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Tag: darromar

Chapter 4 — Fun with Board Games
~ first-day, 1st of Tarsakh, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Malick of Darromar's estate


Leokas knocked on the large oaken doors of Malick's tower, as the five of them stood at the top of the stone steps.

   There was no answer.

   "We break the door down," said Belvin. "No more games."

   "One can't expect everyone to always be home when we come calling," said Leokas. "Maybe he is out shopping for food. Although, I suppose he has a butler for that...."

   "It's been a tenday," said Mythlos. "He should have known we'd be back here when we said."

   "There is a secret door in the back," said Jayce. "It's how I got in the first time."

   "Leokas is right," said Hakam. "Let's just try again in a couple hours."

   "He should have left a message for us," said Jayce.

   "Well, he did not," said Belvin. "I admit that I have grown a liking to the ciders they have in Tethyr. I will permit us to go to that tiny bar nearby and have a few drinks. If Malick is not here when we return again, then we break down the door."

~~~~


At the bar, Jayce asked a few of the commoners if they had seen Malick lately.

   "That stuck-up wizard? No, we never see much of him. Although his butler is often here. I haven't seen him lately either though."

   Malick did not answer when they returned at highsun.

   "Break the door down, Mythlos," ordered Belvin.

   "Secret passage, fellows," said Jayce. "Do you really want to fight his animated statues? Come on; follow me out back."

   He led them to the back side of the building, near the northeast turret. "Careful not to trip on it," said Jayce. He kicked his foot forward, and they heard it strike a wooden object that was invisible to their eyes. "See, there is a flight of tall wooden steps here that he has made invisible. Follow me, carefully."

   "Leokas, what are you doing?"

   Leokas was over by the northern wall of the estate, which was also the northern wall of the city itself. "There are tracks here," he said, "by this bush. Hobgoblins."

   Mythlos put his hand to the hilt of his sword.

   From the top of the invisible steps, they could suddenly see a small porch in front of them, and a door in the wall that had been invisible. Jayce tried the door; it was locked. "I picked it last time," said Jayce, "though it took me forever. It's a pity Mick is back at the keep."

   "What's that on the door?" asked Hakam.

   On the door was an eight-by-eight stained grid, with every other square stained a little more darkly than the others. A collection of dark and light pegs of two different heights were in the center of some of the darker squares, and grooves in the wood ran diagonally through each dark square as well as in arcs through them around the pegs.

   "That was not there last time," said Jayce.

   Leokas, with a new-found fear of traps, immediately stepped away from the door and back down the invisible steps to the ground.

   "I think it is a game of draughts," said Jayce, after examining it closely. "It is a game played commonly by the nobility."

   "Do you know how to play?" asked Belvin.

   "I think so, but it's been a while. I think I should move this piece."

   "Wait!" said Mythlos. "Let's make sure we find the best of all possible moves. We don't want to set off any traps!"

   "Listen to Mythlos!" called Leokas from the ground.

   "What about this piece over here?" They were focused on the light-colored, short peg that was on the lower left corner of the board. After discussing among themselves for several minutes, they slid that peg diagonally up and to the left along a groove.

   The peg slid right back.

   Everyone stood without moving. Had they triggered a trap?

   It seemed that nothing bad happened in response. The game simply had rejected their move.

   "That's a relief," said Hakam.

   "Maybe the light pieces are moving the other way," said Mythlos. He tried sliding the peg down and to the left. It slid back. Mythlos tried moving it up and to the right.

   "Whoa, slow down," said Jayce. "I thought you wanted to think about the best moves."

   "We know now that there is no trap if we make a wrong move," he responded, "so why not just try every combination?"

   "Maybe we only get a set number of bad moves," said Hakam. "Let's still be careful!"

   "Perhaps we are playing the wrong color," said Mythlos. He slid a darker peg at random, and it reverted. There was still no magical effect triggered in response. Hakam sighed in relief.

   "I still think my original move was the best one," said Jayce. "It sacrifices a piece, but it forces a capture from our opponent that gives us a better position."

   "Go for it," said Belvin. So Jayce slid one of the pieces on the right side of the board forward and to the left.

There was a click, which startled them, but the peg remained in its new spot. Then, one of the black pegs moved toward the newly moved piece and moved around it along one of the arced grooves to a new spot. Next, the lighter-colored peg was pulled into the board and disappeared from sight. "A capture," said Jayce.

Mythlos moved his hand to slide another peg, but before he could, one of the lighter pegs moved on its own to double-capture in a V shape. "You have to capture if you can," said Hakam. "It's a forced move for us." Finally, another dark peg on the right side of the board made a capture; then the pegs were still. "It's our turn again," said Jayce.

   After studying the "board" for a bit, they chose their final move, one that would force another capture and set them up for another double capture of their own. The game responded as expected, and then, there was a click, and the door unlocked. "Well done," said Jayce. "Come on in."

~~~~


It was immediately clear that things were amiss. As they filed into a small corner storage room from outside, they found smashed crates with food scattered about and pools of wine and ale from demolished kegs. Two magically burning blue torches shed light. A door to the south and to the west each were slightly open.

   They drew their weapons.

   With musket and bow ready to fire, Hakam and Leokas carefully followed Mythlos as he opened wide the western door and stepped into the main dining hall where a tenday ago they had sat for supper. The chairs were not around the table. They were strewn about the room, the table was flipped on its side, and the rug was rolled up. Malick's fancy chair had had its cushion cut and ripped to shreds. On the west side of the room, the paraphernalia of the fireplace were knocked over and soot was piled outside the fireplace on the floor. The fire was out, and it was rather chilly in the room. Hakam and Leokas kept their weapons aimed at the two stone statues nearest them, with heads in the shape of priests from the game of chess. The statues did not move.

   "So much for his new security system," whispered Jayce. "You were right, Leokas. Hobgoblins have clearly been through here, looking for the gem, I think, but how did they get past the statues?"

   "We haven't activated them yet either," said Leokas.

   "How does one get to the other floors?" asked Jayce. "I was wondering that the last time also. I never found any staircases going either up or down."

   Belvin and Mythlos began peering into the two other rooms on the floor, a kitchen and a small study. The former had pots and pans thrown to the floor; the latter had tumbled bookshelves and overturned chairs.

   "There's another board game in here."

   They gathered in the small study, which was in the southeast turret. On the floor had been tossed a wooden game board, about two inches thick. On one face, three squares were cut. The smallest square was surrounded by a larger one, which was surrounded by the last. The sides of the middle square were bisected by a segment that touched the midpoints of the sides of each of the other squares. This board had similar wooden pegs, of two shades, to the "game" that they had solved to get into the tower. The pegs were at the intersections of the lines.

   "This one is 'nine jhasinnar's dance', I think," said Hakam. "I think the northerners call it 'nine men's morris', though I know not what a 'morris' is."

   "This was the game I was trying to solve when I was captured," said Jayce, "although at that time it was on a table in the dining room."

   "Does anyone know how to play?" asked Belvin.

   "Clearly not, since this is what got me captured before," said Jayce. "I'm more of a cards player."

   "I've seen men play it," said Hakam. "I think you are trying to get three pegs in a row, but I am not certain beyond that."

   "Well, we must make this move first then, regardless," said Mythlos, and he slid down a white piece in its groove between two black ones.

   "Assuming we are white!" exclaimed Hakam.

   It seemed that the move was allowed and correct, for the thick game board made a clicking sound from within. Then, one of the black pegs moved in response.

   "We need to keep the piece that just moved from moving down, else it will be able to get three in a row here." They moved a white peg from the lower-right corner to block. The game responded by moving a black peg across the top.

   "It's trying to cut us off from getting a three-in-a-row of our own," said Mythlos. He moved a white peg up to prevent that from happening. The game made its move.

   "These human games seem pointless," said Belvin. "Surely, whoever goes first will win every time, if he makes the right moves."

   Mythlos moved another white peg. "Now we cannot be stopped." The game responded.

   "That's ridiculous!" said Jayce, in response to Belvin. "Men have been playing these games for centuries. Don't you think they would have figured that out?"

   Mythlos set up the pieces for a three-in-a-row, and the game made another move in response.

   "Ha! Three in a row," said Jayce, as Mythlos moved the third piece into place.

   The game board clicked; no black pegs moved.

   "Is that it? Did we win?"

   Leokas peered into the dining room. "I don't think anything happened out here. The statues are all still motionless as well."

   "Maybe the mechanism is broken," suggested Mythlos.

   "I thought you said we needed three in a row," said Belvin to Hakam.

   "That's part of the game, but I didn't say that was all of it. I've never played before. In fact, in the games I've seen, the players were adding pieces to the board, not sliding them around."

   "So it might not even be the same game!" Belvin threw his arms into the air.

   "Maybe it's waiting for us to do something else," said Jayce.

   "Let's just make the next move for black and see what happens," said Mythlos. So he touched one of the black pegs to slide it, and immediately, it was pulled into the board.

   "That was unexpected," he said. In response, another black piece moved on its own.

   "That must be how one captures," said Jayce. "So now it is our turn again." They moved one of the white pegs out of its three-in-a-row position, and black took its turn.

   "Now we can just move our piece right back for another three-in-a-row," said Jayce.

   "No, don't do that!" said Hakam. "In most games, you cannot ever repeat the state of the board."

   "It's not repeating it; last time we had three-in-a-row, there was an additional black peg on the board and another has moved since then."

   "Even so, it feels unfair, like cheating."

   "Everything feels like cheating to you," said Belvin.

   "Let's just move this peg here;" said Mythlos, "we can get three in a row two moves after that anyhow."

   This time, there was no clicking sound. Instead, the peg slid back to its place, and they heard the sound of grinding stone from the dining hall. Leokas, who had been standing guard at the door, immediately nocked and loosed a magic arrow. It struck the horse-headed chess-piece statue in the right eye, chipping away a small piece of stone, but the animatron raised its stone longsword and readied to charge.

   Hakam was surprising fast on his feet. Shoving Leokas aside, he waved his arms at the statue and shouted out with a voice of authority, "Strands of the Weave, be undone!"

   The statue stopped in its tracks and looked as if it had never moved at all, a lifeless chunk of stone.

   "What magic was that?" asked Jayce. "Not that I am not thankful for it."

   "One for which I have been petitioning my god for a while," Hakam replied. "It seems he answered my prayer this dawn."

   Back at the game board, Jayce made the move he wanted to in the first place, returning the one peg back to its three-in-a-row position. This time, there was a click. Moreover, they also heard a loud click from in the hall.

   "A spot in the far wall has slid open," called Leokas, "and none of the other five statues seem to be moving."

   "Told you that move was legal," said Jayce.

   Mythlos, as usual, led the way to the opening. It had revealed a curved staircase going up. As he stepped onto it, the wall began sliding shut again. Everyone rushed forward. Hakam cleared the closing wall and then tried to wedge it open. To their relief, as soon as he touched it, it began moving back into an open position.

~~~~


The second floor was a complete mess, just like the first. This floor had several rooms, a large, 30-foot-by-40-foot central living room, a nearly-as-large master bedroom on the west side, and a guest room and another study on the east side. All of them had been ransacked. Malick's mattress had been slashed and shredded, no book on the floor remained on its shelf, and every chest and dresser had been bashed open and every chair and side table overturned.

   "Things do not look well for Malick," said Leokas. "Let's pray he was not home when all this happened. I am disturbed that the game downstairs was not already solved. How did the hobgoblins make it up here."

   "Maybe the game resets after one wins," said Jayce.

   "Still, hobgoblins shouldn't be that intelligent," said Leokas.

   "I think you are overly biased in your opinions of their intelligence, my friend," said Belvin.

   The only things left untouched on the floor were four more statues, these ones carved with the heads of chess pawns. They stood guard at the four corners of the living room.

   "If there are more guards, there must be another game to solve," said Jayce.

   Mythlos agreed. "This wall here likely slides open to reveal another staircase up when it is solved."

   It did not take long for them to find another board game. It had been tossed under the demolished couch near the large, south-facing window.

   "Ah, chess, the game of kings and queens," said Jayce. "I heard that Queen Zaranda received a magical chess set carved from permanently frozen ice on her wedding day...."

   "Now is not the time for stories, Jayce," said Leokas. "We must get to the top of this tower."

   As on the other boards, the pieces were attached to the board and slid along on grooves.

   "Chess I know how to play," said Hakam. "The pieces must be going from this side to this side; there's no way one could get that many pawns across the board."

   "Can we safely assume we are white again?" asked Mythlos.

   They agreed with him.

   With most of them working together at a game with which they were more familiar, they solved the puzzle much more quickly. First, they moved their knight-errant down and to the left to threaten black's rook. There was a click, followed by the black rook moving up to defend the king. The party moved their knight-errant toward the rook to place the black king in check. There was another click, and the black king piece fell to the side.

   "That's not checkmate yet," said Jayce.

   "It forfeited," said Hakam.

   "We'd have mate in two moves," said Mythlos.

   The segment of wall behind them slid to the side, revealing another staircase.

~~~~


The third floor seemed more like the abode of a wizard than the previous two. Except for the space of the four turrets at the corner, the entire floor was a 70-foot-by-40-foot open room. The two eastern turrets had doors, while the two western ones were closed off with curtains. As on the other floors, everything here had been overturned or destroyed and searched.

   There was one very noticable exception. Filling a large portion of the western half of the room was a 20-foot-in-diameter circle drawn in white chalk. Around the circle were a dozen gems of differing colors and two dozen candles. Within the center of the circle, a tiny, otherworldly creature squatted. It was bald and naked and had cloud white skin and wings that drooped to the ground in a depressed manner. On a second glance, they realized that it did not seem to have legs; instead, its upper body seemed to rest on a pool of almost coporeal cloud. Where the cloud ended and its upper torso began were not clear.

   As soon as they all stepped unto the floor and Hakam saw the circle, he cautioned the others, "Don't break the circle!"

   "What is it?"

   "Is it Malick's familiar?" asked Mythlos.

   "Not in a calling circle," said Hakam.

   "It looks very impish to me," said Jayce. "Folk in the tales often call forth lesser demons or devils, but I expected an imp to be red or black, not white."

   "Evil can be deceptive like that," said Hakam.

   The little creature lifted up its head to see them, revealing its pale, sad face.

   "It could also be a mephit, I think," said Jayce.

   "Yes, yes, a mephit I am," said the creature, in a high-pitched and airy voice. "An air mephit. Are you here to free me, friendly elves and humans? Please, please, please!"

   Jayce waved his hands and spoke a word. "It has a magical aura."

   "Of course I do!" said the little creature. It hovered up to its full height of four feet, and the cloud below formed into a sort of funnel, such that the being looked like a cross between a djinni and an imp.

   "What is your name?" Jayce asked.

   "You would probably not be able to pronounce it," said the mephit.

   "Well, perhaps you can help us, Saer Mephit with the Unpronounceable Name," said Jayce.

   "Yes, yes, if you let me out, I will give you treasure."

   "I don't believe you have any treasure to give us," Jayce replied. "There is no need to lie to us. We are not here to harm you. Perhaps you can answer our questions though. Have you seen any hobgoblins?"

   "Yes, yes. Four or five of them. Hairy, smelly, big goblins. I told them I would give them treasure, but they did not let me free either. I just want to go back to my home."

   "Where is your home?"

   "The Plane of Air. It is much nicer than this place. Too much rock and wood and stone here. Not enough air; not enough clouds; no breeze. How can you materials live inside these stone and wooden boxes? Will you let me go back?"

   "Why did Malick call you here in the first place? What did he want?"

   "You material wizards are always calling poor, innocent creatures like me, always trapping us and boring us with endless questions, always trying to study us and learn about our home. You would think, with all the other mephits in my world, that calling magics would be more random in their targets, but I have been called twice in my life, twice!"

   "That is terrible, but you didn't really answer my question. What did Malick want from you in particular? It would help us more than treasure if you answered us."

   "Treasure would help quite a bit," protested Mythlos.

   "He just had the same sort of questions as the other wizard who called me last time," said the air mephit. "He wanted me to read him this book here." The white creature pointed at a large tome on the ground in the middle of the circle. "It is written in my language, and he wanted to know what certain pages said."

   "What did they say?"

   "Don't make me read them again!" protested the outsider. "The book is about spells of illusion and air, lots of things about magical fogs and mirages and such things. None of you are wizards, no? It will mean nothing to you."

   "I'm a wizard!" said Mythlos.

   "When did you last see Malick?" asked Jayce.

   "A few days ago, before the goblins came. I have been sitting here trapped ever since. I cried out but no one heard me."

   "That is truly horrible, but I fear it is bad news for Malick. Tell me more about the hobgoblins. Where did they go? What did they want?"

   "They had another human with them. They were mean to him. They broke all the things. They went up the hidden stairs. When they came down, there were fewer of them."

   "Where was Malick?"

   "He was upstairs."

   "But he didn't come down?"

   "No."

   "He is likely dead," said Leokas.

   "Serves him right for trapping me!" said the mephit. "Is it time to go home? Have I helped you enough?"

   "Just a few more questions, and we'll set you free," said Jayce. "Was the other wizard who called you named Samber?"

   "No. His name was Drickendorf. Such a silly name. Why do wizards always have such silly names?"

   "Have you ever heard of anyone named Samber?"

   "No, never. No."

   "I don't think this creature can help us any more than it has," said Belvin. "Let it free."

   "One more question for you, good mephit," said Jayce. "You are from the Plane of Air; how well do you get along with the djinn there?"

   "They ignore us. They look down on us. We are not as noble or powerful as they are. Time to go home! Time to go home! You must keep your word." Its cloudy lower portions began swirling in a tiny whirlwind and its wings unfurled.

   "Yes, we gave our word," said Jayce. He rubbed out an inch of chalk from the circle. A rainbow-colored flame flashed around the circumference of the circle, the candles were suddenly snuffed out, and the mephit vanished with a puff of steam.

   "He was not very helpful," said Mythlos.

   "No, but his tale does not bode well for Malick," said Leokas. "Let us find the final game I assume we have to solve and find what has come of him."

   Mythlos began pocketing the gems that were around the calling circle.

   "Put those down, Mythlos!" said Hakam. "Until we learn otherwise, those are still Malick's property."

   "What is over here?" asked Belvin, as Mythlos set the gems back down. "Something is alive in this cage."

   They gathered around the four-foot wooden cube with bars. Crouching down, they saw a tiny, furry animal, curled up in a ball and barely breathing. It had uneaten food in its cage.

   Mythlos stuck his hands in and removed the little animal. "A weasel, I think," he said. "This is probably Malick's familiar."

   "Was it seems," said Belvin. "This animal is depressed."

   "Can a familiar live if its master dies?" asked Jayce.

   "We'll soon learn the answer to that. Give the weasel to me." Belvin took the animal and snuggled it to his chest, speaking to it in gentle whispers. "It will be fine."

   Also on this floor, they found a magic mirror that they could not figure out how to activate, a telescope, an alchemy laboratory, and another storage room. There, they found a broken chest with exactly 20 platinum bars in it.

   "That's 10,000 gold pieces," said Mythlos.

   "So he did keep his word," said Jayce.

   "And the hobgoblins were not interested in money," said Leokas.

   It took a while to find the magical puzzle with which to open the door to the final staircase because of the chaotic mess. Rather, it took a long time to find all of the pieces. Unlike the others, this one did not seem to be a board game. The board had four rows. In each row, there were three rectangles with symbols within and a fourth rectangular slot where another card-shaped piece was intended to fit. In each row, one of the four rectangles had a marking below it. After staring at it for a while, they at last recognized what it was.

   "It's a Talis game," said Jayce. "See, these are pentacles; these are wands; this is the wheel card; this is the hierophant."

   "Ah, you are right," said Hakam. "I wager these markings imply which player led for that hand. We need to select the four best cards to play."

   "But where are our cards?"

   "And where are the statues?" asked Hakam.

   "There aren't any on this floor," said Mythlos. "I wonder what happens if we make an incorrect move."

   Searching together, they were able to find four wooden cards, what they presummed to be the fool, justice, the devil, and the world.

   "All trump," said Jayce.

   "Let's figure out how we can win the most hands," said Mythlos. Within a few minutes, they had easily figured out how to score the most points. They set the four wooden cards into the available slots, and the hidden doorway slid open. They drew their weapons and headed up the stairs.

~~~~


The final floor of the tower was a grim scene of horror. At the very top of the stairs, they stumbled over Malick's butler, his throat slit, and nearly slipped in his blood. They saw Malick sitting in a sort of throne on the other side of the room beyond a round, shallow pool. They then realized that his head was not on its shoulders; it was seen in a corner of the room, impaled on a stick. Two hobgoblin bodies were also there. One had had its head bashed in. The other had no visible wounds whatsoever. Chess king and queen statues were crumbled into pieces.

   "Allu is going to come for us next," said Leokas.
Session: 35th Game Session - Wednesday, Jun 11 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Epic!
Chapter 4 — New Lords of Tethyr
~ sixth-day, 27th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
south of Darromar


"If your wolf so much as touches Kamil...," began Belvin angrily.

   "We don't know what happened!" said Leokas.

   "Only one of the animals is carnivorous," said Hakam.

   It was the day after the middle-of-the-night duel between Mythlos and the former-baron Gargon, and the party was traveling back to Darromar to have new equipment appraised or identified and to collect their promised reward from Malick. Mick had stayed back at the keep, which was now theirs. Faelar and Gargantos had also remained at the keep for the time being. They were permitted to use the keep's messengers to search for any word of elven relatives in the area whom they might visit.

   The argument was over the strange matter of how they had found their animals when they had returned to them. The two camels and Leokas' wolf were where they had been left on the wooded hill, but the cord that had tied off Kamil to a tree had been cut through by sharp teeth.

   "Since when has Stormshadow shown any sign of wanting to eat Kamil? She was probably trying to free her; she probably felt bad she was tied up for so long."

   "Him," protested Belvin. "Kamil is a he!"

~~~~


After the fight, everyone had rested, and later that day, they had made themselves familiar with their new property. The cleric of Tempus, who had been Gargon's second for the duel, was extremely helpful to them. "My god favors the powerful in combat; you have shown yourselves the greater warriors. He has clearly chosen you to replace Sir Gargon. If you will have me, I will swear fealty to you and remain in your service as priest of the shrine to Tempus here on these grounds."

   They accepted his offer.

   Besides the dragonscale armor, Gargon had two sets of gauntlets, one with combat spikes and the other with some unknown magical power. He also had worn a signet ring and an expensive looking jeweled ring, which Hakam recognized as being made from electrum.

   Within Gargon's private chambers, they found a letter from a druzir within Calimshan, written in Alzhedo. It confirmed that a group of men would be arriving a tenday after the messenger to collect the shipment and that half payment was included.

   Hakam wrote a response, sealed with Gargon's signet ring, to the druzir and sent out one of Gargon's former servants — now under their command — to deliver it:

Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr,

On behalf of the Six Lords of Nadjar, County Monteshi, Dutchy Ankaram, of the Principality of Ankramir, Kingdom of Tethyr,

To ~ and Druzir of Manshaka Ruathym yn Harun el Vyrsatyr:

Greetings.

We write to inform you that this fiefdom has come under new lordship. No further shipments will be sent from this keep.

Furthermore, we wish to discuss the return and repurchase of those sold in the last several months.

We await your prompt reply.


   "What is likely to be the opinion of a druzir in Calimshan to such a letter," they asked him.

   "It will be tenuous at best. Most in Calimshan consider Tethyr a rebellious state," answered Hakam. "Even so, the syl-pasha was in attendance at the queen of Tethyr's wedding several years ago. More recently, he proposed an alliance to be proven by the marriage of his granddaughter Sarya to the crown prince of Tethyr. The queen, however, has not responded to his offer, and this is has not gone unnoticed by the people of Calimshan."

   Hakam also sent a messenger to the Lady Kyrin:

Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr,

To Her Excellency, Lady Kyrin Hawkwinter, Countess of Calimmon and Horselady of Her Majesty's Cavalry:

Greetings.

Anachtyr has seen in his justice to reward us by victory in single combat with a section of land in the neighboring County Monteshi, the former Barony of Nadjar. We now control the keep of the former knight, Sir Gargon Hedgeguard and his warriors within. Can you advise us in the proper legal requirements for such a matter?

Did you receive our former message about the doppelgangers? Have you had any success in investigating the matter of the kidnappings further?

We eagerly await a response.


~~~~


In the city of Darromar, the druid and ranger stayed, as last time, in the Garden of Rhinda, while the other three stayed at Asdefk's Inn in the Temple Quarter. Over the next few days, they succeeded in identifying their collected treasures and in purchasing new supplies. Belvin found a taxidermist to preserve his gnoll and troll heads. They learned that the gauntlets Gargon had worn were magical gauntlets of ogre strength. From a sage in the city, they inquired about the weaknesses of shield guardians.

   "Most magical constructs are very difficult to destroy. Since they do not have minds, they are immune to mind-affecting magics. Since they do not have bodies of flesh, they are immune to poisons, disease, fatigue, necromantic magics, and other such things. Their bodies are build of the strongest and toughest materials, so physical attacks are not generally very effective, except from the most skilled of combatants or those bearing magical weapons. Shield guardians in particular are enchanted with a magical field that repairs the matter with which they are constructed quickly after it is damaged, so attacks must be powerful and constant until the creature is destroyed. A guardian can absorb one spell at a time that is cast upon it and discharge that same spell on another target at a later time. Beware of this! Among the constructs a wizard could create, however, a shield guardian has weaker magical resistances than most."

   "Is there any way to control a shield guardian without its amulet?"

   "No, but this can be its weakness. Find out what its last orders were, and use this to its own detriment. This is the weakness of all mindless creatures."
Session: 35th Game Session - Wednesday, Jun 11 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 4 — Second Visit
~ first-day, 21st of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
Asdefk's Inn, Darromar


Jayce woke up in his guest room well after sunrise, after a successful night of performing at Asdefk's. It had been an extraordinary performance. He had sung at his best yet, and Mythlos added harmonies while his magical toad balanced the strumming and plucking of the yarting with a deep bass rhythm. The lyrics were some he had been working on for the last month, about a doll who wanted to be a real girl and fell in love with her maker. It was a heart-wrenching and sad tragedy, and the audience loved it. They had earned 17 aenar and a kiss on the cheek from a lady in waiting. (Unfortunately, Jayce couldn't recall her name.)

   He dressed, gathered his belongings, and headed downstairs. There, he found Mythlos already up, sitting at a table for a breakfast of imported Calishite fruit.

   "You slept late," stated the blue-haired elf.

   "The spices in the Tashalaran dish I had last night did not rest well with me," said Jayce. "Where's Mick?"

   "I have not seen him."

   Jayce went to the counter to order some dates and raisins for breakfast. "Have you seen our other companion?" Jayce asked the innkeeper, "the cloaked human?"

   "He left in the middle of the night," the man replied.

   Jayce reported this news to the elf. "He betrayed us," said Mythlos.

   "I would not be so hasty in your judgments," said Jayce. "You are sounding like Hakam. Come, let's return to the others. Maybe Mick will already have joined them."

   They set out for the Royal Quarter of the city, again crossing the massive Ithal Bridge. When cutting through the Queen's Market, Mick appeared suddenly behind them.

   "Don't surprise us like that!" said Jayce. "Mythlos or Belvin might accidentally take your head off."

   "My apologies," said Mick.

   "Where have you been?"

   "I visited a few festhalls last night," said Mick. "Is that so strange?"

~~~~


Belvin was excitedly sharing with Leokas what he had experienced during the night's trance when the other three arrived within the garden. Hakam was also standing there listening.

   "The white you described on the island," said Leokas, "that is most likely snow. I do not know what the feathered reptiles might be, however."

   "What did we miss?" asked Jayce.

   "Nothing you humans would understand," said Belvin.

   "I'm not a human!" said Mythlos.

   "He was describing his trance," said Hakam, "but of more importance is my conversation with the dragon last night. He is imprisoned." He proceeded to fill in the newcomers on the details.

   "Should we keep sending messages to Sseth to gain more information?" asked Leokas.

   "We can certainly try," replied Hakam, "but that will quickly grow costly, and I sense that I have gained most of the useful information from him already."

   "We cannot slay a blue dragon," said Mythlos.

   "You are the last I would expect to say that," said Jayce. "But perhaps we do not need to slay it. If we can infiltrate its lair, maybe we can free Sseth and escape or fight alongside him against the beast."

   "This is all the more reason we need to part with the gem in exchange for funds," said Leokas. "Let us make haste and return to Malick this morning to receive whatever we can. Then, we can purchase magical defenses and return to Calimshan."

   "I agree that we should collect the gem's reward," said Mythlos, "but we should see my grandfather before leaving Tethyr. He is wise and powerful and may be able to help us."

   With the added urgency regarding the news of Sseth, even Belvin was in agreement with this plan. All that remained to decide was how to deal with the matter of Jayce.

   "I'll disguise myself as Reginald again," said Jayce. The rest of them geared up as he prepared his disguise.

   "You don't look anything like you did last night!" said Belvin.

   "He's right," said Hakam. "Personally, I do not see why we need to hide you anymore. If you appear as Jayce, we can use your presence with us as leverage. If he will not deal fairly with us, we can threaten to turn him in to the authorities for sale of a slave."

   "Wouldn't that be blackmail?" asked Jayce.

   "Perhaps one could look at it that way," said Hakam.

~~~~


Thirty minutes later, they stood at the top of the stairs at the door to Malick's tower. Leokas knocked. There was a delay, and then the runes in the circle began glowing and the image of Malick appeared.

   "Leokas! You've returned. I was not expecting to see you again."

   "Yes, we have new information that we wish to share with you."

   "Do come in! Do come in!" There was a pause. "Wait! What is he doing here. I recognize that thief! What is the meaning of this?"

   "G'day to you!" said Jayce.

   "Despite what he has done to you in the past," said Leokas, "this man was invaluable in retrieving the Omlar gem. If you wish to hear more, you will have to ignore your opinion of him."

   "That he is a thief is not my opinion; it is fact."

   "And you are a slaver," said Jayce, "but who is counting?"

   "He is indeed a thief," said Hakam, "a matter a justicar like me does not take lightly, I assure you. However, this man has more than served out the sentence of slavery in which you illegally placed him."

   "I see what has happened now," said Malick. "You've had the gem all along. This man here was 'Reginald' yesternight."

   "Indeed," said Jayce. "Now then, we have important things to say, so let's let bygones be bygones."

   "You leave me with little choice," said Malick's avatar. "So why have you returned?"

   "For the same reasons you lied to us about the true nature of this stone," said Jayce, "so also we were cautious in sharing the truth that we had recovered it. It was not taken from us; we still have it. We know that you are an honorable man and will now provide a reasonable reward for its return."

   "Why return it to me at all?" asked Malick. "I have already told you the amount I was willing to give as a reward. I do not see why a ruffian such as yourself does not sell the gem elsewhere and make millions."

   "We need you...," began Mythlos, but Leokas elbowed him.

   "We are not thieves," said Hakam, "despite what this one among us may have been in the past. It is your gem; we return it to you. However, great risk demands a great reward."

   "Before we speak further of any reward," said Malick. "I must see the gem."

   So Leokas extracted the large, green stone from his belt pouch. The image of Malick smiled, and his eyes lit up.

   "Wonderful!" said Malick. "I shall send my butler to you at once with the promised reward of 2,000 aenar."

   "Not so fast," said Leokas. "We deserve a greater reward for our honesty alone, to say nothing of the risk we encountered to return it to you."

   "The most I can afford to pay is 3,000," Malick replied.

   "You know the actual price," said Jayce. "Three thousand is hardly fair. Some of us literally died in retrieving the gem for you. You must know how expensive it is to petition a temple to bring a soul back from the plane of the dead. We ask for 15,000, at least, which will barely cover the costs of our quest."

   Hakam added, "It is a sad day when a justicar agrees with a former thief, but in this matter he speaks the truth. It is only fair that we be refunded the actual costs to us in recovering the gem. Moreover, if you wish your own crimes to be forgiven, it is only appropriate that you add also the price you received for the sale of this man."

   "Then I will add the money I received for his sale to what I return to you," said Malick. "I can offer you 3,100."

   "We were offered more than that by the syl-pasha's men!" exclaimed Jayce.

   "Look here!" said Belvin, angrily. "I do not understand you humans' ideas of things, but where I come from a reward is an incentive for someone to return something instead of keeping it for themselves. Where is our incentive? Instead, you have deceived my one friend here..." (he motioned toward Leokas) "...by not being honest about the weight or dangers of his quest and you sold another!"

   Leokas stopped Mythlos from drawing his sword.

   "If you return later," said Malick, "I can probably scrounge up 5,100."

   "That is better," said Hakam, "but it still does not even cover our damages."

   "I was hoping you would be more reasonable," said Leokas. "We saw that you had defended your home with magical statues. Surely, those cost you a large sum of money. We know you can afford to pay more than that. Come, friends, let us go find someone who will pay us what this gem is worth." He and Jayce turned to go.

   "The gem is my property," complained Malick. "You must agree with this, justicar, yes? If you do not return it, I am within my rights to hire other adventurers to track you and take it back for me. Let's not have it come to that!"

   Jayce turned back. "We would also be within our rights to report you for violating the queen's laws against slavery," he said angrily.

   "Now, now, Jayce, calm down," said Hakam.

   "I will send my butler out with 4,000, in eight platinum bars, to you now," said Malick. "It is the full amount of money I have presently within this tower. I swear by Waukeen. If you leave the gem with me and come back on the morrow, I can pay you an additional twelve hundred. If you give me a tenday, I can pay you a total of 10,000. That will drain my resources; it is my highest offer of a reward. I do hope it satisfies you."

   Before the others could haggle for a higher price, Hakam said, "That would be a fair amount. We are satisfied."

   "I will send my butler down to exchange the gem for the eight platinum bars," said Malick.

   "No," said Jayce, "we will keep the gem with us until you have the full amount. We will return in one tenday."
Session: 30th Game Session - Monday, Mar 24 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Tavern Talk
In the back of a small, nondescript tavern, around a round, wooden table, the party of six sat arguing about what to do next.

   The place was located near the Garden of Rhinda. It was a single room, dimly lit, and no one else was present except an old and nearly deaf bartender behind the counter. This fact of course was very much to their liking, and the emptiness of the place also meant that even Belvin had been willing to join the rest within the tiny establishment.

   For the most part they were arguing around in circles, reiterating the same points as they had on walk back, but there were also some new ideas presented.

   "Perhaps Malick could keep the gem safer than we ever could," suggested Hakam, who still wished to give the gem back to Malick regardless.

   "Why do you think it will be safe with Malick?" questioned Jayce.

   "He does have those animated statues," said Mythlos.

   "It cannot be that safe with Malick;" said Leokas, "the gem was already stolen from him once."

   "Why would we need to keep it safe?" asked Jayce.

   "My god has shown me this," said Hakam.

   "How did he do that?"

   "During augury, I received a sense. You would not understand."

   Belvin had been sitting quietly for a while now, but he could no longer contain his surprise at the others' desire to give the gem back to Malick. "What about Jayce?"

   "What about me?" Jayce replied.

   "He sold you into slavery!"

   "And now I'll be the one making money off of him," said Jayce. "So in the end, I win."

   "How is that winning? You were sold into slavery by this man. Why is everyone trusting him?

   "Lawman, how is it that you wanted to arrest Vashti, yet are okay with Malick's behavior?" he asked.

   "We will ensure that Malick refunds us the money for Jayce's sale in addition to the reward for retrieving his gem," replied Hakam.

   "If we sell the gem back," said Belvin, "why do you expect Malick to part with it again if we later need it?"

   "I suppose that is a good point," said Hakam.

   "Of course it is!"

   "We could always steal it back later," said Jayce. Mick nodded in agreement.

   Hakam glared at him. "It's his property."

   "Isn't it Allu's property, technically?" said Jayce.

   "Allu is an efreeti;" said Hakam, "he has no rights."

   "If we do not have the gem with us, what good will it be to find this strange island?" asked Belvin.

   "What good will it be if we do have it?" asked Mythlos.

   "Yes," said Leokas, "I am confused, my friend. It seems to me that we will need money for gear and transport if we are to find the island, but I do not see how having the gem helps us."

   "Do you really think Allu is not going to come after us?" said Belvin. "He tracked down Malick after all this time; he can find us. He will do this whether or not we actually have the gem on our persons. And when he comes for us, we will need the gem in order to send him back through the portal and to find a way to lock him in."

   "I still don't see how Allu is our problem anyhow;" said Jayce, "he seems a local problem for Calimshan."

   "That's why we should worry about it!" said Hakam.

   "You are not listening to my words!" said Belvin to Jayce. "Ignoring Allu won't make him go away. The only way to make him go away is to destroy him — which we are not powerful enough to do — or to figure out a way to trick him to go back through the portal."

   "I am not so sure we can figure out a way to do that," said Leokas, "nor am I convinced that we will need the gem to do it. However, I agree that we cannot ignore Allu. As I said before, this task was appointed to us, even though we be small."

   Hakam drew out a sheet of paper, a pen, and some ink from his pack. "We are getting nowhere in this discussion," he said. "Let us enumerate our options:

   "First, we could collect the reward by returning the gem to Malick," he continued, while writing this option down.

   "Second, we keep the gem but inform Malick of the truth.

   "Third, we keep the gem but do not inform Malick.

   "What else?"

   "Let us not forget about Sseth," said Leokas.

   Hakam spoke and wrote, "Fourth, give the gem to the dragon for safekeeping."

   "We could destroy it," offered Mythlos.

   "Fifth, destroy, bury, drown the gem, or the like."

   "Kill Malick," said Belvin.

   "Sixth, kill Malick."

   "I should point out that four and six are not mutually exclusive," said Belvin.

   "Noted," said Hakam.

   "Malick doesn't deserve to die," said Mythlos. The others agreed.

   "Jayce, how is it that you are so forgiving?" Belvin asked.

   "Because when we return this gem, I'll be sure the amount he pays us will rob him of more than he's worth."

   "What's to prevent him from giving us counterfeit money?" said Belvin. "I simply will not trust the man."

   "Even if it is real money, it still won't be worth anywhere close to the actual value of the gem," suggested Mick, surprising the others, who had forgotten he was even there. "Another option would be to sell it to someone other than Malick, for its full value or at least closer."

   "Seven, sell the gem to someone else for more," wrote Hakam. "Whom would you sell it to for market value?" he then asked.

   "Most people would sooner kill us for it," said Jayce. Then he added, "Although, I do have that thieves' guild token.

   "No!" said Hakam. "I will not trust a thieves' guild. They would be among those you said would 'sooner kill us for it.' No, my opinion is that the safety of the gem is far more important than any sum of gold we might acquire. What good will it be if Allu rules the Plane?"

   "For once, I agree with you," said Belvin. "Except that Malick clearly is not the one to keep it safe."

   "We've already been down that road of discussion," said Leokas. "It leads nowhere. We now have a list of options to consider. My opinion is that we should contact Sseth before we make any of these decisions." Everyone agreed with this.

   "I shall visit my brethren at the Temple of Justice," said Hakam. "Surely there will be one in this city. A priest there will certainly be able to assist me in sending a message to the dragon on our behalf, but it will likely cost a somewhat large sum of gold to purchase the scrolls required."

   So, everyone chipped in what money they could and Hakam left to seek out the temple. Belvin and Leokas returned to the garden, and the rest went off to find a place to perform and enjoy drinks together.

~~~~


There was indeed a Temple of Justice, in the southwest quadrant of the city, the Temple Quarter. Hakam had received directions from some night watchmen, and Mythlos, Jayce, and Mick were also heading to the same Quarter, having learned of a popular tavern and inn called Asdefk's located there, so they traveled together. The three walked south along Star Street and made their way over the Ithal Bridge, a massive and ancient bridge crossing the River Ith. The four-wagons-wide bridge contained impressive stone carving that was clearly the work of dwarves from long ago.

   The other three left Hakam when they spotted the sign for the inn, and he continued alone to the temple, which was rather typical for a Tyrran place of worship. Hakam introduced himself to the nighttime attendants and was informed that one of the temple's librarians was still awake, so he entered the candle-filled chamber with shelves of scroll cases. As a cleric of the Just God, Hakam was able to purchase a scroll of sending for half price of 350 aenar, which was 35 platinum pieces.

   The librarian assisted him in deciphering the ancient, holy lettering upon the parchment. Once confident of the words of the prayer, Hakam recited them, while concentrating on the image of the huge brass dragon as he remembered him that first day he had joined the adventuring party. The letters on the scroll vanished as he spoke them.

   "Now speak your message," said the librarian, "and remember, you only have twenty-five words before the spell fails."

   Hakam continued to concentrate on the image of the dragon. Then he spoke: "Sseth, I am with friends who found ghost's journal. Require assistance safeguarding Omlar. Please meet in Darromar at earliest convenience. Great power, importance in gem.

   "That's exactly twenty-five," he said to the librarian. "Now what?"

   "Now you wait for a response. Only you will be able to hear it."

   No sooner had the librarian finished then Hakam heard a deep voice in his head: "Regret to inform you that I am imprisoned on west coast of Calim Desert by a blue dragon. I may never read a book again!"

   "You heard something troubling," said the librarian. "Your countenance has changed."

   "Yes, someone is in danger," answered Hakam. "I will need to purchase another scroll."

   After exchanging another large quantity of platinum coins, Hakam unrolled a second scroll of sending and cast the spell written therein.

   "Perhaps we can help. Any more information on your location? Is captor in league with Allu? Are you hurt?" (He could not think of any other words to fill the spell's limit.)

   The dragon's answer came back. "I am fair. May have found Allu's palace. Entrance in cliffs on seashore, south of monastery, when tide low, near shipwreck. Don't think dragon knows...." His voice cut off suddenly at the twenty-fifth word.
Session: 30th Game Session - Monday, Mar 24 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — After-Dinner Conversations
"That is a fascinating story," said Leokas, when Malick had finished his tale. "We have further information that may be of interest to you. When identifying the gem, we further learned that it acts as a portal key. Had you noticed the runes on its square faces?"

   "Of course," said Malick, "the Dwarven letters B, R, E, S, M, and A. And the fire runes on the triangular faces. I know not what they mean."

   "Hmm," said Jayce, "Samber!"

   "So it's a person's name?" Malick asked, looking at Jayce with surprise.

   "Reginald is good at anagrams," noted Leokas.

   "I spent some time in Lantan in the past," said Jayce.

   "Do you know anyone named Samber?" Mythlos asked.

   "Not personally, no," Malick replied. Then he said, "I suppose that Allu used this portal key to enter our plane...."

   "A genie is a powerful being;" said Jayce. "It may be for the best that the gem is lost. Would you not be concerned that Allu would come for you if you had the gem again?"

   "As I said, I have been concerned. But if the syl-pasha has it, Allu may not know, and he may still come after me. I may not be safe with or without it. I have purchased magical defenses for this tower. I can only hope for the best now. As for you, should you not also fear the efreeti?"

   "Yes, we are concerned regarding our safety in this matter as well," answered Leokas. "Now, did you say that some of the hobgoblins still remained on the island?"

   "Yes, the other half remained there."

   "Do you have any sense of where the island was?" asked Hakam.

   "I have no idea beyond what I have already told you. We were probably heading toward the Nelanther Isles, but I have no sense of how far off course we were blown or carried."

   "How did the efreeti arrive on the island?" Jayce asked.

   "I do not know, unless the portal is somewhere within the cave on that island."

   "Do you know where the pirates landed after you fled the ship?"

   "I do not, but now that you ask, I find it odd that they did not return to the Nelanther Isles. They were heading toward Faerûn."

   "If you were close enough to reach Memnon," said Hakam, "I'd imagine that the pirates and the efreeti made landfall near Myratma or Memnon."

   "How long ago was this?" asked Leokas.

   "About two years ago," Malick replied.

   "The Year of the Tankard," said Hakam. "I know of a war in Amn against ogre mages but nothing about any organized hobgoblin piracy...."

   "A wide variety of humanoid races reside on the Nelanther Isles and live as pirates," said Malick.

   "Could the island you shipwrecked on have been as far south as Lantan?" asked Jayce.

   "It is possible," said Malick. "Again, I am no navigator."

   "Are you sure that they were not heading for this island intentionally?" asked Jayce. "Obviously not to wreck, of course."

   "I suppose that is possible. I do not speak Goblin, but I had thought it was entirely accidental. They seemed to have discovered the cave where they settled."

   "Have you considered going back?" Jayce asked.

   "To the island? Hells, no. It was hardly a pleasant experience. I prefer the comforts of my riches."

   "I think we have asked our share of questions," said Leokas. "I think we shall take our leave, with your permission."

   "Before we leave," said Mythlos, "would you be so kind as to demonstrate one of your illusions?"

   "If you insist," said Malick. "This is one of my favorites." He waved his hands and spoke the final words of a spell, and suddenly, the four empty seats at his table were filled with illusionary copies of him, perfectly mimicking his posture and body motions.

   The adventurers rose from the table, as did Malick and his four copies. "Send me word if you hear anything more about this Allu," said Malick. "And I will likewise find a way to notify you if he tries to attack me here — assuming I survive the encounter."

   "We will do so," said Leokas.

   Malick walked with them to the door. (Two of the illusions, which had been sitting facing the door walked forward through the table, and the other two, facing the other direction, walked away from the door through the table and the other two illusions.) Leokas turned to ask one last question. "If we had had the gem, how much were you prepared to pay us?"

   "I was ready to pay double the average price for a green star sapphire, which tend to sell for 1,000 aenar."

~~~~


"We have much to discuss," said Hakam, as they walked the alleys back to the Garden of Rhinda.

   "We should return with the gem and collect the reward," said Jayce.

   "And tell him what?" said Hakam. "That we stormed Calimport and the syl-pasha's treasury and took back the gem in fifteen minutes? There has been enough deception tonight for my tastes."

   "Where did Belvin go?" said Leokas.

   "I think he went off somewhere to relieve himself," said Mick.

   "You would keep the gem from him? That does not seem lawful," said Jayce.

   "No, I think the gem is rightfully his," answered Hakam. "I just think we should be honest when we return it too him. Besides, I sense the gem holds great power, and the longer we hold on to it, the more danger we call to ourselves."

   "Perhaps we have a responsiblity to protect the gem," said Leokas. "If it is indeed a portal key to the plane of fire, its usage could lead to our world being invaded by an army of genies. Perhaps it has fallen upon us by the gods to stop that from happening."

   Jayce didn't seem to hear Leokas. "I bet we could pressure Malick to offer us more than 2,000 for the gem, because of the risk we endured."

   "I want the gold," said Mythlos. "Let others handle Allu."

   "We could be talking about hordes of efreet," said Hakam. "The dragon barely fought one off."

   "What are you talking about?" said Jayce. "Sseth trounced him."

   "What will we do if Allu attacks us directly, though?" asked Mythlos.

   "We need to find Sseth again," said Leokas. "For all we know, he has already dealt with the efreeti or at least discovered his lair."

   "There is magic for that," said Belvin, startling the others. They had not seen him return to join the group. "Magic for sending messages or locating someone, I mean."

   Mythlos agreed, "Yes, we can surely find a mage in this large city tomorrow who can send a message for us."

   "This gem is too powerful," said Hakam. "If we give it back to Malick, we may be giving him over to death."

   "I thought you just said that it belongs to him," said Jayce.

   "It does. But maybe we should hand it over to the authorities here in Tethyr and allow them to deal with the matter."

   "They may be just as corrupt as the so-called authorities we met in Memnon," said Jayce.

   "I am beginning to change my mind about the gem," said Leokas. "I do not know that we physically need it to stop the genies from entering our world; we just need to find that island and destroy the portal itself."

   "That sounds easy!" said Mick sarcastically. "I'm in."

   Leokas continued, "If we are to save the world, we'll certainly need better gear. Let's give the gem back to Malick, after negotiating a higher price than 2,000 gold pieces."

   "How will we explain our deception tonight?" asked Jayce.

   "He will understand for the same reason we understood why he lied to us about the identity of the gem. We needed to test him first. I see no reason to doubt him."

   "Except that you are forgetting that he sold Jayce into slavery," said Belvin. "There's still that."
Session: 29th Game Session - Monday, Mar 03 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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Chapter 3 — Revelations
~ ninth-day, 19th of Ches, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
West Branton


Before noon, on the first day of spring, they reached the hamlet of East Branton. (Leokas lent Mick his horse, and he jogged behind. On the journey, Mick asked questions about their past adventures.) Next, they reached the hamlet of Evenflow. After that, as dusk approached, they came to Hostim, a small town. Across the river, they could see a monastery. A wooden sign had a flower painted on it with an arrow pointing a cross the water toward the complex. "I believe that there sits an Ilmatari abode, our allies," suggested Hakam.

   But they did not deem it worth the effort to ford the river and instead camped once again under the stars.

~~~~


The next morning, there was another thunderstorm. As before, Leokas successfully constructed a makeshift shelter for all of them. They were cold and wet afterward, but no worse off than that.

   At noon, they could see a small town across river. There were far more folk about, walking to and fro along the river now. They took this as a sign that they were nearing the city. One of the passers-by informed them that the town across the water was Abbor and that they would soon reach a thorp called Ruba by early afternoon. This indeed was the case.

   They questioned several of the travelers about Malick, but none of the locals had ever heard of him.

   An hour after passing through Abbor, they passed the keep of Loranse, which they learned was the seat of county Ithmonn, standing on the other side of the river.

   It was here that Jayce stopped the group and informed them that he had something he needed to say. "So, I need to come clean with all of you before we reach Darromar," he said.

   Belvin looked ready to strangle him. "I knew you were withholding things from us."

   "It would have changed nothing until now," continued Jayce. "The fact of the matter is that it was Malick who sold me into slavery. I will have to go into his tower disguised."

   "Go on," said Leokas.

   "Apparently, before the hobgoblin stole the Omlar gem — I regret to admit it — but I had broken into Malick's tower and taken it. But I was captured by his security system, and he had me sold into slavery. On second thought, I do not regret it, because it was quite impressive work on my part!"

   "This is a troubling revelation," said Hakam.

   "Come now," Jayce protested. "I have been a useful member of this party."

   "That is irrelevant in the eyes of Anachtyr. This is indeed a complex legal case, however, and I know not how the Just God would decide."

   "Malick was not within his rights, as a citizen of Tethyr, to enslave Jayce," said Leokas.

   "That is true, yet neither was Jayce within his rights to steal Malick's gem."

   "For my part, I have no direct ties with Malick," said Leokas, "and I know nothing of his character or his actions. I took the job solely for an opportunity to hunt a hobgoblin."

   "So if Malick needs to die, that will be permitted by you?" asked Belvin.

   "I, for one, lay no claim upon his head," said Jayce.

   "What can you both tell us about this wizard's tower?" asked Mick, who was only slowly beginning to understand what was going on.

   "The tower rests within a walled grove of small trees," answered Leokas. "It is about five or six stories in height with a large staircase ascending to the main door. At each corner of the building are rounded turrets with spires. When I knocked on the door, an image of Malick appeared, and I spoke with it. Then, I was invited into a large dining room for dinner, which was served by his singular butler. There is not much more to tell."

   "What if Malick was using you for an evil task all this time?" asked Mythlos. "If Jayce tells us the truth, this raises many questions about his character."

   "Were you the only one sent to retrieve the gem?" asked Hakam.

   "No, I was responding to a poster," said Leokas. "There were likely others."

   "If he is a powerful wizard, why did he not go himself to pursue the hobgoblin?" asked Jayce.

   "He is probably not skilled in tracking," replied Leokas. "And I do not think he is a diviner."

   "Is Malick a noble?" asked Hakam.

   "I do not believe so," said Leokas.

   "Well, we should continue on to reach the city before dark," said Jayce. "I humbly ask that you help me not be made a slave again."

~~~~


After one final hour of travel, they reached the thick, stone walls of Darromar. These they had to circumnavigate clockwise to reach the Ithal Road and the northern gates into the city. Leokas and Jayce told the others that Malick's estate was in the Royal Quarter, the northwestern quadrant of the city. Passing many wagons of travelers heading into and out of the city, they came to the first inn and paid a small fee to stable their animals, with the exception of Kamil and Stormshadow. (Their masters hoped to find another druid grove within the city.)

   They began asking around what folks knew about "Malick of Darromar", but few had ever heard of him, even here in his own city. Fewer still knew where his tower stood. "I've heard he is very rich," said one maiden who seemed to know the most, "that he inherited a tower and an estate from his father."

   They learned that a druid grove did exist in the Garden of Rhinda, a luscious flower garden at the base of and surrounding the Ithal Crag, the large hill upon which the queen's royal palace of Faerntarn was built. After walking three long blocks south on the Ithal Road (called Star Street within the city), they proceeded a block west into the bustling Queen's Market. Skirting the border of that massive open-air marketplace to the other side, they walked one more block southwest and came to a dazzling display of colors. The garden lay before them, filled with arrays of roses of all colors, shaped hedges, and a scattering of trees that were just now in bloom with pink and white flowers.



   They passed through an archway cut from two large bushes and were directed to a clearing of the garden designated for druids. Most of the druids here were followers of Eldath, dressed in garments covered with flowers, but they welcomed Belvin just the same, and were happy to permit the guests to leave Stormshadow and Kamil in their care.

   As Jayce began to disguise himself with use of a kit he carried, the others made plans around him. "What about the gem?" asked Hakam. "Shall we take it to our meeting with Malick? Or shall we leave it here?"

   "We should leave it here with Stormshadow," said Mythlos.

   "The question depends on whether it belongs to Samber or Malick," said Leokas.

   "Or to us?" suggested Mythlos.

   "Perhaps Samber is Malick," said Hakam.

   "In any case," said Leokas, "he owes me an explanation."

   "Do you think he even knew the gem's value?" asked Hakam.

   "I should think any wizard would," said Leokas.

   "I have an idea!" Jayce piped in. "I'll disguise myself as a well-known, major criminal. We can use that to intimidate him."

   "That would only serve to bring attention to you. It's best if he pays you no heed at all," said Hakam.

   "Why assume that we would need to intimidate him in the first place?" asked Mythlos. "We do not know if he is good or evil."

   "What part of 'He sold me into slavery" did you not understand?" replied Jayce. "What if he tries to do so again?"

   "If he tries to stop us, we'll fight back," said Leokas. "There will be six of us, after all, and only one of him."

   "I just do not see Jayce's plan ending well," said Hakam.

   "We could challenge him to a wizards' duel," suggested Leokas, "to establish our power."

   "What good would that do?" said Hakam. "Besides, I do not think Mythlos is advanced enough to win. He's been focusing more on his combat studies of late."

   "I could call down a swarm of bats," said Belvin.

   "There is a law against that," stated Hakam.

   "Where does it say that?"

   "Magical assault: the punishment is a fine of 15 hundred gold pieces, retribution of 3,000, and public humiliation in the stocks for three days."

   Belvin shrugged. "I can afford that."

   Jayce's hair was now colored brown, and the freckles were gone from his face. "What if I were a Calishite enforcer, sent to take the gem for the syl-pasha?"

   "A civilized ruler, like the syl-pasha, would send an ambassador to the queen and pressure her to use her own enforcement to retrieve the gem," explained Hakam.

   "The way I see it," said Jayce, "is that we have two routes to victory: intimidation or diplomacy."

   "For what victory are we aiming?" Hakam replied. "I don't see that we should aim to fight — certainly not in his own home, which I am certain is magically protected. Let's go without the gem and negotiate."

   "I can bluff that we lost it," said Leokas.

   "We can claim that a powerful Calishite wizard stole it from us," suggested Mythlos.

   "Such as the Sultan Arcane of Memnon?" said Hakam. "Now, at last, we have a believable tale. We could then negotiate for a higher bounty for the risk he" put on us by lying about the gem's worth."

   "Can we trust these Eldathyn to leave the gem here?"

   "They will be bound by druidic oaths to not touch our belongings," said Belvin.

   "Jayce, my friend," said Mick, who was sitting on the ground by the gear, waiting for the rest to decide on a plan of action, "you still look exactly like yourself. That will never fool the wizard."

   The others turned to look at Jayce. It was true; the disguise was not working well.

   "Can't you magically alter yourself?" asked Leokas. "You turned into a goblin; surely, you can look like another human."

   "I did consider using magic to take the form of an attractive woman," Jayce answered, "but I worry we will be at his tower longer than the duration of the spell."

   "Well, hurry up; this process is taking far too long. It will be dark soon."

~~~~


After a half hour, the others finally approved of Jayce's disguise. He looked older and bore no traces of his Lantanna heritage. Leaving the gardens, they returned to Star Street and walked north back to the gates and the wall, which they followed counterclockwise until reaching reaching an upper-class part of the city. Many fenced estates were here, and Malick's tower, looking as Leokas had described, was easily spotted.

   The gate to the estate was unlocked, and so they entered the grounds. They came to the stone steps to the tower, and climbed all seven of them to the top, where they stood before a large, oaken double door with a heavy, metal knocker. In front of the door, on the wide top step, was a runic circle carved in the stone.

   "When last I was here," said Leokas, "when I knocked on the door, an image of Malick appeared in this circle. Step aside."

   Leokas knocked. There was a pause, and then a transparent form began to take shape, hovering within the circle of runes, which were now glowing a faint blue. The form was that of a tall, thin human with a round face and curly hair. Leokas recognized the image as that of Malick.

   "Who comes to the tower of the great Malick of Darromar?" said the voice of the illusion before them. Its eyes darted to and fro looking at each of them. "Ah! Are you the elven adventurer I hired? I had given up hope that you would return. Do you have the gem?"

   "Alas, I do not," replied Leokas, "but I know where it is. I tracked the hobgoblin who stole the gem from you for a very long distance, and I and my companions here eventually did retrieve it from him. However, it was then taken from us by others who were also looking for it. I believe that there is still hope in retrieving it, if we could learn more information from you."

   "This is indeed a disappointment to hear," said Malick, looking discouraged, "but you are the first to return with any news at all. Please accept my invitation to dinner. My servant is just now preparing the meal. There may not be a great amount of food, since you are so many, but it should please your palates. He is a grand cook." Then the image of Malick vanished.

   After a few moments, the doors swung open. There was an older human butler standing there, who waved them inside, then scurried off to the kitchen. They stood in Malick's dining hall, a large room with a 30-foot table, surrounded by eleven chairs. The room was lit by many torches with blue flames, and windows in the northeastern and southeastern turrets let in what was left of daylight. On the eastern wall to their left was a massive fireplace, which was currently providing warmth to the room. The western wall had three doors in it, the central one of which presumably led to the kitchen, for the butler had passed through it.

   No artwork hung upon the walls, but within the two turret alcoves and against the north and south walls stood a total of six stone statues. These were clearly carved as impressions of chess pieces yet with actual arms and legs. The two nearest them, by the entrance, were carved to look like knights in armor but with the heads of horses.

   Malick sat at the head of the table, in a comfortable-looking chair. "Do come in, guests. Have a seat."

   As they filed into the room and took their seats, Leokas introduced each of them, using the name "Reginald" to introduce Jayce. They all filled the seats nearest Malick, except for Belvin who sat on the far side of the table by himself.

   "Where can I go if I need to relieve myself of the day's digestion before eating?" Belvin asked.

   Malick stared at him.

   "Please pardon our friend," explained Leokas. "He is a good druid but is not accustomed to civilized society and was not aware that it is rude to request the use of a chamber pot when one has not been granted a guest room."

   Mythlos spoke up. "Could I request that you teach me one of your spells? I am but a wizard in training, and I am certain I could learn much from you."

   Malick chuckled and blushed a little. "Surely, you jest."

   "It is true," said Jayce/Reginald. "People speak about the greatness of your magic."

   "Are these statues magical?" asked Mythlos.

   "I am surprised and honored, and yes, they are magical, but I invited you in not to talk about me but the gem, so please tell me more, Leokas."

   "I easily tracked and pursued the hobgoblin southwest into the Forest of Mir," Leokas began, and he proceeded to share some of the details of their adventures, leaving out how they had stopped to rescue slaves with the Janessar or how it was actually Vashti who slew the hobgoblin. "We learned that the hobgoblin who stole the gem was sent to retrieve it by a powerful master, and we investigated and pursued further into the desert. However, we too were being watched, it seemed. When we arrived in Memnon, it was stolen by the syl-pasha's troops, because they wanted to use the gem to power the minarets on the trade way."

   "This is most unfortunate," said Malick. "I wish that you had come directly back to me with the gem when you first had it. How did anyone else learn about the gem to begin with?"

   "The syl-pasha has many spies," replied Leokas. "And I shall be honest with you: we had the gem identified; we know that it is not a green star sapphire, as you had told me."

   "Most unfortunate, most unfortunate," mumbled Malick. "Few can stand against the syl-pasha and his power."

   "I do apologize;" said Leokas, "however, you...."

   He was interrupted by Jayce. "We may be able to get it back, but it would be high risk. We would be prepared to take that risk, if you...."

   Now Leokas interrupted. "My friend here is overly optimistic, I think. But as I was saying, you were not very honest with us, and that fact put us at far greater risk than I had signed on for. There were many Calishite guards and many hobgoblins, besides other dangerous encounters, that we had to face."

   "I agree with Reginald," said Mythlos. "Surely, once you teach me you teach me your powerful magic, we can recover the gem together!"

   Malick ignored Mythlos and queried Leokas. "Wait, you speak of many hobgoblins? And who was this hobgoblin's master?"

   Jayce answered. "The group of hobgoblins were working in a concerted effort to stop us."

   "They claimed a new god, named Allu, had need for your Omlar gem," said Leokas.

   "Do you know anything more about this so-called god?"

   "We learned that he is an efreeti, a genie of fire," Leokas replied.

   Malick sat back in his chair in shock and remained silent. At that point, the butler re-entered the room, bearing a tray of food, and he began serving each of them in turn over multiple trips. When he came to Jayce, he denied the food. "I have already eaten. Please do not take offense; I greatly appreciate the hospitality, but please give my share to the others who have not eaten today."

   "Fair enough," said Malick, when the butler looked back to him, "I am not offended."

   When they had all been served and were eating the delicious food, Malick said, "Now that my servant has left the room and you have food to eat, let me explain why I have responded with such surprise about what you have just reported to me...."
Session: 29th Game Session - Monday, Mar 03 2014 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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