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Chapter 2 — Sofi
~ fourth-day, 28th of the sixth season, shrinking halflight
Kaw-chi-wee-tee-tee


Protecting themselves against the heat with wet cloths or magic, they left the goose lake and headed northeast into the jungle. Using Belvin's magic, they walked for about 20 minutes. Kytharrah heard and smelled a flowing stream up ahead, and Belvin let him go forward and scout a bit. After finding a log that was lying across the stream, he came back and pantomimed to the others the act of moving across a balance beam. They did not really understand what he meant, but they went forward together to see.

   Belvin and Leokas explained that the tree had naturally fallen, though not too long ago. Leokas found what appeared to be small, humanoid prints on the log from someone who was barefoot. Kytharrah sniffed them. "Smell Szordrin," he said.

   "Huh," said Belvin.

   "Some kind of fiend passed by here, perhaps," said Hakam.

   "Are these gnome footprints?" asked Solisar. "Was not Szordrin's master raised by gnomes?"

   "They are a little too large for gnome feet," said Leokas. "Gnomes are even smaller than halflings, but I suppose if it was a big-footed gnome,..."

   "If you are all willing to wait for me to perform the incantations," said Solisar, "I can search the area beyond with my arcane eye."

   Solisar removed a bit of bat fur from his spell component pouch and began a series of complex motions and utterances. In the meantime, the others refilled their water and looked around the area west of the stream. A short distance to the north was a small lake, which emptied into this stream.

   Suddenly, Solisar appeared to go into a trance or coma, as his natural eyes stopped functioning, and he began to see from a point distant from his body. He sent the visual sensor north along the stream to come out over the open lake. The lake was 50 or 60 feet across at its widest point. Beautiful cascading steps of short waterfalls tumbled down into it from a rocky hill to the northwest, flowing between two large boulders. There was a small beach and clearing on the west side of the lake and a larger beach and clearing on the east side.

   Solisar immediately saw the source of the smoke on the east side. There was a small circle of stones there with a hot bed of ash and charcoal, upon which was placed a tiny metal mug. A figure in white clothing was tending to the mug with a long stick. It was a petite and slender young woman, sitting on a small rock next to the firepit. She seemed human and was dressed in a simple, sleeveless, burlap tunic and trousers that went only just past her knees. Her wrists and ankles seemed bound in white cloth strips or bandages, and she was barefoot. Her head was covered in a tied-up cloth or towel, as if she had recently come from a bath.

   Solisar described what he was seeing to his companions. "She is also faintly glowing with a magical aura, but she does not appear to be armed."

   "Ilthian never had a magical aura, correct?" asked Hakam.

   "She did not, no, but Szordrin does."

   "As do Cassiera and Jayce," said Szordrin. "Any being with sorcerous powers does."

   Solisar continued concentrating on her for several moments. "The magic does not reveal any magic items on her person causing the aura; it is simply coming from her herself. Let me take my sensor closer to her."

   He zoomed the sensor right up over her little mug. She seemed to be boiling a few roots, a rather pitiful meal. He then looked up closely at the woman. She was pale and had a cute face, with a button nose and eyes that were a bit reddish-brown.

   "What are the colors of her eyebrows?" asked Szordrin. "For that will be the color of her hair."

   "They are brown," said Solisar. "Her eyes, however, are not typical for a normal human. They are very red."

   "She is likely of mixed blood, as am I," said Szordrin.

   "Yes," agreed Solisar, "red eyes are often present on those with a demon, devil, or night hag as an ancestor, though I could not tell you which in the present case. I have only read about red eyes; I have not seen any to compare the subtle differences. This is, of course, why Kytharrah thought that her feet smelled like yours, Szordrin."

   "We should approach carefully," said Hakam, "with cordiality, at least at first. Can we cut through the trees here to reveal ourselves on the opposite side of the lake from her?"

   This was done easily enough. Kytharrah pressed ahead of the others and into a small clearing of grass and sand west of the lake. He immediately saw the woman that Solisar had described on the other side.

   The woman sprang up, like a pouncing tiger, and spun around in the air to face him, landing perfectly on her toes in a defensive posture, like some of the persons Kytharrah had wrestled with in the past. She carried no weapon but the tiny stick with which she was tending the fire. She stared directly at the minotaur and seemed to be waiting for him to make the first move.

   Most humans stood on their feet, he thought, yet she was on her toes like him. Kytharrah gave her a little bow, similar to how a dog might bow when ready to play. Kytharrah was not the best at understanding human facial expressions, but her expression definitely changed in response.

   Hakam stepped forward out from behind a thick palm-like bush and spoke. He noted that the tongues spell that he had cast did not automatically change his words into another language; he spoke in Common, which implied that she did as well. "We come in peace!" he shouted over the sound of the nearby waterfalls.

   The woman shouted back. "I... stand on the other side of this lake... in peace!" They could not determine whether her tone was a strange accent or simply the result of uncertainty or fear.

   Szordrin was trying to sneak around the southern end of the lake to get close enough to her to read her thoughts. He stepped into the stream; it was only about three feet deep.

   Suddenly, the woman turned to look directly in Szordrin's direction. The trees were still blocking their line of sight to each other, but the others, now moving fully into her view, could see her trying to spot the one she could somehow sense hiding in the foliage. Szordrin could read nothing at all of the thoughts in her mind.

   "We are only seeking information," Hakam shouted over the water. "We would like to show you a receipt for the purchase of a magical item." He held the copy of the document in his hand and waved it. "A rod used for interplanar travel."

   "Do I look dangerous?" she called back.

   "We did not want to come upon you suddenly and surprise you," said Solisar.

   "These are dangerous parts of the multiverse," said Hakam. "We always favor caution."

   "I cannot see that paper from here, but I suppose you could come over here and we can wigwag."

   Kytharrah did not waste any time in making his way over. He climbed up the nearby ledge to the north and bounded in two big leaps across the two large boulders at the base of falls and then landed on the other shore. She hopped back a yard and turned to face the minotaur who stood two and a half feet taller than she. She still looked somewhat confused and nervous.

   "Let us cross the lake, Kamil," said Belvin, but Kamil made grunting noises. The water looked too deep for his camel to easily ford across. "Fine, we shall go around it. Wait for me," he called to the others, who were already taking the longer route, back through the bushes, over the tree log, and through the thick trees to reach her clearing.

   Kytharrah tried to give the woman a friendly grin, while he waited for the others, but she stepped back another yard from him.

   "Kytharrah, no playing!" shouted Hakam.

   Hearing the group approaching from the south and flanking her, she adjusted her posture once again. She did not look away from the minotaur, but she was clearly aware of where each of the others were as well.

   Kytharrah came up and plopped himself right down by the firepit. He pulled out his everburning torch and held it up proudly for her to see.

   She smiled and, for the first time, did not seem frightened by him.

   "You may call me Sofi?" she stated, though it sounded more like a question. He partly extended her hand to shake his paw, but then rethought this and pulled it back.

   "Unlike our minotaur friend," said Solisar, approaching her firepit slowly, "we could not make the jump across those rocks and had to take the long route. His name is Kytharrah, 'Friendly Red Beast' in my native tongue. I am Solisar Keryth."

   Then he spoke to Kytharrah. "Kytharrah, come join us over here on this side of her, so that she is not surrounded." The minotaur obeyed. Her posture seemed to relax a bit. She stood on her feet now, for one, instead of on her toes.

   The others stood in an arc, and no one said anything for an awkward moment. The woman stood just under five-and-a-half feet tall. Her bare arms looked quite muscular. She reminded them, in terms of her general build, of Loreene, in prime physical condition, all muscle, though Loreene was much taller. Hakam noted that she gave off no chaotic aura that his special blessing from Anachtyr would reveal.

   Then the woman who called herself Sofi shook her head, as if snapping herself out of a daze. "Forgive me for my silence;" she said. "I have not seen other bloods in a long time. Uh, welcome to my... well, it is not really my case, just a place where I call kip, but it is where I am currently finding peace."

   She had a strange accent and lingo that none of them could place, nor did Szordrin or Hakam's spells provide anything more than the literal meaning of such words as "bloods" or "case".

   Hakam again brought out the receipt copy from the Interlink Consortium. He handed it to her. "We are looking for the purchaser of this item. Is it you?"

   She quickly shook her head. "No. No. It was not me. I did not even know the number of this island. You are looking at all my possessions now, mark." She held her arms wide. "I have nothing." She handed back the receipt. "I do not know any of the names on that paper."

   "Perhaps you can still help us," said Hakam, taking back the paper.

   "I do not have much to offer you in the way of hospitality," she said quickly, before Hakam could continue, "no bub or anything, only water, but please feel free to set your things down and rest your backs and feet a bit." She sat back down on her rock. "This weather is hot; you are welcome to bathe in the the pond; the water is cool and fresh. I am boiling some roots that I found. I am happy to share them with you." She spoke rapidly and awkwardly, as if she was not used to carrying on conversation with others and did not know the proper things to say.

   "Thank you for your hospitality," said Hakam, "but it looks like you barely have enough to feed yourself. We have more than enough of our own rations."

   Kytharrah handed her some of his own rations to share.

   "Thank you, 'Friendly Red Beast', but may I ask what that is, first? I have a... sensitive diet."

   Kytharrah shrugged, having no idea what it was that he was actually eating. "Food?"

   Hakam explained that it was salbread, a bread made by halflings and favored by wildspace sailors. It lasted for many tendays. "It has a citrus flavor," he added.

   She took the biscuit from Kytharrah and tasted it. She smiled and looked at it more closely. "This is top-shelf!" she said. "I apologize for asking about it, but I have to be very careful. I cannot accept meat, as it is dead flesh, which I have promised never to touch." She ate the biscuit happily but slowly. She did not consume it like someone ravenously hungry or underfed, though the meager meal that she was cooking in her mug would have suggested otherwise.

   "Oh!" she said suddenly, remembering something. "Forgive my appearance; I have just come from washing my hair." She raised her hand to the towel there as if to remove it and then paused, before dropping her hand again as if changing her mind.

   "How long have you lived here on this island?" asked Solisar.

   "Yes," said Hakam. "The shipment of the item on the receipt that I showed you was made to this very island, five years ago. Were you here at that time?"

   "I was in Coliar at that time," she replied, "but I have only been on this island... a few months? Well, they call them 'seasons' here."

   Belvin leaned forward and peeked into her mug. "Cassava?" he asked.

   "The plant has leaves in sets of three," she said. "I do not know its name."

   "Cassava," Belvin repeated, "a good source of sugar. Sometimes, they have sets of seven or nine leaves instead. They cook better if you sear them on the coals first before boiling them."

   "I shall have to try that next time. Thank you."

   "Have you noticed signs of any previous occupants on this island?" asked Hakam, trying to keep the group on task.

   "I have only been on this island for a few seasons;" she repeated. "I move from place to place, as I do not believe that I am permitted to settle down any one place for too long. I have never seen another person here, just lizards and birds like all the other islands; however, there is something very strange here."

   She continued. "About a half mile from here, north, there is a chasm or gorge. It seems as if the island is slowly breaking in two at that point. I have explored everything on this side of the chasm, but I have never crossed it to the other side. If you wish to come with me later, I can show you why. You can rest here and we can hike there later."

   "Excuse me," said Szordrin, who had been silent for the conversation so far and still appeared as his old master. "Do not be alarmed, but my current appearance is actually an illusion, and the spell is about to fade. It is nothing to be worried about."

   "Oh," she said, sounding confused once again. "Okay."

   Szordrin's form shifted, gaining height and losing years and weight.

   She tilted her head and looked at him intently, taking his face in — too intently, enough to make Szordrin feel uncomfortable.

   "Nice to meet you,... well, the real you." She looked away from him and at the others. "Actually, I have only met Solisar and Friendly Red Beast by name. What are the rest of your names? I was so peery that I forgot to ask."

   The others gave their names in turn. Szordrin was the last to give his, and she looked at him again and smiled shyly at him.

   "You and I might have more in common than I at first thought, Szordrin," she said. She raised her hand again to her towel. "Forgive me, sometimes my appearance can be off-putting to visitors on other worlds, but I do not think that I will have that problem with you."

   She let loose the towel. Her shoulder-length brown hair tumbled down. The act also revealed a pair of goat-like white horns sprouting from the top of her forehead and curling backwards.

   Kytharrah bounced up and down with excitement and grinned widely.

   She smiled back at him. "Yes, I have horns, just like you!" She had gathered by now that Kytharrah was much like a child in manner, and her tone to him was now different than it was to the others.

   Kytharrah could no longer hold back and forgot Hakam's earlier order. "Play?"

   "It would be rude to my other guests to play without ensuring that everyone is first comfortable," she said gently, "but I would be happy to play with you later!"

   She looked back at the others now and shrugged. "So, this is me."

   "Yes," said Hakam, still pursuing his goal, "we would indeed be interested in seeing this other side of the island. However, we are content for you to finish your meal first."

   "Are you sure that you do not want to share?" she asked again.

   Kytharrah was happy to sample a little bite.

   "So, what is your ride?" she asked tentatively, seeming uncomfortable with the awkward silence while she finishing her last of the two roots.

   "What? My ride?" said Belvin. "Kamil is a camel."

   She shook her head. "I am so sorry. Ignore my Cager lingo. Why are you here? Why did you come to this of all islands? Is it simply because of this receipt? Why is the delivery of this item so important to you? Cutters do not come to Coliar often."

   Hakam elaborated a bit further. "The item is connected to a foe of ours whom we have been tracking."

   "May I ask what sort of foe? None of you are evil, so I presume that your foe is."

   Szordrin answered, "The rod is connected to the murder of my former master."

   She looked at Szordrin with genuine compassion. "I am so sorry to hear that!"

   "Moreover," said Hakam, "The gods have informed me that Szordrin's master was connected to another man who is a great danger to everyone."

   "So," clarified Belvin, "our quest is a bit of a personal vendetta, but also something much greater."

   She nodded with a somber look on her face. "I mark that," she said. Then she took a final bite of her cassava root before asking, "Where is your kip?"

   "Pardon our ignorance," said Hakam, "but we do not know what the word 'kip' means."

   She blushed and looked down. "Oh right, again. Sorry! Uh, your case? Ugh! Your home? Where are you from? I am not very good with talking to people; I do not see them very often."

   "We are all from the planet Toril," said Hakam.

   "I am from the city of Sigil. I assume that you have heard of it?"

   Szordrin and Solisar had at least heard of Sigil. It was the legendary city supposedly at the very center of the multiverse, if such a statement meant anything at all. There was no shortage of sages and scholars who balked at such an idea, but here was a woman claiming to live there, so at least the existence of the place seemed true. Solisar knew that it was said to float at the top of a great spire in the center of the Outlands, the neutral Outer Plane that connected, cosmologically, if not literally, to all of the other Outer Planes and the realms of the many gods.

   "I know of it, yes," said Solisar. "Is it true that the city is ruled by the Lady of Pain?"

   "It is true," she said.

   The Lady of Pain was one of the most enigmatic characters of the known multiverse. She was not a goddess; she seemed to have no worshipers and granted no divine spells, but her power seemed comparable to that of many of the gods. In fact, she had somehow banned all deities from her city. It was impossible for the powers to enter Sigil at all, and lesser beings, mortal and immortal alike, could only enter — or exit — the city through established portals.

   It was not surprising to find a tiefling from Sigil. Sigil was to the multiverse what the Rock of Bral was to wildspace — one was likely to find all manner of planar diversity there.

   "Why have you moved around so much from place to place?" asked Szordrin.

   "Well...," she started. "It is complicated." Then a pause. "I am a follower of Pistis Sophia. I have forsworn all worldly possessions in exchange for her guidance in turning to the light."

   "She is one of the ruling archons, is she not?" said Hakam.

   Sofi nodded. "I believe so. Although, to be honest, I have not tumbled to much more than that about her."

   "What is an archon?" asked Leokas.

   "They are the lawful and noble residents of the the Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia," explained Hakam. "Many are in the service of Anachtyr and other noble gods, and he has even granted me the power to summon some of their lesser varieties. However, the archons as a whole are ruled by the most powerful of their several orders, the tome archons, or archon paragons. Every paragon archon is a unique being. Pistis Sophia is the ruler of the Fourth Heaven. The gods have their own realms, and she has no power over their domains, but the archons of the Fourth Heaven are her subjects. She is called 'the Ascetic' by the writings of my church."

   "It is true," said Sofi, "and I seek to follow in her steps." She held up the cloth that she had formerly worn around her head. "I am not even supposed to own this towel, but I have this... quirk where I cannot bear the feeling of wet hair on my forehead if the rest of me is dry. Does that make sense to any of you?"

   They stared at her blankly, but Kytharrah nodded to encourage her.

   She shrugged. "I did not think that it would." She looked defeated momentarily but then perked up again. "I also use it as a belt, but my pants stay on just fine, so I know that that is a weak excuse. I hope that she is forgiving of this one luxury. Okay, I also own my metal mug here. So, she has to forgive me two things. Three strikes before you are out, right? I think that I heard someone say that on Sigil once. I have no idea what it references. Do you know? Help! I am rambling." She blushed again.

   "It is good that you have chosen to live your life in alignment with the law," said Hakam.

   "Well, I am trying to," she said. "I am far from perfect. I admit that I have a barmy temper, but I take no joy in that; I hate it. Anyhow, can we talk about someone else's faults now?" She laughed a little.

   When no one else immediately volunteered any personal flaws, she turned back to Szordrin, who had originally asked her about why she moved about. "To answer your question more fully, Szordrin, my vows forbid me to claim any permanent shelter as my own. The ground by this pond is soft. The weather here is always warm, so I do not get cold. I do not mind the rain and find it refreshing." She paused again, and then mumbled something about not minding her hair being wet if the rest of her body was also wet and how, admittedly, this quirk made no sense at all. "Nevermind!"

   "Have you traveled to any of the other islands?" asked Solisar.

   "I was originally dropped off in Coliar by an astraljammer," she replied. "They check in on me every year or so, and I have them drop me off at a new island when they do, to scan what Pistis Sophia has to teach me in a new place."

   "An astraljammer?" asked Belvin.

   "Spelljammers for traveling the Astral Plane," explained Solisar. He then asked the others, "That is what the neogi were after, was it not?"

   "One travels through the Astral Plane whenever he uses teleportation magic of any kind," said Hakam. "Why would a ship be needed?"

   "Yes," Solisar replied, "but if you want to travel within the gravity-less void of the Astral Plane itself, having a vessel in which to do so is most useful."

   "Did you choose this island at random?" asked Hakam. "Or where there any signatures from the Astral Plane that led you here?"

   "I came to Coliar, at first seeking a place of great isolation, where I could meditate. I believe that I have been guided to each specific island by my patron, for whatever reasons she may have." She then added. "As you must know, there are hundreds of thousands of islands in Coliar. It is exceptionally rare to 'accidentally' run into another person here, unless on one of the port islands or its immediate neighbors in the same jet stream. And the fact that this island has this 'strange thing' that I want to show you — I am beginning to think that I was correct that it was her will to place me on this very island. I do not know why I am here, yet I know that it is ordained."

   Hakam nodded. "It is indeed the will of the gods," he asserted. "They have been guiding us, too, on our journey."

   Szordrin verbally agreed, which caused several of his companions to look at him in surprise, as he had never spoken highly of the powers in the past.

   He also whispered something to Ferry, and the weasel scurried down his arm and over to her lap.

   Belvin rolled his eyes at this, but Sofi's red eyes grew wide. "You the cutest ever!" she said to Ferry, as she stroked his downy fur.

   After she had doted on the little mustelid for several minutes, Belvin led Kamil over to her. She patted the camel's nose cautiously.

   Ferry came back to Szordrin and reported that he very much approved of Sofi and that yes, Kytharrah was correct; her feet did indeed smell like his.
Session: 113th Game Session - Friday, Jun 26 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Faux and Geese
Hakam gingerly poked his head around a tree to look upon the fallen beast. His spiritual sword and hammer hovered over the dinosaur but did not make any attempt to strike it.

   "It is dead," he called back to the others.

   "Move your poisoned dagger away," Belvin called up to Szordrin while dismounting. "I am going to get its skull."

   Szordrin flew down and retracted his dagger from the ground, then poked the dinosaur in the side. It did not stir.

   "How do you expect to carry that skull?" asked Solisar. "It would not even fit in a bag of holding!"

~~~~

It was less than a hour more of jungle travel to reach the edge of this island. Their campsite was not quite as convenient this time, because of the crowding of the trees, but they made do.

   They sat around a fire in the last hour before the rains and ate their dinner, which included dinosaur meat.

   "You know," said Belvin, "these past few days with lizard people and lizard things reminded me of Yash's vision for us."

   "Which one?" asked Szordrin.

   "The one about three dinosaurs around a jungle pool, who do not see a dark cloud approaching."

   "If I recall correctly," said Solisar, "it was not three dinosaurs. It was a dinosaur, a chameleon, and a crocodile."

   "All jungle reptiles, however," said Belvin, "...such as here on Coliar."

   "Is not this the prophecy that you had already seen?" asked Hakam.

   Belvin shrugged.

   "If not, it certainly would not be shocking to see the prophecy fulfilled here somewhere," said Hakam. "In any case, let us know if you recognize any pools."

~~~~

They passed another short Coliar night and waited as the day grew brighter and hotter, until once again it was time for their third and final jump to reach Kaw-chi-wee-tee-tee.

   "Are we expecting Onran to be on this next island?" asked Leokas. "As a powerful wizard, could he have faked his death?"

   Szordrin had also secretly been hoping that this was true. Surely, Onran, being a great magician, had the means to do so, but he did not want to appear to the others to hold to such a faint hope.

   "I am concerned that he might have set up defenses on the island," said Hakam.

   "Such as an invisible wall to block people like us from simply gliding down to it?" asked Solisar. "The thought also crossed my mind. Did you actually see him die?" This last question was to Szordrin.

   "I found his body," said the tiefling.

   "But we know that Samber can jump bodies," said Hakam, "and Jayce told us that Onran taught Samber some of his magic. Perhaps Onran did the same."

   "Onran was an aasimar;" said Szordrin, "he was naturally good. It is unlikely that he would have shifted bodies for personal gain."

   "He was being threatened with death," said Hakam. "Maybe it was his last chance to escape. Samber did not want to jump bodies either, but presumably, he had to to escape the mummy's prison."

   Belvin was already in pteranodon form with Kamil miniaturized. It was time to jump.

   As they approached this roughly circular island from the air, they observed that it had a deeper underside than the last two islands, and it seems to have more ponds and lakes. They soon recognized that it also had a much nicer spot to land, a lake near the edge, free — for the most part — from trees surrounding it. Solisar, thankfully, saw no aura of invisible defenses with his magic vision, not that he would have had time to warn the others if he had, as they were moving at too quick a velocity for that. Fearing an aquatic dinosaur in its waters, they guided their gliders above the lake and used feather-falling magic to break in the air and land on the opposite shore.

   The lake, however, was covered in swimming birds, similar to the ducks and geese with which they were familiar on Toril. These scattered from the area in crowded clouds of wings and feathers, as the gliders passed by. The shore itself was covered in goose droppings. "Stinky," said Kytharrah, who, as usual, immediately took in the smells of his new environment.

   No one had any issues landing this time, and they began to pack up their gliders or transform back into humanoid form.

   Besides the water birds, there were many flocks in the sky moving from cluster of trees to cluster of trees.

   Hakam and Solisar, when nearing the island, had each seen some smoke rising from somewhere in the northeast, probably less than a mile away, and they made sure that everyone was aware of it.

   Belvin carefully approached one of the geese-like birds. It seemed to sense that he meant no harm, and then Belvin started honking, cackling, and clucking. It honked right back.

   The druid called back to the cleric. "Hakam, what do you want me to ask her?"

   "Ask if the birds have seen any other creatures that look like us," said Hakam.

   Belvin honked and then gave the translation of the goose's reply. "She says that there is indeed one tall, white-feathered creature that walks like us but cannot fly."

   "Can they point us to this person?" asked Hakam.

   The bird indicated that the creature was to the northeast, the same direction as the small strand of smoke.

   "What hair color does this person have?" asked Szordrin.

   The goose described some off-white feathers as well, but Belvin did not think that the bird was distinguishing feathers from fur, clothing, or hair. "Remember, she is a bird," he said.

   "Onran's hair was white, when I knew him," said Szordrin, and he began to remove his mithral vest. They all wondered what he was doing, as he also took a tiny rolled up piece of parchment from his spell component pouch. The wizard muttered a few words, and his body shortened to five and a half feet tall and appeared to gain a little weight. His hair grew white and his yellow cat eyes turned more golden, almost glowing, and the pupils rounded. The hair and beard stayed rather similar.

   "This was Onran," said Szordrin's voice. "Ask the hen if she recognizes me now."

   "She is a goose, not a hen;" corrected Belvin. "The word 'goose' is already feminine. The males are ganders. Nevertheless, I shall ask her."

   Belvin honked at the water bird, and she cackled back.

   "She says that we all look alike to her," reported Belvin, "but she thinks that you have too many non-white feathers to be whom she saw from the sky."

   Belvin then tried to ask the bird if she had seen any structures, though it seemed to take him a while to explain to the simple creature what a structure even was. He tried ideas of unnatural shapes or extremely large square nests. While not sure that he had communicated the idea clearly to her, she did not seem to have seen any such thing as a "structure" on the island.

   "Do the birds recognize anything strange below the water?" asked Hakam. "Any lights, sparkling surfaces, things that are not rocks?"

   They had seen no such things under the water, just the plants and swimming amphibians and reptiles that they ate.

   Belvin asked if they had any natural predators, and he learned that they did not in this area. They migrated from island to island, and this island was where they came to raise their young.

   "Have any aarakocra landed here?" asked Solisar.

   None had in the bird's memory. "But she is only four years old," said Belvin.

   "I think that we have learned what we can from this goose," said Hakam. "Let us finish packing up the gliders and walk to where we saw the smoke."
Session: 113th Game Session - Friday, Jun 26 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Spinosaurus vs. Triceratops
The gargantuan predator brought its long head close to the ground, almost touching it, and opened its tooth-filled mouth wide to emit a deep and deafening bellow.

   Kytharrah felt the otherworldly howl deep in his bones. Nevertheless, he just shook it off, grabbed his axe, and readied himself.

   The triceratops, too, was unfazed by the larger dinosaur's roar. It simply kept on strolling calmly after its mate, which had disappeared into the tree cover to the north.

   Leokas rushed south through the trees and climbed up over the embankment. He passed Solisar, who waved a wand and sent a pulse of magic zipping through the trees to slam into the bony crest along the massive dinosaur's snout.

   From the air, two rays of fire blasted forth from Szordrin's hands. Each struck the dinosaur. It called out, took one long stride, and chomped down on the triceratops' hindquarters. The long conical teeth of the predator easily punctured the thick, scaled skin of the triceratops.

   The triceratops cried out, at last freed from the power of Hakam's calming enchantment, and began to run, but the other dinosaur lifted its back half completely off the ground, so that only the triceratops' front feet were making contact with the earth. Its rear legs moved about uselessly.

   From the top of the embankment, Leokas could easily see the tail of the giant dinosaur. It was finned and shark like. He began unleashing arrows.

   The attacking dinosaur growled and twitched as arrow after arrow plunged into its hide, followed by numerous magic missiles from Solisar's wand.

   The triceratops shook its hips and fell from the bigger dinosaur's mouth. It spun quickly around to face its attacker and lunged forward, raising its thick neck and driving its two long horns into the other beast's chest, just between its arms.

   As the dinosaurs battled just outside the cover of the trees, Hakam laid his hands on Kytharrah to enhance the protectiveness of his armor, while Belvin called out a powerful enchantment to boost the range of his companions' weapons.

   The carnivore, three arrows embedded in its lower body and burned and bleeding, twisted its head around to grab at its dinner's neck. The triceratops instinctively defended itself by lifting its head back to protect the vulnerable spot with its bony frill and knocking the bigger beast's head to the side, where it clamped down instead on the arch of the triceratops' back. The wounded triceratops bucked and yanked free, but the predator also slashed and gashed with its long thumb-claws, cutting deep into the triceratops' bulky side.

   Kytharrah dropped his axe and reached for his minotaur-sized bow, joining Leokas at launching projectiles at the dinosaur, though not as rapidly, of course. A gust of wind, triggered by Belvin's magic, guided the shot into the back of the beast's neck.

   Szordrin drew his new dagger of venom from its sheath and tossed it through the air. Another rush of wind kept the blade spinning through the air, but the throw fell short, and the dagger drove into the ground at the four-toed foot of the towering monster.

   The triceratops bellowed and gored its foe once again, this time severely wounding the larger creature in the neck. It then tried to back up into the shelter of the trees, but the other dinosaur was faster. It stepped to the side, ignoring its own wounds and bit down once again. This time, it used its clawed hands and its bite together to press its prey to lie flat on the ground with the force of its weight behind it. The triceratops let out a shriek. It was pinned, prone, and helpless.

   A mystical sword and hammer appeared in the air on each side of the upright reptile. The hammer missed, but the sword swung down on the back of the creature's neck. The magical force burst a major vessel, and blood spurted. The dinosaur growled and raised its head, swinging it over rapidly to snap at the strange flying thing that had harmed it. As its head turned, Leokas saw the perfect shot. His wind-guided arrow struck the dinosaur in the left eye and burst out on the other side. The huge reptilian body flopped over lifeless and slammed into the ground. The triceratops got up and fled away from the clearing.
Session: 113th Game Session - Friday, Jun 26 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Stampede!
~ third-day, 27th of the sixth season, shrinking halflight
Chi-wee-wee-seh-kaw


Belvin, in the lead, saw a clearing up ahead through the thick trees. They seemed to be walking parallel now to an embankment or short earthen cliff about ten feet high. Leokas estimated that they have come about four and a half miles since landing.

   They cautiously approached the clearing. There had been clearings here and there on the last island, but this one was particularly wide, about 30 feet across. Leokas knelt down and looked at the ground. It was covered in leaves, broken branches, and dried mud. "There are countless animal tracks here," said Leokas, "going in all directions, ground birds and lizards of course, but many of them are very large, dinosaurs perhaps, like in Chult. The leaves and sticks have been ground down, trampled under heavy weight."

   Kytharrah sniffed some of the tracks. "New," he said.

   Leokas agreed. "Yes, there are no puddles in them, so these here are from this morning, unlike those there."

   Szordrin looked around the area for traps and was convinced that the area was clear. Belvin believed that the clearing was the meeting place of animals. It seemed like a wide natural "highway" led down over the embankment coming from the south to end here in the clearing.

   "The trail is leading perpendicular to the way we want to go," said Leokas. "Let us just cross and continue on."

   Kytharrah began to move over to the embankment to take a peek over it.

   Just then, everyone heard the sound of crunching leaves and branches approaching rapidly from the south. Leokas, with his elvish hearing, noticed the sound first and quickly darted out of the clearing back into the cover of the trees. "Incoming!" he shouted in warning, as he unslung his magic bow.

   With a cloud of feathers and dust, a small flock of very large and tall birds rushed over the embankment. They looked something like the running birds that some of them had seen in Chult called ostriches. These birds had similar long legs for high-speed running and small vestigial wings, but they had bulkier legs and bodies and shorter necks than ostriches. Even so, they were still taller than Kytharrah. The birds' beaks were large and thick and curved to two sharp points at the top and the bottom, looking almost like a hatchet or throwing axe in shape.

   These "axebeaks" ran off the embankment at a speed of close to perhaps 40 miles per hour. Six of the seven birds landed on the ground in the clearing with a flutter of their small wings and kept right on running. The sixth stumbled and fell flat with a squawk.

   Belvin had barely spun around to the sound of the approaching birds just in time to see one of them coming straight at him. He sprung out of the way just in time, as the terrified bird charged past.

   Likewise, another of the birds nearly missed crashing into Kytharrah as it darted by. The same bird slowed down at bit as it saw its path was blocked by Kamil. It squawked loudly, and the camel turned and bolted, and the bird followed right after him. Kamil veered into the trees out of the path of the charging bird, which kept on running.

   "Kamil! Wait!" shouted Belvin.

   Kytharrah reached the embankment and stepped up enough to peek up over the edge for a one-second glance, as the fallen bird got back up on its feet and began to run after its flockmates. The minotaur saw two gigantic animals running full speed down the wide path towards them. They were only 50 to 100 feet away and rapidly approaching. He could feel the rumble of their footfalls shaking the ground. He had never seen creatures anything like them before. They ran on four thick legs, which looked somewhat like the legs of the magic elephant that Hakam sometimes summoned from the marble figurine, but their heads were completely different. They had three massive horns. Two long and twisted horns jutted from the back of their heads, and another grew from their beaked snouts. The skulls were shaped something like a shield, or like the dragon Sseth's head, with a thick bony ridge extending in the back. Also, instead of wrinkly gray skin like the elephant, these two creatures seemed to have dusky scales.

   The two animals were also charging. Though not as fast as the running birds, they were sure to reach the embankment in seconds.

   Kytharrah spun around with a snort, swung out his long arm and grabbed Belvin and yanked him back into the woods with him out of the clearing.

   Szordrin also moved into the shelter of the trees, nearly tripping on all the roots and vines now present, since Belvin was no longer in front of him. With a wave of a wand, multiple copies of his form appeared. Deeper in the woods, numerous Solisars also materialized.

   Belvin sprung from root to root toward his camel, who had obeyed him and stopped, and mounted his animal companion.

   Hakam, seeing their minotaur peek over the embankment and respond by moving deeper into the trees, raised his holy symbol toward the earthen slope and waited. Leokas, ten yards north of him, nocked three arrows simultaneous, an arrow between each of his fingers, and also waited a brief moment to see what was coming over the ridge. "Heel!" he commanded Sif, and she obeyed.

   The ground rumbled loudly enough for everyone to hear and feel now. The birds continued fleeing, and most of them had made it across the clearing and into the trees at the other end. A second later, the two bulky, three-horned, quadrupedal dinosaurs came into view at the top of the embankment.

   "Be calm!" Hakam shouted.

   The nearest of the triceratops continued running at full gallop and came crashing down the embankment. It landed on its four massive, multihooved feet and kept on running. Its companion, however, suddenly stopped its gallop, but its forward momentum caused it to skid through the soil and off the edge. It slid down the steep slope and thudded on its stomach.

   Leokas recognized the beasts as ytepka in Chultan and knew them to be herbivores — Yashiera had kept a miniaturized one as a pet — but acting on reflex, he released the bowstring but managed to hold on to two of the arrows between his fingers. The stray missile struck the charging dinosaur and glanced of its head armor harmlessly.

   Solisar, suspecting that there was a still-larger dinosaur coming, cast a spell to boost his speed.

   Kytharrah hustled over to the embankment again and took a second peek, as the still-rampaging triceratops entered the trees at the end of the clearing, followed by squawking from the axebeaks at the rear of the retreating flock. The minotaur saw yet another creature running down the wide path, this one even bigger than the previous two but running on two powerful hind legs. It was sort of like a bird in shape to Kytharrah, and even had some patches of green feathers on its upper torso among its gray, scaled skin, but it had two short arms with long claws instead of wings. Its head and long jaw reminded him of the crocodile that Belvin could transform into with his magic trick. On the creature's back was something that reminded him of the sail of some of the spelljammers that he saw while working at the Rock of Bral.

   As intrigued as he was by this half-second view over the edge, the monster was enormous, three times his own height, definitely large enough to swallow even a big minotaur like him, and it was running even faster than the other two beasts. He sprung back away from the embankment and began to back away again into the tree cover, grunting and gesturing to the others to move deeper into the woods.

   Clutching a tiny feather from his pouch, Szordrin and his duplicate figments magically rose into the air several yards up to get a better view. To the right, he saw Belvin struggling to guide Kamil over thick roots and vines, and to the left, he saw the other triceratops standing back up. Then he saw the bigger dinosaur come into view, sprinting along the path above the embankment. It was bigger even than the ceratosaur that had nearly killed Belvin a year ago.

   "A tyrannosaur with a sail on its back is coming!" he yelled down.

   Belvin reared Kamil and turned back on his mount, prepared to cast a druidic spell. Leokas heard Szordrin's warning and retreated farther west with Sif struggling to keep up with her master. Solisar, and his many copies, all magically sped up, likewise moved quickly through the bushes away from the clearing.

   The remaining triceratops, oblivious to the threat only seconds away from coming over the embankment, trotted calmly over to Kytharrah at the edge of the clearing and sniffed deeply through the two giant nostrils on the side of its beaked snout just under its central horn.

   Kytharrah waved his arms frantically at the friendly beast, trying to get it to follow after its mate. "Go! Go!"

   It turned away from the minotaur, and immediately the pursuing dinosaur came over the embankment in a single long step.

   Belvin screamed out something in Druidic, but it was not clear what magic, if any, had occurred. Szordrin rose higher into the air at an angle, while clutching a tiny glass rod and a bit of fur. Kytharrah backed into the woods even further, dragging Hakam along with him and then shoving the cleric ahead so that he was between the human and the new big monster.

   The dinosaur turned toward the meal that it had been pursuing, which strangely had no fear and simply strolled along. Before it could swing its thick neck down for a bite, there was a blinding flash, followed by a thunder clap, as a bolt of lightning shot forth from Szordrin's fingertips. The dinosaur convulsed from the electrical shock but then shook its head, as if shaking off some minor nuisance.

   Lowering itself onto all fours, it arched its back like a cat trying to look intimidating. Doing so caused its feathers to jut out and the fin of skin on its back to tighten and expand as the spines supporting it stood rigid.

   The gargantuan predator brought its long head close to the ground, almost touching it, and opened its tooth-filled mouth wide to emit a deep and deafening bellow....
Session: 112th Game Session - Monday, Jun 22 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Jungle Journeying Without the Sun
~ second-day, 26th of the sixth season, growing quarterlight
Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi


Dawn came to the floating island numbered 0-0-4-6-2. The short night had passed without any major incidents. When the two sylvan elves were on first watch, they had heard high-pitched sounds being emitted by some flying creatures high up in the trees. Knowing that no mammals lived in Coliar, they discussed the idea that perhaps some lizard or bird species in this planet had also evolved the bat's power of echolocation. When Solisar and Kytharrah were on second watch, during the darkest hours of the starless night, they had noticed strange glowing lights on the trunks of the trees that moved slowly up, high into the canopy, but the phosphorescent lights did not set off Solisar's magical alarm, and they did not risk investigating this observation further.

   While Belvin and Hakam prayed for power from their respective gods, the birds of the jungle sang in joy at a new day from high above their heads at the top of the canopy. Szordrin packed up his hammock, Kytharrah and Leokas rolled up their beds, and Solisar climbed down the rope from the extradimensional space.

   Solisar reminded them about their timeline. "Postmaster Spiraldive said that the islands would be eclipsed at roughly brightest light on the 27th of the sixth season. Today is the 26th, so we have more than 30 hours until then, and we would need to wait at least five hours beyond that for the second, lower island to get far enough away for a safe descent down to it."

   "So we still have nine or ten miles to go in well over 30 hours," said Hakam. "That should not be a problem."

   "I am certain that Belvin and I could make three miles per hour in jungle," said Leokas, "but I am guessing that the rest of you would find it difficult to traverse much faster than a quarter that speed. I estimate that we only made half a mile in our hour of sloshing along the stream last night."

   The wide stream that they had followed was now only a foot deep and five feet wide. It had been joined by smaller streams, coming mostly from the right, as they had followed it the night before.

   "Belvin," said Hakam, "that spell that you used in Chult to drive the vegetation from our path behind you — would you be able to cast it again."

   It seemed like Belvin had forgotten about it, but, having been reminded, he added it to the list of spells for which he was beseeching Thard Harr that day.

   Leokas was looking up at the sky — at least trying to; it was not easy to spot any through the thick tree cover overhead. "Speed may be the least of our concerns," said Leokas. "Even if it were not for these trees, there is no sun in the sky; the light just changes intensity throughout the day. At night, there are no stars or moon. I think that east is that way, but I think it best that Belvin prays to Thard for guidance on this."

   "Maybe we should mark the trees once we get going," said Szordrin, "so that we will recognize if we have walked around in circles."

   "But there is no need for any of that; we have a minotaur with us," said Hakam. Then he spoke to Kytharrah directly. "Which direction is where we landed in our gliders?"

   Kytharrah pointed in a direction that most of them thought was north.

   "Are you certain?" asked Leokas.

   Kytharrah nodded. (Without Ilthian around anymore to encourage him to use words, the minotaur was back to speaking very little.)

   "The stream last night must have subtly been curving left then," said Leokas. "We need to walk that way. I am glad that I did not trust my own senses on this."

   Now that they knew which way was east again, Belvin took the lead on foot, so that he could use his spell; Kamil followed behind him. Belvin prayed, and behind him, the plants and undergrowth, extending back some 30 feet in a cone shape, slowly unraveled and moved away from the area, as if alive. A flurry of tiny lizards, frogs, snakes, and little flightless ground birds hurriedly scattered to take cover as their hiding places betrayed them and moved away.

   "I am sorry, little ones," said Belvin. "All will be restored to normal once we pass through; you will not be harmed."

   In this way, they turned a potentially twelve-hour journey into a three hour one. An extra benefit of this was that they would be able to reach their destination before the increasing temperature became unbearable at brightest light. The temperature was even worse deep in the jungle than it was in either Hisssta or Athanar.

   Half way through the third hour, Hakam's nose began to itch and his eyes began to water. Kytharrah also noticed something in the air, a strong smell of pollen. Hakam managed to avoid a violent fit of sneezing, but he was not comfortable. Thankfully, the potent pollen seemed to only be in a small area of the jungle, and the irritation soon passed.

   At last they exited the jungle and reached the edge of the island at a small clearing with grassy hillocks. Having arrived so early in the day, they were able to spend a good amount of time relaxing. There were puddles of water, left over from the previous night's rain, and with this they were able to remain cool. Leokas started a camp fire, and they ate around it on rocks and a log and joked about some of their past adventures together.

   Solisar periodically looked over the edge of the island, but Chi-wee-wee-seh-kaw, the crescent-shaped island that was their next destination, was not yet visible. It was still some 350 miles or so too far west by his estimates.

   The rains came, right on schedule, filling an area west of their campfire with water and forming a temporary pond. Then night finally followed, and the sounds of the animals in the jungle behind them changed from the chirps and tweets of birds to the calls of frogs and the hisses of small reptilian creatures in the leaves. This night passed with less note than had the previous one.

   In the morning, they were once again woken by a cacophony of bird songs. As the day got brighter, it of course got much hotter. Leokas continued to teach all of them simple tricks for staying cool. For example, he dipped his aba in the water and draped it over his shoulders. Kytharrah splashed in the shallow pond that the rains had formed, but it became little more than scattered mud puddles by the time the light was at its fullest.

   It was still some fifteen hours from the time that they woke until it was time to jump from the edge and glide to their next island. Solisar pointed it out to them, and they agreed that it matched the sketch on the copy of the address slate.

   "How long will we have until Onran's island eclipses this next one?" asked Hakam.

   "It will do so at brightest light tomorrow," said Solisar. "The calculations always seem to be for brightest light."

   "This second island is how wide?"

   "It is listed as being thirteen miles long and seven miles wide. We are crossing at its narrowest part, so aim for the center of the curve of the crescent."

~~~~

The journey through the jet streams down to Chi-wee-wee-seh-kaw was a shorter one than before, taking two hours, because they had timed the jump better. However, when they were halfway between the islands, it became clear to some of them from their gliders that this particular island did not have any obvious clearings where landing would be safest. It seemed to be jungle trees all the way up to the edge. Landing was going to be more challenging.

   They began shouting to each other over the loud flapping of their hang glider wings. Solisar and Szordrin instructed everyone to pull into a tighter formation. That way, if anyone had issues, the wizards could slow the stray glider or gliders with their spells.

   Hakam expertly banked between two large trunks at just the right moment and landed running, safely underneath the canopy of the jungle. Kytharrah came in behind him safely as well, grunting and grinning.

   The wizards and Leokas, however, came in too high and found themselves stuck high in the branches of immense trees, unharmed, but suspended. Each of them solved his predicament in a unique manner. Solisar simply unattached himself from the glider harness and let himself fall the fifty feet to the ground at the rate of a feather. Having landed safely on the leaf-covered undergrowth, he used telekinetics to jostle and guide the glider from the branches and back down to the canopy floor. Szordrin used his spider-walking spell to suspend himself sideways from the tree. With his free hand, he collapsed the glider and then carried it down the trunk. Leokas balanced on a branch with Sif still tied to his chest, and collapsed his glider. Usually the most skilled climber among them, he shockingly snapped a branch and began to fall, dropping the glider. Thankfully, he was also a superb tumbler; he flipped himself and landed in a handstand at a lower branch, then flipped around like a circus gymnast. Sif yelped and whined, but she was alright. From the ground, Belvin, back in elven form, clapped. Szordrin climbed Leokas' tree to recover his glider from the lower branches.

   Hakam watched all this with a smile as Belvin dressed. Hakam was usually the least agile of the group, being garbed in his heavy banded mail; while in the glider, he just seemed to have a natural sense of how his subtle body motions could control his descent and direction.

   The wildlife on this island was much louder. There were constant screeches, shrieks, chirps, and snapping sounds. It was the 22nd hour of the day, and using Belvin's undergrowth-moving power, they figured that they could easily beat the rains and the darkness to the eastern side of the island, where they would camp, so they set out again, entering the jungle depths.
Session: 112th Game Session - Monday, Jun 22 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi
~ first-day, 25th of the sixth season, growing threequarterlight
Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi


While exciting at first, leaping off the edge of one island and gliding to another island was not as simple an ordeal as it at first may have seemed, but the challenge in it was also not what they would have predicted. The enemy here was boredom. In such clear weather, success lay not in any technical skill but rather primarily in maintaining the will-power to stay focused on a journey through an endless white sky. The boredom inevitably came after the first hour or so of gliding. As when Jayce had guided their spelljammer down to one of these islands, distance was very hard to estimate. The relative sizes of objects to their vision changed slowly, so progress was deceptive. Their target was always there in front of them, subtly growing larger, but only if you looked elsewhere for a time and then looked back. If you did this, however, you risked moving off course. Thankfully, even if you did move off course, from stray winds, distraction, dozing off, or any other cause, you had hours still to correct. Szordrin indeed did drift far away from the others for a time, but was able to get back in formation long before the island was close enough for this to be a concern. Kytharrah was the only one who seemed to still be enjoying himself after two hours, and he was intentionally banking left and right and making grunts and calls of enjoyment.

   Sif, Leokas' wolf, in particular, was not pleased with the situation. She was tied tightly in a harness to Leokas' torso as he steered his glider. She would periodically let out a whine to remind her companion that she was not happy.

   When the island was close enough, they saw that the western "horn" of the bull-head-shaped island had a grassy open area that looked like a prime landing spot. The rest of the island appeared covered in lush jungle.

   Hakam was the first to touch down on the grassy field, and did so like an expert. The others followed one after the other, running as they dropped their legs down and tried to match speed with the ground.

   Leokas, however, came in too shallow. His legs slammed against the rocky cliff that was the edge of the island, and he fell back into the expanse with Sif still tied to him. Belvin, who had just released dog-sized Kamil from his talons, shrieked out and circled back.

   Leokas' legs were scraped up and bruised, but he was not badly hurt. His glider had avoided taking any damage, but he was now gliding behind the island, some fifty feet too low. He was following his training and gaining altitude, but there was no way for him to go any faster, having lost some of his speed from the collision. If Belvin had not flown out to retrieve him, he would have never caught up again.

   "Once again, you have saved my life, my friend," said Leokas, when he was set back on solid ground. Sif was fine, beyond being clearly miffed at having been bound up for four hours.

   Near where they landed, there was some sort of stone statue or totem crudely constructed. Kythrrah bounded over to it as the others began collapsing their gliders and slipping them into the extra-dimensional spaces within their two magic sacks. He sniffed the stone for anything familiar but only noticed the new scent of the the vines growing up its height.

   Solisar joined him at the totem. It was roughly bird-shaped, with an obvious beak. At the back of the head were scratchings that the sun elf recognized as Iokharic runes, the numerals 0, 0, 4, 6, and 2, that is, Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi.

   "This is definitely the correct island," said Solisar. "I suspect that this totem was erected by the surveyors who cataloged this island."

   Belvin shifted back into humanoid form and re-clothed. Kytharrah, head raised high, continued to take in all the interesting smells around him, mostly pollen and other plant scents.

   To the southeast, close to where they had set down, was a pond, about 40 feet wide, surrounded by scrub trees, ferns, and short palm bushes. Beyond this, the cover of palm trees and taller kapok trees grew thick so quickly as to form a wall hiding whatever lay beyond from vision.

   Solisar walked back to the edge of the island, where the grass gave way to rock. He gazed about through Ombert's spyglass. "I believe that I may have found our next island," he said. "It is shaped something like a crescent. It is at least two days before it will pass under us, according to Postmaster Spiraldive's calculations. We have that much time to get to the eastern side of this island."

   "She said that this was a medium-sized island, did she not?" said Hakam. "It is about ten miles from edge to edge, if I recall correctly."

   Solisar confirmed this.

   "I should hope that we can travel ten miles in two days, even if the jungle is thick."

   "Boom," said Kytharrah.

   "What?" asked Szordrin.

   "He hears a rumble," said Hakam. "I do too. Infrequently, in the distance to the southeast. Listen."

   It took half a minute before the others also heard the rumble.

   "Water," Kytharrah also said, and he began walking to the east, looking about and sniffing.

   "We may as well explore about a bit," said Hakam, "and we do need to move east." He followed behind the minotaur, hanging back at a distance. Everyone else followed along. Belvin used one of his druid spells to scan the area for any dinosaurs, but while they could hear the sounds of birds and frogs in the distance, his spell revealed no giant warm-blooded lizards.

   It soon became clear that they were on a peninsula — one of the "horns" of the island — because they could see that the land came to an end to the east

   The sound of running water was louder now, such that the others could also hear it. The minotaur, in the lead, at last reached the stream at a sharp turn from flowing north to east. In 30 to 40 feet, it poured off the edge into the great expanse. To the south, the river passed under a land bridge that led up to a hill. The rumbles, still infrequent, where sounding louder now when they did occur.

   Belvin rode Kamil up to the base of the arch and began to climb up it part of the way, rising over the height of some of the shorter trees and bushes. Looking up the hill to the south, he saw some bright red colors, and realized that he was looking at the back of an aarakocra male, standing on a large boulder at the crest of the hilly ridge. There was another low thud, near where the aarakocra was perched, and the sound of squawking in response. Then, the aarakocra took to flight and disappeared from Belvin's line of sight.

   Belvin returned down the earthen bridge to the others and reported what he had seen.

   "We may be approaching a battle," said Solisar.

   Kytharrah started to follow upstream a bit.

   "Keep your head low," said Belvin. "There are rocks flying through the air."

   There was another thud, and the sound of gravel rolling or crumbling in the south.

   "Do the aarakocra use trebuchets?" asked Belvin.

   "They had javelins and lances and rocks that they dropped, remember?" said Leokas.

   "And we sold them smokepowder for bombs," said Solisar, "but we do not know much about what weapons their lizardfolk enemies favor."

   Kytharrah now saw a splash of dirt atop the hill accompanied by another small boom.

   Belvin motioned for him to come back, and he obeyed.

   "Should we simply hail the aarakocra?" said Hakam.

   "They are in the middle of a battle," said Solisar, "and we do not want to take sides in this conflict."

   Leokas agreed.

   "Let us try to go around to the other side," said Szordrin. "We need to connect to the main island from this peninsula anyhow. I think that we are too far north."

   Most of them turned to go back to the grassy area where they had landed, but Belvin rode Kamil through the stream to the north side of the hill. Passing over thick undergrowth, he spotted a small crater in the ground a dozen feet ahead, with a round stone ball in it. The relatively smooth stone was about a foot in diameter. Another such crater was a short distance southeast of the first one. He turned and followed after his companions.

   They grouped together again and discussed matters.

   "If this is just a skirmish," said Hakam, "we can just wait it out until they stop fighting and leave."

   "We can remain hidden and safe using our rope trick spells in the meantime," suggested Solisar.

   "Let me scout the peninsula from the air more," said Belvin. "We do not even know what the full extent of the battle is at the moment." So, the rest of them sat and ate some rations, while Belvin transformed into a hawk and took to the air.

   Belvin started out flying east back over the stream. Not too much farther from where he had spotted the small craters, the hill became very rocky and joined with the island edge, such that passage further east from this direction would only be possible with dangerous rock climbing and scrambling. Banking around, he flew over the ridge. He spotted a total of only five aarakocra. They had several piles of small, round rocks, likely to drop on their foes from the air, and had constructed a crude nest-like wooden fence from thick jungle vines. In his quick pass overhead, he saw two take off and fly to the south, carrying a rock each in their talons. They dropped the stones into the jungle and then looped around and came back to the ridge.

   Looking to the south, he saw a few clearings in the jungle, and he thought that he might have spotted some lizardfolk hiding in the plant cover and darting to and fro.

   At the top of the land bridge leading up to the hilly ridge, the birdfolk had constructed a spiked barrier of sharpened wood embedded in a mound of clay to block anyone from climbing up by foot behind them.

   Diving low under the tree line, he flew over the water and followed it upstream. It curved around the ridge, which was about fifteen or twenty feet tall, and, after an S-curve, made its way mainly due east.

   Suddenly, a projectile flew past him from the south and slammed into the ridge, causing a small landslide. He banked sharply and headed back downstream, then returned to the others to described what he had seen.

   "We arrived in the middle of an artillery battle," noted Hakam.

   "If we try to follow the stream east, we shall be exposed to shots from both sides," said Belvin.

   He then had an idea. "What if we simply glide across from this 'horn' to the other 'horn'?"

   "There looked to be far more jungle on the other peninsula," said Leokas, "based on what I saw from the edge over there. It would be difficult to land our gliders, I think, without crashing into the trees. I am still in pain from this first landing."

   "I could ferry everyone over one at a time easily enough in my pteranodon talons," said Belvin. "It is only about nine or ten miles to the other peninsula."

   "I could also cause us all to feather fall," said Solisar. "We could all glide over, gaining altitude, and then we could drop slowly into the jungle with the aid of the spell."

   "The aarakocra seem to be staying low when they launch their attacks from the air," said Hakam. "We cannot even see them from here, so they are not likely to have noticed us either. I believe that we are safe here, and there is no rush yet. I think that we should just wait it out for a bit longer before trying to take a shortcut by air. If we wait until morning and they are still at it, I can surround all of us with a holy aura that will keep us in sanctuary against their attacks."

   "Just remember not to take the bags of holding up the rope with us!" warned Solisar.

   "We have more than 12 hours still before it even gets dark," said Leokas.

   "Both Szordrin and I can extend the length of our magics," said Solisar. "Duration of the magic will not be an issue."

   "Boredom will be, however," said Szordrin. "We just spent six hours in one white expanse and now another."

   Solisar cast the spell, and they began climbing the rope. Kytharrah heaved up Kamil with his extraordinary strength and lifted him up to Belvin. They had forgotten one detail; the rope could not be pulled into the space with them, because of the limits of the spell, because there were too many of them in the space at once, nor could Szrodrin climb up while Ferry was on his shoulders.

   "We used to set up two such spaces at a time," Szordrin reminded them.

   "I am not concerned," said Hakam. "If they can see our two bags, it will be no worse if they can also see the rope suspended in the air."

   "Even so, we still have one person too many; I will have Ferry guard the bags; that way, I will also be able to feel if he senses any danger."

   They left the bags of holding at the base of where they had tossed up the rope, and one of them kept watch on them through the dimensional portal as well.

   They saw no creatures pass within their vision or hearing from the safety of the extradimensional space. They rested and passed the time as best they could.

   When dusk came, there was an interesting effect. The presence of the dimensional window did not block the rain that began to fall, but from their point of view, they saw the drops pop into existence and fall from the plane of the window, while they remained dry. Kytharrah was fascinated by this and poked his head down through. It immediately became soaked from the rain. He snorted in enjoyment at the experience.

   Having been stuck in the blank nothingness of the spell for a dozen hours, most of them were feeling restless. It was still another eight hours until dawn, when Hakam could pray for fresh divine power.

   "Play outside?" asked Kytharrah.

   "It is darker and raining now," said Szordrin. "I am sure that it is safe to explore a bit more."

   Belvin and Leokas also were anxious to get back outside. This would leave Solisar and Hakam waiting in the rope trick. Solisar — and Ferry too — were hesitant about splitting up the party, but Leokas assured them that they would not stray too far, and would return quickly.

   The rain, as always on Coliar, was mainly a relief from the heat of the planet, which only Szordrin seemed unbothered by on most days, and being soaked was only a minor nuisance compared to other things now too common in their life as adventurers.

   This time, the smaller party headed due south. Mainly traveling along the western edge of the island. Past the pond, on the left, was where the jungle effectively began. On the right, there were more clusters of scrub trees and large-leafed bush plants and hillocks of grass. Moving beyond a thick cluster of jungle foliage, they came to a couple places where the land had collapsed into open gaps to the sky below, much like the pits that the lizardfolk had dug in the training courses to let the updraft through.

   "The island is breaking apart here," said Leokas. "This whole chunk of the peninsula will eventually tear from the rest of the island."

   Kytharrah passed between two such pits in the earth and pointed southeast. In the twilight and through the rain, they could see a wall of fallen logs, which were arranged in a way that was not natural. A good number of thick tree stumps were also scattered about, and before the log barricade was a leaf-covered clearing.

   Belvin approached one of the stumps. "This kapok tree was cut down with an axe," said the druid.

   They returned to Solisar and Hakam and reported.

   "I admit that I have realized a few flaws in my plan," said Hakam. "First, with all of the undergrowth in a jungle, we would likely not have the time to cross through the fighting while the spell still lasted. Second, the spell would only protect us from direct attacks, not from stray fire, falling rubble, or explosions. I still believe that we should wait out until morning and try to engage at least one of the sides diplomatically. If we start trying to sneak past, one of us — likely me — is bound to step on a loud branch and alert one of the parties to our presence."

   "We could travel along the stream," suggested Leokas. "In this dim light and the rain, visibility would be low, and both the stream and rain would cover any sound."

   Leokas and Belvin were not certain, but they suspected that both the lizardfolk and aarakocra would have sensitive vision, similar to that of elves, but not likely the ability to see in full darkness like Kytharrah and Szordrin could.

   "They are all probably resting until morning now," said Szordrin. "We may run into some scouts perhaps, but I do not think that we have to worry about crossfire anymore."

   Hakam asked Kytharrah if he could still hear any rumbling over the sound of the rain. The minotaur shook his head.

   "We still have four hours at least of rain," said Belvin. "If we are going to try to move past them, then this is the time to do it, before it gets too dark for us to even travel."

   "Minotaur, you will have to carry me through the stream," said Hakam. "My armor is too unwieldy for such travel."

   Kytharrah was happy to help his friend in this way.

   At last agreed on a plan, they gathered their gear and dismissed the rope trick, then headed to the land bridge and entered into the warm water of the stream. It was up to mid-thigh in depth for most of them.

   Kytharrah took the lead, with Hakam riding atop his backpack. Hakam's human eyes could barely see further than forty feet in the rain, but the elves could see well enough, and Szordrin and Kytharrah would be able to spot any body heat if they came upon any non-plant life.

   They moved upstream, under the earthen archway and then around the point of the west-to-east aarakocran ridge. At one point, they had to press through a clump of thick bushes growing in a shallow part of the stream and, after that, through rapids that made it harder to maintain balance, but then the S-curve began and the water calmed.

   When they came around the final curve, the stream mostly flowed due west, and they continued against the flow of the water. Kytharrah, in the lead still, suddenly stopped. His eyes could see a gray dim shape of a humanoid creature with his darkvision, about 25 or 30 feet upstream, sitting or crouching behind a bush on a tiny island in the stream. Kytharrah sniffed. The smell was that of a lizardman.

   Kytharrah motioned with his head to his friends behind him to look forward. The light was too dim for Hakam too see, but he placed his hand behind him to motion for the rest of the party to hold. Szordrin turned invisible, and Leokas nocked an arrow and stepped north onto the shore to take cover by a palm tree.

   The lizardman turned his head and looked at Kytharrah directly in the eyes but did not seem to respond further. Kytharrah tilted his head to the side in a non-confrontational, curious gesture. The lizardfolk turned his head away, rubbed his eyes as if to wake himself up, and then looked back. Now, he was certain that he was not imagining the large, furry, horned monster. He rose quickly to his feet, and his hand reached back for a javelin from a quiver on his back, but he did not throw it; he simply continued staring at Kytharrah to see what he would do.

   "Hold still!" commanded Hakam.

   The lizardman's eyes darted about, but his body otherwise was frozen solid by Hakam's divine magic.

   Hakam looked back at his companions and quietly suggested that they move past the lizardman scout as quickly as possible.

   As they passed by the scout, Kytharrah sniffed him amicably and patted him on the shoulder. "Play?"

   The lizardman's eyes expressed terror.

   Solisar spoke to him in Draconic. "You will be released from the holding magic once we pass by. We mean you no harm; do not fear."

   When invisible Szordrin passed by, he pickpocketed the scout, but only obtained a few frog legs, the lizardman's snack for the night. He turned back and returned the legs to the pouch before hustling to catch back up with the others.

   They followed the stream for about an hour more, before it grew too dark. Satisfied that they had successfully passed through the danger of the warring factions, they stopped and camped for the short Coliar night.
Session: 111th Game Session - Monday, Jun 15 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Flight School
As they walked through the huts of Hisssta, led by Schlith to the Office of Flight Certifications and Registration, Jayce queried the lizardman about the aarakocra.

   "Do you know anything about Alekra Donakkis?"

   Schlith stopped walking. "Look, I can — and do — curse in four different languages, (I may be a lizardman, but I ain't stupid,) but I struggle to describe how much I loathe the Donakkises and their 'holy-poly' war. I would love for someone to strangle that parharding hen with her own entrails and shove her corpse up Syranita's cloaca. But, she is on the other side of the planet, and I am, of course, a peace-loving lizardman, so that is not going to happen now is it?" They had to step back a bit when he said this to avoid being accidentally spit upon.

   "I suspect that they are terrible rulers, from what I myself have heard," said Jayce, "but you will not be surprised to hear that the aarakocra say the most awful things in kind about your people. One utterly ridiculous tale says that you even eat them. How misinformed is that?"

   "No, of course we eat aarakocra meat!" Schlith replied. "Very tasty; you should try some. But only eat any after we find them already dead. If you came across my dead body in the jungle, you would eat me, wouldn't you? I know that I would. What's the big deal? Some people need to spay themselves. And here we are...."

   With that they arrived at the Office.

   Gruss Longtail's tail was actually shorter than that of many other lizardmen that they had seen. He pleasantly did not reek of whatever foul offensiveness emanated from Schlith Darkscale both literally and figuratively. He was both articulate and polite. After Schlith introduced them and spoke to Gruss off to the side in the lizardfolk dialect of Draconic, Schlith departed without any sort of farewell. Gruss then approached them and explained to them how the hang glider certification would work.

   "Unfortunately, I offer classes only on the first, second, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth of each eightday. It takes five full days for me to train someone, and there is a flight test on the last day. It is the fifteenth of the season today, so the next eightday begins in two days at brightest light. You have been given top priority for training, so all other scheduled trainees have been postponed until the eightday after that. The group of you will have my exclusive attention."

   There was some discussion among themselves about timing, but Solisar assured them that leaving in an eightday would probably mean a four-hour flight for them to reach the first island. They also discussed other options, such as constructing their own small spelljammer or using other methods of magical flight, but in the end, they decided that receiving the training might still be the best option.

   "I shall be training you on these, our most well-crafted of gliders," Gruss said, as he showed them some examples. The gliders were about fifteen feet wide and five feet from tip to tail. The wings were made of the leather or skins of some sort of lizard.

   "They are collapsible," he said, as he demonstrated how to dismantle the hanging bar, which then allowed the glider to fold up into a five-foot-long cylindrical bundle. "They only weigh 40 pounds."

   "They would fit in our bags of holding," said Szordrin.

   "Also, do not worry;" said Gruss, "we have gliders large enough to carry your furry friend here. Sometimes, lizardfolk are born much larger than average."

   "Would it be possible to commission your workers or your government to craft few of these gliders for us to take with us when we leave the planet?" asked Hakam.

   "I would have to petition the government elders for that, and it would take some time, but it sounds like you will be on your journey for several eightdays. Let us see how your certification goes first and consider having more crafted after that. Shall I see you on firstday?"

   "You shall," said Solisar.

~~~~

Gruss was a kind and gentle instructor who only ever offered encouragement and advice, never criticism. He started on their first day of training by taking them to a small 20-foot cliff over swampy land and had them jump off and let them glide, or crash, into the soft ground. The gliders were rather slow in calm air, but there was a nearly constant breeze on Coliar, always from the west. With the breeze, combined with diving, the gliders could reach over 25 miles per hour. This made reaching a floating island more than 100 miles away feasible.

   There was one small problem, however; when Hakam first tried to jump from the low cliff, his glider would barely go anywhere and rather hovered. He quickly recognized that it was his magical ring of feather falling. After the first day, he made a cord with which he hung the ring around his neck, so that he could slip it onto a finger in an emergency when gliding.

   Back at the Frihet after the first full day of training, Bansh was excited to hear about what they had been taught. "I have, of course, been gliding all my life," he said, "so let me know if you want any pointers." Thus, every day after training, they had an expert review with them what they had learned. Bansh was able to confirm the wisdom of most of the advice that Gruss had provided about responding to air flow and currents and also clarified some of the more confusing points.

   On the second day, Gruss taught them how to bank, roll, and turn. You simply had to shift your body weight. The gliders could not turn very quickly, so they could only make wide turns.

   In their off time, some of them, despite Leokas' protests, tried to sell their remaining smokepowder, but the lizardfolk had no use for it. They preferred more primitive weapons and did not trust the noisy and untrustworthy guns that some spacefaring races had begun adapting in recent decades. It was suggested to them that they try selling the smokepowder to the giff, the same race that had already purchased some of their inventory back on the Rock of Bral.

   Day three was climbing. Typically, a glider cannot climb. However, Coliar was under a perpetual magical updraft. No one could explain how, but it was just a fact of life on the planet. This meant that gliders could have lift. On this day, Gruss took them to a training area near the edge of the island, where the ground below them was thinner. Here, holes had been dug completely through the island and covered with grates, so that the planet's updraft would come up through the holes. Initially, he attached them to ropes and harnesses and taught them how to hover in place over the updrafts and then showed them how to angle the gliders for climbing.

   After several days of living in Hisssta, they — with the exception of Szrodrin, who could take intense temperatures of both hot and cold — had not gotten used to the hot and humid weather. Hakam managed by casting a prayer each day to help endure the heat. One mercy was that at least there were no insects at all, whether because they did not exist at all here or because of the near-constant west-to-east breeze, they did not know.

   The fourth day was all about hazards. He showed them how to respond to powerful gusts of wind, to recover from scraping wings against a wall, and to snap free from the hanging harness and roll into a somersault if crashing. "Do not fly when it is raining, if you can at all avoid it; the gliders are much harder to handle, and visibility drops. There is also the threat of lightning. If you get struck by lightning, Semuanya have mercy! Obviously, besides the danger of darkness, night is when it rains. Plan your flights for early or midday, and you will be safe."

   Day five was all about landing, particularly about the dangers of landing on a lower, faster-moving island. "Let your legs down from the foot harness and begin running as fast as you can as you make contact!" he warned. For traveling to lower islands, it was always safest to jump from islands from the east edges and land on the west edges. For getting to higher islands, you had to rise on the updrafts against the air currents and effectively wait for the target island to come to you. You took off from the west edges and landed on the east edges.

   On the sixth day, they arrived for class at midday as usual. It was then that Gruss reminded them of the final stage of the certification process. "I have nothing more to teach you; today is the day of the pilot's exam. To make it extra challenging, we are going to test you at shrinking quarterlight, after the evening rains begin, to ensure that you can handle any challenge. Meet me at the northern edge of town then."

   So, when dusk was approaching that day, they found themselves as a U-shaped canyon at the northern end of Hisssta. Gruss led them up a wooden ladder to the flat top of a wide wooden tower, some 50 feet over the bottom of the canyon. From here, they could look over the obstacle course that was their final test.

   Gruss led them over a wooden bridge and along the edge of the canyon to point out the obstacles. First, there was a stone pillar on the left, as high as the tops of the canyon walls. There was a sign atop the pillar, written in Dragonic, which Solisar read as, "50 feet; stay right!" Similar signs were posted at various spots along the course.

   "Look down from here at those three palm trees," said Gruss. "They grow atop a land bridge, a stone arch. The only way to make it through is to dive down and under the arch. You will need to be below fifteen feet, but of course, if you are too low, your body will graze the ground and you will crash.

   "If you do crash, but are not hurt too badly to require emergency aid, notice the several rope ladders placed about for you to climb back out of the canyon."

   He continued to lead them around the outer edge. They could gaze out over the white expanse of Coliar here and saw the countless green specks of islands in the distance, but Gruss wanted them to direct their attention into the canyon. "See, we have dug through the ground here to allow the updraft through, just as at the training site. In this area of the canyon only will you be able to gain elevation and lift as you make a wide turn. After the turn, see that ridge? It is 25 feet high. There are more updraft grates beyond that ridge, but there is also another stone pillar to avoid. Come, let me show you the landing platform."

   He led them to the end of the course. Here, the ground was only 25 feet below them, and it was filled with a deep pond, in case they failed to land on the platform. The platform was made of wood and suspend by four, thick, corded vine ropes, hung from counter-weighted support beams. The platform was tied up high at the back of the course, but when a testee approached, workers would cut the platform free, and it would swing down and then back and forth over the pond. Thus, the test ended with landing on a rapidly moving target.

   By now, it had started to drizzle, as it did about now every night. The rain would only get heavier in the coming hours. "Who wants to attempt the course first?" Gruss asked.

   They returned to the "launch tower". Kytharrah, who had delighted in every day of training, was very anxious to fly, so they allowed him to go first. In his excitement, he caught his hoof in one of the planks of the tower and stumbled off the edge instead of the executing the controlled leap that was intended. Thankfully, this only meant that his initial velocity was not what it could have been. He drifted forward slowly. When he passed the stone pillar on his left, he banked left and then right again before pulling into a dive. To Kytharrah, he felt like he was in a maze, only flying through one, so he had a natural sense of when to turn and when to descend.

   With a rapid swoosh, he zipped underneath the land bridge and immediately felt the strong up-currents catch the wings of his glider and apply force.

   Feeling ever confident, he curved around in a long arch to head back toward the south and the second half of this course. Barely missing a hanging leather sign on the right, he rose over the ridge. However, he still had not turned enough. His forward speed took him too close to the eastern wall of the canyon. As he straightened out, his extra-wide glider's tip dragged a bit against the wall and sent small bits of rubble down, but he still had enough breeze to keep on gliding.

   He had safely squeezed past the final rock pillar.

   There was a creaking sound ahead, as the large landing platform was hacked free by the waiting lizardmen at the top of the canyon walls. It swung down toward Kytharrah, just as he had gained enough altitude, sailing high over the pond below now. His hooves struck the moving platform, and he matched speed with the wooden boards as it began to swing back. It was a superbly timed landing.

   "Huzzah!" cheered Gruss. "Well done!"

   Workers helped Kytharrah get out from under the glider, and he shook his wet fur off with a big grin on his face.

   Each of the rest of them relied on various magical enchantments or abjurations to increase their success. Solisar boosted his sense of bravery and was fearless as he swooped and curved around the course. Each time that Hakam approached an obstacle, he loudly shouted out to his god, "Forget not my service to thee!" and Anachtyr seemed to listen, for he had no unfortunate incidents. Since Kytharrah had already demonstrated a successful path to take, most of the rest of them were able to dulicate his choices, and with greater ease, since their gliders were smaller than his. Belvin had no need for a glider to reach the other islands, as he could remain in the form of a pteranodon or other flying animal for over twenty hours at a time, but he took the training nevertheless and easily passed, as he was used to flying on the wing by now.

   Later that night, as it was starting to get truly dark and the water falling from the sky had finally lessened, Gruss, back at the Office of Flight Certifications and Registration, handed them official, stamped documents certifying that they had successfully passed the training and now had a license to borrow the publicly owned gliders.

~~~~

As planned, on the 25th day of the sixth season on Coliar, which would have corresponded to the third of Flamerule in the calendar of Toril, Ombert and the crew of the Frihet lifted off from Hisssta River into the sky, taking a large cargo of lizardfolk eggs to rendezvous with a lizardfolk spelljammer orbiting the sun near Anadia. The six adventurers, alone again, headed to the eastern edge of the island. Ombert had lent them a spyglass, and with it, Solisar was able to spot their target island, Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi, with a high level of confidence. "It looks something like a head with two curved horns," he said. "It is the only island with such a shape that I can see in this direction and at the proper elevation below us."

   Some of the locals of Hisssta, when they heard that the foreigners were heading to a nearby lower island took interest. "Careful," said one of them, when the target island was pointed out to him. "Some warriors go there to fight birds yesterday."

   Close to growing halflight, they all leapt from the eastern edge into the great white expanse, five hang gliders and one pteranodon carrying a miniaturized dromedary camel. They immediately tilted at a downwards slope and sailed the winds to the first of three islands and whatever adventures and answers awaited upon them.
Session: 111th Game Session - Monday, Jun 15 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Schlith Darkscale
As they waited on the counter employee of Jamm Services to return with the director, Oma looked at the massive bone columns that were supporting the tent. "What sort of creature has tusks this big? They are bigger around than I am!"

   "Are you sure about that?" queried Jayce.

   Oma glared at him.

   Ombert, too, was noticeably bothered by the size of the tusks, as he muttered to himself. "One-eyed space sharks; eel-spider monsters that mind-control my crew; giant hamsters; minotaur-sized bugs that tunnel through rock; why did I agree to captain a spelljammer again?"

   "Where are these guests that you saw fit to summon me from my 'thunderthrone' to speak to?" said a lizardman loudly, upon entering the tent.

   The counter employee motioned in the direction of the adventurers with his head. They were not at all skilled at reading lizardfolk facial expressions, but if they had to guess, the employee was embarrassed by his own boss.

   Schlith was a bulky lizardman wearing a purple loincloth, a headband, and several ornamental bone-jewelry pieces. He smiled broadly at the visitors, as he approached them, and they noticed that he was missing a good number of his front fangs.

   They also caught a whiff of his breath. It was terrible and smelled of rotten fish or spoiled milk — neither of which actually existed anywhere within the planet of Coliar.

   "I am Schlith Darkscale," he said, "but I am sure that you know that already. Now, before I even ask who you are, I want to make sure that I am not wasting my time with you." He lifted up what looked to be a piece of round glass on a chord and held it up to his eye. "I may be a lizardman, but I ain't stupid, so I had this nifty magic glass thingy crafted for me."

   He first looked at Szordrin. "I would not trust you as far as I can spit." Then at Belvin and Leokas: "Probably 'freedom-lovers'," he said in a mocking voice, "like those bird-brained 'democrats'." However, he grinned widely upon looking at Hakam. "Ah, a lawful and orderly fellow! Now, this is someone I know I can trust." He pointed at Hakam's silver holy symbol. "That is the holy doodad for what's-his-name, isn't it? Tor or something; son of Odin; drunk, hammer-smashing god who stlarns frost giants and women both, though not in the same way, if you know what I mean. Heh heh heh."

   Belvin snickered loudly, but Hakam was visibly aghast at the offensive words coming from Schlith's mouth. "His name is Anachtyr, and he is a true paragon of justice, not some loose-moraled mortal."

   Schlith shrugged. "Whatever. He's a good god, right? so you won't stlarn me over, and you are a lawful man, so you won't break a deal. Good, good, I can work with this." He let the crystal drop from his eye. "Now, what in the Hells do you want?"

   Hakam had to wait a moment to calm himself down but then spoke, "We have need to reach an obscure island somewhat near here, and we figured that, with your expertise traveling the planes and spelljamming, you might be able to help us reach an island in your own planet."

   "Or at least advise us," added Solisar.

   Schlith chuckled at this. "Oh, I don't spelljamm myself! Gods' eggs no! Parharding things cost me my front teeth. All their fancy 'oooooh' technology!" As he spoke, he waved his hands to indicate the spooky quality of spelljamming magic. "I would rather eat my own barf or swim in naeth."

   Schlith continued, when he saw a look of confusion in their eyes. "No, what you need are hang gliders. But why would any reasonable person want to go to any of the other islands? There's nothing on those floating dung heaps but dinosaurs and big birds."

   "We are in pursuit of a lawbreaker," said Hakam. "He has stolen something quite dear to us."

   "See, this is why you off-worlders need to learn something from us more-civilized lizardmen; if you don't think you own anything, you don't care if someone takes it, because there are plenty of them things to go around!"

   Hakam looked like he was about to reply, but Jayce jumped in to try to steer the conversation from politics. "There may be some truth to your statement," he said, "and what better way to learn for ourselves how your superior systems of society work than for you to allow us to partake in it? Can you acquire such gliders for us?"

   "See here, let Schlith Darkscale explain how it is. As off-worlders, of course you cannot just fly off on one of our community-owned gliders. However, I know the big snouts on Hisssta, if you know what I mean, and I could work out an arrangement for you, or I'll lay an egg, but what's in it for Schlith Darkscale?"

   "We could come to an agreement in which you were compensated fairly for your time," said Hakam.

   Schlith nodded his lizard head. "Alright, but just because I like your hammer god so much. Sark those frost giants!" Schlith pumped his fist and growled.

   Hakam winced. Kytharrah giggled. Solisar, with his vast knowledge of linguistics, was fairly certain that Schlith had managed to curse in no fewer than three different languages since the conversation had started.

   "Play?" asked Kytharrah.

   "Do you think that this is hatchlinggarden?" asked Schlith. He looked at the others with confusion.

   "How many persons can the gliders hold?" asked Solisar.

   "One a piece," said Schlith, "which means that it's a lot to ask from the elders, but just because I like you so much, I will walk up to the Hall of the People and rub tails with some folks — figuratively, of course! Why don't you all walk around town and do some shopping. Eat some food." He looked at Oma. "Or, do some 'mammalian activities' with each other. Meet me back here before shrinking threequarterlight. I'll be back before you can swallow a python." He turned and left the tent without any further chance for other questions.

   "What a codloose winker!" said Oma, after the smelly lizardman had departed.

   "I do not think that lizardmen need to or do wear codpieces," said Jayce.

   "It is just an expression, moron."

~~~~

Despite the seeming laziness of the lizardfolk population of Hisssta, they had to admit that Schlith returned in a far more timely manner from his errand on their behalf than the aarakocra had done. They had barely had time to get a free bite to eat at the government "Snack Shack" across the gravel path from Jamm Services and returned well before shrinking threequarterlight to the large tent again when the darker-scaled lizardman followed in behind them. They smelled him before they heard his obnoxiously loud exclamation.

   "Schlith Darkscale is ba-ack! And has he a deal for you milk-suckers, as promised!"

   Oma turned away and rolled her eyes.

   "You can borrow however many of our hang gliders that you need for your noble little quest thingy or greedy treasure hunt or whatever. (No one gives aithyas about the details.) Anyhow, in return, you need to take some of our eggs to the sun."

   "What does that even mean?" asked Belvin.

   "We are unfamiliar with your customs," said Hakam, "would you be kind enough to clarify what is requested of us?"

   Jayce gave Hakam a nod to congratulate him for his diplomatic handling of the situation.

   "Well, here's the thing; when you really break it down, the government only cares about reproduction."

   There was a pause.

   "No, not 'sex' you dirty-minded mammals, but the spreading of our race in the broader sense. To survive, our people need to be strong, and so our eggs are sent to incubate out near Anadia to guarantee only superior lizardfolk attributes for our tribe — you know, one's like handsome Schlith here has." He winked with his inner transparent eyelid at Oma.

   She looked sick.

   "How does that work?" asked Szordrin.

   "How in the Hells would I know? Do I look like a reproductive specialist? I cannot even get anyone into the mating pool with me!"

   "Another detour?" said Belvin.

   Leokas was also bothered by this suggestion. He shared his concern, in a lower voice, to his companions. "We do not have time to keep running errands planet-to-planet! We are not merchants or mercenaries; we have a serious goal to accomplish."

   Hakam spoke to Schlith. "That seems a fair arrangement in general; however, we shall need to finish our mission here in this planet first, and then we shall gladly transport your eggs."

   Ombert spoke up, "You know, I could take my crew and ferry these eggs wherever they need to go while you Misfits go off and find what you are looking for. It will give the gang more time to get used to wildspace sailing, and you won't have another major time set-back. It sounds safer than visiting an asteroid full of powerful magical technology, too. Also, I have no interest in risking my body as food for any jungle monsters you may encounter!"

   "How far is the range of our sending stones?" asked Oma.

   "They can reach anywhere in this plane of existence," said Solisar. "We will be able to keep in daily contact with you."

   "Hakam's blessing on the Frihet will also protect us, yes?" said Ombert.

   "And you will also have a powerful devil-slaying bard on board too, remember?" said Jayce. "We shall be fine."

   "How long a journey is it to Anadia?" asked Belvin.

   "Our orrery on the ship shows that the planets are in alignment now," said Solisar. "It would be a relatively quick journey."

   "We do not know how quickly we shall need to move to our next destination once we discover what remains to discover here," said Leokas. "Time saved is time saved."

   "As long as we have everything documented in writing," said Hakam, "I am happy with Ombert and the Frihet making the deliveries while we search the islands."

   "Good, good, but before we let your warm, scaleless fingers near our public gliders," said Schlith, "you need to get officially flight-certified.

   "Another delay?" said Leokas.

   "We have time to spare on that end," said Solisar. "According to Postmaster Spiraldive's address slates, we are already looking at many many days waiting for the islands to move to the right spots to make our journey. The first island is west of us now, against the wind and more dangerous to land on from the current direction. Adding an egg delivery to the end of our time here in the planet is extra time, yes, but time for training will not stall us anymore than we are already stalled, assuming it can begin soon."

   "Worry not," said Schlith. "Gruss Longtail is the best glider trainer around, or I am a birdman beauty pageant winner! If you throw some gems my way, I'd be happy to talk to him about moving you up to the front of his training schedule."

   "I suggest that you...," Szordrin started.

   "Now, now, I may be a lizardman, but I ain't stupid!" repeated Schlith, covering his earholes. "Don't go trying to trick me with some magic trick or unfair bargain. See, this is exactly why I only deal with orderly folk!"

   "What sort of gems would make Schlith Darkscale smile?" Jayce asked. "Perhaps we can negotiate."

   "My nifty magic glass thingy didn't say that you were trustworthy either!"

   "He is indeed sly," said Hakam, "but nevertheless, he is my trusted negotiator for financial deals."

   "Besides," said Jayce, "as you aren't stupid; I would not be able to sneak anything past you."

   After five minutes of discussion, Jayce handed off a violet garnet looted from the neogi master, thought to be worth about 300 gold pieces. Schlith's original request was for some aarakocra-mined corundum, in the range of 500 gold pieces minimum.

   "Well look at this," said Schlith, "the elders get what they want, Schlith gets what he wants, and the Tor-worshipers get what they want. Everyone leaves happy! That's what Jamm Services is all about, isn't it, Risskas?"

   "Yes, everyone leaves happy," said the counter employee in a monotone voice.
Session: 111th Game Session - Monday, Jun 15 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Hisssta
To be written...
Session: 110th Game Session - Monday, Jun 08 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — The Postmaster
To be written...
Session: 110th Game Session - Monday, Jun 08 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Athanar
To be written...
Session: 110th Game Session - Monday, Jun 08 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Coliar
~ eighth-day, 18th of Kythorn, The Year of Rogue Dragons, nine bells
Bral


"I see twinkling light. Like candle. High to port. Two hands." Selu, the ebony-skinned lookout from Chult, called down from the crow's nest.

   Loreene, wearing the vest she donned over her bandeau whenever it was her turn at the wheel as second mate, took a spyglass from the navigator's table behind her and held it up in the direction that Selu had indicated. "It must be one of the port towers," she said. She called out commands, which were echoed by an Illuskan man with a booming voice named Frath. Frath, Guttar, and Tym went to work immediately at the sails, which caused the flying vessel to turn upward.

   Not that anyone on board the spelljammer felt any motion at all. Instead the massive planet filling nearly half of their vision to the port side seemd to tilt but a little.

   The planet truly was massive. Coliar, one of the Dawn Heralds of Toril's dawn and dusk skies was now seen in its entirety for what it really was, a giant sphere of gray-white cloud. Vastly larger than Toril, half of any person's visual field was filled with the planet when he or she looked toward it, and this was despite the fact — Solisar informed everyone — that they were technically still 30,000 miles from the outer layer of clouds that surrounded this strange world.

   The sun also was much larger here, and they knew that the heat from it would be deadly were it not for the protection of their ship's magical air envelope.

   Were they on Toril, it would now have been two days before the beginning of summer. They had had to wait more than two months to set out because of the positioning of the planets. On the sixth of Tarsakh, when they had returned to the Rock of Bral from the Interlink Consortium Corporate Asteroid, the worlds of Karpri, Toril, the sun, Anadia, and Coliar were almost perfectly aligned — something that delighted most astronomers that they talked to on the Rock — but it meant that it was wisest to wait for the planets to move relative to each other. It would have been the best possible time to travel to Karpri, but Coliar was then at its farthest possible distance from Toril and directly on the other side of the sun. It was not enough to wait a short time for Coliar, which orbited faster than Toril, to become visible again. No, spelljamming too near the sun was highly dangerous — they had learned — because of the presence of "helm-killing dead magic zones" called sargassos that were some 40 million miles from the sun. Anadia was at 50 million miles, so it was safest to never fly closer to the sun than Anadia. They needed to wait until the direct line of travel to Coliar did not pass within 50 million miles of the sun. Thankfully, the magic planetary map on their spelljammer tracked the current positions of each planet with glass marbles in circular tracks.

   Alternatively, they could have spelljammed to another planet, say, Chandos, and then to Coliar, avoiding the direct route near the sun, but since they had never traveled so far in wildspace before, they all felt safest waiting a bit and then trying the most direct route.

   They had needed more time to prepare anyhow. The battle with the neogi (and the scavver attack immediately before that) had left them in poor condition, even with the aid of magical spells. Time to rest, mend clothes and armor, purchase needed equipment — especially a replacement for Kytharrah's ruined axe — and learn new spells was welcomed. It also gave the crew of the Frihet time to practice functioning as a wildspace crew. Ombert led them on small merchant journeys among the asteroids of the Tears to gain practice before their first long-distance voyage to another planet.

   They had successfully found buyers for their smokepowder. The giff, the race of humanoids that reminded them of hippopotami, were especially fond of smokepowder, and purchased all of the powderhorns. The military of Bral itself purchased their kegs of the stuff. Solisar had learned that smokepowder was a wanted commodity on Coliar as well, so Ombert had taken a trip back to Lantan on Toril to resupply before their departure for the second planet.

   It had been a productive couple months in non-economic ways as well. Several of them had purchased new magical trinkets. Hakam had made connections with a local temple to Tyr on the Rock and obtained knowledge of rare divine magic kept secret by his church. He also hallowed the Frihet with Anachtyr's blessing, which would, among other things, protect them from mind-control from evil entities, such as, for example, the neogi.

   Szordrin had had Nulara's magic dagger repaired by a skilled craftswoman. She explained to him that the blade could be willed to poison a foe that it had injured with magical venom.

   The elves spent most of their time in Bral's Elven Forest, where Solisar was granted access to the secret headquarters of the Elven Imperial Navy and learned a great deal of wildspace lore.

   Kytharrah had worked as a longshoremen at the docks. His companions also saw to it that his magic axe was mended and further enchanted with the power to cut through the spell resistance of foes. He also had acquired an additional pole arm, a guisarme.

   Lastly, Hakam's camel had been about ready to give birth for a while, and she finally did so on the second of Kythorn. Now the party had to decide what to do with a tiny, fluffy female calf, with barely noticeable humps and silly looking long legs. Belvin believed that the camel should belong to Kamil, since Kamil was the father. Hakam insisted that, by Calishite law, the new camel was his property, as he was the owner of the calf's mother, unless, of course, Belvin wanted to purchase the calf from him. Belvin argued back that Kamil should not have to buy his own child. Leokas agreed to pay Hakam whatever the fair cost for a calf was. In any event, Hakam's camel, the new calf, and Leokas' horse Cloud all remained on the Rock in a stable and under the care of Rinald and his family, who had at last succeeded in finding housing in the city.

   The journey toward this new world had taken 63 hours. They had left on the fifteenth at eighteen bells. When the journey began, Coliar was a gray speck. Now, its clouds were reflecting so much light that it was hard to look directly at it; it was like the glare from freshly fallen snow.

   Nearly everyone was on the main deck, observing the amazing sights, including all 20 members of the crew and the adventurers, with the exception of Jayce, who was helming the magic vessel from the forecastle helm room.

   "Second beacon spotted. Three hands. Same bearing." Selu called down again.

   "I see it," said Loreene, looking still through the spyglass, "and there are two more also."

   After a few minutes had passed, they had spotted a total of just under a dozen such flickering lights, each acting as a planetary lighthouse to guide spelljamming vessels to port. In all, the entire planet only had about 50 spelljamming ports, about half of them belonged to the aarakocra, a race of avian humanoids, and the other half belonged to lizardfolk. In fact, the planet only contained reptilian and avian lifeforms; mammals did not naturally exist on Coliar, or rather, in Coliar.

   After discussions among themselves and with others, the group had decided it best to visit an aarakocra port, in large part because the address that they held in their possession, which they had received from the receipt recovered from the Interlink Consortium, was formatted in the manner of the aarakocra. The largest such port on Coliar was Athanar, located in the southern hemisphere of the giant world, and spacefarers and traders on the Rock of Bral had explained how one could locate a particular port of choice on such a large planet. "It be like navigatin' the seas of any planet," explained one former-groundling merchant captain to them. "Ye find a recognizable 'cons'ellation' of 'stars' and steer the ship right-so. In this case, ye be lookin' for this 'ere shape." He had proceeded to draw a pattern of "stars", which he called a banana—though one had to stretch to see it—and indicated that the second star from the tip on the inner curve was the light tower for Athanar.

   After some argument about which end of the "banana" was the tip, they agreed that they had found the right tower light, a "star". They came directly "under" it, rolled the Frihet over so that the hull was pointing toward the planet, and began to descend.

   It took nearly two hours to descend the many thousands of miles down to the light tower. What started as a flickering candle grew brighter and brighter until near the end of the two hours, no one could look directly at it, because of its intensity. The light was in fact a network of everburning torches surrounded by a half-sphere of mirrors, angled in such a way as to intensify the light into a powerful beam that pointed straight up into wildspace.

   With Jayce at the magical helm, Loreene guided her crew to carefully bring the Frihet alongside the tower. The inverted dome of mirrors rested upon what appeared to be a large wooden platform supported by six thick beams of timber emerging from the thick cloud cover in which their vessel now appeared to be floating. The planetary light house did not appear manned in any way.

   Loreene gave the order to continue to descend, and Jayce used the power of the helm to lower the ship through the white clouds.

   The passage through the thick cloud cover was more challenging than they had at first expected. So thick was the water vapor that it was hard to keep an eye on the six wooden beams of the tower. They had the danger both of drifting too close to the incomprehensibly tall tower and crashing into it and of drifting too far away from it and missing entirely the floating island port supposedly at its base. The spelljammer was too close to the center of mass of the planet now to travel at spelljamming speeds, and they worried about simply letting the ship fall out of the sky because of lack of stability.

   Their fears were lessened when Hakam used a divine spell to ensure that the tower was no further than 800 feet away from them as they descended.

   Finally, after more than an hour of descent, they burst free from the clouds into clear air. A wall of white was now above them and soft light illuminated a vast, endless expanse in all other directions as far as they could see. It almost felt like being inside one of their wizards' interdimensional spaces.

   However, that emptiness was broken up by thousands and thousands of green islands.

   About five dozen islands appeared to be at about the same altitude as where they were currently positioned, but distances were very deceiving in this strange new world. These islands appeared with the clarity of being atop a very high mountain summit. They could make out the rough texture of mountains and valleys and see the blue color of lakes.

   Those five dozen floating islands were but a tiny fraction of the countless other islands that they could see if they looked down in any direction about the ship, growing smaller and smaller until they appeared to one's eyes as tiny green specks.

   If one looked directly down, through the never-ending parade of islands, the light got dimmer and dimmer until only darkness could be seen.

   They were essentially free-falling through the atmosphere now, but it barely felt like they were moving at all until, after about two minutes, they passed below the highest island that they could see and found themselves now looking up at the brown, rocky bottom of it. Compared to the bottom halves of the islands, the top halves were essentially flat.

   The strangest sight, perhaps, were the six posts of the tower to the starboard, which continued to plummet down until they looked like a single brown thread to their vision. The posts seemed to vanish into an island that they could clearly see, even at this distance. To the vision of the humans, it appeared about the same size as a thumbnail held out in front of them.

   Staring at the island as they fell toward it was like watching water boil or a plant grow. Those who came back and looked at it recognized that it did indeed look larger, and more and more islands continued to now appear above them. After about 30 minutes, their target appeared about 50% larger. After one hour, it was double the size that it had first appeared, and they could make out river valleys. After an hour and a half, it was now appearing four times the size it had at first, and the elves could spot blue areas that were probably lakes. The humans could not see the lakes for about fifteen more minutes, when the elves began claiming that they could distinguish rivers, and the island now appeared the size of a dinner plate held out in front of them.

   It became clear that the brown "thread" that was the magically reinforced beacon tower was descending directly into one of the lakes, which was at the top of a round plateau. Around this lake were tiny brown clusters of specks, which they guessed were buildings. After about two hours of falling, it actually felt like they were falling, and they could rapidly begin to distinguish trees and ship docks upon the water. Two other spelljammers were floating there, a hammership and another style that they could not recognize from this altitude.

   The end of the tower no longer looked like a thread. They were probably only a mile above the lake now, and Jayce slowed them down to a hover. The entire journey, from outside the cloud cover of Coliar to the lake-port of Athanar, had taken them over three hours. It had been five hours since they had entered Coliar's gravity well. It was mid-afternoon, but they could not see the sun at all, only white sky. Above and all around them, they could see thousands of floating islands.

   Looking down, they could see giant wooden signs with painted writing on them. These signs were oriented upward, to be seen from the sky.

   "They are written in the Iokharic script," said Oma, "but it is not exactly Draconic. Can you read them, Solisar."

   Solisar had prepared for this journey by learning the basics of the Aarakocra tongue. He looked down at the upward-facing signs. "The Coliar dialect seems heavily influenced by Draconic, but I can make sense of it, I think." He translated the signs for the others:

Re-elect Alekra Donakkis.
Keep Athanar avian.

Nepotism is not democracy! [Both words started with same sound.]
It is time for change.
Elect Asharra Chickchee

Xenophobia is not freedom. [The second consonant in each word was the same.]
It is time for change.
Elect Asharra Chickchee.

Re-elect Alekra Donakkis.
Do your part to defend our islands.

   The crewmembers who were not manning the sails were excitedly looking over the deck railings.

   "I don't see no gems!" shouted Brad.

   "You actually believed the rumors?" Gren replied.

   "Well, I didn't believe in no city in the Tears of Selûne, but where did I live for the last two months?" said Brad. "Oh, and I also didn't believe that you could sail the Sea of Night, but yet here we are!"

   Now that they were only a thousand feet over the water, they could see the two other spelljammers in more detail. The humanoid crew of the hammership seemed to be unloading cargo onto the docks. The other ship looked like it might be seaworthy, but it was still not like any ocean ships that they had seen before. It had figureheads at both the bow and stern — an extremely ornate dragon head and coiled dragon legs with fins. The dragon's head had long, trailing whiskers. From the two sides of the boat were stabilizers shaped like finned dragon claws. The sailors explained to the adventurers that the vessel had "gaff cat" rigging. The dragon tail curved forward over the main deck and had a rear sail attached to it. Most unusual, perhaps, was the small shrine-like house sitting on the main deck where the aftcastle might have been.

   "That must be a dragonship from the Imperial Navy of Shou Lung in Kara-Tur," said Solisar.

   "Aye, it is," said Bansh, the newest sailor and the only one with extensive wildspace experience.

   The buildings that they had seen from the sky were a mixture of types. There seemed to be large rectangular shelters with flat wooden roofs, one at the end of each dock. On the shore, opposite the base of the endless beacon tower was an entirely different kind of "building". It seemed to be a giant bowl of brown, like an enormous bird's nest. In the center of it, there was something like the top of a circular hut. From this height, the whole structure looked like a strange round hat.

   On one side of the "nest", the outlet of the lake poured off the plateau in a waterfall into a jungle canopy of trees.

   Bollus, the Calishite youth with the large dragon tattoo on his back called back that he did not see any flags telling them where to land. Typically, a port would instruct an incoming ship where to go.

   "Caw!"

   The squawking sound was not loud, but everyone on the deck of the Frihet turned around, each expecting the source of the voice to be right behind them. "Incoming vessel," the same voice continued, "you are to proceed to dock four and await inspection. Caw!" The voice sounded like that of a talking parrot or crow.

   "Where is the voice coming from?" asked Rimardo, who was looking disturbed and constantly glancing around himself.

   Loreene issued her commands, and the deckhands moved about, adjusting the sails, while instructions were relayed to Jayce at the other helm to lower the ship into the water. The hull of the ship struck the water with a gentle slap. The sudden rocking that came with floating on water felt very strange to everyone — even sailors who had spent many years of their lives at sea — compared to the completely motionless deck of the past nearly three days.

   At last at the same level as the buildings, they could get a better understanding of what they were. The rectangular structures were wall-less shelters, with wooden poles supporting the four corners of the roof. Each was full of stacked crates and barrels. The crew of the hammership were moving their goods from their ship to the nearest shelter.

   The nest-like structure was indeed an elaborate nest. The nest portion curved up to about a yard in height. It seemed to be woven with the care and detail of a delicate basket, not in the chaotic manner of a common bird, and it was made from thick vines. Tall wooden posts rose from the center of this nest to support the conical thatched roof.

   Now, they at last saw the native inhabitants of this planet, though from a distance. There were two red-colored figures moving about behind the shelter of the wall of the nest.

   Now that they were in the waters of the large lake, everyone felt a sudden change in temperature and the rush of wind, as the air envelope surrounding the spelljammer dissipated. They were fully under Loreene and the sailor's control. They actually had to work quickly and carefully to prevent the ship from being carried by the current toward the waterfall, but there was a constant breeze, so once the sails were positioned correctly, they were able to proceed to dock four.

   Jayce came out of the forecastle and joined the others. He drew out his pipe and lit it up. "It is looking rather overcast, is it not?" he said, as he looked up at the everywhere-white sky. "Also, they were not joking when they said that Coliar would be hot!"

   He was correct. The temperature here was as warm as a summer day in Calimshan but as humid as the jungles of Chult had been.

   They pulled into a dock that had a green flag with the numeral four marked upon it in both Draconic and Common letters. No one was on the dock to greet them, so Niff and Diero leapt or swung down from the boat onto the wooden boards of the dock. They were tossed heavy ropes and began to tie off the Frihet. Other sailors laid out the gangplank.

   "Caw!" came the voice from simultaneously everywhere again. "Do not leave the dock. Remain on board until you have been inspected and approved. Caw!"

   This time, Belvin spotted the speaker. One of the red creatures in the giant nest had a cone-shaped object raised to its mouth while they all heard the voice.

   Diero and Niff came back aboard. Everyone sat around and waited, (except for silent Guttar and Kytharrah, both who never liked to do nothing. Guttar began to mop the decks and Kytharrah offered to help him.)

   The two aarakocra in the nest were moving around, but no one seemed to be coming over. Why were they being made to wait?

   Finally, Belvin and Hakam saw a flash of bright yellow, orange, and red feathers from behind the nest structure. The nest was built right against the cliff edge of the plateau, apparently so that the birdpeople could leap easily into flight.

   The aarakocra was an elegant flier, banking gracefully in the air much like a bird of prey. Its wingspan was probably 20 feet. It had large black talons, and while flying, it would be hard not to assume that it was not just a large, tropical bird.

   Ferry squeaked from Szordrin's shoulders.

   "No, Ferry," said the wizard, "I do not think that these birds will want to eat you."

   "They are carnivores," said Leokas. "He may indeed want to stay hidden."

   "They will touch Ferry over my dead body!" said Szordrin.

   The aarakocra dove down and gracefully landed just before their gangplank on the dock. Now, at last, with the creature standing this close, they could make out more of its features. It stood upon its talons, with three toes forward and one back. Its lower legs were scaled like a bird, but its knees were about as low as a humans, and it had relatively thick, yellow-feathered thighs. With its wings folded mostly in, they could see that half-way along the length of each wing were three usable fingers and a thumb. The remaining "finger" extended from the hand the rest of the length of the wing.

   "Their wings are like a pteranodon's," said Belvin in a soft voice. "See the hands on the wings?"

   The only clothing worn by the aarakocra was a harness, to which various pouches and pockets were attached.

   The aarakocra's black eyes were forward-facing, like a bird of prey. It looked them over briefly and then spoke in a crisp voice in Common. "Welcome to Athanar, visitors." The voice sounded masculine. "What is your purpose here in Athanar?"

   "We have come to trade," said Hakam.

   "Please present your merchant's certificate?"

   "We have come from the Rock of Bral," said Leokas. "No one informed us that we needed a merchant's certificate to trade!"

   "It is a relatively recent change in regulations," said the humanoid bird.

   "How may we acquire a certificate?" asked Hakam.

   "You must make a petition at the Office of Extraterrestrial Affairs, but you cannot do this in person unless you already have a visitor's certificate. Without a valid visitor's certificate, I am afraid that we cannot let you leave the docking plateau until a time of quarantine."

   "Quarantine? For what? How long?"

   "Eight days. Our tribe has voted to require a time of quarantine to all unexpected visitors to prevent the spread of infectious diseases among our population and to reduce the threat of lizardfolk spies sneaking into our midst. I am sure that you can understand."

   "I struggle to understand," said Belvin.

   "Which diseases?" asked Leokas.

   "It is not for any particular disease," said the aarakocra, "but against the threat of disease."

   "I assure you that everyone on our crew is healthy," said Hakam. "We have two healers aboard."

   "Two and a half," said Jayce.

   "Squawk! I do not make the laws; they are voted on fairly by the people. The moneys collected from wildspace trade fund the war and ensure that our hatchlings grow up in safe nests."

   "How do you expect to collect any moneys if you do not open up trade to visiting merchants?" one of them protested.

   "We were told that the aarakocra desired smokepowder," said Leokas. "Surely, the laws allow exceptions for that."

   "Tee, tee, actually, because we are in a time of war with the wicked lizardfolk, we do allow the sale of smokepowder or other weapons without an approved merchant's certificate. Do you have smokepowder on-board?"

   The aarakocra seemed delighted when they answered in the affirmative. "Regardless," he said, "your cargo must also be searched. Please offload all of your cargo into the wareshelter so that our inspectors can examine it. I shall send the inspectors up after the resting hours."

   "May I kindly ask what the resting hours are?" said Jayce. "Regretibly, we are not as informed about your culture as we should be."

   "All take a break in the day's work at brightest light, the start of the hottest hours of the day, to cool themselves and rest. We begin again at shrinking threequarterlight."

   "Can we proceed to the Office of Extraterrestrial Affairs during this time to begin our paperwork?" asked Hakam.

   "Wee, the OEA will be closed until shrinking threequarterlight, and even then, you cannot visit any buildings in the main settlement until the quarrantine is past. That is non-negotiable."

   "How can one fulfill the legal obligations if not allowed to leave the docks?" asked Hakam.

   "We can send a scribe to your ship along with the inspectors to begin filling out the paperwork for you, so that your visitor's certificate can be certified by the time the quarrantine ends. In the morning you can be escorted to the military base to sell your wares."

   "Are there any costs for berthing?" asked Hakam.

   "Tee, you must pay the one-time berthing fee of 125 gold coins to keep your ship docked here during the quarrantine period. There is also an air tax of 200 gold pieces. We accept any currencies with the common-sized circular coins used by most spacefaring races."

   "200 gold pieces is more than a lower-class Calishite makes in two lifetimes!" exclaimed Leokas.

   The berthing fee for their size vessel had amounted to four gold pieces per day on the Rock of Bral with an air tax of only eight gold. Hakam, however, did not hesitate to pay the fee, but insisted that the aarakocra write him up a receipt. The birdman took a feathered pen from a pocket on his harness and began to write out the documentation of the payment.

   As the aarakocra wrote, Hakam and Jayce asked him to describe the strange democratic system that he had hinted at earlier. "The people make the laws? How do you avoid anarchy?"

   "We have police who enforce the laws, which are written by senators chosen by the people. Our presidents leads us, and she always looks out for our greater good."

   "She," said Szordrin. "Is the president never a male?"

   "No male could ever win an election," said the aarakocra. "Everyone knows that males are too emotionally unstable. I will not even try to argue against that. Wee, wee! Too busy pruning our feathers and making ourselves look beautiful. There are several males running in our current election, but males never stand a chance. They just steal votes from one of the real contenders."

   "Who is the best contender, in your view?" asked Szordrin.

   "Alekra Donakkis of course! Alekra Donakkis has been our tribe's president for many terms now. She understands the importance of security as a means of keeping our nests and people safe."

   "What about this other contestant, this Chickchee person?" asked Jayce.

   "Squawk! Asharra Chickchee is a dishonor to all avian creatures! Her words are lies. That is all that I have to say about that." He handed Hakam the completed receipt, after stamping it with the official seal of Athanar with President Donakkis's signature.

   "Why are your people at war with the lizardfolk?" asked Szordrin.

   What followed in response could only be described as an incoherent rant. The aarakocra's voice sped up and was punctuated with squawks and clicks, but they did make out a few choice phrases, such as "blasphemous cannibals" and "eating our children".

   Hakam thought it best to change the topic. "Do you know how we might get to this address?" He handed the dock agent their copy of the Interlink Consortium receipt.

   "It is an address for a specific island, tee, but I cannot tell you more than that it is not on this hemisphere. You are on the wrong side of the planet! Athanar is in the seventh octant; you are looking for the fourth. You do realize that there are thousands and thousands of islands, wee? You would have to visit the Athanar Central Post Office for more details."

   "Is there an aarakocra port in the fourth octant?"

   "Tee, there is. It is called Dohkataka. I would have to send up a spelljamming navigator to explain to you how to find its beacon tower. But I must depart now. The inspectors will arrive after the resting hours."
Session: 109th Game Session - Monday, Jun 01 2020 from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM
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Chapter 1 — Deathspider
The adventurers stepped onto the lower deck of the the open cargo bay of the so-called neogi deathspider. It was about 50 feet wide and 80 feet deep. The entire Frihet, without its masts, could almost fit inside the "abdomen" of this alien vessel.

   A second-story deck hung over this massive main deck like a balcony. Up there were resting the two ballistae and the catapult that Solisar had seen from the air. They walked underneath this battle deck toward a long wall, constructed of the same black crystal as the ship's outer shell. They passed around a 20-foot-by-10 foot open rectangular cargo door to a lower deck and reached a single open doorway just left of center.

   A short narrow hallway led them to a roughly triangular room that seemed to serve as an access point to the rest of the ship. The black walls made everything seem dark. The only light came from eerie red magic lights emitted by strange inverted domes attached to the ceiling at intervals. At the back of this room, the base of the triangle, was the hallway going back to the open deck from which they come, a ramp leading most likely up to the battle deck, and a hexagonal opening on the floor that seemed to be at the level of the gravity plane, perhaps an open portal to the lower decks.

   At the corners of the base of the "triangle" were two smashed-open doors. They poked their heads into the starboard-side room and found several circular mounds of perhaps sand, most of which had the dead body of a neogi upon them. They guessed this to be a bunk room for the crew.

   They had not seen one of the vile creatures up close until now. They were smaller than most grown halflings with eight spindly appendages. Six of them were exposed bone, emerging from flesh-covered upper "thighs", and they seemed to end in sharp points. The two front-most appendages were fully covered in skin and shorter and ended instead in tiny claws. All eight appendages were connected to a short torso, to which was also attached a bulbous, hairy, very spider-like abodomen, and a long eel-like neck. Most of the neogi in the room had been decapitated by the mercenaries, but all of the heads had needle like fangs, tiny eyes, and various beards, manes, and other hairy growths. Some of the neogi had dyed hair or tattooes on their skin.

   The other room, on the port side, had what seemed to be an operating table in it. Sharp implements for cutting hung from the walls. The table was covered in blood stains, and the room smelled like death.

   At the forward point of the triangle was a long passage, which was likely the "neck" of the deathspider, leading to its "head".

   It felt uncomfortable being on the vessel, with its flickering red light. They agreed to find the master's treasure and get out as soon as possible. They hurried forward down the passageway toward the bow, passing several doorways along the way. Halfway along, the walkway sloped downwards and then straightened again. After about 20 yards, they entered the bridge. The room had originally had three round, red glass windows — the deathspider's eyes — but these were all shattered by the reinforced ram of the mercenary hammership. A neogi's limp body hung from the back wall to the right, impaled by a ballista bolt that had blasted through the bridge hull. In the center of the bridge was a circular indentation in the floor with the remains of another neogi. They guessed this to be the spelljamming helm.

   A door on the back wall, port-side, led from the bridge to a small room, and here they found a headless neogi, hair dyed in many colors and a golden neck band around its neck, likely the master of the vessel. This room had another one of the strange, bowl-like pieces of furniture filled the sand-like substance, which they suspected were neogi beds, and other assorted short desks and tables. A second door led into the main passage.

   Directly across the hall was another door. This one, surprisingly, had not been smashed apart. The door was locked, but Szordrin had no difficulty picking it. It was the same size as the master's quarters but contained a single large chest and a shelf of scroll slots, half of which were filled with star charts and planetary maps.

   The lock on the chest was more difficult to pick, but Szordrin managed to get it open on the fourth attempt. Within were smaller, cover-less wooden boxes filled with sorted gold and platinum coins and gems. There was also a strange but beautiful, transparent, cylindrical object with crystalline cloud shapes embedded within and a scroll with divine writings upon it.

~~~~

They were happy to step off the deathspider onto the docking platform again, having collected the loot from the vessel left to them by the mercenaries. Some of the mercenaries were guiding the formerly mind-controlled persons onto the hammerhead. They walked like zombies, but they were at least moving by their own will.

   By now, several of the upper management of the company were present, and they were anxious to meet the adventurers who had saved their lives. Most of the higher-ups, it seemed, had locked themselves in a safe room when the umber hulks had attacked.

   Discussing with the mercenary captain, the Frihet crew, and the Consortium leaders, they pieced together that the neogi had staged a concerted, three-pronged attack. A neogi deathspider had jumped to within firing distance of one of the three mercenary hammerships orbiting the asteroid. The hammership had engaged the neogi and was soon joined by the two other mercenary vessels. The ships all exchanged fire, but the deathspider intentionally kept its distance, trying to draw them away. By the time the mercenaries recognized this, the two other neogi vessels had already moved into action. One of them, using invisibility magic, had attacked the tower at the top of the asteroid, so that it could not communicate a call for aid to the mercenaries. Its umber hulks then descended, burrowing through the rock and stone to wreak havoc in the administrative areas of the asteroid. Meanwhile, the third neogi deathspider had entered the docking bay, forced the crew of the Frihet to surrender, and began to send its slaves to remove cargo. The third hammership rushed to the tower, once it suspected the trick, where it saw the neogi deathspider escape, turning invisible as it fled. The hammership then proceeded to the docking bay. The other two vessels were apparently still in pursuit of the original deathspider.

   "They seemed to be after technology that we sell on behalf of the Arcane," explained one of the company managers. "It looks like they had already loaded up a number of astral wind converters that would allow one to spelljam through the Astral Plane."

   "I want to know how they acquired a cloaking helm," said the mercenary captain. "I've heard rumors that the elves develop them, but I thought that it was only a rumor. Someone better notify the Imperial Fleet about this, but it's not going to be me; they still count me a pirate in their memory, and the memory of elves is long!"

   Solisar noted this information but made no comment.

   The president of the company spoke to the adventurers privately, when the group had dispersed. "One of our customer service representatives tells us how you saved his life, and our pilot store manager, Martho, here, informs us that you are seeking a criminal who used one of our technologies for ill. As a reward for your actions, I will have our arcane laboratory repair the broken rod while maintaining the traces of its previous uses. However, it will take us some time to do this, perhaps as long as two or three months. Several of our researchers and arcane crafters also died in this raid, and they will need to be replaced. I suspect that it will be at least a month before we are fully up and running again here. Nevertheless, had you not been here, things could have been much worse. I thank you."

   "Are neogi raids a common occurrence?"

   "It has happened before, back when our company was young, but never since we began utilizing heavily armored hammerships in our defense. What concerns me is that this seems to have been a well-planned and thought-out attack."

   Hakam asked the man about his agent named Walker. "We accompanied one of your planewalkers. He only went by the name of Walker. We aided him in a delivery on Toril through a jungle. Do you, by chance, know where this man currently is?"

   The president had no idea who this Walker might be, but he assigned someone to look into the matter.

   "If it is who I think it might be," said the worker after searching through some records and returning, "this 'Walker' is currently making a delivery of a package to the Plane of Earth."

   "When we return to pick up the repaired rod at a later date," said Hakam, "can you let us know if he is back?"

   The man agreed. "If 'Walker' is willing, yes."

   Back on the Frihet as they prepared to head back to the Rock of Bral, Loreene looked dismayed. "What a day for one's first time in wildspace. I cannot say that I am a fan. First, a shark cyclops almost eats one of you, and then eel-spider freaks mind-control half the men and threaten to tear us apart with a rock-eating bug bigger than your minotaur."

   "Some days are just like that," said Bansh. "It makes you stronger. We are blessed by the elven gods that the neogi were more interested in the goods in this warehouse than in filling their bellies."

   "I hoped that I acted wisely," Loreene said to the Misfits. "Ombert trusted me with the ship and the men, with my friend's lives. I ordered them — the ones able to resist the neogi mind-control, that is — to stand down. I know that Jayce, Nargroth, Bansh, and Indo were ready to fight, and I would have fought too, but they were controlling Frath even. I wanted to avoid any death if I could, hoping that you would return and right things."

   "I think that you made a wise choice," said Solisar, and Leokas agreed.

   They had to wait for the mercenaries to use their hammership to tow the crippled deathspider out of the bay before they could leave. When at last Jayce backed them out of the asteroid, things were rather silent on the ship, as more than half of them had felt the alien presences in their minds ordering them to be ready to murder their friends if so commanded.

   "Would you have done it?" asked Brad.

   "Done what?" said Gren.

   "Slit my throat? Slit Loreene's throat? That was what that monster was telling me to be ready to do. And I had my blades ready to it, Gren! What does that mean?"

   "I think it means that our lives are not quite as safe as they used to be, Brad."
Session: 108th Game Session - Wednesday, Mar 20 2019 from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM
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Chapter 1 — Truly Horrid!
The gray monster dead, Solisar immediately flew off to recover Kytharrah. As he passed by, he saw the formerly mind-controlled slaves wondering about, all of them seemingly lost.

   At the door, Barth spoke. "These are the docking-bay doors, we are finally here."

   The wooden-planked walkway upon which they stood passed through a slit in the doors, and the doors extended above and below it, such that a worker could guide a floating crate out to waiting ships from either side and from either the top or bottom of the plane.

   Szordrin, still invisible, asked why there were no defenders for a wildspace station such as this.

   "We do have defenders," said Barth. "The Consortium pays mercenaries to protect us from such raids or the threat of them."

   "Where are they now?"

   "Perhaps you were betrayed," suggested Hakam. He put his ear to the door and heard muffled sounds through the thick wood. "Be ready for another fight," he warned.

   "An umber hulk, likely the one with the neogi on its back, came through these doors," said Leokas, noting the scratch marks he could spot on the wood at their feet.

   Kytharrah jogged along the plank to join them. Despite having been cleaned by one of Solisar's simple cantrips, he was still a mess — bleeding, cut up, and missing fur — but he still had a grin on his face, as he chugged from a bottle of healing potion, and at least the prestidigitation meant that he no longer smelled of sewage. Hakam hesitatingly put a hand on his wet fur to heal him. The flesh wounds sealed and the blood stopped, but he would still need a full-body barber to look presentable elsewhere.

   "We will still have the blessing of my god for whatever we have to fight beyond these doors," Hakam said.

   "Minotaur," the cleric continued, "Shove open the door and charge at whatever enemy you see. Do not look any of them in the eyes!" Then, using the magic of his air-walking spell, he flipped himself to the bottom side. Belvin joined him on the bottom side and began stripping off all his clothes, so that he would be ready to shapeshift.

   Kytharrah stepped up to the doors, shoved them wide open, ducked his head, and charged in.

   "Truly horrid!" exclaimed Martho.

   Leokas leapt through the doors at once and saw the object of Martho's comment. There ahead on the docks, standing with its back to them for the moment, was the largest umber hulk yet. It was at least double the height of their minotaur. Leokas let two arrows fly into its upper back just as Kytharrah drove into its lower carapace with his horns. To Kytharrah, it felt somewhat like charging into a metal wall. His head rang from the crash, and he stumbled back dizzily, but he still knew that he had a job to do. As the creature stomped step by step to turn around, the minotaur struck it again with both the melted and bladed sides of his weapon.

   The adventurers took in the scene around them. The umber hulk was not the only threat. Human crossbowmen, probably more slaves, were moving up and down the metal staircase leading from the docks to the upper offices. They were moving about on the Frihet too. Only Solisar, who was still flying, could see down on the deck to notice that many of the crew were bound. Nargroth was tied up at the forecastle, while he spotted Oma bound to the mizzenmast and Bansh to the mainmast.

   The other vessel that had been docked here, the tradesman, was gone, but now a much, much larger vessel filled the back of the docking bay, blocking it. It appeared to be made from a curved, dark crystalline material. Almost double the width of the Frihet, it looked something like a giant spider that had come in backwards, its engorged abdomen up against the back of the dock. Between several spider-like appendages hung sail-like webbing. The dome-like abdomen was open in the back, revealing two wooden decks within. The upper deck had a catapult and two ballistae aimed at the Frihet, while on the lower deck, more enslaved humans were at work moving crates.

   Five different Szordrins suddenly popped into vision below Solisar. From each, a dagger of ice flew forth. The sole non-illusionary icicle shattered against the giant umber hulk as it faced down Kytharrah. Kytharrah swung again but missed. The monster's left claw and then its right clasped the haft of the large axe and snapped the weapon in two. Kytharrah jumped back in shock — and just in time to avoid being decapitated by the rapidly vibrating giant mandibles that the hulk used for burrowing through stone.

   Solisar sent a cloud of glitterdust down on the monster in an attempt to distract it. Leokas stepped forward and prayed for aid on his next shot, while nocking an arrow, waiting for the perfect opening. Hakam walked on air from below and behind Kytharrah and touched him, granting the minotaur enhanced strength. Kytharrah felt the rush of power and snorted. He moved to the left side of the towering umber hulk, while grabbing a small vial. Quickly chugging it, he near-instantly doubled in size. "Now play!" he bellowed, arms ready to wrestle.

   Suddenly, there was an enormous sound of crashing, cracking, and grinding, and the whole wooden dock shook and buckled. The massive umberhulk fell onto its backside, and Szordrin also lost his balance. All five of him tumbled into the gravity plane. Only Solisar could see the cause of the sound and rumbling. A hammership had driven at full speed into the docking bay and rammed into the head of the neogi spelljammer. It fired a ballista directly through the crystalline windows at the head of the spider-shaped vessel. Sword-carrying men swung down from the masts of the hammership on ropes, shouting war cries.

   On the Frihet, Nargroth roared in rage and tore apart his bindings. The mind-controlled man guarding him was tossed overboard moments later.

   Belvin, stark naked, suddenly flipped around from the bottom-side of the dock, behind the umber hulk. As the umber hulk rose to its full height again, Belvin morphed into an eight-foot-tall polar bear and roared.

   The umber hulk turned to face the minotaur that now matched it in height and the white bear and seemed to hesitate. Szordrin magically tried to sway it from where he floated in the gravity plane. "I suggest that you investigate that crashing sound at your ship."

   Instead, it lunged at Kytharrah. Kytharrah ducked and rammed his horns again into the monster. The monster drove its massive claw into Kytharrah's right side.

   Magic missiles and arrows flew at the umber hulk. A heavy object struck the dock, tossed by Hakam. An instant later, a huge elephant now flanked the monster. It punctured the umber hulk's left side with its massive tusks, while the polar bear tried to bite at the legs with its jaws. Then, with a loud twang, a ballista bolt sprung from the deck of the Frihet and impaled the insectoid creature. Nargroth let out a victory yell from their ship, but the umber hulk still stood, even with a huge wooden projectile protruding from the front of its carapace and hemolymph spurting from several gore wounds.

   Kytharrah took the opportunity to try and shove the umber hulk off the dock, but even with his doubled size and enhanced strength, the umberhulk slammed him back with a blow that almost knocked him senseless. He felt blood all over his face, and it was hard to see. The umber hulk's digging mandibles began to whir, and it tried to look Kytharrah in the eyes, but before the magical gaze could affect the minotaur, the floating Szordrins completed a spell that filled the area around the umber hulk with magical darkness. "Lunk, get out of there! It is too big for you!"

   Kytharrah stumbled backward out of the darkness and dropped to one knee, as the monster's bite had still managed to slash at him in the dark as he pulled back. Hakam was there immediately to send a surge of positive energy through his body.

   The impaled-but-standing umber hulk was still in the darkness, trapped between a roaring polar bear and a trumpeting elephant. Leokas flipped himself over to the underside of the docks and hustled to the other end. Solisar flew toward Oma on the aftcastle, while continuously aiming his wand back toward the umber hulk and letting missiles of magic fly unerringly. The Szordrins, duplicate scrolls in hand, called down a rain of icy snowballs into the darkness. Hakam ran through the air to the staircase and observed the rest of the area. The crossbowmen who had been there were now aiming their shots at the mercenaries battling on the decks and dome of the neogi vessel, content to let their masters' monster fight the powerful newcomers.

   From the forecastle of the Frihet, Nargroth shouted, "Hey, hairy buddy with horns!" Kytharrah glanced over to see Nargroth's double-headed axe flipping through the air. It landed on the dock, and Kytharrah swiped it up. He could not see into the magical darkness, of course, but he could smell his opponent. He stepped back in and drove down his new weapon, hearing a loud crack, as the blade cut through the shell of the monster's forearm. He heard the dreaded whirring of mandibles and sprung back, but still they caught him in the chest, digging deep enough to chip a chunk out of his sternum. He fell to his back on the dock outside of the sphere of darkness.

   "Szordrin, I cannot shoot something that I cannot see!" shouted Leokas from below.

   The tiefling wizard dismissed his spell, as Leokas leapt from the dock in an attempt to land on the underside of the figurehead of the Frihet for the right angle to shoot at the umber hulk, but his feet slipped, and he continued past, gliding away on the gravity plane.

   Belvin, in polar bear form, and the elephant, continued to hold the umber hulk at bay, but it was swinging its massive arms wildly at both of them. Hakam hustled back down through the air to Kytharrah, who was on his back heaving in difficult breaths. Positive energy once again restored him. "Stop getting hit!" Hakam commanded.

   Able to see now, Belvin went low and wrapped his furry arms and claws around the umber hulk's legs in a hug, yanking it off-balance. The elephant drove a dusk into the back of the umber hulk's neck, driving the ivory weapon deep into the back of its head. The umber hulk twitched and jerked in its death throes before going still.

   The rest of the battle went very quickly. Solisar cut Oma free, and soon a summoned owlbear skeleton appeared on the neogi deck to block fleeing slaves from the escaping the mercenary boarding party. Bansh, once Nargroth had cut his bonds, helped the half-orc remove the mind-controlled humans from the decks and untie the rest of the crew. No one on the Frihet had been killed; it seemed that the intent had been to make slaves out of all of them.

   Solisar helped Leokas return from drifting away, and Belvin changed back into an elf and began recovering his clothes. Then they gathered at the edge of the docks, cracked where the neogi vessel had been driven into the wood. The deck of the neogi ship was strewn with bodies, and various mercenaries were wiping the blood from their weapons. A large man with a tricorne hat like Ombert and Frath wore stepped out from deeper in the vessel and approached them. He was carrying a small object that was dripping blood. He came up to them and tossed the decapitated, eel-like hairy head of a neogi at their feet.

   "Behold, the neogi 'master'," said the man. "My marines are already claiming all the cargo on board the deathspider for us. However, we could not have taken down that umber hulk monstrosity without great loss of life. My thanks is that I've ordered my men to leave its personal treasure horde to you; hearing this thing's spinal column snap as I ripped its head from its body with my hands is reward enough for me. Neogi masters always keep their trinkets in a room across from their quarters at the very front of the vessel. Help yourself. I won't set foot again on that god-cursed ship."
Session: 108th Game Session - Wednesday, Mar 20 2019 from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM
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Chapter 1 — Neogi
The circular hatch opened through the stone walls into a massive, spacious chamber. They stepped over the metal rim of the hatch onto a wooden plank walkway about ten feet wide. The walkway led forward along the gravity plane to a central, nearly square platform. In the center of the platform, bisecting it, was what might best be described as a cage, around a very large gem or stone that was glowing, providing light to the huge chamber. A metal stairwell climbed around and over the cage and continued rising up for as far as they could see in the dim light, stopping every ten feet at a small metal mezzanine on the journey up. The chamber was probably 50 yards or so across, but it was much wider, and a large number of other wooden, dock-like pathways extended from the left and the right out of wide openings in the stone walls toward the central walkway, leaving empty gaps of gravity plane between them. As they looked up and down, they saw many layers of these wooden docks, several stories-worth of such pathways above them and perhaps twice as many upside-down below them.

   To their left, they saw something flying up from below. It was a crate "falling up" from the reverse side of the plane. It shot through the plane to reach briefly above the height of their heads before dropping again and eventually settling and floating at the level of the plane. Someone must have pushed it off from one of the lower pathways. To receive it, they saw a humanoid figure, with a long wooden pole in hand, reach out the pole to guide the crate along. The human man was not dressed as they would have expected for a warehouse worker of the Interlink Consortium. In fact, he was dressed in rags. They now noticed a number of such "workers" about.

   One of these workers spotted them, and he tossed aside the pole and reached for a crossbow hanging from a hook on his belt.

   Szordrin was the first to react; licorice shaving in hand, he snapped it into non-existence, and he, Kytharrah, Leokas, and Belvin felt a surge of speed. The ragged worker raised the weapon, but Szordrin tossed himself into the gravity plane and glided across to a nearby dock.

   The crossbowman yelled out something in an alien language and released a bolt. Kytharrah heard it whiz harmlessly by his ear, followed by another. He turned his head. There were more ragged crossbow-wielders on the right walkways too, all at different levels — and suddenly another umber hulk, which had somehow clasped the edge of the wooden walkway with it "feet" and flipped itself around from one side of the walkway to the other.

   "Bug!" the minotaur grunted in warning.

   Leokas had his bow raised in a moment and began releasing arrows. One, two, three crossbowmen called out in pain and tumbled off their dock-like paths into the gravity plane to float lifelessly. He turned a fourth arrow toward the umber hulk. It was not just an umber hulk; upon its broad, hunched shoulders rode a hideous, hairy, eel-like thing. It waved two spider-like appendages, as Leokas released the arrow. As it soared toward the small, riding creature, ripples of magical force shot back at the wood elf from his enemy. The arrow struck the alien eel with spider arms, and it shrieked. The magic projectiles, in contrast, were sucked into the brooch holding Leokas' cloak together, a defensive charm that he had taken from one of the mummy handmaidens in Allu's "palace". He smiled, completely unharmed.

   Everyone else also rushed into action, as several more crossbow-carrying persons began appearing on the platforms at different levels both above and below them. Belvin deftly dropped low, gripped the edge of the wood, and flipped himself through the gravity plane to the other side, accompanied by his typical battle yells and whoops. The others heard him rush forward, and soon another ragged body fell from below to join the others floating slain in the gravity plane.

   Hakam stepped out into the void by means of his still-functioning spell and flipped himself around. On the other side of the wooden pathway, he saw Belvin waving his bloody scimitar. Coming toward him was another strange creature. It was huge, hairless, and gray-skinned, bulky with extra-long arms that drooped down almost to its massive feet. It had an elongated head with two nostrils, a wide maw, and six eyes, set in two columns. He had no idea what such a creature was.

   Szordrin lifted himself up out of the gravity plane and onto one of the side pathways on the left. He extracted a tiny glass vial of water and snapped it open. Between his two hands a large icicle formed out of nothing and then launched through the air like a Kara-Turran rocket. It stabbed one of the crossbow man a dozen yards away through the heart.

   Kytharrah rushed toward the central platform with the metal stairs. A crossbowman appeared on the mezzanine above him and aimed but was too slow. Kytharrah swiped out with his long, hairy arm and caught the man by his ankle, yanking the man from the landing and tossing him over his head into the plane.

   Thus far, only two crossbowmen had even had a chance to release their quarrels, but more kept appearing on different walkways and platforms.

   Solisar clutched his sapphire, and another shield of liquidy blue formed before him to defend him. He recognized that the humans in rags were not in their right minds. They were mind-controlled neogi slaves. He had thought that Martho had been confused earlier, calling the insectoid umber hulks that they had fought neogi, but the Consortium manager had been correct; the eel-like monstrosities were here indeed. "Kill the neogi first!" he shouted to the others.

   The neogi, for its part, drove its "mount" forward. The umber hulk bounded and leapt from the walkway to the central platform near Kytharrah and vibrating its tunneling mandibles in a blur.

   Leokas heard his fellow elf's instructions, understood, and obeyed, letting loose a series of arrows. As the umber hulk approached Kytharrah with its dangerous mandibles, an arrow struck the riding eel-thing, and its jerking response to the gash through the side of its neck caused its mount to rear back. The second arrow missed and drove into the exoskeleton of the umber hulk instead, but a third arrow punctured the neogi's neck directly in the middle, and its tiny body tumbled off the much bigger monster into the void.

   But the battle was not over. Hakam watched as Belvin flipped himself around to the topside again by dropping low and swinging his weight around the platform. "Something big is coming!" he shouted out in warning as he stood to his feet.

   "What comes?" asked Leokas, nocking another arrow. Kytharrah's bulk blocked a direct shot at the now riderless umber hulk. He scanned around to ensure that no one else had a crossbow leveled at him or his companions. The numerous human slaves had all lowered their weapons and just stood there looking dazed. He held his fire.

   "Gray, large, six eyes, lots of teeth!" He began a summoning chant.

   The umber hulk, however, was a greater concern for them at the moment. With a front flip somersault through the air, Leokas leapt over the gap to the nearest wooden walkway to get a clearer shot at the umber hulk as it moved on Kytharrah. Kytharrah swung his unbalanced, acid-melted axe, but his blows simply glanced off the hulk's armored shell. Solisar pummeled the monster with magic bursts of force, Hakam called down divine fire, and Leokas loosed three simultaneous arrows that punctured through the beast's side, but these combined attacks did not drop the creature. It swung its claws at their minotaur and left bloody gashes in his side, which had only just been healed by magic shortly before they had entered the room. Kytharrah stumbled about in pain and tried to swing again, but his blow was again ineffective.

   Szordrin was more concerned about the new monster about which Belvin had mentioned. Mirroring the wild elf's actions, Szordrin managed to flip around to the bottom side, and he too now saw the strange gray monster approaching the middle platform with the glowing stone. He took a tiny white stone from his pouch and tossed it, cursing when he failed to complete the spell's actions properly. Thankfully, at that moment, a hippogriff, Belvin's summoned aid, popped into existence immediately before the bounding creature. It screeched like a bird of prey and swung its foreclaw at the gray monster.

   On the other side of the platform, more magic from Solisar's wand and a beam of searingly bright light from Hakam's open palm struck the umber hulk. It was stumbling now and weakly tried to swing and bite one more time at Kytharrah but missed on each attempt. A final, full-powered draw and release from Leokas caused the umber hulk to drop to its knees with a thud and then tumble off the dock into the gravity plane to float alongside its dead neogi master.

   "To the door!" Belvin yelled, and he started for the large double doorways on the opposite side of the chamber, which presumably led out to the docking bay where the Frihet waited for them.

   Not all was safe, however. Kytharrah, rescued from being slaughtered by the umber hulk's mandibles, was still badly hurt, and now he just stood there, babbling nonsense in Giant, his native tongue, the result of having looked too closely into the eyes of the umber hulk.

   On the inverse side, Szordrin watched the gray monster battle the hippogriff in a flurry of claws and feathers. He needed to get past somehow, so he turned invisible.

   Through the sudden and viscous fighting, Barth and Martho had stood huddled together at the circular hatch. Solisar flew to them. "I can drag one of you safely and quickly through the gravity plane. Come! Before more monsters arrive." Martho hesitated, but Barth happily stepped forward. Solisar dragged him along, friction-less in the gap between the walkways toward the large doors at the other end.

   Suddenly, Kytharrah turned and faced Martho. He tapped one of his hooves on the wooden planks, in the way a bull might before charging. Martho had started moving forward but now froze. Was the minotaur going to charge and gore him?

   Hakam, still floating on air, said a prayer to free the minotaur from confusion, but it failed to have any effect. "Apple swim!" shouted Kytharrah, and he shook his furry, red head like a dog shaking off water.

   "Lunk!" shouted Szordrin's voice from somewhere. "I suggest that you calm down and follow our orders."

   This magic, too, had no effect. "Pigs sing rainbow!"

   Szordrin's voice was heard again, this time from a completely different spot, on the central platform by the glowing stone and the stairs. "Kytharrah, Kytharrah, come here." This message repeated in an endless chant. Szordrin hoped that the spell would at least be noticed by the minotaur when he eventually did overcome the magical enchantment. It was more important, in the meantime, for the rest of them to make it to the door before the monster on the lower side....

   The gray creature had just caught the hippogriff in both of its claws and began to tear. The move would have rended the the equine magical creature apart, but it instead vanished into nothing, leaving the gray alien monster confused — in a mundane way — at what had just happened to its prey.

   On the other side, Kytharrah, however, was still magically confused. He did, in fact, charge toward Martho, but thankfully he did not gore, instead, he dove forward through the hatch like one would dive into a lake, landing in the gravity plane and beginning to glide toward the sewage that now poured from the opening in the ceiling of the tunnel from which they had all come.

   "That was too close," muttered Martho, "certifiably too close!"

   "Stop!" commanded Hakam, with the force of divine magic behind the words. Kytharrah's body froze up solid, but it was still drifting outward. The cleric decided that he would have to go recover their minotaur later. For now, he could not harm Martho, and they all needed to get safely to the door, where Belvin now stood summoning a replacement creature of nature.

   "Martho," Hakam shouted, "run to the doorway while you still have the chance. There is another monster on the reverse side."

   The sales manager began sprinting along the wooden path. On the right side, Leokas jumped into the forty-foot gap between the next parallel walkway, falling through the gravity plane and flipping his body around at the bottom of the wave of his sinusoidal curve of his motion to land upside down on the other side. In such a manner, he appeared to move almost effortlessly from wooden dock to wooden dock, making his way toward the door as well. Below them, they could hear the gray monster stomping along the central pathway, still inverted relative to most of them.

   Suddenly, a mystical sword appeared before the creature and swung at it, called into service by one of Hakam's prayers. The monster ducked under the swing, but it seemed to distract it enough that it did not climb around to see the rest of them. Martho ran safely above the creature and reached Belvin, and Hakam was not far behind. They heard invisible Szrodrin's voice nearby, and Solisar arrived as well, dragging Barth along. Releasing the man, the sun elf now waved his wand, sending magic missiles at the creature below them. Leokas, too, reached Belvin, with a final leap over the empty gap.

   "Solonor guide my arrow," he prayed. He then dropped to the edge and rolled himself around to the bottom side. From his knees, he nocked an arrow. Hakam's spiritual sword slashed at the enormous monster with its three rows of glowing yellow eyes. The creature was all rippling muscle. Leokas waiting a few seconds for the perfect shot. A second hippogriff appeared behind it and screeched and clawed. The monster raised its head to roar in pain, and Leokas took his shot. The arrow plunged through a soft spot in its thick neck.

   The monster gagged and tottered and crashed to the wooden platform, dead.
Session: 107th Game Session - Wednesday, Mar 13 2019 from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM
Viewable by: Public
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