zillah

D&D Chronicles: To Kyam by water and dust

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESThe haft of the Flail of Wind and Rain is to be found in the Tomb of Horrors. Or so the wizened creature Oramoot says.

The Tomb of Horrors. The very name makes me shiver.

Oramoot has produced a map to the tomb, which is a long-forgotten Vhadrim testing place near the town of Kyam, just outside Vhad. It lies deep in the Dust Plains — another name to give me chills —  beneath a hill shaped like a skull.

I can hardly wait.

After a few days of rest, we leave the relative safety of Kham Jhara for our long trek to Kyam and the tomb. First we head to the river and arrange for some locals to take us downriver on a barge.

luca-bravo-149740

Downriver by barge

The river soon borders the Dust Plains, the air blowing hot and bleak. But our journey passes swiftly and uneventfully until the second night, when we are attacked by three fearsome eight-limbed creatures, while Blizzard and I are alone on deck keeping watch…

SQUIRREL

When it works, it’s magnificent, isn’t it?

Raised as a spellcaster, then left to make my way with the resident miscreants, my path has been akin to that of two men hobbled together, Faldhu god of thieves and Elloran god of knowledge not being the best of buddies.

But on the river, in the dead of night, it all came together.

We were asleep inside our cabin on the barge deck, Zillah and Blizzard minding the way forward, the young chap on the tiller. The alarm was sounded – we’d been boarded! And then, Zillah, yelling, “there’s one of the roof”.

In the light of my hastily cast spell, beaming out the door, we could see the foredeck messed in webs and in the midst, Zillah in battle with two spider-like beings. No sign of Blizzard. A couple of magic missiles helped Zillah dispatch the two against her opponents. And then she was trying to throttle Blizzard! And doing a pretty good job of it, looks like.

Charm spell, eh. Cast by the one on the roof. In the kill zone, above our door, most like. Exit there, get stuck, get garrotted. Not bloody likely.

I’d been wanting to use the gaseous form spell for months. Conjuration cast, and me and all my gear were vapour. Weird, but somehow invigorating. Out I snaked through the port hole, and onto the roof. In time to see the spider thing return to its perch, enjoying the battle on the foredeck.

Closer I drifted, unseen in the moonlight, until I was right behind it. I coalesced into flesh and blood once more, and – wham! My new dagger, minted by the master smith Astra Khara, slid smooth as you like into the thing’s back. A twist for good measure. Blooded!

That got its attention.

I dropped the daggers, dodged and ducked, and conjured – magic missiles. It didn’t like that. It swiped me, and I staggered, felt some poisonous itch that failed to penetrate, then cast again. The creature fell, Zillah snapped out of it, hugs all round.

And I had the satisfaction of seeing two paths combine, spell and blade in deadly concert. Finally, I think I’ve found my calling.

ZILLAH

Blizzard hasn’t yet forgiven me for trying to throttle him the other night. At least I didn’t kill him this time. The way he’s acting you’d think I attacked him intentionally, despite him knowing I was under a charm. I think he just doesn’t like the fact he was bested by a woman. But I wish he would forget about it. Since his conversion to Emrys, we have been almost in accord.

We arrived in the (mostly) abandoned city of Reyim Baal today. The city, which is engulfed by the Dust Plains, is currently home to a few dozen priests of Bahal and their attendants, who have invited us to stay with them. For worshippers of the god of death they are surprisingly mellow.

We have learnt that Elliana and Tob entered the Temple of Bahal some weeks ago and never emerged. While there is a chance they left via the portal, it is believed more likely they fell to the darkness infesting the temple. The priests believe the temple is overrun by the spectres of priests – those priests of Bahal who remained to defend the temple during the great war with the Vhadrim. After two decades, they are powerful and malevolent — even to their own kind.

To make matters more complex, we now believe the Left Eye of Varrien, which Elliana stole, also lies within the temple of death. We briefly entertained notions of liberating the temple, finding the Eye, but the dangers seem more than we can handle. Particularly since apparently most of our spells will not work inside its walls.

So tomorrow we head deeper into the Dust Plains towards Vhad and, beyond it, the Tomb Of Horrors — which is probably just as bad.

dustplains

Into the Dust Plains

*

Vhad. Once the mage’s city, the city of Vhadrim. Now a cloud of darkness engulfs it, and we are taking care not to get too close to its dark magic.

It has taken us several days to get here from Reyim Baal. Days in which Blizzard managed to get himself killed by foolishly falling for a deception — requiring Alix to resurrect him. (More gold owed to Shadrath.) We also encountered a great burrowing earth elemental, giant skeleton creatures and more besides.

Oh, and apparently a couple of days ago was the festival of Vash. I am now twenty years old.

But there is no time to dwell on naming days…

As we circumnavigate the city of Vhad, yet more strange creatures launch themselves towards us, throwing up dust. These look like giant scorpions, about thirty feet in length. Their poison is debilitating and almost does for Squirrel, but ultimately we prevail against them — only to see them dissipate into thick black smoke. Their poison, alas, is real.

Monster_dust

Creatures out of the dust

After meeting one of these scorpion creatures, and then two more, we eventually make it to the town of Kyam by nightfall. Poor Squirrel is staggering, barely able to walk, and we are carrying his gear among us. But Kyam promises to be a refuge for tonight at least. It is surprisingly intact, given the war that happened here two decades ago, and we bunker down for the night in what looks to be a community hall.

Tomorrow will be soon enough to find the Tomb of Horrors.

SQUIRREL

I am reminded again of the weakness of flesh –- my flesh –- by comparison to the mind. Although it was the mind that cast me into the hand-to-hand battle against the scorpions when my magic was low, some ill-considered thought of helping Blizzard as he looked to be dying alone.

As if my dying with him would have been an improvement! He is already polluted by his turn to the treehuggers, all pragmatism lost. Just look at his suicide in the old inn, despite the warnings about the waiting trap. And now I have been infected as well, so desperate to “be of one accord”?

If ever there was a warning from the god of thieves to remember my calling, it was there, in the thin veil between life and death. Here on the doorway to the tomb of trials, it is a good time to remember it as I await my poison-leached strength to return. Bravery is for the bold; survival is for the cautious. I am alone in the shadows, but that is the way of the shadows. There can be no light without them.


Next… the Tomb of Horrors, and hopefully the haft of the Flail. We can only hope.

Thanks again to Jason Nahrung for channelling Squirrel. Check out the D&D Chronicles page for a full list of posts in order.

D&D Chronicles: In the hanging gardens

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESAlas, the Derros still have the skystone. The lump of star metal needed to forge the flail.

Our party is forlorn but, thanks to Alix, intact. Fleet’s purr rumbles with life against my chest, Squirrel’s mutterings echo against the rocky ceiling. I wish he would be quiet. Alix resurrected both him and my cat. It matters not in what order.

Once we are all at full strength we head after the Derros, determined to gain our skystone, deeper into the tunnels under the mountains.

We defeat a small party of the creatures awaiting us at the chasm, but not before they blow up the bridge. The rest of their party is easy enough to track, even in the darkness, and we eventually arrive in a chamber of light, filled with green.

Fortenbrand gasps and declares this place the legendary Hanging Gardens of Athengar. His tone suggests it’s a place to be revered, and I can see why. From the entrance we can see huge raised tiers of abundant foliage — many different varieties, all bearing fruit. The music of running water fills the chamber, which is naturally lit by some amazing feat of dwarven engineering.

It’s beautiful. Bountiful. A place of calm and spiritual peace.

It is probably the place where the Derros have set up an ambush. I enter the chamber, head to its centre. Within seconds, a barrage of quarrels fly out of the foliage. Ouch. I’m glad we all loaded up with poison protection spells.

The Derros have arranged themselves up on the tiers, so after Squirrel clambers up on one side, I head up the other. The foliage is so thick I can’t see much of anything else, but I progress along the tiers in search of the enemy, all the while praying Squirrel will not use a fireball in this sacred place.

hanging-gardens

The skystone is ours

It was a shambles, but the Derros are all dead. And we have the skystone.

Squirrel managed to forebear using his beloved fireball, but he did use the wand of cold to kill a bunch of Derros — as well as a bunch of plants. Nightshade, Blizzard and Alix ended up doing battle with a bunch of Derros in the centre of the chamber, Blizzard’s greatsword swinging mightily. After battling mostly foliage to get to the enemy, I managed to not fall on my face for long enough to kill a few near the end. Then Alix was almost killed by a massive lightning bolt the Derro mages let off… and it was all over.

Fortunately Blizzard was able to heal Alix somewhat, then she set to in her usual unflappable manner and doled out healing spells to everyone else.

Now we are taking stock of the weapons and armour the Derros have left behind, and gathering food from the gardens. We’re going to recuperate here for the rest of the day, and begin the long trek back to Kham Jhara with the skystone tomorrow.

In truth I am more than happy to sleep here tonight. There’s a statue of Ashengar here in the gardens and, although dwarfish, she bears a strong likeness to my god of the forests, Emrys. If these gardens are a shrine to Emrys, then there’s no place I’d rather be.

BLIZZARD

I’ve always believed that the measure of a man is his loyalty, and I have been brought humiliatingly low. This story starts many moons ago when the Elders of my church laid their geas on me: for the glory of Kaltan and your eternal position at his side, bring us back the Eye of Varrien. Even then, the weight of prophecy lay heavy on my shoulders, some mantle of doom that I must draw close, but a man does not argue with his god, not even with the sycophant leaders of his church, who seem to serve themselves more often than their god.

Even then, even as the words fell from their mouths, I knew I wasn’t the man for this job. They made it sound easy. Infiltrate some party. Pretend you’re there for treasure. Or glory. When they succeed, steal the Eye –- no matter how. Bribe them. Bewitch them. Assault them. Murder them in the night if you have to.

And while murder at three am isn’t exactly my style, it’s not something I’d baulk at either. But murder a friend? Now, that’s an altogether different thing.

So, with misgivings, I joined the group. Me and Abra both. We kept to ourselves, me at my abrasive best. After all, Kaltan does love his chaos –- more glory to him –- and I didn’t want friends.

But then Abra deserted me for his studies, and gradually… Well, Squirrel is more akin to me, more brother to me than Abra ever was, and Nightshade and I, we have a blood bond and are forever linked. And despite my dislike of Shadrath, Alix has won my respect with her quiet courage and dignity. And Zillah, she is some mean fighter –- I too well know the strength of her hands as she’s choking the life from me. A man has to respect that.

Over time, they’ve become more family to me than any I’ve ever known. I let down my guard and found my loyalties –- church or friends? –- pitted against one another.

Then the prophecy. All must be of one accord… But we weren’t, and no-one else knew it. So when we kept failing failing failing, I knew why. It was me. All me.

Troubled, I sought Alix’s advice. What is more important: faith or our mission? And though she offered hope that I could, indeed, have both, she reminded me of what our failure would cost.

In truth, I am not the clear-sighted cleric who set out on this mission. I am conflicted. Changed. Torn. Church or friends? And, strangely, somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the forest, the splendour of trees, the freedom of climbing, swinging on a vine.

So when Emrys came to me in a dream and offered me the wonders of the natural world -– and then Kaltan’s hand closed on my shoulder, leaden with the weight of chaos, trying to rein me back, I wanted to pull free. But a man is only as good as his pledge. Still, Emrys beckoned.

The trees.

My friends’ lives.

The most bitter of truths: the widening chasm between Kaltan and me.

And an answer. Only one more betrayal, the biggest betrayal.

Prising those fingers from my shoulder was the hardest thing I have ever done. And I have paid. My armour gone. My greatsword gone. My god-given powers gone. I have been brought low, and I deserve it. Welcome the pain and humiliation to scour away the guilt. Now, a humble warrior, I must square my shoulders and take what the coming months bring. Kaltan has exacted vengeance, and if I know anything about Kaltan, he has only just begun.

ZILLAH

Return to Kham Jhara

After many weeks, we have finally returned to Kham Jhara. Astra Khara, the master smith, is delirious with excitement, and he has whisked the skystone away, after paying us in impressive amounts of gold and weapons for our efforts. Tonight there will be feasting and celebrations, but all I really want is a bath and some sleep.

The journey back with the skystone was not without incident.

First, Blizzard has changed. And I mean changed.

Emrys visited each of us in our dreams that night in the hanging gardens. He was glorious. He blessed me and confirmed I am on the right path in this quest to stop the rise of Varrien. The relief I feel after receiving his benediction cannot be described. I know little of the others’ experiences — save that of Blizzard, who awoke transformed.

He has abandoned Kaltan, the god he has vociferously served for as long as I have known him, and pledged his loyalty to Emrys. None of us saw this coming — how could we? But he says he’s been troubled for some time. Confession upon confession poured out of him, and I think we never saw the true Blizzard until that day. His admission that he always intended to steal the Eye for Kaltan was not entirely unexpected. I have always known he had secrets and could not be trusted. But now? Time will tell, but I suspect he may now be a true ally. After all, we now share a god.

Fortenbrand the dwarf guided us back through the mountain tunnels towards Jeverd Dhar. Even so, it was a difficult journey, with many battles against metal-hungry xorns, which devoured Blizzard’s weapons and most of his armour. We might have thought it Kaltan’s retribution, had not Nightshade’s weapons not also been devoured.

But we’ve made it this far, and that chapter of this quest is over. Next we will head out again to find the pieces of the Flail of Wind and Rain, created by the goddess Gallea, said to be the only weapon that can stop Varrien, the goddess of destruction.

I pray to Emrys we succeed.


Thanks to Tracey Rolfe for Blizzard’s contribution.

More D&D Chronicles on the page.

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: A prophecy and a falling star

Five must fight with one accord
Ere the lost eye be restored
Ere the drums begin to call
Ere the lost stars shine again
Ere the mighty golem falls
Ere the fighting on the plains
Ere the lost eye be restored
Five must fight with one accord

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESThe words revolve around and around my mind like a washing stone. A prophecy. A prophecy too closely aligned with our own activities to be mistaken.

My skin prickles, beginning at the base of my neck and spreading down, as it does every time I remember the words spoken by that strange little creature as he read from that ancient and magical book.

And accompanying the words, a drawing, forever imprinted in my memory. A fiery ball rushing towards mountains. A weapon split in two, alongside a forge. All overlooked by two disembodied flaming red eyes.

For the first time in a long time I feel like an arrow flying through the air to its target.

The night is warm and clear, and starlight glints over the barren Dust Plains of Jhevherd Dhar as Fleet and I watch over our sleeping companions. We are some weeks north and west of Kelsen now, our purpose renewed. Our course recalibrated.

This may seem like a fool’s errand — retrieving a star that fell from the sky into the hills somewhere north of here. And indeed I don’t know how we’re to carry such a thing — which, being made of sky-iron, must surely be large and heavy as boulders. But it is written now into prophecy — the drawing is testament — and although I don’t know what part it is to play, the star must somehow be found.

And then we will search for the two halves of the flail that will defeat Varrien, Goddess of Destruction, whose Eyes have by now most likely been found by those who would raise her.

The Master Smith, Astra Khara, clearly has a role to play too. It was he who commissioned us to find the fallen star. And he who took us to see the wizened creature of prophecy, Oramoot. And it will be Astra Khara, Oramoot decreed, who will forge the two halves of the flail into one. It is also Astra Khara who has detailed maps showing the locations of the two components of the flail, based on years of research.

If we must find this star to prove our worth to the Master Smith, to gain his aid in finding the flail, then that is what we must do. Although I believe this mission has an importance we are yet to discover.

The priest in Udral Abbas, Durleth, saw the star fall into the mountains. To the mountains we must go.

But first we must somehow navigate these cursed Dust Plains. We have taken the longer path from Udral Abbas, heading east first and now following the river; but the way is treacherous. Trees that move and attack and devour. A flying terror that almost carried me aloft in its talons. Winged manticores bearing spikes and stings.

They look almost innocent bathed in starlight, deceptively serene spread out all around our camp.

All posts on the D&D Chronicles page.

D&D Chronicles: In which we leave Tippa in a tight spot

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESWe never should have answered the summons from Tippa. She blinded us with gold and an express carriage ride, and I was actually happy to be returning to our house in Kelsen — even though I never wanted to purchase it in the first place. I was also keen to see whether Tippa had managed to unearth some of the magical items we’d requested.

But then she made demands of us, demands I couldn’t in all conscience meet. And everything fell to pieces.

My heart aches for the defeated little girl we abandoned in Kelsen. Gone was the confident young woman heading up the thieves guild, soaring high on the laurels we’d gained for her on our last visit. I remembered too late that her authority still largely depended on our strength. Or the rumour of it.

I do not regret the stand I took. I could never have done the deeds she demanded. Killed people simply as a show of strength. Acted as an enforcer to artisans struggling to feed their families.

But I do regret my naivete about the situation we left in Kelsen the first time, the deal we did indeed strike with Tippa. And I regret not leaving Kelsen as soon as I heard what Tippa wanted. Because I fear by showing our faces there — my recognisable features in particular — we only made things worse.

I have to tell myself that, although Tippa might not survive our recent actions, her life must always have been precarious if she was relying on us to give her credibility. I do not think we will be back this way. Our house in Kelsen is a dead investment. Our path lies north and west. And north.

ALIX

Kelsen. Whose idea was it to buy a house there? What a trap just waiting to be sprung.

I’m glad to be gone. We all have more important things to do than be a little girl’s weapon of choice. Circumstances being what they were last time, there was benefit for us in having Tippa in a position of power in the thieves guild. But she is still a child, with all the tempers and tantrums that go along with being a child.

How dare she whistle and we run. How dare she point her finger and expect us to do damage. As for demanding we attack those leather workers, whose families are starving, simply to set an example… Would coin have magically appeared in their pockets as their blood ran down the cobbles? Foolish, foolish child. I protect homes and hearths, I do not purposefully destroy them.

The others say Tippa is an old head on young shoulders. There is some truth in that, or she would not have risen to head up the guild, but she still has the vanity and insecurity and anger of the young. No matter. About now, I imagine she has no head at all.

And that is a shame. For she was an urchin who dreamed of more, a daughter who loved her mother, a tough girl who got to lead for a short while. But until the end she remained a frightened, vicious child, and perhaps there would never have been a space for her in this city. Not the way she was trying to carve it.

And so we are away. I imagine Tippa’s mother gathering her daughter’s body close, bereft, crying as we ride. As much as it saddens me, in truth I do not see how it could have been another way. Not if she wouldn’t bend when she feared it meant ending on her knees.

Gods! What a mess. How I long for the North.

SQUIRREL

This is all damned inconvenient, I have to say. We were onto a good business in Kelsen. Tippa was keeping the money flowing, even digging up a few handy magical items for us. And all we had to do was slit a throat once in a while to keep her position shored up. Of course our Northern, god-touched heroes paled about that. It’s business, innit? What’s so hard to understand? And now it’s flushed out to sea.

That pair, Zillah and Alix, walking out on us in the face of a couple of dozen het-up leather workers out there on the street; that could’ve gone bad for the three of us with the stones to do the job. We had to cut our losses — and Tippa loose. Didn’t we?

So now poor old Tippa is probably gonna wind up in the sea, and we’ve lost our safe haven (most like) and our income from the guild. All because of a bit of squeamishness.

And, to pour salt in the wounds, I still haven’t had a chance to transcribe the spells that are burning a hole in my backpack. Honestly, is a week of peace and quiet in a well-lit room too much to ask for? Maybe at the Dharian Hills we’ll have some RnR and I’ll finally be able to hit the books, salvage something from this mess. Maybe.

BLIZZARD

I dreamt of Tippa again last night: her face open with innocence, smiling, but then her eyes scrunched up and tears of blood streamed down her cheeks.

Perhaps it is Kaltan punishing me, these dreams. Perhaps he is reminding me that I serve at his pleasure. Or is Tippa herself castigating me for not doing more? She is dead. If not now, then soon. And that knowledge is a boot in my guts. I should’ve done more.

Tippa’s requests were simple. Kill some men who’d been fleecing her. Fleecing us, really, because we left her in Kelsen, managing our affairs. Kill a couple of men and beat up the ringleaders of a guild for refusing to pay their fee. Easy enough.

But then it started: Alix’s and Zillah’s blunt refusals. Their calling on morals. Fuck me – we kill for a living. It’s what we do. But no amount of sweet-talking, reasoning, arguing could sway them. I’ve never seen the party so divided, so fractured. For a while there, I thought this might be the anvil that shattered our steel.

And so it was up to Nightshade, Squirrel and me. We cornered the first upstairs in his office, until he escaped through a trapdoor. Zillah was guarding the backdoor but didn’t give chase. I could’ve knocked the smugness from her face.

Tippa insisted on accompanying us to the next place. I should’ve seen it coming, of course: she’d done it before. But to actually see her, all of fourteen years old, walk right up and open the woman’s throat with her dagger… I was gobsmacked – a little in awe. It was then I recognised her as a kindred spirit, the baby sister I’d never had.

It was the final task that did it. After much arguing, we persuaded Zillah and Alix to accompany us to the guild. This was just a dusting up. Nothing too serious. But these weren’t a people who were trying to subvert anyone’s rule – they were just struggling to subsist. Zillah walked. Alix followed. They left us stranded.

When we returned to Tippa, her eyes went wide and her face blanched. And we knew – all of us – we’d screwed her over royally. This wasn’t just a matter of one guild, but all guilds. We’d snuffed out her authority, as if it were a lantern wick.

Late into the night, we tried but failed to find her a way out. I even lit upon the idea of marrying her. The faces of my party… But if we were married, I could put her under Church protection.

She returned the next day, so brave and so collected. I blurted it out – offered my hand. But she refused. She came across to me, stood on her toes and kissed me on the cheek. “You are a beautiful man,” she said – rather ironic seeing I’d never felt more ugly.

And with that, she walked away, young, poised and radiating a fear she obviously didn’t want to show. And that was the last I saw of her, until she came to haunt me in my dreams.


Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Squirrel), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Tracey Rolfe (Blizzard) for the very different perspectives of some interesting events…

All posts on the D&D Chronicles page.

D&D Chronicles: Ghostly encounters

Picking up where we left off, Squirrel has just collapsed after attempting to dispel the ward applied to a border of trees around a strange villa in the middle of the desolated Dust Plains…


ZILLAH

The ghost in the villa

D&D CHRONICLES(18 April) Squirrel takes a huge breath and attempts to dispel the ward again.

It’s the third time he’s tried. The last two times he overcast and wasn’t much use for anything for at least a day. As a result we’ve been stranded outside the villa for three whole days. That’s three days of food and water we’re probably going to need on our journey to and from the Temple of Death.

Three days of keeping an eye out for the monstrosities that inhabit the region. Three days in which some unknown person is ransacking the villa, according to Alix, who has been listening in using a clairaudience spell. Smoke rising from a chimney suggests things are being burned. Will there be anything left for us to find? (And how the hell did said person get past the ward?)

Squirrel suddenly gestures with his arms and grunts, “I can hold it for about 20 seconds.” With that, we’re running through the gap in the trees towards the villa courtyard and its dry and dusty fountain. Squirrel arrives looking relieved and rather pleased with himself.

The door to the villa is open.

We gather near the door, uncertain at the sound of footsteps within. It sounds like someone is pacing back and forth. Blizzard uses a spell and detects high intelligence, seething anger and frustration. The footsteps approach and a warrior appears in the doorway. He’s wearing beautiful full-plate armour, black, bearing the markings of the Church of Elloran. He’s wielding an impressive greatsword and looks as though he knows how to use it.

“Help me, or die,” he says. Then tells us he’s looking for a particular book and gives us exactly one hour to find it.

We decide to oblige him, figuring we might discover other things of interest as we go. The villa itself yields nothing, other than a fireplace with the remains of burnt books. We turn our attention outside, and Alix eventually uncovers a hidden door leading to a tiny cellar. Inside are some items of extreme interest: a ring, a dagger, a box containing a wand, an empty backpack, and a… brick. Hmm.

The brick turns out to be a spellbook in disguise. It’s undoubtedly the book the Elloran warrior wants; Squirrel undoubtedly does not want to part with it.

The Elloran warrior strides up, takes the book out of Squirrel’s clutching fingers and leaves. We follow him around the building, into the villa and up to the fireplace. Squirrel almost swallows his tongue as the man throws the spellbook on top of the charred heap of burned books and kindles a fire.

Peace descends upon the warrior’s face as the book goes up in flames. He explains the Vahdrim mages killed his family… then, in the middle of speaking to us, he dissolves into thin air. His armour and greatsword clunk onto the ground.

Defeated by the Dust Plains

(24 April) In the end we’ve put it to the vote: to continue on towards the Temple of Death, or retreat to Issimbaal.

After the villa, we persevered onward through the Dust Plains for several days, encountering strange creatures and abandoned villages. But by my estimate we’re making much slower progress than we envisaged. The road is hard to make out in places, and although we haven’t encountered another dust storm, I don’t think we’ve come even halfway in our journey.

We simply don’t have enough water and food to get all the way there and back without starving… and, although there’s a chance we may find water in Baal, and a chance there’s a portal we can actually use to leave, do we risk our lives on that? Besides, we still need to find a cure for Nightshade.

We’ve voted and we’re heading back to Issimbaal. It’s frustrating as hell, given the time and effort we’ve invested trying to get there. But I don’t think we have much choice.

(26 April) Another night in this cursed barren waste that is the Dust Plains. We’re camping out in the open, when five swirling air elementals attack us out of nowhere. None is as big as the gigantic elemental that almost defeated us last night, but these five also look bent on our destruction.

The encounter doesn’t start well for me. One after the other, my two weapons fly off into the darkness. Nightshade thrusts the hilt of her longsword towards me, but the battle is rapidly escalating out of our control. One of them is pummelling Blizzard. I can’t see what’s happening to the others, because I have my hands full with the one attacking me.

It seems air elementals are to be forever my nemeses. This one is relentlessly gaining the upper hand and I’m growing weak. A healing potion revives me for a bit, but soon I’m slumping to the ground again and blackness descends…

I’m clasped in the embrace of Emrys, my god. He holds and comforts me, infuses me with love and peace and understanding. And a sense of wellbeing. Is this the end? I didn’t think I’d meet my god again so soon after Issimbaal. He is majestic and great...

When I open my eyes, Alix is hovering over me anxiously. I blink up at her, confused. How am I back here? The night sky is resplendent with starlight and I’m sure we’re still out on the Dust Plains. I was dead. I know I was dead. Who has brought me back…?

“Hush, rest,” Alix says and smooths unruly hair back from my brow.

Fleet snuggles up against my side, purring as she nuzzles my face and neck. I wind an arm around her and draw her to my side.

zillah_death3

A success of sorts

(29 April) Geretam, the cleric of Phanator, greets us warmly when we finally arrive back in Issimbaal. His people have created a potion they believe will cure the zombie virus.

Nightshade has deteriorated considerably over the past few days. She was nearly killed in the same battle that did for me. But Blizzard’s quick thinking saved her (I heard afterward). He force-fed blood into Nightshade’s mouth, which brought her around, but then she attacked him viciously. It seems recent events progressed her disease almost beyond recall, and it was only Blizzard’s ability to control undead that enabled us to bring Nightshade back to Issimbaal with us.

The clerics feed a ravening Nightshade the potion… Gradually the fury leaves her, colour returns to her cheeks, the redness leaves her eyes and she rasps a request for water. Food. Not blood. She realises the truth and smiles in relief.

Cheers erupt among the clerics who have witnessed Nightshade being cured. Then they all start talking at once. Their work here is done, they say. Time to leave Issimbaal and return to civilisation.

(5 May) The city of Toressen is wondrous after all those weeks of dust and decay and death. We arrived with the clerics’ party to the news that armies in the south are disbanding and returning home. There’s an air of joy and hope that the 8-year war might be finally over.

We visit the Church of Elloran to try to get a message to Vamis, the cleric who sponsored our quest to Issimbaal, about what happened with the renegade cleric, Elliana. Another cleric (Mikka) gives us a coded message from her, and we reply that we will continue our mission.

The Elloran priests are extraordinarily excited about the armour left by the ghost warrior. They recognise it immediately as belonging to the fabled warrior Olesh, who disappeared 30 years ago. They ask all sorts of questions. In return for restoring the armour to the church, they’re going to outfit us with provisions and other magical items for the next stage of our journey.

And so it continues. Our quest to prevent the rise of the goddess Varrien. Where will it take us next?


This brings our adventures around Issimbaal and the surrounding Dust Plains to a close (a total of six playing sessions). With four deaths and subsequent resurrections, plus a zombification and revival, it was rather a costly exercise. Next session will see us heading out on another phase of the adventure…

How many more lives does Zillah have, I wonder?

Links to all posts in order on the D&D Chronicles page.

D&D Chronicles: Of portals, dust and a strange villa

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESWe’re finally leaving Issimbaal. It’s been over a week, but feels even longer. So much has happened.

After much deliberation, we’ve decided to brave the dust plains and head south-west towards the Temple of Bahaal and hope it doesn’t live up to its other name — the Temple of Death. We’re pretty sure that’s where Elliana has gone too. Last night’s research revealed, that in addition to possibly being the place the zombie virus was created, it’s the location of one of six known Vahdrim portals.

There’s another in Tel Marrenor. It figures. Elliana must be after the Right Eye. This is so not good.

But maybe — if we don’t all die — we can can find some hint of a cure for the zombie virus. And now I wonder if Squirrel and Alix between them can figure out how to use the portals (if we get that far)?

The six Vahdrim portals

Baal — Temple of Death (dust plains)
Tel Marrenor (broken forest)
Teras Arnor
Vahd (dust plains)
Tel Elenor
Capital Tuyar Empire (dust plains)

We’ve geared up for the dust plains as best we can. Water is going to be our main issue: we’ve scavenged two barrels and a cart, enough for 80 days (total rations). Hopefully we can make it to the temple and back in 20 days. It’s lucky (in this instance) that Nightshade doesn’t need rations.

We depart Issimbaal on 5 April. At first the road is easy followed, if overgrown and untended. But soon we begin to feel the full despair of the dust plains. They are bleak. Barren. And this is only the fringe.

The first day is not so bad, but on the second the wind picks up until our visibility is reduced to about 30 feet. Grit swirls into our faces as we push through through the cloud of dust. It’s well nigh impossible to pick out the road, and I’m trusting all my instincts to make sure we’re heading in the right direction.

We shelter in a ramshackle hut for the night, but it feels like we’ve been settled only minutes before we’re under attack. Two creatures lurking in the dust and the night are hurling magic at us — fire, cold, electricity. We manage to fight them off, but our shelter is in flames and our water barrels are destroyed. Again.

dustplains_firehut

Squirrel casts a magical shelter, and we huddle inside as the dust storms around us. Dawn comes and there’s no respite from the dust. Squirrel casts another hut and we wait out the day and another night. By the next morning, the storm has settled. We deal with a couple of giant scorpions… and then fight off three giant poisonous centipedes as we trudge along the road back to Issimbaal. We arrive back in the city, despondent and despairing, around midday on the fifth day after we left it.

The clerics have made some headway with the zombie virus. They tell us they need a special type of moss — Sorias moss — which is grown to the north and west. We discuss heading there instead, but ultimately decide we need to make a second attempt to get to the Temple of Death. We scavenge another couple of water barrels.

This time when we head out of Issimbaal, we have better luck. The ‘road’ is clear of creatures (mostly) and dust storms, until on the fourth day we reach a town. It’s in ruins and the wells are all empty, but it yields a few coins when we search.

The villa

On the fifth day, we see a villa on a hill in the distance. After days of lifeless waste and decayed buildings, the two-storey villa looks remarkably grand and intact. What is more, it’s surrounded by a thick border of living trees, vibrantly green. Clearly there’s magic at work, and we approach cautiously.

When we’re about 400 feet from the trees, we make out an array of withered corpses. It looks as though an attacking force fell foul of some magical barrier, and we halt about 30 feet away from the outermost one. Squirrel, Alix and I venture forward, but almost immediately feel the drain on our energy. We retreat, and Squirrel determines there’s a spell causing the trees to drain the life energy of living creatures in the vicinity of their root systems.

Nightshade crosses into the danger zone. Her zombie disease enables her to move through the field of corpses and get closer to the trees before the ward affects her. According to Squirrel, three of the corpses bear magic items and Nightshade drags them out. (There’s a ring, a suit of ring mail armour and an iron shield.)

We discuss how to get beyond the trees and reach the villa. I immediately veto Squirrel’s suggestion that he fireball the trees. I can’t bear the thought of killing these trees — it’s not as though the mages who cast that ward gave them a choice.

Instead, we circumnavigate the villa, searching for an entrance. There are more corpses, many non-human, and we discover a path and a gap in the trees. Beyond, there’s a dormant fountain in a courtyard in front of the building, and the doors to the villa tantalise us with their inaccessibility.

The villa is just too intriguing to abandon, and Squirrel eventually decides he will attempt to dispel the ward. It’s late in the day, so we make camp opposite the entrance to the villa.

Just before dawn, Squirrel casts his spell. It takes a while. He seems to be struggling. Sweat beads on his brow.

Then he reels and collapses…


Will we get inside the villa? I’ll find out tomorrow, so stay tuned for the next D&D Chronicles post. See the D&D Chronicles page for the full story.

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: Three battles, third time not so lucky

ZILLAH

Zombies inspire reckless action

D&D CHRONICLESIt’s around midnight when we finally find a band of zombies towards the outskirts of Issimbaal. There are six of them, five of us. This should be easy.

Although I must remember we need to take some alive for the clerics to study. I’m much better at killing zombies than anything else. In fact, they’re one of my favourite enemies. After the frustrating and fruitless afternoon we’ve had, the others will probably need to hold me back.

Except they don’t.

I charge first into the thick of it and start laying about me with both weapons. Yes. Zombies begin to wobble and fall. But, er… now I’m surrounded by them and… Ow. The bastards! It seems my companions have held back and I’m alone facing ALL THE ZOMBIES.

One explodes to my right. (Thanks, Alix!) Another breaks from the fray, but — ow! Shit. Fuck.
My head is swimming and my limbs feel like water. I’ve got to get out of here.

I edge back from the battle, but I can’t retreat far enough to stop them coming at me again. But then Nightshade is standing right in front of me like a shield, and they’re ignoring her. In fact, they almost stop their attack. Alix is free so I scream at her for some healing.

It’s over soon after that and Blizzard has a zombie under his control. I didn’t know he could do that. Why can he do that? It’s horrifying (but I’m reluctantly impressed). Two of the other zombies aren’t quite “dead” yet, so we take them back to the priests as well, but it turns out the only one that’s useful is the one Blizzard captured.

They give us some gold for the zombie, but I’m far more interested in whether they can use it to study the zombie disease. Find a cure. For Nightshade.

It’s very late and we fall into bed.

Tomorrow we face the beholder guarding the one room in the mage college we haven’t been able to get into yet. We crawled all over the second floor of that college this afternoon and found pretty much nothing. Let’s hope the contents of the workroom prove more rewarding.

Battle with the beholder

The beholder appears to see us immediately Squirrel and I enter the workroom. So much for our elaborate plan involving sneaking and invisibility potions and invisible twine and coded tugs…

But it doesn’t attack us. It looks… curious, with its one enormous eye, and other eyes on stalks sticking out like a tentacled sea creature. Except it swims in air and according to Squirrel each of those eyes will unleash a vicious spell.

I pray to blessed Emrys those other spells and blessings and shields and the deathward cast on us by Alix and Blizzard work.

The beholder abruptly scuttles up high, out of easy reach. Squirrel is visible now — he must have attacked. Our agreed plan was to retreat if the beholder saw us, but Squirrel doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Blizzard’s in the workroom now, wielding that floating sword he has. I guess we’re staying. I have my bow out by now and I start firing arrows into the creature.

I have no idea whether it’s attacking us back — I can’t see any sign of spells and I don’t think any have hit me. I hope the others are similarly lucky. It’s all very chaotic and messy, but in a surprisingly short time the thing is twitching and dead at our feet.

Nightshade pounces on the corpse and begins, er… eating it? I guess better its blood than ours.

After a search of the workroom we discover the fourth and final part of the key to what we assume is a door leading into the tower. To Squirrel’s delight and relief, we also find ingredients for the ink he needs to transcribe and learn mage spells.

I wouldn’t say this mage college has delivered enough bounty to offset the gold (for lives) we’ve sacrificed here, but the prospect of Squirrel with new spells is at least a positive.

Going one-on-one in the mage arena

Trying not to betray my trepidation, I step across the threshold into the mage arena. Squirrel tells me how to say the command word in the Tuyar language. As soon as I repeat it the air coalesces around me into one of those whirling wind creatures — air elementals — that we’ve confronted here already.

With a swallow, I raise my swords. It’s just me versus this creature in one-on-one combat. If I win the physical challenge, we will hopefully gain entrance to the top floor of this tower. If I lose… I can’t lose. This is a last resort. The other two levels of the tower have yielded precisely nothing except for a magic quill. There must be something here to find. Why else would we have to scavenge so hard for the four pieces of key?

We engage in battle, me with my two strong blades versus… magical air?

I have no idea how I’m going, but I feel strong. Steel flashes in the arena mage light. My companions are cheering me on. (I imagine the stands are packed full of cheering onlookers — how amazing that would feel.) Am I making a dent? There’s no way of knowing. I just have to keep going and try to beat this thing.

Air rushes past me as it flings me through the air. I crash against some sort of frame, but there’s no time to figure out what. I haul myself to my feet, aching now, and re-engage. I hope I’m putting a dent in this thing, because it’s certainly putting a dent in me. But I’m okay for the moment.

I’m hurtling through the air again. It’s almost like flying. The arena surface slams up to meet me.

A third chance at living

I open my eyes and the world rocks and shimmers around me. In my mind, there’s the echo of words, important words, words I can’t quite remember. Words from my god.

My skin prickles. Emrys spoke to me. I strain to recall the words and clutch them to my chest.

I become aware of the others hovering over me, alongside one of the clerics of Phanator. Sitting up, I look around this sacred room, take in their solemn faces, and I know exactly what has just happened. That cursed air creature killed me after all. Fuck.

But I’m alive. The priests have performed their third resurrection for our party in about as many days. And I feel… whole. We’re down a lot more gold (again) but I can continue my sworn quest to retrieve the Right Eye of Varrien.

And get the Left Eye back from that bitch cleric of Elloran, Elliana. (The others look at me in relief when I say this. I cannot quite meet their eyes.)

And find a cure for the zombie disease so we can cure Nightshade.


You may be interested to know this is the second time Zillah has died and been resurrected. The first time was all the way back in August 2014 (In the depths of the barrow there’s a wurm and an eye). She was not the only one that night. Our DM should go back and read that post when he’s feeling sad…

The D&D Chronicles page has some background and all posts listed in order.

D&D Chronicles: Trying to survive the mage college of Issimbaal

ZILLAH

early afternoon

D&D CHRONICLESThank blessed Emrys we are holed up in this temple with these clerics of Phanator. They have resurrected Blizzard with very little fuss.

It has cost us, though — and me especially. It is no secret among our group that there is little love lost between Blizzard and me, but I will be doing penance for a good long while for my actions earlier today. I contributed half the resurrection price, but it hardly seems enough. The fact I was bespelled when I slew one of my own companions doesn’t salve my conscience.

At least Blizzard seems back to normal, more or less. As unlikable as ever (although I cannot truly blame him for his hostility towards me at present).

We are now headed back to the mage college to resume our attempts to enter the library and retrieve the information these clerics need to cure the zombie disease. We have devised some strategies for avoiding a repeat of the disaster inflicted by the ‘Guardian of the library’ spell. Squirrel managed to cross that threshold without ruin this morning. Perhaps he can do so again, with a few safeguards in place…

early evening

It’s been a truly terrible day. After losing and reviving Blizzard this morning, we have now lost Squirrel — literally. He succumbed to the library spell, disappeared into the bowels of the college and never came out.

This is bad. Really bad.

Earlier, we triggered a cloud of poisonous gas in one of the corridors (which almost did for me), and we fear Squirrel entered it in his bespelled state. It’s pitch dark inside the college without mage light, so we cannot even search for him without succumbing to the poison gas ourselves.

To make matters worse, Nightshade is unconscious and not responding to healing. During our exploration of the ground floor of the college this afternoon, she succumbed to a fear charm at the entrance of what looks like a great hall. I didn’t get the chance to enter, before she was fleeing out the front door of the college.

We hadn’t dared to open the front door yet — for good reason, as it turns out. In her blind panic, Nightshade found herself facing four of the whirling wind creatures on her own. Once she fell, I managed to drag her back inside, but now we cannot bring her around at all. We can only hope the clerics of Phanator are able to help her.

Darkness has fallen and we are a sorry trio stumbling back to the temple for the night, carrying one companion and missing another. I am still weak after my encounter with the poison gas, and Blizzard is probably still coming to terms with his death experience. Alix remains our strength.

We fear Squirrel is dead.

night

I didn’t think today could get any worse. I was wrong.

The clerics say Nightshade has succumbed to the zombie disease. They can do nothing for her — although they have fortunately restored my depleted constitution. This makes me even more determined to find them information that will help them develop a cure.

We cannot let Nightshade turn into a zombie.

The clerics tell us that she must be fed blood. I can barely comprehend it. Blood. Blizzard, Alix and I have each allowed her to feed from us, and she is now awake.

Her eyes are now red and she is still weak. She has begged me to take Domino, her ferret companion, until her blood cravings ease. (I’m not sure what Fleet will think of this.) Apparently Nightshade no longer needs sleep or any other human sustenance.

I do not know how I will sleep tonight. I cannot stop thinking about Nightshade’s predicament, but she is our companion and we will find a way to save her.

And Squirrel. His motivations may be a mystery sometimes, but he has proven his loyalty to our quest time after time. I hope to blessed Emrys we can retrieve him safely tomorrow. I fear we will once more be grateful for the presence of Geretam and his fellow clerics.

And then of course there is Elliana — the cleric of Elloran who stole the Left Eye of Varrien. She is the whole reason we are here in this desolate abandoned city. Geretam is not sure how much longer they can delay her departure. And even if they do, we somehow need to figure out how to wrest the Eye from her.

Without dying.


SQUIRREL

the next day

Last thing I remember was stepping across the threshold of the library. I’d done it before, no ill effects — unlike Zillah, going berserk and killing Blizzard out of some ensorcelled sense of protectiveness for the mage school.

Next thing I know, I’m returning to consciousness on a cold altar at the temple. Alix is saying, “Welcome back”, and Zillah and Nightshade are helping me off the slab, my legs as weak as a newborn foal’s. Alix calls down some holy goodness and before too long I’m able to proceed under my own steam, the woolly fog cleared from my mind.

“I died again, didn’t I?” I ask. This weakness, the confusion, the sense of having been gutted of all energy and fitness, is sadly familiar.

“We had to give up your cloak in part payment,” Zillah says, and I count the loss of yet another piece of magical accoutrement. I’m pretty much down to just the dagger I’ve borrowed from Blizzard and the bracers my parents gave me. And I can feel the loss of physical fitness; coming back from the dead takes its toll. I should know – that’s twice now. Third time’s the charm?

The others fill in some of the blanks: I’d been trying to access the library again, and I’d fallen foul of the charm ward, been turned into a guardian. My companions had the good sense to stay out of my way; but then, presumably, I embarked on a perimeter search or perhaps undertook an inventory.

They found my body in a hallway filled with poison gas, the remnants of a trap we’d triggered earlier. Fortunately, it had been dissipated sufficiently for them to retrieve my corpse.

Pause to consider that, again. My corpse.

Is this mission worth the risk of dying again? Yes, I’ve become a more accomplished mage; yes, my skills at larceny have been honed. But my body, and my mind, have been weakened, and I’ve precious little to show for the all the discomfort and death other than a bulging spell book.

Heh. That could be payment enough, if I could just get my mind around them. But for that I need to transpose them into my own grimoire, to imprint them, to harness them, to my will. And for that I need special ink…


ZILLAH

And the next morning

I was so wrong about Elliana! She is truly the nicest and most honest cleric I have ever met. I knew I was right in thinking her motives in taking the Eye from the Church Elloran were altruistic. She and I sat down together last night and talked everything through.

I’m not sure why she’s interested in learning about magic portals, but since we finally managed to get all the books out of the library yesterday (a good present for the newly resurrected Squirrel — he needed a quiet day to regather his strength), I was able to retrieve all the books we hadn’t already given to the clerics of Phanator (on plants and the like), and which Squirrel hadn’t already claimed for himself.

I felt a little bad sneaking out to the college in the dead of night, not telling my companions, but they wouldn’t understand. Besides, Elliana swore me to secrecy, and I trust her. (They have busted me now, though… they noticed all the books were gone today. I have tried to explain to them that Elliana is our friend and we should help her — and let her help us — but they don’t believe me.)

And at least it means Elliana is now staying an extra day while she reads through the books I salvaged for her. I’m looking forward to seeing her this evening and hearing whether they were helpful.

In the meantime, we continue to search for answers in this terrible college, risking death with every step. The clerics need still more information to cure the zombie disease, and we are hoping to find objects and information that will aid (and fund) our quest. Most of the rooms are little more than dull classrooms — although we did find a most useful storage room with all kinds of useful gear, and a few other miscellaneous rooms of little interest.

magecollege#1

The most interesting doors are protected by fierce magics. I don’t know how we’re going to get past most of them. Perhaps I should ask Elliana tonight whether she will aid us — assuming we make it through the rest of the day…

SQUIRREL

Early afternoon

Did I mention I need magic ink?

It might be worth risking death again, because in that school of magery is a workshop. And in that workshop, I suspect, are all the ingredients I need to make up a useful batch of ink – and who knows what other valuable trinkets might be in there?

But the workshop is guarded by a beholder, and it is a fearsome sentry. My father told me of them, these concoctions of master wizards. It is a floating ball of stalks set around a central eye, with each stalk ending in a tiny eye. Forget sneaking up on a beholder. Each eye is more than just observant – each has a special power. The ones my father mentioned were spells such as paralysis, weakness of mind and body, and, of course, death.

I’ve convinced my companions to finish searching the school, in hope of finding a keyword or somesuch to disarm the beholder. Failing that, we’ll have to fight it, assuming I can convince my colleagues the potential payoff is worth it. But I’m up for it. I need to be able to access these spells. Our lives might depend on one of them.

Still, in the back of my mind rings the warning: third time’s the charm.


Thanks to Jason Nahrung for Squirrel contributions. See the D&D Chronicles page for all posts in sequential order.