertheless, I will tell you what you should already know: the goblins are too weak to ever war against the surface world without guidance. Good for nothing but arrow-fodder are they in combat. That is why they needed someone like Allustairimarinastralmindivu."

Hakam uttered a quick prayer, and instantly, everyone felt a strong compulsion to speak only the truth.

Durbuluk smirked. "Your god cannot overcome the power in my blood, human cleric. Save your magics; I intend to speak the truth on my own."

"In that case, I affirm that you will be allowed to return to your home, provided that you answer all of our questions truthfully," said Hakam. "First, you say that you do not know much of Allustairimarinastralmindivu's past." (Szordrin looked at Hakam with shock that he so easily pronounced the name.) "When and how did you come to learn of him? And why did you join him?"

"I was high priest of Nomog-Geaya and chief advisor to Guthash, King Under the Marching Mountains. About this time last year, messengers came to King Guthash through the goblin tunnels from Calimshan. These messengers claimed to have been slaves to owners in Calimshan yet were set free by followers of Allu, a new god of hobgoblins. Seeing as I serve the only true god of hobgoblins, naturally, my ears perked up at this news. They were evangelizing, recruiting for an army with which to retake Calimshan for the goblinoid races."

"Nomog-Geaya?" asked Leokas. "Who is he?"

"Nomog-Geaya is the General, the god of authority and war. He is the true patron of my people."

Leokas was under the impression that Maglubiyet was god of both goblins and hobgoblins, and this was what they had heard some of the other goblins and hobgoblins whom they had encountered say, but he did not sense deceit in Durbuluk's voice, so he let the matter pass.

Szordrin opened his mouth to say something, but then doubted that he would be able to lie with Hakam's spell in effect, so he thought better of it.

Durbuluk continued. "Even though I knew that this new god, 'Allu', must be an imposter, I was intrigued by the message. King Guthash had been planning for years to build an army to unleash on the overworld. Perhaps this Allu could be an ally of sorts. A genie is a powerful adversary or a powerful friend. I advised Guthash to send me as an ambassador, to observe Allu and his schemes.

"I have thus pretended to be a 'priest of Allu', but while he can grant us three wishes a day, which is not a minor thing by any means, he cannot grant spells. I still serve Nomog-Geaya, and Allustairimarinastralmindivu knows this. The other hobgoblins do not. That is all that matters.

"Nomog-Geaya knows that I am faithful to him. As I bide my time, so Nomog-Geaya bides his time for when he will rebel against Maglubiyet."

Belvin, with singed hair and leathers, asked, "I suppose that you attacked us thinking that we are enemies of Allu-stair-into-the-astral-sea-or-whatever. Could we not have come to a peaceful resolution, considering that we earlier freed your kin? Or does that not matter to a hobgoblin?"

"My goal was to flee this place. You were in my path. I know nothing of any kin of mine that you freed; I only saw my opportunity to escape, since the mummies below had been destroyed. You were not goblinoids nor efreet, so you would be no friends of the efreeti, even if you are enemies of his enemies. For all I know, you are simply greedy adventurers. Whoever you are, you made my task easier, and I took advantage of this, as anyone with any intelligence would."

Hakam jumped back in with a question. "Tell us more about these mummies. Was there another mummy with them, one called El Sadhara? She would have been dressed more ornately than the others that we destroyed."

"What her name was I do not know, but there was another, yes, without a veil like the others, extremely thinning hair, terrifying presence. She commanded the undead and elementals of air and slew many of the hobgoblins with a single word, turning them instantly to ash."

"Is she still here somewhere?" asked Leokas.

"She only left just recently."

"Why did she leave?" asked Solisar.

"Someone summoned her back." Durbuluk shrugged. "I do not know why. She left her handmaidens behind."

"What do you know of her designs?" asked Hakam, "Why was did she come here at all?"

"Allustairimarinastralmindivu, when scouting the desert, had learned of her ancient temple. He discovered that she was seeking to restore the djinni kingdom that once ruled here, one that warred against the efreeti kingdom to the north.

"Her designs were thus completely at odds with Allustairimarinastralmindivu's. He sabotaged her works. Allustairimarinastralmindivu did not expect her to find this hidden palace of his, and he trusted in the 'protection' of the blue dragon lairing 'next door'. But with the dragon gone, she must have seen an opening for her revenge.

"Her forces annihilated us. While I am drastically more powerful than the poor miserable pure-bloods, I am no match for the mummy,... nor was Allustairimarinastralmindivu."

"The dragon Yrevkethend is gone?" asked Hakam. "Where did she go?"

Durbuluk shrugged. "She was last seen flying to the northeast, and she has not returned."

"The hobgoblins whom we freed said that she had been absent since the beginning of the year," added Leokas.

Durbuluk nodded in agreement.

"And where are Allustairimarinastralmindivu and his archwizard now?" asked Hakam.

"When he saw that his plans here had failed, miserably, he fled to the Spinning Keep."

Hakam knew that he should be familiar with the term, but he could not place it.

Solisar sensed this and explained, "The Spinning Keep of Siri'wadjen is the great prison of the genies Calim and Memnon, created by the High Mage Pharos nearly 9,000 years ago."

"Why would he go to a prison?" asked Hakam.

Durbuluk chuckled. "Do you not know the legends of the Calimmemnon Crystal and the Spinning Keep?"

"Clearly I do not," Hakam replied.

"Within Siri'wadjen lies the Calimmemnon Crystal," said Solisar, "in which the entrapped essences of the two noble genies strive ever for freedom. Legends say that anyone touching the gem would obtain the powers of both Calim in Memnon. Other legends say that, if the Crystal were to come into contact with the wind of the desert or the crackle of its dried sands, then the corresponding genie would be freed. Of course, the elves protected the Crystal. No one has ever entered Siri'wadjen or successfully solved its puzzles. In fact, it is impossible even for anyone to pass through the magical field of protection surrounding it."

"Typical of snobbish, arrogant elves, your definition of 'anyone' differs from that of other races," said Durbuluk. "In truth, the protections on the Spinning Keep bar genies, humans, and elves from ever touching the surface of the magical structure, but nothing prevents a hobgoblin or a goblin, like Booyagh, from touching it." Durbuluk gave a truly devilish smile.

Hakam suddenly understood the gravity of Allu's plan and why he was so interested in hobgoblins as a race. "Curse you elves," he said. "Calishites would have protected the prison with better magics!"

"Oh, we shall just go back 9,000 years and fix that then!" said Belvin.

"History has already been written," said Solisar. "We must deal with the present."

"So, Allustairimarinastralmindivu desires the power of the Crystal and needs the hobgoblins to bypass the prison's defenses," said Hakam.

"No, Allustairimarinastralmindivu knows that the power gained from touching the Crystal is only temporary. He wants the permanent power that a fully restored Memnon can grant him. He does not want to simply touch the Crystal; he wants to free the Trapped Terrors within."

"Why would he want to free both genies?" asked Hakam.

"He only wants to free Memnon, of course, but it is likely impossible to free one without the other. His original plan was to have the backing of an army of efreet behind him when the Crystal was removed from the Keep. With the aid of a multitude of genies, surely Calim would immediately be subdued and slain, and Memnon would rule."

"Why release Memnon only to be subjugated by him?" asked Hakam.

"I have always suspected that Allustairimarinastralmindivu is no one of note on the Plane of Fire. He is not noble born. None of his efreeti kin would ever follow him. I think that he believes that if he succeeds at his elaborate plan to restore Memnon to power, then he will be rewarded handsomely or even appointed to higher status among his kind."

"It seems foolish. There is no guarantee that a genie such as Memnon would reward him."

Durbuluk shrugged again.

"What do the hobgoblins get out of all of this again?" asked Leokas.

"Allustairimarinastralmindivu's ultimate goal is to free Memnon and to restore the kingdom of Memnonnar, but he knows that he needs the help of hobgoblins, and in exchange, he will return to us the hobgoblin portion of the kingdom that was once ours."

"Calimshan was never yours!" protested Hakam.

"Typical Calishite human, seeing your history the way that you want to see it! Travel north to the nation that you humans call Tethyr. To this very day, you will find a gorge with the remains of a massive monolith that my people raised thousands of years ago to the greatness of Nomog-Geaya. How many human nations have monoliths that have persisted for so many ages? Do you think that wandering bandit tribes of hobgoblins could build such a thing? No! We were a kingdom. The lands of Tethyr were fully ours, not those of the Calishites!"

Hakam thought it best to return to the matter at hand rather than argue about ancient history. "Where exactly is the Keep?"

"East of here, several day's journey on foot. I do not know the exact location, but Allustairimarinastralmindivu had obtained a journal from a gnome adventurer, who claimed to have bypassed the Keep's defenses and entered it. She left a map to the site in the journal as well."

"Was the gnome's name Samber? or Ramseb? or anything like that?" asked Hakam.

Durbuluk shook his head. "No, she only signed her name as Stumblesparkle, a typical foolish nickname among those ridiculous people."

"Is this journal and map still here?" asked Solisar.

"It is," Durbuluk replied, "in on of Allustairimarinastralmindivu's storage chambers."

"Beyond the fire traps?" asked Hakam.

"Yes."

"How can they be disabled?"

"They cannot be disabled," said Durbuluk, "but that is not a problem for a fire genie or for a hobgoblin with magical blood like mine."

"I assume that they reset."

"They do."

"Are there other traps?"

"No, but the very walls of the inner chambers are composed of fire, not of stone. You natives of this plane would not fare well."

"Are there other hobgoblins still alive here besides you?" asked Solisar.

"I know not. Remember, I was just trying to escape through the tunnel behind you with my own skin, and now I have lost a good bit of that."

"Did any other hobgoblins go with Allustairimarinastralmindivu?"

"He only took Booyagh with him."

"Why did you not also go?" asked Solisar.

"My talents are not with ancient artifacts and mysteries. I was to remain as long as I could to defend against the undead. Clearly, I failed at that task, as you have now subdued me."

Kytharrah now asked a question. "What do you guard?"

"Allustairimarinastralmindivu's inner sanctum."

"What do you know of Allu's dealings with Samber?" asked Hakam.

"Samber? The same name that you mentioned earlier as a possible name for the gnome? I know nothing of anyone by this name."

"He is a wizard of great power. His was the island where the Allustairimarinastralmindivu first entered our world."

"Ah, the one from whom Allustairimarinastralmindivu stole the gate."

"Stole the gate?" asked Leokas.

"This gate here?" asked Hakam.

"Yes, the gate directly behind you."

"Why would Allu steal a gate to the Plane of Fire?" asked Solisar.

"To lead through an efreeti army for Memnon to lead," said Hakam somberly.

"Yes, exactly," confirmed Durbuluk. "As I said before, Allustairimarinastralmindivu was supremely fortunate to have found an open portal to his plane, and he simply passed through it. He came upon the abode of some powerful wizard with a portal on an isolated island and a band of hobgoblin pirates — with a sailing ship no less. Is it so surprising that he saw this as an opportunity? Everyone knows that to this very day a deep and ancient magic still bars all genies from using their own magic to enter Calimsham or wizards from calling them here. No such magic prevents a portal to the Plane of Fire from operating, however. All Allustairimarinastralmindivu had to do was dismantle the portal and transport it here to Faerûn to rebuild. As you can see behind you, he succeeded."

"Allu told the hobgoblins that the gate would bring warriors from Clangor," said Leokas.

"A lie that appealed to their simple minds more than the truth."

"How is it that Samber has not already located his missing gate and taken it back?" asked Solisar.

"The gate is protected against attempts at scrying. Allustairimarinastralmindivu is not foolish. He knows that the one from whom he stole the gate is a powerful spellcaster who could scry on the gate to find him and teleport here on a whim."

"Why has he not opened the portal yet?" asked Hakam. "Why has the Army of Fire not already come through?

"Because a petty and weak human wizard, a stowaway on Allustairimarinastralmindivu's ship, stole the key."

The party knew that this "petty" wizard was Malick of Darromar, the very one who had set this whole adventure in motion by hiring Leokas many months ago, but they tried hard not to let on to Durbuluk that they knew this or, worse, that they had the very key on one of their persons.

"Is the army waiting on the other side now?" asked Hakam.

"I do not know; I only know that until this mummy attacked us, Allustairimarinastralmindivu was still searching for the lost key. It was a major missing component to his plan. With the loss of the key and now the destruction of his army, the efreet's last chance is to free Memnon earlier than he had willed."

"Is there a way to destroy the portal?"

"I do not know that either. Booyagh might."

"Should we destroy the portal?" asked Belvin.

"There is no need for the portal to be destroyed if the key is still missing," said Solisar.

Kytharrah was growing noticeably bored of the interrogation by now and was scratching at his itching, rotting flesh, causing more fur to fall out.

"Are you satisfied yet," asked Durbuluk, "or do you have further questions?"

"Does the path behind us lead out of the caverns?" asked Solisar.

"It does, to the desert sands."

"How do Allustairimarinastralmindivu's magic bottles work?" asked Hakam. "Is he actually summoned when someone opens the bottle, or do we merely view an image of him?"

Durbuluk seemed thoughtful. "How would you know about these bottles?"

"We found one in the past and foolishly opened it."

"You. You are the ones who have the key. He has searched for so long, and had he only waited, you would have come to him!"

"Were it the case that we had the key," threatened Hakam, "we would have to eliminate anyone who might inform Allustairimarinastralmindivu."

"Now, now," said Durbuluk, "your so-called worshiper of Torm here already gave me a promise."

"Our agreement with you says nothing about finding you again after we let you go."

"After you let me go," said the half-fiend, "you will never find me again. I assure you."

"Nevertheless, you will tell us about the bottles."

"Unlike the bottles crafted by your own people to entrap efreet for their own purposes, these bottles summon Allustairimarinastralmindivu himself for a short time, after which he returns from where he came."

"If one were to open a bottle and then destroy it before that time had passed, what would happen?"

"I have no idea," said Durbuluk.

"Does Allustairimarinastralmindivu have any weaknesses? Or are there any means we could use to bargain with him?"

"You could offer him the gem key." Durbuluk smiled, but then he continued. "If that fails, you could use ice magic, which tends to work well on fire creatures. To be honest, I have never considered attacking him, so I do not know. It seems a foolish thought."

"Bored, bored, bored," complained Kytharrah.

"The fire traps in the chamber below," said Hakam, "what triggers them?"

"They only trigger for non-hobgoblins," Durbuluk replied, "and they only trigger moving away from the center of the four columns."

"So the way into the inner chambers are blocked? Is there any other way in?"

"That tunnel is the only way in. Are we finished here? Are you not yet satisfied? I have told you everything."

"To satisfy us and our agreed-upon conditions, you must tell us everything written in the gnome's journal."

"What? Absurd! I cannot read the language that the journal is written in, and even if I could, do you truly expect me to have memorized it?"

"Can you at least recall the map?"

"Not well enough to draw a copy for you. I only saw it once."

"Then you must retrieve it for us," said Hakam.

"That does not seem to me part of our agreement."

"You agreed to answer all of our questions, and we are questioning you about information found in a document that you clearly have access to. In any human court, this argument would be upheld."

"Perhaps in a human court," said Durbuluk.

"That is the only court that matters at the moment," said Hakam.

"Stay here, and I shall retrieve the the book for you."

"And risk you escaping?" said Leokas.

"We will escort you as far as to the fire traps below," said Hakam.

"So be it. That is only fair," answered the fiendish hobgoblin. "Lead the way."
Session: 99th Game Session - Wednesday, Dec 20 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — The "Preparation Room"
They climbed up the stone steps into the ceiling some fifteen or twenty feet above, rising into another dark and massive chamber 50 feet high. The glowing omlar gem was able to illuminate most of the 50- to 60-yard cavernous room. It was empty of any visible life. Stalactites hung from the ceiling, but it appeared that any stalagmites had been broken off and filed down to make the floor as flat as possible. Large boulders and natural stone columns were distributed about the room, but the object that caught everyone's attention immediately was the portal gate in the center.

"The same black metal as what Samber uses," said Hakam.

They all approached the giant ring. It sat on a crude dais made of slabs of stone and was haphazardly embedded in concrete. It was about fifteen feet in diameter.

Szordrin, now holding the omlar gem, looked at the metal of the ring. It was made from five separate pieces. Each piece had the symbol of the Interlink Consortium of Bral etched into it. The discovery immediately triggered feelings of anger in the tiefling.

Solisar also looked more closely. "The metal is marked with the rune for fire," he explained, "just like on the odd faces of the omlar gem. It must be a portal to the Plane of Fire, though we have a scroll from the gynosphinx that we encountered that can help me identify this portal's properties more completely."

"At last," said Leokas, "we have found the portal for which the omlar gem is the key."

On hearing this, Szordrin stepped off the dais and handed the omlar gem back to Leokas. "I do not want to get too close while holding this then.

"Solisar," Szordrin continued, "use the scroll. I shall investigate the rest of this chamber in the meantime with my darkvision."

"I see in the dark too!" said Kytharrah.

"Come along then, Lunk, and I know that you are fast."

Kytharrah seemed confused but followed.

Solisar began reading the incantation from the scroll, while the other two elves and Hakam stood by. It took him about a minute, and during that time, he removed a small mirror from among his belongings. When he completed the final words, the glass of mirror began to glow a deep red color, and it looked to be covered in smoke.

"It is as we suspected," said the sun elf. "The portal activates for anyone passing through while holding the key. Actually, the key is only needed on the Material Plane side. That is, once through, the portal remains open back to the Material Plane, and, yes, its destination is on the Plane of Fire, though I cannot see through all the smoke to make out any details about the specific destination.

The others returned to report that they had found a tunnel on the opposite side of the cavern from the stairs. It seemed to slope uphill and curved to the north.

"What did the scroll reveal?" asked Szordrin.

"It leads to the Plane of Fire, but we cannot tell exactly where," Hakam replied. "I suspect that we would not be likely to survive travel through the portal at this point. That realm is not hospitable to most mortals of our kind, and I do not think that we have the magic to protect us from its heat."

"The Plane of Fire is more hospitable than many of the other Inner Planes," said Szordrin. "The Plane of Earth is just a big chunk of infinite earth and rock; the Plane of Air is just a big collection of infinite water, but at least the plane of fire has a bottom, has land to stand on. Because of the genies, there are even cities."

"You seem to know more about the place than I," said Solisar, somewhat surprised by this observation, "but is not the City of Brass still unsurvivably hot?"

"Well, yes."

"Hakam is right then," said Solisar. "We cannot pass through this gate now. We would have to come back with magical protections for all of us. Perhaps I could research such spells in Silverymoon...."

"Even with protective abjurations," said Hakam, "I will not pass through the portal without a backup plan for getting home. I shall have to acquire another planar fork tuned to the Material."

Kytharrah suddenly snorted loudly. He had spotted someone coming up the stairs. Belvin also noticed and watched as a hairy humanoid ascended. Short, pointed horns sprouted from his head, and he had long ears like an elf or goblin. The creature was garbed in leather armor, covered in studs and spikes, and carried a longsword in one hand and a handaxe in the other. When he reached the top of the steps, batlike wings unfurled behind him.

"It is Durbuluk," said Belvin. He raised his shield and scimitar.

Solisar heard the newcomer call out "Nomog smite thee!" in a fiendish tongue while pointing his sword toward Belvin.

A column of unholy fire enveloped the wild elf, and he screamed in pain as he hurriedly tried to extinguish the flames, only to find that they were no longer there; the magic was instantaneous. He dropped to his knees, his skin burning in pain.

Durbuluk leapt into the air, with a powerful flap of his wings, shooting up to the ceiling before any of the others could reach him. He hung with his axe arm around one of the stalactites.

"Belvin, are you...?" Leokas began.

"Do not talk to me; take him out!" shouted the druid. With that, he called out a frantic druidic chant, attempting to magically bind the half-fiend's wings, but he was in too much pain to complete the spell properly.

Leokas nocked an arrow.

Szordrin called out to the others. "Half-fiends have strong resistances, much stronger than tieflings!"

"Then aim for the stalactite!" Belvin replied.

Szordrin followed Belvin's advice and sent a series of force bursts at the stalactite, but the blasts did not break the stone. Leokas tossed the arrow that he had nocked to the the ground and reached for another one, silver tipped, more useful for injuring certain beings of the planes. Hakam moved off the portal dais and offered a prayer to Anachtyr to protect his companions, while Solisar rushed to Kytharrah's side.

"This is not play!" the sun elf instructed, pausing to enspell his own eyes with some divinatory magic. "Can you hit him with your 'goo bag'?"

Kytharrah tossed his last tanglefoot bag up with a powerful underhanded lob. It shattered and covered the hobgoblin cleric with a sticky mess. "Yes!" shouted the minotaur happily.

Solisar also tossed something up into the air, a tiny fragment of broken glass, which vanished.

"Try to fly now!" Leokas taunted, and he unleashed three shots of silver-tipped arrows in rapid succession. The first punctured Durbuluk's leather, but the second was deflected by either armor or magic force, and the third embedded itself into the stalactite.

Having caught his breath, Belvin retreated further back from the battle, easing his own pain with positive energy as he did so. Then, he began a summoning chant.

Durbuluk cried out in the same awful language as before, but this time, fire immolated him, thin, wispy flames of dim, purple light.

Again Solisar understood the words: "Nomog protect me with warm flame!"

"He is protecting himself from cold magic!" Solisar relayed to the others.

Hakam drew his sword and yelled out a command meant to dispel the enemy cleric's protective magic, but there was no response, and Szordrin, too, failed at attempting a spell of his own.

"I can shatter his stalactite," said Solisar, "but I need to get closer. Kytharrah, lift me up!"

Kytharrah grabbed the elf by the waist and lifted him nearly over his head, but it was a wasted effort. Two more arrows from Leokas found their target in Durbuluk's side, and then the fiendish hobgoblin let go, falling into a glide as a third arrow whizzed past him harmlessly. He glided directly at the opponent who had stuck him thrice with arrows, sword extended. Durbuluk came to the ground directly facing the wood elf, and drove his sword up with the added force of his quick descent. The blade plunged through Leokas' gut and the tip came out his lower back.

"I tried to fly," said Durbuluk in Common. He yanked the blade back out. "Did it work?"

Leokas could taste blood in his mouth, and he could feel the heat from the magical fire surrounding the evil cleric burning his skin. Time seemed to slow for Leokas, but in an instant, Hakam was at Leokas' side, before Durbuluk could take another swing, and positive energy surged through the wood elf. Durbuluk raised his sword again, but was distracted when a vial of some alchemical substance struck him, tossed by Szordrin.

Kytharrah set Solisar on the ground, grabbed his axe, and rushed over to flank the hobgoblin, while the sun elf tried to dispel the violet flames around the hobgoblin but failed to succeed.

Leokas, however, sprung back to land on the dais and drew an arrow.

"I know...." Twang. "...the most painful parts...." Twang. "...on your goblin body." Twang. Three more arrows joined their partners, and Durbuluk was beginning to look like a pin cushion. His attempts to deflect the arrows with his weapons or to strike the elf a second time failed.

"I feel no... ah!" Durbuluk's retort was cut off as a long-necked, blue-scaled, yellow-feathered creature with four sets of wings took a chunk of flesh and hair from Durbuluk's skull with its sharp beak as it swooped by. Belvin's summon from the Plane of Air had arrived. The four-eyed creature gave a high-pitched screech, as the flames about Durbuluk had burned it, and flew off to recover and circle about the massive cavern. Durbuluk now nearly stumbled over as dark goblin blood flowed onto his face from the head wound. He jumped into the air again and flapped his powerful wings to carry him some five yards into the air, but an arrow from Belvin now joined the others, puncturing one of the wings.

"Bree-yark! I yield!"

"Kytharrah, stay," said Solisar, but he readied a spell of his own just in case.

The elemental creature circled back for another nip at Durbuluk's head, as the half-fiend struggled to hover above them with powerful downward strokes of his wings.

"There are more where that thing came from," taunted Belvin.

"Spare my life, and I shall tell you everything that you want to know!"

"Tell us of Allu or I shall strike you with the wrath of the gods!" Szordrin shouted, pointing a wand of magic detection at the severely wounded foe and hoping that the half-fiend would not know the difference.

"This one is not a creature of chaos;" said Hakam, "we may be able to listen to him."

Leokas shot another arrow directly into Durbuluk's gut, precisely where the hobgoblin had stabbed him moments earlier.

"Now, I will listen." He lowered his bow, and Belvin dismissed his strange summon.

"Drop your flames, and tell us of Allu!" repeated Szordrin.

The fiendish hobgoblin dropped back to the ground, his goo-covered, arrow-punctured wings barely preventing him from crashing. Landing on one knee and bent over in pain, he dismissed his spell. Then, he strangely began laughing.

"I find it humorous that even his enemies do not know his actual name."
Session: 98th Game Session - Wednesday, Dec 06 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — The Room of Four Columns
The party returned to the cavern complex through the sea cave entrance later that evening, once the tide had lowered again. They still had yet to locate Allu's inner chambers. The interrogated hobgoblins had suggested that his elite forces might be holed up deeper in the caves, where they and Allu had retreated, beyond a massive chamber in the east with a ceiling supported by four thick columns. Supposedly, Allu's chambers were protected against the undead, they had reported, and Szordrin and Hakam had confirmed that at least one more minotaur skeleton and five smaller ones stood "waiting" in the larger room.

The lines of ash that they had left continued to remain undisturbed during their absence. Presumably, the six skeletons had not moved from where they were last seen. "I suppose that if you are already dead, it means nothing to you to stand around for a day," said Leokas.

For once, the group had the time to ready themselves for battle with knowledge of what lay ahead around the corner. Hakam lit up his shield with a prayer, while Solisar cast a similar light spell upon the omlar gem, enhancing the extent of the glow. Hakam increased Kytharrah's strength and protected him from evil. Szordrin likewise protected himself and also created false duplicates of himself. Solisar made his eyes see invisible objects and persons and created a protective forcefield around his clothing. Leokas prayed that Solonor would bless his next shot.

"Are we ready?" asked Szordrin, clutching a bit of bat guano mixed with sulfur between his fingertips, ready for a spell.

"Let us do this," said Leokas, nocking an arrow.

"We charge as soon as I finish casting this last spell," said Solisar. With that, he completed a brief incantation, and a piece of licorice root vanished from his hand.

They all felt a surge of energy and charged out of the cavern passage.

Solisar bowled the glowing omlar gem into the center of the large chamber, filling it with light, revealing five of the previously seen skeletons. A bead of red shot forth from Szordrin's fingertips and struck the ground in their midst, erupting with an echoing blast of light and flame. Bone and bone fragments were scattered in all directions, leaving only the minotaur skeleton in one piece. It threw its head back, as if giving a silent roar. An arrow from Leokas shot through what would have been its open mouth, puncturing the back of its skull. A huge chunk of that fell away, bringing the horns with it. It began to charge, but Leokas caused it to clang to the floor in pieces with a second shot.

Their own living minotaur rushed into the light, passing to the left past one of the four massive columns supporting the ceiling. He saw another skeleton, but it was the extraordinarily thick cloud shape that caught his eye. It looked like it had thick arms and fists, and it had glowing eyes in its midst. He swung his axe at it and found that it felt like he was cutting through something solid and mushy. The cloud parted in half and dissipated, its glowing eyes fading away into nothing. He stood for a moment confused.

Hakam ran after Kytharrah and spotted the same skeleton. He called on Anachtyr to send him a spiritual weapon, and a sword of force appeared before the skeleton and wasted no time in hacking apart the bones.

Three Szordrins charged around the other side of the massive column and saw another hidden opponent. "They have another mummy!" he shouted out in warning, before sending two beams of flame each from his three hand. One of the real beams struck the mummy soundly, but the others passed over her shoulder and struck the column. She was dressed and armed much like the three that they had destroyed the day before. The mummy had her eyes closed and held a posture of what might have been prayer.

Belvin and Solisar came behind Hakam, as two more skeletons rushed from out of the shadows near other columns and charged forward with scimitars waving. Solisar sent missiles of magic force toward the mummy, which he could now also see behind the column, but they seemed to have no effect on her. One of the skeletons came within ten feet of Kytharrah before he cut it in half at the lower spine and scattering its bones. A ball of fire came from Belvin's hand and obliterated the remaining one.

"That was more than six skeletons!" shouted the elven druid.

Then they all felt a bitter cold fill the chamber, which they could feel in their bones. The mummy opened her eyes, and they heard her scream some dark words that included the name of Akadi. A whirlwind blew suddenly through the chamber and a humanoid cloud coalesced near their young minotaur. The elemental being pounded into Kytharrah with the force of a hurricane, knocking him back but not hurting him greatly. It shook him up enough, however, to give the mummy an opening. With inhuman speed, she was upon him, slamming him with fist and mace. He roared in pain, taking three solid blows before at last avoiding the fourth.

Recovering from the feeling of bitter cold, Leokas and Hakam came to their companion's aid. The elf charged east past the column unto a metal-tiled floor and tried to strike the mummy with two simultaneous arrows from his bow. They missed, as mummy and minotaur circled around each other looking for openings to strike.

Hakam pointed at the mummy while stepping away from the reach of the summoned air elemental. The spiritual sword flew toward the undead priestess like a ballista bolt. She deflected the force sword with her shield, but the distraction was enough for Kytharrah to swing down at her embalmed legs, tripping her off her feet and flat onto her back. (It had worked for the previous mummies, so he figured that he would try it again.) Kytharrah hacked down at the fallen priestess, cutting deep gashes into her wrappings, and leaving her chest an ash-filled concave hollow.

Nevertheless, the undead priestess sprung up to her feet again, splintered rib fragments falling to the ground from her chest and mouth open in a shrieking curse.

Hakam silenced her by calling a column of holy fire down upon her, engulfing her in flame.

As she writhed about and burned into ashes, the elemental came at Hakam to avenge its summoner, but it was seared by magic fire from Szordrin, shooting just between Hakam and Solisar and nearly scorching them as well. The sun elf waved his wand to pummel the elemental with force bursts, while Belvin came up behind Kytharrah and healed him with positive energy from his palm.

The elemental, having lost a good portion of its mass from Szordrin's fire, took one more feeble swing at Kytharrah, who deftly dodged the vapory fist. The thing turned and flew with haste to get away, but with a lunge, Kytharrah leapt forward and swung down his axe, turning the otherworldy creature into a puff of air.

Kytharrah giggled at the bizarre effect. "Poof!" he said.

They all caught their breath, as the power of the hasting spell wore off, and looked around at the scattered skeleton bones and the four columns. Between the columns, the floor was flat and tiled with massive ten-foot plates of reddish metal. The columns were the work of crude masonry, with large red bricks.

"Ah!" Szordrin yelled out in pain suddenly, as fire that did not come from his own fingertips erupted around him. He had dismissed his illusion and simply been walking back toward the hall from which they had come. Looking behind him, a wall of violet fire, rising all the way from floor to ceiling extended the whole length from the corner of one of the square-based columns to the cavern wall, from north to south. Thankfully, his fiendish ancestry prevented him from taking severe burns, but he was going to experience what would feel like sunburn for several days after this, and his clothing was singed.

"No one move!" warned Leokas loudly. "This whole room may be trapped."

Szordrin picked up a stone and tossed it to the north, between the chamber wall and another corner of the same column. Nothing happened.

"We all already crossed over that way without incident," said Hakam.

"And I passed the other way the first time too," said Szordrin, while looking carefully at the column, floor, and ceiling. "There are scorch marks here on this other corner of the column," he said, but I cannot find the source of the flames. Belvin, summon your satyr friend and make him pass between the wall and this column to me."

"Not going to happen," answered Belvin.

"You have had him do worse," said Szordrin.

Kytharrah was bored and wanted to head down another tunnel he spotted on the northwestern corner of the massive chamber.

"Minotaur! Get back here!"

Kytharrah grudgingly obeyed. As he did so, a tuft of his fur fell from his chest, precisely where the mummy had previously pounded him with her fists.

"Kezef be bound, you have been cursed!" exclaimed Hakam. "Let me see to your wounds."

Meanwhile, Solisar cast his spell to detect auras of magic. "Yes, the line from the corner of this column to the wall is indeed trapped. The source of the flames is from the crack in the stone there on the wall." He pointed. "The columns themselves are not magical. Yet it did not trigger for the rest of us, as Hakam noted. Odd."

"It triggered on the second time," said Szordrin.

"Like the trap that crushed me," said Leokas with a shiver, recalling that dreadful experience many months ago now.

"Can a magical trap be directional?" asked Hakam. Then he shouted at Kytharrah, "Stay still until I can heal you, minotaur, or do you want all of your fur to fall out?" He examined the friendly beast's injuries. More fur dropped off, and the skin looked rotted and greenish.

"Skin smells funny," said Kytharrah.

"Spell triggers can be customized in all manner of ways," said Szordrin.

"There is another trap between the wall and this other column here," explained Solisar. "Kytharrah nearly set it off, if it triggers in this direction."

"Are we trapped then?" asked Leokas. "We can enter the center of the room yet not leave without harm."

"Perhaps that staircase is not triggered," said Belvin, pointing to where a wide staircase between the two eastern-most columns led up into the stalactite-covered ceiling.

"There is no aura about it," said Solisar, "so it is free at least from any magical traps."

"The hobgoblin scum called the room above the 'preparation room'," said Leokas, "and the location of the gate portal to Clangor."

Hakam finished his examination and curing of Kytharrah, but the skin was still gangrenous. "I cannot help him further today. I will have to ask Anachtyr for such power come morning."

"Kytharrah, how do you feel?" asked Solisar.

"Not as tough. Like bad nap."

"Are you strong enough to search this ash for more gems from the mummy?"

He happily obliged the elf. While he was thus distracted, the others discussed how to handle the traps.

"There seem to be only four of them," said Solisar, "two on each of the western-most columns. So the paths to the tunnel to our exit and to the one over there, presumably to Allu's inner chambers, are blocked."

"Perhaps there are other paths beyond where we can see across the chamber," said Belvin. He and Solisar, carrying the still-glowing omlar gem, walked around the eastern half of the chamber, beyond the columns. They returned with nothing to report.

Szordrin used his magic to feel the trap source remotely, as if with an invisible hand, but he did not have the dexterity to manipulate anything. He gave up and dared to cross the line of the trap to join the others, since they suspected it to be safe passing in that direction. Nothing happened.

"Well," he said, "this explains how the skeletons and mummy made it into this room and then were left here and could not escape."

"If we spent the night here, Belvin and I could shape the stone to encase the traps," said Hakam.

"I could also dispel a trap for a few minutes with my druidic magics," suggested Belvin.

"Let us hold off on that for now," said Hakam, "in case we have another use for that. We still have to explore upstairs; we can deal with these traps later. I also have a scroll that can ward against flames if it comes to it."

"Let me examine the steps for mechanical traps," said Szordrin. They gave him several minutes, and he was convinced that they were safe to climb.

"Ready yourselves," said Leokas. "We ascend."
Session: 98th Game Session - Wednesday, Dec 06 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — Interrogation
Back on board, the famished and weakened hobgoblins sat below deck and leaned against the main mast, looking far more terrified than even Hakam about the fact that they were now floating miles above the ground.

   "It is safer this way," explained Szordrin. "Surely, you know that a blue dragon lairs in tunnels that connect to yours?"

   "Play?" asked Kytharrah.

   "No, we do not play with prisoners," said Leokas.

   Only two of the hobgoblins spoke Common, so Hakam used his magic to communicate with them in their language of Ghukliak. Szordrin cast spells for reading their surface thoughts and for understanding them, so that he could confirm that they were telling the truth.

   Hakam began. "When were you attacked?"

   "It was about ten days ago. It was hard to keep track after we became trapped."

   "Was it an ambush?"

   "No, it was a full-on assault. Hordes of undead poured into our caves."

   "Were they led by a mummy, a very powerful mummy in silks? Or did you ever hear the name El Sadhara spoken?"

   "There were several mummies, along with skeletons of humans, skeletons of minotaurs, and creatures that seemed to be made out of clouds and air."

   Hakam tried to describe El Sadhara in more detail, but the hobgoblins did not seem to know if she had been there or not.

   "Ask if they saw any human wizard," said Solisar.

   "...Or a human with red hair," added Leokas.

   Hakam asked them, but they had not.

   "Was Allu there with you?" asked Szordrin. "What happened to him?"

   Hakam translated.

   "The cowardly false god fled to his chamber when they attacked. We do not know what became of him, only that he abandoned us."

   "How many of you were there?" Szordrin asked.

   They answered back that there were hundreds of them, most of whom were slaughtered by the undead and elemental forces, unless a few members of their "special forces" had managed to survive somewhere. It was suggested that their high priest and the archwizard might have survived, as each was very powerful and were last seen retreating with Allu.

   "What were Allu's plans?" asked Hakam. "Why did he need to gather hundreds of you?"

   "Our god...." The goblin paused and spat. "Our former god was raising an army to retake Calimshan. He told us that Calimshan was his, that it belonged to him and had been taken from him in the ancient past. He told us that hobgoblins would rule once again, serving under him, and that the other races would be driven away. He told us that we would never be enslaved by the Calishite humans again."

   The goblin looked directly at Hakam as he spoke, with no love in his eyes toward the obviously Calishite man.

   Hakam did not try to argue that hobgoblins had never ruled Calimshan, but it was true that genies once did, though certainly not Allu. Instead, he changed the focus of the questions. "Have you heard of anyone named Samber? Or for that matter, Ramseb? or Rembas? or anything like that? or the Maker?"

   They had not.

   "I want to ask about Allu's 'palace' again. To the east of the tunnels where we found you, there is a massive chamber supported by thick columns. You said that Allu's chamber and a gate were that way, and now, there remain skeletons guarding the chamber. What are those columns supporting?"

   "The columns are supporting the 'preparation room' and the gate."

   "The 'preparation room'? Preparation for what?"

   "Preparation for war," said one of the hobgoblins. "Allu was waiting to summon an army of warriors from Clangor through the gate to unleash on the surface."

   When Hakam translated this information back to the others, Ilthian, who had been sitting quietly nearby, asked, "What is Clangor?"

   "It is where goblins believe that they go when they die," explained Solisar.

   The answer did not seem to make any sense to Ilthian, but she kept silent as Hakam asked another question.

   "You mentioned a high priest and an archwizard. Describe them."

   "The archwizard, Booyagh, is a puny goblin. Despite being a weakling goblin, he rose to power by slaying the other hobgoblin wizards in a spell duel, claiming that he wished to reject Maglubiyet, the goblin god, and serve Allu instead. So Allu accepted him, even though he is puny and small.

   "Durbuluk is Allu's high priest. He seemed clearly chosen from the beginning, for he is blessed with a mixture of fiendish and hobgoblin blood and is winged and horned. He came with some of us from the Marching Mountains and quickly replaced Bokkob and Martuk and Harngur, the earlier priests."

   "Why do you supposed that this priest and wizard may still live?"

   "They retreated to Allu's chambers, which are defended against the undead."

   "How so?"

   "The walls of his chamber and of his throne room and treasure rooms are of flaming fire, fires too hot for simple hobgoblins like us to survive."

   "Why did you choose to stay and serve Allu in this place?"

   "He promised us freedom. Did we not already answer you that?"

   "But what made you think that he could keep his promises? What made you believe him?"

   "I imagine that, as a genie, he had the power to create food for his growing army, for one thing," suggested Solisar.

   The goblin that could understand Common nodded, and then spoke his own answer in his tongue. "Before he abandoned us, Allu granted our every desires. We only had to say, 'I wish for...,' and it would be ours — food, females, treasure, anything."

   "From where did all of you come?" Hakam asked them. "How did Allu find and recruit you?"

   "Some of my friends, who are all dead now, claimed to have been former pirates on the Sea of Swords. Karlack here was a former slave as were a good number of us. Most of the rest of us were former subjects of Guthash, King Under the Marching Mountains."

   "What about the blue dragon who shares these tunnels with you?"

   "What about her? Her tunnels only connect to ours where they connect to the sea cave. Allu told us that she was too foolish and proud to think that an army of goblinoids lived right under her snout, crafting weapons and forging armor. For our part, we always used magic to hide ourselves if coming in from or going out over the desert. In any case, no one has seen her since the beginning of the year."

   Hakam had run out of questions to ask and came over to his companions to speak to them privately. "We are probably going to have to fight the remaining skeletons to see if we can enter Allu's inner chamber."

   "That should not be too difficult for us, provided that El Sadhara is not there," said Leokas.

   "Even if she was here, she may have left her priestesses behind in her place," said Hakam.

   "It seems that she came to confront Allu, and he fled," said Solisar.

   "She had confronted him in the past, when his agents destroyed her statue of Calim," said Hakam. "Was this her final revenge for all of that?"

   "How did she find this place though?" asked Leokas. "It was hidden."

   "I wonder if Samber helped her," suggested Hakam.

   "I thought that you considered Samber and Allu allies," said Szordrin.

   "Maybe they cannot be connected," said Hakam. "If it is true that Allu was here when El Sadhara attacked this place, he could not also have been her prisoner, as Jayce reported to us. So one cannot be an aspect of the other after all."

   "You are only guessing about everything," said Belvin.

   "I do not think that our prisoners can tell us anything else," said Szordrin. "We should get rid of them."

   "Did you sense any lies with your magic?" asked Leokas.

   "None at all," answered the wizard. "Their thoughts matched up with their words. They had a bit of hatred toward Hakam for being a Calishite, but that was about it. Mostly they were thinking about how confused they were that we would have rescued them and not outright killed them. And they were thinking about how hungry they were."

   "I object to just abandoning them in the desert without any supplies," said Solisar. "They cooperated with us more than we ever expected."

   "We can provide some rations," said Hakam.

   "Can we not also supply them with some of their weapons from the cave?" asked Solisar.

   "An elf would give weapons to goblinkin?" Leokas appeared shocked.

   "Are there not jackals and other mundane dangers in the desert?" said Solisar. "If I understand the geography of the region, there are no towns or villages until many day's travel by foot. There are blue dragons overhead and El Sadhara's undead below the surface. And are the rumors of purple worms in the Calim Desert only rumors?"

   "They are true," said Hakam, "but no cheaply crafted goblin weapon will protect them from a sand worm. I agree to providing them weapons; it will not make a difference. We can send Kytharrah back into the cave to retrieve four of them; I believe that the tide is still low enough."

   This was done, and an hour later, Belvin sat in the spelljamming helm and carefully lowered it into a region of soft sand east of coastal cliffs. The four hobgoblins looked in shock at being handed both a couple day's of food and a weapon for each.

   "Die well," Leokas said to them.

   What was perhaps intended as an insult seemed to have been taken as a kind farewell by the hobgoblins, and a couple of them responded with something in the Goblin language. "Braeunk vhos trolkh."

   As the spelljammer lifted off from the sand, Solisar asked Leokas what their final statement meant. "It is a common goblin farewell," the ranger explained. "It means something like, 'If you die, do it quietely.'"
Session: 97th Game Session - Wednesday, Nov 29 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Tags: Chapter 5 , Recap
Chapter 5 — Survivors
With his natural eyes, Hakam could barely see more than a few feet in front of him now, since Solisar's torchlight had moved away, but he could still sense the shape of everything within about ten yards of him, as magic helped his mind to process the subtle echoes of sounds through the chamber. Thirty feet was not very far, however, and it was clear that this was the largest chamber yet in this subterranean place. If he was standing in the corner of a giant square facing inward, the walls to his left and right were irregular, as one would expect for a cave, but at the far corner stood something that "felt" very smooth and artificial to his magical perceptions. As he scanned the area for motion, he saw something else, and this with his eyes. A magical aura, revealing the presence of evil, well beyond the range of his magical blindsight.

   He sensed Szordrin coming up beside him. "What is it?" the wizard whispered.

   "A source of evil," Hakam whispered back. "Can you see anything with your fiend's eyes."

   "A dark pillar holding up the ceiling, about twelve or fifteen feet wide. It is not natural."

   "I sense it too," said Hakam. "Can you see anything to the right of the pillar. I sense three sources of evil."

   "I shall move a bit closer." Szordrin did so, and then quickly came back to stand beside the cleric.

   "Humanoid forms, rather thin. Not as large as minotaurs."

   "Bone thin?"

   "Probably so." He extracted a copper wire from his pouch and held it to his lips. "Come back at once! Hakam has found more skeletons!"

   Hakam healed himself with positive energy while they waited, and they were soon joined by the others around the bodies of the three mummies. Hakam and Szordrin whispered what they had seen.

   "Kytharrah, go back a ways and guard us in case more skeletons attack from behind us," Leokas directed. "If you see any more, destroy them all."

   Kytharrah obeyed.

   "They are not attacking us," said Szordrin. "Let Hakam and I go deeper into the chamber for a better look."

   It was not long before they returned. "There are five humanoid skeletons and another giant, horned skeleton," Szordrin reported.

   "I suspect that they were commanded to guard something," said Hakam, "since they have made no move to advance toward us — perhaps an entrance or perhaps El Sadhara herself. I suggest that we avoid them."

   "If they are simply mindless skeletons, that gives us time to explore the rest of these tunnels first," said Leokas.

   Solisar was looking down at the scorched and broken bodies of the mummies. "These have items of magic," he said. "Abjuration magics. Their armor and one of their amulets glow, as do their cloaks, which have resisted damage from all of our fire magics."

   "Are they dangerous to touch?" asked Szordrin. "Can we be cursed if we take them? Should I use telekinesis to pick up the items?"

   "They have been destroyed, so I believe that their curse is spent," said Solisar.

   "I believe that he is correct," said Hakam, "but I would not risk touching their fell kind. I suspect that they are wearing Calishite mail, enchanted to cool the wearer in the desert heat, though mummies would have no need for such things in undeath."

   "Kytharrah," said Szordrin, "come help me search their bodies."

   Kytharrah did so, and he seemed to have no emotional hindrances to ripping through their bandaged bodies searching. Each limb was unraveled or torn open, and the desiccated ash within poured out. The area was filled with pungent perfumes. Each mummy had had a large blue sapphire buried in its wrappings about where her heart should have been, and another on her forehead. (No one else noticed when Szordrin secretly pocketed these latter three gems.) Hakam stepped on the three unholy symbols, grinding them into the stone. They gathered up the amulets until they could identify them later, along with three silver aspergilla, the unholy symbols, and the chain shirts, and stored them in their magical sack. Belvin, Hakam, and Szordrin each donned one of the magical short cloaks, as Solisar seemed convinced that they were of the same magical properties of resistance to harm as the ones that he, Leokas, and Kytharrah already wore.

   All this time, the skeletons deeper within the chamber made no movement toward them nor any sound.

   "Come," said Leokas, "let us see where the other tunnel continued. It forked after some 75 to 100 feet."

   As a group, they returned to the wider tunnel with all the scattered remains of weapon forging.

   "I suspect this was where Allu was making weapons for his army," said Leokas.

   "But El Sadhara destroyed all of it," said Hakam.

   They reached the fork and turned first to the left, where they had destroyed the last two of the minotaur skeletons. On the left wall was a large column and a massive boulder placed too tightly together for a human to squeeze through to the other side. On the right was a pile of rubble as if from a cave-in.

   "We sent Ferry through here earlier," said Szordrin. "That was the boulder that Kytharrah could not budge, and this was the collapsed tunnel that Ferry mentioned to me."

   Kytharrah sniffed. "Food," he said, and he rushed off ahead of them. The rest hurried after him, lest he run into any trouble, but there was no sign either of life or undeath. The tunnel narrowed to five feet in width and then entered a smallish, irregular-shaped cavern chamber. All about it were nasty-smelling dried meats and kitchen implements.

   "Ferry found this too already," said Szordrin.

   "It is clear that all of the goblins are dead," said Hakam.

   "...Or they are holding out somehow on the other side of that boulder fall," said Solisar.

   "Are you suggesting that some of the survivors may have barricaded themselves rather than become zombies?" said Leokas.

   "It is what I would have done," said Belvin.

   "I should be able to confirm that," said Leokas, "if we have not already trampled all over the evidence. Stand back here for a bit. Solisar, may I have the torch?"

   The ranger approached the rockfall carefully with the torch and examined the ground in the area all around. Then, he came to the others and handed back the torch. "There certainly are goblinhobgoblin — tracks underneath some of the boulders that have been propped up over the others. There is no doubt that goblins passed that way into a tunnel."

   "I shall send Ferry through the rubble," said Szordrin.

   His little weasel companion was nervous about his mission, but he accepted it anyhow and scurried underneath and between the fallen rocks and rubble. He was not gone long. He crawled up Szordin's clothing to the perch on his shoulder and squeaked into his ear.

   "Ferry says that there are a few hairy people on the other side. They seem sleepy and weak. There is no decaying. They are alive, not dead or undead.

   "Shall we send a message to them perhaps," Szordrin concluded.

   "I could write it in their language," said Leokas.

   "Could we trust any response that they might send back?" asked Hakam.

   "Considering the circumstances, I think it would be in their best interest to send an honest reply," said Leokas, "and you know that none of us has as much hatred for goblinkind as I."

   "Let me see if there is a secret way beyond all this rubble first," said Hakam. He prayed for special vision and guidance from Anachtyr, but the magic did not reveal the presence of any secret doors or passages in the immediate vicinity.

   Solisar provided a strip of paper and a feathered pen and ink, and Leokas laid it against a flat stone to scribble a message, trying to keep the letters sloppy, in imitation of how he imagined a hobgoblin to write. The message read, he hoped,
We were sent by Captain Grak. We have come back from the sea. We found and killed many not-dead. What has happened here?

   Leokas handed the paper to Szordrin who put it in Ferry's mouth.

   "Drop the message and then run immediately back to us," said Hakam.

   "He does not understand Common yet," said Szordrin.

   "He needs to wait for them to write an answer, does he not?" said Solisar.

   "I shall tell him to wait under the rocks where he will be safe while they read it and respond," said Szordrin, who then began chirping and squeaking.

   Ferry nodded his little head and then scrambled down Szordrin and into the rubble. Szordrin knelt by the rubble to retrieve Ferry as soon as he came back. The bearded tiefling looked worried, but he could sense no terror in his familiar, only mild fear.

   The weasel popped back into sight several minute later, the same strip of paper in his mouth.

   "We forgot to send them a pen with which to write a reply," said Solisar.

   "Nevertheless, they wrote an answer," said Szordrin, holding it up. "It seems to be in blood." While written in blood, the letters were much neater than Leokas' message.

   Leokas took the strip and read it aloud.
Undead, not "not-dead", attacked us. Only five of us left. Who in the Hells are you? Who is Captain Grak?


   "Ask them if they can move the boulders on their own," said Hakam.

   Leokas wrote a second message.
Can you move the big rocks? If not, we will come back tomorrow.


   Ferry delivered the message, this time with a pen pre-dipped in ink, and carried back their reply.
We cannot move the boulders. We trapped ourselves.


   "Hobgoblins are not the most intelligent creatures," said Leokas, after reading back the message.

   They prepared a third message and sent this one with a small package of rations.
Where is our god, Allu?


   The reply:
Allu has abandoned us. Thanks for the grub. We have not eaten in two days.


   "The genie either fled or was banished," said Solisar, after Leokas read the reply.

   "Are we certain that he is an actual genie?" asked Hakam.

   "Did you not see us fight him with Sseth outside the monastery?" replied Leokas.

   "Yes, I did see the tail end of that, but have we considered if he might actually be an aspect of Samber? We have seen Samber use powerful illusions before, such as the Maker."

   "What would be his motivation to do that?" asked Leokas.

   "He needs more worshipers, does he not?" said Solisar, "From what I have learned about him from you, it would make sense for him to seek out new worshipers so that he might obtain true godhood."

   "But Allu led a small number of the hobgoblins from Samber's island," said Leokas. "Why not keep them there?"

   "To evangelize amongst the hobgoblins of Faerûn?" suggested Hakam.

   "To protect his created worshipers?" suggested Solisar. "In any case," he continued, "is it not likely that Allu and Samber have met, if they came from the same tiny island?"

   "More than that, I suspect that they are at least allied," said Hakam.

   "We simply do not know these things yet," said Belvin. "What good does it do to postulate at this point? All I know is that Allu tried to kill us all and take back the omlar gem; in contrast, Samber healed my arm."

   "Let us ask them where Allu's chamber is," suggested Szordrin.

   Another set of messages passed back and forth.
Is Allu's chamber to the east of here?


The tunnel to the east leads to Allu's throne room of fire and the gate.


   "Gate to what?" asked Szordrin.

   "Is it the gate for our omlar gem?" asked Leokas.

   "To the Plane of Fire?" asked Hakam.

   "That is what we have supposed before," said Leokas. "We know that the omlar gem is a portal key and has something to do with elemental fire."

   Kytharrah was, at this point, exceedingly bored and had wandered off back down the tunnel to where it had forked. He continued along the new passage. He could soon smell the strong smells of bodily waste ahead and figured that it was where the goblins releaved themselves. He returned to the others, who were still talking. They had sent one final message to the surviving hobgoblins, repeating that they would return the next day.

   "We cannot possibly take on El Sadhara if she is still here," said Szordrin.

   "I agree," said Hakam. "We can certainly eliminate her remaining skeletal guards, but if she lies beyond them, we are doomed."

   "I do not know about the rest of you, but I am going back to the ship," said Belvin. "I was nearly gored to death today, and I would like to rest with Kamil before the blue dragon finds our ship and eats him."

   "I agree," said Hakam. "Let us return, hide the spelljammer in the clouds, rest, and return in the morning. I shall pray for the power to move these boulders, and we can interrogate these survivors to learn more about what happened here."

   Everyone agreed, so they began to head back.

   "We should leave a trail of ash near wear we fought the mummies, in case anything should cross it in our absence," said Szordrin.

   "An excellent idea," Leokas replied. "I should be able to identify any tracks left as well if that happens."

   "What about the skeletons?" asked Solisar. "We defeated them, but will that truly stop them from being formed again by the same necromantic magics that brought them to undeath to begin with?"

   "You are correct," said Hakam. "An evil cleric or another mummy could easily create them again if we leave enough bones."

   "I, for one, do not want to fight the same skeletal minotaurs again," said Solisar.

   "Then we need to scatter the bones far from each other," said Hakam, "or else smash all of them to powder."

   "What if we just take all the skulls and dump them in the ocean?" suggested Szordrin.

   "Bones do not need a skull to be animated," said Hakam. "It would be better to toss the hip bones into the sea."

   "It would be faster to toss such bones over the stone wall that you made into the chamber with the bugbear zombies," suggested Solisar. "That way, if any new skeletons form, they will be attacked by the zombies."

   Over the next hour or so, the party went through the tunnels of the cavern, gathering and smashing bones. (They noticed that all of the hobgoblin skulls had been gnawed by bugbear teeth, likely eaten clean by the zombies. All of the minotaur skeletons were much older and had no teeth marks.) Once they had convinced themselves that the formation of new skeletons would be impossible, they used the ash from the fallen mummies to mark lines over the floors of several tunnels.

   At last, they returned safely to their flying ship to be greeted happily by Ilthian. She was very concerned to see the blood-stained clothes of Belvin, Leokas, and especially Hakam, but they assured her that their magics meant that they would be fully recovered by morning.

   Leokas flew the spelljammer high into the sky, where it floated two miles over the seas west of Calimshan. They took rest on their bed rolls or hammocks below deck and passed the night.

~~~~

The next morning, they returned to the surface and dropped anchor again. This time, Belvin stayed behind on the spelljammer with Ilthian, having little interest in rescuing hobgoblins. Leokas was in favor of doing so only because he wanted to interrogate them further.

   During his morning prayers, Hakam had requested the power to shape and move stone again. They waited for low tide; then they got into the row boat and traveled to the sea cave opening.

   As they crunched over all the barnacles at the entrance, Hakam looked about for the presence of evil but saw no sign of any here near the entrance. "There is no point traveling through the tunnels in darkness anymore," said Hakam. "We know that the skeletons that remain will not leave the room that they guard or sound any sort of alarm."

   "I assume that we are rescuing the goblins first?" said Solisar.

   "Yes," Hakam replied.

   When they reached the first line of ash, Leokas examined it for a long time. "I am certain that nothing has passed this way since we left yesterday," he said. "We are safe, at least until we are ready to engage the undead in the eastern chamber."

   "What further information are we seeking from these hobgoblins?" asked Solisar. "Have we considered that?"

   "And what are we doing with them after we are finished with them?" asked Leokas.

   "I suppose that you will want to execute them," said Hakam, "but my thought was to release them in the desert."

   "They will be as good as dead if released into the desert," said the wood elf. "That seems a fair fate; let the gods decide."

   They arrived back at the location of the tunnel collapse.

   "We need to inform them that we are not goblins," said Solisar. "If they come out and see elves and humans, they will be like rats trapped in a corner and may attack out of fear."

   So, Ferry delivered another message.
We have returned to release you, but we are not goblinkin. We want to ask you more questions. If you come out with no weapons, we will give you food.


   Ferry returned with a single word in reply:
Understood.


   Hakam used his magic to form the fallen rocks and rubble into a small tunnel, such that the hobgoblins would have to come out crawling on hands and knees. Shortly, the first hairy goblinoid head appeared, and after a few minutes, four exceptionally skinny human-sized goblins dressed in ragged clothing stood in the middle of the party. None of them spoke; instead, they looked around nervously at their "rescuers".

   After a pause, Hakam spoke. "What happened to the fifth? I thought that there were five of you."

   A hobgoblin spoke in broken Common. "Other said, 'Better die than trust elfs,' so we cut off head."

   "Fair enough," said Leokas.

   "Where food?" said a second goblin. "You said food."

   Hakam handed them each the promised rations, which they gobbled down unceremoniously in seconds.

   "It is not safe to linger here," said Hakam. "You are going to come with us back to our ship, where we have questions to ask you. Then, we will drop you off at the next port."

   As they led the way back to the cave exit, Leokas protested, "I thought that we agreed to drop them in the desert."

   "Maybe the desert is our next port," he replied.
Session: 97th Game Session - Wednesday, Nov 29 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — The Handmaidens of El Sadhara
"Rise!"

   In under a second, a pile of bones, a discarded weapon, and a large horned skull flew together, and Kytharrah spun to find himself facing a minotaur skeleton. Without hesitation, he swung at the undead creature but struck the haft of its massive axe, finding that his new enemy was stronger than one might expect an animated pile of bones to be.

   With a dreadful rattling, several other giant-sized, horned skeletal warriors sprung up around them, two behind them down the tunnel from which they just came, and at least a couple more could be heard approaching from around the corner beyond their own living minotaur. Solisar immediately reached his fingers into his component pouch, looking for a piece of licorice root.

   The three female figures in the distance simply stood still, as Kytharrah's skeletal opponent swung its greataxe. Kytharrah easily parried the blow, but Belvin was not so lucky. At the back of the line, one of the new attackers swung down its large, curved horns, catching him off-guard and goring into his side, lifting him off the ground for a moment. When Belvin came back onto his own two feet, blood was flowing over his hip from a sizeable hole in his side, and he struggled to hold the wound shut with his left hand.

   A powerful shout came from Solisar, and all of them felt a rush of intensity flow through their bodies. Leokas flipped around Belvin in a moment and unleashed arrows at his friend's attacker at a rate that they had never seen before. Four arrows struck the thick bones of the undead monster, and fragments of ribs, a collarbone, a radius bone, and the massive jaw clattered to the rocky ground. It wobbled about awkwardly as if the necromantic magic could barely keep the bones together.

   At the other end of their line, Kytharrah, also empowered with extra swiftness from Solisar's magic, swung with fury, scattering ribs, severing the magical connection between upper and lower arm bones, and smashing through the thick but short femur of its right leg. The skeleton tottled, as the magics drew the split femur bone back together, but before the dark spell could complete its work, the living minotaur swung his head low, catching the monster at the underside of its lower jaw with his horn. With a bucking motion of his neck, Kytharrah ripped the heavy skull from the skeleton's body. It crashed to the floor, and the rest of the body completely dismantled with a noisy din.

   Solisar was more concerned about the three suspected mummies standing calmly by beyond them than about the skeletal monsters. He was chanting the final words of a spell and tossed a fragment of glass in their direction. Above him, two rays of fire shot down from the ceiling from Szordrin, aimed at more large skeletons clattering toward them from around the corner beyond Kytharrah. Hakam could not see these yet, but he held up his holy symbol anyhow and called out a loud rebuke against the unnatural abominations. Then, he hustled over to Belvin to aid him. As he approached, the wobbling minoatur that had gored Belvin moments earlier now swung its axe, driving deep into Hakam's sword arm. Hakam grabbed his own arm, as he saw the druid toss a gob of beeswax at their opponent. The gob stuck to its sternum, and then the entire skeleton was immolated in fire. It fell apart, and each bone continued burning on the ground.

   Belvin shouted a whoop of victory, but another equally large skeletal beast stepped right up over the burning bones of the other and swung at Hakam. Still clutching the bloody gash on his arm, he managed to spin his body such that the blow struck his enchanted shield. The force of the blow drove him to his knees, but it withstood the blade, and it meant that the undead minotaur's horns swung over his head, missing him.

   "Hakam, stay low!" shouted Leokas.

   Hakam obeyed and heard the sound of arrows whizzing just over his head. The fourth arrow split the sternum in half vertically, and drove into one of the vertebrae, knocking it from the spinal column and carrying it farther down the tunnel. The skeleton tumbled apart with a loud clanging.

   Kytharrah also found himself with a new opponent, which had stepped around the corner from the other tunnel, swinging and goring as it came. Kytharrah hopped away from the swing and deflected the horns with the shaft of his axe. He swung back, with hastened movement, splitting ribs and cracking the pelvis before the animated bones blocked his third swing with an axe. The axe heads locked together, and the two minotaurs began a tug of war. Szrodrin tried to assist from his perch on the ceiling by sending down three bursts of magical force. These shook up the skeleton a bit, allowing Kytharrah to break free. He swung his curved horn at his opponent as they pulled away from each other. The horn knocked the lower jaw from the monster's skull, but then the necromantic magic pulled it right back into place.

   Hakam, back on his feet but still clutching his arm, stepped behind Kytharrah. Grabbing his holy symbol with his right hand, he called out for the fourth time that day, "Anachtyr rebuke you!"

   The minoatur skeleton dropped its ancient axe, turned, and fled into the dark tunnel from whence it had come.

   Belvin came up behind Hakam and touched his arm, transferring a burst of positive energy to him. Hakam fell the wound beginning to reseal itself.

   No more skeletons were immediately present, but the three female figures stood firm, watching from the darkness.

   Solisar touched his clothing, which caused it to glow and shimmer briefly. "Need we fear their touch?" he asked. "Can they doom us with their mummy's curse?"

   "I know not," said Hakam, as he drew his sword, "but they will not be touching me."

   "Kytharrah," said Solisar. "Do not charge them. Only use your axe, not your horns."

   "If these are mummies," said Belvin, "no herbs can cure it if you are cursed by them."

   "What are we waiting for?" said Leokas. Still hastened by Solisar's magic, he rushed forward along the right cavern wall with two arrows nocked. Kytharrah snorted and also rushed forward. Szordrin scurried down the wall from the ceiling to follow behind Leokas, using a spell to protect himself from evil.

   However, as Leokas neared to point blank range and raised his bow, one of the mummies moved her head and looked directly into his eyes. Leokas stopped dead in his tracks and moaned, "Solonor save us." He visibly shook to the point of immobility.

   One of the mummies now looked directly at Kytharrah as well, but still he came forward to within range. He felt no fear, but he heeded Solisar's warning and stood defensively rather than make a first move.

   The first attack instead came from Hakam. The cleric rounded the tunnel corner and could now see his opponents in the dim light from the magic torch that Solisar still carried behind him. They were dressed in strange clothes, looking something like a painting from ancient stories of Calimshan. Silver holy symbols hung about their necks, shaped like clouds. They were priestesses of Akadi, just like El Sadhara. That much was clear to him. He held out his open left palm and offered a short prayer. A beam of energy as bright as the sun shot forward, striking the leftmost of the priestesses in the center of her mailed chest. She staggered backward, nearly blown off her feet by the power of the holy burst.

   The mummies now moved in response. The one that was struggling to still stand from Hakam's attack spoke in a dreadful tone. Only Hakam magically understood the words. "We shall be thy doom, priest of law." The words sent shivers through his spine, and he truly feared that he would not survive this battle.

   The second of the mummies lunged at Kytharrah with her huge mace, but he was ready and deflected the blow with the haft of his weapon.

   Then, suddenly, a thick, heavy mist filled the chamber between the adventurers and the three priestesses, as the third mummy finished a dread prayer, making it impossible for any of them to see more than about a yard in front of themselves. Solisar unleashed several ripples of magical force into the cloud, but he could not see the result and had to hope that they found a target.

   Kytharrah engaged the mummy priestess he could see through the cloud directly in front of him. He struck her in the left shoulder, but her chainmail absorbed most of the force of the blow. She deftly avoided two more swings from his axe, surprising him with her agility by springing away from one and solidly blocking the second with her shield with the loud clang of steel against steel. He could not connect with his horns either. She was a challenging opponent, much more skilled at fighting than those walking bones had been.

   Szordrin stepped in front of Hakam, who looked terrified, tossing a spent magic scroll from his hands as he did so. He raised his palms and blindly fired a scorching blast of fire from into the obscuring cloud, like a stream of dragon fire. There was the sound of metal striking the stone floor and echoing through the passage. One of the mummies within the cloud called out another curse upon him, but he felt no ill effects, most likely because he had taken the time to protect himself with his magic.

   Turning to his left, Solisar saw that Belvin, just like Leokas was petrified and shivering in terror. With little he could do to free them from their magic-induced despair, he drew his wand and simply started firing off more missiles of force repeatedly into the cloud.

   Using his magic to see without his eyes through the dense fog, Hakam resisted the powerful urge to flee, and created a burst of deafening sound directly next to one of the mummies. They all heard another clatter of metal striking the ground, and Kytharrah watched as his combatant dropped her mace, stunned by the intense sound burst just behind her. Taking this opportunity, he dropped to his hands as if doing a pushup and swung his horns, catching her legs and flipping her easily unto her back with a hard thud. Springing right back up to his hooves, he began to swing wildly down at her. The first blow hit soundly, indenting her chest in a way that would have instantly killed a living creature, but the chain mail held together. She rolled over quickly to avoid a second blow from the axe, but his third swing cut off a large chunk from her wide hip. His nose was overwhelmed by the sudden release of potent perfumes, as a cloud of ash puffed from the large opening in her torn silk pants and severed bandages. The young minotaur was confused my the complete absence of flesh or blood. It seemed like he had simply cut through a pile of thick cloths.

   Hakam appeared at his side and joined him in hacking down at the prone priestess. His first sword swing struck true, but the force of the blow was absorbed by her chain shirt. She rolled again to avoid another swing, and it struck the stone with a spark. He hit her two more times as she finally rose to her feet again, but each strike was deflected by the chain links. She knocked away another swing from Kytharrah with her shield and lunged at Hakam, bringing her heavily wrapped fist to connect solidly with his jaw, knocking him back a few feet and causing him to bite through his tongue. He could taste his own blood and spat it out.

   Outside the cloud, Solisar continued waving his wand. He could hear heavy fighting occurring, but he could not see how his friends were faring. Thankfully, Leokas suddenly seemed to shake off his fear and come back to his senses. The wood elf sprung into action and darted around the cloud, past Belvin, hoping to get around to the other side of it where he might be able to see their enemies. As he ran, however, he nearly ran into a hulking form. Instinctively, he dove into a somersault and rolled underneath the oversized greataxe of another minotaur skeleton. Popping back onto his feet, he raised his bow and let fly two arrows, knocking bones from the skeleton and causing it to wobble about as the magics tried to hold it together.

   Within the cloud of mist, Kytharrah once again attempted to trip the mummy with his horns. She swung wildly at him with her weaponless arm but missed, and moments later, she was flat on her back for a second time. He struck her two more times with his axe. The second axe blow struck her in her veiled head, and there was an awful crunching sound.

   Stepping behind Kytharrah, Hakam laid his hands on him. "Anachtyr grant you the strength of a bull," he said.

   "But I am a bull," Kytharrah protested. His thought was interrupted when the mummy at his feet moved. Shockingly, she was still "alive". As she murmured something, a sphere of dark energy was forming around her hand. He silenced her with a final swing that cut her head off. Her moving hands went limp, and the dark energy vanished.

   Just then, the third mummy appeared in the cloud, just on the other side of Hakam. She swung her heavy mace at the cleric, but he deflected it with his own shield. Bursts of magic rippled around her, coming from Solisar, but she seemed unaffected by them, and the amulet about her neck glowed. Then, a cone of fire lit up the cloud around her and engulfed her, and the fire singed Kytharrah's fur as well. The mummy's bandages caught fire and blackened but then seemed to go out again, as if some magic quenched the flames.

   "Move, you big oaf!" shouted Szordrin, from somewhere in the mist. "You are blocking me. I almost scorched you with that spell."

   "Okay," Kytharrah said. He jumped over the crushed and decapitated priestess at his hooves and now was behind the standing mummy, flanking her with Hakam on the other side. Hakam stabbed his sword toward her face, and as she avoided the attack, she opened herself up to a swing from Kytharrah. He took her down, nearly cutting her in half, as the blade cleaved through the charred bandages of her waist below the chain shirt.

   Back outside the cloud, the skeleton minotaur was upon Leokas, swinging its axe in a wide arc. The elf spun to avoid the swing, but the corner of the blade tore into his back, over his right shoulder blade. Leokas yelled out in pain and anger and continued his spin, while drawing another arrow. The shot blew apart the minotaur's hand, spraying carpal bones in all directions, and the axe fell to the ground. A second arrow caused the beast to crumble apart, and the bones lay still.

   Within the cloud, Szordrin evoked another cone of searing flame into the mist, seeking blindly for the third priestess.

   "Anachtyr, show me those who follow the path of evil," Hakam prayed. After a few seconds, he reported, "They are all destroyed." He immediately hustled out of the mist deeper into the cavern beyond where the mummies had been guarding.

   Leokas called back in answer to Hakam's report. "They are not all destroyed; I hear more skeletons down this tunnel."

   The mist faded away then, and Szordrin saw the missing body of the third mummy, the one first targeted by Hakam's holy magic, now burned to a charred crisp by the wizard's earlier magical attack.

   As the mist dissipated, so did the utter despair that the mummy's glance had laid upon Belvin. With a feral yell, a scimitar of fire grew from his clenched fist, and he ran toward the three fallen mummies and began hacking at them in rage.

   "Belvin, they are fallen," Leokas called. "Save your rage for the remaining foes." He nocked two arrows. "Kytharrah, go after the remaining skeletons. They are this way."

   Kytharrah and Belvin obeyed and came back to where Leokas stood in the other passage, the one which they had not yet explored. Hakam stood in his place, watching for if any other foes would appear in the greater darkness of the wide chamber that opened up beyond where the mummies had stood. Likewise, Szrodrin stood guard at the tunnel down which they had originally come here. He created several mirror image illusions of himself, just in case.

   The rest moved after the remaining skeletons that Leokas had heard. "I believe that Hakam's rebuke drove them this way," he explained to the others. As they looked about in the dim light of the torch Solisar still carried, they saw cracked anvils, broken forges, and wrecked weapon racks scattered in a mess about the tunnel, which varied in width from five to twelve yards.

   Kytharrah bounded forward, smelling something dead up ahead. After about 20 yards, he came upon another skeleton, as it stepped out of the shadows behind what was once a functional bellows. It swung at him.

   "Hello," said Kytharrah, swinging his axe in return and leaving a notch in its sternum.

   A rolling ball of fire and three missiles of magic, sent from Belvin and Solisar, respectively, crashed into the animated bones. Leokas ran up and loosed his two arrows. The one disconnected an arm from its socket, and the second punctured a thigh bone. The whole thing fell apart in a clatter.

   As the elf continued running forward, he nocked another arrow. He stopped suddenly and looked back, because he noticed that Kytharrah was no longer with him. The young minotaur was instead following Belvin's rolling sphere of fire as it headed over to the left wall from its earlier momentum.

   "Guiding light!" Kytharrah happily exclaimed.

   Leokas rolled his eyes at the absurd behavior, but he could work with this. "Belvin," he shouted. "Send the sphere up this tunnel to the left."

   Belvin nodded, understanding, and waved his hands and pointed. The ball of fire rolled further down the tunnel and then to the left, where the wide passage narrowed and forked. The tunnel lit up, allowing Leokas to spot two more minotaur skeletons, which were just standing there, turned away by the power of Hakam's earlier rebuke. The first jumped to the side to avoid being struck by the flaming sphere, but here came Kytharrah, rushing after it with a huge grin. He paused to defend against an attack from the one skeleton and returned two swings and a gore, which caused it to tumble apart like a tower of wooden blocks.

   Leokas followed behind, sending two arrows into the center of the remaining skeleton's skull. It cracked in the middle, and the weight of the massive horns ripped the top of the skull in two, and the horns clattered on the ground. The nearly headless skeleton staggered about, but it still managed to jump over the rolling ball of fire as it passed by at Belvin's direction.

   "Finish it, Kytharrah!" shouted Leokas.

   The minotaur charged at full speed and crashed horns-first into the undead monster, sending its bones flying in all directions.

   "Now, stay dead," said Belvin.

   They paused to catch their breath, and only now did their brains allow them to feel the intense pain of their wounds. Belvin and Leokas had clothes soaked in blood. "It appears that Allu lost soundly," said Leokas, as he hunched over gasping. "These must be the remains of El Sadhara's forces."

   "Was that all of them?" asked Solisar. "I cannot see any magic auras about."

   As if in answer, Solisar and Belvin heard Szordrin's voice whispering faintly. "Come back at once! Hakam has found more skeletons!"
Session: 96th Game Session - Wednesday, Nov 15 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — Carnage
"It is worth it for us to keep going forward in the dark, if we can manage it again," said Hakam.

   "I agree," said Solisar. "There is a slight chance that an alarm has not yet been sounded, if we are still far enough away from the main caverns of this 'palace'."

   So they continued for a bit farther as they had been doing before, with Szordrin walking quietly on the ceiling ahead with Kytharrah below him, while the others stayed a good distance farther back. The tiefling and the minotaur rounded an S-curve, and the others stopped and waited for a report. Szordrin could see that the passage widened ahead of them significantly, but it was hard for him to make out many details, as darkvision perceived differences in warmth, and most everything in this damp cavern was cool. There was some debris scattered all over the cave floor ahead, which did not seem natural. Some of it was reflective.

   He heard Kytharrah sniff and glanced directly down, that is, tilting his head back. His furred companion tapped his nose and flared his nostrils. Szordrin climbed down the wall to meet him. "Weird food and dead things," Kytharrah whispered, pointing deeper into the tunnel ahead.

   "Wait here," said the wizard. "Stand guard." He walked along the floor back to Solisar and the others and reported what Kytharrah had smelled.

   "'Weird food,'" said Belvin. "He means spices. He smells the Calishite mummy."

   "I agree with Belvin's assessment," said Hakam. "El Sadhara's perfumes were overwhelming. Does this mean that she is still here?"

   "In any case," said Szordrin, "the path immediately ahead is clear; it is safe to advance. I cannot make out things very clearly, even with my darkvision; we will need to risk a light."

   They moved around the bend. "Solisar, the torch," said Hakam. The elf came closer to the cleric, and the light revealed several splotches of dark, dried blood on the stone floor and wall. Bones were scattered everywhere, mixed with sundered weapons, shields, and armor.

   Leokas picked up a severed bone. "A thigh bone, I think," said Leokas, "but much too large to be a hobgoblin or even a bugbear. It is also very old, completely clean."

   "This is a human skull, is it not?" said Szordrin, pointing.

   Kytharrah had found a very large skull with horns, with a similar curve to his own. A minotaur. What had killed it? He glanced around nervously and sniffed.

   "Pajabbar," said Hakam, remembering the fact that el Sadhara had undead minotaurs in her service, the animated remains of the shock troops from Calim's armies.

   "Can you do anything about these bones before they are reanimated again?" Solisar asked Hakam.

   "We could grind them all to dust," he answered, "but I do not think that we have the time for that. I can certainly destroy them if they do become animated. You need not fear skeletons when in my presence."

   "Why are you still holding that skull?" asked Szordrin of Kytharrah.

   Kytharrah snapped off a horn and slid it behind the belt of his kilt, the one sewn for him by Ilthian. "Remember," said Kytharrah.

   Belvin gave him a large smile. For once, someone else in the party was collecting trophies.

   "I am going to scout farther ahead," said Szordrin. "Wait here." Kytharrah drew his axe and continued glancing around nervously with ears perked.

   Leokas motioned Kytharrah over. "Smell this," the wood elf ordered, indicating a large patch of dried blood on a large stone.

   "Goblin smell," said Kytharrah.

   "As I suspected," said Leokas.

   "We know that an undead army was seen coming this way by our dragon friend," said Solisar. "This carnage must be the result of the battle that was fought."

   "Yes," said Hakam, "these are 'dead' skeletons from her army. She had both human and minotaur skeletons. I recall that they were too stupid to even warn her of our presence when we entered the mummy's lair."

   "Where are the goblin bodies?" asked Belvin. "Were they victorious?"

   Szordrin had not been long. "Nothing at all down this first tunnel," he said. "It narrows after 20 yards or so and is impassible beyond that." Two more tunnels branched off from this cavern chamber where the battle had taken place. Szordrin went off down the second. The others continued examining the broken weapons. Some of them were goblin weapons, Leokas was convinced; some of the others were ancient looking, and Hakam was sure that they were Calishite craftsmanship.

   They also examined the structure of the chamber. The wall to their left was not a true wall; it was a row of massive boulders and thick columns with a few gaps between, but there were several spots where one might squeeze through to the other side.

   Szordrin came back again. "There is something moving just ahead, perhaps about 50 feet down the tunnel."

   "Fifty feet?" said Hakam. "Surely it will have heard us?"

   "It is humanoid, larger than a human," said Szordrin.

   "Bugbears, then," said Hakam. "They are larger." Leokas nodded in agreement.

   "I shall get a better report," said Szordrin, "but first a little magic." He recited the final words of an incantation and became invisible.

   Belvin drew his magic scimitar, and Leokas his bow. Kytharrah began wandering toward the other end of the chamber, where the final tunnel began. "Come back!" Hakam hissed at him.

   The minotaur obeyed. "Weird food is that way," he explained, once he returned to Hakam's side.

   Solisar was startled when he heard a whisper to his right. "Eight bugbears. Three of them are lying down. They are in a large chamber with no other exits. Lots of bedrolls and supplies scattered about. I was not detected."

   "They must be deaf," muttered Hakam. "We have been loud and not careful enough with our lights."

   "Can you shape the walls to trap them in?" came Szordrin's whispers again. "As we did with the Red Worm?"

   "I did not ask Thard Harr for such power this morning," said Belvin.

   "Nor is it in my power today either," said Hakam.

   "Did you not know that we would be entering a cave?" said Szordrin's voice.

   "I do, however, have the power to create a wall of stone from nothing," said Hakam, smiling. "My magics have somewhat improved since the last time we have been underground."

   "These are mere goblins;" said Leokas, "we do not need magic! I can drop one per arrow and can loose 30 arrows per minute."

   "It only takes a matter of seconds to sound an alarm," said Szordrin. "We may not have a minute."

   "If there are only eight, I do not even need half a minute," protested Leokas.

   "You may be overconfident," said Hakam. "Bugbears are larger than normal goblins or even hobgoblins."

   "I have slain goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears alike," said Leokas.

   "I repeat," said Szordrin, "all it takes is for one to raise an alarm. Who knows how large the hordes of Allu are."

   "Or were," said Belvin. "We still do not know which of our foes were victorious in this battle." He motioned at all of the bones and blood around them.

   "Bugbears are not very smart," said Hakam. "They would have to have an elaborate system set up to sound an alarm to another part of this cavern complex, would they not?"

   "To be fair, goblins are tricky, though," admitted Leokas. "They often do have traps and mechanisms for sounding alarms to others in their caves. My argument is that I could down all eight before they could respond, so it matters not."

   "Your skill at the bow is the greatest ever I have seen," said Hakam. "Nevertheless, I have seen you miss. No, it might be better for us to explore a bit more before acting. I am concerned about what lies on the other side of these columns here."

   "I could send Ferry," said Szordrin. "He is as invisible as I and even more stealthy."

   So Ferry scurried through one of the tiny gaps between the thick stone columns of the wall behind them, though none of them could see this. They all stood ready for an attack as they waited for Szordrin to speak again. After several minutes, they heard some squeaking and assumed that Ferry must have returned. "Ferry says that there are several more wide passages on the other side. Directly on the other side was an area with a great amount of rubble, like the cavern had collapsed there. When he went to the left, he found a place with smelly food and kitchen tools. When he came back and continued down the right path, the tunnel forked, but he could see 'built things' and tools and such. He did not see anything alive, but there were more bones and more blood. He did not want to be gone too long, lest I worry, so he came back as quickly as he could and did not explore all of the tunnels."

   "Let us decide what to do then?" said Belvin, who was growing impatient. "Clearly, the mummy was victorious here. We came for the fire genie, not the mummy."

   "These bugbears might not be loyal to Allu," suggested Hakam. "Perhaps they defected. Maybe that is why el Sadhara's troops spared them. Or maybe that is why they have not attacked."

   "Perhaps it is best to capture and interrogate them then," said Szordrin.

   "Play?" asked Kytharrah.

   "We only need capture one alive," said Leokas.

   "The only reason why I am hesitant," said Hakam, "is that they are not attacking."

   "They do not know that we are here!" said Leokas. "Otherwise, the fiends would be upon us."

   "Bored!" said Kytharrah.

   "I do not know," said Hakam. "Something is not right."

   "Go speak with them then!" said Leokas. "Shout out for a parley. They will try to kill you in response."

   "I will advance to speak with them," said Hakam. "If any come at me, I will be ready to create a wall of stone, but I will leave a gap at the top. You can pick them off if they try to climb over the top."

   "Goblin blood will fall," said Leokas.

   Hakam enchanted his tongue to speak Ghukliak, and then they all advanced. All of them walked down the middle of the tunnel, and the magic torch that Solisar held lit the stone enough that it would have been impossible for the bugbears not to notice, yet none came out to meet them. "Foul creatures and servants of evil," called Hakam in the Goblin tongue, "you will speak with us as we will, or you shall meet swift deaths."

   There was no response. They could see the five standing bugbears now; the nearest was just over ten yards away. They did not even turn. The smell from the room ahead was awful.

   Then, Hakam took one more step closer, and it was as if this triggered some signal, for all five standing bugbears suddenly turned, raised their arms in front of them and began approaching, while making deep moaning sounds. One of the bugbears was missing an eye. Another's arm was only half attached. A third had a deep gash in its skull, its pointed ear dangling.

   "Zombies," said Solisar.

   "Leokas, how flammable are bugbears?" asked Belvin in Elvish. Not waiting for an answer, he began chanting.

   "This is not worth your magic nor my arrows," said Leokas. "They already have a fate worse than death."

   Hakam reached for his holy symbol and began praying, but the first undead bugbear was nearly upon him, shambling forward, morningstar in hand. Szordrin became visible, as he drew his dagger and swatted the bugbear's large, festering hand away from touching Hakam. Then, a column of fire erupted upon the bugbears, but Belvin's spell did not stop their advance, though it scorched black much of their rotting skin. "A wall betwixt us!" shouted Hakam, and instantly there was a thin wall of granite between them and the undead goblinoids. The wall left a five foot gap between it and the ceiling fifteen feet above.

   They could hear the creatures clawing and scratching against the stone on the other side, combined with their pitiful moaning.

   "It is a shame that the wall does not block their stench," said Belvin.

   "Well, we will not be interrogating these," said Leokas. "Let us go." He turned to walk away.

   "They had a large chest," said Szordrin. "It could contain valuables."

   "Feel free to go retrieve it, then."

   Hakam held up his holy symbol. "Anachtyr rebuke all of you," he said confidently, speaking toward the wall that he created, as Szordrin spider-climbed up the natural wall to the ceiling. "It worked, Hakam," Szordrin called down. "They are all cowering in the far corner."

   "Be quick then," said Hakam.

   Szordrin had a scroll out and tried to read from it, but he nearly lost his grip on the ceiling in the casting. The scroll dropped to the ground, its words fading into nothing. "Curse this mithral shirt!" he cried. "They are turning around," he then reported.

   "Anachtyr rebuke you!" Hakam repeated.

   "Minotaur, climb the wall!" commanded Szordrin.

   Kytharrah, delighted to be needed, was over the wall in seconds and landed firmly on his hooves on the other side.

   "Get the chest!"

   The minotaur obeyed. The large chest was nothing for him to carry, and he slung it over one of his broad shoulders.

   "Behind you!" called down Szordrin.

   Kytharrah spun around and stuck one of the zombies with his axe one-handed. It practically exploded into decaying body parts. A few moments later, Kytharrah set the chest down on the other side of the wall again before the others.

   Solisar examined the chest for traps, and when he found none, Szordrin opened it. There was a large amount of gold and silver coins inside. Mixed in were a couple items as well: a jar of oil and an ivory bust of an ugly female bugbear goddess or shaman.

   Szordrin handed his wand of magic detection to Solisar. "Use this and see if these are magical."

   The jar of oil was, emitting a transmutation aura. The bust had no aura, but ivory sold for a good prize in most places. They had Kytharrah carry the chest back to the rowboat. In the meantime, they returned to the S-curve of the tunnel, where they had first entered the larger chamber with all of the bones and dried blood, and they waited, taking this chance to eat some rations and drink from their waterskins.

   "Do you think that the minotaur could move that boulder over there for us to pass through to where Ferry went?" asked Hakam.

   "I do not think even a minotaur could move that stone," said Leokas.

   "When he returns," said Solisar, "we should continue down that remaining tunnel, once again dousing our light."

   "I am beginning to believe that nothing is left alive in this cave," said Hakam. "No doubt, el Sadhara zombified any survivors and commanded the undead to stand guard. They have no minds, so they cannot go beyond their precise orders. That is why they only attacked once we stepped into the exact area that they were instructed to defend."

   "Presummably, we shall find Allu's chamber nevertheless and with it some clues regarding Samber," said Solisar hopefully.

   When Kytharrah finally returned, panting like a dog from his excursion, they had him try to push the boulder. Indeed, he could not budge it. So, they readied themselves. Szordrin once again took his place on the ceiling among the stalactites, and Kytharrah moved forward below him sniffing, while the others held back, waiting for a signal.

   The remaining tunnel immediately turned sharply to the right, running almost parrallel to the one heading to the bugbears' chamber. On the left side, there were occasional openings, and Kytharrah peeked through to see another spatious chamber on the other side, but these cracks in the wall were not large enough for him or even a smaller human to pass through. He was able to spot a weapon rack on the other side, but it had been knocked over, and the spears were scattered on the ground.

   With each step down this tunnel, the smell of "weird food" grew more intense to his nose. It was a variety of smells, some of which he had smelled on some human or elven women, but others were definitely more food-like.

   After nearly 100 feet, the tunnel gradually curved to the left, narrowing slightly to a width of about ten feet. Here, there was an opening in the left wall. Beyond that, about 40 feet from him, Kytharrah saw three humanoids, standing in a row. They were curvy, like the females of many races, but their faces were veiled, so he could not be sure. Whoever or whatever they were, they each wore chain shirts and silken pants and sleeves. They had thin cloaks upon their shoulders and bore a pair of amulets about their necks. They each carried a large metal shield and a heavy mace.

   Kytharrah raised his axe in defense.

   The three figures did not charge, but one of them called out in a loud, feminine voice.

   Farther down the tunnel behind Kytharrah, Hakam, still under the influence of his tongues spell, understood the shout as a single word.

   "Rise!"
Session: 95th Game Session - Wednesday, Oct 25 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 5 — The Back Door
~ sixth-day, 6th of Hammer, The Year of Rogue Dragons, afternoon
Sea of Swords


The spelljammer splashed down in the waves west of great cliffs that formed the edge of Calimshan. Nearby was the remains of a shipwreck, its rotting mass still jutting out of the water, a sign of the rocks hidden below. Kytharrah dropped their anchors. Solisar did not have the power to make the whole vessel invisible; they prayed to their gods that the dragon would not patrol over the ocean while they were away. Ilthian, who remained aboard, would be safe from scrying below deck, but she would be helpless if a dragon landed on the deck and crashed its head and neck through the planks to find her. Belvin wanted to stay aboard, having little interest in the fire genie, but the others convinced him to come. He agreed, provided that they would return to the boat and Kamil soon.

   As they had done last Mirtul, the six adventurers all crammed into one of their small rowboats and began making their way toward the shallow entrance of a sea cave in the cliff. The tide was relatively low, and there was a narrow strip of land at the base of the cliff leading to the cave entrance. When last they had come to this "back door" to Yrevkethend's lair and Allu's palace, they had had to find a small inlet under an outcropping in the cliff to wait out the tide. Tymora had worked things out better for them this time, and they did not need to wait long before there was a walk-able sand "pathway". They tied up the rowboat in the same lee as before and set out.

   Ducking, they entered the cave entrance, which was only five feet high but about thirty wide. At first, the floor was covered with sand, sloping downward, before being replaced with endless barnacles, which crunched under their feet and hooves. The passage narrowed but also grew higher, so that even Kytharrah could no longer touch the ceiling.

   It was chilly in the cave, and water was dripping on them from the ceiling, as if it were raining. Kytharrah sniffed, taking in the smell of crabs, dead sea creatures, and salt.

   Each noisy step was disturbing to Szordrin, who was well aware that a dragon, with exceptional hearing, lived deeper within. "Remind me why we are even here again?" he asked. "What does this have to do with Walker or Samber?"

   "We have discussed this numerous times," said Hakam. "Finding Allu may be a good way to find Samber or at least learn what connection they have."

   "The Rock of Bral would have been a safer bet."

   "We will go there soon enough," said Hakam. "I have my suspicions that Allu is allied with or was summoned by Samber. We know that he has summoned other evil fiends, and we know his great interest in experimenting with other genies. We now have the power to find out and should not waste our opportunity."

   "The dragon never detected us when we last came this way," said Leokas, "if that is your concern. She lairs much deeper in the cave."

   "Sseth told us that Allu's palace is at least a mile from the cliffs," said Solisar. "This cave is massive and we have a long way to travel."

   "It is growing darker now," said Hakam. "Recall that I cannot see as well in the dark as the rest of you. If I recall, that means the fork in the tunnel should be soon where we can head up to Allu and away from the dragon's lair. We need to decide on a plan. Do we boldly march in and demand an audience? Or are we trying to remain undetected?"

   "If we were demanding an audience with the efreeti, would we not have used the front door?" said Solisar. "We are scouting things out first, especially if this mummy of which you have spoken to me has her forces here. Shall I turn all of us invisible?"

   "We should wait until we encounter any enemies, rather than waste the magic," said Hakam.

   "We cannot use any light if we wish to remain undetected," said Szordrin.

   "The corners of the cavern will block the light from traveling far, provided that it twists enough," said Leokas. "These walls are not very reflective."

   So they had Kytharrah withdraw his everburning torch. The light revealed a fork in the path ahead, just as Hakam had remembered. One tunnel went up, while the other twisted down. The tunnel that ascended was significantly narrower than the one leading down. They knew that the smaller tunnel led to Allu.

   Szordrin poked his head up the smaller tunnel and saw that it actually grew larger rather quickly after a short distance to be about a dozen feet in width and nearly twice that in height.

   "I will scout ahead, then," said Szordrin, looking back at the others, "walking on the ceiling. Kytharrah can follow a distance behind me, since he can also see in the darkness. If I spot any activity, I shall signal back to him, and then the rest of you can take action to hide any lights."

   This seemed as good a plan as any. So Kytharrah handed his "guiding light" to Solisar, and Szordrin cast his spell and climbed the wall up to the ceiling by his four limbs and began moving forward among the stalactites. "Tracks," said Leokas, bending down and noticing a pattern in the broken barnacles that none of the rest of them would have been able to spot. "Hobgoblins stepped on these barnacles."

   Kytharrah bent down and sniffed them.

   "Minotaur, you are supposed to be following behind Szordrin, not sniffing things," said Hakam.

   Kytharrah bounded forward.

   Thankfully, they soon climbed above the level of the water at high tide, and so the barnacles vanished. The ground was still a bit damp, but the "raining" also ceased.

   The tunnel continued relatively straight for what seemed like forever, reminding Belvin and Leokas of one of their earlier adventures together. They walked perhaps thirty minutes at a gradual incline. "So much for twisting tunnels blocking our light," said Belvin. Finally, however, the tunnel did begin to curve to the right and then again to the left, and Szordrin disappeared from their sight around the corner. Hakam took this moment to call on Anachtyr to grant him the ability to sense his environment without the need for his eyes, just in case Szordrin signaled back that they needed to douse their light. It proved to be a wise decision.

   The tunnel finished its ess curve and then made another. Kytharrah was just about to round the second corner, when Hakam could "hear" the incorporeal shape of someone or something next to the minotaur.

   "Minotaur! To your left!" he shouted.

   Leokas reacted to this before even Kytharrah did, loosing two arrows to the left of their friendly beast in hopes of striking whatever invisible enemy Hakam had sensed. The arrows were deflected into the wall of the passage as if blown by a strong gale. Moments later, two gusts of wind in rapid succession struck Leokas with an extreme force, knocking him back and nearly off his feet.

   With a firm command, Solisar enchanted his own eyes, and Belvin yelled out a jungle call, followed by pointing toward Leokas. The wood elf began to glow with a red aura. So did his invisible opponent, an only vaguely humanoid shape. The red-glowing foe was struck from above by several bursts of magical force from Szordrin's fingertips.

   "Anachtyr protect us!" shouted Hakam, while holding his shield ready.

   Now able to see the outline of the foe, Kytharrah charged with his axe to rescue his elven friend, swinging into the red aura. He struck something at least partly solid, almost spongy. Whatever it was, it had no odor at all. It moved quickly. He hit it a second time with his axe, but when he swung his large head down to catch it with its horns, it had moved too far away. Two arrows flew wildly, as Leokas jumped backward and tried to fight back, but two more blasts of invisible force struck him, and he dropped to his knees, with the wind knocked out of him, and gasped for air.

   Solisar waved his arms, sending a magical burst through the tunnel, and the red aura vanished, or rather dissipated, into nothing. The short battle was over.

   Kytharrah helped his red-glowing friend to his feet, and Belvin and Hakam rushed over to heal him with their magics.

   "Thank you," said Leokas. "I can breathe now. What manner of creature was that?"

   "An elemental from the Plane of Air," said Solisar. "To me, it appeared like an amorphous cloud. Belvin's faerie fire was a brilliant idea."

   Belvin nodded.

   "A stalker," said Szordrin. "Did not you others face one before I joined you?"

   "I would rather not recall it," said Hakam. "It broke my leg."

   "Was this an accidental encounter then?" asked Szordrin. "Or has it been stalking us this whole time?"

   "We would have noticed earlier," said Belvin. "It was guarding the entrance."

   "The last one certainly had been stalking us," said Hakam. "It spoke as much in its tongue. Mythlos could speak Auran. It was sent by El Sadhara."

   "It is at least possible that it is in fact the same one," said Solisar. "You cannot kill such a being unless on its native plane. It may have come back to finish its mission or been summoned by her a second time."

   "I agree that it is probably one of the mummy's minions," said Hakam, "but I suspect that Belvin is correct that it was here to guard the back entrance, not to pursue us in general. She only followed us to get to Samber, and she has him."

   "If that is the case," said Solisar, "it suggests that she has conquered the hobgoblins and Allu."
Session: 94th Game Session - Wednesday, Aug 30 2017 from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM
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Chapter 5 — Tuning Forks
~ fifth-day, 5th of Hammer, The Year of Rogue Dragons, dusk
The Friary of St. Amahl


A small door opened in the twenty-foot-tall white-stone walls and a tall, bearded priest stepped out, garbed in a gray skullcap. "The Crying God and St. Amahl welcome you to this humble friary!" he stated. "I am Brother Ottad yn... Hakam? I mean, yn Khiber, but... Brother Hakam, is that you?"

   Hakam nodded. "Yes," he answered in Alzhedo. "I am pleased to see you, Brother Ottad." Hakam was thankful that the man had introduced himself, because he had forgotten the Ilmatari friar's name. He did, however, recall the name of the head friar. "Is Father Rahimat available?"

   "He was just retiring to his chamber for the night, but I shall retrieve him. Come, follow me." Ottad led Hakam into the old caravanserai. The courtyard was mostly empty but for a single friar drawing water from the central well. "You surely must have an important matter to be returning to us!" Ottad continued. "I pray that all is well with you and your companions."

   "It is presently," said Hakam, "but the last year has not been a restful one. I am here on behalf of another."

   "I see that you have 'upgraded' your flying carpet for a flying boat!"

   Hakam nodded. The spelljammer was hovering low to the ground a distance from the friary, waiting for Hakam's return. "My god has indeed shown us favor on our quest," said the cleric.

   Ottad led them up the stairs on the wall to the upper level. This was where all the simple rooms were, where the friars lived. An elderly woman passed them on the wall, carrying a basket of laundry. "Brother Hakam!" she said. "Ilmater blesses us with your presence."

   "And Anachtyr bless thee also, Sister...."

   "Jasmal," she completed for him.

   "Is Rahimat still awake, Sister Jasmal?" asked Ottad.

   The old woman nodded. Ottad continued leading them around the walls to the room above the chapel and then knocked on the old, wooden door. Rahimat's voice answered, asking for a moment, and then shortly the door opened. Father Rahimat was much younger than many of the other friars, though still older than Hakam. The Calishite man had a teardrop tattoo beside his right eye. He was no longer dressed in his clerical robes but was still wearing the red skullcap that signified his station.

   "Brother Hakam, is that you?"

   "It is. I apologize for disturbing you."

   "Think nothing of it. It has been almost a year. I see that you have progressed in your order."

   "I am no longer assigned to Memnon," said Hakam. "My god has sent me into the greater world as a justiciar."

   "I congratulate you!" said Rahimat. "Come in, come in. How can I be of service?"

   Ottad left them, and Hakam entered the small room. "My companions and I have an acquaintance suffering from a powerful magical curse. We believe that the only solution is for him to leave this plane. He is not a human; he is a being of fire. I would like to send him to the Plane of Fire until the duration of the curse ends, but I know little about the planes. I know that such magic requires a focus to send one to the desired location. We were nearby, so I thought to stop here first."

   "A being of fire? Have you made amends with that efreeti your companions fought outside our walls last year?"

   "Not the efreeti, no. He violates Anachtyr's holy laws and it is him we seek as the next stage of my divine quest. The one we wish to help is the dragon that assisted us in that fight last year. The dragon is our ally and has been our eyes and ears in this desert in the past year, while we have dealt with matters elsewhere. He has been watching over your friary all this time, in case the mummy or the efreeti were to return."

   "Yes, the mummy. Are you aware that she has been active again?"

   "The dragon has informed us of this, yes, but what more can you add?"

   "About a tenday ago, Brother Hamash was on a prayer walk near Dashadjen, when he saw from a great distance a small army of skeletons emerging from the sand and heading to the south. Some of them were much larger than human skeletons. We have kept a friar on lookout ever since, but the skeletons never returned."

   "This confirms what the dragon himself has told us," said Hakam, "but the fact that you have not seen them return is useful. Thank you for this."

   "Ah, but about your dragon friend, you must know that we are simple folk here at the friary and know little about other worlds — except perhaps about the Seven Heavens and the House of the Triad — much less how to travel there. Have you sought out your superiors in Memnon?"

   "That is where I planned to head next, but we have a limited time in regards to this curse, so I thought to stop here first. I should depart then. It was pleasant seeing you again, and thank you for the news about El Sadhara."

~~~~

"I have heard the voice of a messenger in my mind, as I have remembered you in my prayers."

   "What did the voice reveal?"

   "It told me that you have been chosen as a justiciar, for a special purpose," said Mualak yn Kurush el Anachtyr. "It seems that I am no longer your superior."

   "You are still a man whose advice I covet, rafayam," said Hakam.

   "I thank you. I shall do my best not to disappoint. I admit that I was not surprised, considering our last conversation," Mualak continued. "What more have you learned of this Samber?"

   "Anachtyr has divinely revealed to me Samber's purposes and the urgency needed in stopping him."

   Hakam was now in Memnon, in Anachtyr's temple, the House of Justice. He proceeded to update Mualak further on the happenings in the months since Eleasis, when last he had sent word to the older priest. Finally, he explained the matter with Sseth and the dracorage curse.

   "A planar tuning fork?" said Mualak. "If you already have the power to use such an item, you have already surpassed all of us here in your former home, including myself. Anachtyr has truly favored you, young Hakam. You would have made Hamdulah proud."

   "Is Abbot Mohad still here?" asked Hakam. "I recall that he told many stories of the wonders of the House of the Triad."

   "Abbot Mohad is still with us. His tales were from supposed visions that he had; I am certain that he has never left this plane. Nevertheless, the planes of existence were of great interest to him. I shall summon him."

   A half hour later, Hakam was sitting with an older priest, who had been woken from his sleep. Though it was nearly midnight, the man had seen fit to dress in his blue and purple clerical vestments for this brief meeting.

   "This is what I know of tuning forks," said the white-haired cleric. "Both the material of the fork and the note to which the fork is tuned are important. I do not know all of the 'rules' of how it works, but I can tell you that upper planes usually require gold forks; lower planes usually require iron ones. The inner planes all require specific metals, and the paraelemental planes are alloys of those metals. As far as tuning, the forks tied to the quasielemental planes are usually tuned sharp for positive planes and flat for negative planes. I have no idea what notes are required, however.

   "Most folk assume that one can only reach the first layer of any outer plane, but I have heard a rumor that, if one uses multiple tuning forks, ringing in just the right harmonies, one can bypass the first layer and reach others. For example, a major chord might take one to a second layer; perhaps a minor chord could take you to the third."

   "Do you not know the material of a fork tuned to the Plane of Fire?" asked Hakam.

   "I would guess brass," said Mohad, "since the infamous City of Brass is located in the Plane of Fire."

   "But brass is an alloy, is it not?" said Hakam.

   "True, true, so no, that cannot be — maybe zinc or copper then. Let me tell you this: if you truly wish to journey to the Plane of Fire, it seems to me that the Kossuthans would be the most help to you. As you must know, the Temple to Kossuth here is in Efreet's Drudach. I once knew the Eternal Flame there, Konal al Zalath. We once adventured together in my younger days. He grew to be much more powerful than I and also more fanatical. We agreed on the importance of a lawful society for Calimshan, but he began to believe that only a purification by fire could correct the ails of our nation. When I first came to this House of Justice, he joined up with the Shrine of Kossuth here. It has since grown into a full-sized temple.

   "I shall write you a letter to the Eternal Flame there, requesting his assistance. Perhaps he will grant a favor for his old friend. I must caution you, however. I am told that the Kossuthans of Memnon seek to restore its namesake to power and bring about a Second Memnonnar. Be careful with your words."

~~~~

Hakam found his way along the drudach walls to Coastal Road Sabban in the west. Efreet's Drudach was simple for him to find without the daytime crowds, and like the House of Justice, the temple to the Lord of Fire was located at the intersection of the drudach walls, so he never even had to dirty his feet with city dust. The temple was a ziggurat, clearly constructed of the same strange black stone as the ancient outer walls of the genie-built city. A red glow came from within.

   Hakam entered the temple with caution and was stopped immediately by a bald monk dressed in a thin orange tunic. The man was unarmed, but Hakam suspected that he was trained in combat and had no need of weapons to guard the temple.

   "What do you want, al Anachtyr?"

   "I come bearing a message for your Eternal Flame, sadidrif," said Hakam, holding the rolled up and sealed letter in his palm.

   "At this hour?" The man whistled, and two other temple guards came over. "Stay here," said the monk, taking the letter, "and I shall find out if the Eternal Flame will see you."

   The two guards watched him with arms crossed over their chests. Hakam ignored their intimidating stance and looked to the center of the temple from the second floor. The ziggurat was open in the center, its highest floor supported by a single massive column of black stone. About this column burned an enormous bonfire, which filled the whole temple with heat and light. Lit torches also covered the walls every yard or so. Hakam already found himself sweating from the heat of the place.

   The first monk returned. "This way," he said.

   Hakam followed him around a bend which led them back outside, where they ascended the steps on the outside of the temple up to its highest level. "Enter," said the guard.

   Hakam obeyed and entered the single room at the top of the temple, the chambers of the so-called Eternal Flame. The room was ornately decorated in Calishite fashion and was quite warm from the heat of the immense bonfire below them in the main temple chamber.

   "Greetings, fellow seeker of order," said the single man in the room with Hakam. "I am Konal al Kossuth." He gave a little bow in Calishite manner, and Hakam returned the custom. Konal was dressed in a robe of red, embroidered with a pattern of crimson flames. About his neck was a magically glowing holy symbol of a stylized flame. The man himself looked Calishite in features, with a long, pointed black beard, but his skin was a deep red color. Hakam guessed him to be a genasi, but he kept the thought to himself.

   "I have read the letter from my old friend, Mohad," said Konal. "He tells me that you are seeking a way to the Plane of Fire, though he did not explain why. He claims I owe him a favor.... I owe him nothing."

   "If you owe him nothing, perhaps I could purchase what I need from you instead," suggested Hakam.

   Konal chuckled. "I have no need anymore of a tuning fork to travel to the realm of the Firelord," said Konal, as he walked from Hakam over to an ivory set of drawers on the other side of the room. "This is Memnon, the capital of Memnonnar, a city that was once a city of efreet. Efreet need no tuning forks." He brushed aside a large lizard that was blocking one of the drawers and then opened it. "We Kossuthans of Memnon have discovered a portal in the ruins across the river, the Great Brass Gate, which Memnon himself used to ferry soldiers from his home plane to aid in the war against Calim. It still functions. I would rather arrive at a known location in the City of Brass than chance appearing in a pool of magma." He turned toward Hakam and tossed him something that he had removed from the drawer.

   Embarrassingly, Hakam failed to catch it; it tumbled to the floor and rang in a pure solid tone.

   "Slow reflexes for an adventurer," said Konal.

   "I am our party's healer, diviner, and judge," said Hakam, as he picked up the copper, two-pronged fork from the floor, "not our warrior."

   "Judge?" said Konal. "By what laws do you judge? The legal proceedings of you al Anychtyr are all a farce. You know as well as I that there is no law in Calimshan but for the word of whichever pasha holds the power."

   "There is a higher law," said Hakam, "and a strict cultural order is better than the alternative."

   "Yes," said Konal, "there is a higher law, and it shows this entire Caliphate is corrupt, is guilty. Do you not think that it is time for the purification of Calimshan? starting with the Syl-Pasha and working down the ranks until all of the chaff is burned away?"

   "To speak against the Syl-Pasha is traitorous," said Hakam.

   "Do you think that he came to power lawfully? The man is a murderer and a crime lord. How many sons does he have as puppet rulers in every city? A corrupt leader is no leader at all!"

   "Take no offense, but I did not disturb you to discuss politics or theology," said Hakam. "What do I owe you for this copper fork?"

   "You owe me nothing but to consider my words," said Konal. "Calimshan will one day pay for its sins."

   "I shall consider them," answered Hakam, "and I thank you for this gift. Shall I find my own way out?"

   "You will probably want one of these also, before you leave," said Konal. This time he reached over and handed the item to Hakam rather than tossing it. It was another fork, made of a cold metal. "This one is steel. You will need it if you ever wish to return to the Material Plane."

   Hakam thanked the Eternal Flame again and then departed from this very strange encounter. He returned to the western gate of the city and departed, then walked north over the fields to the banks of the Agis, where he had left the rowboat.

~~~~

Szordrin and Solisar carefully walked through the museum of the brass dragon Sseth. Sseth, after talking to them both about happenings in the world for several hours in the the extradimensional space, had been happy to let them explore his library and "hall of historic artifacts." Having returned to the foyer with the nine Calishite columns, they stepped into a massive, high-ceiling hall that was large enough to be a noble's ballroom. Polished stone steps led to the floor of this large hall and also to a raised walkway large enough for a dragon to stroll that curved around the eastern wall. This wall was filled entirely with an enormous bookshelf. Strangely, the books themselves were sparse — no book was adjacent to another — and all of them were lying on their back covers. Solisar supposed that this was because it would be difficult for the dragon to remove one of the human-sized books from the shelves if they were packed together.

   Looking at the books, they did not seem to be tomes of magic or great historical epics; they seemed primarily to be popular works from different times. For example, there were several tourists' guidebooks to places that no longer existed, such as Jhaamdath, Valashar, or Meiritin, and a few copies of Instructions on Operating a Crossbow: A Guide for the Qysar's Soldiers and a few more of How to Dance Like a Jhasina: A Primer for Housewives. Mixed among these were several personal journals of persons of little to no historical significance. Sseth's library was the sort of place a historian of Calimshan would come to do primary research but not a place where a non-historian would come to learn.

   On the far side of the main chamber was another wide hall, the sides of which had on display many artifacts of long ago on marble podiums. These too were neither magical nor hugely significant artifacts in their own right; the hall was full rather of pots and pans, furniture, and everyday items.

   Szordrin, who had hoped to find information on the Rock of Bral was disappointed, but Solisar enjoyed seeing tools of human civilization from — in some cases — thousands of years ago.

~~~~

   "We have returned!"

   "That is Hakam," said Solisar. "Hopefully he bears a tuning fork."

   It was the next morning, and Solisar and Szordrin, who had spent the night at Sseth's home, were once again conversing with him. In actuallity, Solisar and Sseth were the ones conversing — about languages — and Szordrin was studying his spellbook.

   Sseth poked his head out of the extradimensional space. "Were you successful, Hakam yn Hamdulah yn Hamdulah yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr yi Memnon? I must add that I do enjoy saying your name; it has a delightful rhythym to it as it rolls from patronym to theonym to toponym."

   "Yes, I was successful," answered the cleric. "I just completed my prayers to Anachtyr, and I am prepared. Whenever you are ready, I can send you to the Plane of Fire."

   "I am so excited!" said the dragon. "Is it obvious? I believe that I am ready. I wish that I could take along a book to read, but I do not think the pages will survive the environment. Give me room to hop down."

   Hakam and the others with him stepped back into the passage. The brass dragon then dropped out of the extradimensional space and landed on the cavern floor, shaking the ground.

   "Oh, already I feel the power of the curse," he said. "Send me quickly, if you can."

   "Do you know the name of any places there?"

   "Send me anywhere except the City of Brass, if you can control that," said Sseth.

   "I shall try." Hakam struck the forked copper rod against the wall and it began to ring.

   "Ah, a perfect A," said the dragon, "my favorite note." Sseth began humming the same note two octaves deeper.

   "Anachtyr send you to the Plane of Fire!" Hakam spoke boldly, waving his hands in a wide circle. Then he touched the dragon's thick-scaled arm, and just like that, Sseth was gone. The tuning fork instantly stopped sounding.

   "It looks like it worked," said Leokas.

   "Give me several minutes, and I can confirm that," said Hakam. He began praying silently while holding his holy symbol.

   Ten minutes later, he was ready to send Sseth a message. "Have you arrived safely? Please inform us of your status."

   "Yes, I have arrived in one piece. I appeared, quite fortuitously, atop a floating chunk of rock in a river of flowing magma and rode...," came Sseth's happy voice in Hakam's mind.

   "Sseth is healthy and safe," he told the others.
Session: 94th Game Session - Wednesday, Aug 30 2017 from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM
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Chapter 5 — Brass Dragon's Lair
~ fifth-day, 5th of Hammer, The Year of Rogue Dragons, afternoon
Teshyllal Wastes


"I lair within a rocky pillar with four spires of varying heights. All true entrances face the east, so that the sun will warm the...."

   Hakam had just sent a magical message to the brass dragon Sseth for clearer details on how to find his lair. He shared it with the others. They were sailing in the sky due "east from the fifth minaret south of the place where one turns off to follow the stones to the" Friary of St. Amahl, as Sseth's directions the morning before had told them. It was over a hundred miles of sand from Teshburl to the Teshyllal Wastes of the Calim Desert. They had been flying for eight hours since morning, first north to where they spotted the monastery they had once visited, then south, and then east. Leokas was at the helm. The dragon had told them to go twenty miles from the minaret. They had about five miles left to go.

   Sseth's directions the day before were so straightforward, relatively speaking, that Szordrin was worried. "Ask him if he is being coerced?" the tiefling had said. He had had Hakam send a second message with a secret response to indicate if he was in any danger. The dragon had not returned the "secret word", but he did not indicate that all was well either. "I must warn you. I am not feeling well these days. I have awful headaches, and I want to eat everything. Do not bring Kamil!"

   The rest of that day had been spent buying and selling and in dealing with Oma's father. Kanar "the Ox" el Ehrat had sent Hakam a message by delivery boy early in the morning.

Hakam, Atiq will meet with you at highsun at the Roving Rune. Use the inn entrance, not the tavern entrance. I recommend coming in disguise. The others should stay on the ship until matters are resolved. Oadif has connections with el Amlakkar and will convince them that waiting to arrest you until you try to leave may give them more time to catch you in other criminal activities. I presume that your party has no intention of partaking in any actual criminal activities and trust that you will not correct this understanding of mine.

Hakam had complained about the disguise, but Szordrin had given him a beard and made him look older by graying his hair.

   The meeting with Atiq el Catahras had gone surprisingly well. "Why did she not tell her mother and me that she did not want to marry Hakamir?" the man had said. "If she had only spoken up instead of run off...." Atiq promised to drop the bounty immediately if Hakam would promise to deliver a letter to his daughter when next he saw her. Hakamir el Wisynn would be furious, but if Atiq cancelled the engagement, the man would no longer be able to keep his own bounty.

   They were still advised to lie low, just in case, so Leokas and Hakam did not leave the ship after that, as those two in particular might be recognized. Belvin, instead, had sold the camels and purchased food and water; Szordrin had sold the gems and the cursed cloak; and Solisar had purchased pearls for his magic and two hammocks, rope and pulleys, oars, and two rowboats for the spelljammer.

   After a second night berthed in Teshburl, to get safely out of the port, they had had to hire a pilot and sailors to take the ship a mile from the docks. Then they rowed the men back to shore.

   That had all been this morning. Belvin was now scanning the land ahead of them from the foredeck. They were only sailing about a half mile over the sand, but even at such a low flying altitude, the horizon was about 60 miles away. The problem was not in any way distance but recognition; there were many sandstone pillars ahead of them.

   Belvin pointed. "That structure, a bit to the north has three spires, each at a different height, but suppose there is a fourth on the east side that is lower, which we cannot yet see?"

   "How far away is that?"

   "I suspect about three or four miles. Leokas would be a far better judge."

   They sent word down to Leokas to adjust their course a small amount to the north. In about fifteen minutes, they had passed to the eastern side, and sure enough, there was a fourth, short spire on that side. As Leokas carefully lowered the vessel to the sand below them, Hakam began another sending prayer: "We believe that we have arrived. There seem to be no cave entrances on the eastern side. Will you come out to meet us?"

   "I do not want to come outside, dear friends. Find one of my sand-covered bolt holes. Follow the tunnels up to the center of the pillar."

   "What is a 'bolt hole'?" asked Szordrin, after Hakam had shared the message. The cleric did not know.

   "It is a place where a small animal like a rabbit hides," said Belvin. "It means that we are going to have to dig." He seemed excited by this prospect.

   "If Leokas takes us closer to the pillars," suggested Szordrin, "I can use this wire to communicate with him."

   "Unless he is standing near a cave opening," said Solisar, "such magics will not penetrate the stone. We have little choice but to find the entrance ourselves."

   So Leokas took the ship down to within a half dozen yards above the sand. Kytharrah then lowered everyone, except Ilthian and Leokas, down to the ground in one of the rowboats, using the pulley and winches that they had recently purchased. He followed after them down the rope. Belvin transformed into a large badger and began digging and sniffing at the base of the massive sandstone formation, and Szordrin sent Ferry, his weasel, to do the same. In the meantime, Solisar used his magic to fly about the pillars, scanning them for any magical auras.

   Tymora smiled upon them, and it was not long before Ferry scurried up Szordrin's leg to squeak into his ear. "Ferry has found an opening that leads much deeper," the wizard shared. Belvin continued digging at the site, and soon enough, he had dug out an opening large enough for them all to crawl through. He then shifted back into his elven form and began to get dressed again.

   "You are not coming with us?" Hakam asked, when Belvin began to climb the rope to the deck of their ship.

   "I stay with Kamil, of course," said Belvin. "Especially since Sseth threatened to eat him! I shall replace Leokas at the helm and take the ship into wildspace. I shall return to retrieve all of you in an hour."

   "Before you go, can you at least use your magic to check for any natural traps in this tunnel?" asked Solisar. "Dragons often leave traps to protect their lairs."

   Belvin did so, but the way ahead was clear of any pits or snares, at least for the first 150 feet of the tunnel. So he and Leokas traded places, and the latter elf joined them. After the initial crawl through the sliding sand, they entered a sturdy, stone tunnel with walls from ten to twenty feet in width. At first the tunnel curved around to the north where it reached an intersection. To the left, west, the tunnel was plugged with sand — likely another bolt hole. This left two other paths, straight ahead and to the right, for them to pick.

   Kytharrah inhaled deeply through his nose. "Bad eggs!"

   "He must smell the sulfur from the dragon's breath," said Solisar. "Which way, Kytharrah?"

   "This way!" Kytharrah said, grinning and starting down the right path. The minotaur had his everburning torch in hand, while Hakam's shield was magically glowing.

   Ten yards farther, they reached a dead end.

   "Good job, Lunk," said Szordrin, sarcastically.

   "No, he chose correctly," said Leokas. "It is not a dead end; we have to climb." The elf motioned up. The ceiling of the passage was gaining significant height above them now, and 20 feet up, there was an opening in the wall in front of them.

   Kytharrah jumped up, grabbed onto the ledge and lifted himself up. Then he cast down his rope and helped pull the others up one by one — except for Leokas, who climbed. It would have been an easy hop for a dragon the size of Sseth.

   They continued onward, east into the heart of the desert rock formation. After 100 feet, the path turned sharply north, but Kytharrah shook his head. "No, up again." He jumped and pulled himself up, vanishing again in the darkness. Like before they climbed up after him.

   This higher passage continued roughly east, though it curved around in an ess shape to do so. By now, the ceiling was a full 50 feet above their heads, and the width of the tunnel was 20 feet. Then they came to the first of a line of nine columns. From here, the wall to the right was smooth and clearly had been carved. The ceiling, supported by the columns was not the natural ceiling any longer either, but the walls to the left were still natural. The passage widened considerably from here with a large opening farther ahead to the left.

   Solisar and Hakam examined the first column. "Calishite design," said Hakam.

   "Yet the carvings are Iokharic," said Solisar, "that is, Draconic runes."

   "Do I smell minotaur?" A deep voice echoed through the cavern, startling all of them.

   "Hello?" answered Kytharrah.

   "The minotaur is with me," Hakam called back, "with Hakam. We are coming to you."

   There was no further answer, but they advanced nonetheless. Passing the large opening to their left, they saw that there were wide steps descending into a massive chamber, but the dragon's voice had come from in front of them, where the tunnel became natural again and curved to the south. Szordrin went to the left to investigate further, but the rest continued on. They followed it and came to yet another wall with an opening up above. They waited for Kytharrah to leap up again, but he was looking down.

   "Shiny bottle!" The minotaur picked up a black bottle. It was polished pottery with a steel stopper.

   Solisar muttered some arcane syllables and then said, "It is magical, a conjuration aura."

   "It is Allu's bottle," said Hakam. "I recognize it."

   Leokas nodded and then began climbing. "Come," he said, "let us meet with the dragon."

   After they all were at the top, including Szordrin, who had returned from scouting, Hakam led the way down the twisting tunnel, which led them through a ten-foot opening into a huge chamber that was roughly square. There before them lay the dragon, resting on a large bed of coins.

   Even those who had seen Sseth before were wowed by the immense size of him. He was at least 60 feet from tail to serpent-like snout. It was impossible to estimate his wingspan at the moment, as his wings were folded close to his body. The dragon's head had the unique curved, bony frill of all brass dragons. Oddly, Sseth's huge eyes were closed. His head was resting on the ground and he covered his ear holes with his two foreclaws, as if he were trying to quench a very loud noise.

   "We thank you for returning the bottle to us, good dragon," said Hakam. "You seem unwell."

   Sseth opened one of his glowing, white eyes. "I have not been outside for many days," the dragon said, ignoring Hakam's comments. "Is there, by chance, a red comet in the sky?"

   "No," said Leokas. "There are no comets in the sky now. I am certain."

   Solisar was the only one of them who understood what the dragon was really asking. "The King-Killer Star can affect dragons even when not visible," he said.

   Sseth opened his second eye, but did not yet raise his head from the ground. "You are a sun elf," he stated simply.

   "Axun, ya vaecaesin aurix," said Solisar. "Arominak Solisar. Rasvim ekess wux."

   "Rasvim ekess wux, shar thric vethirasvim," answered the dragon. "Arominak Sseth. I apologize for my present condition. Were I myself, I would ask to hear your stories, old and new, but I suggest that none of you come any closer, tiny creatures as you are, to a grumpy, old dragon." Sseth at last lifted his massive head from the ground, exposing his two chin horns. "Where is Belvin? Where is Mythlos?"

   "Mythlos is somewhere near the High Forest," explained Hakam, "seeking further training from the elves. Since we last saw you, he has learned the power of his ancestral sword. Belvin could not come see you in person, but he regrets this and sends his greeting."

   "No play?" said Kytharrah.

   "Not today, little brother," said the dragon.

   The others expected Kytharrah to react to being called little, but the minotaur could not object to being called such by a being weighing over ten tons.

   "And what are you?" Sseth now looked at Szordrin and sniffed. "I smell fiendish blood."

   "He is a tiefling," answered Hakam, "but he is not evil."

   "Which is not to say that he is to be trusted," said Sseth, lowering his head to the ground again.

   "We do not trust him much either," said Hakam, "but he is useful to us."

   "I am Szordrin," said the tiefling, "but I must go back to your early question about comets. What is this 'King-Killer Star'? Does it have anything to do with the fact that it is now the Year of Rogue Dragons?"

   In answer, Sseth simply closed his eyes, as if drifting off to sleep.

   "It is certainly possible that a major dracorage would be the fulfillment of one of Alaundo's prophecies," answered Solisar. "However, the last full rage of dragons was in the Year of the Dracorage, which is numbered 1018 in the Dalereckoning. A minor rage, a flight of dragons, which occur when the King-Killer Star does not pass as closely to Toril, affected only the Moonsea and the kingdom of Cormyr in the Year of the Worm, which was only very recently, seventeen years ago, two years before the Time of Troubles. I do not have the cosmological path of the comet memorized, but the King-Killer Star could not possibly have returned to Toril in only seventeen years! Its orbit takes centuries. If this is another 'rage', it could not be caused by the comet.

   "Good dragon, were you alive in the Year of the Dracorage?"

   Sseth wobbled his head. "I have only heard tales from elder dragons of the curse," he said.

   "The curse should only last a tenday at most," said Solisar. "How long have you been feeling... ill?"

   "About half that time," said the dragon.

   "Curse? Comet? I am still confused," said Hakam.

   Solisar sighed as if embarrassed. "One of the unfortunate acts in ancient history for which my people are responsible is the creation of the Dracorage Mythal, an enormous magical effect covering all of Faerûn that is tied to the appearance of one of this crystal sphere's two largest comets. During the Time of Dragons, some 20 to 30 millennia ago, they created the mythal to curse all dragonkind anytime that the comet appeared in the sky. The dragons had recently made a truce with the giants of Ostoria, which meant that the dragons now turned toward the annihilation of the elven peoples instead. The mythal was created to cause all dragons of Faerûn to slowly drift into madness and fight among themselves. This prevented the dragons from ever unifying enough to destroy the elves or establish an empire and rule all the other free peoples of Toril. Were it not for the dracorages, our humanoid peoples would likely not exist on Toril today. On the other hand, the curse of the mythal effects noble dragons as well as evil ones, and since the population of dragons has diminished on this world, the dragons are less likely to fight among themselves and more likely to rage against other surface creatures. In my opinion, the choice to create the mythal has caused more evil to this world than good." Solisar turned to the dragon and offered a heartfelt apology in the Draconic tongue for his ancestor's actions.

   "Thank you for your apology," Sseth answered in Common. "You are innocent in the matter. Nevertheless, comet or no, I am afflicted. You have your bottle. You would be wise to leave."

   "Saer dragon," said Szordrin, in as polite a voice as he could muster, "I could not help but notice that you have a truly grand library with a vast collection of books. Might you permit us to explore its volumes?"

   "No!" The dragon's head lifted off the ground again as his voice boomed. Kytharrah was not the only one who could smell the stench of sulfur in the chamber. "No," he repeated, in a more typical calm voice. "You must understand that to a brass dragon, knowledge is treasure."

   "Perhaps it would be wise for us to leave," said Solisar. "We have the bottle. We cannot do anything to help him now. We can look into how we might help him and then return."

   "Before we leave," said Hakam to Sseth, "if I may be so bold, I was hoping that you might be able to tell us more about the skeletons that you saw marching toward Allu's palace."

   "It was a small army," said the dragon, "humanoid and minotaur skeletons, a force resurrected from Calim's own army. If they were indeed marching on the lair of the efreeti, they would have arrived by now."

   "What of the blue dragon?" asked Hakam. "Would they not have to face her if they entered her territory?"

   "If this is a dracorage curse, it would affect her more strongly than me, since she is already evil at heart. Perhaps she is raging elsewhere in Calimshan."

   This triggered an idea in Solisar's mind. "Noble dragon, in the history of your kind, how do the good dragons usually respond to the ten days of the rage?"

   "They leave Toril," said Sseth. "Or they hide away in their lairs and entrap themselves until it passes, as I am doing."

   "This cannot be a normal rage," said Solisar. "Something else is going on. There is no guarantee that this will cease by the end of the tenday. Is there a way for you to leave Toril?"

   "I would need to find a tuning fork to an appropriate plane," said Hakam, "but my god could shift you elsewhere. Where would you be most content?"

   Sseth perked up his head, looking mildly happy for the first time during this visit. "I have always wanted to visit the Plane of Fire," said Sseth. "I hear that the swimming is most pleasant there."

   "Szordrin, do you have your rope spell prepared?" asked Solisar.

   The other wizard nodded.

   "Sseth," said Solisar, "Szordrin and I can grant you at least 24 hours of relief from the curse, if it is indeed caused by the mythal, by creating an extradimensional space for you, here in your lair. We can then seek out a tuning fork and return. Then Hakam can send you to the Plane of Fire. Would this please you? Szordrin, show him."

   Szordrin removed the required twisted loop of parchment and some powdered corn from his component pouch as the dragon's white orb of an eye faced him, watching his every move. The tiefling spoke the words of the spell while reaching for the rope about his shoulder. The corn extract and the tiny loop vanished from one hand, while the rope launched out of his other to hang from nothing.

   The dragon stood up unto his four limbs, coins falling from between his scales, and moved over to the rope in two enormous steps. They all backed away from him into the passage. Sseth looked up, and then, with a feline-like pounce, shot straight into the air and vanished.

   Several minutes passed with no sign of the dragon.

   "Did it work?" asked Szordrin. "Should one of us climb the rope and check on him?"

   Then the dragon's fifteen-foot neck shot out of the invisible hole above them. "Have you ever tried flying in an extradimensional space?" asked the dragon, voice full of excitement. "It is the most freeing feeling! You really must try it. Delightful! Good for the soul!"

   "I shall try it next time," said Solisar.

   "Now play?" said Kytharrah, sensing that the dragon was now less grumpy.

   In answer, more of the dragon's bulk emerged from the hole, and his neck snapped out. Before any of them could respond, Sseth's jaws had clamped around one of Kytharrah's horns. The dragon pulled himself back up, lifting the 700-pound minotaur off his feet and into the air. Then, both dragon and minotaur disappeared into the extradimensional space.

   The others looked around, not sure how to respond.

   "Do good dragons eat minotaurs?" asked Szordrin.

   Leokas went to the rope. "I shall check on him."

   Leokas' head emerged into the infinite whiteness at the top of the rope. The dragon was there before him, sitting like a dog and looking out into the distance. There was no sign of the minotaur.

   "What did you do, Sseth?" Leokas demanded.

   "I tossed him," said the dragon. "Ah, here he comes again!"

   Kytharrah was now visible, running toward them at his magically enhanced speed, horns down in a full-out charge. The dragon took a defensive stance and lowered his head. The minotaur slammed into the dragon's skull plate with a loud thud and then fell back on his rump. Using his head like he was shoveling sand, Sseth then scooped up the minotaur, and with a snap of his neck, launched the friendly beast into the air. Kytharrah was laughing in enjoyment, as he traveled out of Leokas' sight into the white emptiness.

   Sseth turned back toward Leokas. "Do not worry, my little elven friend. An extradimensional place like this often has subjective directional gravity and is spacially morphic and self-contained. He will be back.

   "So, tell me of all your adventures. Whatever happened to that nice lady who smelled like djinn?"
Session: 94th Game Session - Wednesday, Aug 30 2017 from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM
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Interlude: The Regent of Jhothûn
~ fifth-day, 25th of Nightal, The Year of Wild Magic, evening
miles above Toril


"He will allow us to use the portals as we will, and we may request our wishes through magical sendings."

   Hakam was filling in the details of their visit to Jhothûn to the others. Tavis and Kaedlaw had remained behind and the genie and Tavis were to discuss what the throne's revelation meant for the boy, for Hartsvale, for Jhothûn, and for all of giantkind.

   "My geas has been fulfilled, and our exile is over," said Leokas.

   "We await word from Tavis, as we may need to fly him home, but after that, we can go anywhere we would like," said Hakam. "The question is, where next?"

   "With this vessel," said Szordrin, "nothing prevents us from flying to the Rock of Bral and tracking down the Interlink Consortium. All our destinies are intertwined with that one rock. Only if we know where Samber has been in the past will we be able to know what he is truly up to. And where better to inquire than Bral?"

   "I agree that we should visit Bral eventually," said Leokas, "but I think that we need more information first."

   "I am inclined to agree with Leokas on this," said Solisar. "I admit that I know very little of the place."

   "Teshburl, then?" said Szordrin. "We can follow leads on Walker, who we know had dealings with Samber."

   "Or we could rendezvous with Jayce at Lantan," said Hakam, "since he seems to be making progress with his investigation into Samber's background. Plus, Ombert, The Daisy's captain may be able to use the stars to guide us all back to Samber's island so that we can return Ilthian to her family."

   "We also told Mythlos, Cassiera, and my mother that we would meet them again at Mythlos' keep in Tethyr," said Leokas.

   "This is perhaps lower priority," said Solisar, "but a visit to Evermeet would permit me speak with my grandmother about what I learned about Iyraclea while on the Great Glacier."

   "You intend to stay with us, then," asked Leokas, "now that you have the option of leaving?"

   "I am greatly intrigued by the matter of Samber," said Solisar, "perhaps more now than ever...."

   "And you, Belvin?" asked Hakam, "Has your jungle god given you more visions?"

   Belvin shrugged. "I shall decide where Kamil and I are to travel when I need to."

   "One thing that I have wanted to do since Thultanthar," said Hakam, "is return to Sseth and retrieve Allu's genie bottle. I warrant that we are prepared to speak with the efreeti now and question him about how he obtained Samber's omlar gem. I think that I shall send Sseth a message in the morning."

   "I am against the idea of going to Allu's palace," said Szordrin. "Both Allu and the blue dragon could potentially be there."

   "Fair enough. I agree that Walker is probably as good a source about Samber right now as is Allu," said Hakam.

   "I also wish to return to Silverymoon, before heading to Teshburl," said Szordrin. "We have many things to sell, and from your descriptions, it sounds like there is much we could purchase."

   "I agree," said Leokas. "We are out of provisions. We can probably ask the genie here for a day's food, but genie-created food lasts no longer than that. Our new vessel could also use some ballista bolts."

   "Some furnishings would also be appreciated," said Hakam.

   "...And some sailing implements," added Solisar.

   "Well, then there is the matter of what to wish for...," Hakam began.

   This second discussion took them nearly an hour, and they arrived at no full consensus, though they were leaning toward some way of protecting the spelljammer. Ultimately, they decided to sleep on the decision.

~~~~

Just after dawn of the next day, Hakam woke the others. "I sent a message to our brass dragon friend about meeting up with him sometime in the future to retrieve Allu's bottle. I had to waste two sending spells to get a response, but he rambled something off about 'skeletons swarming toward Allu's palace from... the Altar...' of the Air. At least I assume that he meant the Altar of the Air; he did not get all the words out."

   "That may change my vote," said Leokas. "We should visit with Sseth in person and learn more."

   "I agree," said Szordrin, "but we should still stop at Silverymoon and Teshburl on the way."

~~~~

Several hours later, each of them were scattered about the spelljammer, resting and waiting. Ilthian and Solisar were in Ilthian's room, writing out math problems to solve how long the spelljammer's magical bubble of air would last before they would need to return to the surface to replenish it.

   Suddenly, Belvin leapt to his feet from beside Kamil. He had spotted a cloud of vapor coming over the railing. "The Ice Queen!" he shouted to the others, and then he began chanting. An instant later, a column of fire appeared, striking the growing cloud at its center.

   The cloud took shape, as the others rushed over. No sooner had a thick hand formed from the gases then a ray of frost and ice shot forth from the fingers, covering Belvin's skin with white.

   Calm yourselves, they all heard in their heads. It was the qorrashi's voice. I have been sent by the Regent of Emperor Kaedlaw to summon you.

   Belvin wiped the frost from his face and shivered. He was very cold but otherwise not harmed. If the ice genie was injured, he did not show any sign of it.

   "How did you find us?" asked Leokas as Solisar arrived onto the deck to see what the commotion was about.

   I am no longer bound by oath not to leave the palace, said the Prince of Jhothûn. As a genie, I need not air for flight. I suspected that you would be somewhere up, and it is not difficult to spot a sailing craft in the heavens if you rise high enough.

   "I assume that by 'Regent' you mean Tavis?" asked Hakam.

   No, said the genie, I did not. Though the emperor's father may wish to speak with you as well. Do not keep the Regent waiting. If you join hands with mine, I can take you there immediately through the Astral Plane. However, I warn you that the touch of my skin is painful to most mere mortals such as yourselves.

   "Anachtyr, protect me from the elements," Hakam prayed. Then he said to the qorrashi, "I shall take your hand."

   Kytharrah rushed up excitedly and grabbed the genie's left hand. "Very cold!" he said, as the frost nipped his fingers, but he wore a toothy grin on his face. Hakam took the genie's right hand and grimaced at the cold, which was painful despite his prayer.

   I can carry several others through as well, if more of you wish to come. Simply join hands with your companions. Solisar joined with Hakam and Kytharrah, since he hoped to see more of such a historical site as Jhothûn, and Szordrin did as well.

   They all felt a strange and momentary sensation, then found themselves standing in the throne room of Jhothûn. There, leaning against one of the pillars, was Tavis, who was restringing his massive bow. Nearby, the throne of ice and stone was empty, but beside it was a larger obsidian throne of simpler design. Sitting upon it, was the misshapen form of Basil of Lyndusfarne.

   "Am du paart, Solisar of Evermeet!" said the old verbeeg.

   "Am du paart, Regent of Jhothûn!" the sun elf replied.

   "I trust that you have been well this last month or so?"

   "Ignoring the fact that I was stabbed to death by a lamia noble, yes."

   "Annam's juveler!" said Basil.

   "My god returned my powers, and I called him back to the living," said Hakam.

   "Clearly, we have much to talk about, friends," said Basil, as if he knew all of them, though in reality he had only ever talked to Solisar before.

   They learned that Kaedlaw had already returned home to his mother, by the power of the wish. Tavis would be returning home soon in the same manner, but he had wanted to thank the members of the party and say goodbye before departing.

   Brianna and Tavis had spoken with the Prince of Jhothûn at great length, and it had been decided that Basil would reign as regent until Kaedlaw came of age. This would require a long time spent in near solitude for the verbeeg, but at the moment, the idea of exploring the four floors of the citadel excited him more than any concerns of loneliness. Besides, the powers of the genie could wish friends back and forth from Hartsvale three times a day if needed.

   As for Queen Brianna and Tavis, they had much to consider in regards to what to do with the fact that their son was the future ruler of not only the tiny kingdom of Hartsvale but perhaps of all the giant tribes of Faerûn! For now, they intended to wait and seek out advice from what giant and giant-kin allies they had. They suspected that most giants would not accept the news readily. At least they had many years for Kaedlaw to grow up.

   In regards to the portal, they had decided to leave the delusional orc druid on the Sea of Moving Ice and the ice devil Tosvin as portal guardians of Karffbadh and Gharreil, respectively. They would serve as first line of defense for the hidden citadel. Now that the qorrashi was no longer bound by oath to the palace, he could pass through the portals, or indeed go anywhere he needed, to also defend the secret. For the portal at Choshein, Brianna had sent Hrodmar, the frost giant guard of Earls Bridge, to serve as guardian. (Hrodmar was happy to give Kytharrah one last wrestling match.)

   The genie provided them with another luscious meal and also with temporary provisions that would last them on the journey to Silverymoon, where they planned to first stop to resupply.

   Solisar sat next to Basil while they ate and told him some of the details of his brief visit to the Fugue Plane. Then the conversation turned to what Basil had learned so far of Jhothûn.

   "Iseheim, I mean Jhothûn, contains no books that have survived the ages," said Basil, "but the genie here revealed to me that there are ancient crypts below. I expect to spend a good deal of my time there examining what friezes I may find. I believe that the base of little Kaedlaw's throne shows the handiwork of stone giants, and I would not be surprised to find more gifts of theirs from the earliest days of Ostoria in those crypts. The steinjotunen were the only true record-keepers of the Jotunbrud. Surely, you will want to stay and explore them with me?"

   "Believe me when I tell you that I would like nothing more," said Solisar. "What scholar of the Jotunbrud would not? However, I seem tied into something greater — or at the least, more urgent — taking place perhaps among the human gods. My companions have been exiled now many months, which has kept them from their true quest, and I am now a part of it. As they are at last free from exile, they are anxious to set out again. May I kindly request a postponement?"

   "Of course!" said Basil. "Remember, I am a verbeeg; what is mine is yours."

   "He means to say, 'What is yours is his,'" said Tavis.

   "Basil, I must warn you of something," said Solisar. "The guardian of the portal at Gharreil is an evil entity who serves a powerful priestess of the human goddess of winter. She is perhaps immortal, so great is her magic. I know not yet the full extent of her plans, but she lusts after the treasures hidden in this city. I do not know how her magics compare to those of the genie who now serves you, but be aware of the matter, and use caution."

   "I thank you for this," said Basil.

   After the dinner, they said goodbye to their friends. "Tell Leokas that I enjoyed the challenge of shooting archery with him and learning of the beasts of the High Forest," said Tavis to Hakam. "I shall remember him if ever I nock an arrow against a goblin."

   Tavis then gave Kytharrah a large bear hug, and lifted the minotaur off his feet. This surprised Kytharrah, but he snorted happily.

   "Keep following the guiding light," said the firbolg.
Session: 92nd Game Session - Wednesday, Jul 19 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 4 — Annam's Heir
~ fourth-day, 24th of Nightal, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
somewhere over the Silver Marches


There was a gentle knock on Ilthian's cabin door. She got up off her pile of blankets and opened it.

   "Good morning! It is time for your writing lesson."

   "Solisar! Hakam fixed you!" She jumped up and down with delight.

   "Yes, yes, he did," said Solisar, "though I feel weaker than I felt before."

   "Did he fix Kytharrah also?"

   "Indeed, he is above deck now, standing at the railing. We are on our way back to the ice genie, and then we will be able to go wherever we want."

~~~~

"We cannot fly the spelljammer directly to Choshein," said Leokas emphatically. "I absolutely will not permit it. Whoever has been scrying on us will see that we have traveled there and know the location."

   The party were gathered below deck, as the ship sailed through the sky on its own wind power. Tavis and Kaedlaw were eating a second breakfast, and Kytharrah and Ilthian were practicing writing.

   "Not if we keep Ilthian in her room," said Belvin. "All the scrier will see is the wooden walls of the cabin."

   "As long as the scrier does not switch to scrying on one of us," said Solisar. "As of earlier, when I visited her, the scrier was still focused on her and not any of us."

   "It is a risk that we have to take," said Hakam.

   "No," said Leokas, "I cannot permit such risks, not while under the influence of this geas."

   "What do you suggest then? That we abandon the spelljammer somewhere in the desert, leave Ilthian behind on the vessel, and ride our camels to Choshein with Tavis and Kaedlaw?"

   "We are not going to abandon Ilthian," said Solisar.

   "It was not a serious suggestion," said Hakam. "I have a duty to see that she returns to her home."

   "I am more concerned about someone stealing our spelljammer, wherever we chose to leave it," said Szordrin. "The fact of the matter is that Ilthian cannot go anywhere near the portal to Jhothûn anymore, and we cannot leave her alone, so we are going to have to split up. We were nearly defeated by a small band of lamia when most of us were present; if they or another band of Shadovar or a blue dragon spot a sailing vessel in the desert, it will attract attention."

   "I agree," said Hakam, "but the spelljammer is less likely to be stolen at the entrance of the cave to Choshein than if we leave it over the desert and some of us travel on camel. Leokas, if Ilthian stays in her cabin, the scrier will not even know whether or not we have stopped."

   "A ship of this size can be spotted for miles, especially from the air," said Leokas. "We could avoid detection of our approach to Choshein on foot easily enough, but even if we are safe from the scrier, while some of us travel to Jhothûn, many hours may pass with the ship drawing attention to our location. As Szordrin said, there are indeed blue dragons in this desert. It is a miracle none have tried to take us out of their skies yet."

   "While some of you go to visit the ice genie, I can take this vessel into the heavens," said Belvin, "into the Sea of Night. Is not that where it was designed to sail?"

   "He is right," said Solisar. "From Szordrin's and my investigations, I am convinced that the magic force surrounding this craft will give us air to breathe for the duration. No dragon can fly so high."

   "I can send Belvin a message to descend again and pick us up whenever the matter with the ice genie is resolved," said Hakam. "We will only need to have the ship anywhere near the entrance to Choshein for the brief time that it takes for those of us going to descend the rope to the ground. What say you, Leokas? Will the geas permit such a minor risk if ultimately it means that the emperor of Jhothûn has been found?"

   Leokas nodded.

   So this is what they did. For the rest of the day and into the night, first Leokas and then Szordrin piloted their flying vessel from the helm chair. Belvin remained at watch, scanning the skies for dragons or other dangers. They retraced the journey from Silverymoon up the river and to Fork Road and Ascore. By night, they flew over Ascore and Hlaungadath until they came to the edge of Anauroch's glacier. This they followed south-southeast until they came to a great corner in the wall of ice and began following it east-northeast. When daylight came, they were passing through a gap in a large north–south mountain range. From here, Leokas again took the helm, watching carefully with his extended senses the lay of the icy land as they headed north over the High Ice. When highsun came, they had at last arrived at the cave entrance to what was once a subterranean frost giant city.

   Leokas, Hakam, and Tavis and his son descended the rope to the ground, and the others waved them off as they entered the dark opening. Belvin then took the helm, as Solisar stood nearby.

   "Take us up," said Solisar.

   Belvin willed the ship to rise and continue rising. Solisar went quickly to the deck, where Kytharrah was standing at his usual spot on the railing. Szordrin was also present.

   "We are very high!" said the minotaur.

   "Yes," said Solisar, as indeed the ground grew farther and farther away, beginning to look less like land and more like a simple blur of white and yellow. "I have never been this high, and we are going much higher."

   "Why is the world bending?"

   "It is always round like a ball," answered the sun elf. "You only cannot tell because it is very big, and usually you are standing on it."

   "Is the sky getting darker?"

   "It is. We are entering the Sea of Night. We are flying into the always-nighttime where the stars live."

   "There they are! I see them!" The minotaur spun around pointing as the points of light became more and more visible as the blue sky faded away into the darkness of Realmspace. "I can still see the guiding light, even though it is night," said Kytharrah, pointing at the sun above them.

   "Ferry does not like this," said Szordrin. The camels seemed agitated as well.

   Belvin joined them on the deck. "High enough for you?"

   "I never knew that Toril would look so beautiful from up here," said Solisar. "Truly the Seldarine have blessed us to see such a sight."

~~~~


"One, two, three, step!"

   Leokas, Hakam, Tavis, and Kaedlaw found themselves under a gold-plated domed ceiling, painted with images of snowflakes and clouds. They were back in the Palace of the Emperors in Jhothûn.

   "Where are we, Papa?" asked Kaedlaw, who had had no experience of traveling through magical portals. "Where did the cave go?"

   "This may be our new summer home, Son," said Tavis. "Do you think that Mama will like it?" Tavis gazed around. "It is certainly more giant-sized than Castle Hartwick," he continued to no one in particular. "I will not have to worry about banging my head on things anymore."

   A cloud of bitter cold ascended from below until it was level with the wide, circular balcony on which the four visitors stood. The ice genie, the qorrashi, the last Prince of Jhothûn materialized before them.

   You have returned, my guardian. Have you completed your quest? Have you found the heir.

   "We believe that we have," answered Leokas.

   "We are certain that this young giant child has the blood of Annam's youngest son in his veins," said Hakam. "Whether the throne of ice and stone accepts him remains to be seen."

   [i]The blood of Arno and Julien?
Tavis cringed when he heard the genie's words in his head. Did I not explain to you that Ottar stood higher in the ordning than the ettin?

   "Yes," answered Hakam, "you did explain this, but you also told us of the prophesied last son of Annam, who had not yet been born, did you not? This boy here has the blood of both Arno and Julien and the prophesied final son. That final son was indeed born, far to the north in a little-known land of Hartsvale. The humans of that land called him Hartkiller, and his descendants still reign there to this day."

   "My wife," said Tavis, "the boy's mother, is a descendant of Hartkiller."

   "What manner of giant are you?" asked the Prince in Jotun.

   "I am a child of Othea and Ulutiu," said Tavis, bowing humbly. "I am a firbolg."

   The genie expressed confusion upon its frozen face. Does the boy have firbolg blood as well? No one with tainted blood could be the true heir. It is maug.

   "The story is indeed complicated and unpredictable," said Hakam. "You will not believe it if you hear it first. Withhold your judgment; permit us let the boy sit upon the chair, and then we shall tell you the strange plan that Annam has seemingly laid out. We also have learned the fate of Ottar, your liege."

   You discovered Ottar's fate?

   "He was betrayed and poisoned by Lanaxis," said Tavis. "I have seen his corpse with my own eyes."

   Lanaxis... did this?

   "We will tell everything," said Hakam. "May we go to the throne room? Our stories will matter not if the boy is not chosen."

   Come, said the genie. He floated down the large hall away from the portals, and they followed him. He led them to the end of the hall, where it intersected with a larger, window-filled one. They had come this way before, as it was the only way for non-flying creatures to descend to the lower levels of the palace. The qorrashi took them to the banquet hall where he had first told them of their quest. From there, they took a staircase and then another, down to the first floor of the palace. A short distance later, they entered a large rectangular chamber, supported by high narrow pillars.

   Here sat the "throne of ice and stone". It was large enough to seat a storm giant. The four feet of the throne were carved from rock and shaped like the skulls of white dragons. The rest of the chair looked to be carved from solid ice. The back of the chair appeared like thick icicles arranged side-by-side.

   Have the boy take a seat on the throne, said the Prince, but be ready to remove him should the chair reject him.

   "Go on, Kaedlaw," said Tavis. "Hop up in the chair."

   Kaedlaw went over to the throne. It was too large for him to be able to pull himself up onto it. Tavis came over and gave him a boost.

   As soon as his little — by giant standards — rump sat down on the square block of ice, the throne began to melt. Water pooled upon the floor, as the arm rests and icicle-back reduced in size. Within a few moments, the ice of the throne had shrunken down to fit Kaedlaw snugly, as if it had been carved to his size all along. Kaedlaw giggled. "The chair moves funny, Papa."

   "Is it cold?" asked Tavis.

   "No, just slippy."

   The genie floated over and circled the throne several times, examining it.

   "Stôllinn hefur validh." spoke the genie aloud. Then he translated for them in their minds. The chair has chosen. So Ottar's dynasty is ended, and this unexpected child is both Annam and Ottar's heir. Then the genie floated low to the ground as if bowing low and swore fealty and service to Kaedlaw in the tongues of giants.
Session: 91st Game Session - Wednesday, May 31 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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Chapter 4 — Atonement
~ fourth-day, 24th of Nightal, The Year of Wild Magic, moondark
Silverymoon


Leokas leading the way, the two hiked over well-packed snow along the western bank of the river, on what appeared to be a road used by farmers from the countryside. After an hour of walking, they came to the southern gates of the city. Between two towers in the stone wall, two guards stood before the doors, bearing lanterns. Their armor glistened in the moonlight.

   "Ho, what do we have here, Laethil?"

   "Travelers in the midst of night's heart?"

   "Must be adventurers! No one else walks about at this hour."

   "The one walks like an elf."

   "The other... does not."

   "Too short for an elf."

   "...Unless he is a drow. His skin color is darker."

   "Probably another one of those 'reformed' drow."

   "It seems to be the fad these days."

   "Are you going to mock us or ask us our business in the city?" Leokas asked, approaching the two guards. Hakam came up behind.

   "We meant no offense, brother elf," said the one in crisp Elven, and only then did Leokas notice that both of the men were elves. The guard continued, in Common. "It is near the end of our watch, and we would both much rather be at the Dancing Goat, quite honestly."

   "Unless you be orcs or goblinkin," said the other, "you are welcome in our city."

   (Leokas took more comfort in the fact that they opposed goblinkin than in their welcome.)

   "We are here on an urgent matter related to the Church of Anachtyr, whom I serve," said Hakam.

   "Mean you Tyr?" said the first guard. "This city is not known for its worship of the Triad."

   A look of frustration welled up on Hakam's face.

   "No, there is a temple to the Triad here," corrected the second guard. "Jornan worships there. It is between the House Invincible and Rhyester's Matins."

   "I am afraid that we do not know either of those places," said Leokas.

   "You stand at the Mulgate," said the guard, "one of the two gates to the southern bank. A wide road leads straight from here to the Moonbridge."

   "You cannot miss it," said the other guard.

   "It literally glows silver in the moonlight," said the second.

   "Yes, I know of it," said Leokas. "I hail from High Forest."

   "High Forest? Yet you have never visited the Gem of the North?"

   "I am not one for cities," said Leokas.

   "You may feel differently about Silverymoon," said the first guard.

   "In any case," continued the other, "cross the bridge. It will look insubstantial, because it is, but the magic will not fail you. I cross it multiple times per day. Once in Northbank, continue to follow the Moonway road. You will be in the older part of the city, so the roads are narrower, but do not veer from it. You will pass Brightbuckler Street, which has many shops, and then the road will intersect another one of about the same size after about 100 yards. This is the Ghostwalk. Take a right. In about 100 feet, you will reach a four-way intersection. One of the roads here is especially wide, because it used to be the site of the old wall of the city, follow it east to the large open space of the Market. Across the Market, you will see a massive fortress-looking building. That is the House Invincible, the temple to Helm. There should be an alley to the right of the temple. Three or four buildings down that alley, you should find the temples to the Triad. There are three separate buildings. They are not small; they simply lack the fame that some of the other temples in the city hold."

   "Most of us elves worship at Everdusk Hall," added the other guard.

   "I thank you for your assistance, sirs," said Hakam.

   "If you get lost, just make your way to any intersection. All the cistern covers in the city have a green arrow painted on them denoting north."

   "I am certain that we will manage," said Leokas.

   One of the guards turned to open the door. Then each guard took a bow and motioned for them to pass through. "Enjoy your visit, and may you find whatever it is you seek for or from your deity."

   Once they had passed through the doors, Hakam and Leokas felt more like they were taking a walk through a fancy garden than through a city. Some magic seemed to have kept the winter chill outside the gates, and the smell of flowers was in the air.

   "These are shadowtops," said Leokas, pointing at some tall trees, "and oaks, and duskwoods."

   "Shadowtops are those trees that grow in the Golden Grove in my city of Memnon, are they not?" asked Hakam.

   "Yes," said Leokas. His voice drifted off. He had bittersweet memories of that grove with the golden-leafed tree....

   They walked on leaf-shaped flagstone sidewalks along a cobblestone street. The way was lit by countless tiny lanterns, magically glowing with a color reminiscent of the Feywild. Leokas, with his elven eyes, was able to appreciate the beauty of the city more than Hakam, who could not make out as many details in the dim light, but Leokas took note of the many balconies and curving staircases. Every work of construction here seemed to have elegant curves to it, as if the buildings had grown, rather than were built, much like an elven settlement. Even though Silverymoon was primarily a human city, they clearly were trying to imitate elven art, and Leokas had to admit that they did so well.

   After about a tenth of a mile, they had passed through the entire width of the southern bank of the city and reached the famous Moonbridge. They could see its silver glow from beyond the buildings and trees before they could see the bridge itself. They first crossed between the two circular guard towers, where another pair of Knights in Silver nodded at them in greeting. Then the bridge was there before them, steeply ascending in a high arc over the dark river below. It sparkled like silver moonlight and was transparent. Ripples of energy visibly traversed its surface. It seemed to be about fifteen feet wide and a couple feet thick.

   "It is a magical drawbridge," Leokas explained.

   "Let us hope it does not recede while we are on it," said Hakam.

   There were no railings, so Hakam stuck to the center, as they walked on what felt to their steps like glass. Leokas walked near the edge, so that he could gaze down into the cold waters, which reflected the starlight, some 60 feet below at the highest point of the arc.

   They safely reached the other side and continued. As the gate guards had said, this northern bank was the older part of the city, and this was immediately obvious, yet it was equally as beautiful.

   After 50 feet, they began to hear a loud ruckus. It soon became apparent that the noise was coming from a tavern ahead. A sign swinging gently in the breeze portrayed a goat on his hind legs, dancing with a maiden.

   "This must be the Dancing Goat that the guard mentioned," noted Hakam, as they passed by.

   They saw a sign for Brightbuckler Street, which joined the street on which they were walking. Here was a strange stone building with a perfectly round door.

   "'The Shining Scroll,'" read Leokas. "Szordrin and Solisar might like to know about this place if ever we return here."

   Just beyond Brightbuckler, as the guards had said, they came to a street named the Ghostwalk and followed it east. This took them to a much larger road that ran east-to-west. The street sign read, "Old Wall." They followed it east. After a short walk, they came to a great open space, so long across that not even Leokas could see the end of it as he looked south. It was filled with empty stalls and tables for market shops and wares.

   "That must be the temple of Helm there," said Hakam. "We are close."

   As instructed, they walked into a side alley on the right of this stone temple. This must have been a religious district, for they passed shrines to the Red Knight, Tempus, and Valkur on way before reaching the three-temple cluster of buildings dedicated to the Triad. "Anachtyr heads the Triad," said Hakam. "His temple will be the largest of these three."

   Hakam had assumed correctly. While not as impressive to eyes as the House of Justice in Memnon, this temple to Tyr was as elegantly constructed as the other buildings in the city but — Hakam observed — was far more balanced and symmetrical.

   "I shall wait there in that little garden park," said Leokas, pointing to the north.

   So Hakam boldly entered the great doors to the temple. Heavily armored guards at first held their swords out to stop him, but then pulled back to let him pass.

   "Pardon us, sir," said one of them. "We did not recognize you for one of our southern priests at first. It is not often that we are visited by members of the sect of Anachtyr."

   Hakam asked them if any of the head clerics were available.

   "Only the acolytes are about at this late hour," said one of the temple guards.

   "If the matter is urgent," said the other, "we can wake the High Lord Abbot."

   "It is urgent," said Hakam. "Please wake him."

   "Follow me, sir; I will lead you to a waiting room until he comes."

   After thirty minutes or so, a human man entered the room, clad richly in blue and violet robes, with a silver Tyrran holy symbol about his neck and a white sash as a belt. His left hand was covered in a white glove; his right in a black one.

   Hakam bowed. "Rafayam, sir, forgive me for waking you at this late hour."

   "Fret not," said the high priest. "I was already up, preparing for the dawn prayers. You are one of our southern brothers, I presume. Truly, you would not have come so far and at such an hour were the matter not urgent. I am High Lord Abbot Hornraven."

   "Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr. Indeed, the Just God had chosen me for a task, but his enemies have continually assailed us to set us back from completing our holy quest. My companions and I have been exiled by powerful magics far to the north, though our goal lies far to the south, greatly setting us back in this time-sensitive matter. In my zeal to return to the task assigned me by my god and yours, I sinned greatly, and Anachtyr has disciplined me by removing his blessing from me. This has caused harm to both myself and my companions, and yesterday, one of them was slain, because I did not have the power to prevent what I easily could have, had I not sinned.

   "In this tragedy, there was hope given us. The Even-Handed permitted that we should find suddenly a means of quick transportation. Thus, I have come here posthaste, to seek atonement for my deeds, that I may restore my companion to life, that we may at last complete the mission given us from Anachtyr. May his laws forever stand."

   "In your zeal, how exactly have you sinned?" asked the High Lord Abbot.

   "When fighting in self-defense against monsters of chaos and evil, I slew one who had not yet reached the age of accountability. It was wrong of me to judge such a being, when even in Anachtyr's eyes, she was innocent and not yet irredeemable."

   "Indeed, one must not forget that the Just God is a god of both justice and mercy. What did you do to reverse your error? Was the girl raised?"

   "Her body was burned with her family, for such is how her people see to the bodies of the dead."

   "That is unfortunate. What sort of 'monsters' were her people?"

   "She was born of a family of werewolves, who betrayed and ambushed us, after we had escorted them in safety."

   "Werewolves? In such a case, her death may ultimately have been a mercy, though such was not for you to have decided."

   "Yes, Lord Abbot. It is true."

   "Permit me time to seek guidance from our god. Spend this time in meditation and prayer yourself; then, join me in the sanctuary in half an hour. If Tyr permit it, I shall offer atonement for your sins there."

~~~~

Thirty minutes later, Hakam reverently entered the main sanctuary of the temple. The large chamber was lit with purple, blue, and white candles. At one end of the room was a judge's podium, which many pews faced. Behind the podium, against the back wall, was a massive statue of the Maimed God Tyr, with eyes gouged out and no right hand. His left hand rested on a longsword. In the front of the podium was a massive balance scale. Abbot Hornraven was standing by the balance. No one else was yet in the room, as morning prayers did not begin for another few hours still, for dawn came later in the winter in the North.

   "Come forward, you who bear the burden of guilt for your misdeeds and kneel before the Great Judge." The High Lord Abbot was now quoting from a liturgy. Hakam obeyed, coming forward and kneeling before the balance. The abbot was carrying a large vase. He approached the scale and filled each pan of it with an aromatic oil, taking care to add exactly the same amount to each pan. Then he prayed, "God of Justice, accept this offering as a fragrant smell. May it symbolize our prayers. May my prayers join those of this repentant follower in seeking thy forgiveness."

   In answer to this prayer, the pans supernaturally ignited into flame, and burned with a blue-violet glow upon the surface of the oil for the remainder of the ceremony.

   Then the abbot stepped up behind the podium and opened a large book of laws. "God of Justice, remind us of the justice that you have passed down to us, encoded in these laws that we strive always to follow."

   Hakam knew that every temple to Tyr maintained a massive book of laws. No two temples had the same law book, since the laws of every land and even town differed. What was important is that a law was established, not what those exact laws were.

   So it was that, when Abbot Hornraven spent the next hour methodically reading through laws of Silverymoon, Hakam was not as bored as the average soul might be. He had an opportunity to learn of the laws of this region of the north, finding then rather lax for his own tastes. He also noticed, however, that a focus of the abbot's readings regarded laws of parents and their children, inheritance, age of responsibility, and other such matters of age, as well as sections regarding sentences for crimes and what options a judge would have for administering justice and mercy.

   "Now, Hakam Anachtyr," said the abbot, when he had closed the book of laws, "confess your sin, how you have violated the spirit of these laws if not these laws themselves."

   "I confess to you, High Lord Abbot, and to Anachtyr, the Even-Handed, that I have sinned by passing judgment and sentence on one not culpable for her crimes. I have failed as the example and representative of justice that Anachtyr has called me to be."

   Hornraven stepped down from the podium and approached Hakam. "Do you repent of your misdeed? Do you solemnly vow to right your actions in whichever way that Tyr demands?"

   "I do."

   "Blind Overlord, be blind to the sins that this servant of thine has committed, for thou hast heard his words of repentance." The abbot then placed a hand upon Hakam's shoulder as he continued kneeling and bowing his head. Immediately, Hakam felt a surge of power return to him.

   "By the power granted me by Tyr, I atone you of your sin. You are restored into the service of the Maimed God. Rise again as a cleric of justice."

   Hakam stood, looking somewhat confused. "Is there no task to be given me?"

   "Tyr has revealed to me that the task that you have already been given is so great that no further act of propitiation is needed. I must say that I do not envy the quest that he has given you, as I feel that the matter has the attention of many gods both light and dark."

~~~~

Hakam stepped out into the dawn light with joy. He had just shared in the morning prayers with the other worshipers of Tyr, and now he knew that his prayers for powers were heard and answered. He walked down the alley in Silverymoon with a new sense of purpose, as acolytes of various faiths were coming and going from their various temples or shrines.

   "What penance were you given?" Leokas asked when Hakam met him in the nearby park.

   "Nothing, save to follow Anachtyr's righteous path."

   "To stop Samber?"

   "Yes, to stop Samber."
Session: 91st Game Session - Wednesday, May 31 2017 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
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