The Quiet Sea: The Calm Before The Storm

A-hunting we will go
Ravings of a corvus corax

At the end of my last entry, I was transformed into a raven while Rhea and Del escaped from the gnomish police forces through a cunning maneuver called being greater than 3 feet tall. Svin was arrested.

Fortunately for Svin, Flavus quickly appeared on the scene, and Svin was able to explain the situation. Flavus was not particularly enthused about the amount of trouble we manage to attract. I would be remiss if I didn’t specify that his discomfiture pleased me. I am constantly amazed at how a race that is so short manages to have such a massive stick up its a**.

The remaining cultist was remanded to the custody of the authorities. In the course of their investigation, the gnomish authorities discovered an underground passage beneath the residence of one of the cultists. Flavus succeeded in obtaining authorization for us to assist in the investigation. And that is how we became deputies of the gnomish authorities. I regret not asking for a badge. Perhaps it would have assisted us in future dealings with the gnomish authorities.

The underground passage forked, so Flavus and his cadre of guards went in one direction while the rest of us explored another branch. The passage gave way to a room where we were assaulted by some sort of stone golem, but it proved no match for our combined might. We then fought a couple of cultist priestesses that summoned a fire elemental. Although we prevailed, the fire elemental was a nasty piece of work.

Along the way, it appears that Flavus’ group ran into heavier resistance than we did. We fought some sort of war devil before arriving in what seemed to be the altar room for the cult. There, we fought a cultish wizard, assisted by his lieutenant and a couple of foot soldiers. The wizard unleashed a brutal fireball upon us and then disappeared with an invisibility spell. Fortunately, splashing the wizard with ink made him easier to track.

We were joined in the altar room by the remains of Flavus’ group. He informed us that our quarry, Argyll, had made landfall in a northern province of the island. What is more, Argyll is claiming to represent the island of Calisham as an envoy. Preposterous for a wizard who until recently was an aide to Queen Veralise! In any event, we will likely have to travel to the Northern province: not only because Argyll is there, but because I believe that is where the orb is located.

Flavus insists that we must address the Gizmolord Council. The Gizmolord for the province, Narris, is likely to oppose us, since Argyll’s presence adds to his prestige.

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Gnome's Most Wanted
Musings of an alchemist on the lam

Well, that went poorly!

Our hope that once we reached the capital the creaking gnomish institutions would greater appreciate the importance of diplomatic relations were quickly dashed. We were put up in a boarding house near the meeting place of the Gizmolords, but the Gizmolords seemed in no hurry to meet us.

Thus, we waited some more. Through Flavus’ intervention, I successfully obtained a library card with minimal delay, though research in the gnomish libraries in the capital was as fruitless as those in the other locations.

After yet another week of waiting, we decided to undertake several stratagems to smoke out any cultists in the capital. Most were a complete disaster. Eventually, Svin’s magic located an unholy altar, and Rhea, Svin and I cased the joint while Del snuck in. We learned nothing if not that the cultists were looking for us, which we knew already.

Svin and I had retired to a café while Rhea flexed her musical muscles for coins on the street. She was sitting near the residence we had discovered when she was accosted by cultist toughs. She screamed, sending Svin and I running to her side. Luckily, Del was nearby as well and assisted. The battle was over swiftly and decisively, and I attempted to capture the last cultist alive for interrogation.

Unfortunately, Rhea’s scream also attracted the attention of 20 policemen who surrounded us and attempted to arrest us. Although we explained that we were diplomats, the mouth-breathing cretins nonetheless ordered us to drop our weapons. Del, Rhea and I refused and made a break for it. Svin, predictably, let himself get arrested.

With judicious use of magic, running, sneaking and climbing, we escaped the short legs of the law, though I am temporarily in bird form.

Sometime, a change of perspective is just what is needed. I believe I have discovered the location of the missing orb, but the margins of this page are too narrow to contain it. I have also hit upon a plan to recover our missing paladin.

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The return of the cultists
Private diary of Haroun ibn Hamad

We met with Flamus Flavius about heading to the capital. Our visit to the capital would have a two-fold purpose: to present to the Gizmolords the threat that hangs over them in the form of the cult, and to find more information about where Talia Swiftpocket may have hidden her orb. The meeting was less than successful, with Flamus failing to understand the urgency of our task. Rhea was unable to accompany us to the meeting. It is to be hoped that her presence at our next meeting will be more convincing than Svin, Del and I.

In the meantime, we filled our days with scholarship at the library, attempting to find additional information we may have missed about the orb, Talia Swiftpocket or the gnomes in general.

We crossed Flamus once more at Bripley’s ale house, and he invited us to his house for dinner. On the way, we were attacked by cultists. We made short work of them, even if I was without my armour or sword. We attempted to take a cultist alive, but we learned that he had bitten down on a poison pill shortly after being taken into custody by gnomish security.

Oddly enough, several of the cultists were human, despite the fact that to date, we have not seen any humans on the island.

It is hoped that this event will shake Flamus from his torpor and we will at least be able to proceed with our mission.

I remain less than optimistic.

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Investigations
Additional delays in attempting to present our credentials

I have reviewed the notes from my last report to Eladris. I wish I had more progress to report, but we have not yet presented out credentials and remain stuck in the gnomish regional capital.

After another fruitless day of wrestling with the gnomish obsession for pettifoggery, I learned that we could speed up our application for an audience with the Gizmolord who would vouch for our entry into the capital by completing tasks requested by the clerk’s office.

That evening, Del proposed breaking into the regional sanatorium to ascertain whether there was something sinister behind the gnomes cheery façade. To provide context, we were almost caught multiple times, we learned next to nothing, and it was still the highlight of my day since a: we were actually engaged in an endeavour, productive or not, and b: we dealt with gnomish sociopaths and depressives (thus an improvement over the regular gnomes).

We nonetheless completed two tasks demanded by the clerk: we slew a creature in the swamp impeding gnomish progress on public works (a hydra) and we picked up a cargo of tarrn in a neighbouring town. I have kept a specimen of tarrn for experimentation.

We are unfortunately no closer to our primary goal of discovering where the orb on the gnomish continent is hidden.

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Arrival on Gnomish lands
Musings of an increasingly frustrated alchemist

It is my hope that this missive will find its way back to Eladris. The gnomish machinist to whom I entrusted this letter assured me that she had an efficient, progressive way to ensure that this account reaches Queen Veralise and her advisors to describe our arrive at the Gnomish homeland.

I begin with a caution. The Gnomish lands are not for the faint of stomach. The inky cloak which surrounds the inhabited portions of the island are noxious to the constitutions of those who are unaccustomed to them, as Del and I discovered to our chagrin. We spent our first 24 hours on the island violently ill. The gnomes themselves have grown accustomed to the acrid smoke and the foulsome odors and were befuddled by our reactions.

The natives are friendly, but seem to be afflicted by what can only be described as a “peculiar lunacy”. They are obsessed with the idea of progress and efficiency, more than the reality of either, and approach both with single-minded zeal. They are compelled to tinker, it is true, but more than that, they are compelled to create forms, protocols and procedures, and are loathe to deviant from them in the slightest manner, as we quickly discovered to our detriment.

We identified ourselves as diplomats upon our arrival, and were advised of the direction of the Gnomish capital. However, we were told that we would not be permitted to visit the capital until we had obtained the necessary permit to do so, a task anticipated to take at least two months, and require a detour by a regional town before arriving at the capital.

Notwithstanding our entreaties (Svin), reasoned arguments (myself) or bribes (no comment), the bureaucracy remained impenetrable. With hindsight, we should have perhaps insinuated bodily harm to the clerk; while probably fruitless, it would have at least been therapeutic. We signed on as caravan guards to travel to the regional capital, in the hopes of finding some manner to pass to the capital directly.

Along the way, we were assaulted by a pair of oozes, but there were no match for our superior intellect (Svin’s warhammer may have helped as well, though it perished in the attempt).

I end this letter with an odd observation. Notwithstanding their ostensible love of progress and efficiency, the gnomes smile all the time. We brought it up with a few gnomes, but their responses were unsatisfactory. This strange behaviour bears further investigation.

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Revolution
Musings of a wandering alchemist

Our debriefing of the engineers resulted in useful intelligence: the royal family of elves had created a tunnel to the palace to permit escape in case of unrest and the engineers were of the opinion that the opening of the tunnel was lightly guarded.

We and the leaders of the rebellion talked late into the night before setting upon a plan. We would lead a small group of revolutionaries into the city, where they would assist us in taking over the tower that held the elves’ magical ballista. We would then use the ballista to break open the city gates before disabling the weapon and attempting to free our comrades in the palace.

The plan went without a hitch. We left the revolutionaries on the ground floor of the tower while we reached the control room. Along the way, we were able to win to our side one of the tower engineers, who assisted us in first using the weapon and then disabling it. We left our fellows in control of the tower while we used Zap’s magic to descend into the palace from above.

Initially, I felt a twinge of regret about leaving our comrades to defend the tower without reinforcements or possibility of retreat, as the enemy elves were certain to mount a ferocious attack in an attempt to recover their weapon. However, upon reflection, I have concluded that their situation was not as dire as I believed: the tower’s defenders benefit from a stout door and cover, and the destruction of the city gate ensured that they would not have to hold the tower long before reinforcements could arrive.

To return to our rescue attempt, we stalked through the palace before locating the apartments where the captain and our crew was held. It appears that the captain had undergone torture in an attempt to extract intelligence about us. The elven noble whom we had seen associated with General Tael’Veranus blocked our escape, and revealed herself as a succubus flanked by two hellhounds. After a vicious battle, we were victorious, only to be confronted by the General himself, who exposed himself to us under his true colours, a fallen paladin.

That fight was exceeding difficult, but through teamwork, we got the better of him. It was then we learned that the revolution had been successful, and the leader of the Alliance installed himself as leader of the elves. We were surprised to find out that the leader of the Alliance was none other than the illegitimate son of the king, and therefore had some (tenuous) right to the throne.

I interrupt this narrative to add a personal reflection: more than anything, this interlude has convinced me to adopt a lighter hand in our interference with the nations we encounter. Though, as I increasingly believe, our primary mission may be necessary to safeguard the world (and consequently is of paramount importance), I have misgivings of having backed one side in a civil war in complete ignorance of whom the leader was. It seems to have been resolved satisfactorily in this instance, this may not be the case in the future.

A final note. Before our departure, the elven hosts were rather insistent on Del returning the gem that had been powering the weapon prior to our disabling it. Though he stood firm at first, he gave in and returned the gem in the interest of relations between our countries. I have to admit that I was rather disgusted by the cheapness of our hosts, who outsource their revolution to foreign dignitaries and they attempt to lay claim to duly earned plunder!

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Mission of Mercy
from the journal of Haroun ibn Hamad

After reviewing what little information we could glean from the burned remains of the diary, we returned to the camp of the coalition against the high elves. The group discussed courses of action to rescue our compatriots, but none of the options presented a suitable chance of success.

Instead, we were interrupted by our hosts, who enlisted our assistance to combat a dragon that had taken up residence in the swamps adjoining the woods. The dragon’s presence in the swamp was having a sympathetic effect on the swamp and, if that were not enough, the creature delighted in stalking and chowing down on the army’s scouts. We rode out and discovered a young black dragon. The battle was fierce, but we prevailed.

The rebels told us that some High Elf engineers were defecting from the City, but that the High Elves’ forces were hot on their trail. We rode to intercept; too late. The engineers had been captured.

While the rest of cavalry engaged the High Elves forces, we broke into the High Elf camp to free the engineers. We intend to debrief them for weaknesses in the defences of the High Elf City, in the hopes of mounting a rescue expedition to free our comrades and sail away from this benighted island.

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The Crypt
from the journal of Haroun ibn Hamad

Having realized that our ship and crew had been taken hostage by the Elven general, we discussed our course of action. I pushed for a stratagem to release the hostages immediately, but my companions argued that the hostages had not yet been harmed, so it may be preferable to examine the crypt of the Elven hero Tael Veranus prior to mounting a rescue attempt.

I bowed to their wisdom, though the issue that was determinative for me was that if we successfully rescued our fellows, we may have to leave the island quickly, and this was possibly our last chance to investigate a major lead in our quest.

We arrived at the crypt and discovered that we were not the first to arrive. Cultists affiliated with Argyll were exiting the structure. We attempted to ambush them (unsuccessfully). From their chatter, we learned that they seemed to bear particular animosity towards the Tal’veran siblings.

As we penetrated into the crypt, we discovered, to our dismay, that the cultists had attempted to eradicate any clues the crypt might provide with respect to the orb. We were also attacked by a couple of cultists and a chained devil.

After we defeated them, we discovered that Tael Veranus had been buried with his diary, and certain excerpts had survived the destruction. We learned that the Tal’veran siblings are descendants of the Elven hero, which may be the source of the enmity borne against them by the cultists, and perhaps explain the attacks on their parents. As I understand it, their mother was the elf, so the logical conclusion is the Rhéa and Zap bear their mother’s surname, rather than their father’s.

We also learned that although Tael Veranus and his party successfully defeated Heradrin, they were unable to destroy her essence, which was confined into several orbs. Each one of the party returned to their homeland after the battle to seal away their orb. In addition to Tael Veranus, there was a female human cleric from our continent, a gnome adventurer, and a dwarf fighter.

We built a fire outside the crypt, and discussed our next move long into the night…

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The Elven Village
from the diary of Haroun ibn Hamad

I write this as we debate a momentous decision. The Elves of the High City hold our ship and our crew hostage and claim the orb in our possession.

The Wood Elves revealed themselves after the fight with the ghouls. There was an initial misunderstanding as to our intentions, as they accused us of nefarious designs on an Elf Village not far from where we had inadvertantly led a horde of undead. After we had apologized and explained ourselves, the Wood Elves were much more amenable.

They offered that an Elder from the village was very learned in the arcane arts and might be of assistance in understanding the orb which we had bound to us. Zap and I formed the delegation to meet with this Elven lady.

I confess that our recent experience with betrayal had me jumping at shadows, and I was persuaded that this frail lady before us would betray us, or be assassinated, or simply die unexpectedly. She did not, and was able to provide some useful guidance. As a matter of fact, a great Elven hero, from before the waters, resided nearby and was responsible for locking the orb away initially. She suggested that we explore his tomb nearby which may contain additional information on our quest.

She was also able to research a spell which would permit us to contain the power of the orb. The downside was that she would have to uncover the orb to cast the spell, and that the spell would take a minute to cast.

We and the Elven scout troop, together with the village guards, took steps to minimize potential casualties while the mage cast the spell. Elven artisans erected a rough palisade while Zap and Svin cast protective spells on the sage. We also contacted the villagers and warned them to stay indoors while the scouts and the guards were deployed to block access points to the village. The rest of us assured bodyguard duty to the mage.

I will not go into the detail of the battle. The undead do not employ strategy, and simply attempted to overwhelm us by numbers. The palisade was very effective in limiting the threat. Suffice to say, the spell was cast, the orb was locked and the undead were neutralized.

Our battle in arms with the Wood Elves fostered a level of trust between us. The Wood Elves admitted that they felt that the High Elves had gone too far in their all-out war and that they had been assisting the orcs in their resistance against the High Elves. They also believe something else is afoot: the High Elf King has not been seen the war started, and the Crown Prince disappeared shortly thereafter. The General is third in line to the throne. The Wood Elves lay much of the blame for the barbarity of the war at his feet.

My friends and I got a sense of the ends to which the General was willing to prosecute the war shortly afterwards. We received a message from the General in which he advised that he had had us followed into the woods and had learned that we had recovered the orb. He also advised that he had taken our ship and crew hostage in exchange for the orb, which he hopes will enable him to finally smash the resistance to High Elf rule. As I mentioned in the opening, we are currently debating how to free our ship and crew while minimizing the potential loss of life.

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The Temple
Excerpts from the journal of Haroun ibn Hamad

Having realized we were being followed, we debated whether we should take action to reveal our pursuers. Ultimately, we decided to let sleeping dogs lie. My suspicion was that our “guide” had been tasked with keeping a surreptitious eye on us even after we parted ways. Nonetheless, I could not shake the vague impression that if the wood elves had been infiltrated to the same extent as the government of Eladris, we were putting ourselves at risk of an ambush should we successfully locate the Orb.

We penetrated further into the heart of the forest. Given that our best efforts at stealth were frankly dismal, we managed to attract the attention of every type of undead for leagues around. We fought spectres, wights, zombies, zombie ogres, ghouls, skeletons, a skeletal horse and a banshee. This experience has convinced me of the necessity to forego my bulky armour in favour of something lighter which will facilitate scouting and occasional discretion. Luckily, we came across some studded leather (but I get ahead of myself), and I will request it from my comrades as my share of the spoils of our adventure.

In any event, we came upon a temple surrounded by zombies at the heart of the woods. Unwilling to engage in needless battle (at least one thing we learned from our foray), we distracted some of the zombies and attempted to slip past them into the temple. The plan was a partial success: while we separated some of the zombies from the herd, our attempt at discretion was not successful. In the ensuing battle, I wish to commend Del for clever use of the environment: he climbed a tree which permitted him to rain quarrels on the zombies without retaliation. It brings to mind the aphorism of Tacitus, that well-known tactician, that the most successful battle is the one that is not fought.

The temple contained an orb similar to the one on Eladris and bearing the same inscription. Seeing the orb triggered a flash for me as I recalled Argyll intoning some eldritch invocation prior to releasing magical energy from one of his stones. The effect of his words were to dim the orb, which seemed to de-power or de-activate the artifact, at least temporarily. The orb was protected by some sort of undead spellcaster, however, Svin’s invocation of his patron goddess (augmented by some spellcasting on my part) made short work of the guardian.

We thus took possession of the orb, which turned out to be a rather cumbersome treasure. The orb was the source of the green fog, which became centred on us, and the undead of the forest are drawn to the orb, so that very soon we had an army of undead congregating just out of our reach.

We performed some preliminary experiments on the orb, and this is what we have concluded to date:

  • the orb radiates extremely strong magic, and seems an artifact of great evil;
  • we do not seem to be able to control the undead with the orb (though a more skilful student of the arcane arts may be able to);
  • the orb seems resistant to physical attacks, even augmented with divine power. i did not try my alchemical compounds on it, but I suspect it would be fruitless to do so;
  • undead seem to be attracted to the orb: so long as we keep it covered, the undead will simply follow us, but they swarm if we uncover it;
  • repeating the invocation used by Argyll does not seem to have any effect.

In short, the orb left us in a rather inconvenient position. For obvious reasons, guests who bring hordes of undead with them are considered persona non grata in any civilized (and uncivilized) gathering. We can’t take the orb with us, we can’t destroy it, and we can’t leave it unprotected.

Our experimentation had the unfortunate side effect of causing us to be attacked by a cadre of entreprising ghouls. It was at that point that our mysterious follower(s) revealed him-(them-)selves. Apparently, a rather large squad of wood elves, led by none other than the captain himself, had been following us. My candle is sputtering so I must interrupt this chronicle…I will continue at a later date.

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