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Chapter 7 — First Confrontation
"Wake up! It's Samber!"

   The figure raised his hand, palm forward, and shouted, "An o stobadh!" Then, the cloaked form moved so quickly that it appeared as a blur. It moved the sixty feet to Leokas, passed behind him, and then could be seen in the elf's peripheral vision. Before any of them had even sat up all the way, before Leokas could even turn his head to get a better look, they all heard an extremely high-pitched voice that sounded like a rat or a berrygobbler. Leokas saw a rip in the fabric of space open up just at the base of the hill, and he was gazing at stars. He knew he was trying to move, but it was as if time were moving slowly for him.

   More strange squeaks came from the person behind him, and all of them felt themselves falling, sideways, toward the opened gate hovering in the air, as if gravity itself had been altered. Mythlos frantically reached out to grab onto anything, but his bag of holding thumped him in the chest, and he and the sack slid off the floor of the gazebo and tumbled through the air into the opening and vanished. Kamil nuzzed and thrashed, nearly kicking Belvin in the head, as the poor camel joined Mythlos in his fate. Stormshadow followed, barking loudly. Even the armored guards from the castle fell from their posts toward the rift; however, they did not pass through. Instead, several of them seemed suspended in the air on the back side of the opening.

   Cassiera yelled out as she fell sideways, twisting in the air and grabbing hold of the nearest thing she could reach, as her bag of holding plummeted away. She caught hold of Hakam's ankle. He was floating slowly, parallel to the ground, away from the gazebo, as his ring of feather falling slowed his fall towards the fissure. Leokas found himself hanging from one of the columns of the gazebo, which from his perspective was now horizontal. He glanced around quickly. Looking "down" he could no longer see stars through the rift, only darkness. Twigs and pebbles and leaves were flying, falling, all around him. He saw Hakam floating slowly toward the magic hole, with Cassiera hanging from his leg. "It's freezing!" she called out. Szordrin was trying to prevent himself from falling between two of the columns. Belvin, strangely, was suspended, looking like he was hanging by his leg from an invisible rope. "How? What? Why?" the wild elf was mumbling in Elven.

   Just over the top — or side — of the pillar from which he was hanging, Leokas could see Samber, in his maroon cloak. He had three limbs in contact with the ground, sticking to it like glue so that he was not falling. With his free arm, he held onto Ilthian by her wrist, as she dangled sideways through the air.

   "Are you... the Maker?" she asked. "What is happening?"

   Hakam shouted out and held up his hand as he floated farther and farther away. A beam of searingly bright radiance shot from the cleric's open palm, and the ray struck Samber in the chest, enveloping him in light as bright as the sun. Samber gasped out and dropped Ilthian. She fell like a stone and plummeted directly toward Hakam. In a moment of rare agility on his part, he caught her. Moments later, the Calishite and the two women vanished from within the dome.

   Leokas took this opportunity to pull himself up atop the pillar in a feat of strength to balance precariously along its length. Samber glanced over at him, but a ray of fire shot from Szordrin's magic wand. The fire, however, seemed to pass completely around Samber's form, not affecting him at all. Then Szordrin slipped between the two columns. He caught himself again, hanging with one hand on each and using all of his strength to not plummet.

   With Samber distracted by Szordrin's attack, Leokas leapt from the pillar onto Samber's back, pinning the latter's arms in a tight hold so he couldn't use them to cast any more spells. "Toras gné!" Samber shouted, and the man vanished from within Leokas' grasp. Leokas now fell through the air, but he flipped himself around like a cat to fall feet first, kicked himself from the floor of the gazebo — which to him was a wall — and landed on one of the far columns. He wobbled but managed to maintain his balance. Unfortunately, he also stepped on Szordrin's hand.

   Szordrin cried out on pain. He could not hold himself up with only one hand, and he started slipping. As he fell, he shouted out, "If we go down, we are taking your secrets with us!" and he took one parting shot at Samber, who was now "standing" on the ground near Belvin. Once again, his aim was true, but the blast of fire from the wand simply passed around Samber, and the tiefling wizard fell through the fissure.

   "Why are you here, druid?" said Samber. "Why have you followed me? What do you plan to do?

   "I was sent by my god," Belvin answered. "I do not yet know why."

   Samber began chanting in another tongue for several seconds and then touched the stump of Belvin's hanging arm, as he dangled sideways. "Perhaps this will make you think differently of me," he said. Belvin felt a pleasant tingling sensation, as a white energy flowed from Samber's fingertips.

   "Now, farewell!" Instantly, Belvin dropped, shooting head-first through the air toward the rift.

   Now only Leokas remained. He jumped from one pillar to the next, just in time to see his friend fall. Now he balanced deftly and removed his darkwood bow from his shoulders and drew an arrow, but he did not shoot.

   "You are impressively agile, elf!" Samber called up, as he stuck firmly to the ground.

   "You must cease what you are doing here!" Leokas called back.

   "By whose authority?"

   "They sent me back from the grave to stop your meddling."

   "Why? What right do the gods have to stop me?"

   "They created us; they know what is best for their creations!"

   "Likewise, I know what is best for mine," said Samber.

   With that, he simply pointed a finger at Leokas, and everything went black.
Session: 60th Game Session - Monday, Oct 19 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Samber's Journal: Entry VIII
Merciful gods, are you so careless in your punishments to allow for this? And how fortunate that you can blame me for the countless deaths that will no doubt follow! Yet, I admit the guilt falls on me. Never should I have risked the binding. You have no time to ramble, Samber. You started this; you must end it. I have just entered my lower portal chambers to find chaos and destruction. While the earthquake seemed to have done little damage to my palace above, a fallen column punctured the bindings that held the osyluth at bay. It is free. It seems to have set fire to all of my writings and apparatus. Years and years of work are now gone. Clear tracks lead right through the gate to the High Forest. As much as you seem to hate me, O gods, I pray you see that I am risking my life and using my powers to make it right. I am leaving this book here in the open in the hope that, if the devil slay me, at least the intruders to my island might stumble upon this and learn more. I write to you directly now, whoever you are who have followed me here. Do not judge me until you have understood what I have done, and know that I loved all of my creations. Is that a sin? ~ Samber
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Samber's Journal: Entry VII
I was just now awoken from my sleep by the gong. It is not the "hour of summoning"; it is not even highsun. There are strangers on the island! I can only imagine it was the ship that had been following me, but how? I never saw them after I sent the lightning bolt down on them. There were four of them, a blue-haired elf, two Calishites (a male and a female), and a Lantanna like I. None of them were sailors, and the wild elf was not with them, so I can only imagine that there are even more. I must rise and figure out how to deal with them. ~ Samber
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Samber's Journal: Entry VI
So this is it then? They are not giving up. They want war, it seems. Cannot they tell that I have no desire to fight them? What is it now, you ask? Everything is going to the hells. I do not have time for this. This voyage started well. The journey to Chult was smooth. I dealt with financial matters. I purchased my merchandise from the Consortium, and it arrived within the promised window. I was excited to make use of the sequencers; I spent the night making plans, scribbling in my technical journal at the rented room in Shilku. On the morrow, I was busy working, when a crazed-looking elf came through the portal. I incapacitated him, set the delay on the gate, hurriedly grabbed the papers from my desk, and fled. Thankfully, the Kell had already loaded the Eternity. I gave orders to leave port at once. I considered my options. My portal in Chult would have to be abandoned. Had even Ubtao betrayed me? Ubtao, who is said to care nothing for matters outside his realm? Or was it simply an accident? Some greedy adventurer in search of famed Chultan emeralds who stumbled upon my gate? Was it the Consortium? Were they no longer happy with me as a customer? I began to hope it was only a fluke, and I began to daydream instead about my journey to the Fugue, but then, a fire broke out above deck. Sabotage. The mast had been set aflame, the work of fire elementals who then vanished. Summoned, clearly. I began to put two and two together. It must have been the elf. He was wild, like a druid. But how could he have followed me? If he came through the portal, he could not have had a vessel waiting on the other side, could he? Perhaps it was simply pirates, but I have never encountered pirates who could summon a creature from such a far distance. A member of some sea race, perhaps, who boarded the ship just long enough to call the elementals and then flee. But why? I was baffled, but the next day confirmed that I was indeed being followed. I spotted their ship through the spyglass. Several hours later, they must have called down flying lizards to attack my ship. I destroyed their mainmast with a lightning bolt, hoping to send them a warning, whoever they were, that I was not to be trifled with. Having dealt with that potential hindrance, I at last arrived home. The journey's setbacks now seemed nothing compared to what awaited me; an earthquake had struck the island in my absence. Much of my palace was in disarray. I have spent the last few hours checking through the rooms to see how badly everything is damaged. Bookshelves have tumbled and items have fallen from their places, but the damage does not seem too severe. Now I wonder of this. Have the gods now recruited Grumbar to their side? Is this only the first of several quakes? Do they hope to break through the dome by force? If they send a more powerful quake, what can I do? I will be finished. I am exhausted from my stressful sailing voyage and must rest. I only hope that the Forokell fared well in the quake. The poor things were probably terrified. ~ Samber
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Samber's Journal: Entry V
I have received word from the Interlink Consortium that the sequencers are ready for pickup. If I wish to make the exchange, I'll have to leave on the morrow. I have not made much progress in the months since I have returned from Thultanthar. My Loross is not as good as it used to be. The baatezu I imprisoned a year ago has continued to not be cooperative, and I have not had the time yet to investigate No.s 14 & 15. So all three plans are stalled. Even so, while my research has not moved forward, I find myself able to cast every arcane spell I once could. ~ Samber
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Samber's Journal: Entry IV
It has been many months since my last entry. I left my journal here in the safety of the dome. If they would go to such extents to stop me, I suspect that they might send clerics to find and apprehend me if I left the island, and my research is more important to me than my life. It is my life. I have been busy, and my diligence has again been rewarded. I have overcome. I, of course, have known about the alternatives to the Weave for many decades, but never have I had need to seek them out. Perhaps some of the gods are indeed on my side; Tymora, at least, seemed to have smiled on me, for what luck! That my journey to the desert should come precisely when it did! My power is back. What will you do to stop me now, O gods? ~ Samber
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Samber's Journal: Entry III
Well, it has finally happened. The gods have acted. Mystra withholds herself. I know not what part Gond plays in all of this; I only know that the Weave has been forbidden me. I cannot cast even the simplest cantrip. My investigations into the extra creativity of No.s 14 & 15 will have to be put on hold until I figure out what to do. I am enraged. How can Ao permit this? What have I done that warrants such a response? I am disgusted. What of all the wicked and despicable acts that have been done on this world with magic? She would allow those? Are they trying to convince me that the gods are but jealous and selfish children? Surely, Gond sees things differently? Are none of them on my side? I am naught but a worm now. I am powerless. I am even more alone.
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Samber's Journal: Entry II
I noticed an intriguing thing a few nights ago when I was performing routine patches to the Forokell's intellect centers. I was at the house No. 3 when I noticed quite an intriguing array of flowers planted outside in the small garden there. The roses had all been pulled and replanted such that they formed the abstract pattern of the head of a rose using the three colors of roses available to them. Curious, I reviewed the audio from the memory of No. 20, one of the newer models. It took several hours of scanning, but I finally learned that the one who calls himself Jareth had done it. I have looked up his number. It is No. 14, which is fascinating, because No. 15 is the one who is constantly making new clothing for the Forokell. They were made in the same week. As I noted in a past entry, she was originally intended to be a Lillikell, but I decided at the last minute to give her a Forokell intellect core. No. 14, however, was always intended to be a Forokell. I have spent the last few days digging through my old journals, yet I cannot figure out what I did differently with those two, but there must be a link between them. I'll have to put all of them in extended hibernation and bring the two anomalies back to the table for further investigation. ~ Samber
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Samber's Journal: Entry I
Yet another blank journal to write in. How many have I written since I set my mind to this task? How could I have been so foolish to have expected it to be easier than this? Always one more correction. Always a missing piece. Always one more thing I fail to understand. Yet it must be possible. Finder did it. The Beast Lord did it. I am not alone in the attempt, ...and yet I am so alone. I dare not make the mistake I did the last time around. The Forokell show so much promise, but I remain distant. I feel like a neglective father. The Lillikell can never provide what I seek. They lack the spark a few of the Forokell seem to have. Still, I fail to ascertain what causes that spark. Why do some of them have it and some of them do not? ~ Samber
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Chapter 7 — The Second Journal
A new excitement filled the group, as they carefully descended through the opening in the wall and lowered themselves down into the water. It was very cold, but it only was a foot and a half deep, so they managed. Kamil nuzzed angrily when they worked as a team to lower him down into the channel of water, but there was nothing the camel could do about it.

   The three-foot-wide waterway extended to from right to left. Leokas estimated that this meant that the water was flowing east, but it was hard to be certain, having been underground for so long. Immediately, to the right, the rubble from the collapse of the wall blocked passage; the only way they could move was with the water to the left.

   They passed carefully — as the stone was exceptionally slippery — for a hundred feet or two before the aqueduct made a 90 degree turn to the right. "There is the pipe we can climb," said Cassiera, pointing in the blue-lit darkness.

   "I'll stay down here with Kamil," said Belvin, "until we decide how to respond to whatever you find up there."

   The pipe was made of wood. They could see at the bottom that it had a screw projecting from it. If turned, water would be carried up the pipe. One by one, excepting Belvin, they climbed up the pipe, which was challenging because of the slipperiness, but the narrow walls aided them in the task.

   Coming into the room above, they were met with the smell of burnt paper and wood, finding it just as Cassiera described. Scattered everywhere were ash and the remains of furniture, at least some of which had clearly been bookshelves. It was a rectangular stone room. There was a single doorway on the right wall with an iron door. On the far wall were three large, blackened metal rings. Through the center one, they gazed upon a beautiful forest, as if through an open doorway. They had come into the room from below a stone water bowl, and a gear was there, which was used for turning the water screw they had just climbed.

   The roof was supported by four stone columns, and one of them had collapsed from the earthquake. Their was a final object of note in the room, what appeared to have been an open cube, whose edges were made from silver bars. The broken column had fallen through the cube and broken through one of the bars.

   "That was the bone devil's prison," said Szordrin. "Silver is used for the binding of summoned beings. The falling column from the earthquake is what must have freed it."

   "No one move about," said Leokas. "Let me find tracks first."

   It was an easy task with all of the ash. Three beings had clearly been in the room since the fire. Leokas found the bare feminine footprints of Cassiera, larger, booted prints, and still larger skeletal claws of the osyluth. "The osyluth's prints begin somewhere in the middle of the room, not from within the cube," explained Leokas. "They then go directly toward that center portal. That means the fire started after the osyluth was freed, but it leads out the portal, not through the crack below the fountain. Are we dealing with two bone devils?"

   "What of the other tracks?"

   "They came from this doorway and have moved about almost the whole room. Then, they too exit through the portal."

   Mythlos walked up to the portal and peered through. Szordrin began searching around in the rubble and ash. The former succumbed as usual to his curiosity and stepped through.

   "Mythlos!" Sound, however, did not pass through the magic gate. They saw Mythlos glance around. Then he game back through.

   "That was foolish," said Hakam, "yet not at all unexpected."

   "It is a most beautiful woods," said Mythlos, "and now we know that the portal is stable and not an illusion."

   Ilthian gasped. "There are no trees back here!" She had walked around to the back side of the portal and was trying to make sense of magic beyond any she had ever seen.

   "It looks just like my homeland," said Leokas.

   "I believe it is your homeland," said Szordrin. "Look at this!" He had found a leather journal, unburnt and cast aside among the other debris. "It's Samber's journal!"

   "Who is this Samber you keep mentioning?" Ilthian asked, but no one answered her. They all rushed around Szordrin. "Belvin! Climb up here and join us."

   The wild elf did so, and Szordrin read key sentences from the final page with text.

   "'...Clear tracks lead right through the gate to the High Forest...' He thinks the osyluth went to the Forest and is pursuing him. Either there are two or the devil deceived him."

   "The latter is far more likely," said Hakam.

   "'...I am leaving this book here in the open in the hope that, if the devil slay me, at least the intruders to my island might stumble upon this and learn more....' See, it is written to us. He dropped this here intentionally."

   "That's only the last page. What does the rest say?"

   "I cannot read it. I don't speak the language. Only the last page is written in Common."

   "That is the Draconic script," said Cassiera, "but I do not know the tongue either."

   "Now we need Jayce," said Hakam. "It is certainly Lantanese, just like his previous journal from the mummy's chamber. Like Belvin, I focused my prayers on combat spells this morning."

   "That is the 'writing language'," said Ilthian. "All of our books are written in that tongue."

   "Your books are written in a different language than you speak?" asked Leokas.

   She nodded. "I do not know why?"

   "So you can read this?" asked Szordrin.

   "Yes, let me see." She took the journal from Szordrin and began reading.

   "'Yet another blank journal to write in. How many have I written since I set my mind to this task? How could I have been so foolish to have expected it to be easier than this?...'"
Session: 59th Game Session - Thursday, Sep 17 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Chapter 7 — ...Or Not
"Samber, I presume," said Hakam. The cleric noted that the man before them had no red aura.

   "How do you know who I am?" said the red-haired man slowly.

   "Is this a safe place to talk?" Leokas asked.

   "I don't know of any place any safer, but we certainly are not safe while the osyluth is loose," said Samber.

   "The osyluth? Are you working with the osyluth?"

   "What? No! No, it escaped from my palace. You know of it? Have you seen it?"

   "We were searching for it when we found you. We learned of its existence from the hobgoblins living in these caves. Why did the osyluth spare you?"

   "Presumably because it has not found me yet, but it has caused me great harm nonetheless. It has wreaked havoc on all my work."

   "Is this island your work?" asked Hakam.

   "No, I am a wizard, but I cannot make an island!" Samber exclaimed. "The osyluth has ruined the creations within my palace."

   "Are you the Maker?"

   Samber looked confused. "I make things, yes, but no one has called me that."

   "What things do you make?" asked Mythlos.

   "I specialize in the creation of golems," said Samber.

   "Why was the osyluth in your palace to begin with?" asked Leokas.

   "I know it was foolish, but in my desire for greater knowledge, I summoned the baatezu. I thought that I could bind it within a magic circle, and I would have been successful had a great earthquake not shaken my palace several days ago. The osyluth broke free, and it also released some of my golems. They now run mad destroying what I have taken years to build in my palace and in these caves. I am distraught. What can I do?"

   "Did you make the people on the surface?" asked Leokas. "Are they, in fact, golems?"

   "There are people on the surface?" asked Samber.

   "Stop talking to him!" Szordrin called out suddenly. Szordrin had been growing suspicious of some of Samber's answers, and when the other wizard expressed surprise about the existence of the islanders, Szordrin noticed him flicker, much like a candle. "He's an illusion!"

   Two things then happened at once. Samber vanished from everyone's vision and something large appeared behind Szordrin. As they all turned their heads to look back, there was a blur of motion as the large, scorpion-like tail of a monster from the worst of nightmares struck down at their companion. It never made contact, however. The magic from Szordrin's protective spell, deflected the blow, which would have easily impaled him. The towering devil cursed in its infernal tongue, and before anyone could respond, it vanished again as quickly as it had appeared.

   Leokas immediately rushed forward and kicked dirt in the direction of where the devil had been, hoping to discern if it had turned invisible or simply teleported. The latter seemed most likely, as the dirt fell back to the ground.

   Hakam quickly cast a spell to detect thoughts, yet all he could hear were his companions' internal confusions in their native languages about where the osyluth had gone. "It has moved some distance away," he said. "It is not lurking nearby."

   Szordrin began casting further protection spells, and Hakam did likewise on himself and on Mythlos.

   "Was Samber the devil in disguise?" asked Leokas.

   "It was an illusion it created," said Hakam.

   "Isn't that deception?" asked Szordrin.

   "Not directly," said Hakam.

   "How could it know so much about Samber? Belvin, you are sure that the man you saw in Shilku looked just like that?"

   Belvin nodded.

   "Did the devil read your mind? Can they do that?"

   "I would know if such evil were in my mind," said Belvin.

   "If you were powerful enough to resist its magic perhaps," said Hakam.

   "All baatezu are telepathic," said Szordrin, "but I do not think that means they can steal thoughts. Perhaps the more advanced ones can. I am not certain."

   "How advanced is a bone devil?"

   "They are somewhere in the middle of the devilish hierarchy," Szordrin replied, and Hakam agreed.

   "What do we do now?" asked Cassiera. "If it can simply appear and disappear at will...."

   "We continue very carefully," said Leokas.

   Mythlos moved through the opening to where the illusion of Samber had stood.

   "Wait!" warned Szordrin. "What if the stone door closes behind us and seals us in? Is there another lever on the other side, Mythlos."

   The moon elf did not see one. The tunnel there split in two directions. He peeked his head around the corner of each. Both ways immediately turned sharply again, so he couldn't tell which way seemed best. Leokas joined him on the other side and began looking for further tracks. Beyond the footprints of illusionary Samber, he found none.

   "I am sure we can find a way out even if it closes again behind us," said Hakam hopefully. "Step through."

   Szordrin did so. The stone remained lowered.

   "Shh," whispered Cassiera. "Do you hear that?"

   The elves and the yuan-ti could hear the faint sound of crying coming from somewhere to the right.

   "It sounds like a little girl," Cassiera said.

   "Or another illusion," said Leokas.

   Nevertheless, they moved toward the sound. The winding tunnel began descending somewhat and then made a wide U-turn. They began to smell a stench like that of decaying flesh, and it grew stronger with each step. The sobbing grew louder as well, such that now Hakam and Szordrin could hear it.

   They reached another large chamber and Mythlos took a step inside, just out of the tunnel. The chamber had several more shafts of pure omlar. There, on the far corner of the squarish room, about 40 feet away, hunched the wretched baatezu. It was far more hideous than the hobgoblins had described, and more fearsome-looking than either Hakam or Szordrin had read. Were it not bent over, it would have been nine-feet-tall. Its skin was stretched so tightly over its skeleton that every bone was emphasized. Its claws curled in half circles from its long fingers like scimitars. Its extra-long tail hovered over its body, ending in a bloated poison sack and curved stinger, which oozed drops of venom. Most disturbing of all, however, was its elongated head and skull with its glowing, orange eyes. There was no doubt that the smell of decay they all sensed originated from the monster.

   "Anachtyr, grant me wisdom," Hakam prayed.

   They all heard an unwanted voice in their heads, a soothing and at the same time dreadful melodic voice. "I would slay all of you for sport, but I am too intrigued by your presence here. This massive cavern complex is full of surprises for me. It has been centuries since I have had so much fun."

   "What are you doing here in this cave?" Szordrin called out across the room.

   "I simply seek my freedom." Once again, they all heard its voice in their minds; its mouth remained motionless, as saliva dripped slowly from between its teeth. "Is not freedom sought by all?"

   "Are you not free now?" asked Leokas.

   "Freed from my prison but not yet free to return to my world," said the devil.

   "How were you trapped?" asked Szordrin.

   "The wicked wizard, the one you call Samber — the fool thought he could bind a baatezu. The 'Samber' you met spoke the truth."

   "What do you want from us?" asked Mythlos.

   "Want? What would mere mortals have that I cannot already take for myself? However, I sense I may have knowledge that you want...."

   "We want nothing from you, devil," said Hakam. "This conversation is over.

   "Anachtyr! God of Justice, from the golden fields...."

   For the first time, the bone devil opened its hideous mouth and words came out, interrupting the cleric. "Ig baator han ta, on gelug! it screamed in a voice seething with anger. There was a crackling sound, and a hemisphere of solid ice formed in seconds between Mythlos and his companions, trapping them in the tunnel behind a foot of frozen water and isolating him alone in the room with the dreadful outsider.

   The moon elf heard another voice inside his head: "I see your silver blade, elf. Unfortunately, such mortal superstitions have no power against a baatezu of my status. I look forward to a different flavor than that of goblin children. Let's dance."
Session: 57th Game Session - Thursday, Aug 20 2015 from 4:45 PM to 7:45 PM
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Chapter 7 — The Story Comes Full Circle
Leokas dropped into the empty stream bed and climbed back out near where Hakam, Belvin, and Mythlos had been fighting. Belvin was on his knees, holding his severed arm, and looking distraught. Kamil, sensing something amiss, was nuzzling him. Leokas put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Hakam will be able to restore you," he said.

   Mythlos returned from exploring the room to the southeast, having found neither foe nor treasure. He had clearly removed the arrow from his arm and healed himself. "There is nothing else back there," he informed them.

   Szordrin and Ilthian appeared next. "I explored two other chambers behind us and there was no sign of the other hobgoblins who were trying to flank us," he reported. "I did hear galloping, however." He looked around. "Where is Nargroth?"

   "I thought he was with your group," said Mythlos, "and where is Hakam?"

   "He will be fine, I am sure," said Ilthian.

   Only Belvin knew that Hakam had followed the fire elementals and Cassiera, but he said nothing, still staring blankly at his arm, as if in trance.

   Leokas poked his head through the opening in the wall, saw the dead bodies slain by him and Cassiera, and recognized that the tunnel connected here from where he had been fighting. "Maybe Hakam is with Cassiera?" Leokas suggested, "but the last I saw of Nargroth, he had lobbed a perfect stone throw at a hobgoblin from somewhere to our west. He shouted to us that he had found our missing miners."

   "Is he okay?" Ilthian asked, pointing at Belvin.

   "He will recover," said Leokas. "He is a strong elf."

   "The Maker can make him a new arm, I'm certain of it," said Ilthian, "if only he would answer us again." She looked around. "I've never seen so much blood. Why is some of it black? My blood is red like this poor elf's."

   "The blood of evil creatures is often black," said Leokas.

   "I'll go find Nargroth," said Mythlos.

   "This one is still alive," said Szordrin, who was bent over the shaman Hakam had struck down.

   "Mythlos, before you get Nargroth, bring this one back to consciousness," said Leokas. "I want to interrogate it."

   Mythlos touched the hobgoblin with his sword, and the shaman stirred. He then jogged off to cross the "stream" and find Nargroth.

   "What are you doing here?" Szordrin asked, in the most threatening voice he could manage.

   The hobgoblin sat up and rubbed his sore head, where his broken skullcap had once rested. "What are you talking about?" he answered in clear Common with a subtle Calant accent. "This is our cave and has been for three years."

   "Her people have been mining this cave for longer than that," said Szordrin, motioning toward Ilthian. "When did you first come upon them?"

   "Several days ago," said the shaman. "We found them through a tunnel that had recently opened. We thought we were alone on the island."

   "Whither did your companions flee?" asked Szordrin.

   "How many of your scum are there?" asked Leokas.

   "What makes you think I will betray my tribe," said the goblin. "Look, I know you are not going to permit me to live. I've been defeated fairly. Now give me a swift death, if you are civilized men and not barbarians."

   "If you answer our questions, we'll grant you your wish," said Leokas. "Now, who is your leader?"

   "Chief Grak."

   "And who is Maglubiyet? Another of your kind called on him for aid."

   "He is our god," said the shaman.

   Leokas felt embarrassment for having forgotten this.

   "Do you know anything about a man named Samber?" asked Szordrin.

   The goblinoid shook his head.

   "The Maker?"

   "No."

   "Allu?" said Leokas.

   The hobgoblin appeared to grow angry. "That false god! He stole half our tribe away!"

   "Tell us more about this."

   "Two years ago, a being of fire appeared in our cave and claimed to be a new god for the hobgoblin race, claiming that Maglubiyet was a weak god, better suited for the goblins. Despite the fact that it is Maglubiyet who made the goblins our lessers, half of the tribe followed him."

   "Where did they go?" asked Szordrin, who had not been a member of the party when they had first heard a version of this story from Malick of Darromar.

   "With the help of Allu's magic, the blasphemers rebuilt the ship that first took us to this island and they sailed away. I pray Umberlee sank them."

   "How large is your tribe now?" asked Leokas again.

   "I will not betray my people."

   "Do you wish to die painfully?"

   "You promised me a swift death. Kill me now."

   "I agreed to that only if you would tell us what we want to know."

   Just then Nargroth and Mythlos joined them, each bearing one of the bodies of the yellow-haired miners. They were wrapped tightly in blankets, but the smell of death still emanated from them. "I'm sorry I left the fight early," said Nargroth. "You looked like you had things under control on the stone bridge, and I wanted to care for the dead, so I cleaned them up a bit and wrapped them in the blankets from my bedroll."

   "You found Jareth and Millburn," said Ilthian happily. "Are they still asleep?"

   "I'm afraid so, miss," said Nargroth, "very, very asleep."

   "One was struck by a hobgoblin longsword, the other from three hobgoblin arrows," explained Mythlos, quietly.

   "We should bind and gag him," said Szordrin. "We can bring him to the villagers and execute him before them in payment for these murders."

   "What difference will that make to them?" answered Leokas. "It will not bring their companions back. Besides that, we need to find Hakam, and we cannot drag this creature along with us."

   "It might be useful for us to have a hostage," said Szordrin.

   "For what purpose?" replied Leokas. "Hobgoblins are not trustworthy; they will betray their own kind. They will simply laugh if we try to use it as barter. We should execute it now."

   "I agree with Szordrin," said Mythlos. "We should keep him as a prisoner."

   "You've always been quick to execute evil prisoners in the past," said Leokas.

   "And I am beginning to regret those actions," said Mythlos.

   "It's a spellcaster," said Leokas. "If we don't kill it, it could use its magic to escape or kill us."

   "We can gag and bind him," said Szordrin. "He won't be able to cast anything."

   "I do not detect any magic aura on him," said Mythlos.

   "I can watch him," said Ilthian, trying to be helpful but not even fully understanding what was being discussed.

   "I'm against executing him also," said Nargroth. "I'll stay here and guard him with Ilthian."

   "Fine," said Leokas in exasperation. "We've wasted too much time. I'm concerned that Hakam has not returned yet. Bind and gag the prisoner and let's move. There are more hobgoblins to hunt and kill."

   Leokas looked over toward Belvin, who still remained silent, and spoke to him in Elven. "Friend, you have suffered greatly today. I understand if you wish to rest here until we return. We will find a way to heal you, and you will fight another day."

   "How can I fight with one arm!" shouted Belvin madly. "I stay here," he said, somewhat more calmly.

   "Maybe we will find the Maker deeper in this cave," suggested Mythlos. "Perhaps Ilthian is right, and he will restore your arm."

   Belvin stood up. "Let's go," he said. "Watch Kamil, Nargoth."

   "There may be other hobgoblins who flanked us," said Szordrin. "Stay sharp, Nargroth."

   The half-orc nodded at both statements, and the others drew their weapons and began jogging down the path Hakam and Cassiera presumably took.
Session: 55th Game Session - Thursday, Jul 02 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Chapter 7 — "I see a flaming skull...."
~ tenth-day, 10th of Eleasias, The Year of Wild Magic, morning
the island


Grimno excused himself from the adventurers, insisting that he needed to eat breakfast. Hakam said that he wished to visit the windmill they could see at the top of the hill, so that is where they went next.

   By now, it was even warmer, and the snow had everywhere turned to a wet slush. Streams of water were flowing down the hill.

   As Leokas had said, the windmill was by the mine entrance, next to a large shed. The door was locked, but they poked in the windows. It appeared to be both for grinding grains and for pumping a large bellows for smelting.

   Szordrin approached the mine entrance, a large cave opening in the hill. He looked in at a large cave chamber with dimensions of about 50 feet by 30 feet by 10 feet in height. There seemed to be a construction like that of a well to the right and beyond that he heard and saw water dripping into a pool. To the left, across the chamber from where he stood was the beginning of mine cart tracks and just beyond that a shut and barred door with a chain around the beam.

   "Hey!" shouted Hakam. "The mine is closed."

   "What gives Grimno the authority to keep us out of the mine?" asked Leokas. "And what makes it permissible to snoop about the windmill."

   "This is their island;" said Hakam. "We will abide by their rules. We were not told we could not visit the meeting hall, however, so let us descend there next."

   "We're going to explore the forest a bit," said Leokas, indicating himself and Szordrin. "We shall meet up at the meeting after highsun."

   So Hakam, Mythlos, Jayce, and Oma walked through the slush down towards the large T-shaped meeting hall. Leokas turned to Szordrin. "Come, to the mine."

~~~~


The meeting hall was unlocked, so the four went inside. It had three entrances, one at each end of the T. The log walls had many windows, which let in the morning sun. Long rugs were spread out over the otherwise hardwood floors. A single staircase on the bottom of the T led up.

   There was a wooden cabinet with a glass door on the north wall. In it hung a rope that extended up into the ceiling. They quickly determined that this was what one pulled to ring the large bell on the roof of the building. Other than that and the sconces on the wall for torches, the large hall was empty.

   Hakam bent down to examined the rugs, while Mythlos headed over to the steps.

   "Wool," said Hakam. "I have not seen sheep on this island. Perhaps they are imported."

   "Maybe they keep the sheep inside because of the snow," suggested Oma, "like they did for the chickens."

   "I also wonder why there are no chairs," said Hakam.

   "I suppose we'll find out in a few hours," said Jayce.

   The three headed to the staircase to see what Mythlos was up to. At the top of the stairs they found a square meeting room with three tables and four chairs around each one. Mythlos was searching around the walls and under the tables for anything of interest. He found nothing.

   "Now what do we do for the next two hours?" asked Jayce.

   "Anachtyr, open my eyes," Hakam prayed. After a few moments he noted, "There are no secret paths up here."

   They descended. "Ah," said Hakam, "there is something down here, underneath that rug."

   They rolled up the carpet to find a simple trapdoor-style door in the floor.



   Hakam opened it.

   "Isn't this breaking and entering?" said Jayce.

   "Did I break anything?" said Hakam. "Is there a sign that says, 'Do not enter'? Then, no."

   They descended a ladder into a dark basement room. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust. When they did, they saw that they were in a large room occupying the space of the top half of the T of the building. The walls were made of finely cut marble. Three thick pillars supported the floor above, and the ladder they had climbed down leaned against the centermost of the three. All around the room were sconces with affixed metal torches. At the north wall, close to the ladder where they were standing, was a marble brazier. On the south wall, spaced between the three pillars, were two metal doors.

   Mythlos began examining everything carefully. The doors had no knobs or handles nor keyholes. They appeared to slide. Mythlos tried to move them, but they would not budge.

   "Does not your spell reveal the mechanism to open them?" asked Jayce.

   "They are not themselves a secret to us," said Hakam.

   "There's scorch marks in the torches," said Oma. "They've been lit before."

   "In the brazier also," said Jayce, "but I see no coals."

   Mythlos carefully examined the walls for any loose marble bricks, but he found nothing. "The torches, brazier, and doors are all magical," he shared, after completing a cantrip.

   "I think we should leave this place for now," said Hakam. "There might be magical alarms."

   "Why would there be an alarm, Hakam?" asked Jayce. "After all, there's no 'Do not enter,' sign; we are clearly welcome to be here."

   Mythlos approached the brazier, waved his arms, and spoke a word of command. A cone of fire sprang from between his hands. The bowl of the brazier ignited, as if it were full of some invisible oil. Instantly, the two torches on the wall to the left and right of the brazier ignited, followed by the two next to them, and so on. The room filled with light, as the torches were lit in succession in both directions around the long room. When the last two were lit, the metal doors next to them slid into the wall.

   "Mythlos!" growled Hakam.

   "What?" he said.

   "We can't not look now," said Jayce.

   They passed through one of the now-open doorways. The next room was roughly square in shape, made from the same large marble bricks. Two large pillars in the back supported the ceiling. Between these was an obelisk. In front of the obelisk and pillars, in the center of the room was a circle of runes carved into the stone floor. In the center of the circle was a marble throne. Behind them, on the back wall between the two doors, was a shiny steel gong.

   "Don't touch the gong, Mythlos," ordered Hakam. "Jayce, what do the runes say?"

   Jayce stepped up to them, and Oma followed. He sprinkled a pinch of soot from his component pouch on one after the other. "I think they are Dethek runes," he said. "E, U, R, Q, K.... They are just letters; they don't seem to say anything."

   Oma was looking at them through a crystal prism. "They are conjurative," said Oma. "This is a summoning circle."

   There was a deafening clang. Of course, Mythlos had struck the gong with the pommel of his sword.

   Jayce and Oma stepped back from the runes, as they began to glow. The edges of the obelisk also began to radiate light. A beam from the top of it shined down at the throne, and ball of flame appeared hovering over it, which coalesced into the shape of a humanoid head, at about the right spot where a head would be were someone sitting on there. The eyes glowed yellow, and its mouth spoke.

   "Who are you who have summoned me?" It was a deep male voice, highly distorted.

   "I like your flashy manner of entrance," said Mythlos.

   "While in my presence," boomed the flaming head, "you shall not speak unless I ask a question of you, which you shall answer."

   Jayce prepared to speak, but Hakam beat him to it. "Forgive us, rafayam,... your greatness. I presume you must be the Maker. We are but stranded travelers who have shipwrecked here. You were summoned accidentally by my foolish and stubborn friend."

   "It was not an accident!" Mythlos protested.

   "I shall ask you one more time; what are your names?"

   Jayce gave the floating head their four names.

   "My people will help you repair your ship," said the voice. "Then you must leave at once and never return here. You shall never speak of this place to anyone."

   "Forgive me for speaking once more," said Hakam, "but there was another ship heading near here as well. If you care for the secrecy of this place, you may want to know of it."

   "That is of no concern to me," said the flaming head. "Now leave."

   "Great Maker," said Mythlos, "did you make the people on this island?"

   "I said, leave!" boomed the voice. The flames grew more intense, and the eyes darkened.

   Hakam grabbed Mythlos and forcibly dragged him from the room. Oma did the same with Jayce. The two metal doors slid shut behind them. Then the flames in the torches and brazier were extinguished, leaving them in the dark.

~~~~


"There!" said Szordrin, as the chain around the wooden beam clanged to the ground. He had easily picked the padlock. He and Leokas lifted the beam out and pushed the large wooden doors open. The mining car tracks continued a few yards ahead and then turned sharply to the left.

   "If we face anything dangerous, we are running straight back," said Leokas, who was holding a glowing sunrod for light.



   With that, the two began walking down the center of the tracks through the reinforced but cramped mining tunnel. The tracks made first one U-turn and then a second as they entered a long, narrow, natural tunnel. Behind them toward the south, the tunnel narrowed to almost a point after 25 feet. Ahead to the north, the tracks continued the same distance before making a right turn. The two continued around the right turn. Fifteen feet ahead, it turned again left and to the north.

   Here, they entered a large and irregularly shaped room. The tracks continued off to the northeast; the room extended to the northwest and the southeast. The glow from the sunrod revealed that some of the stalagmites were crystalline.

   The two approached the largest one in the center of the northwestern side of the room and held the sunrod up against it. The crystal was a dark blue-green color. Leokas removed the omlar gem from his pouch and set it beside the stone. They appeared exactly the same composition and color.
Session: 53rd Game Session - Thursday, May 07 2015 from 4:45 PM to 7:45 PM
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Chapter 6 — The Totem
Belvin had already given the totem careful perusal by the time the entire party made it across the old rope bridge. Hakam took a particularly long time coming across, as the missing planks left three foot gaps in places. Below the bridge, a creek rushed violently through a steep ravine.

   Szordrin was the first to arrive, and he immediately checked for the presence of magical auras. "There is nothing magical about it!" he said, somewhat surprised.

   "Mechanical," said Belvin. "I think the whole thing slides up or down. See here? There is a gap in the stone all around the base. It's a giant peg in a hole."

   The totem was indeed peg-shaped, a thirty-foot-tall cylinder, ten feet in radius, with the abstract features of a male face carved into the stone. It had deep holes for eyes, smaller holes for its nose, and a shallow grove for a mouth. Also, over most of its surface were circular maze carvings.

   "This place was clearly sacred to Ubtao," Belvin continued. "Look at all the maze imagery."

   The others gathered around. "Does the path continue on beyond this giant face?" asked Leokas.

   "No," said Belvin. "It is overgrown beyond. It's easy enough to walk around the totem, but one would have to cut his way further."

   "What do your directions say, Walker?" Leokas asked him.

   "They say to continue on past the totem 150 paces to the edge of a cliff overlooking the temple below. Were I alone, I would simply take the carpet over the undergrowth and descend, but maybe there is another way. Besides, we are essentially at our destination; I will not dampen your curiosity about this totem."

   They all heard Hakam mutter a prayer. After fifteen seconds or so, he said, "Anachtyr has revealed that there is indeed a path forward through the base of the totem. The 'keyholes' are its eyes."

   Szordrin moved off and began searching the bushes.

   "Careful!" said Nargroth. "There may be more vines."

   "For what are you looking?"

   "A long stick, so I can press it into the empty sockets and see what happens."

   "I have just the thing for that," said Walker. He ripped a magical patch from his robe and procured a ten-foot iron pole. "This should reach."

   "I want to find a robe like yours!" said Hakam.

   "It was indeed a wise purchase of mine," said Walker.

   Szordrin pressed the tip of the pole into one of the sockets. "Something definitely moves in the back of the eye socket."

   "We need to get up and get a better look inside the holes," said one of them.

   "Belvin, in a small snake form, you could probably stick your head into the holes and examine them," Hakam suggested.

   This was agreeable to the druid, and shortly, his clothing collapsed to the ground and a small viper slithered out of the pile of leathers. Hakam used an orison to make Belvin glow, so he could see in the tight space. Szordrin leaned the metal pole against the totem, and Belvin climbed up it into one of the stone eye sockets. He poked his head in at various angles and then moved to the next eye, before slithering back down and over to his clothes. Climbing back inside, the clothes took shape again, as Belvin's elven body filled them anew.

   "What did you discover?"

   "There is definitely a mechanism in each eye," Belvin explained. "There is an octagonal slot about this big. You can push against the back of it, but it pushes back. I think if the right object were inserted, it would drop down into a grove I felt with my tongue, and this would block the back wall from springing back."

   "So we need some sort of key?"

   "Two," said Belvin.

   "Maybe the keys might be discarded around the area somewhere," said Hakam.

   "After hundreds of years? That's not likely," said Oma.

   "Every standard adventuring tale I know involves some hapless adventurer removing gems from a statue's eyes and activating a trap," said Jayce. "In this case, I think we need to return the totem his eyes."

   "What about the gems we just found in the pile of offal?" asked Nargroth.

   "The pearl was smooth," Mythlos replied, "and the other stone was cut like a diamond. Didn't the dwarves give you gems as their Chosen One, Belvin?"

   "We used the diamond to save your life," said Hakam.

   "There were two green stones as well," said Belvin, "and some gold ore."

   "Please tell me you did not sell them at Rumnaheim Rift," said Nargroth.

   "Belvin rarely frequents the markets of any town or city," said Leokas.

   Belvin removed the two green stones from his pouch. They were indeed cut in an octagonal manner.

   "Stand on the edge of the carpet," said Walker.

   Belvin did so, and Walker commanded it to lift him up. The elf reached his hands back into the deep eye hole and pressed the first green gem into the back. It fit perfectly and locked in place. The second fit equally well.

   There was a deep rumble and grinding sound. Belvin nearly fell off the carpet as the totem began twisting and raising, as if it were being unscrewed from its base. It twisted around two and a half times and rose up another eight feet to reveal a doorway.

   "It's an elevator!" exclaimed Szordrin. "How could it still be working after all these years without magic?"

   "The creek we passed over flows powerfully," said Walker. "I imagine its builders took advantage of that, but what are the odds that you would have not one, but both, of the right size and cut of gems?"

   "We are meant to be here," said Leokas. "It is our destiny."

   Walker stepped inside, the carpet and the crates following beside him.

   "Where are you going?" said Leokas. "I thought the temple was farther beyond."

   "It is, but I am not so dull as to not find this discovery intriguing. If others of you wish to go first, by all means...." He stepped back out.

   Leokas, Nargroth, Szordrin, and Hakam replaced him. It was a tight fit for four, but they managed. There was a lever on the back wall, which they assumed was the mechanism for lowering themselves into the earth. It was. They began twisting and descending, as the totem screwed itself back into the base.

   The four adventurers found themselves in a small room of stone bricks. The cylindrical stone walls of their elevator shaft filled the bulk of the room. They faced roughly north, since the totem had revolved 540 degrees. Before them was a stone door frame and through it a wide tunnel, carved out of earth, with stone support arches in place every seven or eight feet. The tunnel sloped steeply but maintained a straight course. It was not utterly dark, even without Mythlos' glowing sword, natural light was coming from somewhere up ahead.

   Hakam searched the room for any secrets in its walls but found nothing. "I can hear water behind the elevator shaft," noted Mythlos.


   "It probably powers the lift, as Walker suggested."

   They continued forward carefully down the tunnel. While the walls were roughly carved, the floor had been smoothed and covered with gravel. Shortly, they could see sunlight ahead and green color from its passage through jungle leaves.

   "This is certainly not a dwarven-made tunnel," noted Leokas.

   They stepped out at the bottom of a massive cliff, which circled around to wall off a valley about 100 feet in diameter. There before them, filling the whole area, was a stepped square pyramid, the ziggurat of Ubtao. It was covered in green vines and moss, and so many plants grew over them a hundred feet above that it was easy to see how the site would usually be camouflaged. A steep and wide staircase ascended to the top of the ziggurat, where a dark temple opening could be spotted several stories above.

   "It's not a very large temple," said Leokas.

   "Not above ground at least," replied Hakam.

   Szordrin returned to retrieve the others, while Hakam, Leokas, and Mythlos remained below, searching around at the base of the steps. A half hour later, all were at the bottom of the hidden valley; they had even managed to get the horse and the two camels onto the elevator. It was now late afternoon.

   They climbed the steep stairs to the top, and Walker directed the carpet through the ten-foot-wide stone entrance and stood in front of it. He removed some papers from his robe. "These are the writs of payment promised you. The moment I receive payment from the one receiving the packages and sign one of my company's magical receipts, they will each change into a platinum trade bar, just as before." He set the papers on the ground. "Your task is done here. I thank you for your service."

   "Not so soon!" said Szordrin. He had drawn his wand from his belt.

   Hakam drew his sword and held it to Szordrin's throat.

   "The payment has not been made yet," Szordrin protested. "We cannot allow him to go off until we have proof that we will be paid."

   "Walker has shown himself trustworthy the entire time I've known him," said Hakam, "regardless of what any of us may feel about him."

   "I must agree with Hakam," said Belvin.

   "You agree with Hakam about something?" Mythlos exclaimed.

   "Which should tell you something!" said Belvin.

   Walker took a step back under the door frame.

   "Not another step or I will shoot you!" warned Szordrin.

   "I would slit your throat before you could shoot!" said Hakam.

   "Friends! Brothers at arms!" called Jayce. "We have all fought together. What sort of spell has enchanted you? We can talk this out. Come now!"

   "I'm afraid I, for one, cannot," said Walker. With that, he waved his hand. The magical patch he held morphed instantly into a pair of thick iron doors that entirely filled the entrance to the temple.

   Mythlos rushed forward. The iron doors were bolted shut.

   Leokas suddenly recalled the words of Yasheira's prophecy:

"I see an ancient temple.
I see a door blocking your way.
I see a white island...."

   "Put your weapons down, both of you!" said Leokas. "Look what you've done! I think Walker is a good person, unlike the rest of you, yet at the same time, the fate of the world may be at stake. Have you forgotten the prophecies and the visions? If we do not follow Walker, we may never learn more of Samber."

   "Samber may well just be a random wizard who kept a journal," said Hakam.

   "Thard Harr has sent me west," said Belvin, "not through some old temple to another jungle god." He picked up the writs of papers from the ground lest they blow away. "We have our payment; let's be going."

   "I suspect they are not likely to change into platinum, now that Szordrin has threatened Walker's life," said Leokas.

   "I, for one, am fine waiting here to see if they change," said Hakam. "This is a well-hidden and easily defended spot in which to make camp."

   "How will we get back to Mbala without Walker's map?" asked Oma. "Or to Shilku?"

   "I'm sure Leokas can find the way," said Jayce, trying to sound hopeful.

   "Walker left the written directions for us here along with the writs," said Belvin.

   "See," said Leokas, "he was a decent fellow."

   "We won't be making it to Shilku," said Hakam. "Ombert arrives there in two days, and we are not yet halfway there. We'll have to make for the bay at the end of the Soshenstar River."

~~~~


They sat on the steps of the ziggurat, eating their trail rations in silence. Jayce tried to lighten the mood by beginning a story, but he was silenced by the others. The sun was getting lower in the sky; a few hours had passed.

   Suddenly, the pile of papers by Belvin turned into a stack of eight platinum bars.

   Hakam stood up. "The contract is over," he stated. "Let's go after Walker."
Session: The Big Five-O Game Session (Double Marathon Session!) - Sunday, Mar 29 2015 from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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Chapter 6 — Tunji
~ fifth-day, 15th of Flamerule, The Year of Wild Magic, afternoon
Tunji


The rain did not let up all day, but all of them preferred this to the heat and the swarms. Hakam, Walker, and Leokas had agreed that they were two-thirds of the way to Mbala, as they had reached the banks of the river again. They were also gradually climbing uphill, but it was so subtle that only Leokas (and likely Walker) noticed. As they walked along, Szordrin asked Leokas about which berries were good for eating and which to avoid and other such matters of survival in the wilderness.

   Early afternoon, by their estimates, Szordrin spotted what looked to be the top of a hut in the distance through the trees. Leokas scouted quietly up ahead. It was indeed a small village. No humans were in sight, but there were living animals in pens. He reported this back to the others, and they decided to send Jayce and Mythlos in to speak with the villagers.

   As the elf and human stepped into the circle of huts, a guard stepped out from hiding. He wore a loincloth and a dinosaur skin coat, carried an oval hide shield and a short spear, and wore a feathered headdress and a tooth necklace. He held his palm forward, signalling them to halt.

   Jayce greeted the warrior in Chultan, by means of his magic.

   "Atuar...." The man pressed his hand over his heart. "...welcomes you to Tunji."

   "I am Jayce; this is Mythlos. We are travelers in need of a guide."

   "Tunji is a small village; we have no guides available."

   "Would a guide be available if we were to offer you a large sum of gold?"

   "Gold does not fill bellies or scare off hungry beasts. Have you a cow to offer?" The man laughed at himself.

   "What did he just say?" asked Mythlos.

   "He asked if we had a cow with us. If not, they have no guides."

   "Ask him if he would be interested in our dinosaur meat."

   Jayce did so.

   "Why would I want dinosaur meat?" said the tribesman. "I live in a dinosaur-filled jungle!"

   Szordrin, who was standing back with the others, had established a magical link with Jayce through a wire and could hear Jayce's translation. He explained what was going on to the others.

   "Belvin, can you turn into a cow?" Leokas asked.

   He had only been joking, but Hakam said, "No, we will not resort to dishonest scales, even if these people are barbaric — unless, of course, Belvin wishes to stay with them to pull plows."

   "I cannot take the shape of an animal so large anyhow," said Belvin.

   Meanwhile, Atuar had offered them a place to stay. "While we cannot offer a guide, we can offer you perhaps a dry roof over your heads. There is one empty hut here; its family died last season. You both may stay there this night."

   "I thank you kindly for your hospitality. There are actually nine of us in all, plus two camels, a horse, and... a dog. Might they all camp around the hut as well?"

   "Yes, they may," said the warrior.

   The others came out from the cover of the jungle trees and presented themselves. Atuar nodded acknowledgement at each one, but did not speak.

   Leokas, speaking through Jayce, asked the man if he might at least locate them on their map. He confirmed that they were at the bend of the river they had suspected, which was a relief.

   "And how many days do you think it is to Mbala?"

   Jayce translated back that Atuar did not know of Mbala, but if the map was correct, it appeared to be five to ten more days.

   "I have a question for him also," said Hakam. "Ask him if they have any diamonds to purchase. My mind is still not sound, and I suspect Mythlos and Nargroth's are not either."

   The village did not have any diamonds. "We mine vegetables from the ground and fruit from the trees. Let the foolish dwarves mine the deeps for valueless shiny objects.

   "Now, shall I show you to the hut?"

   The Chultan man led them to the small plot of ground that contained the tiny hut he had mentioned. It was only five feet in diameter, but was raised of the wet ground on wooden stakes.

   "Let the humans... and half-human sleep in the hut," said Belvin. "They need more rest than elves."

   "I have my tent," said Hakam.

   "I prefer the comfort of my hammock," said Szordrin, "even in the rain."

   "Rain matters not to me either," said Walker. "I sleep by the shipment as usual."

   "Well, I will not pass on a dry roof over my head," said Oma. "Will you join me, gentlemen?" she asked of Jayce and Nargroth. "I am clean and perfumed."

~~~~


"Nargroth?"

   The half-orc grunted in reply. Jayce snored softly.

   "I am afraid to go to sleep," said Oma. "Would you play chess with me until I cannot stay awake any longer?"

~~~~


Outside in the rain, as Oma and Nargroth played several games of chess by candlelight, Mythlos kept watch. They figured only one guard was necessary, as they were in the middle of a village. At moondark, he was relieved by Leokas, who was in turn relieved by Szordrin at night's end.

   Just before dawn, Szordrin spotted first one shadow and then a second at the edge of his darkvision. They were humanoid in shape. They seemed to be standing there not moving. He stepped over to Belvin, and shook him out of trance.

   "Two figures are out there," he whispered while pointing.

   "I cannot see them in this fog and rain," Belvin replied.

   Even so, Belvin crossed over to Mythlos and stirred him. From the other side of their tiny camp, the two elves did spot two additional figures. They woke Hakam, who readied his gun and got out of his tent. Leokas came out of trance as well. By now, they had spotted six.

   "They have us surrounded," whispered Mythlos.

   "Yet they are not attacking," said Belvin.

   "I'll wake those in the hut," said Leokas.

   "How did they get into the middle of the village?" asked Szordrin.

   "I think those are the villagers," said Belvin, and he was right.

   A voice called out something in Chultan.

   Jayce quickly cast the tongues spell on himself and replied in Chultan, "What's going on?"

   "We see that you are all awake now. Good. You are surrounded by our entire village — every adult. We peacefully request you to come to our meeting hall."

   Jayce passed on the information to the others.

   "To talk about what?" asked Nargroth.

   "Why?" asked Szordrin.

   "Peaceful? This is a show of force!" said Leokas.

   "I did not sense any deception in his voice," Jayce replied. Then he spoke to the speaker, who sounded like Atuar. "Might we kindly ask the purpose of this meeting and with whom we are to speak?"

   "Our elders wish to speak to you? They will surely explain their reasons."

   "Why did you wait till morning to surround us like this?" Szordrin asked. Jayce passed the question on.

   "It would not be welcoming to deprive our guests of needed rest," came the response.

   "Can we take our weapons with us?" asked Hakam.

   "He says that it is our choice," Jayce translated, "though it would not help our case, whatever that means."

   "Explain to him that I cannot leave my weapon," said Mythlos.

   "We should all keep our weapons sheathed," said Leokas.

   "Wait for me to get my armor on," said Hakam.

   "I hate dealing with primitives," said Walker. "This is ridiculous."

~~~~


The group was escorted the short distance to the center of the village, where there stood a medium-sized, four-walled, elevated structure. There was enough light now to see who surrounded them. Roughly twenty adults, men and women, surrounded them. Most wore nothing more than simple loincloths. A few of them, who clearly held important roles in the village, wore other articles of clothing or hide armor. All carried a primitive weapon of some sort — spears, knives, or clubs. Every villager bore a blue tattoo on his or her forehead, which appeared to be a dragonfly glyph.

   The two crates were brought with them on the magic carpet, but it was clear they would not fit through the doorway, so Walker stood just outside, and the doors remained open.

   Within the tiny meeting hall, seven white-haired Chultans sat on the floor — four men and three women. These wore the tobes they had previously seen some wearing in Port Nyanzaru. Standing on one side of the room were two other women and a man. These three were clearly trained warriors, unlike most of the rest of the villagers who remained outside. They were all very muscular, clothed in hide, and armed. At the opposite side of the room stood three others. One was an older man wearing a large obsidian amulet. It was square with a stylized maze carved into it. Beside him stood a wild-looking, muddy woman who wore tiny animal skulls as jewelry. Next to her stood a hunched-over woman in a ragged tobe with thinning white hair and an intricately carved staff.

   One of the elderly men on the floor spoke to them ominously in Common. "You have brought great evil with you into our village!"

   Mythlos looked around the room. "I do not see any evil."

   "It's the crate, isn't it?" Nargroth said in jest.

   "Please ignore them," Jayce said in Chultan. "They have had some of their sanity stolen by one of the undead in the jungle; I give my word on this. Take no offense, wise elders of Tunji."

   Despite his plea, one of the elders, a woman with only half her teeth, pointed at Nargroth. "He admits it with his own lips!"

   "Why do you think we have brought evil?" Szordrin asked.

   The elders looked at one of the warrior women. She took a step forward. She was tall, bald, and wore many earrings on each ear. She wore a short skirt in place of a loincloth and a small hide shirt. She had skin bracers and straps around her legs, which held a pair of naked daggers. In her hand she carried a kerrie, a Chultan knobbed throwing club.

   "I have been following you since Port Nyanzaru," the woman declared. Her accent was negligible.

   "Oh, that was you," said Hakam, who now regretted not telling the others that he had thought they were being shadowed while in Nyanzaru.

   "How did I not notice we were being tracked?" exclaimed Leokas. "I'm a tracker myself."

   "I don't think it necessarily works that way," said Belvin.

   "Then did you see us slay that spider so quickly?" asked Szordrin.

   "I did not follow you that closely," said the woman.

   "Why did you choose to follow us at all?" asked Szordrin.

   "The Ytepka follow all who bring strange magics into our land," the woman continued, "to see that more pain is not brought to our people, to observe all visitors' actions. You bring with you a floating carpet...."

   "What of it?" said Belvin.

   "Since you have left Nyanzaru, reports have followed behind you, reports from the villages, reports that two who traveled with you never returned."

   "Two?" Belvin was shocked. "I told the dwarves to escort Mim safely back. Did they disobey me?"

   "Yes, his name was Mim. It is certainly possible that he returned to Binkwan after I left. What then do you have to say about Losi, the other man who has gone missing?"

   "That was a tragedy we could not prevent," said Jayce. "We fought hard to save him. Truly."

   "It was not our fault," said Mythlos. He removed Losi's toe ring from his pouch. "Here is something that belonged to him. I have vowed to return it to his family."

   One of the other warriors, the male, stepped forward to look at the ring. He had bulging muscles, a buzzed hair cut, and wore furred bracelets and anklets. A longbow was slung over his back. "It bears the glyph of Losi's clan," he said.

   While this was happening, Szordrin leaned over to Belvin. "How could they have detected the contents of the crate when we could not? What magics do they have?"

   "I don't think they know the contents," answered the elf. "This is not about magic; it is about their superstitions."

   Belvin's answer was confirmed when one of the elders spoke up again. "If this not be work of dark evil, what your box contain?"

   "We are but simple mercenaries, wise elders," said Jayce. "Only that man in the doorway knows the contents of the box." Jayce pointed back at Walker, and everyone in the room turned to look at him.

   "The contents remain private," said Walker. "It was an agreement between the buyer and the sellers. Surely, you tribal folk can understand a binding agreement?"

   The elders huddled together and began talking in low voices.

   "Jayce, what are they saying?"

   "They are speaking too quickly and all at once for me to keep up with — a couple seem satisfied that we do not bring evil, but the others are not convinced."

   Leokas stepped back to speak with Walker. "Look, I can only see two ways out of this: either you give them a peek inside one of the crates, or we will be forced to slaughter a whole village to escape."

   Walker looked at Hakam, the only one of the party who seemed on his side in regards to the contract. "In my view breaking a contract is worse than killing those who have forced us to do so, but no one ever listens to me," the Calishite replied.

   "Isn't it true," said Jayce to Walker, while the elders still debated, "that these villagers would bear the guilt of breaking the contract. If your buyer claims the deal void, will not he or your company go after the villagers to make it right, not after you?"

   Walker cursed several times. Then he answered Leokas. "I care nothing for these villagers or any Chultans, but I am not going to slaughter an entire village; I am not evil." He called out loudly to interrupt the elders. "I'll open one of the crates."

   Everyone was silent. Walker placed his hand over his cloak as if he were placing his hand into an invisible pocket. There was a collective gasp among the elders as Walker extracted a crowbar from nowhere.

   Szordrin casually sprinkled silver powder from his pouch in a circle around himself as Walker stepped down the slippery steps and commanded the carpet to lower to the ground. The elders got to their feet, and everyone crowded around. Walker plied open one of the thick wooden sides until one face fell forward.

   The crate was full of stacks of thick, slightly curved arcs made from some kind of speckled black metal. The arcs all had a prominent keystone shape in them. Hakam tried to imagine the size of a circle made by linking the arcs together and guessed they would form a very large one. Jayce and Nargroth each thought to themselves that the pieces could be made into a large portal.

   The hunchbacked woman pushed her way forward, cast a cantrip, and gazed at the arc pieces. Satisfied, she turned to face the others and spoke. "She says, 'It is only stone,'" said Jayce to his companions. Szordrin, who had also cast the ability to detect magic confirmed that the metal pieces had no aura.

   The man with the maze amulet also examined the contents. He shared with the elders that the objects were not inherently evil either.

   Walker returned the wooden side to the crate and began hammering the nails back in with the crowbar, as the elders returned to their heated discussion. "Why have you been so protective of that," asked Szordrin, "if it isn't even magical?"

   "How many times need I explain that I am not at liberty to talk about this?"

   "What are they saying now?" Leokas asked Jayce.

   "Something about sending us to Nyan as a test."

   "Who is Nyan?"

   "Where, I think."

   One of the elders spoke again. "It seem evil be not in crate, but evil may also be more powerful than we can see. Those in Mezro know, but no time for travel to Mezro, no time to wait for message. We have test. Test will tell us. Ubtao will honor test.

   "We send you to Nyan. Many seasons ago, Ras Nsi slaughter village. One man there not pay taxes. So big Ras Nsi hate, so big his slaughter, one man became not-dead. Not-dead haunt village. No one be able go near. You, you will end non-dead. If you not become not-dead, if you come back here, you not bring evil; you go in peace."

   Szrodrin asked, "Who is Ras Nsi?"

   The elders cringed when Szordrin spoke the name. "He be disease of land."

   "You need to tell us more than that," said Szordrin.

   "He once be Chosen of Ubtao; long, long ago, he seek revenge on Eshowe."

   "So is he human?"

   "He be Chosen." The elder appeared frustrated at being asked so many questions.

   Hakam spoke up. "The Chosen are mortals hand-picked by the gods and granted immortal life so that they might serve the gods purposes."

   "Who are the Eshowe?"

   "It is not considered polite to discuss the Eshowe or Ras Nsi in public," said the warrior woman who had until now remained silent. She bore a spear and had a leather bands around her legs, arms, and bust. Her hair was in tight braids. "The Eshowe are no more. Do not discuss them further. And while it is possible you would encounter Ras Nsi in these jungles, it is not likely. His undead are everywhere, however, and it is one of his undead — or rather, an apparition formed by his violence — the elders are sending you to destroy. That is all you need worry yourselves about."

   "One of Ytepka go with you," said an elder, "see if you fail or no."

   "We cannot be responsible for one of your people!" Leokas protested.

   The tall, bald woman looked offended. "I am a capable fighter," she said, "with other skills as well. I am Fipya, of clan Zimwa, of the Ytepka."

   "Where is Nyan located?" asked Walker.

   "Nyan be south along river," answered one of the elders. "One day walk."

   "It is on our way, at least," their employer said. "We will bring the shipment along with us, then."

   "Nay," said an elder. "Boxes not move until you pass test."

   "But you are sending an observer with us!"

   "No! box go no more until we know."

   Walker cursed again. "That will set us back two days!"
Session: 47th Game Session - Monday, Jan 12 2015 from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
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