A journal of a Heightened States character, Akibar El Salfahdi
NPCs in order of appearance
Most recent entry.

On the meeting of four strangers

Session 1. Day 1.

Zebulan (5'5", 5'6") in fine robes enters humming a tuneless phrase. Ornately adorned. Zebulan takes the case from Akibar (given to Akibar to be delivered to Zebulan), announces that it contains Akibar's and Fariq's invitation. Smiles. Invites us to tea. We sit to join a Zebulan, lucky in the hospitality of a man so renowned. There are a few other kind souls already seated.

4pm tea ceremony -- in full regalia -- is offered and gratefully accepted. Zebulan tells of the coming of the midnight sun and of a lost kingdom guarded by an angel at a gate erected two thousand years ago on the prior rising of the midnight sun. In the moments of the midnight sun, arcane power is wildly amplified.

A gathering of adventurers ahead of the mysterious rising; we are invited by Zebulan to drop in. He chuckles at the thought of us trying, but is cocky in thinking us able.

The five walled city is approximately the size and density of Manhattan. Coalkeep is downtrodden, featuring the angel guarded gate. Elenori, of the sea elves, stretches into the sea. Lancitori is Austrian looking. We are in Sandkeep, nearest the Ostorillian border. The fifth segment is a gem district of sturdy buildings.

We have well appointed rooms. They stand well against Zebulan's proffer of a long hospitality.

The four of us have known each other only a few scant hours. Yet, as we discuss the situation we find ourselves in and the curious challenge Zebulan has set to us, we feel a mutual regard for one another. Fariq and Akibar even find a gentle sympathy for Nathal, the Lancitori, so obviously mistreated by the harsh desert sun. Our discussion draws to a conclusion: we will seek our entrance to the party. It seems a harmless affair, if somewhat deceptive. The least we can do is humor our host.

We travel into the heady bustle of the city -- awed by the people and the commotion and find our way to the seaside entrance to greenseas where we meet Braddick, a questionable pirate.

After failing to find entrance to Lady Illishiems manor via direct methods, we pay Braddick to reveal the secret he claims to have. He takes us one by one by the wrist and dives into the water. A swift decent through the rolling sea water and a short rise; soaked and unhappy but with books dry in a fat covered sack.

All together again in a stone cave, presumably under the manor, though none of us could really keep our eyes open against Braddick's tugging speed. We proceed not far and are attacked by giant spiders. They shoot webbing down on our heads from the ceiling, finding some purchase in its crags.

The spiders shoot a poison into Akibar. Fariq steps forwards and, his scimitar a mere glint on the darkness, slays the beasts. El Shaf lends a hand more mighty than her slight frame would seem capable. She walks sure in her wise faith.

Continuing on, we come to an illusion masked wall that leads into a cellar. It contains [meta] muskets and oddities. A half hour of primping -- the battle and swim not doing our appearance any favors -- and we head upstairs. As we approach the top stair, Zebulan starts to sing. His voice is worthy of his fame. We pass through a strange red light. Zebulan is singing at the scene of the setting sun, a black sun rising to take the place of the its mundane cousin. Transfixed by the light, red from the black orb, we stand agasp. The red filters across us, bathes us. Angels and devils appear. Their fine ears know Zebulan's voice, sweet and strong enough to craft its own magical weave, and they've travelled to enjoy the sound.

Session 2. Day 2.

We wake at Zebulan's. We have headaches.

Some change has occurred. Fariq stands taller. My skin seems to have toughened, or darkened and my finger nails hardened. Nathal's sunburned scars have healed, at least in part, and a strange blond streak features in his otherwise dark hair. The Shaf appears unaltered. Perhaps she had the wisdom to drink less of the punch?

At breakfast. We, the slightly mutated, appear. After some adjustement (the light seems unusually unkind this morning), Zebulan explains to us our heritage. Nathal has Ostorillian ancestory. Fariq, strangely enough, does not. Zebulan has made it his life's work to find those who share our heritage -- our bloodlines derived from an ancient set of adventurers. We are led into his study where he unrolls a tapestry -- an ancient language depicts the ancient adventurers that set our heritage in motion. Those men -- or beasts (?) -- that fore-saw the closing and the opening of the gate. The adventurers were not human, perhaps even stemming from another world.

After some time, the strangeness still unsettling in our stomachs -- though alterations in line that is our life force seems not unfair to Akibar -- we set our feet to the cobble and head to the temple of the father. Shaf el Abbas performs a ceremony. It is beautiful. As she chants in the moment of her rapture, even Nathal is affected (though I'm sure he's no comprehension of the text.)

We travel through the marketplace to coalkeep -- hoping to find the adventurer's guild -- the baudiest location in town. It is not too difficult to locate. Outside its doors mill a few sad wish-we-were's. A pair of meat fists guard the entrance. A mixed crowd mills about, some bragging amateurs, others perhaps legitimately tough. Fariq "talks" us into the bar, making his desire for liquor and woman clear. I may have to discuss the duty he has to his faith with him.... or perhaps it was a clever ruse? Regardless, we enter.

The corners of the room are occupied and the center of the room too bright. We drag a table out of the center towards some card players. We rumor loudly about the midnight sun. After the game, a Lancitori comes to us, a farmer who now has the power of sorcery (in small measure.) His name is Baxter. Baxter talks, gets flustered at our news, and excuses himself from our company. Interesting to know that we are not alone in our changes. Perhaps Zebulan was more straight forward than I expected. Perhaps these changes are not his doing.

Four accomplished men -- with matching stuff -- arrive and walk directly upstairs. (The magnificent four, we are informed.) Nathal learns from Samual that those with licenses may proceed upstairs.

We leave the bar. Soon, the maze of streets confuses even my astute senses; we are disoriented and possibly even lost. Five men confront us (had they been following us?). They claim they are collecting mutants -- looking to kills us if necessary or just capture us preferably. Fariq invites them to go and gather their wealth that we may slaughter them and take it from their bleeding corpses. They instead attack us directly. We kill them. On their persons we find a scroll advertising for mutant children of the midnight sun. It bears an address in coalkeep. We return to Zebulan's for lunch and brainstorm on an adventurer's group name. Zebulan has promised us a license.

Matz lan Shemish -- swords of the midnight sun -- is our conclusion. Other, more colorful titles, not in favor.

After choosing the name, Akibar performs afternoon tea for the Shaf. I am glad to say I manage a proper ceremony, though the artistry of presentation still requires practice. Following the full ceremony, the afternoon passes into tranquility. We fall into conversation.

Nathal left Shial (an inescapable desert prison) under mysterious circumstances. He was eventually left for dead beyond the city gates but then resurrected (?) under Zebulan's care. Nathal is sought by Baron Haversham, a townsman, for reasons not immediately clear to the rest of us. Nathal is an odd man -- perhaps he bears a bit of the stage with him? Or maybe he's just another questionable rogue seeking a quick buck. Still, he is not unstudied and I like him despite my better judgments.

Eventually, I retire to my room to study. I have new a magic that has occurred to me. So much work before I can dip my hands truly into the thread of unlife and draw forth my real intent.

We awake the next morning -- Zebulan has the license that will allow us to sell our goods. For a paltry price. The merchants of this town have had long to perfect their scam. Still, we squeeze some gold from them and rid ourselves of a few collected tidbits.

The Shaf, in her great wisdom, suggests we travel to the address on the scroll found on the body of our waylayers and attempt to discern the motives of those that would have our skins. Nathal suggests that there we might a cache of funds. I'm convinced.

We travel past the tower guarding the ancient sealed gate. It rises mightly into the air, dominating the empty yards of space between it and the wall. Magic must be strong here, but I do not feel we have the time, nor maybe even the pleasure of the opportunity, to truly investigate. The angel said to protect the structure is not visible from where we stand. A large crater separates the 400 yards between the protector and the gate. Apparently the gate preexisted the tower, persumably built post-crater. Nathal informs us that the wizard (Logos) of Zebulan's party, a wood elf, was among those to ward the gate. Perhaps that explains Zebulan's rumored relationship with Lady Illishiem?

Eventually, wandering this less kindly part of town, we come to the address we seek. Around us lie bodies, long dead. Their fate clear but its cause unknown.

Fariq throws Akibar over his shoulder -- a ruse! He will pretend to deliver me to my captors. Nathal and the Shaf in tow. A disembodied voice demands delivery of Akibar to the door. Fraiq drops me. I wander, confused by Fariq, to the wrong door. A command is barked from the window and a battle commences. Armed men in the window, us trapped in the maze of alleys.

A long battle, ranging through the alley. We defeat the fighters and a sorcerer who employed a web spell to try to corner us. It hurts. We capture one, who surrenders. There are reports of captives in the basement. The captured fighter is not too useful. Fariq knocks him unconscious. Upstairs we find a small office with a ledger containing accounting of the sales. Fariq gathers more papers and a small chest. Which he leaves locked, probably for Nathal to open. Perhaps we learn more about Nathal's true nature soon?

Meanwhile, Nathal and the Shaf find a way into the basement through a secret door. There, they find four people, three alive.

Searching the sorcerer, we find bracers, a plain dagger, a very well crafted sling. Supplies are found in the remaining room. The bracers appear to be magical. We collect the weapons from the other men. We are told the sorcerer's name is Halvrick. Prisoners are picked up every other day. Six men come to gather them. We leave the captured fighter chained in the basement intending to return and intercept the colluders. The Shaf reminds me of the way of compassion, insisting we leave the bastard food and water. Fariq and Nathal arrange it at his feet. I hope the smell taunts him as he rots.

Session 3. Day 3.

One prisoner is an islander from Elinor. The other resides in the city. The prisoners are commoners with little ambition for revenge. They are merely thankful to be free. The goods gathered from the sorcerer's crew are sold for a couple of thousand gold pieces after an afternoon of Nathal's bartering. It is more money than I am accustomed to seeing. But nothing like the wealth I will eventually require. Still, it is good to see progress along my path.

Akibar and Fariq travel to green isle - to the merchant's temple. The temple, a gaudy place, casino and commerce -- not a healthy place for the peaceful soul. Fariq meets with a spirtual accountant and deposits 200 odd gold pieces. The advisor of the church smiles a greasy slick grin. His account opened, Fariq is in business with knights of Zolokar. The transaction is completed with a prayer.

Sailing back to the less watery segements of the walled city, we see the sea elves' homes below the water line. The water clear today; their strange spaces beneath visible in the shimmering.

The Shaf, in the meantime, augments her armor with a sturdy steel shield. Again, the strength and practice her slight frame contains surprises me. Perhaps her godly ways do indeed strengthen her physique.

Nathal attempts to open the sorcerer's box. Had I been there to witness the attempt, any fears I had of Nathal being a thief would be quickly allayed. He is poisoned by what appears to be a common needle trap.

Fariq, still on his way back, places an order from Salideen for a well balanced falchion. I am glad to see he is taking his role as my protector seriously.

Nathal returns to his room to find the chest opened, Kiera the house assistant, retreating around the corner. The opened box contains a scroll and a vial. The scroll is written in the old language. It tells the story of the bloodlines. The red interior of the box seems to contain a secret compartment. As Nathal fiddles inside, smoke rises. Nathal is unconscious, falling to the ground. I catch the box before it fails. As Nathal is tended, I quickly see the vial is not magical.

Nathal wakes. He takes the box -- if he is unqualified for the task in practice he certainly makes up for it in enthusiasm, finds three very large emeralds worth three times the typical emeral. Shortly Corban enters and invites us to dinner.

Zebulan over the course of dinner, reads the scroll. "Shial loses its place in the list of the worst places to be in Ostoril," he says. "If this scroll's seal is correct, that is." "Iskandar, a city lost to the desert, has perhaps returned. A city of heathens."

In Zebulan's study, Nathal asks of the incultar gate and the wizard who sealed it. Zebulan replies, "I can tell you, there were some very old dragons who sealed the gate... and they are still very old. But Logos, despite my gentle efforts, would not speak of that day -- as many other's who witnessed it would not."

We show Zebulan the contents of the box, the gems; he shows great interest. He finds a book and begins to say an incantation in the old language. Including a prayer to the reaper. I keep this to myself. As he does this the gems turn into a humanoid form. About 12 feet in height, its faceless visage turns to Zebulan - who stops his chanting. "A last ditch effort versus siege - an emerald golem - waiting to be directed at an army. The golems were used to guard Iskandar. " Zebulan muses that perhaps the sorcerer himself hailed from the lost city. He asks us if we would travel into the desert - a week's march after the last well of Ostoril.

Day 4

We rise in the morning, say our prayers, and head to coalkeep to establish our ambush. It goes poorly. The six who arrive to collect the prisoners bolt when we do not know the passphrase. Fariq and Nathal give chase. I am on the second floor and am unable to follow with haste. Two are killed in pursuit then Fariq follows one towards the center of town. Nathal gives chase to the other in the direction of the gate. At the gate the mercenary takes a hostage. After a threat, a bolt descends from the tower, obliterating the assailant. Nothing is left behind but perhaps some acrid smoke. Nathal stares. Fariq, in the other direction, catches the merc who tried several times to dodge and bluff his persuant. But Fariq is at least as clever as he is fast and it is no use. Fariq invites the man to tea. They sit. The merc describes a slaver pickup outside of sandkeep, tells Fariq that the slaver is "armud" and reveals the pass phrase, only the pickup was to be early afternoon, with a wagon around the corner from where we established the ambush. The mercenaries were a group called "The mercenaries of Zinn."

As Fariq talks to the merc - a gnome comes to collect the bodies. Akibar (descended from the balcony and waiting near the Shaf on Nathal and Fariq) discusses with the gnome -- gets no where.

An interrogation of the remaining accomplices gets equally far. We decide to seek out the slaver outside of Sandkeep.

At the slave market, beneath the seering heat of the Ostorillian sky, children, young men and giant, muscular creatures from the mountains all for sale, stand displayed. Auctioneers bark prices. Our ears catch a unique sale of a man with hair similiar to Nathal's. He sells for thousands more than the others... Afterwards, a winged woman comes to the block for sale. She is brought their by Armoud.

We catch Armoud in a quiet moment. Introduce ourselves as replacements for the Mercs of Zinn and offer to bring him his captives. He is dubious, but agrees to sell those we might bring.

Day 5, 6, 7

We pass some time, waiting for the appointed slave pickup day. We practice and refine our magics, learn a few new spells. Nathal runs an errand for Zebulan. The Shaf spends the time in Zebulan's library.

Day 8

We bluff the captive Sgt into thinking we will sell the other mook into slavery. He buys it. In the end he barters his newly minted license for his life. To fetch the license we must return to the adventurer's guild. Once there, we learn he is the cousin of the bartender. He recants having a license -- but some research in the log books downstairs by Akibar reveals that such a license does exist, issued just a few days prior. Shortly, the Sgt's brother Tom brings the license to the upper bar -- bragging to his brother who he heard has recently shown up. A quick bluff by Akibar, turning to call aloud a name from the bar in the guise of fetching a drink and seeing the wrong head turn, and they have no leg to stand upon. They hand over the paperwork. We make a quick exit, suspicious gazes following us.

Zebulan tells us, after we inquire and tell the story, that the license has a value approaching 100,000 gp. We also hear from Zebulan that Ancil Cutter, captain of the guard has lost some small fortune to Zebulan in bets he placed against us. Zebulan is traveling by sailing ship to Elinaear, also to investigate the issue of slaving. He requests again, with some urgency, to travel into the desert in pursuit of the rumors of the ancient city. I think he might prefer that trip to over-sea journey with the elves, who's sea chanties he seemingly can't stand. Zebulan finishes the night with many a stiff drink.

El Shaf, her voice firm and as fair as ever, tells us Incolutar and Iskander are known to be established by citizens of the same race. The city is thought to be lost when the gate was sealed. Her research is impressive. My respect for grows all the deeper.

On the Journey to El Bariq

Day 9

[ Map of the Wells of Ostoril. ]

We intend to spend a couple days gathering supplies for our journey. Fariq names himself quartermaster and figures the cost and weight of the goods we will require. A considerable sum on both accounts, we must buy camels for their economic drinking habits. I despise camels, their horrible filth and their very nature. Pound upon pound of water in casks, food piled to the ceiling, a new large tent (mercy to pitch it!) and the stinking camels are all gathered.

Akibar spends the time studying -- glad for Fariq to handle the mundane tasks of travelling. I manage to find a rope trick scroll in the city and have still some unlearned treasures in Fariq's spell book. Once supplies are purchased, Fariq goes to pick up his commissioned sword. To his delight, it bears a deep red color in its metal. A very fierce falchion he has in his hands now. I fear for his enemies.

Fariq looks for armor in Greenwater seamarket. Nathal finds, after some test of appraisal skills (in which he fishes a true elven blade from a couple of questionable samples) a sightly rapier.

Day 10

A going away breakfast is arranged for Zebulon. He is eager to travel, chanties aside. He advices us to put faith in finding the destination of our journey. Zebulon brags that his inks derive from an unholy source - chuckles at the Shaf's frown. He bids us farewall. Among those in the party seeing Zebulan off is Ancil Cutter, sporting a handlebar mustache. Luckily he does not recognize us as the sources of his recent monetary losses.

Another day passes as Akibar writes another spell into the book (magic weapon). The dinner that night is a Lancitori sheep-in-sheep speciality. Some of us politely decline, the smell alone enough to convince us. But Shin-kay slips us something edible... Corbin, despite his diet, maintains a schedule including tea. After dinner Akibar retires to bed. Nathal, unable to find Kiera - again, notices (while styding it with Fariq) a bit of writing within the golem. When Nathal retires, he wakes to a dream of deserts and buzzards to see Kiera in the corner of his room. Kiera asks him about his interest in Haversham. She relates that Haversham harmed seriously a friend of hers. After hearing his story, and recalling his ineptness as a thief, Kiera challenges Nathal's progress. She offers her (and her guild's?) help in avenging Nathal's debt. A curious conversation the rest of us do not learn of.

Day 11

One last breakfast before heading into the desert. At 4:30 am we leave town, stopping briefly at the blessed well. Fariq leaves the elder knight a greeting as is his custom. We expect to cover 32 miles in a day of travel. A caravan of slavers meets us on the way. We travel from 5 to 11 in the morning, pausing from 11 to 5pm for tea and study. Nathal and the Shaf rest midday while Akibar and Fariq study. We sleep eight hours overnight. The six hours in the middle of the day is a welcome respite, or what we can find of it beneath our large tent, from the heat of the desert. I was at first afraid Nathal would not survive, but he seems to be hardier than my first meeting's impression allowed. From 11 to 12 every day I meditate. From 12 to 1pm I relearn those spells I will require. From 1 to 4pm I have time for my precious studies before the tea ceremony. We keep an overnight watch in the order: Fariq, Shaf, Nathal, Akibar.

Day 12

We come across a raided caravan, the smoke of which we saw rising on the horizon during our overnight watch. A second caravan, travelling towards us, told us of the raid before we reached the location. We arrive and see, as expected, human bodies on a pyre. Hobgoblins on pikes. The ways of the desert are old and full of death -- and, for these dead, a long rest.

Days 13-27

We travel and reach Al-Khalil. A large temple to the the Judge marks the oasis silhoutte. The oasis is not currently visited by any of the major houses - but still, 200 total find respite here, for a moment, from the sun. At the oasis, Fariq gains entrance to Isibin El Khaldad, head knight. Akibar manages a trade of scrolls for see invisibility. Isibin is pleased? Curious? to hear of initiate Fariq's benefactor's gift of an adventurers license. Celebration and the occasional scuffle mark an ordinary night at the oasis. Isibin summons Fariq overnight. "You have friends in high places. I've been asked to grant you a favor. A favor which I will grant in the next hour or not at all," Isibin tells Fariq. "What have I done to merit this gracious gift?" Fariq asks, only interrupting Isibins muttering under his breath, "...but if someone comes forward as the Clan Ben hadeen, they are dead. Dead. Dead to me. "

Fariq returns and wakes us. Tells us and we lead our camels and gear to an ancient basement to a hallway ended in a vertical ring. The knight places his hands on the ring with another -- the knight of Zolokar "Beckons" initiate and friends through the portal gate. It is, I believe, a gate of old magics. We arrive in a similar place with no passage of time. Among worshippers of the father, we are welcomed to Al Bariq by the head knight of the oasis, who quickly returns to his rest.

Session ?? Day 28

We are offered accomodations. El Shaf spends the night with the other clerics. El Twar Elizan is leader of Al Bariq's guardian knights - it was he who welcomed our arrival through the portal. A look of bemusement still on his face, he greets us a hale morning. Upon hearing our story, El twar tells of caravans from the wastes travelling around outskirts of the city. However, these are only rumors of the lay people. Only a few have wandered into the desert and returned. But of these few, some are available to talk to. Fariq is set to this task by El Twar.

We are led into the basement, below the Portal, by the steward. From three cells, spill the screams of madmen. Like banshees they thrash and howl in their pitch dark chambers. Only the sound of scraping pots - dinner - brings a moment of calm. The steward opens a cell, a charred human form huddles at the rear. Fariq is locked in the cell to question the form. Fariq learns, the thing is from the Drachsmar. He apparently came upon the legendary city whose populace left him for dead in the heat of the waste. Mutters about the "Green statues." He claims through the city lies a path to Incultar. Twenty years ago he was found - says the steward. We plan to return so Fariq can question the others at their meal time, when they show some trait of calmness.

We head outdoors into a small city, not half the size of our previous stop. Small sun baked buildings greet us. A single coffeeshop waits in town; the other commerce includes only camels and cacti. In the coffeeshop, we eventually learn of a courier bearing a symbol like the sorcerer's rubbing. Several old men tell us stories including stories of the madmen from 20 years ago. Their memory is astute. As they talk, the day's heat swells and fogs through the door and windows. Akibar sits to play bones with the elders. Nathal stumbles upon a very hot spice. Mayhem for a moment.

As the heat of the day comes to its full brunt, the coffeshop begins to fill. A young boy catches Fariq's eye, tells of a strange skeleton in the desert. Abdul offers to lead us there.

Lio Canne the red - a renowned clan leader from Drachsfallen, the horse biter - Akibar comes upon the name in the scrolls the Shaf is studying, which she was kind enough to share with him. Her kindness as always like a sweet fruit in the day's heat.

The afternoon starts to cool and we venture out to meet Abdul. The child leads our party into the dunes as Fariq glances over his shoulder to catch his bearing. The sun sets over the horizon. Abdul tells of the constellations and directions w.r.t the stars patterns. I make a few scratches of the patterns in my journal. If anything should happen to the child, they would be perhaps enough to lead us back to the established road. Eventually we arrive at the carrion, which, to our bewilderment is really the frame of a ship!

As we approach the sailing vessel so stranded in the sands, a lizard, a basilisk rises from beneath it where it apparently has burrowed to rest between meals picked from the bones of the dead. Akibar steps forwards, past the chanting Fariq, to weaken the beast before it can cause too much harm. It catches my eye -- and. Later I learn I was turned to stone.

While I stand as statue, my companions set upon the thing with a vengeful purpose. It is quickly slain as it attempts to retreat back to its stinking hole.

The three calm themselves and begin an investigation. El Shaf takes a moment to comfort Abdul, unwitting witness to the combat. The hull still smells freshly of smoke and fire. But how a boat? Here? The dead appear to be in clothing. Each with a symbol of Incultar. Thinking for a moment at the incongruity, Fariq casts detect magic. The goggles of one crew mate glow as does the half buried remnant of the boat's keel. From a pile of creosote, Nathal and Fariq find a box glowing in Fariq's scan. As he hears Shaf offering her considerable comfort to our young guide, Nathal begins to search the bodies for coin. During this time, Fariq discovers parts of the boat under the sand. Outriggers perhaps. Apparently, if Fariq's deductions are fair, the boat rode the sand upon these magical keel and parts. Amid the debris are melted chunks of metal, some quite large. Their original form can not be determined.

When the investigation has little else to search through, the night is quite along. Some rest is gathered before Akibar is hitched to a camel to be dragged back to the temple, hopefully to be reconstituted as flesh.

Day 29

The party returns to the temple - the Steward there. The steward arranges a moment for El Twar's audience. El Twar glances over the party and mentions the clerics. As he walks back to the clerics, he speaks a moment to El Shaf.

El Twar debriefs Fariq, who tells of the slaving and the sorcerer in the five walled city. On the downside, El Twar informs Fariq of the expense of depetrifying Akibar.

Akibar is restored. Fariq attempts to divert blame for his lack of protection -- Akibar is skeptical. But, I eventually agree to perhaps follow with a little more caution. There is sadly little to be learned of the magic I under-went -- a shame -- of all the new natures to discover -- none so far from the energy of life I yearn to understand as cold stone.

Afterwards, we study the box found at the ship. The party tells Akibar what it found. It appears the box is warded by a blasting glyph. We spend the evening reading - sketching the basilisk - studying scrolls -reading the cleric's accounts of the three prisoners mutterings. The three were indeed lucid on the Midnight Sun. Perhaps the horsebiter has healed slightly? Or perhaps not. They all appear perhaps larger? The cleric considers Iskandar to contain some key to allow entry to the walled city of Incultar.

We attempt to negotiate with a man for his pearl, a trinket he brought back from the five walled city. He wishes an enormous price. We pass on the deal. Nathal returns to open the box. The first ward, a fire blast, is avoided by his clever use of a halberd. Perhaps not the most skilled thief, he does show a certain cleverness. A second ward is found and is similarly avoided. Contents: three more green emeralds, one crystal ball, ships orders in the old language. The emeralds and the crystal ball are magical. Inside the emeralds are carvings - half prayers and invocations. Also in the old language. The orders describe directions in terms of a star chart. By amount of travel and reference to the stars, we can make out a possible path of the ship with some guess at distances. The orders Fariq and Nathal found indicate that the ship was to intercept a caravan on the third leg. It is unclear if it had done so? We think perhaps not.

Session break

A long discussion ensues as we wonder how to locate the lost city from the little information we have gathered. Fariq and I bury ourselves in a discussion of the appropriate algebra, determine that number of miles we'd have to travel to have an absolute chance of hitting the city . Far too many -- too many on a fine road, let alone through the wastes. We instead, at the Shaf's urging, scry on the slaves from Sandkeep, using the crystal ball recovered from the ship wreck. We do see the winged woman sold for such a price outside the fair city's walls. And, a surprise to us, with her in chains is Braddick, the pirate who ferried us to lady Illishiem's manor. Braddick is a step ahead of the winged woman. Nathal notices he's already loosed his shackles. Still, they are captive amid a caravan of captives slogging through the sun of Ostoril. Their plight is interesting and sad, but unrevealing.

Nathal and I head off to the coffeeshop. Before entering, it occurs to me to see what magics are here. I enter with detect magic cast and see, a bit to my surprise, most of the people here have trinkets and small bits of magical belongings: rings, pins, etc. Protective magics, I figure, probably against the harsh land of this border area. Every bit of luck to make a life more comfortable and habitable would be a bit well spent.

As we undertake a sip of tea, El Shaf heads to the prison to speak to the second prisoner. We do not see her leave, or quite catch her announcing her departure. She comes to the man and is let in the cell by the Steward of the city. The prisoner still suffers signs from his beating twenty years prior, his natural healing also retarded like Lio Canne's. His injuries, though, not as grievous as his neighbor's. The Shaf manages to hear the thoughts of the man, who calls himself Areyanne from Incoultar. He tells the Shaf, in thought, "you are one of them. The worst kind. The puppets." He spurns her; her very nature he finds loathesome.

With the cell door closed and latched behind her, she seeks the grace of the Father in understanding this man. Closes her eyes to concentrate on the fleeting thoughts she is learning to detect when, with a sick grunt and crackling of muscle, the beaten form lunges for her throat. A ragged, fleshy hand stretches out for her and finds purchase, grapples her to him.

"Have you seen the Shaf," I ask to Nathal. "I think she went off to question the prisoner," he says through a sip of sweet tea. "What nonsense, Nathal," Fariq says. "They'd never let her in there alone, the Knights? Let a fair Cleric, a woman even, in that cell with the madmen. No."

Areyanne stretches forward for the mace the Cleric has brought from its sheath. She holds on to the weapon but takes a nasty blow. Her vision wavers, but steadies. She calls a quick prayer to the Father and heals herself considerably. Her back is to the corner. Areyanne stands between her and the cell's steel door. The commotion has been heard and hands struggle to open the locks. Again a leap and grab for the mace. It comes crashing into his skull, jars his jaw out of place with a crush and snap. Areyanne shakes his head. The jawbone finds its normal alignment, a ripped bit of sinew healing even as Shaf watches. "Immortality," he says aloud. "Your Gods won't give it to you."

"The tradition, here, Nathal, is to sip the tea through the sugar block which you hold in your front teeth. Draw the liquid through the sweet cube. Like this..."

Now he has the mace and swings, lands a blow, and another. Shaf El Abbas dodges behind her shield, takes a step forward and plants it firmly in his groin. The door cracks open, the locks finally unbarred. The steward enters longsword drawn. It is two on one but Areyanne's ancient wounds --- even they are healing now. He seems to grow only stronger as his rage deepens. The steward steps into the room and to the right. A cleric behind him attempts to hold Areyanne. And fails. And fails again.

A loose toothed laugh rolls from his maul and he fells the holy woman, servant of good, El Shaf. The same blow, continuing off her crumpling body turns the Steward's skull to soup.

"Hear a bell?" "Hey -- that's coming from towards the prison, no?" "The Shaf..."

The three of us race to the temple, clearly against the tide of wiser citizens scrambling the other direction.

A half minute later we stand in the midst of the massacare. Several bodies and bits of others are blotched about the walls. In the center of the cell block stands Lio Canne, frozen magically in a moment of pure terror. He holds Areyanne in his left hand. And, six odd feet away, he holds the rest of Areyanne in his right hand. Except for the few bits of Areyanne hanging from his bloodied lips.

"He seemingly broke through his cell into the hall," reports a man in the garb of the knighthood. We see the head cleric and El Twar here, both still flush with the rush of combat. In the cell we spot the heap that is our lovely Shaf. Nathal, ripping through his bags for a vial, pours a healing potion into her bruised mouth. Fariq reaches down as Akibar nurses another few drops of healing fluid into what we hope is not a corpse. Fariq hears a fragile but steady heart beat. As he stands and says, she is alive, the elder cleric enters. Moments later the Shaf stands again, confused at the loss of time, but healed with thanks to the glory that is the Father's art.

Shaf and Fariq are ushered off with El-Twar back to his offices. The Shaf tells, under his stern questioning, of her recently gained abilities and of their source. El Twar raises an eyebrow and lets it fall again. The story confirms his suspicions. El-Twar informs them that three knights and two clerics were slain by Areyanne. He draws a parallel between our arrival and, with a stern glance to Fariq, the recent havoc to beset his usually quiet post.

"Fariq, tell me what you found on this ship," he continues. He listens to the full story, the crystal ball, the emeralds. "Before you bring your friends here, so that we might conclude this .. talk .., let me just say to you, I believe Incoultar was sealed because those that lived there did not perceive the Gods as we do. They do not pay their tribute."

Nathal and Akibar, having waited in their rooms, are summoned to the audience. Upon entering, El-Twar associates the madness of the three with the effect of inter-planar travel, known to drive most who attempt it insane.

"What of the stewards theory of one who was at the city and returned," asks Nathal. "Possible," he replies. Nathal muses that perhaps the survivor was a contemporary of the three, now two, prisoners beneath us.

We are dismissed. As we leave, Fariq, perhaps a bit nervous at the reflection the last days will have on his record, and sensitive to the financial burden we've caused (though I think just feeling a bit guilty for his poor job of guardianship), suggests we give the emeralds to the knights as a gift. The idea seems foolish -- these idiots left the Shaf in the cell of a raging mad beast -- and now Fariq wants us to give them such an item of value? But he mentions, out of ear shot of the Shaf, that we could think of it as a ... "A bribe?" I ask. "Well, not as a bribe, we do owe them, Akibar." "Sort of an investment for future considerations, then, my friend Fariq." "Well...". "A brilliant idea --- we give them the emeralds and they will owe us." "Well, Akibar, that's not...." "Do the deal, Fariq."

Day 30

It is morning and we head to the coffeeshop for breakfast. The old men are there. Nathal chats them up, already having rejected my offer to help his accuity at a game of bones with the magical aid of a message spell and some carefully positioned observers, and is welcomed in their company after some expected teasing. It seems the men have little to offer but do take five of his silver. Nathal tries to guide the conversation to the possible man who returned to the city, but to no luck.

We head to the temple. As we walk out of the shop and down the alley, a man is spotted following us. We duck around a corner, but don't fool him. He calls out. It is one of the bones players. He tells of one indeed who travelled. Asks if we have the ship's log. Marks the spot on its travels where it had crashed. The piece of information missing to us. And wishes us the hell away from El Bariq. He leaves as curtly and as coldly as he joined us.

To our rooms in the barracks where Nathal attempts to scry on someone not known to us. Apparently he sees her, but, my attempt to message through the scry fails. We follow the effort with a try to reach Zebulan. Fariq and others, wisely, I suppose, doubt the wisdom of travelling into the wastes to a city that has turned much more experienced travelers into unhealing chunks of mad flesh. Zebulan notices the scrying. Moments later he speaks to us through a similar magic.

We bring him up to date. He is noticably excited to hear that we have actually spoken with Lio Canne, a name he apparently knows. Zebulan tells us how to disassemble the golem (remove the middle letter at the top of its head to turn the ancient word golem in to the word for dust.) He also gives us a choice, agreeing that the ancient city is no place for us. He could use our aid in searching for a recently lost artifact (one of five pieces required to open the gate!). We can travel to the Drachsmar to do this, or to follow the other lead, into Lancitor. I have no desire to travel to Lancitor -- they burn people much less interesting than me at the stake with some regularity. And the rules, the laws.... but the others shy from travelling anywhere Lio Canne once ruled. To Lancitor our new path is set. Zebulan will arrange travel for us back to the five walled city. Travel for all of us. Lio Canne included.

It is time for my studies now that afternoon approaches. As I sit, it occurs to me to make study several times the message spell. Nathal is a curious traveller, certainly the most questionable among us. If I help him with this scrying task he seems to have such a sudden penchant for, well, not only the knights would be in my debt...

Later that evening, all together in our barracks room, we rejoin the effort to scry on Nathal's friend. He makes the connection. Fariq and I take turns attempting to message. My second or third try succeeds. Her name is Marial. She tells us she is slave of Gor-i-don. She was sold into that condition by Haversham. But now, her new owner uses her services at his summer home in Lancitor, near the city of Baldrick's town between Cortizoll and Corninell. Marial believes the man even more powerful than Haversham.

The duration of the scry reaches its end. In the following conversation, Nathal tells us of his story -- an actor who's troupe was taken from him. He raised some funds to try to buy it back, came into Haversham's ill graces. Haversham, meaning to keep the troupe for himself, sold Nathal into the desert and his sister, Marial, in the other direction.

Perhaps I should not have memorized these spells with such a vile intention, I think to myself. But I'm glad they worked. Having information that A Lord of Lancitor is keeping slaves, a practice quite firmly forbidden, could itself be a matter to profit from. And, with the luck of our choice of destinations, we will not be far from the woman. As I consider all this to myself, the others tell me that Lio Canne is planned to be released back into the Drachsfallen. Even I have to consider that Lancitor might not be such a bad place for the next little while.

Day 31

Lio-canne is transported to a newly constructed steel cage that sits outside the Temple. A cleric arrives to meet us there. We've gathered the camels and gear. He reads from a scroll and we find ourselves back at the gate of the city of five walls. Lio-Canne awakes enough to see this (he'd been sedated somehow). He stretches to fill the cage. A glint of glory coming back into his eyes, seeing 20 long years in the desert coming to a close.

A small army, Ansom Cutter, Captain of the guard, and Corban included, have gathered to meet us. Well, rather, to meet Lio-Canne and see him safely caged and transported through the city to the gate that enters the Drachsfallen. This is an event of no small matter, one sure to stick in the minds of the children and men who saw the great hulk roll along the city's cobble. Lio Canne, recognizing Fariq, boasts at his soon to be found freedom. He is left outside the gate, commanded never to return to the city by the Captain of the guard (who's attention -- and associated city tax -- we have cleverly avoided upon entering through the city's gate!). Lio Canne jaunts off towards the horizon, having easily breached the steel bars of his cage and flattened its doors. The gargoyles on the city walls seem to keep an eye on his retreating back.

As Ansom Cutter walks back through the gate into the city, he commands a few guards to close the way. They respond with haste at their Captain's commands.

"And be sure to gather the tax from those four", he says, his eye falling on us. "They did not pay when they entered."

On the rescue of a Sister and a Dead Elf's hand

Session break. Day 32

We pony up the city tax as Lio Canne retreats. We head back to Zebulon's. We've decided to allow Nathal to attempt the sale of the license through some contact of his. Shady, no doubt, and the prospect of putting our wealth in his hands -- well at least we know it won't stay there long, one way or the other. As Nathal ventures out to conjure up his business associates, Akibar and Fariq pull up the Gollem scrolls and a stool. Akibar, perched on a stool stacked on a few books, on his tip toes, can see "Golem" written in the old language deep between its hmm.. eyebrows. Fariq is more interested in monetary value, spends his time assessing the value of his gift to the knighthood. Fariq estimates he gave about 90,000 to the 'hoodsters.

Meanwhile, Nathal finds his contact, who, upon seeing the real license, is surprised to find him not bullshitting. Understandable, really.

Day 33

We come downstairs for breakfast. Oddly, Kiera is a bit late. Corban finds her and she appears a tired. All else is normal. A quick meal and I head upstairs to study. I wish to write this "See invisibility" scroll into my spell book.

Nathal, in his room, finds a needle trapped chest on his bed. 8,000 platinum shine up on his happy face. Apparently the sale succeeded. Not quite sure his eyes are true, he fetches Fariq. Fariq witnesses the spectacle, sees what seems to be the same illusion - a true pile of wealth and so cutely stacked in the sturdy chest. Fariq comes to tell me. "Fariq, have it deposited in my account," I command him. He wanders off... Perhaps he didn't hear. Fariq and Nathal start an afternoon of counting. Very careful counting. Each coin bears the stamp of Serkimir. An eyebrow raises.

Nathal and Fariq head to the temple to make deposits. An acolyte helps them to find their path to godliness on this particular day. A long stair down, past even the gnomish tunnels perforating the city's underways. The accolyte eventually leads them to a door which is magically attuned to their touches.

When they meander back to Zebulan's, Corban tells them of a strange Lancitori, Ancil Coppercom, Also tall and as oddly eyed. At tea, the man spoken of arrives. We are all present for the ceremony; introductions are made. Ancil appears to be a farmer -- but muscular and .. holding a stick. Of sorts. Once the rounds are made, Corban suggests Anci and we might be interested in a joining travels. As Akibar makes an exit, Fariq and Nathal learn that Ancil had been in the caravan also transporting Braddick, the fish scaled Pirate. the three, with the Shaf listening wisely and quietly exchange stories. Nathal tells Ancil of the midnight sun. Ancil grew up on a feudal farm where he hunted, etc. Sounds like a perfectly unelightened existence to me, as Fariq latter retells it. Ancil apparently lost his family to slaves. At least he'll have something in common with Nathal. Hopefully they won't hold Ostorillians as a whole responsible for their losses.

When Ancil mentions the fate of his family - and his concern therefore - Nathal makes the hesitant momentary trip up to my quarters, where I am trying to concentrate. He wishes the scrying sphere. It turns black as Ancil stares into it, hoping for some glimmer of hope.

Fariq eventually retires to the study to finish transcribing the last of the Golem papers. Corban, Nathal and Anicl retire - hah - head to town. Shortly after, Corban has Ancil equipped and takes Nathal on his word to buy dinner. At what is the finiest establishment in the area. Corban smiles as he walks his eyes through what most consider to be the second best cook's menu in all of serkimir.

Corban explains that in his home of Cortizar, Lancitor, he ran an inn and successively better establishments until his reputation was such that Zebulan approached him with a job offer. Corban describes a bit of Zebulon and his superior collections... when the wine and first course arrives. Before the second course arrives, Haversham arrives. Haversham starts making the rounds -- but seems to get distracted by another table. At course seven, three very thick steaks arrive. Five hours later, at the serving of second dessert, even Corban has had his fill. But he manages. The glowing desert seems to alleviate his almost uncomfortable fullness. As the last crumb leaves his tongue for his gullet, he leans back in absolute luxury - each sense pleased by the craftmanship of the meal and the skill of the staff and cook.

At the end of the meal, Corban warns, with a strange turn to sternness, to Nathal, to not conduct more business at the home. The excusing himself, heads straight to Haversham's table and invites Haversham to dinner at a winery, newlly opened. Corban leaves. Minutes later Haversham leaves. And minutes after, Nathal and Anicl leave; or try to; as they walk straight into Haversham who seems to be arguing with the cute nothing on his arm .. and on his lap.. all night long. Nathal, seeing Haversham's head jolt his way, dodges back towards the kitchen. Ancil stands in the doorway. Haversham tries to push his way in.

"Out of my way, oafs. Do you know who I am?" Haversham screams. "No sir. And don't touch me," answers Ancil. Two men in Haversham's employ wait at the front door. At his command, they head to the back door. As Nathal escapes out the back, he is spotted by the men at hire. When Haversham hears his men's calls, he says, "I shall remember your face you impudent fool" and heads around towards the back.

The body boys toss a dagger into Nathal's leg. A shot of cold rises through his thigh. At the front of the street, Ancil, "You'll remember more than my face" and his new oak staff rings off a magical force directly in front of Haversham's forehead. Haversham, in shock at the idocy of the young man. Nathal scatters into the street with a bolt flying over his shoulder. Ancil glowers at Haversham. And flees. They are separated but safe. When they make their individual ways back to Zebulan's, Corban is waiting.

All the while... Fariq and Kiera .. and Shinkay .. eat a dinner at the manor.

(Corban, when he returns, tells Fariq, sitting idly, of the evening, of Haversham and of Haversham's weakness for wine and young women.)

Eventually all are back safely and Ancil is shown his newly prepared room.

Fariq and Nathal confer regarding Corban's warnings -- again Fariq makes claims that his oversight in protecting ... but we've heard enough of those whinings.

Late that night, Kiera takes Nathal on a tour. A griffen. A mortar. A singing sword. Apparently, Zebulan's household holds more than the treasure of Shinkay's personality.

Day 34

Fariq and Akibar head to the well to deliver Fariq's transcribing. The guardian informs us that my house, the house of the memshad. As we re-enter the city, the guard tells Fariq of a 100 gp reward for Ancil and Nathal. The errand run at the temple, we purchase gear. A ring of mindshielding. a robe of bones. A pearl of power. In the process we met Henk, the gnome, who runs the great magical duty shop ... What a prick

Day 35

Corban is placing his call to Zebulan. Nathal asks that he report the run-in with Haversham. Fariq picks up his armor, matching the red of his sword. I write another spell into the book (ropetrick).

Day 36

The guards are still aware. There seems to be some alert following the nonsense with Haversham. I have more time to study. Rumors on the street make it clear that Ancil and Nathal should remain out of sight for a day or two. By the end of the day, I've consumed ink and written Protection from Evil. That should prove some use.

Session break. Day 37

We are rested and our supplies have been gathered. The miserable camel beasts have been traded for more noble horses. A four day trip is anticipated to Cortisar. We think our trip will lead us first to Nathal's sister and then on to Korinoll - a spartan land tightly controlled. The citizens under some illusion of near pressed war.

Portsmith -- the end of our first day's travel and we arrived in a quaint Tudor town. It is quaint if severely uniform. The rain and humidity continue -- flower boxes abound in Greenery. Something enjoys the moisture at least. I wish instead for the reasonable dryness of the Ostorillian planes. Here it seems you can't see the horizon for all the trees. And even that assumes you aren't wiping the constant moisture and rain from your eyes. What an odd land, to be sure. Ancil has no suggestions on places to stay, having last travelled through here as a slave. As we ride, Ancil again recounts his growing up with the smith, his capture, etc. It is a sensitive story, sure. But frankly, for someone who stands at over six and a half feet and sports silver eyes, he seems to require a goodly bit of therapy. We pay a silver each for the hotel. The accomodations are acceptable The Shaf shares a room with three young ladies.

Dinner in the lounge - a bard of little talent. I exchange a few words with him and he decides to leave.

Day 38

A breeze lifts and blows the rain back into our face. Cold. Wet. Miserable. Rain. Along the road, we pass people from Korinol. Recognizable from their symbol required by Lancitori law for those travelling. Perhaps we can find a name and a birthplace during the course of our day. We cross the first of the famous bridges. Luckily, our midday break aligns with its crossing. I take my midday break to make an engineering drawing of the affair, having no magic to replenish in my mind. It is unclear to me how the people of this mundane land might react to my power, should I choose to reveal it.

Ancil, fine man he is, asks for tea. I tell him some of what I know about the ceremony. A few hours later, I finish. We can pack to travel again, as we pack, a travelling bard exchanges some friendly words. We travel until dark where we stop near the edge of a wooded area where others are camping. We decide to insert Ancil into our watch order. Might as well trust the men you travel with. The new order is Fariq, Shaf, Nathal, Ancil and Akibar.

Day 39

Travel. We arrive at the near side of the great bridge, spanning Atreos and Cortisar. It stretches forty feet high and to the horizon. Among the travellers at the bridge, waiting to start the crossing at the start of the next day, are a couple knights patrolling the highway. They come over our way and question us -- Ancil and Fariq answer for the party. Ancil stands and looks sternly. The guards eventually leave. Perhaps those silver eyes can convey a little feeling after all.

Day 40

We wake to a brisk breeze and travel out across the bridge, taking our first steps onto its seemingly endless span. As the breeze lifts and washes a light spray of water across our cold hands and faces, it whines through the framework below us. About an hour and a half into our trip, the wind has not slackened. In fact, it seems to strengthen. We continue our pace into what soon is clearly a growing storm, passing a small boy and man fishing from a boot lashed to the shoring. The increasing rain forces an abbreviated tea ceremony. I do take a minute or two to refresh some protective spells. The expsure here is significant. As we celibrate, Ancil and Nathal encounter a rider of Korinol. The weather and the wind worsen. During this, the harshest stretch, we walk the horses, not trusting our balance against the gushes of water whirling from the sea below. The city of Cortizor rises finally from the horizon, a glad sight. A dry bed seems a miracle, the desert a mere fantasy, each inch of my spare frame soaked and stinking of water and wet wool.

What sort of inn shall we seek, someone asks. "One with chimneys," replies Fariq. The first words he's spoken in an hour. We rent a penthouse suite. Two gold a few silvers later, we sit in front of our fire in rented flannel robes. Ancil kindly speaks to the kitchen and arranges a substance that appears to be unsinful to consume. Filleted fish and a box of tea making. Ancil must have a silver tongue to match his eyes to get these heathen chefs to produce something so fine.

As I slip into a well deserved sleep, a dream comes over me, raptorous. I stand at an altar, crypts rising at my feet. Beautiful dead maidens floating forward beseeching me just a chance to serve my pleasure. The dream lasts into the morning; I do not wake.

Day 41

As Ancil and the others wake, the sun already in the sky, Akibar remains sleeping on the couch. Nathal tells of a man who entered the room - cast - or perhaps plane shifted. Nathal is shocked at the length of time he has lost. Nathal, still a little drowsy, tells of the assailant with bars across the side and the top of his nose. Strange spell casting. The image, the Shaf tells us, matches visions she had. Associated with the armor, Nathal recognized the symbol on the armor as being the symbol on the angel's tower. Describing her nightmare, the Shaf describes a non-human chasing her as she shed her belongings. Free of her worldly goods, she took flight.

Ancil finds and points out that two darts, one lodged in me and one in Nathal, are of a very similar construction, carrying an elven poison as determined by my magics, once awake. The dart, though, Ancil claims is not an elven construction.

Day 42-50

We travel and arrive in Baldricksville. At least in the planes the wind would dry the skin between drizzles. Here, though, in the ancient forest, the Vilyataur, the towering canopy filters light and catches the full wind in its branches, leaving nothing but the persistent dripping of water for us, travelling within. As we continue, Ancil relates the dark fairy tales of Lancitori lore. Frankly, it is fascinating, if perhaps a wee bit dark for the average child. I consider writing a book of these.

Ancil also tells us the classic sygil marks of Lancitor. Arosyu - an eagle. Cortisor - a foppish knight. Corinol - a trojan like figure. Viyytaur - an elven figure.

During Nathal's watch, he spots a swimmer in the local pool. She speaks sylvan, a nymph. She sees Ancil's reflecting silvered eyes and notices the bloodline traits. The Shaf asks the beautiful, slender, curving woodland-thing what she knows of bloodlines. "Ask another, she says. I think the humans call him Theiser: a keeper. He is the only human allowed to live here - perhaps he knows something of your bloodlines." With a few brisk additional words to Ancil, encouragement to get us back onto the path and off this wooded area that is not ours to travel, she yawns her splendor into a stretch and curves her back into an arching dive, returning to the pool beyond our sight.

Day 51

A full day of travel into the woods. Ancil starts to notice the signs and markings that delineate unwelcome trespasses. Flora out of place used as markers of territory. We come across an elven outpost - Akibar greets them heartily in sea elven - and smiles as the glower. Ah - at least you know I'm worthy of a glance I think to myself.

At camp that night, we find ourselves with other travellers. Among them, a knight from Korinol, who accepts our invitation to join us for the evening. If we have to enter the dark land, we might as well learn what we can. Lord Carnifax speaks of rememberances of wars and then laughs when we are taken in by the lies. "The ruse of Korinoll is a powerful one..." and he relates the story of Korinoll. His trip to Serkimir was informed by the bloodlines.

Lord Carnifax and Akibar wander off into the camp for tea and a long conversation. Carnifax is a priest of the reaper. Fascinating stories we exchange.

Day 52

Akibar and Carnifax travel together, slightly behind the rest of the party, which eventually pauses to allow us to catch them. When we pass, they linger behind and scry on the man who attempted the attack on Nathal and I. The man is in Coalkeep and is very confused, cut and unkempt. His bearing is not the same as the man Nathal saw, but he is clearly the same person. Quite a transformation.

That evening, Akibar and Carnifax path's must diverge. As we part, we trade cards and intend a correspondance.

Overnight, Shaf and Fariq wake with a start. The Shaf, after a vivid dream, sits in her sleeping sack and notices wings. Fariq, has grown yet taller, after dreams of a great battle side by side against evil. He stood in the fight alongside a giant named "Mylash" The Shaf's wings are leathery; not the angelic wings one would expect of the gentle wise woman.

Day 53

The rest of us wake and see our comrades changes. Korinoll is armored from head to toe in black plate - his horse similarly protected. He departs.

We start the day by scrying on Zebulan. He calls back. We discuss the sister, Carnifax (high priest at the temple in the city of Corinoll). Zebulan tells us that these men who followed and attacked stem from Incoultar. The adventurers who sealed the gate, "were on the inside." They are looking to us to keep the gate shut. We apparently may have the power to open - or seal - the gate.

We must find a way into the temple in search of the non-ephemeral key. The temple lies outside the main city.

(session break)

Along the way into Baldricksville, we come across a Korinoll guard; they accept the explanation Nathal offers: We are a party travelling to pick up an item for a merchant. By evening we arrive in town. A castle looms over the little city. The city, its manor and outbuildings, are quiet. A conspicous quiet. As twilight slips down the horizon's crest, the quiet continues. Undisturbed. Nathal locates an Inn, also dark. As we enter through the swinging door, the scent of human blood sifts up from the stained floor, finding our nostrils and lodging there. The walls, the floors, even, upon closer inspection, the road outside are coated in the rust orange of dried slaughter. Nathal, understandably concerned for his sister, scries. Somehow, she senses the magic. "Nathal?" she asks? Of course there can be no answer. "If it is you, I .. I don't know what happened." She is blindfolded and bound in a dark chamber. "I think am still in the castle."

We investigate. The manor house sits ahead of us. We walk through its empty, bloody rooms. In the main office, we find, thanks to Fariq and Nathal's searching, mundane records and paperwork. The formal rooms are less bloody... It appears that ten or so guards staffed the manor.

Leaving the manor, we follow the dirt, stained, road through town. It ends up in a ramp and a gap usually spanned by the drawbridge - which is up. We stare a moment and hustle back to town in search of a span, or perhaps a ladder. In a craftsman's shop, we find two twenty foot ladders. Back up to the ramp we trundle. After some trying, the ladders are lashed together and Nathal skitters across. It goes less well for me. I curse as I fall in to the deep trench that separates the ramp from the castle. Inspired by my bruises, it occurs to me to just move the ladder and climb up the other side. The rest follow.

Having reached the far side of the dry moat, we circle looking for an entrance, unable and unwilling to try the drawbridge. Soon we find a smaller door. A quick look into the crystal ball; nothing has changed. We swing the door open.

As we move into the courtyard, twenty some archers ambush us. Their arrows, piercing deeply into Nathal and Akibar, hurt like hell. Ancil, Fariq and Nathal scramble for cover. I am exposed in the open. I summon a mount and cast a scorching ray at a giant figure approaching us. As arrows rain from the battlements, the horse provides adequate cover. Eventually we all work our way out of the line of sight of the bow-men, stalking us from the walkway above. From a hall, I, on a horse, Fariq and Ancil bring down the giant armored human. From a small room nearby, Shaf holds one with a divine spell. She and Nathal kill two more.

With the immediate threat lessened, but with the archers making good on every opportunity any exposure allows, Fariq and Ancil move to a separate room nearby. They kill a swordsman inside. The archers take a few more well aimed shots. Nathal is largely trapped in the room he ran to for cover with Shaf. I manage to join them, though by now the mount is nigh riddled. A small opening slit is apparent in the wall. With archers above and with us trapped below, through the opening, I can see a stairway upwards. I strip myself, pass my clothes through the opening, cast grease on my skin and slither through.

Having dispatched the guard in their room, Fariq and Nathal find a chest packed full of vials, maps and scrolls. They heal themselves using some of the potions. The other potions are invisibility and barkskin. Using them, Fariq passes through the courtyard out of sight of the archers, and returns with Shaf and Nathal. Meanwhile, as the others continue the combat below, I reach the parapets and pull a skeleton from robes in an attempt to distract the archers. The undead construction turns against me. I have to destroy it.

With only the archers left, we have all gathered back in the room with the potions. We gird ourselves on magic and bolster our courage behind Fariq's mighty form; and ascend the stairway. The archers in face to face combat fall like flies, their entrails caught on Fariq's red sword.

Foes destroyed, we gather our wits and our enemies loot, especially the many potions. Gulps later, we are largely healed, though worn from the extended combat. We find a way down into the castle and descend. I spot a set of glowing eyes and quickly point Fariq in their direction. He tosses a "lighted" rock and exposes five undead skeletons. Before we can really ready ourselves, they lumber towards us and engage. A moment later, the Shaf calls on her holy might and four of the beasts flee. I can not believe that I have no magics left to control them. An opportunity wasted. But, as my comrades battle the only skeleton not to panic, I consider an investigation of the four cowering at the end of room. When I approach them, a door behind them swings wide and another group rushes through. Even before I can call for help or begin a retreat, their swords and axes find my flesh and quickly remove me from the land of the living.

My comrades finish the battle. As they finish, Mialiee's voice echos through the chamber. She is apparently free and unshackled, here with us, though hiding quite succesfully. She explains she can free the non-magical bonds with little trouble, but a magic necklace keeps her in the castle. If she were to leave, it would cause her death. The only way to remove the collar is, perhaps, to kill Lord Goridon, who fastened it to her.

The sun has fallen between the blankets of the horizon. Mialee says that Gordon lives in his lab, experimenting on the town's folk. His expertise, quite clearly, skeletons. The archers he hired for his defense, after noticing our scrying. Perhaps though, he has a means to resurrect Akibar. Mialee tells of a staff she has seen him use... to bring back those he has tortured... but is not finished with...

Day 54

Akibar falls into a gallery. Shuffling people circle it, endlessly. A great lord enters and invites me sit. Poors a viscous fluid, red, into an encrusted cup. It perhaps, can be thought of as wine. But we all know better. The man, this lord of darkness, offers me a curious favor. I may return once to this room and he will return me to earth, though not exactly as I left it. I would owe him a favor in return. For now, I wait, confident my friends will return me to the land of the living, not too eager to waste this.. opportunity. The lord leaves me in his library, where I find a spellbook containing magics blacker than any I've yet to see. I start to scribe.

The others spend the previous night resting and sleeping in Mialee's room, which she claims will be safe for Goridon is busy below. Morning crests and finds the party rested. Akibar still dead. Mialee shows a secret way into the basement. A series of rooms open from the bottom of the stair. Shaf, Fariq and Nathal and of course Ancil, all use the potions from above and through the power of magic, become toughened in their skin and invisible to normal eyes.

The chambers contain an undead lab - scrolls, a book. And the mandatory meat hook. As they investigate, finding a scroll in the old Language describing a giant construction of some humanoid form, eventually a way is found into a giant room containing a construction that should not exist on earth: a mass of a thousand human corpses heaped into a vague shape of a leg the size of a small house. In the room with it is an examination table. And beside that, in a small umbrella stand, a staff. As they enter the room, the doors close and lock behind them. Only one can be opened, a giant series of doors. With trepidation, Nathal swings them wide, and reveals the torso of the creature missing the rotting flesh leg behind us.

Tending the writhing mass is a tall evil appearing man holding a sickle for a staff. Needless to say, a battle ensues. The flesh hand reaches out and hammers at Fariq. Finally, Ancil, having scampered across the slippery ledge and over the beast itself, reaches Goridon. As he nears, Goridon casts. Ancil's constitution is drained. A curse. Gathering his remaining strength, the silver eyed Lancitori charges at the evil figure and knocks him off the ledge into the pooled liquid from which the torso rises. As Goridon slips into the pool, the flesh beast slowly disolves, chunks of meat and rot ripping from it like mud.

Mialee appears, apparently now free of the restriction that held her confined. As the way is made back upstairs, a considerable treasure is found. I am summoned through the miasma that appears, just as I finish the final markings detailing the spell I've been studying. I rejoin my friends. I later find the spell, "Great Wail," in my spell book -- the only evidence of my experience. The others relate portions of their fight and of the beast below. I wonder at the staff that returned me. Fariq and the others are reluctant to allow me to handle it.

Session break. Day 55

That night, we rest. When we wake in the morning and survey the materials gathered from Lord Goridon, we find several mundane art items and one magical gem. Six cornered, it offers a faint evocation. Eventually we turn our attention back to the pit of flesh, perhaps to hope to find Lord Goridon's carried belongings. The room containing the pit is covered by a domed ceiling many stories tall. Or, so at least we guess. Even as Ancil throws a torch upwards, no light reaches the supposed ceiling. It is Ancil's judgement that this dome is not directly under the compound.

Going back to the desk - the old scrolls in the old language give plans to the room. Ancil finds a depression on the wall. Perhaps it somehow opens the roof. Also not on the plans.

The others head upstairs. Ancil and I remain, Ancil in front of the two levers revealed by Fariq's knock spell from behind the panel. The first lever closes the bay doors. With a wry look, Ancil re-opens them. The second lever unleashes a pool of water from above. Splashing into the base, the liquid that washes out scars all that it meets, except, it seems, my skin. Seizing the moment, as Ancil runs for higher ground, grabbing papers as he goes, I head into the pool. As Ancil departed, he re-pulled the second lever to stop the flooding. I, gripping it, pull it a third time releasing a torrent that quickly submerges me, having filled most of the room with a great flood. Swimming to the bottom against a floating tide of piecemeal flesh, bone, teeth, hair and other detritus of human rot, my skin holds tight against the strong base that filled the original pool. Though, it seems, some of the hair that floats by my stinging eyes is my own. At the bottom, as I stretch around for some clue to Goridon's resting place, my hand closes around a small metal object. To reach the top with sufficent air, I must start upwards again, with no time left to search. I swim, strongly but urgently, to the dark surface above. I finally come to the top, the sky above me. The dome's outside was disguised by a large reflecting pool, in which I now swim, not quite able to reach the rim. I yell out and Fariq hears me. Fariq hands me a lighted rock. I make a second trip below, but find nothing more.

That evening, with me dry, and the others disguised in the remanants of the archer's uniforms, we leave Goridon's dark castle. The smell has grown to pungeant for the good Shaf to tolerate.

As we arrange our evening camp, Zebulan's scrying reaches us. He describes another creature, of steam and metal, constructed from a scroll quite like the one Ancil carries. Also, the sadness true in his voice, he relates that the Angel that guarded the great gate was found dead. What might be able to kill an Angel is a horror none of us can comprehend.

I ask, the topic having been raised, about the history of the crater, the tower and the gate. The gate was sealed and the crater left as those of the gate were replled by a great force. The tower was later raised. Now those of Incoultar, having disabused themselves of the order of things and of the Gods themselves, are knocking, knocking, knocking. We wonder then if our quest for the key is still worthwhile or if the time of the opening of the gate is at hand regardless.

Nathal asks of Iskandar - Zebulan surmises that there the refugees gather, those small percentage that make the trip successfully from the far side of the gated world via the planes.

Zebulan tells me a bit about the man I met in death. Apparently his library continues here on earth, some of the books even in Zebulan's possession, though distant from the others for they cause some havoc if left unattended. A biography also exists, written in the blood of the monk who authored it.

The key, Zebulan reminds us, is in Blackmoore, in a temple near Corinoll, outside the city proper. The key is a hand, the hand of an acquatic elf, become a litch but since destroyed. It is a relic of great renown among the priests of the reaper. The others have some misgivings about our coming trip. But, I think, Aquatic litch elf hand - land of evil temples - it seems a.... fascinating ... journey.

Day 56

We travel back to the fork that led to Baldricksville, once again near the great forest. That evening we discuss how to pass in Korinoll. Mialee tells us that all of Goridon's men passed their days giving praise to the reaper. They invoked the God's name on every action and every opportunity. We decide to travel disguised as his devotees. Ancil, as the Corinoll guide taking us to the Blackmoore temple.

Day 57

Passing by farms, we travel without interruption on horse back. The farmers give respect to Ancil's disguise - but we others draw some attention. Clearly the people here are not used to foreigners, the stories of eternal war brainwashed in their peasant heads. When they become too curious, Ancil's stern voice frightens them off, echoing from with the dark armor and helmet. Ha, if they saw his eyes, now that might truely be a fright.

Day 58

Early, having started bright with sunrise, we see on the road a band of other guards. They are appropriately of lower rank and they salute as Ancil approaches and dismount. But, duty bound, block the road and demand an explanation of why we, non-citizens and foreigners, dare pass here. Ancil and the guards discuss in Lancitori. Apparently his story works for they retreat to their horses and ride off, a note of fear in their eyes.

Day 59

As we approach Corinoll, we decide to make ourselves invisible and approach up to the captain guarding the gate on foot. Ancil, who remains visible, rides.

"Reaper bless you," Ancil offers. "Have you no salute for me?" the captain figure responds. Ancil offers a proper but not heartfelt salute. It is clear that the captain outranks him; yet, we do not know how to read any insignia from the armor. The guard, Valas recognizes Samiel's armor, being worn by Ancil, but does not, beneath the great veil of steel, notice the bearer is not Samiel. "Samiel, the High Custodion has banned you..." But, though comic, Vallas lets Samiel pass. I do not catch the conversation in its whole, but apparently Ancil manages to talk his way through the confusion, pretending to have some mission with a priest.

We skirt the rest of the city, needing to pass only at its edges to reach the temple we seek. Ancil still wears the armor of the dishonored knight, past the hovels of peasants and the occasional small roadside reaper shrine.

Day 60

We near Blackmoor and rest, hiding off the road in sight of the temple, waiting for nightfall. Night falls. As the guard changes, the Shaf casts a zone of silence and we approach, invisible. We see maybe ten undead guards and a live guard who denies Ancil entrance. They will not break the curfew and raise the gate, even for the knight Ancil pretends to be. Ancil, or so he tells us later, encouraged the good man for his vigilence. We all wander away knowing we will not find entrance this evening.

Day 61

As a wagon passes into town, us still hiding off the side of the road near the temple, inspiration strikes. Ancil, using an ample factor of ruthless intimidation, acquires a wagon. We decide Ancil, as the captain, will enter the temple and seek out a meeting place. At that point he will message us. We will follow, invisible, following a cart led by Akibar, visible. Akibar will use a disquise of a mute peasant, helped with an alter self spell. Once all inside, we intend to start several fires and make a grab for the hand in the ensuing confusion. Let's hope the rain doesn't wash away our distraction.