fleet

D&D Chronicles: Operation Skystone not going too well

Race for the skystone

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESBefore us lies a massive circular depression, rock and soil churned up in chunks, vegetation flattened for hundreds of paces all around.

The skystone. It’s so close, buried at the heart of this crater where it fell. We’ve travelled far to reach this place, crossed the treacherous dust plains with its unnatural creatures, entered the mountains, driven by our need to retrieve the skystone to fulfill our quest. When we came across the first felled trees marking the impact zone, my blood sang, the memory of the prophecy sharp in my ears.

The skystone is here. Right before us. But we’re in a race with a horde of dwarfish folk to unearth it.

Beneath our feet lie the caverns and tunnels of dwarven mines. Every so often, the ground shudders and a muffled boom rocks the air. The little folk endeavour to dig out the skystone from below, while we dig desperately from above.

Our worst fears are realised when another explosion racks the earth and a hole appears. Sunlight shines down onto a cart and dark shapes moving about it. They have taken the skystone. We cannot let them have it.

I leap into the hole with Blizzard. In the dark we’re at a disadvantage, but Squirrel’s light spell ensures we can at least see. The strange little men are gone, so we follow them through the tunnels until the poison arrows start flying and we are outnumbered.

We retreat, but they do not pursue, and after a time we creep back down the tunnel to find the cavern empty. We continue through the tunnel and emerge into daylight in time to see a familiar-looking fireball tear a great hole in the rising sphere of an airship. It crashes to the earth in flames.

SQUIRREL

So there’s this prophecy about how five must act in one accord to save the world, and I’m not sure it’s actually referring to us. The two god-touched northerners have their heads in the clouds, Blizzard is rather belligerent in his pragmatism, and Nightshade appears at best nonplussed, to say the least. Which leaves me trying to do what has to be done without fracturing the whole party. Unlike Blizzard, I know there’s a time to keep one’s hands in one’s pockets, and another to take them out … and cast that fireball. Sure, sometimes I get it wrong. No one said saving the world was easy.

Case in point. We stumble across these dwarves — what we think are dwarves. I’ve certainly never seen one before, but they match the general description (short, hairy, unhelpful). If they’d been orcs or goblins, no problems: Blizzard’s call to take out their scouts and send the rest of them packing would’ve been unanimously supported, I’m sure. But no. We try to negotiate. We need what you’ve got, we say. We’re trying to save the world, we say. But these little tunnel diggers, too caught up in their own greed to even bury their dead, aren’t having any of it. There we are, the ball of star metal within our each, and we’re still talking about the rights and wrongs of taking it. So: fireball time. Didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, but hey, no one died. No one important, anyway.

Which leaves us here, cooking up a plan to get into the dwarven tunnel and retrieve the rock we need to save the world. We’ve shed their blood, blown up their weird airborne contraption, caused them grief. There’s no time now for hands in pockets. Let’s hope we are at least in accord about that.

Cavern of doom

ZILLAH

Having escaped with the precious skystone into another tunnel, the horde of enemies now awaits us in a vast, dark cavern, on the far side of a chasm spanned by a narrow bridge.

Or so we believe. Our sight cannot penetrate the darkness. Nor can the sight of our new companion, Fortenbrand, a pale dwarf who the dark ones imprisoned. After we liberated him, he agreed to help us retrieve the skystone from the ‘half-breed black fuckers’ he names ‘derros’. Since Fortenbrand’s priests have also foreseen the skystone is needed to forge the flail, he is now our ally.

We attempt to cross the bridge. The derros are great in number and their poisoned quarrels continue to fly. We reach a fortification in the centre of the bridge, dodging the strange arrows as best we can.

A terrible screech rips through the air and my heart almost stops.

Fleet. Fleet!

I spin to see my beloved Fleet plummeting downwards into the depth of the chasm. Her body twists and writhes for purchase that isn’t there. Her howl freezes my blood.

Oh no no no. Fuck fuck fuck.

I drop my weapons, heave my pack onto the stone at my feet. Pitch myself over the edge into nothing but endless air.

The drop is about fifty feet into cold, dark water. Gasping, I reach the surface and swim towards the motionless form of my beautiful cat. She’s a dead weight in my arms, fur sodden, green eyes closed. Sobbing now, I haul her out of the water, check her vital signs, refuse to believe what I already know. Desperately I paw at her, my hands shaking and useless.

Another splash in the water behind me, and I sense someone else has fallen. And then another. I don’t care. Nothing matters anymore, but Fleet who is unresponsive and immune to all my entreaties. My mind spins with chaotic nothing.

Then I hear Alix’s faint cry. Alix. I need Alix!

Alix is in the water and I plunge in after her, grab hold of her arm and drag her to Fleet. Help her. Please help Fleet.

The action has cleared my mind. It is Squirrel flailing in the water, weighed down by his pack, his struggles growing weaker. Nightshade is descending on a rope to help him and, although my chest feels as though it must split in two, I go to her aid. But my limbs feel like lead and I can barely breathe. By the time we retrieve Squirrel, he has been underwater too long.

Licking wounds

ZILLAH

As I hunch over Fleet, whose body is already losing warmth in my clutching arms, I’m barely aware of Alix using her airwalking boots to transport all of us and our gear upwards and away to safety. Somehow I put one foot before the other, stumbling back the way we came until we reach a safe chamber.

I lay my cat down gently, stroke her fur, gaze pleadingly at Alix.

She comes over. Says Blizzard has cast a spell over Squirrel to preserve him until the next day. This means she is able to bring Fleet back right now, and Squirrel tomorrow. I throw my arms around her until she fends me off and settles at Fleet’s side to work her magic. I stroke my cat’s fur, lay my hand over her heart. Life returns — a flicker of pulse, a faint inhale of breath. I gather Fleet to me and bury my face in her neck.

SQUIRREL

Back on Mycross, running with Ribald’s crew, we had a saying: it’s not the fall that kills you, but the landing.

How true it is. There was the plummet from the bridge into the chasm, then the save of the feather fall spell that lowered me ever so gently … into the river. Where the burden of pack and clothes bore me down. For someone raised on an island, I’m a useless swimmer — the ocean was a widowmaker where I lived. Besides, I couldn’t slip the pack, not when it had my spell books in it. I had to hope I could somehow make it.

You’d think I’d learnt better than to hope by now.

I remember drowning. The panic of it, the water and the darkness. Then waking, choking on that memory. I reached for my pack, as weak as I was, newly brought back from the great nothingness. (I know it too well.) My books and scrolls were thankfully secure inside their watertight bindings, the best gold I’ve ever spent — what is a magic user without this magic?

And my companions, abashed from the disaster of our defeat by the derro at the bridge, urged me to take up arms despite my power being spent, as though to die was no big thing, as though Alix had done no more than heal me of a scratch and set me back on my feet again.

I DIED, and only Blizzard seemed to care. Though his delight in telling me that they’d resurrected the damned cat before me was perhaps out of order. He needs an ally, that one, and it seems, as the only other pragmatist in the party, I may be it. Certainly not Nightshade, who seems to care not one whit for man nor mission.

There is a lesson here, one I should have learnt long ago on the island. Yeah, it’s not the fall, but the landing that counts.


Well, that was eventful. Actually it was farcical. We (the players) were mostly in hysterics as our characters floundered about in the water at the bottom of the chasm, while the DM shook his head in bemused disbelief.

Retrieving the skystone was not supposed to be this hard. We were not supposed to destroy the hot air balloon (that was our ticket home, says the DM). We were supposed to make quick work of the derro and return with the skystone in time for tea. Hmm.

More Operation Skystone soon!

Thanks to Jason Nahrung for Squirrel contributions.

More D&D Chronicles on the page!

D&D Chronicles: Getting our butts kicked in and around Issimbaal

ZILLAH

Dealing with Elliana (not)

D&D CHRONICLESWe argue long into the night about how to get the Left Eye of Varrien from Elliana.

The clerics of Phanator refuse to help us, not wanting to start a conflict with the Church of Elloran. I think we all know Elliana and her protector are far too strong for us, but the thought of simply letting the woman leave is intolerable.

Gritting our teeth, we resolve to confront her. Our plan is to waylay them at dawn, try to take them unawares, use Alix’s magic as protection.

None of it goes to plan. Elliana and her henchman take a different route than expected, so we have to chase them. They stop and frown, as though we’re merely annoying insects (and not the giant kind).

Then they kick our arses.

One attempt to engage Tob is all I need to realise I don’t have a chance against him, and then a magical blade is whirling around him in all directions, seriously wounding Blizzard. Nightshade and I manage to get out of the way, but…

In under a minute our entire party is fleeing in the opposite direction. Elliana sends a friendly fireball after us as a final ‘fuck you’.

That was fun.

Elliana leaves with the Left Eye and the taste of failure is bitter.

Are we ever getting out of Issimbaal?

We need to regroup.

Even were I not sworn to retrieve the Right Eye, it seems more important than ever, in case it’s Elliana’s ambition to bring the two Eyes together to raise the goddess of destruction. If only she’d talked to me when I attempted to discover her goal, instead of bespelling me into being her slave. At least that curse has been broken by my recent death and resurrection.

We know Elliana is looking for magic portals, perhaps to reach Tel Marrenor and the Right Eye, lost deep in the broken forest. We considered offering to accompany her on her long journey, but with Nightshade stricken with the zombie disease, she needs the priests here to find the cure.

I’m already half-regretting our decision to confront Elliana. I don’t know whether we could have trusted her and Tob enough to travel with them, but that option must surely now be lost to us, along with the Left Eye.

I don’t know what to do.

The next few days pass slowly for me as we remain in Issimbaal. Squirrel is busy learning new spells, the others are poring over books from the libraries; meanwhile I’m at a total loose end, my mind turning everything over and over and over until I want to scream. I hang out with Fleet, and try to calm down by teaching her a new trick.

Zillah and Fleet

Zillah and Fleet

Those hitting the books find out stuff about the flail and the Eyes, and acquire a couple of maps that could be useful. They don’t discover much about the zombie disease, other than the knowledge it was cast by mages in conjunction with priests of Bahaal. It’s possible the spell creation took place in the Temple of Death, which is about 200 miles down the road.

Zombie hunting

Helping the priests find a cure for this zombie disease has become a bit of a fixation. Nightshade needs it. Not only has she become a friend in the weeks we’ve known her, but her knowledge of the forest, and her passion for saving it, will help us in our quest to retrieve the Right Eye. No doubt she’ll be just as pleased to avenge the Dark Tree too, as we promised the tree ent.

For as long as we’re in this abandoned and now charred city, every night we search for zombies. But they too seem to have abandoned the city, and our hunt is fruitless.

After several days we take the hunt into the broken and deserted lands outside Issimbaal. It’s morning, sunny, and I easily find the tracks of six humanoids, some of which are larger than humans.

(Interestingly, I also find two sets of separate human tracks, likely to be Elliana and Tob, heading in the direction of the Temple of Bahaal — which is decidedly not the direction we expected. It also happens to coincide with our proposed next destination…)

But it’s the zombies I’m interested in for now. Maybe one of these holds the key to the disease.

We’ve been going for about two hours, and I know we’re really close to the band I’m tracking, when my peripheral vision picks up shapes looming to either side and — no warning — we’re under attack.

Fuck. We’re surrounded. Fleet! Fleet is getting ripped into. No!

My brave, bleeding cat falls to the ground.

The world shrinks to her sand-coloured fur, tufts torn out, rivers of red. I’m on my knees at her side, fumbling with a cure light wounds spell. She’s still warm. But my hands tremble too much for me to tell if she’s alive.

My limbs are wooden, my heart empty, as I lurch to my feet. I stand over Fleet, and take in the battle that is all my fault. I led us into an ambush. All. My. Fault.

But Blizzard has a zombie under his control already. One explodes nearby at Alix’s hands. I take out my fear and grief on the remaining zombies within my reach. They do not last long.

As soon as it’s over, I gather Fleet into my arms. Thanks to blessed Emrys, she’s alive. Alix heals her some more and my heart is full again. But I can’t bear to let her go. Her fur is soft against my face. She puts up with my fussing for a while, but then she licks my face and twists out of my arms. I take a deep breath and get to my feet.

We return to Issimbaal by midday with two zombies under Blizzard’s command. Hopefully the clerics can do something with them.

I just want to curl up in a corner with Fleet and feel her warmth against my side, her rhythmic purr vibrating through my bones.


Fleet (a desert cat) is Zillah’s second animal companion. Her first was Ash, a dog, who was killed in the broken forest. All our D&D adventures are listed in order with links on the D&D Chronicles page.

D&D Chronicles: Journey into the swamp

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESWe’ve been in Kelsen for two whole weeks now, but we’re leaving tomorrow. Finally.

It’s been a bit over a week since we supposedly took over the thieves guild. In reality, Tippa and her cronies are going to run the guild — which is a good thing because I refuse to have anything to do with it. The others have struck some deal. I don’t want to know.

I’ve spent much of the week strengthening my bond with Fleet. She’s such a beautiful creature — powerful, fast, stealthy as a great desert cat should be. We’ve reached an understanding and I can’t wait to see her in action out of the city. Nightshade has also bonded with her ferret, Domino, and we’ve trained Fleet to take Domino on her back.

We now have a permanent base in Kelsen, having spent some of our hard-won gold on a house. The others persuaded me to this course of action, and it’s true Kelsen is reasonably central and as good a base as any. It also gives us citizenship in Kelsen, and so legitimizes our presence in the region.

Sadly, Abra has decided to leave our company. His experiences of the past several weeks have taken their toll, and he’s leaving to seek other Vahdrim. This part of the world is certainly dangerous for mages. I have released Unch too. I couldn’t keep in all conscience keep a homunculous slave any longer and he has gone with Abra. We’ll miss both their skills.

Continuing the quest

Part of the reason for our prolonged stay in Kelsen has been to gather information about these lands to aid our quest to stop the rise of the goddess Varrien. We are pledged to find the Right Eye, and we probably also need to find the Flail of Wind and Rain, said to be the one object that can destroy the goddess of destruction.

We think we know where the Right Eye is hidden — somewhere in the lost city of Tel Marrenor, deep in the cursed forest to the south of Kelsen. But everything we hear about that place leads to Death. To succeed, we need to assemble the right skill-set and the right equipment. We’re not ready yet. It’s going to take some time.

All we know about the Flail, on the other hand, are rumours. Old stories. Conflicting fragments of information. It’s possible part of it is secreted somewhere in the mythical city of Toreth Jhand (maybe) near the Dharrian Hills — north and west of Kelsen.

To make matters worse, Blizzard heard through his church that an important gem has been stolen from the Church of Elloran. We fear this could be the Left Eye of Varrien, which we left in their keeping. Perhaps we will end up hunting that down too (again), somewhere near Thyas or the Dust Plains.

In the short term, though, we’re taking a ship to the swamps just south of here. We’re hoping to find some lost artifacts that will aid us in our quest, and we can hopefully find out more about the dangers of Tel Marrenor while we’re nearby. That place keeps calling to me, no matter how cursed.


To the swamps

[2 March] The ship’s longboat drops us on a thin shoreline edged in dense forest. The vast swamps are to the south and a village a short distance inland. We head into the trees.

Trees. I feel like I’ve come home. Fleet takes to the forest more naturally than I’d hoped. She’s  a flash of ochre at my side.

We reach the village of Hillargh around midday. It’s largely deserted, but there are soldiers in the taproom of the inn and a couple of locals. They tell us tales of brigands and lizard creatures (and great flying lizards) living in the swamp. They tell stories of a lost city, now the citadel of a lizard king…

Most of the people have fled the village. The Baron of Verren, two days down the road, will likely pay us to clear them out, they say.

Since the swamp sounds like the place we need to go, and we’re probably going to have to kill the brigands and lizard creatures anyway, we might as well get paid for it. We take the road to Verren.

[6 March] We appropriate abandoned coracles for our journey into the swamp. It’s steaming hot and sticky and the mosquitoes are vile. I’m already regretting this.

It takes a while for everyone to get the hang of poling their vessels. Some more than others. I don’t think Fleet is enjoying this very much; she’s huddled in the shallow bottom of my coracle growling. Sometimes we have to port our coracles where the waters become impassable. Tedious as hell.

The baron has promised us coin if we clear the swamps of brigands.

[7 March] Late morning, I spot an ancient stone bridge, overgrown by forest, not far ahead. We start to disembark beside it, when a band of some 15 lizard creatures appear on both sides of the waterway, aiming javelins.

Throwing javelins.

lizardmanbridge

All some of us can do is try to evade the javelins, but I’m well aware Squirrel’s responsible for the fireballs and when some of the creatures start looking vague I suspect Alix is calming their emotions. Eventually they’re close enough for us to engage and we defeat more than half, while the others flee. We’re not in too bad shape, considering the odds.

An ancient road crosses the bridge. It’s overgrown, but there’s enough for me to pick out and we follow it into the heart of the swamp.

[8 March] Around midday, our way is blocked by a horde of lizard creatures — could be as many as 40. They tell us to leave their lands. We try to negotiate. This fails. Alix and Blizzard both cast spells to calm them down, and we pass through cautiously.

It’s a shame such spells are not permanent. They recover quickly and charge from behind, all 40 of them, while a pair of wyverns (doubtless the ‘great flying lizards’) attack from the air. This is going to be interesting.

lizardmanhorde

They still seem to favour javelins. We’re surrounded by a ring of sharp pointy objects. Another fireball or two. One of Alix’s flaming spheres. I’m on full defence until the creatures get close enough — which they do eventually.

We kill a lot of them, including one of the wyverns. Squirrel has a particularly hard time of it, but Alix manages to heal him mid-battle and he pulls through. A bunch of lizard creatures and one of the wyverns inexplicably retreat.

lizardmanhorde#2

We count 25 lizardman corpses alongside the dead wyvern. We take stock of our own injuries, bind them up as best we can and prepare to continue…

The complete D&D Chronicles are found on the D&D Chronicles page.