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Chapter 3 — Avilda
to be written...
Session: 120th Game Session - Monday, Aug 31 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Tags: Chapter 3 , Lantan , Recap
Chapter 3 — The Shou Embassy of Bral
to be written...
Session: 120th Game Session - Monday, Aug 31 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Legal Matters
to be written...
Session: 119th Game Session - Monday, Aug 17 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Marauders
to be written...
Session: 119th Game Session - Monday, Aug 17 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Ropers
to be written...
Session: 118th Game Session - Monday, Aug 10 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Deeper into the Mine
The crysmals scattered off into their corners, and the adventurers heard the sound of tapping as the crystalline creatures began picking against the clusters of gems.

   They were now promised to be left alone for passage, but finding a way across the might be challenging for some of them.

   "Fly?" suggested Kytharrah, looking at Hakam.

   Of course, the wizards could fly, Belvin could shapeshift, and they did have hang gliders — though not ten of them — but Hakam had not prepared his air walking spell, expecting to be in a cave, so it was not a simple matter.

   The two gigantic crystals spanning the opening to the expanse of sky below had flat sides that were nearly level with the ground. They stretched out over the chasm and nearly touched. It appeared like it might be possible to walk up the side of one, jump maybe four feet to the other, and walk back down the other side. It would be something like crossing a thick log over a creek, only instead of a creek there was a 30,000-mile fall to the center of mass of the planet.

   "Kytharrah could probably straddle the two crystals and help some of us from one to the other for those who needed it," suggested Jayce. He was looking at Hakam when he spoke, though he himself was not particularly known for his own skill at balancing, climbing, or jumping.

   "We should search for another way before risking it," said Solisar.

   They could not find another path, however, when they searched around.

   "We have plenty of rope," said Hakam. "We could tie some rope to Ormur, which would span this chasm. Then we could tie one end around our waists for safety."

   "I shall go across and tie it off on the other side," said Leokas.

   There was a slight slope to the right and a slight incline, but Leokas had a phenomenal sense of balance. Even so, the surface was smooth and potentially slippery. After fifteen feet, he had to step onto another face of the crystal. This one was more level with the ground. Now came the jump. It was not a terribly far distance, but there was no room for a running start. At least the landing surface was angled upwards, which would help cancel any forward momentum after landing.

   He took the leap and landed deftly. The other crystal had a more consistent surface, and it was about five-feet wide all the way down to the stone ground on the other side. He wrapped the non-magical end of the rope around another large, vertical-pointing crystal and made sure that it was secure. On the other side, Kytharrah held onto Ormur. Someone commanded the rope to wrap tightly around his waist and thighs like a harness. He also held onto the rope with his hands and began to climb. He made his way up to where the face of the crystal was flattest, and then took a big step over to other extended gem, straddling the two. "Ormur, let go," he said. The magic rope obeyed, and Kytharrah tossed it 40 feet to be caught by Solisar.

   Solisar commanded Ormur and then began to climb. Five feet up the crystal ramp, he slipped, falling to his hands and knees. After taking a moment to catch a breath, he stood up and tried again, more carefully, holding onto the rope as he went. He reached the minotaur, who then hoisted him over to the second gem. Solisar reached the other side from there without further issue. Ormur untied itself, and Kytharrah reigned it in and tossed it over again.

   Sofi did not use the rope at all. She skillfully rushed up the one crystal and was over to the second and back down to the ground again before anyone had a chance to question the wisdom of the action. Sif, too, recklessly raced across the gem bridge to her master on the other side as if it were no big deal, almost knocking Belvin over as he crossed.

   Oma came next and surprised everyone with how easily she made it look. Panther, Oma's cat, followed closely behind her, prancing proudly as if to show off his lack of fear. Hakam came after that, moving very slowly, but he relied heavily on the rope and on Kytharrah moving him from the first crystal to the second.

   It looked like passage over was going to continue smoothly after Solisar's earlier slip, but then Jayce also slipped about half way up the first crystal. Unlike Solisar, however, he failed to catch himself, instead landing on his side and rolling off the crystal altogether. He plunged into the white expanse below. Oma gasped. Solisar was about to call out his spell to slow the bard's fall, but Ormur held secure. Were Ormur not a magical and elastic rope, the snap alone might have killed Jayce, but now he sprung up and down, dangling and swinging a hundred feet below them. Belvin and Leokas called Kytharrah over to join them, and they worked together to raise Jayce. It took a while to maneuver him around the cluster of sister crystals around the large one, but eventually, they managed to get him onto solid ground.

   Kytharrah gave him a big grin, as if he expected the bard to have found the ordeal fun.

   "Maybe this is why I have not been traveling with the rest of you anymore," he said.

   Nargroth and Szordrin were the last to come over, and they made it safely.

   That was everyone. Jayce asked for a moment to recuperate from his shock. They looked about the area on this side. The crysmals seemed skittish of their presence and scurried away to the south and north. To the east, around a boulder, there was evidence of digging, piles of rubble and dirt. Leokas checked again for tracks, once again finding evidence of both crysmals and aarakocra. "Some aarakocra passed this way," said Leokas, "but they never came back. This must have been the new tunnel that they dug."

   They lined up in the same general manner that they had before, with Kytharrah leading the way, holding the leucrotta thigh bone in his right hand and the everburning torch in his left.

   The digging broke through into a natural tunnel that roughly passed from northwest to southeast. They took a right, assuming that heading left would simply take them to another point on the rift further north. The tunnel came steeply down natural steps and then turned sharply right then left, entering a small pillared chamber. On the north wall of this chamber, Kytharrah found some small holes that seemed to pass into another passage on the other side of the stone. The air smelled less fresh on the other side of the holes.

   There were not any crystals in this tunnel, which continued on for a good distance, roughly straight, though bending back and forth, perhaps 50 yards, before making a u-turn at a very narrow column close to the right wall. Light could not reach this far into the cavern complex, so they were now relying on torchlight and Hakam's glowing shield.

   "I have never been this far underground before," said Sofi. It was not clear whether her tone was one of excitement or fear.

   The tunnel came to some stone slabs that served as natural stairs up about five feet and then continued on, curving sharply right then left again. They were now heading roughly due west, presumably parallel but higher up than where they had just been walking. In about 25 feet from here, Kytharrah was stopped by a mass of boulders, a cave in. The minotaur looked nervous, quite unlike his usual playful demeanor. He checked the walls to see if they seemed stable.

   "Can any of our divine spellcasters shape this stone to make a path?" asked Solisar.

   "First, Ferry can tell us what is on the other side," said Szordrin.

   The weasel scrambled down Szordrin's clothes and squeezed through the rocks. He came back after only a half-minute and squeaked and chirped up at his master.

   "Ferry says that if Kytharrah can roll that first boulder up there off the other one, then all of us big people could probably squeeze up and over a larger boulder behind it."

   "You can understand his chirps?" asked Sofi. "That is adorable!"

   Panther mewed and hissed, and Oma simply nodded.

   Kytharrah moved up to where a smaller boulder was sitting atop a larger one. He braced himself against the wall and shoved. Everyone stepped back as the one-ton rock slid and half rolled and crashed to the floor of the cave, shaking the ground and dropping dirt on all of them from the ceiling. Next, the minotaur set down the sack that he had strung over his shoulder and scrambled onto the larger boulder and up eight feet to squeeze himself on his stomach through the tight space against the ceiling.

   Kytharrah got stuck. He tried to move, but his shoulders would not budge.

   Memories of the cave-in that separated him from his tribe and family filled his simple mind, but he knew that a big minotaur needed to be brave. He calmed himself down and tried to twist in a different way. His arm popped free. Now he could maneuver left, then right. His shoulders could move, so could his legs. He used the latter to press himself along, slowly but surely. He now hung eight feet over the ground and carefully figured out a way to climb down on the other side, inverted, among the collection of boulders beyond. He had made it through.

   Kytharrah being the biggest, it was no problem for anyone else to squeeze through the space above the massive boulder and up against the ceiling. It was more of a difficulty getting up there to make the squeeze in the first place. There were ten of them, though, so there were plenty of spotters and hands to provide lifts. Kytharrah, being eight feet tall, could also pull them through to make it faster, once they got up there. After about ten or fifteen minutes, everyone was through this next challenge.

   "Both kinds of tracks came through this way," said Leokas. "Either the cave-in was recent or the miners and crysmals crawled through like we did."

   After Ferry climbed back up on his shoulders, Szordrin waved a wand and made them both disappear again.

   They continued on. As the went, Hakam was careful to constantly check the ground for stalagmites that might be disguised monsters, but he saw nothing amiss.

   The path zigzagged a bit and began to drift northward. After 80 feet, the tunnel twisted and curved downwards past some boulders and into an area where the stone was subtly different. It seemed to match more the type of stone and rock at both of the openings to the sky where the concentrations of crystals had been the highest. Sure enough, the light from Kytharrah's heatless torch was reflected back at him after he came around an ess-curve corner from some tiny gems poking up through the surface of the stone floor. He sniffed the air and perked his hears but sensed nothing.

   After a second ess-curve, they were heading east again. Then they came to a tee. To the left, the earthen path was mostly clear, but the tunnel to the right was covered along the floor, walls, and ceiling with purple crystals, which only increased in concentration as the tunnel progressed in that direction. Oma gasped as she came up behind Kytharrah and saw the sparkle of the many facets reflecting the torchlight. Solisar expressed similar awe.

   Leokas reached the minotaur and stooped down to look for tracks again. "If I am not mistaken, the aarakocra went to the left from here, but the crysmals came from the right."

   To the right, the passage forked again, northward. Continuing to the east, where the crystal density was at its highest, there was something strange.

   "What is that in the distance?" asked Szordrin and Belvin together.

   It was as if their vision were playing tricks on them. The tunnel seemed to come to a dead end in 25 yards. Here, it seemed like there were crystals popping into and out of existence, appearing and disappearing rapidly. It might have been an illusion, or else it seemed like something was wrong with reality itself.

   Kytharrah was filled with curiosity and moved toward the visual anomaly.

   "Wait! Stop!" said Belvin.

   The minotaur could not move quickly; it was dangerous to do so here. Treacherously sharp crystals jutted from all around. One had to choose his or her steps very carefully to avoid be injured by the jagged points of corundum, and they grew sharper and more jagged as he advanced closer to where reality seemed somehow warped.

   "It is a portal," said Szordrin's voice from his invisible form. "I have a scroll that can analyze it."

   "It emits a strong transmutation aura," said Solisar.

   "I am almost certain that we are seeing an elemental vortex," they heard Szordrin say, "a rift to one of the elemental planes. They sometimes occur spontaneously when the concentrations of certain elements on the Material Plane are very high."

   "Is it to the Plane of Amythest then?" asked Hakam.

   Nargroth chuckled. "There are only four elements," he said, "but there are also paraelemental planes and quasielemental planes, where the inner planes intersect."

   "There is said to be a Plane of Minerals where the Plane of Earth and the Positive Energy Plane overlap," said Solisar. "The creative power of positive energy mixes with elemental earth to create all manner of minerals and gems."

   "This must be whence the crysmals came," said Hakam.

   "Szordrin, you had better behave yourself," said Belvin, motioning to all the gems around them.

   "Do not worry;" said Solisar, "I can still see him."

   "I am surprised that I would have to point this out to Szordrin," said Leokas, "but the mineral wealth on the other side of this portal does not technically belong to the aarakocra."

   "They will interpret the law such that we are guilty if we possess more gems when we exit than when we entered," said Hakam. "Leokas is correct, of course, but it would be impossible to prove in a court of law."

   Leokas turned the conversation back to more serious matters. "Can we survive on this Plane of Minerals?" he asked.

   "If we were to pass into a cavern that happened to have air to breath in it," said Oma, "but there is no certainty in it."

   "Most of the Plane of Earth is solid rock!" said Nargroth.

   "Are we seeing the other side now?" asked Sofi. "It does not look like solid rock. It looks like a cavern tunnel covered in crystals, as it does here. It is hard to tell the two places apart."

   The image appearing to their eyes remained in constant flux, but she seemed to be correct.

   "It is like the common 'blink' spell," said Szordrin, and Solisar nodded in agreement.

   "The aarakocra did not come this way," said Solisar. "I suggest that we search for them and their demise first, before we consider what to do about this vortex."

   "I agree," said Hakam.

   "Is it stable?" asked Leokas. "Will it remain when we return?"

   "We would have to use Szordrin's scroll to know that," said Solisar.

   "If it is stable," said Hakam, "it may be a good route to pursue Samber, perhaps a way to reach the place on the Plane of Earth where he mines for material for his golems. But I agree with Solisar that this is of a lower priority to us at the moment."

   "It should also be noted," said Solisar, "that there are rumors that those who tarry too long in the Plane of Minerals eventually turn into crystals themselves."

   "My mother told me that story," said Nargroth, "but I never believed it was true! I thought that it was just a morality tale against greed."

   "I know not if it is true or no," said Solisar. "Nevertheless, we would not want to enter until we had taken many magical precautions."

   The others saw a roll of vellum materialize out of nothing, as Szordrin handed his scroll to Solisar to use. The elf read the magic words from the vellum, and they vanished from the sheet as he spoke them. He began to share the information that the divinatory magic revealed to him. It was a spontaneously formed portal; no one intentionally created it. Not surprisingly, it required no key. It was two-way and relatively stable; that is, the magic itself was stable, though if the ground itself were to move, the portal might be destroyed. Unlike magically crafted portals, elemental vortices allowed unaccompanied matter to pass in and out, so air could flow freely.

   "I suspect that this vortex would take us somewhere roughly midway between the two inner planes," said Solisar finally.

   "Let us continue on then?" asked Jayce.

   Kytharrah moved to the front again, and carefully stepped around the sharp crystals to investigate the other fork. The tunnel tapered off to a size too small for him to continue.

   "Neither the crysmals nor the aarakocra went that way," said Leokas.

   Kytharrah was hesitant to try and squeeze anywhere again, so he came back.

   This left one passage remaining to explore. It was relatively wide, and the concentration of red and purple crystals diminished until it was a simple matter to walk again without cutting oneself. This passage made a wide turn from northwest to northeast and opened up into a massive chamber, the largest that they had yet seen in these mines. They were standing on a raised ramp, looking down into the crater-like floor. Their torch- and magic light were not even strong enough to illuminate the full extent of the chamber, it was so wide. Among stalagmites, stalactites, and rock columns, several large clusters of crystals erupted from the earth. A particularly large column of rock, some twenty feet thick, supported the high ceiling.

   "There may be a cave within a cave in that column," said Belvin, noting a dark opening in the wall of the largest column."

   "We should be wary of the stalagmites," said Solisar.

   "Yes, remember the crysmals' warning," said Belvin.

   Kytharrah rounded a particularly large cluster of crystal growth and spotted motion from the corner of his left eye. It seemed like one of the stalagmites to the north had moved. He gripped the dark leucrotta bone in his fist, ready for if it moved again.
Session: 118th Game Session - Monday, Aug 10 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — The Gem Mine
~ eighth-day, 32nd of the sixth season, growing threequarterlight
Athanar Military Mining Facility 15


A few hours before the daily siesta, an eagle ship dropped off the adventurers underneath one of the islands in the same jet stream as Athanar. They stood on a wide stone ledge. It was circular and encompassed an area with a 40-yard diameter. In the caverns and mines that they were used to on Toril, they would have been looking down into the dark depths of the ground, but here, they looked down on white sky, clouds, and green floating islands.

   This was Athanar Military Mining Facility Doht, or Tee-doh, that is 1-5, which meant that it was the thirteenth mining facility, since the aarakocra had a base-eight counting system, as they all well knew by now.

   Jayce, Oma, and Nargroth were joining them this time. Nargroth was not needed on the Frihet, since the ship and everyone on it was forbidden to go anywhere else. (Belvin regrettably also left Kamil behind, since a camel would not fit in the mine tunnels.) Nargroth and Jayce both seemed excited to partake in the more adventurous side of things for once. "I have not swung axes with you in a long while," said Nargroth.

   The eagle ship dropped into the sky and departed. The aarakocra would return after the day's rest to pick them up again, so they had many hours to solve the problem, whatever it was. This left ten humanoids, a wolf, a weasel, and a cat standing at the southern end of the circular ledge.

   The planet's ambient light allowed them to see the entire area clearly. (Being on the underside of the island did not in any way mean that they had less light than they would have had on the topside of the island.) Near where they all stood, there were wooden racks and metal clips for holding minding tools, but no such tools currently hung here. The walls showed evidence of picks and pockmarks where gems had presumably been extracted. There was no sign of any gems or ore at all along the circular wall, but at the west, north, and east sides, tunnels had been dug deeper into the underside of the island.

   It had been explained to them by the military's lead miner that after strip-mining an "inverted pit" such as where they were to be dropped off, they usually tunneled into the island to search for less accessible gems and ore. In this case, breaking through to the north and east had led to no significant supply of gems, but breaking through the the west had led to natural tunnels leading deeper into the island. These natural tunnels brought the aarakocra to a rift and a large collection of gems and "geminals". These latter creatures seemed to have come from a tiny crack in the stone on the other side of the rift. The aarakocra opened a tunnel in that direction to continue exploring. Before they were able to start on strip mining the area of the rift, they called off all work on the mine when those few miners sent to explore through the newly opened tunnel never returned.

   "Before we go anywhere," said Belvin to his companions, as they began to walk carefully along the eight-foot-wide ledge toward the western digging site, "give me a moment to commune with the mine."

   "Commune with the mine?" repeated Sofi.

   "He is going to become one with nature," said Jayce. "It is a druid thing, and like most druid things, it is probably going to take a while." The bard sat down on the stone and began to strum quietly on his yarting. The others sat or rested as well, as Belvin chanted under his breath for a solid ten minutes, his eyes closed, while passing his hands over the floor and wall of the strip mine.

   "There are more burrowing creatures living in this mine than just the crysmals," said Belvin. "I see them, a dozen or two, scorpion-like, chipping away at the gems, eating, gathering what they need to reproduce. But there are two other burrowing creatures, four-legged, very large, metallic creatures, covered in spikes."

   "This reminds me of beasts companions of mine once described," said Leokas. "Before Belvin and I joined up, I had taken many short jobs with other adventuring groups, helping them to track various goblinoid villains. One such party had described to me an aberrant monster made of solid metal and covered in spikes in a dungeon that they had explored. They called the thing a 'marauder'."

   "Belvin," said Hakam, "can the mine tell you where any rifts are?"

   "The only rifts are here where we stand and approximately southeast of here by no more than 100 feet."

   "If that is true," said Hakam, "Then the tunnel that they dug into to the west must have curved back around."

   "Nature does not lie," said Belvin, his eyes still closed and his hands still rubbing against the surface of the stone."

   "Can the mine tell you the location of the missing miners?" one of them asked the druid.

   Belvin shook his head. "The mine knows of no aarakocra within its confines at all." The wild elf's eyes opened. The divination's revelations had ended with this third fact.

   "They were likely consumed by these marauders," said the others.

   Those who had been sitting rose to their feet again stood up. They had Kytharrah lead the way, followed by Belvin, who directed him. Leokas, superstitiously refusing to go second in a line, came third with his wolf beside him. Next were Jayce and Oma, leading the three wizards in the middle. Sofi followed close behind Szordrin, and the group ended with Hakam and Nargroth.

   Hakam reminded everyone that no one was to remove a single gem from the mine. Sofi joked with Hakam that she would keep an eye on Szordrin, but the tiefling wizard made himself invisible. Solisar, however, could still see Szordrin by the power of his countermagic.

   They moved through the western dig site, passing some fifteen feet or so into a natural tunnel that seemed to pass from north to south. They instructed Kytharrah to make a left, and he did so, sniffing the air as he went. It felt familiar to the minotaur to be in underground tunnels again, and he happily moved forward, lighting the tunnel ahead with his magical torch.

   Thinking that he smelled aarakocra ahead, he bounded forward to a spot several yards ahead where the tunnel widened and a large stalagmite grew from the floor of the passage. He found the source of the smell, a small pit that the aarakocra miners had apparently used in the past as a waste hole.

   "Good work, Kytharrah," said Belvin. "You found a bird toilet."

   The tunnel beyond curved slightly to the left, was split by a stone column, made an ess-curve, and opened into a large chamber about 50 feet or so square. The chamber had a couple large pillars and stalagmites and stalactites. A pocket extended from a corner in the northeast and had tunnels continuing on from the eastern side and the southwest corner. In a pocket in the western wall were some large purple crystals jutting out from the walls.

   The group spread out a bit in this room, but most of them were interested in the first of the mine's gems that they had seen. Hakam raised his glowing shield for light. Szordrin examined them closely, though no one except Solisar could seem him do so. "This is corundum," they heard Szordrin's voice say. "I think that this was a geode that they cut into. There are pick marks here."

   Corundum was the stuff of rubies and sapphires. The aarakocra had access to immense wealth; no wonder the Donakkises had so much power.

   Leokas began to exam the area for tracks. "The avian tracks heading southwest are fresher than those heading east from here."

   Kytharrah, however, had already wandered further east and entered that tunnel, and Nargroth followed behind to keep an eye on him. They squeezed by another stone pillar and found the natural passage turn sharply left. Fifty feet farther, was a pillar made from a stalagmite and a stalactite just barely coming together to meet. The tunnel came to a dead end here, and they saw another cluster of corundum crystals, surrounded by purple gem fragments.

   After the two scouts joined the others, they returned to their earlier marching order and continued deeper into the mine. In 40 feet, they entered a small 30-foot chamber with a low ceiling and a squat column. It looked like a dead end at first, but there was a spot by the eastern wall that dropped steeply to a lower passage.

   "There seems to be natural light ahead," one of them noted after descending down the drop.

   "Fresh," said Kytharrah, after sniffing the air.

   "The other rift in the mine must be just beyond," said Hakam.

   In 20 yards, they came to another cave room with corundum crystals and an hourglass shaped pillar. Here, Leokas found more aarakocra prints but also another kind of mark. "These here look similar to pick marks, but they are in the floor and they come in pairs and triplets. I suspect that it is the crystalline scorpions. They are clustered near the two corundum deposits and they come from farther east, where the light is." Kytharrah smelled both tracks. The first smelled like the talking birds, and the other tracks did not have any smell.

   Hakam's prediction had been correct. The tunnel beyond this room curved and descended, and Kytharrah and Belvin stepped unto a wide and long ledge overlooking a vast gap over the sky. The bright ambient light from below filled the area. The ledge was some 20 to 30 feet wide, and the distance to the other side was at least 90 feet. There were many clusters of purple crystals growing here and there on both sides of the rift. Most of these were at most a foot or two in length, but stretching forth from each side of the opening in the ground were the two largest crystals that Kytharrah had ever seen, even having lived in the Underdark for the most of his decade-long life. Each gargantuan corundum was nearly ten feet wide at its base and grew at a low angle to almost 70 feet!

   Something skittered into Kytharrah's peripheral vision. It was a dozen yards away and looked like a big bug, about the size of a dog, but its body seemed to be made entirely out of purple crystal, similar in color to all the crystals growing from the rock around them. It was definitely looking at Kytharrah with a series of smaller blue crystals on its cephalothorax that seemed like its eyes.

   The minotaur tried to appear friendly and playful. As if in response, a large rock, about four feet in diameter, suddenly rolled on its own from Kytharrah's right side and came to rest in front of him.

   "Careful, Kytharrah," said Belvin. "Remember, they are telekinetic."

   Kytharrah did not have any idea what Belvin meant, but he remembered the talking rock that had made big rocks roll at him when they were trying to climb up to that castle in the ice. Those rocks had played very roughly, because Hakam had squished one. The minotaur readied himself in case this rolling rock tried to jump up at him.

   The others cautiously stepped down the sloping tunnel out onto the giant ledge and gathered behind Kytharrah and around a massive column that stretched up to the ceiling 40 feet above. They began to notice other crystalline scorpions emerge from behind crystal clusters or around stalagmites on both sides of the rift. The crysmals kept their distance and seemed to be watching to see what these new intruders would do.

   Szordrin, now visible again, since the duration of his spell had ended, took a small clay ziggurat from his spell pouch along with a piece of copper wire. He performed the final components of two spells and then held the wire up to his lips. The others heard him speaking a guttural, gritty language. The wire vibrated with his voice. No one heard any response from the crysmals, but Szordrin continued speaking into the wire as if he were carrying on a conversation with someone distant.

   In fact, Szordrin heard a voice, or rather voices, very alien voices, inside his head, and the magic of his tongues spell interpreted for him. He had asked the purple gem creatures if they had seen any aarakocra.

   "What are aarakocra?" the voices asked, together, speaking almost as one.

   "Have you seen any birds?"

   "What are birds?" they asked.

   "Have you seen any red-colored creatures," he tried, "not made out of mineral, like all of you?"

   "The big soft creatures that fly went away," said the collective voices in his head.

   "When did they leave?"

   "They left."

   "When?"

   "Before."

   "Where did they go?"

   "Away."

   This was not a particularly useful conversation. Szordrin tried a different line of questioning. "Did the red soft creatures go over this rift, this opening to the sky, to the other side from where I am standing?"

   "Yes."

   "Where did they go after that?"

   "We do not know. We stay away. We cannot go back that way anymore."

   This was a surprising amount of information. "Why can you not go back?"

   "Big rock monsters eat us."

   "Monsters made out of metal?"

   "No, out of earth."

   The crysmals seemed to know the difference between earth and metal but did not know what birds were. He supposed that that made sense for a creature from the Plane of Earth.

   "How big are these rock monsters?"

   "They are as tall as two of you," said the voices.

   "What do they look like?"

   "Tall and pointy."

   "Ask them if they grow from the ground or hang from the ceiling," said Solisar, who presumed that Szordrin's speaking in Terran was only one side of a conversation.

   They answered that it was from the ground, and Szordrin translated this.

   "We need to pay attention to the stalagmites then," said Hakam.

   "Will you let us pass?" asked the tiefling wizard. "We need to find the red soft creatures."

   "No, we do not trust you," said the voices. "We trust the red soft creatures."

   "Why do you trust them and not us? We are their friends."

   "They give us tasty gems," said the collective.

   Szordrin looked in his belt pouch for the cheapest gemstone that he could find. "This is a very rare and expensive gem," he lied, taking out a small piece of turquoise. "It is of the highest quality."

   "What is 'expensive'?" they asked. "What does it taste like? Let us taste it?"

   The stone leapt from Szordrin's fingers and bounced and rolled along the ground, past Kytharrah and to the nearest crysmal. It touched one of its sharp pointed appendages to the small bluish gem.

   "Copper is delicious," said the voices. "This is good food. You may pass."
Session: 117th Game Session - Monday, Aug 03 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — The Eagle has landed
~ seventh-day, 31st of the sixth season, shrinking quarterlight
an unknown island in Coliar


Kytharrah spotted it first. Gliding down at them out of the sky was an enormous bird. At first, he thought that it was a roc, like those fun giant birds that they had flown from the storm giants' mountain, but the elves corrected him. Its wings were too rigid and angular. It was probably a spelljammer made to appear like a giant eagle. As it drew closer, they saw that it was some 50 yards long with a wingspan of more than double that. Its beak was carved out of wood and its eyes were of green glass, but most of its body was covered in reddish feathers or cloth. There appeared to be a stone wall on its back, surrounding an upper deck.

   They stood on the edge of the island at shrinking quarterlight. After Sofi's story, Hakam had been taken quite aback by the gravity of Sofi's sin. At the same time, he was equally impressed with the efforts that she had taken to find redemption. It was hard to argue the fact that she was visited by a celestial and given an ordained path to follow.
   "Speaking of difficult stories," Sofi had said, "you also failed to tell us about your nightmare, Szordrin, as you had said that you would."

   "In my dream, I saw my former mistress kill by best friend, Welphrin," Szordrin had asnwered.

   "This was before your time with Onran?" asked Hamam.

   "Yes," said Szordrin. "It was a series of nightmares really, all blended together. We were in the Underdark, running from a lizard. He fell behind, and I went back for him. The dream morphed into my drow mistress' bedroom, where she was beating Welphrin to death. Then, there was a scene with the scavver who had almost killed me. Onran appeared to rescue me, but he transformed into a rakshasa. It was simply a mix of traumatic events in my life, nothing more."

   "It is horrible that you lost a childhood friend when you were so young," Sofi had said, and Kytharrah had patted him on the shoulder. "Play?"

   At the present time, a number of aarakocra carrying palanquins emerged from the eagle-shaped spelljammers back. These flew to the island edge, lowering the litters to the ground. Jayce was on one of them, glasses on and smoking a pipe.

   "Where is Oma?" asked Hakam.

   "She is on the eagle ship," said Jayce. "Oh, whom do I have the pleasure of meeting." Jayce had spotted Sofi. He drew his pipe from between his lips with his left hand, bowed, and asked for her hand. She offered it, and he kissed it.

   "I am Jayce, humble bard from the exotic land of Lantan, and you are?"

   "You may call me Sofi." She was blushing.

   "Jayce, what is going on?" asked Szordrin. "Why do they think that we stole gems?"

   "Wait till we get on the ship?" muttered Jayce under his breath. He then spoke to the armed aarakocra who perched on the ground impatiently. "They are all here; let everyone buckle in on a litter."

   The eagle ship was unique from other designs that they had seen. First, it had no sails. Perhaps the wings of the vessel captured the arcane winds created by the spelljamming helm instead. Second, there was primarily a single deck. The exception to this was the circular upper deck of wood, surrounded by the stone wall. Upon this was set a catapult on a turret at the center and a ballista each on port and starboard sides. The rest of the "back" of the eagle was an open bowl. Perhaps "nest" would be a better term. It was deep, and the floor extended underneath the battle deck into the eagle's "head" where they could see the spelljamming helm with a priest sitting upon it and the officers by the green, glass "eyes". The rim of the bowl had a narrow railing and a glass wall. Here, the aarakocra with their talons could perch. There were no other floors.

   They were set down into the bowl. As the aarakocra worked to store away the palanquins and prepare for the ascent into orbit, Jayce made small talk. "Ombert learned that Anadia has plants from which smokepowder can be made, so they did not want the Lantanese smokepowder."

   "Smokepowder is made from plants?" one of them asked.

   "Apparently, these halflings know a technique to, yes. That means that we made no money from our short jaunt back to Lantan. Oma told you about that, right?"

   "I did," said Oma, who walked from the bridge to the back of the vessel to greet them.

   After the two women introduced themselves, Jayce continued. "However, Ombert also made a purchase of a plant called crispyleaf by the hin. It is a gastric painkiller and a weight-loss food. Gods know that most halflings need to lose a little weight." He glanced at Sofi. She laughed. Oma scowled.

   "So, we have gone from arms dealers to drug traders," muttered Hakam.

   By now, four of the aarakocra had gone over toward the bow, two on each side, to stand by a set of giant levers that looked something like oars. The passengers stood towards the stern, near two slingshot-like contraptions, which were aimed toward two closed wooden hatches.

   "It is a fascinating class of spelljammer," said Jayce. "The oars there control flaps on the wings, which they use to turn, just like our sailors adjust the sails to turn. Now, Szordrin, translate what I say to the elves in their language." Mid-thought, it seemed, Jayce switched from Common to Alzhedo. Contrary to his nonchalant behavior, he had been paying close attention to when the aarakocra marines and sailors had ceased paying close attention to them. "And, Hakam, forgive my poor pronunciation of your native tongue; I put up with your silly sing-song Common accent and keep my mouth shut."

   Jayce's accent did sound atrocious to Hakam, but it was a good plan. Hakam and Szordrin could speak Alzhedo, and Szordrin could also speak Elvish. Only Kytharrah and Sofi would be left in the dark.

   They felt nothing, but they could tell from looking up at the sky that the eagle ship was rapidly climbing toward the upper clouds.

   "So, here is the problem," Jayce explained, and Szordrin translated into Elven. "In short, someone planted stolen aarakocra gems on the Frihet, supporting President Donakkis' claims that off-worlders are untrustworthy brigands.

   "The military claimed that a large number of gems were missing from their stores, and they interrogated everyone who talked to us. They found out that we had gone to Hisssta, so they sent an eagle ship and a small flock of military corbinas to watch the port for leaving or returning human vessels. They spotted the Frihet when we were returning to Hisssta to collect our gliders — the ones that we commissioned, I mean — and to wait for you all to return from your exploration. How did that go by the way? Was the cute, horned woman the one who ordered the rod?"

   Oma sighed loudly.

   "It went well," said Hakam, "and no, Sofi has no connection to the rod whatsoever. We can explain all of what we learned later. Go on."

   "Right, so, back to my story. They demanded that we be boarded, and they had us bring up our cargo. The gems that we were paid by the military were not the issue at all. They agreed that that was payment for the smokepowder and they acknowledged the receipts that you left with Ombert. However, they searched our food stores and found an even greater sum of gems hidden among the food."

   "When did they manage to plant the gems?" asked Leokas, after Szordrin had translated.

   "It must have been when they came to inspect our cargo on the very first day that we arrived," said Solisar. "That was the only time that the cargo ever came off our ship, and no one ever came onboard."

   "Exactly," said Jayce. "In any case, they told us that we were all under arrest, and we were escorted back to Athanar surrounded by corbinas. I demanded to know my rights and was basically told that, as a foreigner, I did not have any. We were to stay on our ship, on guard, in Athanar port, until our trial, with no indication of when the trial would even be.

   "With the help of a little bardic magic, I was able to convince one of the aarakocra guarding us, one who seemed least likely to support Donakkis directly, to spread rumors about the city that foreigners were being treated unfairly. Sure enough, that night, we received a visitor, a lawyer, who claimed to specialize in representing foreigners in legal affairs. You will never guess her name."

   "Postmaster Spiraldive," suggested one. "Or Asharra Chickchee," said another.

   "Yes, it was Asharra Chickchee! My plan worked better even than I had hoped. But Spiraldive was not far off as a guess, for Chickchee had heard about our situation both from the rumors and from an anonymous tip from someone at the postal service. Chickchee explained that, as foreigners, we did not have many rights, what I already knew. But she also explained that there is a little-known law that allows foreigners to volunteer for the military. Those who serve honorably can receive automatic visitor certificates, pending proper paperwork of course, but if the people demand it, paperwork can find itself completed more quickly. A visitor certificate does afford rights, including the right to freedom from incarceration until trial upon payment of bail, the right to a defense lawyer, and other such things."

   "I am not going to fight in their war," said Leokas.

   "I am of course willing to argue our case," said Hakam.

   "Of course, but we will not ever even have a trial at all unless we first earn our rights. However, apparently, there is a military gem mine that has had some recent 'troubles'. The mining operations had to be halted because, when they tunneled into a new chamber, several aarakocra went missing, presumed to be dead.

   "The only other clue was the presence of a larger population of geminals than normal, strange creatures that seem made out of gems. It is not entirely unheard of to find such creatures within the mines, and they are usually harmless if you do not threaten them, but this particular mine seemed to have an especially large population of them before the incident of missing miners occurred."

   "I wonder if these geminals are the same creatures as crysmals," said Solisar. "If so, they are telekinetic, dog-sized, scorpion-like, crystalline elementals.

   Jayce shrugged. "Whatever they are, they are not likely the direct cause of the miners' disappearance.

   "Now, Asharra was not as spunky as Postmaster Spiraldive; she was all business. Our helping clear the mine would be hugely beneficial to her campaign, and she made no attempt to hide that fact, but she said that she could move the 'legal gears' that would make clearing a military gem-mining facility of dangerous monsters, whatever they may be, count as 'honorable volunteer military service', thus granting us the right to post bail and even leave the planet until our trial. And she assured me that she would be investigating as hard as she could to prove the set-up in the meantime, so that the charges might be dropped before it even came to that.

   "I already agreed to this, and since we now are in service to the military, I suggested that they use an eagle ship to come pick you up, so that we could do our duty to Athanar all the sooner. Because, I do not know about you, but I am itching to get off this steam bath of a planet.

   "So, what do you say?"

   Hakam was not at all happy with this turn of events, but as Jayce had already agreed to it, there was little more that could legally be done.
Session: 117th Game Session - Monday, Aug 03 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Tags: Chapter 2 , Coliar , Recap
Sofi's Tale
"It is a long story, so park your ears.

   "I was a Cager, as you already know; I grew up in Sigil. I was not from a... very nice family. My father was absent. My sister and I were raised by my mother, but it was clear that she cared little for us, especially for me.

   "My mother had horns — I inherited mine from her — but my sister did not. The fiendish bloodline seems not to have affected her as strongly, at least not in the physical sense. It affected her more so in other ways; she was exceptionally cruel. I should note that I was by no means a good girl; we were all cruel to each other. But she teased me incessantly, always pointing out how many men she had been with and how many gifts she had been given by Mother, who favored her. She was also... more voluptuous than I and was more canny. She did better in school. She seemed superior to me in every way."

   Now, Sofi paused, took a deep breath, and then continued. "To come to it, eventually, I could not take it anymore. One day, after she had publicly humiliated me at the schoolhouse, I fumed in anger, but I kept it all inside,... for the day. That night, I entered my sister's room and strangled her to death in her sleep."

   She looked at the ground as she shared this. When no one made any comment, she went on.

   "Then, I fled. I stole a portal key from a merchant and passed from Sigil to the Outlands, where I found myself near the gate town of Tradegate.

   Solisar nodded. He knew that Tradegate was the gate-town to Bytopia, the home of the gnomish pantheon. It was a good Outer Plane, known for its two facing layers. It leaned more toward lawfulness than chaos, residing, cosmologically, between Celestia and Elysium.

   "It was here that I met my first cervidal, and I pretended to be one, to fit in better. (A number of guardinals lived in or visited Tradegate.) I had a twigging for him, and I soon tried to seduce him, but while he seemed to genuinely twig me and to find me attractive — though he obviously knew that I was not a cervidal —" She pointed at her bare feet. "...he refused to act on his feelings. He tried to let me down gently, but it was clear that I was not enough of a 'good girl' for a cutter like him, celestial blood and all. He also discovered that I was really a tiefling, and I at last admitted to him my great crime. To my surprise, he was compassionate and spoke to me about redemption.

   "The idea intrigued me, and I left Tradegate and wandered counterclockwise to Excelsior, thinking of no better place to find someone who might lead me on the path to forgiveness.

   "Along the way, I passed a hospital of sorts. It was only a small hostel, but a gentle old monk lived there, named Sarl, who cared for sick orphans and widows at no cost. I offered to help him, thinking that I might earn redemption for my crime through good deeds. He accepted my offer and let me call kip there.

   "I aided him for about a month, before a gang of babaus one day attacked the hospital. I was quickly nicked and left for dead by one of them, but while I lay on the ground, expecting to die, I looked up and saw something incredible to me. The old monk, with nothing but his walking staff, subdued or killed all three of the babaus alone, even cracking open one of their hideous, horned skulls. Not a single patient was harmed."

   "I saw several of these when in the Fugue plane," said Solisar, "lanky, black tanar'ri demons with a single horn curling backward from the back of their skull, correct?"

   Sofi nodded.

   He remembered that they had attacked some imps and led away other creatures made of crawling beetles, but this was her story, so he let her continue.

   "They were awful, yes, but Sarl stopped all of them.

   "He nursed me back to health. From my sick bed, I asked him how he could have possibly fought the way he did. His answer I shall never forget. 'There is great strength in weakness. Great good comes to those who are willing to give everything away.'

   "I asked him to teach me when I was recovered again. This he did. I found it frustrating that his teachings were at first on things like posture and meditation, but I soon scanned the hidden benefits of the knowledge that he was passing on. Eventually, he told me that I could learn no more until I had a true change of heart. He suggested that I seek enlightenment in isolation.

   "I was angry at his refusal to train me further and in his insinuation that I was not 'good enough', so I left and sought training elsewhere, finding it eventually from some githzerai of Xaos, whose entire race was dedicated to the practice of the martial arts.

   "They trained me well, and there were no strings attached to my training, unlike with Sarl. However, I felt a great emptiness inside, and I could not forget Sarl's final advice to me. Nor could I forget the guilt that still hung over me for the great crime of murder.

   "To be fair, isolation already appealed to me, and it was not like I had any real friends among the strange githzerai, so I made my plans and did not bang around there much longer. I had read about a world, this world of Coliar, in Realmspace, in the Prime, a world so large that one could have an entire floating island to herself. I figured that it might be the best place in the multiverse to find isolation, so I passed into Limbo and spent what little jink I had to be dropped off here by some plane-crossing travelers.

   "So, I came here, five or six years ago, dumped on an empty island, and have wandered around from island to island ever since, almost always alone.

   "But Sarl was right. When I was truly alone, I cried over my awful crime. I sobbed over what I had done to my sister. I longed to become someone like Sarl, someone who could help the ones that no one wanted. I called out to the powers for forgiveness. I asked to become a new woman, to be freed from my ancestral heritage of hate and rage.

   "And one day, I was visited by an angelic being, who looked something like a winged elf but radiant, with a brass breastplate and a silver trumpet hanging from her back."

   "A trumpet archon," said Hakam, sounding impressed. Solisar and Szordrin each nodded, but Sofi shrugged.

   "Whatever she was, she told me that she was a messenger from Pistis Sophia, that my prayers had been heard by the high-ups of Celestia, and that they had seen my attempts to atone for my sin. If I would promise to devote myself wholly to her teachings, I would find what I truly wanted.

   "This I have done. For the last several years, while meditating each morning, I often hear her voice, gently teaching me the path of righteousness. I have grown in my skills here alone, waiting for the time when she has a task for me to perform in her service."

   "Perhaps that time is now." She looked at them and shrugged again, then blushed, anticipating perhaps some sort of scolding. "That is all," she said. "That is my past."
Session: 117th Game Session - Monday, Aug 03 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Heading Back
Having decided on their next major course of action, Solisar took ten minutes to perform the ritual for identifying Onran's magical boots. His conclusion was that they would permit the wearer to teleport short distances, no more than a couple dozen feet, when otherwise trapped from freely moving. It was agreed that such boots would be very useful for Leokas to wear, so that he would always have a clear shot, and he happily tried the boots on. They were exceptionally comfortable, though they clashed a little with his green garb.

   Since Onran was presumed dead, Hakam insisted that the small collection of magic items belonged to Szordrin, the closest Onran had to an heir, but Szrodrin had no need for the boots, the hat of disguising, or the bracers, though they packed them in their bag of holding, nonetheless.

   Solisar thought that it would be a good idea to check in with Ombert and his crew, so he used their sending stone to message Oma and asked for a status report. She responded that the lizardfolk eggs had been successfully delivered. They had also stopped at Lantan and picked up more trade goods and were now on Anadia, the first planet in the system, trading with halflings.

   There was some discussion about breaking up the massive omlar crystal outside of Onran's house for profit or magic use, but Szordrin strongly disapproved of damaging his master's former property.

   Before they headed back, Belvin used his druidic power to sense the presence of further deinonychuses. There were still a good number on the island, yet none were particularly close to them. The one that Kytharrah and Solisar had heard at the bottom of the hill they found dead, presumably from being infected by the yellow musk creeper, but thankfully, no new plant had taken root in its brain. No other creepers themselves lived on the island.

   "Should we hunt down and eliminate the remaining deinonychuses on the island, in case they are infected?" asked Solisar.

   "They are natural creatures," said Hakam, "not abominations; I do not see the need."

   "If Sofi remains here," said Solisar, "she might be at more risk than she anticipated."

   "But they cannot pass through the barrier or over the rift," said Hakam.

   "Speaking of plans," said Sofi, "May I ask what you all plan to do next? I know that you have big plans to track down this Samber person, but how are you getting off this island itself?"

   "Our plan was to use lizardfolk hang gliders to return to the port of Hisssta," they explained.

   "Do you think, if it is not too much trouble to have a sod like me banging around, that I might be able to come with you on your ride, your quest? Or if not, at least to leave the island with you. I do not see any further purpose for me here. I mentioned this before, but I find it improbable that being dropped off here, of all islands, by the mercane was simply a random chance. I should pray to my mistress first, of course, for guidance, but if she allows it...."

   Kytharrah began bouncing with enthusiasm.

   "We do not have an extra glider," said Belvin, "and I will be carrying my own camel."

   "I carry!" suggested Kytharrah, which seemed a reasonable solution to the others.

   "I have a test for you first," said Leokas. He was only jesting, but his tone was stern, and she took him seriously. "I want to see if you can catch one of my arrows. I have heard legends of ascetics such as yourself having the concentration and swiftness of hand to do so."

   "That sounds... terrifying," said Sofi, "but I shall try it."

   "I shall have my healing magic ready for if there be a mishap," said Hakam.

   "I shall not be shooting at her," said Leokas, sounding mildly offended. "Stand there by that tree. I can hit the same spot ten times in row; just remain still until you are ready to catch it."

   Sofi stood by a tall tree and was still, looking nervous. Leokas loosed the first arrow, and it whizzed six inches from her head and struck the trunk. He sent another arrow flying, and its tip drove in next to the first arrow's. She remained still. He launched a third and a fourth, and, suddenly, her hand flashed. She struck the fourth arrow mid-flight, deflecting it from its course to be lost in the bushes.

   She was beaming. "I have never tried that before," she said. "My master used to do that. He could actually catch them, but I shall have to start working on that now."

   "Well done," said Leokas. "You have my vote to join the team."

   "Of which master do you speak," asked Hakam. "You speak of someone other than your mistress, yes?"

   "I have learned so much of Szordrin's story," she replied, "I suppose that it is only fair that I share mine, but let us head back to the west. There will be time for me to tell my tale then. Are we finished here?"

   They made their way back to rift in the island — after Bevlin snagged a deinonychus skull or two from the bonfire. Once again, when they reached the rift, Kytharrah ferried them over, by the power of Hakam's spell. Then they came back to the small waterfall-fed lake where they had met Sofi. She asked them for some time to meditate, to see if she could gather how Pistis Sophia felt about her leaving the island with these strangers. They gave her the time that she needed. She sat cross-legged on the ground by the water, closed her eyes, and seemed to go into a deep trance, much like the elves did when they rested. Kytharrah sat down and tried to imitate Sofi's actions, but he found it very difficult to remain so still.

   After about 20 minutes, she suddenly rose to her feet again and came back to them. "I did not receive a clear answer, but neither did I receive a clear no. I would still love to come along, if you would have me."

   Hakam shared how he felt confident that the gods had orchestrated matters such that she would join them. She seemed pleased with this.

   It did not take them overly long to find their way back to the duck and goose pond at the western edge of the island. Solisar looked into the sky and, after a few moments, spotted what he believed to be the crescent-shaped island that was their target. Unfortunately, it was now very distant. He explained to them that, based on his calculations, it was going to be an excruciatingly long journey back, probably between fifteen and seventeen hours. In the time since they had landed, the islands had drifted more than 150 miles from each other, and the other island was more than 50 miles higher in elevation. They would be flying against the ever-constant westerly breeze. If they kept their gliders' noses tilted upwards, the updraft would give them the elevation that they needed, but they would have to "tack against the wind", gaining altitude while being driven farther from their destination and then diving down to get closer to their destination — a "two steps forward, one step back" strategy that they had been taught in their lessons on Hisssta. It would be a flight of endurance and will.

   No one was at all happy with this, but they had no other alternatives. All took the very practical step of emptying their bladder before getting out their hang gliders. Sofi was fascinated with how the long items had been stored in seemingly normal-sized bags. She was to be riding with Kytharrah, and, having never flown on a glider before, was excited for the experience.

   Suddenly, she turned around, her face nearly the color of her eyes. "What is he doing?" she asked the minotaur. She was referring to Belvin, who was stripping off his clothing and packing it, prior to his transformation into a flying dinosaur.

   Kytharrah shrugged. Belvin had not been the only one in the group with a "magic trick" that seemingly required the removal of one's clothing. Cassiera had often done that too, though she could simply slither out of the arm or leg of her clothes as a tiny snake.

   She took a few glances back over her shoulder, but then looked guilty and tried to get Kytharrah to explain to her what she needed to do for them to fly together. She did not learn very helpful information, but Leokas came over and found a way to tie her safely and comfortably underneath Kytharrah's bulk in a manner similar to how he tied Sif to himself, only he left her arms free so that she could hold on to the bar of glider as Kytharrah did.

   Knowing that the flight back would be more challenging, wizards, cleric, and druid had used what magics they could to make their chances of success greater. Then, they launched.

   Sofi screamed with glee as Kytharrah leapt from the edge of the island. She seemed to be enjoying herself immensely as they dove and gained altitude and dove and gained altitude over and over. Eventually, of course, the repetitive act became at first dull and then dreary. Then came the thirst, then the rumbling stomachs, then the painful bladders. Eventually, Sofi seemed to go still, which concerned the minotaur at first, but he figured that she was just doing that thing that she had done back at her lake that morning, and he was right.

   Belvin at least had more flexibility in his flight, having wings that could provide their own lift, but it was by no means fun. The only benefit was that at least the breeze kept them cooler from the planet's heat.

   At long last, they landed on ground again, a somewhat jarring and painful experience, as the ground was moving towards them when they made contact. A few of them were bruised by the impact, but mostly they were all just happy that they could find a tree or some bushes to grant their bodies some comfort.

   It was between shrinking halflight and shrinking quarterlight. Except for Solisar and Sofi, they were all exceptionally hungry, and Leokas made them a fire to warm some of their rations. Belvin used his magic to sense whatever animal life might be nearby. This was the island where they had nearly been trampled to death by the pursued axe-beaked birds and the triceratops, but Belvin's druidic magic told him that all of the large dinosaurs seemed to be far from the island edge, at least for the moment.

   As they sat on stones or fallen trees eating their meal in a circle, Sofi asked, "Belvin, may I call you Belvin? Or do you have a special druidic title?"

   "Druids are not bound by the rigid hierarchies that enslave the churches," he said, giving Hakam a look. "I have no rank or title beyond my name."

   "Why are you on this ride, I mean, this quest? The others seem directed by their gods to stop this blood Samber, but I have heard no such claim from you."

   "My god, Thard Harr, guides me," said Belvin, "but in not so clear a manner, more in the manner that a gentle stream guides a leaf. Leokas and I have traveled together for over a year, and our friendship is strong. He has saved my life many times; I have saved his. I want to see the end of his journey, of all my companions' journeys."

   "It is true," said Leokas. "Nevertheless, you must admit that last season, after we defeated Allu, you were ready to return home and did so."

   "I had thought that my visions from Thard Harr had been fulfilled then," said Belvin, "but the same dreams came to me in the sweat cave; the same prophecy was repeated by Yashiera. It seems that I had been wrong. The stream has not yet reached its river, and I am curious now to be there when it does."

   "Speaking of visions and prophecies," said Hakam. "On Bral, I was able to gather some information from my studies. Have we considered that the three jungle reptiles in Yashiera's vision for us are not actual animals staring at the pool but rather symbols of three of the gods." He looked directly at Belvin. "Notably, Thard Harr is often portrayed with the symbol of a crocodile skull, is he not?"

   Belvin did not answer directly, but he looked pleased.

   "The dwarven priests with whom I dialoged," continued Hakam, "mentioned also Thard Harr's allies, and these included the god of 'giant lizards', which, I suspect, is the 'terrible lizard' at the pool. His name is Ubtao."

   "The prophecies about the Queen of the Moon may also have to do with the gods," said Solisar.

   "We know of Ubtao," said Leokas. "He is the god of Chult. His temple was where we found the portal to the western village where we first pursued Samber. In fact, was he not the only god in Chult?"

   "Yes," said Hakam, "the other gods promised to stay out of Chult in exchange for Ubtao guarding over a portal to some giant serpent who is foretold to eat the sun at the end of time. Such is the story that Jayce told us, and Yashiera made mention to this also in her original prophecies to us."

   "Belvin, you promised the wild dwarves that we would return," said Leokas.

   "When we return to Toril again, that is one of the stops that we shall make," said Belvin, "but the time is not now."

   "One god remains unaccounted for in the vision," said Hakam. "Who is the chameleon? Do you know any 'chameleon' gods aligned with Thard Harr, Belvin?"

   "Ask your own god tonight for an answer," said Belvin. "Then ask me again tomorrow." This was presented more as a challenge than as a request.

   They did not have much more time to refresh themselves or discuss further, as the rains would be coming soon. They set up two rope tricks for the night.

   The two sylvan elves took the first watch. The rains came on schedule, but they were not the usual rains. It was a downpour, complete with lighting. One bolt stuck so close that they were all temporarily deafened, and the elves' night vision was wrecked for several minutes before their eyes could adjust again. Kytharrah could smell the ozone in the air. They retreated up the ropes lest they be struck dead from a second blast.

   By the second watch, the rain had stopped. Near the end of it, Sofi climbed down the rope and greeted Solisar, who greeted her back.

   "Finished sleeping for the night?" he asked.

   She nodded, yawned, and stretched. "Has there been anything to see?"

   He shook his head. "There are many jungle sounds, but you know of all them."

   She was silent and listened. "No, these are different sounds, from different animals. Every island that I have been on in Coliar has different sounds at night."

   They were quiet and listened for a while together. Then she asked, "How did you scan so much about the planes? Have you traveled outside the Prime?"

   "No, I have not," said Solisar. "It is all what you would call 'book knowledge', but I have had many, many decades of my youth to read and explore the multiverse through the eyewitness accounts of a multitude of sages and scholars."

   "Why focus on the planes and not on other areas of magic?" she asked, as Szordrin and Hakam descended by rope to take the third watch.

   Solisar described that as an incantatar, one of his focuses was specifically means of protecting the mortal planes from the influence of outsiders to it. "I believe that the incursion of outsiders into our world disrupts the balance set upon it when the multiverse was created, even if those outsiders have good intentions. For this reason, I myself will never summon an extraplanar entity."

   "Why have you not opposed Belvin when he has summoned elemental creatures?" asked Szordrin.

   "I will not summon them myself," said Solisar, "but I will not force my views on others, unless they are summoning evil entities, in which case, I will do all in my power to banish the intruder."

   There was a brief pause, and then Solisar asked Sofi a question. "What about you? What planes have you visited? You mentioned to me last night that you had been to the Outlands, and you spoke to us of Excelsior this morning."

   "Yes, I have been to a few of the gate-towns. I lived among the githzerai in Limbo, where I received much of my training in the martial arts. Then I came to Coliar on a mercane trading vessel."

   Solisar knew of the githzerai, an emaciated humanoid race with an orderly, ascetic society, who strangely lived within the most chaotic plane of the multiverse. He had never heard of mercane traders, however.

   "Was your master, Sarl, whom you mentioned last night to Szordrin, one of the githzerai?"

   "No, he lived on the Outlands. I was with him for only a short time." She did not say why that was, and she wandered off to look at some flowers that she noticed were glowing faintly in the dark.

   When dawn came, they were eager to get the torture of their second of three "jumps" out of the way. Rather than risk hours of journeying west through the jungle and potentially facing more large predators, they considered the idea of launching from the eastern edge, where they were, and simply circling around the island. Solisar first flew above the trees to scout out their target. The bull-head-shaped island was even farther away from them than their current island had drifted from Kaw-chi-wee-tee-tee, but he still believed that they would reach it before they ran out of daylight, since it was not even yet growing quarterlight now.

   Four hours into the flight, the dreadful boredom was broken up, though only for one of them. Solisar, who had one of their two sending stones in a pouch on his belt, heard a voice in his mind. It was Oma. "Returned to orbit above Hisssta. Met by aarakocra ship. Claim sailors stole Athanar gems. Gems in cargo. Under 'ship arrest' at Athanar. Where are you?"

   Solisar found her message confusing, but he did his best to answer within the limits of the spell. "Leaving Chi-wee-wee-seh-kaw. In flight now. Island hopping back to Hisssta. Estimate arrival in two days. Which gems were stolen?"

   It was probably foolish to ask her a question, since the magic in the stones only functioned once daily. However, he did, in fact, receive another message hours later, when the planet's white light was brightest. "We await trial, Jayce says not to worry; he will talk us out of obvious set-up. Aarakocra ship can retrieve you. Wait where you are."

   "We are mid-flight, will reach island Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi in...." Solisar paused to do some quick calculations in his head. They were probably half way to Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi now. He added on four additional hours, just to be safe. "...Fourteen hours. We will wait for you to pick us up. The island is in active conflict."

   As soon as they were all on solid ground again and had dealt with important bodily functions, Solisar shared the news that he had received from Oma.

   "This is ridiculous!" said Hakam. "I left the receipts with Ombert, proving that we had acquired the gems from the military in payment for our smokepowder."

   It was shrinking quarterlight when they landed, and the rain began to fall before they even had time to pack up their gliders and set up the rope tricks. Within the safety of the extradimensional spaces, most were too miserable from the second day of traveling many scores of miles through the air at a snail's pace to be up for much talking. Those on watch were careful to look for any signs of approaching spelljammers, but there were none throughout the whole night. Occasionally, they heard an explosion in the west. Apparently, the lizardfolk and aarakocra were still battling for ownership of this floating land.

   First thing in the morning, after receiving his daily allotment of power from Anachtyr, Hakam sent a message to Oma, asking for more details and an update.

   She replied that they were on their way but that the islands were not aligned well with the ports. She also said that the aarakocra would absolutely not fly to a contested island where a battle was happening. She told them to glide to the 'mushroom-shaped island.'"

   Frustratingly, they could see no mushroom-shaped island from the eastern edge. Belvin, however, was able to scout below the island in pteranodon form and returned with a report that an island was below them that indeed looked much like a mushroom.

   They had several hours before it would be possible to jump to the lower island, so they made a campfire and roasted some birds that Leokas had hunted for breakfast. (Sofi passed on the meat and ate only the salbread.)

   Belvin asked Hakam if his god had given him any insight about the "chameleon". Hakam replied that he would not be able to divine that until he had access to some holy implements back at Bral.

   "Are any of you married?"

   Sofi's question seemed out of nowhere, and there was silence at first.

   Then Belvin laughed loudly. Hakam looked very uncomfortable.

   "I have forsworn marriage until I have avenged Onran's death," said Szordrin.

   Solisar went into a long explanation about the society of elves, how most of them did not take spouses until well after they had reached the age of 100 years. "You must understand that such a centuries-long commitment is never undertaken lightly. While Leokas and I have passed our first century, we are both considered young by elvish standards. Belvin is older, but his people do not practice marriage at all."

   "Children are raised by the tribe," said Belvin, "not by couples." He seemed offended by the very idea of couples raising children alone.

   "If not wives, do you have any other women at home?" she next asked.

   At this, Hakam stood up an walked away from the group.

   Szordrin quietly questioned the others, "Is Hakam married?"

   Sofi apologized. "Do I ask inappropriate questions? I do not mean to. It has just been so long since I have had the company of others. I will not be offended if you just need me to bar it."

   "Your questions are not inherently offensive," said Hakam, still standing apart from the others. "It is the particulars that are difficult in the present case. Your question reminded me of something in the past that I would rather not remember."

   "Kytharrah!" said Sofi with mock excitement. "Perhaps now would be a good time to play."

   This time, she was ready for the minotaur's swings to grab her, swatting his paws away or ducking under his long arms. In moments, she was around him, leaping onto his back, arms over his shoulders. He shrugged her off, and she tumbled to the ground and rolled back onto her feet, ready for more.

   So, it went for sometime. Meanwhile, the others debated whether they should question Hakam further about his strange behavior and comment, but they thought better of it. Szordrin tried to read his companions mind, but the cleric easily blocked the wizard from doing so by the force of his will.

   It was growing halflight when they were ready to jump again. They were reminded of how enjoyable gliding could be when the journey was all a descent. Sofi shouted happily at the rush from where she was tied below Kytharrah as he looped and banked around. She repeatedly expressed how thrilling a ride it had been when they landed safely on the mushroom-shaped island less than two hours later.

   This one was the most swampy of islands that they had yet visited, more so even than Hisssta, and it seemed to be infested with frogs and other small amphibians, croaking away loudly from every direction.

   Once again, they found themselves waiting. Sofi played a bit more with Kytharrah, and Leokas crafted some more arrows, and they used the multiple small pools of water to keep cool in the day's heat.

   Over lunch, one of them remembered that Sofi had said that she would share her story over the journey, and two nights had already passed since then.

   She seemed hesitant, but as she was not one to go against her word, she readied herself and set her tiny pot down and said, "It is a long story, so park your ears."
Session: 117th Game Session - Monday, Aug 03 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Answers & Questions from the Past
The box contained a stack of seven letters from Samber — or Bremas or Rembas — with an unfinished letter from Onran to Samber inserted after the sixth. Szordrin confirmed that the script with large letters was indeed Onran's handwriting. These were all written in Lantanna, the language of Lantan.

   There were also two letters from a woman named Yunoko, who was clearly Onran's late wife. These were written in Common, and each ended with a character in Wanese calligraphy.

   Finally, at the bottom of the box was an inch-thick bound stack of love notes from Yunoko, which smelled heavily of perfume.

   "Woman smell," said Kytharrah.

   They passed the letters around and examined them in turn. There was a wealth of information within, detailing missing details of the lives of both Samber and Onran, and introducing them to Onran's wife, Yunoko. Once again, Sofi stood back out of the way and watched but did not ask to read the letters.

   "Well," said Solisar, as he set down the last letter, "we have learned that Samber relies on the Elemental Plane of Earth to procure the clay needed to make his creations."

   "We already suspected that he has been to many of the planes," said Hakam. "We know, for example, that he has been to the Plane of Fire."

   "Yes, but he goes to the Plane of Earth often, so it may be a means of finding him again."

   "We may as well start at the beginning of the stack and go through the letters methodically," said Hakam. "The first letter tells us unequivocally that Yunoko died. That was Samber and Avilda's condolences letter to Onran."

   "Who was Avilda?" asked Belvin.

   "According to Jayce, Avilda was the name of Samber's former wife," said Solisar.

   "The second letter seems to confirm the story that Jayce told us," said Hakam, "that she left him for creating a monster when they could not have children of their own."

   "Somewhere in the letters, Samber also remarked that he would never make a flesh golem again," said Solisar, "or at least something to that effect."

   "We know that his creations are flesh and blood, though, are they not?" asked Leokas. "Did Ilthian bleed?"

   "Yes," said Belvin. "Recall that she was covered in her own blood when we found her in her room after Samber had transferred his mind into hers."

   Kytharrah, who was bored and writing "Big Minotaur" in the ash of the fireplace, perked his ears when he heard Ilthian's name spoken. "Yes," he said confidently. "Shiny bones, like club." They still carried the large thigh bone of a leucrotta in one of their magic bags. The creatures had bone of a material very similar in structure to adamantine.

   "The later letters go into more details about his more recent models of construct and how they mix flesh and blood with other elements," said Hakam, "such as adamantine skeletons. Ilthian likely had a skeleton far stronger than any of ours."

   Solisar nodded.

   "The third letter tells us how he found his island," continued Hakam. "Did we ever see any of these 'animal Kell' that he describes? It seems so long ago now."

   The others distinctly remembered seeing some of the strange rolling creatures with two legs used as brakes that Samber had created when waiting in the area outside his subterranean abode. Ilthian had confirmed at the time that there were many such creatures on the island, though she only knew this because she had broken the rules and gone exploring outside the Forokell's little village.

   "That letter also confirms that Onran had a spelljammer," said Solisar, "and more important to us, perhaps, it claims that he had sent Onran a 'token' with which to find his island for the purpose of visits."

   "Yes," said Hakam.

   "It probably was used already, but it is worth considering, since we do not know how to return to the island on our own."

   "We know from later letters that Samber and Onran met each other after the sending of the token," said Hakam. "The token, if it still exists, was probably with Onran, not here."

   "I agree, but we should be on the lookout for whatever it is, wherever we happen to be investigating."

   "The fourth letter talks about mining operations," said Belvin. "This must be the mine where we fought the hobgoblins and the bone devil."

   "That one also says that they went to the Rock of Bral together," said Hakam. "It may be worth our time to go back there and see if anyone knew of either of them. None of us heard anything about either of them while there, did we?"

   "We probably would have to use one of their many pseudonyms," said Belvin.

   "The later letters discuss how he built Ilthian's people and their immediate predecessors," said Hakam.

   "The Lillikell and the Forokell," said Belvin.

   "We also know from one of Samber's journals that Ilthian was supposed to have been a Lillikell," said Solisar, "but he changed her into a Forokell at the last moment for some reason."

   "We never met any of the Lillikell," said Hakam, "correct?"

   "What about those armored constructs on his ship and that guarded his palace?" asked Szordrin. "The ones with the glowing visors. Those could be the Lillikell."

   "The letter that Onran never sent," said Hakam, "its year matches the one on most of the receipts and thank you letters from the orphanages that we found last night. Perhaps he was writing it when the rakshasa attacked this house."

   "How could he have had time to place it neatly in the stack with the others, seal it in a magic box, hide it in a secret chamber, and then teleport away, if that were the case?" asked Szordrin.

   "I only suggest it because the letter ends so abruptly, though I suppose that it is possible that he started to write the letter and then never sent it."

   "I think that that is a better theory," said Szordrin. "He wrote that he was afraid that he might offend Samber with his opinion."

   "Yes, he started to reproach him for creating his constructs," said Hakam. "That is true."

   "Is it possible from the letters to determine who else might have known about this island on Coliar?" asked Belvin.

   "If this is the 'vacation home' that Yunoko talks about in one of her letters, then her superiors may have known about it, yes," said Hakam. "It could also be somewhere else though."

   Hakam continued with another line of thought. "Another thing that we can infer from the letters is that Yunoko died because of the tiefling child, the rakshasa's descendent, that she was trying to keep hidden." They all looked over at Szordrin. "This was back in the Year of the Wandering Maiden. How old are you again, Szordrin?"

   "If you are suggesting that Szordrin here is the same as the son of this Mieko in the letters, the years do not work out," said Solisar. "The Year of the Wandering Maiden was in the early years of the reign of King Azoun Obarskyr IV of the human realm of Cormyr. That was nearly 40 years ago. The Year of the Turret, when we can presume the last letters between Samber and Onran were written, was only a dozen years ago."

   "I also have normal human teeth," said Szordrin, "unlike the child Yunoko describes in the letter."

   "When did you meet your master again, Szordrin?" asked Hakam.

   "The Year of the Sword," answered Szordrin, "when I was thirteen years old."

   "I want to make sure that I understand the details that Yunoko reported," said Hakam. "The rakshasa 'emperor' had a son, a half-fiend, who betrayed him, killed him, but the rakshasa came back, killed the son, and pledged to kill the son's whole line."

   The others agreed with this understanding.

   "So, even if you are not this Mieko's son, Szordrin, if you are in the emperor's line, the rakshasa could still be after you."

   Szordrin's grim expression showed that he had already come to the same conclusion.

   "This masquerading emperor, Kando — I would be surprised if he were not the 'ninth emperor of the seventh dynasty' that 'is in your past', Szordrin," said Solisar, quoting from Yashiera's first prophecy for Szordrin.

   "Yashiera's second prophecy for me was about an empress," said Szordrin. "Were there any hints about her within these letters?"

   "I noticed no such hints," said Solisar, "but the prophecy speaks of the 'twelfth circle of the seventh circle,' and, as we have discussed previously, I still suspect that this is one of the moons of the planet Garden — though to call it a planet is a misnomer, as it is suspected to be a root bud of an interplanar plant, perhaps related to Yggdrasil, but I digress."

   "It sounds like a planet that I would enjoy visiting," said Belvin.

   "While we are speaking of Yashiera's prophecies," said Szordrin, "Onran's letter to Samber mentioned an empty sphere, which must correspond to one of Yashiera's four visions for us."

   "The hollow 'ball of glass' 'in a rainbow ocean,'" said Solisar. "I agree."

   "It seemed like an off-hand comment of arcane interest more than something that can immediately aid us in our goals," said Hakam.

   "It may ultimately be someplace that we need to go?" said Szordrin.

   "But Onran only tells that he has been there," said Hakam, "not how to get there."

   "How do you think that they were actually sending these letters to each other?" said Leokas. "Through portals?"

   "It is certainly possible, considering the powers known by each of these two mages," said Solisar, "but there were often many years between some of them. He mentioned five years once."

   "A decade in one of them," added Szrodrin.

   "Another point of interest to me," said Hakam, "is that Yunoko was a member of the Harpers and that she had a mission, so tracking down someone from her organization may aid us in learning more about that mission."

   "Who are the Harpers?" asked Sofi, who had been so quiet that they almost forgot that she was still in the room.

   "The Harpers are a secret society," said Solisar, smiling at the irony of what he was about to explain, "but the elves played a role in their founding and have longer memories. They were founded in the Year of the Dawn Rose, about 700 years after the erection of the Standing Stone. Strangely enough, they have dryads to thank, in part, for their formation. The fey beings grew concerned over astrological events and sought aid from elven druids, who in turn called for aid from a group of human and elven priests of good deities. At the meeting in the druid grove, the powers themselves possessed their priests and spoke through them, giving them a mandate to fight against the forces of many of the evil powers, including Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul. This initial group of priests and the small force of recruits that they gathered became what was first called the Harpers in Twilight.

   "After the first 300 years, the organization struggled to exist, for their enemies fought back. It was then that the human wizards Elminster and Khelben Arunsun, both whom Yunoko mentioned by name in her letters and both who live to this day, changed the group into a secret, underground force of agents of good, no longer working openly only to be slain by priests of evil gods. Most of the Chosen of Mystra are among their numbers now.

   "Their agents live hidden lives, acting as the eyes and ears for the more powerful leaders of the group, and this seems to have been what Yunoko was."

   "What do you know about Wa, Solisar?" one of them asked.

   "I have never studied the eastern realms of Kara-Tur," said Solisar. "I know that it is an island nation. They are known for their ninja assassins, their samurai knights, and their geisha escorts.

   "I recently learned during our time on the Rock of Bral that the nation of Wa is trying hard to compete with the Shou Empire in terms of wildspace trade. Though they are far behind, they are building their own classes of spelljammers, which are, in fact, some of the largest wildspace vessels ever built. Returning to our earlier discussions of prophecies, I suspect that we might find an empress of Wa on one of Garden's moons."

   "The empress in the prophecy could be Szordrin's mother, potentially," said Hakam, "at least by some reckoning."

   "Does anyone known what Yunoko meant by 'the slaughter of Chaunteas's worshipers by the shogun'?" asked Szordrin.

   "I took that as diplomatic matters of no import to us," said Hakam. "In any case, I have never heard of such a slaughter."

   "Nor have I," said Solisar.

   "So, then, we suspect that the child Yunoko rescued may have been Szordrin's father," said Hakam. "Szordrin, do you have any memory of him?"

   "My earliest memories are of being beaten by my drow mistresses," said Szordrin matter-of-factly. Then he asked, "She mentioned that Mieko and child were sent away to safety at Onran and Yunoko's vacation home. How could my father then have ended up in the Underdark on Toril?"

   "Perhaps it was when they were being transferred that Yunoko was attacked and killed," said Hakam.

   "Then how did the son survive?" asked Szordrin.

   "The rakshasa said that he only wanted the life of the son," said Solisar.

   "Not if the mother interfered with his hunt," said Hakam, "and fleeing and hiding is certainly interfering."

   "Are we certain that the woman's son is not Szordrin?" asked Belvin. "Could someone have changed your teeth when you were a baby to disguise you?"

   "You remember nothing about your early childhood, but you know how old you are?" asked Hakam.

   "Only roughly," said Szordrin. "I am certainly not close to 40 years old! I chose the day the Onran found me as the day that I celebrate my birth, but I do not know when that day actually was."

   "Do tieflings age differently than humans?" asked Hakam.

   "We age a little more slowly," said Szordrin, "but not by that much. I still grew far faster than the drow children around me, and my mistresses constantly reminded me of my supposed age...."

   "What if you had been placed into time stasis?" asked Hakam.

   "That would not make pointed teeth go away," said Szordin. "I think that the simplest explanation is the best. Forty years is long enough for two generations: my father and me."

   "Khelben lives in Waterdeep, does he not?" asked Hakam.

   "It sounds like we have several places where we can continue our search for Samber," said Leokas. "We could seek an audience with the Harper leaders at Waterdeep. We could find whoever this empress is on the moon of Garden."

   "Yes, we could also visit Wa itself," said Hakam. "If we ever happen upon one of Samber's tokens, we could find our way back to his island. We could gather more information from Bral."

   "What is our intent when we actually meet Samber next?" asked Solisar.

   "Make him stop what he is doing," said Leokas, as if the answer were obvious. "We have been charged by the gods to do so!"

   "I understand that, of course," said Solisar, "but I waited patiently ten years on the Great Glacier to watch the Ice Queen. Sometimes pursuing one's goal does not mean acting with haste. We cannot forget, from our knowledge of what he has done and the times that we have already encountered him, that Samber is an incredibly powerful mage, far beyond any of our own capabilities at the present time. I believe that with some growth in our powers, we will be able to stop him, but that takes time. I believe that we need that time before we face him again."

   "Is your thinking swayed by your own prophecy from Yashiera," asked Hakam, "'the wizard is wisest who waits to wave his wand'?"

   "He did literally exile all of us to the other side of Toril with a word," said Leokas, "although we have learned much since then."

   "Truly, I did not have the prophecy in mind when I spoke," said Solisar, "though I agree that it fits."

   "We need not stop him with violence or a direct conflict," said Leokas, "if that was a concern of yours. We need only convince him of the error of his ways."

   Belvin nodded.

   "Yes, that was, in part, the reason behind my question of our intent," said Solisar.

   "Perhaps knowledge of why his wife left him can help us persuade him," said Leokas.

   "Jayce knows where Avilda lives," said Solisar. "Nothing is stopping us from interviewing her again."

   "It sounds from the letters like Samber just cut ties and left," said Hakam. "It is highly unlikely that Avilda has any current knowledge of him."

   "Do we think that Samber is still in love with his wife?" asked Leokas. "Do you think that if we convinced her to come back with us that it could persuade him to stop his work?"

   "I highly doubt that that would be possible," said Hakam. "She is remarried with children of her own now. It also might make matters worse."

   "She may know the location of Onran and Yunoko's vacation home," said Solisar. "That is the only reason that I can think of for talking to her again."

   "Now that is an interesting thought," said Hakam. "It sounded like the four of them may have been friends."

   "Yes," said Szordin, "and we know that she was with Samber at least until after Yunoko died."

   "It sounds like returning to Lantan may be one of our next stops," said Solisar.

   "We should schedule our next steps," said Belvin. "We need to get off this humid oven of a planet soon."

   "We could, on the way to Lantan, first stop on Bral to ask about Rembas and Ronan," said Hakam.

   The others agreed.

   "We should also check back with the Interlink Consortium to learn if they have finished repairing the rod for us," said Szordrin.

   Solisar said, "Going back to Leokas' earlier question about leverage, I wonder if delivering Onran's unfished letter would convince him. They seem to have been best friends after all."

   "We should certainly keep it in our pocket as an option," said Hakam.

   "I still think that all of this is for a far later time than now, however," repeated Solisar. "We need more information and more magical power. Our best means of actually reaching his island, in my opinion, is through his portal from the Plane of Earth, yet the Plane of Earth is hostile to creatures like us. It is solid earth and stone with only rare pockets of air, and more often than not, that air is not even breathable to creatures like us. We are not even capable of surviving such a journey without knowing exactly where to go. Spells like the one on that scroll there will be helpful for such future travels, but neither Szordrin nor I understand the complexities of the Weave to be able to transfer it into our own spellbooks yet. We need more time before we worry about leverage with Samber."

   "We do not know how to find Samber's island because we were teleported off it," said Hakam, "but did not Jayce and Nargroth sail off on the repaired Daisy?"

   "Did you not explain to us that someone stole aboard the Daisy and stole all of Ombert's star charts and maps," said Solisar.

   Hakam looked frustrated. "Yes, that is right. Jayce sent the news to me magically just before we stopped Allustairimarinastralmindivu from freeing Memnon. No doubt, the someone was Samber himself. We did not suspect it at the time."

   "Ilthian told me right after that that she would be able to draw the stars above his island from her perfect memory," said Solisar. "Unfortunately, that very day was when Samber retrieved her. She never had a chance to write it in her journal."

   "They are not the only one to sail from the island," said Hakam. "We also know that the goblinoid pirates sailed from there."

   "Captain Stubs," said Leokas.

   "Would they be able to guide us back?"

   "Hobgoblins are stupid creatures," said Leokas. "I highly doubt it."

   "He is a captain; he knows how to sail a ship."

   "He lost all his limbs and has to be carried around and fed."

   "What does that have to do with navigation?"

   Leokas relented. "It is possible, I suppose. Do we know where he currently is?"

   "We know that he has left the island only because he responded to my sending before," said Hakam.

   "He is probably back to a life of piracy," said Leokas.

   "We can probably track them down if we need to," said Hakam. "It is an option. Finding a token would of course be faster."

   Leokas said, "Hakam, if we were to catch Stubs in an act of piracy, what would we do?"

   "It depends on the laws of whichever nation controls the waters in which we find him, of course," said Hakam.

   "So, then," said Solisar, "we visit Bral, then Lantan to talk with Avilda."

   "Again, I agree," said Hakam. "It would be good to learn where Onran and Yunoko kept a vacation home."

   "Finding that home can be our next primary goal," said Solisar, "as well as learning more about his wife's death."

   "...And her last mission," added Hakam, "and for that, we may need to visit Waterdeep to speak with Khelben, assuming he would grant us an audience."

   "This moon is far on the other side of the crystal sphere, is it not?" asked Leokas. "It does not make sense to visit it first."

   "Correct," said Solisar.

   "In any case," said Hakam, "I would not feel prepared to visit the moon until we have first visted Wa to learn more about this empress."

   "Bral may have an ambassador to Wa," suggested Belvin.

   "Yes, we could certainly look for one when we are there," said Hakam.

   "I strongly suspect that Wa would be interested in Lantanese smokepowder, if we need a way to gain access to an official," said Solisar.

   Szordrin remembered Sofi and glanced back at her to see her reaction to all of this. She was still standing there, looking simultaneous confused and fascinated by everything that she was hearing.

   "Sofi," asked Hakam, "you are from Sigil, are you not? It is a diverse place. Have you ever heard of any crystal spheres that are totally empty?"

   "I have never heard the term 'crystal sphere' until this hour," she replied. "What is it?"

   "Do you know how some of the Outer Planes have multiple layers?" said Solisar, and Sofi nodded. "The 'layers' of the Prime Material Plane are called crystal spheres. Each of them floats in a substance called the phlogiston, which is similar to how the Outer Planes are — at least in some sense — separated by the Astral Plane, and each is filled with planets, such as the one we are on."

   This seemed to make some sense to her. "Are the planets within a crystal sphere within the phlogiston similar to how there are realms within each of the Seven Heavens, which are in Celestia?"

   "That is a fair comparison, I think," said Solisar.

   "Have you been to any of the Seven Heavens?" asked Hakam of Sofi.

   "Oh, no; I do not think that I am holy enough to visit there," she replied. "I have been to Excelsior. That is about as close as I have ever been to Lunia."

   Only Solisar and Szordrin knew that Excelsior was what was called a gate-town, a small village on the Concordant Domain of the Outlands that had grown up around one of the sixteen portals to the Outer Planes. The Outlands were neutral territory for most of the gods and goddesses, and the portals were how their servants traveled back and forth. Excelsior was the gate-town surrounding the portal to the Seven Heavens.

   "I wonder if the prophecy about the seventh circle has to do with the Seventh Heaven," Hakam thought aloud. Then he vetoed his own idea. "No, no one travels to the Seventh Heaven; it is the place of ultimate perfection, and it has only one realm, else it would not be perfect."

   "Continuing our discussion of the empty crystal sphere," said Solisar, "we know that Samber wants to obtain apotheosis. With the knowledge of Onran's empty sphere, he will have found a place where he can create life and rule free from all the other powers."

   "We at least know that he has not learned about this empty sphere yet," said Hakam, "because Onran never sent that letter."

   "No, Onran never sent this draft of the letter," said Solisar. "There is always the possibility that he did send another version, perhaps one less condemning of Samber's actions."

   "So, he could know about it then," said Hakam soberly.

   "It is useful for us to know, but we have no means of using this knowledge for the time being," said Solisar.

   "If we find the sphere before Samber," said Belvin, "it might be used for bargaining with him."

   "If the rod from the Interlink Consortium works as advertised," said Hakam, "we can indeed retrace Onran's travels to find it."

   "The gods would not be pleased with that solution," said Solisar, "because then Samber would become a god."

   "If he were just isolated to that one sphere," said Leokas, "I suppose that he could not longer harm Toril, but what if just built up his own power until he could overturn other powers from their own realms?"

   "The gods do not want him to ascend by any means," agreed Hakam, "either within this sphere or another."

   "Well, we have a plan, then," said Belvin. "Bral it is for our first stop. So, how are we getting back to our spelljammer?"
Session: 116th Game Session - Monday, Jul 27 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Passing the Night
Unable to open the box this night, they brought the magic items from the storage room and looked at them more closely upstairs in the kitchen. Solisar rolled open the scrolls again and began to examine them in more detail.

   "This first one makes one immune to physical harm from a type of energy for 24 hours," he explained. "It is beyond my ability to cast a spell so powerful. I shall have to look into this more."

   Besides a weaker spell to put monsters into a daze, they were familiar with the other four spells written on the vellum. All of the scrolls had blank regions where spells had once been written but had vanished from the page when cast.

   He next picked up the hat. Flipping it over, he found Elven runes sewn into the inner rim. "It says, 'disguise,' in my native tongue. No doubt that this is a hat of disguise." He removed the circlet that held his black hair back and placed the hat upon his head instead. Then he tried to imagine Szordrin's appearance. He felt a strange sensation as his face and body morphed into that of cat-eyed, bearded man.

   "Szordrin is always making multiple copies of himself when we are in combat," said Hakam. "We do not need any more."

   "Are we assuming that these items are ours to take?" asked Leokas.

   "These things were Onran's," said Hakam, "so they belong to his heirs, so, no, they are not ours to take. That does not, however, prevent us from learning what we can about them."

   Solisar shifted back to look like himself and took the hat off. "I shall identify the red boots in the morning as well, but that will take more effort."

   Sofi had been standing back from everyone else, watching in silence with fascination but trying to stay out of the way. When there was a moment of silence, and it seemed like the adventurers could not answer any more questions until morning, she spoke up. "Well, this day was a yawn, was it not?" It was the most sarcasm they had ever heard in her voice.

   "It is a rather typical one for us," said Hakam.

   "I must say," she said. "I have never punched a dinosaur before."

   "The trick is to aim for the snout," said Belvin.

   "Father Hakam — it is Hakam, is it not?" asked Sofi.

   "My proper title is Justiciar Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr yi Memnon, but yes, it is."

   "We just call him Hakam, and you may do the same," said Leokas.

   "Justice Hakam in Hamulah ill Anachtyr yi Memnon," she tried, succeeding more than most, "Szordrin's leg is badly cut up; there is blood all over his boot. Can you tend to him with your magic?"

   "I could take care of that also," said Belvin."

   "Assuredly," said Hakam.

   Leokas raised his forearm, which was also covered in his own blood. "I was also injured," said Leokas. "Is that not also a concern?"

   "I am so sorry," said Sofi, a bit flustered. "You took the injury so bravely that I did not notice." There was a brief pause. "Not to imply that you were not also brave, Szordrin," she continued. Then she turned red and said, "I think that I shall bar that now."

   The glow of positive energy surrounded the hands of both Hakam and Belvin, and they restored the wounds of Szordrin and Leokas, respectively.

   Sofi watched with continued interest as supernatural acts were performed before her. "Justice Hakam yi Memnon," she said, "from which of the high-ups do you draw your powers?"

   "I am going outside to take the first watch," said Belvin.

   "I am taking first watch with him," said Leokas.

   "The great god Anachtyr is the source of my power," Hakam began.

   Sensing the beginning of a long sermon, Kytharrah tapped Sofi on the shoulder and said, "Play?" and motioned to the door with his head.

   "No more play tonight, Kytharrah," she said, "but I shall play with you again; I promise."

   Kytharrah followed the two sylvan elves outside.

   "What can you lann me about him?" asked Sofi.

   Szordrin and Solisar stayed in the ransacked kitchen with them as Hakam began to describe to Sofi the wonders of his god, focusing on the power and importance of law in the lives of mortals and how following a just path led to the greatest life. "It can right wrongs, it can restore the fallen, it can heal wounds — if you only obey."

   Sofi — and Solisar — listened intently to Hakam's words, and then there was a brief pause as Sofi seemed to be contemplating them. "As you know, I follow Pistis Sophia, but I do not worship her. I follow her for inspiration, and her hand of blessing is upon me. However, she does not have the power to grant me a home in the afterlife. In truth, I have not chosen a higher power to follow, as I really do not know much about them — not enough to choose one good power over another. So, I find what you say worth considering."

   "It is more than worth considering," said Hakam. "It is truth."

   "I wonder though," she said, "is he a forgiving god? Is he pure justice personified? Or is he justice tempered with mercy?"

   "I will have a different answer to that than members of other sects," said Hakam. "Unfortunately, there is great confusion among clerics of Anachtyr in the countries north of Calimshan about who Anachtyr is. They wrongly confuse him with a god of war from another crystal sphere, because he has a similar name. Moreover, he is allied with two other gods, Ilmater and Torm, and despite the work of my Church to correct the errors in doctrine, more and more followers of Anachtyr confuse his pure essence with the portfolios of the other two gods in the Triad. The truth is that Anachtyr is neither a god of war nor a god of mercy. If he were a god of mercy, it would be impossible for him to judge rightly. Impure justice is not justice at all. It is for Ilmater to provide mercy to those who need it."

   "Why did you choose to worship him?" asked Sofi, and hearing this, Szordrin perked up. None of them had ever learned much of Hakam's past before.

   "My father, Holy Judge Hamdulah yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr yi Schamedar was the seventh of that name. Hamdulah I was a priest of Anachtyr in Memnon during the Eighth Age of Calimshan. Just after the start of the Ninth Age, Hamdulah VI moved the family to the recently rebuilt town of Schamedar, in the Year of the Bright Sun, because that town had no temple to the Even-Handed. The males of the family have always been priests of Anachtyr, and my path was no different. My older half-brother, Hamdulah VIII, became Holy Judge of Schamedar in the Year of the Wyvern, upon the death of my father. Since there was already a priest in our line in Schamedar, I was sent to Memnon, the birthplace of our patriarch, two years later, to begin my training in law, and that is where I had served until Anachtyr assigned me a special mission with these companions a year ago."

   When Hakam had finished his story, Szordrin explained how he had also, until very recently, been without a patron deity. "I believe that I was sought out and chosen by the goddess Waukeen," he said. "She is the Golden Lady, Liberty's Maiden, and the Merchants' Friend."

   "Merchants' Friend?" said Sofi. "She would never choose me; I do not even have a copper to my person!"

   "Neither did I," said Szordrin. "I was once a slave, until Onran took me in and taught me the Art. I realize now that it has been her guidance that has led me to great wealth, without which we would have no chance of stopping the ones who sought my master's death. You need money to change the world for better."

   "Onran reminds me of a mentor that I once had," said Sofi. "His name was Sarl." Then she asked, "When we first met, was the illusion of your old master?"

   "It was the closest that I could come to him," said Szordrin. "I could never match the greatness of the man."

   "I see that you keep the same beard."

   Szordrin nodded but was silent.

   "Where are you sleeping tonight?" she asked. Then she realized that it was an awkward question and said quickly, "I mean, where is everyone sleeping tonight?"

   Solisar explained to her how he always slept — or rather tranced — in an extradimensional space that he created with his arcane magic. Hakam and Szordrin moved into the old bedroom and made space for themselves there, using each end of the mattress as makeshift pillows.

   Sofi remained in the kitchen. "It has been a long time since I have slept in a case." She untied her towel from her waist, rolled it up, and set it near the kitchen wall to use as a pillow. "I am a little bit peery sleeping here; I almost expect a ghost to appear."

   Solisar went outside briefly to set an arcane alarm around the whole house with his silver wire, then bid the other elves goodnight and came back inside to climb up the rope.

   In Onran's old bedroom, Szordrin spoke quietly with Hakam. "You need to ask Anachtyr for the power to detect the presence of evil when dawn comes."

   "She sensed when you tried to read her mind;" said Hakam, as he unfastened his heavy metal-banded layers. "I fear that she would know if I were trying to detect an evil presence on her."

   Szordrin looked nervous about this decision, and voiced this.

   "Pistis Sophia is a being of order and law," said Hakam. "She is allied with Anachtyr, and I trust her choice of this woman. I see no need."

   "Need I remind you about the incident with the family of werewolves? Need I remind you about how Solisar would not have died had you had the power to detect evil with Nulara?"

   "The 'incident with the werewolves' did not end well, true," said Hakam, "but even had I detected their evil then, I think that the ending would still have been the same. In the present case, I believe that Anachtyr is telling me to trust in the power of law and not become a zealot in the pursuit against evil."

   "She may wish to join with our party; how can you trust that she will not try to steal whatever is in the locked box?"

   "Do you not have the box with you? Take care that you guard it well."

   "Keep your voice low! She is only on the other side of the wall."

~~~~

Belvin and Leokas were pacing around the overgrown garden on the hill, sharing occasional words in Elven but mostly walking in silence over the wet ground. Leokas held Kytharrah's everburning torch for light, while the minotaur was curled up under the overhang of the house by the front door. The rain had come and gone, and the planet was in the darkest point of its rotation.

   Suddenly, there was an intense scream from inside the house. Belvin tapped Leokas on the shoulder and the two rushed toward the door.

   Inside, Hakam was startled awake and sat up. There in the window was the shape of an enormous horned creature, backlit by faint torchlight. "Let there be light!" he commanded.

   It was only Kytharrah, trying to see what had happened through the window, gripping its frame in case he needed to rip it free from the wall to help his friends.

   Szordrin was sitting bolt upright and sweating. Sofi rushed into the room and put her hand on his shoulder to shake him gently, before removing it from him awkwardly. "You are okay; it was just a dream," she said.

   "What is going on?" asked Hakam.

   Szordrin looked around the room and tried to orient himself as the elves also stepped into the room, wondering what had happened. First, Szordrin checked on Ferry. The little weasel's fur was standing up like a cat's, as it had magically felt the same terror that Szordrin had felt, but he was alright. "Oh, it was just a nightmare. Do not worry yourselves about it." Ferry snuggled up against Szordrin.

   "Do you want to talk about it?" asked Sofi.

   "Perhaps tomorrow."

   "Do you want some water?" asked Belvin.

   Sofi offered her little mug, and Belvin filled it with fresh water magically.

   "How did you know it was a dream?" Hakam asked Sofi.

   "I suppose that I did not," she replied, "but usually when someone wakes up in the night screaming, it is only a dream. Right?" She did not seem confident in her answer.

   Hakam probed further. "You were in this room before I even evoked a light."

   "I am swift on my feet, and I can see in the dark. I did not mean any harm by it." She looked nervous at Hakam's questioning.

   "Let us get back to our watch," said Belvin.

~~~~

During the second watch, Solisar and Kytharrah were on duty. Kytharrah was certain that he could smell more of the deinonychuses in the area. He nodded to Solisar, pointed to the west of the hill, and drew his axe.

   "Use your words, Kytharrah," said Solisar, echoing what Ilthian used to say to their friendly beast.

   "Smell," said Kytharrah, and he gestured for Solisar to keep back a bit for his safety.

   Both of them could now hear the noise of movement to the west, at the base of the hill outside the fence. The minotaur suspected that it was about 50 feet away.

   They never saw the animal. The creature seemed to be moving around for a half hour, never straying far or getting much closer than the bottom of the hill. Then, they heard a soft thud and no more.

   Near the end of the watch, Sofi came outside. She asked Solisar how the night watch was going, and he described what they had heard. During his report, Kytharrah shuffled back over to them.

   Sofi nodded. "One of the hardest things to get used to when I first moved to these islands was all the noises at night. It was nothing at all like the sounds of the city or even of the forests of the Outlands, where I lived for a short time. I am more used to it now, and I have perfected my skills at meditation through any distractions, but I still do not ever feel safe sleeping for long. There is less a chance of some predator finding me in the night that way."

   "That is a wise choice," said Solisar, "but a tiring one when alone."

   "Chant is that Pistis Sophia promises that those who are tired will find rest, and I have found it to be literally true in my case."

   It was not just talk; Sofi had only had about four hours of sleep — and that disturbed by Szordrin's nightmare — but she did not return to the house to sleep again.

   When the shift was ending, Solisar shared with her how he could relate. "I spent nearly a decade living alone on the Great Glacier in the north of my planet Toril, so I know how you feel about sleeping. Elves naturally need less rest than humans do, but I also wear this magic ring, which permits me to subsist with even fewer hours."

   She smiled at his understanding.

   "I grew accustomed to trancing in the extradimensional space that I mentioned earlier. Have you ever been in one? It is strange to experience for the first time. I still remember the first time that I entered one as a young elf. You always must be careful, however; you cannot bring any extradimensional containers with you. Leokas, for example, cannot climb the rope with his magic quiver."

   "I have nothing but this mug, and it is not magical."

   "I know," said Solisar with a smile. "It was just a warning for the future."

   Sofi was delighted to climb the rope after him and observe the strange other-reality of the empty white space at the top.

   "Does it end? Or does it go on forever?" she asked.

   "It wraps around on itself," he explained. "If you keep walking one direction far enough, you will come back to where you started from the opposite direction. Kytharrah always enjoys running as fast as he can until he comes back to us again. Try it out."

   "I think that I shall take your word for it," she replied.

~~~~

Szordrin and Hakam were to take the third shift.

   Sofi was outside with Kytharrah, stroking Kamil's hair when Solisar woke the cleric and wizard. The sun elf departed to prepare his spells for the day.

   "Good morning," said Sofi, when Szordrin and Hakam stepped outside. Other than that, she let the two men do their job and remained with the animals or sitting next to Kytharrah as he slept. The minotaur seemed to take comfort in her nearness and moved his big head closer to her.

   The third shift passed without incident, and, as dawn came, everyone gathered with anticipation in the kitchen. Solisar stood over the box on the table and simply commanded it to unlock with a single word in an ancient Elven tongue.

   He raised the lid effortlessly.

   The box was full of letters.
Session: 116th Game Session - Monday, Jul 27 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Onran's Dwelling
Solisar was warned by Belvin to be wary of traps as he walked up the hill to the fence gate. From the back of Kamil, the druid now looked past the wizard at the giant crystal. He agreed with Leokas' earlier assessment. "Like in Samber's mine," said Belvin.

   Szordrin carefully examined the area for traps and did not find any signs of them. He also enspelled his eyes to detect anything invisible but saw nothing amiss. They opened the gate. The gravel path forked at the gate and led to the house on the right and to what they soon realized was a severely overgrown garden.

   "We may have to look out for other plant-based guardians," warned Belvin.

   "It is not like my master to have such dangerous guardians," said Szordrin. "His chosen defenses were always illusions and hiding well, not summoned or conjured monsters. Planting a carnivorous plant on his property would be fully out of character. I doubt that he was to blame for the yellow musk creeper."

   "For what it is worth, I see nothing magical in the vicinity beyond the giant crystal pillar," said Solisar. Solisar did not see any aura on the omlar crystal pillar itself, but he could see strands of the Weave stretching in all directions above and around them, convincing him that this was indeed the origin of the powerful illusory effect surrounding this part of the island.

   The garden would have been 25 feet wide and twice that length. Belvin cautiously moved forward and determined that it still had carrots, potatoes, green beans, and other vegetables — all plants that a human might grow for food — growing among the jungle ferns and bushes that had taken over the rich soil.

   West of the garden was a well, still full of water. Next to it sat a plow, its wood now rotted. South of the garden was the remains of a simple bench.

   The house itself was roughly square, only about 30 feet to a side. It had a thatched roof and a chimney. A tiny structure was also east of the house with a single door. The roof on the west side of the house overhung a narrow stretch of ground and sheltered the stone steps up to the main door. There was a back door on the east as well.

   They cautiously peeked into the windows all around the house. Most of them still had glass, but inside, the house seemed to be in chaos. Solisar first peeked through one of the western windows into a rectangular room. There was a bed frame and mattress and an open wardrobe, but everything was a mess. The bed was half off the frame, and a pile of books were strewn on the floor. This seemed to be more than just the results of five years of no inhabitants; someone had tossed things around, searching for something.

   "Szordrin, have you checked for traps at the front door?" asked Hakam.

   Szordrin did so, not finding anything suspicious.

   As Kytharrah sniffed the air; all he sensed was decaying wood.

   Leokas, however, crouching low to the ground at the base of the stone steps, claimed to recognize a footprint. "A giant cat stepped here," he said.

   "How long ago?" asked Hakam.

   "I cannot say. It could have been years. Tymora smiled upon us by placing this overhang above the steps, else the nightly rains would have washed the print away in a day or two."

   Kytharrah sniffed no lingering smell, confirming that the print was very old.

   Through the north windows, Hakam saw an overturned wooden washtub and a flattened, empty sack in the entry room after the front door. In the next room over, moving east, he saw a broken chair, a desk, two empty bookshelves, and more books scattered about. It looked like all the books had been tossed from the shelves.

   He returned to the others standing near the front door. "It all seems fairly mundane to me," said Hakam.

   Solisar agreed. He still did not detect any magic, having wandered along the south side to the east. He opened the back door, which was unlocked. The door opened into a fifteen-by-twenty room. A large amount of dark mold grew at the base of the door. This seemed to be a kitchen. There was a small table with two chairs to the left and a stool sitting beside a cooking fireplace of stone to the right. In the southwest and southeast corners were an overturned and shattered clay vase and a broken wooden barrel, respectively.

   Following Solisar's lead, Kytharrah opened the door to the tiny shack east of the house. It was clearly an outhouse, but it had been so long since it had been used that even his minotaur nose had not noticed the scent.

   Belvin hitched Kamil to the post supporting the roof overhang, and the others came in through the unlocked front door one-by-one, with Hakam leading the way.

   The cleric stooped down to look at the sack. It had been ripped open, and any food that once had been stored within was completely gone. He found evidence of both piercing — perhaps by small teeth — and slashing — whether by blade or by claw he could not tell.

   Belvin passed him and stepped out of the room to the southeast. There was an open closet door to his right. Within was a large wooden chest. It had been smashed open. It was empty.

   Szordrin walked by Belvin, briefly moved into the kitchen where he saw Solisar, and then stepped north into a small ten-by-fifteen room. He realized that he was in his former master's study. The broken chair that Hakam had earlier seen through the window had definitely been smashed apart intentionally. Books were all over the floor. He bent down to pick one up. It was decayed beyond readability, its pages eaten apart by mold. He began looking over all of them, hoping to find some clue to his master's past, but each one was in a similar state of decay.

   Sofi stepped into the kitchen with Solisar. He was examining the stool by the fireplace. The padded seat had been slashed, and all the stuffing had been pulled out and searched.

   "What berk would do this to someone's case like this?" said Sofi.

   Belvin approached the kitchen table. On the floor underneath it, he found a small booklet. When Solisar turned to look, he told the druid that the booklet had a very faint aura upon it. Unlike the other books in the house, this one was in perfect condition, likely protected from decay by a simple arcane cantrip. It was a catalog for the Interlink Consortium of Bral.

   Hakam entered the kitchen and then passed into the remaining room in the southwest, the bedroom with the displaced mattress. The wardrobe was empty of any clothes.

   Sofi stepped into Onran's old study to find Szordrin looking at the desk. There were scattered pieces of parchment scattered over its surface in a disorganized fashion. Szordrin was holding a picture frame. It was a charcoal portrait of a woman with dark hair held up in a bun. At the bottom of the drawing were etched the words "My beloved bride, 1335 – 1338".

   "She is beautiful," said Sofi from behind him.

   Szordrin set the picture frame carefully down. He did not recognize the woman. He had not even known that his master had ever been married. He had always sensed that Onran's past was too difficult for him to share.

   Belvin had also entered the room. He picked up the portrait that Szordrin had set down and examined it, while the tiefling wizard searched among the scattered notes on the desk. Most were moldy and hard to read, but a few were still legible. One of them was a formal thank you letter from an orphanage in Cormyr. Onran, it seemed, had donated a large sum of money to the charity. This was not the only such thank you letter on the desk; there were a few.

   There was also a receipt. He carried this and some of the more-legible letters out to the others. "I found some interesting things," he said.

   The group passed around the items and discussed them.

   The receipt was from the Interlink Consortium, regarding the purchase of a "runestaff of passage" for a large sum of Lantanna trade bars on the seventeenth of Ches in the Year of the Turret. It had been shipped here to Kaw-chi-wee-tee-tee.

   "Onran was only married for three years," said Solisar, indicating the years on the portrait that Belvin held.

   "Unless she was three years old," said Hakam, "like Samber's creations. Does anyone remember any of the constructs on his island looking like the woman in the portrait?"

   None of them did.

   "Which year is this on the letter and the receipt?" asked Szordrin.

   "The Year of the Turret?" Solisar replied. "That was the year that the Tuigan Horde was defeated by the alliance of King Azoun IV of Cormyr, 1360 in the Dalereckoning."

   Most of them remembered the event, when a horde of barbarians on horseback invaded interior Faerûn from the wastelands in the east. The king of Cormyr had gathered an army from nations all over the continent to repel the invaders. This all happened a bit more than a decade ago.

   "This woman died decades before the runestaff was purchased," said Solisar, "unless the numbers on the portrait are not in the Dalereckoning."

   "'Kevrin Greenbrook'," Hakam read from the thank you letter. "He was not a Calishite, but 'Saint Fanal' may have been a Calishite saint of Ilmater. Szordrin, which deity did your master revere?"

   "He worshiped Celestian, a god from one of the other crystal spheres," said Szrodrin.

   "So, not Ilmater then." Hakam flipped through some of the other letter fragments. "These all seem to be donations to orphanages."

   "Onran was always helping out various street urchins in Guallidurth," said Szordrin. "He was the most charitable, generous person whom I ever met."

   "If Onran is indeed the 'Ronan' from Jayce's stories about Samber's childhood," said Hakam, "he was himself adopted, by gnomes, if I remember correctly."

   Hakam then opened the back of the picture frame to see if anything was written on the back of the portrait, but he found only blank canvas.

   Meanwhile, Ferry, whom Szordrin had set loose to explore the house on his own, scurried up his master's robes to his shoulder and chirped into his ear.

   "Ferry may have found something in the bedroom, when he was searching under the bed," Szordrin translated. "He says that the bed was slashed open with big claws."

   Leokas led the way into the bedroom and flipped over the mattress. There were indeed clear claw marks where the mattress had been slashed. "Claws, once again," said Leokas. "Probably the same creature that left a print by the door."

   Belvin agreed. "Definitely a feline, not a canine."

   Solisar asked, "Szordrin's ancestry includes a rakshasa, does it not? Could the prints be from a rakshasa? In other words, was Onran attacked because he helped Szordrin?"

   "I do not know enough about rakshasa feet to distinguish its prints from those of a weretiger or even a normal tiger," Leokas replied.

   "I do not know about rakshasa feet either," said Solisar, "but I do know about their hands. All legends of rakshasa that I have heard describe them as having 'backwards' hands. Their palms face out not in; the thumbs are on the opposite side of where they should be."

   Hearing this, Belvin examined the claw marks more closely. He grunted, impressed at Solisar's theory. "You are correct. This creature's thumb claws are on the wrong side. See, these lower claw marks would have been the thumb claws."

   Like every other container in the whole house, the mattress had been opened and searched.

   "What else do we know about rakshasa's?" asked Leokas.

   "They are malicious, fiendish entities, like demons or devils," said Szordrin, "yet distinct from either. They do not reside on the Lower Planes but instead inhabit the Material Plane where they scheme and plot evil from the background. They are immortal beings; if one is killed, it simply reincarnates in a new rakshasa body. They are also skilled shapeshifters."

   At these words, Hakam gave Sofi a suspicious look. Too often they had been fooled by shapeshifting fiends. She was definitely not chaotic, but neither were rakshasas. She was looking at Szordrin with concern in her expression and did not notice the cleric's glance. However, he had not prepared any spell to detect evil this day. That concern would have to wait.

   Instead, Hakam prayed for the ability to detect secret doors. He saw no auras in the bedroom, but when he turned back into the kitchen, he immediately sensed the presence of one. A moment later the base of the fireplace began to glow.

   "Onran has a secret room underneath the hearth," he said, and the others gathered with him back in the kitchen with interest.

   Shortly thereafter, the spell revealed a firebrick in the back of the firebox that served as the release for the secret door.

   "I can see the stone that opens it as well," said Hakam, "but I want to scan outside by the well first, before my spell runs out. Perhaps we missed something outside."

   They all followed him outside. The outhouse was just a normal outhouse, the well was just a normal well, and there were no auras from the garden, but as they walked around the grounds a second time, they noticed another overgrown path leading from north of the house, through some thick trees, and down the other side of the hill. Once at the trees, they could look down on a small clearing, with a large wooden platform erected there, still within the confines of the fence.

   They hacked their way through the underbrush and came to the platform. It was collapsed and rotted, but something large and wooden had once sat atop it. The remains were broken apart and burned. Kytharrah and Leokas each found some glass on the platform. Belvin found what seemed to be a scorched chair buried underneath some other wooden debris.

   "This chair seemed to have resisted the fire," said Belvin.

   "It is not magical," said Solisar, "at least not anymore."

   "But it has runes carved into it," said Szordrin. "See? Here and here. This was a spelljamming helm once."

   "I think that you are correct in your assessment," said Solisar. "This was probably the landing platform for a small spelljammer, like a mosquito or wasp."

   "I doubt that there is anything else to discover here," said Hakam. "Let us go explore the secret chamber beneath the fireplace."

   Back in the house, they stood around him as Hakam pressed the firebrick in the back of the fireplace. The stone slid back without great difficulty, and there was a clicking sound. They then found that the whole base of the fireplace was on a pivot, and they were able to rotate it out from the wall, swinging clockwise, which revealed a narrow and steep set of stairs underneath.

   At the bottom of the stairs — more of a ladder really — was a very tiny room, a storage chamber. Hakam lit up his shield, and light filled the room. The room was full of a bunch of items, and unlike everything above in the house, none of these items seemed to have been touched; all were arranged neatly around the walls. Leokas checked for rakshasa footprints on the steps and found none.

   Szordrin wondered aloud. "If they searched the house so thoroughly, how did they miss this room?"

   "It was an impressively hidden secret door," said Belvin. "I searched the area by the fireplace and never noticed the trigger."

   Szordrin looked back at Sofi, who stood back on the steps out of the way. She seemed intrigued by their discoveries, but he could not read anything else in her expression. (Kytharrah was too big to fit in the room and waited at the top as well.)

   Among the items on the floor, there was a set of leather bracers. Solisar indicated that they had a very similar aura to the magical bracers of armor that some of them wore.

   There were a pair of high boots made from deep red leather with brilliant copper-colored leather soles. They looked very comfortable. Solisar described them as having a moderate conjuration aura.

   Next was a tricorne hat with a single feather. This glowed with a faint illusion aura.

   There were three potion vials and three arcane scrolls, all with auras from varying schools of magic. Solisar unrolled the scrolls quickly to check how many were written upon each. One scroll had a particularly strong aura but only a single spell. The other two scrolls had a few weaker spells each.

   He set the scrolls down as Szordrin picked up the remaining item in the storage room, a small, ornate box made of reddish wood with golden metal pieces at its corners and edges. It was held shut with two golden clasps and locked with a series of eight combination dials in two columns on the front of the box. Carved into the box were intricate feather designs. The entire box glowed with a faint abjuration aura.

   "Solisar, can you read the symbols on the dials?"

   "They look familiar," replied the sun elf. "I believe them to be Aarakocra numerals. In fact, I am certain that many of these symbols are on the address slates. My studies of the language before we came here to Coliar involved the use of Iokharic, the Draconic script, to write the language, but I also learned that the aarakocra have their own system of numerals distinct from those of the dragons. I learned how to speak the numbers from one to twenty and words such as 'hundred' and 'thousand', but I never had the time to learn their numerical or mathematical systems."

   Leaving the other items in the storage room for now, they took the small box upstairs and set it on the kitchen table and stood or sat around it trying to figure out a way to get it open.

   Belvin was the first to suggest a solution. "The two sets of dials are the two years on the portrait," he stated.

   "Let me try to simply pick the locks first," said Szordrin. However, despite his best efforts, he could not feel any catches in the rotation of the dials that would allow him to crack the code.

   He set the box back down on the table. "Onran lived simply," he said, "but if he needed something, he always found the best."

   "I think that Belvin's guess is the correct one," said Solisar. "The years of their marriage — or her life, if Hakam is correct that she was one of Samber's constructs — are the numbers at which to set the dials, but I do not know which numerals on the dials are which."

   "We can probably assume that they go from 1 to 8," said Hakam.

   "But which is 1?" asked Szordrin.

   "It might not matter," said Hakam. "If we arbitrarily chose one as 1 and it fails to open, we simply rotate all of them by one and try again."

   "That is a lot of combinations?" said Szordrin.

   "Is it not only eight to try?"

   "Do any of you have a spell to read languages prepared?" asked Szordrin. None of them did.

   "All the dials are currently set to the same character," said Solisar. "Typically, people would set the dials all to 1 or to 8, so we would have even fewer combinations to try."

   "I do not think that you are correct, Solisar," said Belvin. "I think that the simplest of the characters must be 1. In which case, all of the dials are currently set on 7. They become more complicated as you move counterclockwise."

   Szordrin agreed. "You are right. There is a pattern in the characters. In nearly all cases, the characters across from each other share strokes; they correlate somehow. If this is three here, than directly across from it has the same strokes plus this additional arc."

   "Yes," said Solisar, "and they grow more complex after this point. One stroke, two strokes, three strokes. Then it changes to an arc here — so that is an exception — and then you add one stroke, two strokes, and three strokes again."

   "There are two single stroke characters, though," said Hakam. "One horizontal and one vertical."

   "It is not 1 to 8;" said Szordrin, "it must be 0 to 7."

   "Ah, so the flat bar is zero," said Hakam.

   "Yes," said Solisar, "and then it counts one stroke for 1, two strokes for 2, three strokes for 3. 4 then has its own special character, and after that you simply add the character for 1, 2, or 3 to the character for 4 to get up to 7."

   Convinced that they were ready to turn the dials, Szordrin asked Solisar to read off the numerals in the years on the portrait.

   "Ah, there is still a problem," said the sun elf. "One of the digits in the years is an 8."

   "Oh," said Hakam, sounding mildly defeated.

   There was a period of silence, as they considered other options.

   There was a small crash from one of the other rooms, as Kytharrah accidentally knocked something over while trying to allay his boredom. Sofi went to check on him, but he had only broken the door off the wardrobe.

   "What if we simply assume that that is an 8, not a zero?" suggested Szordrin.

   "Can we convert these four digit years somehow to only go up to 7?" asked Hakam. "What if we subtract 1 from all of the digits?"

   "That would give us 0224 and 0227," said Solisar, "but we have the same problem of not knowing whether that horizontal bar is a 0 or an 8. Szordrin's suggestion is a simpler solution."

   Another long pause. Solisar appeared to be doing some complicated calculations in his head.

   "The aarakocra keep time differently than on Toril, correct?" said Szordrin.

   "Yes," said Hakam, "they do not count hours; they use 'light calls' instead, eight or sixteen, depending on whether they count the 'growing' and 'shrinking' segments of brightness. And they use eightdays instead of tendays."

   "They may not count in the same way as us at all," said Szordrin excitedly. "We need another digit when we get to ten, but perhaps they switch to two digits when they get to eight. Solisar, can you count to twenty in Aarakocra for us?"

   Solisar did so. "Tee, chih, seh, kaw, doh, ler, hoo, oot, teet, and chit is ten; set, kat, doht, lert, hoot, ooch, teech, chich, sech, and kach is twenty."

   Szordrin asked him to repeat a few of the numbers. "Yes," he said, "all of the numbers between eight and fifteen end in a 'tuh' sound. All of the numbers from sixteen on end in a 'chuh' sound."

   "I think that you are correct," said Solisar.

   "Of course," said Belvin. "They effectively have eight fingers, remember? What would be the bones of our littlest fingers are part of their wing; they cannot use them like true fingers. They can only count to eight on their fingers, not ten."

   "The characters also look like abstract bird feet, now that you say that," said Solisar.

   "Yes," said Hakam, "three fingers and a thumb. The thumb is the arc used for 4."

   "In that case," said Solisar, "if I did the calculations correctly in my head, the series of digits that we want are actually 2467 and 2472."

   "Is that not six years instead of four, like on the portrait?" asked Sofi, who was confused by this complicated math.

   "It is still four years," explained Solisar, "but counting works differently. 2467 is the first year, but there can be no 2468, because there is no 8 numeral. So the next digit switches back to 0 and the one next to it moves up to 7 from 6, just like we would go from 69 to 70 because there is no special numeral for any numeral after 9. So, the four years are 2467, 2470, 2471, and 2472."

   "Barmy," said Sofi.

   "Let us try it out," said Szordrin.

   He set the top left dial to the vee-shaped character that they suspected was the numeral 2. The dial below that he set to the arc that they thought represented 4, and so on, until all eight dials were set, with 2467 down the left side and 2472 down the right side.

   He pressed the releases at each of the two clasps, and they did not move.

   "Flip the orientation, going up," said Solisar.

   Szordrin did so, and the box still remained locked.

   "Let us try shifting all the numerals by one, as I suggested earlier," said Hakam.

   "No, of course, I should have considered this at first," said Solisar. "Their language is written from right to left and bottom to top. Swap the numbers on the two sets of dials."

   At last, when Szordrin set the dials and pressed the releases, the clasps popped open with two clicks. They all smiled at their victory.

   However, when Szordrin tried to lift the cover open, it did not budge.

   There was a collective sigh in the room.

   "It is likely additionally sealed with an arcane lock," said Solisar. "That would explain the abjuration aura on the box."

   "I will try to dispel the magic," said Hakam.

   "Let me pray for Thard Harr's guidance over you first," said Belvin.

   Neither Hakam nor Solisar could overcome the magic that held the box sealed, however.

   "Is it impossible to open, then?" asked Leokas.

   "No, but we will need to wait until the morning," said Solisar. "We will all prepare spells specific for unlocking items. I am certain that we will be able to determine its contents tomorrow. We are so close."
Session: 115th Game Session - Monday, Jul 20 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Yellow Musk Spores
"No time to explain! Cover your mouths!"

   Sofi heard Belvin's warning, so as she rushed to the northwest, she did so with her left hand over her mouth. She sprinted along the overgrown gravel path toward the limping dinosaur that Kytharrah had just struck. Jumping into the air, she kicked high with her left foot. The raptor's head snapped back with a loud crack. As it wobbled and fell to the ground, she punched it on the side of its face with her right fist for good measure.

   "Stay away once you have taken one out!" Belvin called again in warning.

   She nodded, her hand still covering her mouth and nose.

   Hakam and Solisar followed behind her, squeezing between the fallen tree over the path where it had split apart. The cleric called out a quick prayer and touched the phylactery upon his forehead, and a shimmering field of magic appeared around him. Solisar continued past him and could now see the hill beyond. It had a simple house built upon it, surrounded by a fence.

   Belvin continued to shout out warnings and updates. "Another two are coming from the north!"

   Solisar saw one of the two animals. It leapt the fence around the house on the hill and came running down. He waved his wand and saw the beast struck by an invisible force, but it kept on running on its bird-like legs. Kytharrah ran back through the air, swinging from behind the creature to sever its feathered tail. A moment later, Sofi knocked it to the ground with a roundhouse kick to the right side of its head. It raised its head one and hissed, but she dropped to her knees and punched it. It did not raise its head again.

   Szordrin seemed to feel fine after sneezing earlier. As he floated above the deinonychus that was striving and failing to jump up and pull him from the air, he removed a flask of oleum from his potion belt and began to prepare the fuse.

   Kamil cleared the trees and bushes that were blocking the view, and Belvin could now see the house on the hill as well. Leokas followed behind them, vaulting over the fallen tree, landing, and nocking an arrow for whatever might burst from the bushes into view. At the tail end came Hakam, at last seeing the hill that all the others could see. He also spotted the second dinosaur about which Belvin had warned, and a beam of searing light blasted from his palm through all the branches and leaves and struck the animal some 50 yards away.

   Belvin targeted the same dinosaur and called down holy fire from the sky to burn it to ashes in a matter of seconds.

   Szordrin also dropped fire of a kind, though not with as satisfactory a result. His flask of black, oily liquid broke upon the back of the jumping deinonychus and ignited with a flash, searing off the few feathers remaining on the zombie-like creature. The creature's skin, however, did not ignite, and with another attempt, it leapt up yet again. This time, it made it higher into the air. Its jaws clamped down on Szordrin's right leg, and its teeth punctured the soft leather of his boot. The weight of the ten-foot-long dinosaur drew Szordrin out of the air toward the ground. As they fell, the creature slashed about wildly with its claws and the razor-sharp toe claw on its lower talons as its jaws still held fast. The mage's mithral shirt deflected its claws, and its talons missed, as Szordrin thrashed about. He kicked it in the head and freed himself. The magic from his flying spell carried him back higher into the air, and the dinosaur fell prone to the ground. As the dinosaur tried to get back to its feet, it was knocked back down by the force of two magic missiles from Solisar striking it in the legs. It raised its head one last time, just high enough for Leokas to pierce it with an arrow.

   "We need to burn all the bodies!" said Belvin, as the last dinosaur fell. "They were not undead; they were infected by yellow musk spores. We have to burn anything with spores."

   As if on cue, suddenly a number of thick vines whipped up from the jungle floor and snapped violently at Solisar. His magical force shield darted back and forth to defend him, but several blows got through, nearly knocking him senseless.

   Kytharrah's eyes followed the vines back toward a large, bush-like plant. It had large leaves and beautiful yellow flowers with purple specks. He stepped forward on air and began hacking at the base of the green tendrils, where they seemed to emerge from the plant.

   Sofi positioned herself just outside the reach of the nearest tendrils. "What do I do?" she bemoaned. "I do not know how to kick a plant!"

   "Keep away from it!" warned Belvin again.

   "Watch me destroy it," said Szordrin, as he reached into his spell component pouch, but Hakam was a moment faster and called down fire while clutching his holy symbol. The yellow-flowered plant burst into sudden flame. Its leaves and flowers sizzled and shriveled as they burned up over the next several seconds, and the writhing vines grew still.

   Belvin did not seem confident that the plant was dead. He yelled at it in Druidic, ordering it not to move.

   "Did it not die?" asked Szordrin, as he pointed at the burning ball that he had summoned and directed it toward the corpse of the deinonychus that had bitten him. At least he could burn up one of the corpses.

   "I would continue to keep your mouths covered, if I were you," replied Belvin, as Solisar emptied the contents of a healing potion into his mouth and felt his bruised body refresh. Leokas nocked an arrow and glanced around nervously.

   Kytharrah looked down at the ground. Where he had severed the vines, he noticed tiny shoots budding out of the plant flesh of the tendrils at the point where he had hacked them apart. He had never seen a plant growing so fast. He swung at them again. Then he began slashing at the bush itself, sending shriveled leaves and flowers everywhere. He then bent low and gored the thick, woody trunk of the plant.

   "Keep your distance, Kytharrah!" said Belvin.

   "How do you kill it?" asked Solisar.

   "We need to scorch it," said Belvin. "All of it, so that nothing remains at all. Even the smallest root can begin to grow back."

   "How can a plant grow so quickly?" asked Sofi.

   Hakam came up to Solisar and laid his hands on him. All of the pain left the sun elf's body. "Cannot one of you nature folk start a bonfire?" the cleric then asked.

   "It will be difficult to start a natural fire with all of this moisture," said Belvin. "We are in a rain forest after all, but I do have one idea." The wild elf closed his eyes and began chanting softly and raised his arms to the sky.

   "I am out of fire magic," said Hakam. "I am sure that Leokas would accept the challenge. Leokas?"

   The wood elf was no longer standing nearby, having followed the path up the hill to a large gate.

   "I have a few more fire spells at my disposal," said Szordrin, and he pointed at the remains of the plant, as tiny shoots began poking out of the stump and opening into little leaves. Out of all of the root fragments scattered about from Kytharrah's hacking, little buds were emerging. A flash of fire exploded outward, engulfing the plant just shy of where the others were standing. All of the little growths were annihilated by the blast, but within about ten seconds, once the steam from the explosion had dissipated, they spotted here a fresh growth and there another. Soon, tiny plants were sprouting from the scorched plant material all around them.

   Solisar thought it best to get away from the vines — hacked up though they were — that could have pummeled him to unconsciousness, and followed up the hill toward Leokas.

   "We need you to start a fire," Solisar said to the wood elf. "We no longer have fire spells. What do you see?"

   Leokas vaulted over the fence with his hands. He was looking toward an enormous pillar of dark-green crystal, embedded in the soil and supported by a ring of stones. It had clearly been erected here; it was not a natural rock growth. It was four-feet thick and ten-feet tall. "I may be wrong, but I suspect that we have found another Omlar gem!"

   "It is the center of the illusory field," said Hakam.

   Kytharrah snorted loudly, trying to get the others to pay attention again to the plant that was growing more and more shoots and tiny tendrils with every second.

   "Where did that cloud come from?" asked Sofi. A small dark storm cloud was now hovering some ten yards above them. Belvin yelled out something, and a flash of lightning struck down from the cloud. Some of the little plants drooped over and were stilled... but only for several moments. New ones sprung up immediately after.

   Kytharrah, frustrated, went at it at the tree again, this time striking the remains of the central stump, until it was in several fragments. He cut into the ground with his axe, digging up every shallow root that he could find and churning up the soil.

   "Stop chopping them up!" said Hakam. "You are going to make it worse."

   The minotaur obeyed and stopped.

   Szordrin followed with a final blaze of fire, but he failed to engulf all of the growing plantlets now scattered all about.

   "What is an Omlar gem?" asked Sofi, as Leokas passed her on his way to the decimated yet still living plant.

   "I shall explain later," said Leokas. "For now, it looks like someone needs to make a proper campfire."

~~~~

Leokas gave everyone orders to search for the driest wood that they could. They began kicking all the chopped up plant parts into a central pile, and Leokas surrounded it with small stones. Then he began arranging sticks around it. Sofi seemed impressed with how much care he put into building the fire, having never seen the ranger at work before. It was a long process, but during the time needed to build the fire, Belvin continued to call down bolts of lightning on the largest plantlets every minute or so, preventing any from growing too large.

   Only when Leokas was satisfied with the bonfire's construction did he use his flint to ignite the wood. It only took a single spark.

   Belvin approached Szordrin and neutralized any potential poison with a prayer to Thard Harr.

   "I felt no ill effects," said Szordrin.

   "I heard you sneeze. Did you smell a musky odor? If so, than its spores may have gotten into your system."

   "It can take days for one to become infected by diseases," said Leokas. "I imagine it is the same for a natural spore taking over one's brain."

   "Is it a disease, or a curse?" asked Hakam.

   "I do not fully know how it works," said Belvin, "but if it were a curse, I suspect that your divine magic would have done more harm to the zombies. All I know is that the spores take over the infected creature and cause it to care for nothing but protecting the parent plant."

   Once the fire was ablaze, they ensured that every last scrap from the plant was thrown in. Kytharrah used his axe like a shovel to toss in dirt that might contain the smallest bits. They also recovered the mushy, yellowed bodies of the six deinonychuses that had not already been burned by other means. Their open wounds revealed plant matter and what looked like vines growing within what should have been reptilian flesh. From the heads of a few of them, small plants had already burst from the skulls, each with tiny tendrils that were slithering around looking for a surface to which to cling. These were all tossed onto the fire.

   Curious, Szordrin held one final root fragment with a growing shoot and pierced it with his dagger of venom. The little shoot still wiggled like a worm. Frustrated, the tiefling wizard cast it into the fire.
Session: 115th Game Session - Monday, Jul 20 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Zombie Raptors
"We got some saurs. Tread lightly; we are in deinonychus country. I can sense at least sixteen raptors!"

   "Where are they?" they asked Belvin.

   "At least four to the north, but they are scattered in all directions. I cannot sense the precise locations."

   "What is a deinonychus?" asked Solisar.

   "Bird-like, feathered dinosaurs standing as tall as an elf with tails just as long. They have a single sharp, curved claw on each of their talons, on the second toe, shaped much like my sickle, and they hunt in packs, taking down larger prey by pouncing on them. They are in a family known as raptors."

   "I think that I know what you mean," said Sofi. "I encountered some on another island once. I saw them take down one of the dinosaurs with armored plates on its back. They ganged up on it. I began sleeping in the trees after that."

   "They climb trees," said Belvin, and Sofi looked horrified.

   "We should try to avoid them," said Hakam, "but prepare yourselves for fighting if we need to."

   Belvin agreed. "I cannot speak to any more animals today."

   "If there are sixteen of them within this magic dome," said Szordrin. "I do not see how we will be able to avoid them."

   They proceeded forward cautiously. Belvin let Kamil follow the others while he concentrated on his druidic spell. About twenty paces from the magical barrier, they came to a small pond. On its eastern side was a small fire ring and some rocks for sitting on. There even seemed to be the remains of a gravel path leading to the northeast.

   Belvin sensed that the nearest deinonychus was only some fifteen yards to the east, out of sight in the trees, and he cautioned his teammates. "There are now eight within 40 yards of us," he said in a low voice, "but they are all spread out, and they seem to be moving around slowly in tight circles, like an animal in a cage, not like animals patrolling their territory or on the hunt. I do not think that this is their natural behavior at all."

   "Could they be the guards of whoever is living here?" asked Hakam.

   "I am curious about how recently that fire ring has been used," said Solisar. "Leokas, is that something that you could check?"

   Leokas nodded, nocked an arrow, and stealthily made his way forward to the ring of small stones, staying low to the ground. There was not much cover for him, but he was quiet on his feet. He crouched at the ring and looked into it and then rose and pressed himself up against a thick tree trunk east of it. He motioned that he had spotted motion further east, and his companions nodded in understanding. Leokas waited a moment and then darted back to the others.

   "I do not think the dinosaur spotted me. It is tall. As for the fire ring, it has not been used in many long years; there are plants growing in it."

   "Solisar, are the dinosaurs in magical cages?" asked Szordrin. "Can you see any auras in the directions that Belvin pointed?"

   Solisar shook his head.

   "Perhaps we can have the minotaur or someone flying distract them from the air and lead them away to form a safe path for the rest of us," suggested Hakam.

   This triggered a discussion of the best course of action. Just when one of them suggested, "Could not Leokas just pick them off one by one?" one of the deinonychuses came into view and charged toward them along the overgrown gravel path. Leokas immediately loosed his arrow. It struck the bird-like animal, but it kept running.

   "Valignat!" shouted Szordrin, extending his hand. Two beams of fire rushed forth. One missed, but the other flash-burned the dinosaur, and it stumbled to the ground briefly, before springing up onto its feet again.

   They all felt a rush of speed as a piece of licorice vanished from Solisar's hands. He backed closer to the magical barrier, as the deinonychus leapt into the air at Leokas, its tiny clawed wings extended. It crashed into Leokas talons first, slashing into his left arm through his leather with one of its sickle-clawed toes. The dinosaur was bulkier and heavier than Leokas had anticipated, but he managed to spring back enough to avoid being knocked flat onto his back.

   Kamil turned on his own, without any need for guidance, and snapped at the deinonychus. It jerked its neck back to avoid the bite and hissed back at the camel. The camel reared back and slammed both hooves into dinosaur's head, one after the other, dazing the beast. Leokas drew his dagger and swung in the same motion, decapitating the animal.

   Kytharrah sniffed the fallen animal and made a funny face. Sif came up and began gnawing on its thigh. Sofi moved up to a tree and stood on the lookout for more dinosaurs.

   "It never signaled its pack," said Szordrin.

   "That is because it was not alive to begin with," said Hakam. "It had no functioning brain."

   Belvin agreed. "Look at its mottled skin and lack of many feathers. This was a zombie."

   Kytharrah looked confused.

   Hakam moved closer to the fallen deinonychus and prayed a blessing of fortune over the party.

   Belvin continued to concentrate. "There are still seven more near us; they have not moved yet."

   "I think that I can see another moving to the northwest," said Szordrin, who had walked to the north of the small pond.

   "If these are undead," said Solisar, joining the party again, his magic wand drawn. "I suggest we destroy these abominations."

   Hakam agreed, and Belvin said, "Hells, my arm is itching for some holy cleansing action!"

   So, Szordrin pulled out some tallow, brimstone, and a pinch of iron powder and threw his arm toward the northwest as if lobbing a heavy ball. A sphere of flame soared a hundred feet through the air and struck the dinosaur, then bounced off and tumbled to the ground. Steam rose from the canopy floor, as the ball of fire burned the wet leaves and plants on the ground. The dinosaur squawked and rushed forward, disappearing from Szordrin's view.

   A different decayed-looking deinonychus sprung out of the bushes north of Szordrin and reached him, kicking up at him like an ostrich might and slashing his leg through his robes. Szordrin yelped in pain as several bursts of force from Solisar's wand beat back the animal and kept it from taking a bite out of Szordrin as well. Instead, it tore a piece from Szordrin's sleeve.

   "We have got movement," warned Belvin, as he moved Kamil to a fallen tree that crossed the old gravel path. "From the northeast!"

   Leokas looked at his two options and chose to aim at the one near Szordrin, drawing the bowstring back to its extreme limits with each shot. Only one of his arrows hit, but it literally caused the dinosaur's side to burst open, and yellow and green contents began sloughing out.

   Still walking on air, Kytharrah also rushed to Szordrin's aid. He rose ten or fifteen feet over the dinosaur and swung his large axe down from above. The blade split the animal's flesh wide open, and it fell apart in a pile of decayed organs and limbs. Kytharrah immediately rushed through the air back toward the fallen tree.

   Sif ran over to the fallen tree also, then under it, and snapped at the legs of the raptor that had come from the east. Sofi also sprinted to the fallen tree, leapt atop the log, and flipped herself off onto the back of the dinosaur to ride it like a mount. With her free fist, she pounded it in the side of the head, causing it to wobble about.

   Hakam hustled toward the tree as well, his holy symbol raised and glowing with positive energy. "Anachtyr rebuke you!" he shouted.

   "Szordin, north!" Belvin called out.

   The wizard cast a spell and took to the air, flying north around the tall trunks of the jungle trees. He now could see a hill and ridge curving down from the north and bending around to the east. The dinosaur that he had burned was now below him, and it tried futilely to leap up and bite at Szordrin's feet.

   "I meant, aim north, not go north!" protested Belvin.

   Back by the fallen tree, Sofi clung tightly to the back of the dinosaur she rode, as Solisar pummeled it with magic bursts from his wand, but it finally bucked Sofi from its back. She landed on the ground in a backwards somersault, then rolled horizontally to avoid a bite and kick in succession from the dinosaur that had tossed her and was then back to her feet with a rising handspring in a matter of moments.

   Another zombie deinonychus appeared from the east, flapping its diminutive wings and leaping onto the tree, trying to snap at Sif, who was still underneath its leafless branches. Kytharrah swung down from above and nearly cut its right wing off.

   "Your rebuke did not turn them, Hakam!" shouted Leokas, as he took out the raptor on the tree before it could attack his animal companion again. "They are still coming." He then dropped to his knees, turning his longbow sideways and releasing two shots past Solisar, under the fallen tree, past his wolf, and into the raptor facing Sofi. An arrow in each of its legs, the decaying dinosaur collapsed to the ground and did not move again.

   "If they are not undead, then what are they?" said Hakam.

   Meanwhile, as Szordrin hovered over another deinonychus beyond a large cluster of trees and bushes from the others, he felt like had inhaled a cloud of pollen and immediately sneezed, rising five feet into the air as he did so. With his peripheral vision, he saw Kytharrah walking north through the air to his right. Another dinosaur appeared out of the trees, and the minotaur brought down his axe again. It shrieked, dropped to its stomach, and then limped away into the bushes, leaving a trail of yellow and green upon the ground.

   For his part, Kytharrah could now see the hill that Szordrin had seen and what was set atop it, but he needed to help his friend first before he could explore. He rushed through the air toward Szordrin, when he suddenly inhaled a bunch of pollen and sneezed just as Szordrin had done moments earlier.

   Then they all heard Belvin shout out a warning. He had figured out what they were actually up against.

   "No time to explain! Cover your mouths!"
Session: 114th Game Session - Monday, Jul 13 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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