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Tue 25th Oct 2022 04:34

Session 8, Stories of Mages, Kings, and Demons

by Temerity

I walk through a rare bright spot in the forest. The forest canopy prevents nearly all direct sunlight from touching the ground. But yet, the colors inspire awe. Or maybe my Tiefling eyes make the shadowed colors more vivid. Wildlife sounds fill the air: deer, squirrels, birds, monkeys, even an occasional predator. You rarely see any predators though. Most of the predators are either raptors or small cats. I’m sure there’s an occasional displacer beast out here, but this is far better than the brick and mortar that drabbed Augustin Citadel. Of Augustin Citadel and other large cities, I am sure their existence is necessary. But to goes months without seeing a deer or smelling the fresh smells or hearing the sounds of the forest isn’t right. Out here, even the forest villages like Montsilt and Treir look to be built to live in harmony with Nature rather than the discord of Augustin Citadel.
Oh… look… holly! And I find a bird’s nest in the holly. I pick some holly for use as a spell focus, and I clear some weeds away from the roots to allow this holly to grow better. Don’t fret, I didn’t disturb the nest. This particularly holly is called Winterberry, a holly species marked by very bright red berries and a good tolerance of temperate and cold climates. Quite capable of surviving up North. Occasionally, I find Winter Gold. Winter Gold holly isn’t quite as tolerant of the cold as Winterberry, but it is still common in these parts. Winter Gold is so named because its berries are golden yellow rather than the red common to most holly variants. I suppose I could pick mistletoe for use as a spell focus, but I prefer holly. Legend has it that mistletoe was of extreme importance to the first druids. Entire Circles sought out the most pure mistletoe. For them, the ritual of gathering mistletoe involved cutting it with a golden sickle and catching the mistletoe in a golden bowl before it strikes the ground. The best mistletoe was cut on Midsummer’s Eve (Eldritch Wizardry, Gygax and Blume, 1976). Of course, back then, Druid circles were organized under great druids and archdruids, for which one had to challenge and defeat a rival in combat to advance as a druid. Today, there are only a few archdruids, but those archdruids gained that rank through merit and hard work (and maybe some adventuring) rather than defeating a rival druid (Gygax, Players Handbook, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, 1978). Over the next few days, I will spend some time weaving the holly into my hair, my shield, and around my belt for easy access.
As I return with my fresh holly, Will and Zez are going over a map. We know the general area we need to travel to in order to find the sword. It’s been a bit, so let me catch you up: We went to Montsilt to deliver rubies to the wizard Fassad. Fassad was out, but Jung asked us to help her help Zez. Zez is trying to find a magic sword to stop a usurper bugbear who took over the tribe. Supposedly, an evil necromancer (yuck… necromancers!) is behind the goblin misfortunes. That’s where we come in. We are going to find the necromancer and stop them. Of course, we still have to deliver the rubies, which means a return trip to Montsilt. So… back to the map.
There are a few routes we can take. We can take the direct path through the high forest, but we will have to cross a river. Or we can go by road to Everst, and then canoe down the same river. Or we can take roads to the far side and backtrack into the forest. Zez wants to go the direct route and cross the river. We start discussing ways to cross the river. I am thinking hard, but Will has the solution. My wildfire spirit, Ember, can teleport us across. Easy! Why didn’t I think of that?
We set off. Will and Jung are scouting and leading us on a pretty brisk pace. When we take a break to eat some lunch, Eowyn and Vardai discuss Tymal’s story. If you recall (Session 7, We’re Not Evil, You Know), Tymal was a half orc guard who travelled with us from Montsilt to Treir. His people had been living in small groups in the forest and were turning away from the way of violence lived out among the Kingdom of Many Arrows. He also had told a story of how a demon cursed the half-orc lands. In order to break the curse, all of the villagers had to carry their children so that they did not touch the ground for three straight years. His grandmother told Tymal how the magic started to disappear because of the curse.
Eowyn interpreted some different meanings the story could have. The word “magic” in Orcish could translate into the common phrase “Mages” or “Magus”, meaning a modern-day Sorcerer or a Warlock. They often act as intermediaries between the fae spirits and our world. To me, this sounds like it could include Shamans or Druids. But, what is possible, is that because of the Orc to Common translation, Tymal’s grandmother might have been saying that the people whom use magic were disappearing, rather than magic itself. It could also mean a leader, like a King. It was an altogether different interpretation then I would have thought of.
I like to think I am reasonably intelligent. After all, I know five languages. I can apply the Elven language very competently to legal proceedings. I can recall details about all of the nobles who frequently, or even infrequently, visited the court at Augustin Citadel, and I know their family allegiance and their level of influence. I know quite a bit about various religions and practices, and I learned more in a summer about Nature and Herbalism than most people will learn in their lifetimes. But, compared to Eowyn, I am not so sure. She seems to know everything. She has a vast command of history and knowledge of magic beyond anything I could hope to know. Her analysis of the story and the translation differences dramatically changed the meaning of the story, meaning I have to consider other ways of understanding the story. Hells! I can’t even remember that I can cross a river by teleporting.
As Will was listening to Eowyn’s expert analysis of the story, he mentions something along the lines of, “I was once the former King of a human area.”
I immediately exclaim, “What?” He refuses to answer and just winks at me.
Vardai and Tymal continued comparing notes on the how these stories affected their lives growing up. Tymal, having been carried well into his formative years, never learned to walk until he was five or six years old. Vardai did learn to walk earlier in her life, at about two and a half years old… but still much later than she would have if not for her family’s respect for the dangers of the curse. Eowyn further explained the reason for carrying the children. In her interpretation, the demon that cursed the tribes was actually protecting the tribe, or so the demon thought. The demon killed any outsider to the tribe. This was good at first, until the demon started considering newborn children as intruders rather than part of the original tribe. Thus, the first time a child touched the ground, the demon slaughtered the child… in order to protect the tribe.
It was nice to see Eowyn revert to her normal, talkative self. The last few days, she’s been a little more withdrawn. But give her a chance to talk archaeology or history, and she perks right up.
Jung and Will have been pushing us at a hard pace. I’m still ready to travel a decent amount longer, but Zez appears to be tiring and falling behind. He suggests we wait until morning to cross the river. Eowyn was starting to walk a little slower, but I think it was because she was pondering deep thoughts rather than getting tired. We set up camp and arrange a watch schedule.
As we set up camp, Zez decides to appoint himself the supervisor. He can be annoying. Will gets along with him quite well. I don’t mind him… after all, helping him is the most likely way to lead us to the necromancer. As we sit down for rations, Zez starts to tell us a story of the Red Horned Man. If you recall, we believe the Red Horned Man was named Ahli, and we thought he had something to do with the goblin uprisings (Session 4, I Might Just Set Him on Fire). He had encouraged the trio of goblins that we helped find a ship (also Session 4, I Might Just Set Him on Fire) to go be whatever they want.
In Zez’ version of the tale, the Red Horned Man approached the goblins and offered to help the goblins defeat the bugbear usurpers. The Red Horned man then gave the goblins gold and told them to go stock up on supplies. The Red Horned Man departed but never returned.
Of course, Zez reiterates his need to get the sword so that he can be the number one goblin, unite his tribe, and defeat the bugbears. As you recall, we learned Back Grub is the name of the bugbear masquerading as the number one goblin (Session 4, I Might Just Set Him on Fire). Zez then proceeds to lay out his plan. He says, “Once we get the sword, I will be able to convince all of the goblins that I am the number one goblin. You can pretend to be my guards.” Ok, it is a plan. It is probably not the best plan, but it is a plan.
Zez continued, describing the sword. “It has a thin hilt with gems and symbols in the hilt.” Zez sketches in the dirt a picture of the symbols, which appear to be Elvish. Zez says that the sword talks to the wielder. Eowyn thinks that the sword might be a magical sword of training, based upon the sketch in the dirt.
It starts to get dark and we get some rest. I have the second watch. Near the end of my watch, I think I might see something crossing the river. I wake up Will, who has the third watch, to have him help me observe the river. Neither of us can see anything. The fact that it is dark out is probably not helping.
While we are looking, I question Will, “What do you mean by being a former King?” He plays it off as if I misunderstood him. But I know he is lying. He did say he was a king. So… the next time we are in a tavern, I am going to get him so drunk that he will definitely tell me. When I was a courtier, I was often asked to extract secrets from my charges for the Lord’s Master of Secrets. I will just fix my hair up, put on a little makeup, maybe wear my dress instead of my armor, “forget” to fully lace the decolletage, and get him to buy me some moonshine. With my charm and Will’s inability to handle much alcohol, I will find out exactly what he …
Wait! No, I won’t. That’s not what a friend would do. I’m not a courtier anymore. I don’t play those political games anymore. I am my own person… an adventurer who is trying to do right in the world, not a tool of the Court and not my father’s pawn. And I won’t betray Will’s trust. When Will is ready to tell me, he will.
I go to sleep as Will continues the watch. Sometime later, Will wakes me up. He has spotted zombies and they will be here in a few minutes. We quickly get ready. I already have my armor on, because I sleep in my armor when out adventuring (it is light armor, it doesn’t interfere too much with my rest). Eowyn removed her armor to sleep, so I help her quickly get her armor on.
The zombies are here! I summon my wildfire spirit, Ember, and burn one of the zombies. Vardai impales one with her javelin. Will looses an arrow, hitting a zombie hard. I command Ember to teleport, which burns the zombies as she teleports. Eowyn attacks one. Her tattoos glow and her features change. I think the demon has taken over her body. She slices one, and Vardai comes in behind Eowyn and crushes that same zombie with her great axe. Will and Jung drop the final zombie. Will paces an arrow in the zombies left eye, as split second later, Jung plants an arrow in the zombie’s remaining eye.
After the fight calms down, Eowyn’s eyes are still glowing. Will asks Eowyn if she is okay. Eowyn says, “Eowyn is not here right now.” The demon is in control of her body and not letting go. Crap!
I never realized a demon could spout philosophy. But the demon begins to tell us his or her thoughts. The first thought is: Will is weak because he refuses to fight up close. A true warrior wouldn’t hide behind a bow and some arrows, but would engage the enemy with steel. The demon appears to ignore me and only seems to respect Vardai. Finally, we learn from the demon, “Civilization is weak. Best to let things restart,” when referring to us trying to stop the necromancer. I don’t know what to do. Do I attack the demon? I don’t want to hurt Eowyn. For now, the demon isn’t hurting any of us. He or she usually gave the body back to Eowyn shortly after combat, but the demon does not appear to be relinquishing control now. Also, this time I see physical changes to Eowyn’s body. Now I am really scared.
For now, we decide to continue. We clean up the camp while Will and Vardai have a heated discussion. As a side note, I notice all of the zombies were formerly half orcs when they were alive. We then proceed to the river and Ember teleports us across safely.
We proceed up the forest hills to some fallen trees. As we cross over the trees, some men with crossbows and red cloaks shout at us to stop. They are atop a hill and have good sighting on us. I know they’ve seen Will; I am not sure they have seen me. They ask, “What is your business here?”
Will responds, “We are hunting goblins.” Fortunately, Zez is far back and out of sight. Come to think of it, I am not sure that Zez was very active in the earlier zombie fight.
The men respond, “Do you have any magic users?”
“No wizards here,” Will replies.
They then ask about a Tiefling. Crap! Are these thugs hired by my father to deliver me into servitude? I will die first. I get ready to fight. Maybe I will cast Scorching Ray on the one speaking, and then fiery teleport up the here, and burn them in a cone off fire. As I am playing out the assured fight I my head, we realize the are looking for a Tiefling with red skin. Anise? That fits the description of Anise.
The demon comes up behind us and speaks to Vardai in a hushed tone, “If we get into a fight, we won’t have much of a problem. Wherever you go, I will follow.” However, the impending fight turns into a parley.
Will and Jung play off the Tiefling question and ask about the Red Horned Man. We find out the Red Horned Man was indeed named Ahli, and he passed away some weeks ago. He was felled by Trolls outside of Montsilt. After a brief discussion, the men walk off. We wait a bit, still suspicious of their intentions, and we follow them at a distance out of sight. Zez stops us and says we are close to the cache where the sword is.
Zez repeats a rhyme, “Up the hill, to the Thornberry bushes, then turn left.” I find the bushes, quickly eat a few berries, and turn left. Then we search… and we search… and then we search some more. And then I realize, “Duh!” We are looking for a magic item. And I have the detect magic spell. I cast it and quickly find a trap door concealing the cache.
Zez opens the door, we set up a rope, and he descends downward into the cache. It’s a small room, maybe 10 by 15 foot. Using my detect magic, I find three magic swords, some magic armor, boots, and a magic beaded necklace. The room speaks to Vardai, literally. Vardai says the voice is speaking primordial. It sounds unlike any language I’ve heard. It almost sounds as if the voice is speaking in the elements of wind and fire and water and rumbling earth. Vardai translates the message as a riddle, “Driver of old. Come get your key.”
Zez finds the sword. Zez insists that we try out the other magic items, as we will need them when we encounter the bugbears. I try on the magic armor. It is studded leather armor. And it fits beautifully. Clearly it has the looks required in a noble’s court coupled with combat functionality. I also pick up the beaded necklace. After investigating it for a while, I realize it contains healing spells that I can use to help the party. I put it on alongside my Necklace of Adaptation that I was already wearing.
Will tries on some magical boots that we find. At about this time, the demon relinquishes control, and Eowyn returns.