Campaign of the Month: January 2014

Greyhawk 937 CY: The Age of Steam

The Case of The Remembered Rider Part One
Flocktime 20, 642 CY

The Case of The Remembered Rider" Part One

Flocktime 20, 642 CY

Frederick, my friend and Unfailing, felt that I should record this adventure. He believes that it requires observations into the nature of undead that call for the hand of a necromancer. Given that he could have been the most promising necromancer of his time, had he not chosen to turn his magic toward the martial application of being an Unfailing; I think he was more than up to the task. But we do things for those we have known since childhood. That includes the uncomfortable chore of narrative.

After we hid the first set of chess pieces in the Ataphad Islands we debated where to go next so we could leave a clue. Our decisions were split but we decided on the Isle of Pearls for the next location. If things were not safe under the eye of the blood of a god, we really were on a fools errand. I have always been fascinated by the Isles. They really had only become a common fixture in our lives on this side of the continent since the Heroes of The Key. Before that occasional traders would go and come back with tales and riches. There were things the clerics knew about the nature of the Emperor. But on the whole we were still learning. I busied myself with learning more as we traveled to Geoff in order to secure passage by talking to Sir Christopher. The Lord Marshall of Geoff was good friends with the government there and could facilitate our travel.

What I was able to discover with the materials I borrowed from the Baklunish Royal Library was fascinating. It seemed that the Emperor was the grandson of Pelor in a different aspect. Arguably the country on Oerth with the longest continuous government, The Isle of Pearls had a history both stable and vast. The Grandson of the Sun has ruled the Isles for as long as anyone can remember. The first emperor was born at the end of the god war and aided the gods in defeating the mad god, or at least that is what the history of the Isles says. Some credence is given to that in some form since the entryway and guard post to the prison of the mad god is in the Isles.

After the first emperor rested from aiding the gods he made pacts with the Kami and other spirits (In particular the Great Spirit Dragons) to help in forming the Isles into a place that would be even more welcoming to the people who would be made. He then stood against the ancient Oni, their word for demons, who dwelt in a plane near the Abyss and Hells and made the land safe for habitation. When the human gods made life, he led the life in the Isles into the first human civilization on that side of the continent. After a few centuries the following emperors explored the continent nearby. They helped the other nations grow and tried to keep them from conflict. But over time they fell into war with each other and called on the Isles to join one side or another. Repeatedly the Isles refused.

A time came 2700 years ago when the nations of the continent, led by The Celestial Kingdom of Shaofeng tried to take the Isles by force. In a war lasting 30 years the Isles conquered the nations of the mainland. The emperor at the time consulted The Ever Present Light (Amaterasu) and decided to offer the nations a kind of confederacy where they could swear loyalty to the Isles for trade and protection. They would generally follow the Isles but each would maintain their own governments and not make war on each other. They would follow the guidance and leadership of the Emperor in all things. This confederacy (or empire depending on who you talk to) has existed for 3000 years.

The Isles helped maintain peace but occasionally has problems with the Realm of The Despotic Giant King on the northwest continental border. This hostile nation, led by a vicious line of giants meeting no known classification has been an issue for centuries. All known giant types live there, even the normally good ones in league with the evil unclassifiable leaders. 1,200 years ago the nation made war on the continent and it was only the direct intervention of the Emperor, engaging the Wizard King of the Giants in combat, that ended the war and pushed back the armies.

The people of the Isles still guard the shadowlands between the prison of the mad god and the world. The door to the prison exists as a physical reality near the palace and the area around it astrally is filled with all manner of demons and monsters. At times they try to cross between the worlds.

But most fascinating is how the line of Emperors continues. At some point he chooses a bride. There may be a marriage right away or she may be secret. But in time, after the official wedding, a child is born. This child is to become the new emperor. At some point the nature of the old Emperor is passed to him and the old emperor dies. This always happens when the new emperor is a child and they are raised by the Empress, who has been trained to finish the integration of the nascent godhood. The Emperor is normally long lived, sometimes over 150 years. Sometimes even longer.

Occasionally there are two children born, a set of twins. Along with the future emperor there is a twin girl who is connected to Tsukuyomi, who seems to be of the line of Nerull in the same way Amaterasu is of Pelor. Only in a very rare while is the girl born. When she is, at some point a tutor is appointed who has also been sent from Nerull in some fashion and is connected to him. It is said the girl lives longer than the Emperor and indeed there is always an Emperor and a Priestess of The Dead. She just goes into seclusion after the space of a mortal lifetime or so and must be sought. But for the space of a little over one mortal lifetime she is available to the people to consult on spiritual matters within her realm. I reflected that it was too bad she was not existing or at least accessible at the moment. She sounded far more to the liking of a Hollowfaustian heart than dealing with a sun demi-god
.
One evening, while I was researching at one of our stops toward Geoff I was explaining to the group some of the things I had discovered. Serena was the only member of our party who had been to the Isles and seemed interested in the existence of the girl twin.
“I’ve been there for the festival they have to honor the dead, I would have thought she would have been mentioned. But then again, my experience is mainly based on trade.”
“Festival for the dead?” Frederick asked.

She nodded while taking a drink and then smiled. “Actually it is more like your customs than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. They light a welcoming fire on the third night of the week and the dead come and stay with them until the end of the festival. Everyone leaves the big cities and goes to their ancestral villages. Unless, of course, the city is where most of your people are buried. But almost no one is unless they are from there for centuries. You are taken back home and buried even if you lived 80 years in the city. But the dead of your family come. Not all of them. Sometimes only a few. Sometimes lots. And they celebrate and remember together. The living ask the older dead for advice and blessings.”

Frederick and I exchanged glances. In a way some may think it bore a resemblance to what we are like. But really, even though we do have some family dead who remain special to us, we do not over personalize the dead once they are gone. We do not hold on forever. It is hard to remember your father as your father when he now walks on patrol not knowing you. He is gone. His body now serves the city. And even when our family members are around as sentient dead, they now have a duty to the city that is greater than the one to us. We still love them, but their life with us is over. There are some exceptions. On the whole what they do in the Isles was, although charming and reverent, a little horrifying to us. But we had our nanny, who we still loved and saw, so for the two of us it was a passible horror.

“Actually,” she said, “We should get there just in time for it to start…it is at the end of summer.”

“Well, in some respects,” I said, “it will be like home. There will be lots of undead.”

“Mostly ghosts,” Serena supplied, “But occasionally other things. They have odd undead there.”

Quentin shook his head, “All undead are odd. No offense my death’s head butterfly friends from the mountains of madness or whatever…but no one comes back normal.”

Having been raised in the realm that rested on the mad god’s prison I forgave Quentin certain prejudices. It must have been hard to grow up in such circumstances. I moved the conversation on to other matters. “No matter when we arrive and what is going on,” I said, “at least we can have unwavering trust in the head of state.”

There were general murmurs of agreement around the table. Frederick added, “Sir Christopher should be able to get us an audience and we can also tell him what is going on with this. But I have to wonder, if this takes centuries what other kinds of fail safes we can put in place to keep the Talons of The Mother from finding these.”

“Well,” Serena said, “they won’t be looking in places like the ones where we are putting them. But I think having things that we think are incorruptible and will last hundreds of years guarding places would work.”

“You mean like Golems?” Quentin asked. “Or undead?”

“No, I mean institutions and people.”

I made some mental notes then listed some, “The Sevestrians, The Baklunish Royals, The Emperor, Zagyg, Baryoi.”

“”Exactly,” she said, “One secret cabal deserves another. They can handle it however they wish. Communicate between themselves however they wish. But in the end they need to look after this until it’s time to get this stuff back. And they need to find someone who can beat a dragon or dragon’s chosen in chess.”

We finished our drinks and determined our route for the last leg of the journey to Geoff. The Sevestrian trade lines and caravans were well planned and protected. I was sure it would give me the necessary time to finish research. For some reason I could not identify, I felt time would be rather pressed after that point.

It was two days later that we sat in Sir Christopher’s office watching him process the story of our mission. The Lord Marshall of Geoff was a kind man with a good sense of humor. But he was known to be deadly serious when the situation required. The seemingly young Knight, who was really in his mid forties, sat in deep thought. A monk and a cleric he would live far longer, and with retained vigor and youth, in comparison to most. He was one of the legendary Heroes of They Key and, for good or ill, nearly everyone knew his story.

When the giants invaded Geoff and the King placed himself and most of the people in stasis, it was Sir Christopher’s family that remained behind to fight. It was their job to find a way to free Geoff, find the princesses, return the king and people and lead in rebuilding. But although a large family, and Sir Christopher was not even born at the start of the war, he was the only one left at the end. I had seen the graves of his family. Eight graves for his parents, brothers and sisters rested reverently in his castle courtyard in a modest but lovingly respectful crypt. Three without bodies because they were taken captive, and by now likely dead. At least no magic has revealed them, and the giants were not known to be kind to his family.

I felt for him and saw the shadow such trial has caused in his eyes. Sorrow was something we know. But to not know what happened to the body of a family member…this was a dreaded state in my city. We knew that the corpses of our loved ones served the city in some way. To never know, indeed to think with surety that they had been dishonored; I felt pity for him as I watched him deliberate over facts far removed from my musings.

“What do you know of the Emperor?”

“Generally what is known by most,” I answered, “that he’s good. The blood of Pelor.” I added some information from my research on the general history of the isles and the role of the emperors. .

Sir Christopher nodded in agreement and confirmation. He opened a desk drawer and removed an ornate scroll case. I have to say it was, if such things were rated, perhaps the most impressive scroll case ever made. It was made of Jade with ivory inlay and there were designs on it depicting a phoenix in a dance with the sun. Red and gold tassels hung from the mithral stopper on the top of it, and the entire object was of master craftsmanship. He held it up. It was Serena who recognized it.

“That is a personal message from the Emperor. I’ve had to carry one before. It has a host of magical protections and can’t be tampered with. The recipient can return a message in it as well.”

“Fancy,” Quentin said as Sir Christopher opened the scroll, “ever wish you could just touch something and turn it into the amount of money it was worth?”

Serena made an interested noise in response to Quentin’s suggestion as Sir Christopher unrolled the message contained inside and began to read:

To the emissaries of the lords and ladies of bone and flesh as well as the traveler from the land of mists and the representative of the Sevestrian family of the Free City of Greyhawk .

_It is the pleasure of His Ever Shining Radiance The Grandson of The Sun, to invite you to the Radiant Isles at your earliest convenience to discuss matters that weigh on your minds and have bearing on the course of the future for our world. I encourage a speedy arrival by means of one of the airships of Geoff. In this way you will arrive at a time of festival and it will be easier to explain your presence without revealing your mission. I have taken the liberty of arranging you passage through Sir Christopher on a ship leaving in two days from the city of Gorna to the City of Breaking Waves. From this trade port you will proceed to the capital with a group of outbound merchants who are instructed to treat you as diplomats.

When you arrive in the capitol you will be met by one of my personal bodyguards, Midori Tan. She will act as your liaison for all your needs while in the Isles. I look forward to our meeting and discussions on how to ensure the safety of Oerth. Please take this case and message with you on your journey as a gift from me.

His Ever Shining Radiance,
Emperor Akhiro
_
Sir Christopher waited a moment. “It’s in his own hand,” he said, “I hope you understand what this means.”

“That he is aware of the magnitude of the issue,” I said, “perhaps more than we are.”

He nodded. “It is not that the Emperor is not the type to write in his own hand. He is actually a rather nice man. In fact, on a personal level he is the most…” he paused, searching for a word, “normal.”

“Normal?” Serena asked. half a question and half a laugh, “The ever shining radiance. The grandson of the sun. The closest thing to a resident major divine power on the planet. Normal?”

“Maybe I remember the child too much and it’s made me partial to him.”

“That’s right,” I said, “you know him for a long time.”

“Not only that,” Sir Christopher said,”but his friendship with Princess Jenna has led to a fairly robust trade. But yes, I remember him as a boy. He and the princess rode his Ki rin. I saw the more human aspects of him.”

Serena reminded him, “You also saw him decimate undead armies and aid in the war with Vecna at…what nine or twelve years old?”

“Maybe normal is not the word.” He admitted. “Perhaps approachable works better. You’ll see when you meet him. He’s not some monolithic power.”

“Unless he needs to be.” Said Frederick.

“That’s the point of him isn’t it?” I asked. “Keep the final line against the void but do not overwhelm history with your presence. Seems that would require an almost supernaturally normal person to balance the…what to call it…non person…divine inside.”

Sir Christopher shrugged, “Not sure. You would have to ask a god about the internal struggles of their nature.”

“But he’s not a god.” I corrected. “He’s also not, not a god. He’s something else entirely. He’s the sun focused through a mirror onto the face of the world trying not to start a fire in the brain of his human descendant, who is also the same person as the first emperor in a way. It’s just wisdom that makes it a lineage thing.”

“Why is that?” Asked Quentin.

“Because,” I said, “Anyone who served in the role continuously for thousands of years would become mad or evil. But by passing it down like this the emperor can be, for the most part, human in outlook and morality. “

“Well,” Quentin shrugged, “I suppose in the end it comes down to the fact that you don’t get to meet a god, not god every day. So at least I’m dressed right.”

“Shining eye straining yellow?” Asked Serena.

“It’s a sun god.” Came his smiling reply.

View
The Copper Automaton
Coldeven 2, 937 CY
Dear Dad,
Zief is so exciting! I bought some neat plant extracts at the market (they call it a bazaar!), so that’s why this letter is in a package. I thought you’d like to have some to experiment with. Everyone has been really nice so far and so colorful. They really like splashy fabrics here, and I think I’ll see if I can afford to pick up some cloth while I’m here to make a new dress. It seems like I’m going to go to places where I need to dress a little fancy. We got invited to dinner at the Sultan’s palace, after all, and one of his daughters is escorting us around.

Lady Satoshi found out about a copper automaton owned by a merchant here. I also learned that mechanical people that can haggle are apparently really well thought of here. I bet Bannik would be very popular since he owns a shop in Greyhawk City. The automaton and the merchant’s daughter had disappeared! She brought all of us together to help her figure out what was going on. We discovered that the girl’s fiance was actually a Rakshasa in disguise who was after a black phoenix egg that the family was offering as part of the dowry. It was all pretty crazy! And Lady Satoshi knows A LOT about Rakshasas.

It turns out that the Rakshasa had been making shapeshifting potions (I got the formula!) and having his loyal servants disguise themselves as different members of the fiance’s supposed family. The princess told us it was okay to break into his house (Marcy was really good at it), and we found a huuuuuge library that magically folds up into a suitcase. How cool! So we took it since it seemed like it might help Lady Satoshi figure out how to save her sister. We also learned that there’s a family of Rakshasas who have some kind of super creepy bet to find out which one can get the nicest dowry gift for marrying a girl. These guys are jerks!

In the end I got to drug a camel! Except it wasn’t actually the merchant’s camel, but the Rakshasa in disguise. So I guess it’s fairer to say that I got to drug the Rakshasa. Anyway, the merchant was very grateful and now his daughter can come home! We never did get to meet the automaton, which made me sad. I really wanted to see him…

Tonight we get to have dinner in the palace, so I promise I’ll be on my best behavior. I wonder what the Sultan is like. His daughter has been incredibly nice, so I bet he’s nice too. We haven’t even gotten to go search for the chess pieces yet, and it’s already been an incredible adventure!

Love,
Delwin.
View
The Problem of The Purloined Parrot

The Problem of The Purloined Parrot

Flocktime 15, 642 CY

When my master, our friends and I arrived in Zief we found a whirlwind of excitement. The grand bazaar was even more active than usual. People swarmed booths that offered protective amulets and charms. Merchants barked, called, huranged and haggled over all manner of considerations that involved hexes, the removal of hexes, charms, protections, incantations, bindings and defenses against evil. I rode in the front of the group and heard my master laugh mildly to himself at some of the more obviously false offerings. .

Serena, who had pulled up next to him on her horse, “Flocktime 14th,” she said, “Celene is dark tomorrow and until the 18th. On the 18th Luna is dark. The double dark…Dark Night. I would think Jeremy that your people of all people would know the fear of it.”

He laughed again, “We understand the power of it, but the thing about living on the edge of what people see as evil is that you know where the line is that is too far. You don’t need a special night to worry. I assume your “people” know this in reference to other concerns.”

“My job,” she admitted, “blurs the line of morality from the common perspective.”

“I think,” Quinten added, “that we all have that as part of our lifestyle.It is not like society views a necromancer, his bodyguard and mob messenger and an illusionist as trustworthy company.”

“Most of what they are selling would work,” Jeremy said, “Some of it is charmingly false.”

We approached the palace and saw a less hectic but equally impressive flurry of activity. They were preparing for some grand event. I looked back at my master, who was trying to recall if he knew the tradition involved. Our nanny, Hawa had filled out childhood with stories of Baklunish customs and myths. We both search our minds for what could be going on the week of Dark Night at the palace to necessitate this kind of action. We both came up empty and exchanged blank expressions of confusion when we heard a familiar voice call out, “Jeremy! Frederick!”

It was Gamal Al’ Razi, the 47th youngest daughter of the sultan. She was a genius. The only person, in my opinion, who had equaled my master in observation and the reading of people. She coordinated everything. As her sister told me when we first met: “She arranges all the banquets of the state with 51 children, over 200 grandchildren…ambassadors and dignitaries. She has never made a mistake. She knows who must not be seated next to whom. Who is in a feud, who lies, who tells the truth…who is a danger and who is harmless.”

She came down the stairs smiling. The last time we were here, years ago, we all embarked on an adventure that ended with her nanny, who had been an undead Guhl in disguise…changed the very nature of who she was and died as a human for the love of the children she raised. I was the one who drove the sword through her chest, by way of my left lung, as she grappled me from behind. Even so, Gamal had deep affection and thankfulness for us. I knew my master kept in contact with her, under the guise of keeping aware of western events. However the real reason was to discuss problems and insights with an equal. And, I had come to believe, for reasons and emotions that are generally alien to him.

Gamal embraced us both and we introduced our friends. Jeremy started the questions, “So what’s all this? Is it for Dark Night?”

She shook her head, “Not really, although it helps to distract our more superstitious population with a joyous event.”

“Joyous event?” I asked.

“My sister Fadia, head of the family guard, is getting married after the Dark Night. The groom is the Madi of the Dervishes to the south. The kingdom is growing closer to having a Caliph again and not just a Sultan. Someone to lead in both faith and state. This will be the role of my brother Banyamin. You and your friends are welcome. I have many extra places ready since I have no idea who many will be coming with my brother Kareem and his wife princess Everdawn of Geoff.” She seemed slightly put out by her brother’s lack of specificity in the number. “He would only tell me that they are bringing many orphans to see the Sultan for the first time as well as see the grand event. When I pressed for a number he told me it was a long trip and maybe they would find more…so he only gave me a range. So, I added many places beyond reason. Thankfully this benefits you.”

My master nodded, “It would be an honor. Of course we have an important reason for coming.”

She held up her hand. “Dinner tonight. All of you are invited. We can discuss it then. Does it involve magic?”

“Oh yes.” Said Serena.

“I will make sure my brother Imran is there then. An hour past twilight, in the family hall. I am sure you remember the way.”

She summoned servants to take us to our quarters and we all looked forward to baths to wash off the sand of the voyage.

Later, as my master and I waited for our friends in the family hall, we discussed how we should present our information.

“Well, we can’t just tell it all upfront.” I said.
“Why not? Gamal is trustworthy.”

“She won’t be in the room alone, master. But I am sure we can arrange time with just her and her brother. The larger question is what do we want to know and what do we need from them?”

“We need information on areas in the Ataphad Islands to hide a fragment of something destructive. But somewhere where later it can be retrieved. Perhaps much later. But then they will know where. So we need to get multiple places and not tell them which one we choose. Then leave a clue for those who will come to find it.”

I sighed, “Oh they will love that. Which do you think our unnamed heroes will find more frustrating: The traveling to dangerous places and ferreting out clues or the chess game with dragons or dragon agents?”

“Depends how much they like travel. Besides, it won’t be dragons. They can’t get along. I am sure even Tiamat’s heads fight. They will also not sully themselves to play against a mortal. Or risk losing to one. They will have proxies. And if they can, they will cheat.”

Soon we were joined by Serena and Quint and informed them of the plan. Serena agreed that the dragons would not be able to get along. They key for those in the future would be identifying who the various chromatics might pick and how.

After some time Gamal came in with her brother Imran. He was a tall and imposing Baklune who wore the clothes of a genie binder. His magic had left telltale marks on him. His eyes had an aspect of living smoke that those who dealt with the Djinn often acquired. He walked with the amazing confidence of one who commands the elements. This six and a half foot desert whirlwind crossed the room quickly with open arms and wrapped my master and I each on one and lifted us off the ground.

“Ah!!!! The two who helped lay our beloved Anisah to rest these many years ago. I was not here to thank you!” He squeezed us so tightly that I began to be worried about air. He set us firmly on the ground. “And now you are here at the time of a wedding! Such a good time!” It was like taking the exuberant sultan and placing him in a man mountain body. “But please, let us eat!” he bellowed.

My master had noticed something about Gamal. And as he sat down he met her eyes, “What’s wrong Gamal?”

She looked shocked that he had noticed something and was about to deny it but just said, “How could you tell?”

“While your brother was hugging us you almost sat in the wrong chair. Something must be wrong because that’s not something you would ever do.”
Imran smiled, “We should have known that we could not proceed as normal with such perceptive friends. You must forgive us, hospitality demanded we not burden you with our troubles. But if you ask…..” he trailed off and spread out his hands wide with his palms up.

“We are indeed asking.” said my master.

Gamal sighed. “Someone has stolen one of the wedding gifts…and I use gift loosely.” She thought a moment, “ Also I use stolen loosely since I suppose the proper term is kidnap.”

We exchanged wary and confused looks. My master thought for a moment. “So someone stole a talking bird.”

Quint laughed softly to himself, “How in the hell…”

“As he said,” Imran marveled, “I did not see the spell you cast to discern that.”

“No spell,” my master replied, “but you do not give people away. And the jinn are bound as property. So that left a few possibilities. The great camels of the pearl, a flying cat or the talking bird. Any would be a lavish and special wedding present. But the Camels will not suffer ownership only partnership. No one can own or kidnap a cat…let alone a genius one who flies. But the talking birds have a special relationship with the sultans family. And they will suffer the stigma of ownership as long as it is just and of their consent. So it is obviously a bird. In addition someone just kidnapped the gift from the father to the daughter…am I correct.”

The two siblings exchanged a marveled glance.

“I’ll take that as a yes. The sultan is the only one who could broker such a deal…or at least authorize a proxy. Of course a high ranking cleric of Istus or Al’Akbar could as well. But that doesn’t fit here. So the Sultan, in an act of love to his daughter, respect for his son in law and to cement an alliance that would recognise his heir as Caliph rather than just sultan was giving them an advisor of unequalled skill…a talking bird. As a species they have been made by the gods to advise the worthy, so the choice is not only perfect it is irreplaceable.” Sighing my master stood up, “I suppose you had better show us where this happened so we can fix it.”

Serena interrupted, “Um…are you forgetting we have a rather pressing issue.”

“It’s waited for the better part of forty centuries, it will wait till later in the day.”

Imran inclined his head, “Forty centuries…I am now hungering for your story.”

“Then I suppose,” I said standing, “You better show us the scene of the bird napping.”

Soon we were in a large opulent room. This was the guest room for a king not a bird. Serena whistle a long note, “Wow. This is one amazing room.” She turned to Jeremy. “If people liked you better we would all have rooms like this.”

My master was putting on a pair of glasses with interchangeable lenses on rotating tines that he could flip through. I knew the device well, it allowed him to scan energies, magnify, see ethereal and many other modes of vision. The downside was he looked like a crab whose antennae had been split into multiple stalks by a lightning strike.

He cycled through lenses, alternating randomly between crawling and looking at minute details and taking in the entire room while spinning. After a few moments he cast a spider climb spell and scaled the wall to a high window. It was an odd location for a window, and looking now around the room I saw there were dozens of small windows very high near the ceiling. The other odd thing was that each window had differently colored glass.

“What are these for?” my master yelled down, “it seems some artistic form rather than structural function.”

Gamal yelled back, “At times of the day different colors and hues are cast. It is to make the ceiling pleasant and to encourage different states of relaxation.”

“So not locked then.” My master said, walking down the wall.

“No” Imran said, “constant airflow is needed in the desert. They can close in an emergency. But in general we leave them open.”

“Surely,” Imran said, “no man can get through and it is warded against magical things.”

“There is negative energy in a trail, but not undead type…per se. I assume it is not warded against magical birds though, since there was one in here who had the freedom of the place.”

“This is true. But he would not have left without saying so.”

“No but, as you thought, he was kidnapped. But by an unlikely foe.” My master paused and sniffed the air. “Was the parrot a cleric or someone who could wield positive energy.”

Gamal nodded. “A Paladin.”

Serena and Quint laughed and then waved their hands in apology. “Sorry,” Serena said, “I really am…but a Paladin Parrot? Is anything stranger?”

“Yes,” my master said, “The anti-paladin one who kidnapped him.”

It was several hours later, after my master had convinced Imran and Gamal that he was right, that we found ourselves in the grand Bazaar. He had sent Serena and Quint to investigate some things about the trade route for a reason he did not mention to me. I had learned to trust my master in such things. It also allowed me to be surprised by outcomes. It was, however, from the standpoint of a bodyguard: Frustrating.

I scanned the multitude of brightly colored booths that that decorated the scented air. I loved the Bazaar. We had grown up on tales of it. It always seemed so different in our minds than the aesthetic of the Bone Market of Hollowfaust. And, in reality, it was. So seldom do the imaginings of our childhood, with all of their colorful fantasies, match the reality. But here, in the Grand Bazaar, they were exceeded. I only allowed myself so much wonder, I was still an Unfailing and my charge was to remain aware of danger. As my mind shifted from childlike joy to the calling of my profession the bright colors, raucous noises, and frenetic pace of the merchants and patrons took on a more menacing aspect. Although wonders beyond the scope of dreams filled the Bazaar, so did danger. A congested area in a foreign land where magic not only hung in the air but was cast about with reckless abandon. This was a land where assassination was a craft. And we were looking for an anti-paladin talking bird. Such a thing, although comical to most ears, was dangerous. To someone who knew the depredations both an anti-paladin and a parrot could sink to; it was like saying it was a dragon whose breath weapon was economic collapse.

My master sighed, “You’ve gone from look at that shiney to…oh dear god look at that shiney.”

“Well,” I replied, “Shinies are dangerous when you have an inquisitive child who may touch them.”

“Hmmm…Frederick?”

“Yes?”

“How much do you remember about the tales of talking birds?”

I searched my memory but it didn’t talk long. The stories had been some of my favorites. “The first was associated with the first Caliph. They are always good. They are wise and advisors to kings. Many think they are gifts from Fate to the people of the desert who help by guiding the leaders and heroes. They come in all forms but parrots or parrot-like are the most frequent. They tend to live in singing trees.” I paused, “That’s mostly it…except they can be a bit sarcastic, territorial, arrogant, and aloof.”

My master held up his hand with the single finger next to the thumb raised, “Always good. We’ve never heard of an evil one.”

“Not until now.”
I thought on that for a moment. “It is said they are gifts from Fate.”

“And,” my master finished for me, “Fate is neutral, not good. True they may be the more generous aspect of Istus the Fateweaver, but she is concerned with what is and must be. Not necessarily gifts of flowers and sweets. If an antipaladin parrot is needed for the design of the great weave…then she will have one.”

“So,” I asked, “what are we looking for?”

“We are looking for somewhere opulent. Somewhere where creature comforts and decadence were not born but migrated with all of their friends such as greed and sloth; and in doing so are acting like drunken sailors in a temple. But…parrot sized.”

“And what leads you to that conclusion?”

“Taking into account the temperament of both components that make up our villain a chaotic desire to be spoiled, particularly after a victory, is a solid guess. That’s why the others are checking on the trade routes. There are some delicacies for parrots that come only from the lands of the Olman and Touv. I am hazarding that either to be delivered or recently delivered to a location are supplies for a celebration. And I would think it is in the Bazaar itself because he would want to be close to conveniences.”

We sent the next hour or so asking questions in order to find out where our hostage may be. There were dozens of comments about minor things like the price of squash or the scarcity of magic from old desert ruins. We were about to give up when Quint found us,

“Where’s Serena?” My master asked.

“Family business while she’s here. She said she wouldn’t be long.”

“Did you find anything in the trade records?” I asked.

“Yes and yes and yes and yes….and yes. Meaning many possibilities.” He handed some papers to my master. “The thing is,” he continued, “So many people are having parties right now with the royal wedding..it’s almost impossible to narrow down.”

My master began setting some papers aside in his one hand while dropping others to the ground. When he was done he held up three sheets of invoices. “30 lbs of squash, butternut, paid for with Olman coins that had to be converted. Also on the invoice, one small cage with to quote..odd and queer markings. Money from where many parrots originate, and a place where you could see one being more evil…also the cage would be transport for the paladin.”

I looked over the pages. “That’s an enormous amount of squash.”
“If we can get there in time,” my master said, “we can catch the vile creature eating.”

“And eating.” I said.

“Then we can liberate the paladin and see what the reason is for all of this.”

“And eating.” I added.

“Frederick!”

“30lbs Jeremy! That is not even sane.”

Quint got a far off look in his eyes. “Where I lived, 6 people a month sometimes would vanish because the were rats were hungry.”

“See,” my master said, “now you’ve put him in the dark place.”

“I’m sorry but I think that’s an awful lot of squash.”

We moved in silence the rest of the way to the suspected booth.

Whoever resided in the tent we were looking at, did not lack for comfort. Even the sultan would ask them to tone it down a bit. There was gold fabric with silver thread embroidery, benches of ebony with ivory inlay and chilled container with squash, dates and other delicacies. Lounging outside, waiting to be called on to perform, were all manner of musicians, actors and jugglers. It was a mini court for a would be king. This parrot…had coin.

“Alright,” my master said, “Quentin, are you up for some illusions?”

Quint shook his head, “I’m an illusionist not a baker or milliner…i’ve been dying to legally use my skills all week.”

“Good, what I need is…” my master paused and looked a Quint, “What do you mean legally? Have you been illegally using them?”

“Good gods of course not, I would never do that or admit to it.”

Letting go the fruitless line of inquiry my master explained that he needed illusionary outfits for each of us. He wanted us to look like we were salesmen of the finest wares, in particular those that pamper pets.. Quint obliged flawlessly. Soon we were in a waterfall of opulent excess with a motif that focused on pets and pet products.

We began to pass the tents crying out loud about the wares we possessed and the fine animals who could benefit from their use. Within seconds a retainer from within came out to us and approached my master.

“You! Salesman!” He called.

My master turned, “Yes O Noble patron…are you interested in pampering for those who make your dark days bearable?”

“Well,” the man sneered, “I would never put it like that but do you have anything a stuck up and self centered bird would want?”

“Oh most assuredly great one. We have golden cages, the finest treats, perches of diamond and other items beyond imagining.”

“Well he will probably want the last ones.” He motioned to the musicians to clear the way, “You had better follow me.”

As we followed and entered the tent, if we did not know that an intelligent parrot lived there…we would have been speechless. The entire room centered on the bird. It was designed to serve and radiate from him. Retainers busied themselves, not only in his service but in anticipating his whims. Squash was being prepared, obviously his favorite food. Grapes and dates were set to the side. Music was being played and planned. Conversations between the entertainers centered on what he would want next. And in the whole tent was a feeling of oppression and fear I have seldom felt, even in the court of a lich king.

I am used to my master’s pace. I know that he likes to resolve things quickly. But even I was caught off guard by the rapid nature of his assault once in the door. Before any of us, he saw the magic cage hanging in the corner of the ceiling. Only in hindsight do I now notice that I noticed it subconsciously. But I saw my master make a deep bow and come up with spell that caused everyone in front of him on the ground begin to suffocate. This took care of nearly all security near the anti Paladin. As he made an offensive move I yelled for Quint to duck as I spun with my netherblade and threw it through the largest guard at the door behind us.

At that point insanity ruled. The bird took flight directly at my master. Quint began casting spells and cursing. My master did not even pay attention to the anti paladin as he focused his attention on the cage. But as I was waiting for him to cast a spell I saw he was watching the cage, not preparing to aim for it. In a moment I saw why. Sliding up the interior of the tent was a living shadow carrying a package of some kind. Obviously this was a undead in my master’s control, but what package it carried was unknown to me. I had little time to consider the contents as I saw the anti paladin flying toward him. I unhooked one of the holy symbols of Leara from my belt and threw it at the charging creature. Just the proximity of the holy symbol, one blessed by the first priestess of the goddess, made him vere to the right. It now had its’ eyes set on me. In the moment I had I decided to attempt to either confuse or infuriate it. “How can you eat so much squash?” I asked. “I had expected to find a parrot the size of a rhino, consuming 100 times its’ weight in squash and being carried by sea cows on a floating bed.”

In a screech of joint confusion and insult, it charged. But it was cut short by the explosion from the corner of the tent. The shadow had finished its’ climb and opened the package. Burning as it removed the holy symbol of Al’Akbar it placed it on the cage. The paladin within took the opportunity to smite the cage with all his force. The resulting explosion destroyed the cage and freed a rather angry bird, who happened to be a Paladin, into the air.

If you have never seen a paladin and an anti paladin fight, it is a clash of opposing wills contained in two physical paragons bent on the destruction of the very ideals of the other. If you have ever seen two birds fight…it is far worse. So what unfolded before us was something that defies most explanation. As the whirlwind of hate and feathers began, we eliminated the human muscle the anti-paladin had employed. Right on time Serena arrived, following a trail arranged between her and my master, with the palace guard. In short order we had a captive and a freed hostage; and a story no one would believe.

Imran and my master stood over a map of the Ataphads. With the parrot found we were free to consult on the best place to hide the first group of pieces of the chess set. As they remained deep in conversation I sat with Gamal.

“Your master has helped us again,” she said, “He has earned my respect twice now.”

“Well,” I can say, “you are one of a handful of people he generally considers and equal and respects as such. So I’m sure it would mean a good deal to him to know that.”

She laughed, “He’s not much for extending trust is he?”

“Well, he’s not one to tolerate fools, even if he pretends to be one at times.”

“It will be hard then for his parents to find him a match.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “We don’t do it that way. We sometimes have arranged marriages but in Hollowfaust we choose our spouses. It can be hard because if they are not from there they need to eventually live there since we are fairly strict about where our valued citizens reside.”

“And,” she added, “there are your rules about what happens after death. I would think anyone coming from outside would need to truly want to be there.”

“Sounds like you’ve looked into our rules in these matters.”

“I have.”

We looked at each other for a few moments before my master came over with a map. “I have it narrowed down to three places for you to record in your writings Frederik. The Isle of the Roc king, The Isle of Weeping Trees and the Isle of The Last Breath. I think we can use one of those and those following us will have to figure out which one.”

He looked up from the map as Gamal and I nodded to each other as she left. “Did I miss something?” He asked.

“For once,” I said, “yes. But keep missing it, that may be your best chance for it to work out.”

View
Missing Parts
Coldeven 1st, 937CY

Dear Lucian,

Julia and I went to the market after we had settled in at the palace. The room I was put in was as large and lavish as the gallery in the Followers Guild hall. While walking around, Julia said that a revenant had been following us for a while, so I stopped and waited for it to catch up and tell me what it wanted. He had been a rather wealthy man in life and was very put out that a ghoul had stolen his organs. When we examined his grave, we found a network of tunnels underneath the cemetery with multiple desecrated graves. Following the tunnels, we found they let out in a caravan area. One of the caravans was operated by a ghoul lord who was using the ghouls to collect body parts for sale.

Julia dispatched the ghoul lord very quickly. Which was shocking. Not because I expect less of an Unfailing, but because I am so used to backing out of that kind of situation and getting several people to help. It’s very strange to be able to handle things so neatly with only the two of us. With the ghoul lord dead, it only took a moment to grab control of his underlings and lay them to rest.

After taking care of the revenant’s lack of organs and laying him back to rest, I dug into the ghoul lord to see what was keeping him from descending into mindless hunger. It seemed that his brain had been replaced a few times, a new one inserted after the old one started to rot. Since that was entirely too suspicious, Julia and I went through the caravan logs. The caravan was being paid to supply parts to an unnamed buyer and was about to make a trip into the desert to gather some very rare sand giant parts.

Thinking that the unnamed buyer might be a proxy working for Teivryn Vayne, or the man himself, I checked the ghoul’s brain to make sure that it was not rigged to explode or go to mush if questioned before placing it back in his head and reanimating him under my own power. The ghoul said that he was helping a man who matched Teivryn’s description in exchange for keeping his brain from rotting. He went into depth about the trade routes and that Teivryn wanted Giant bones and parts. But specifically the bones.

In exchange for Akram’s (the ghoul lord’s) help on the trade routes, I took care of the rotting brain issue permanently with an artificial brain. And a positive energy bomb in case I need to end him quickly. If he behaves himself, I might put his head back on his body. In the meantime, I have significantly altered his body in order to make him much easier to have around. The ghoul stench is gone along with the fever attack. He won’t find dead bodies a delicious dish anymore and I augmented his ability to disguise himself as human. The real test will be to see if Belle (the paladin) or Braithwaite (the kind-of necromancer) notices.

I miss being able work in flesh so freely and Akram is a fine specimen. It’s not often you get an intact ghoul lord. Though I’m sure he felt off a brain or so back. Vayne wasn’t exactly meticulous in cleaning out the skull when replacing the brain and I found bits that were obviously a woman’s brain. The extra material speeds up the decomposition process, so it was likely left there to do just that and keep the ghoul lord on a short leash.

Everything from Vayne looks like it comes right out of Jaquard Von Slythe the Younger’s medical textbooks. Which is strange when you consider that they are 200 years out of date. From what Marcy’s said, Vayne had the money to afford more robust books and even professional training. Is he just relying on raw talent or does he have access to something that makes him discard/disregard newer materials?

Love,
Eve

View
Travel Journal
Readying 27th, 937CY

After settling into my new lab, I received the paperwork for my Unfailing assignment. Julia Moonrise. Who I know has a little sister. A little sister who is the most dour Sower of Fear I’ve ever met. Seeing as how family is often assigned to family, I went to the office to ask if it was a temporary assignment.

Permanent. It didn’t take much prodding to find out why. Bloodline loss. The fear was that if the sisters were kept together, then neither would marry. Hollowfaust would lose another bloodline of distinction. Though there was always hope, the Evernights left after Kylie was taken and none of her descendants had ever presented. Or at least, if they did, the Sevestrians weren’t saying.

Old problems aside, this presented an unusual one for me. I wasn’t sure how the younger sister would take the news of the assignment. A pissed off Sower could make for some bad times for me. The politics of the situation would shield her from reprimand for misconduct. Besides, it would fall to me to prove something was happening. Hard to do with a Sower. And, it would put a huge strain on Julia, who would be compelled to take sides. An Unfailing who was of the opinion that you were accusing a beloved family member would not make for a good protector.

As dad says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I bought enough supplies to make a month’s worth of anti-nightmare charms in the form of anklets. If I do get hit with something, I should at least be able to mitigate it until I am back home for good. The anklets would go unnoticed under my clothes.

When Julia and I formally met, I did offer her the chance to ask for a reassignment. While Zagyg’s mission heavily involved her ancestor, it also meant years away from Hollowfaust. She politely declined and gave her oath. I accepted it and wondered how this would go. Dad and Greg got on famously, but Master Ravensmark and his Unfailing hardly spoke. She did like my gift though, so that’s a start.

Before leaving Hollowfaust, I went shopping with Ivy and picked up new clothes at my seamstress’ shop. Being a master meant a change in look, but the change in assignment and many occasions for formal wear meant I needed a new wardrobe all together. Thankfully, Florence had received my original request letter two weeks ago and had an entirely new set of clothing ready for me from stays to boots. A quick try on revealed a perfect fit.

When leaving the city with Julia, Master Ravensmark handed me a portfolio. Inside were copies of the fourth district plans and a design assignment for buildings that would surround the hot springs. I was to use all of the traveling I would be doing to visit public baths and hot springs at all locations to develop a set of plans that foster relaxation and rejuvenation. Also included was the information for accessing a second stipend just to cover the research.

While on the ship, I introduced or pointed out the crew members of The Wild Endeavor and introduced the members of the group to Julia. Once in Greyhawk CIty, I pointed out easy landmarks to orient by while a carriage took us into Clerksburg and the apartment building owned by Hollowfaust’s Sovereign council. While I was gone, everyone had already moved my things into a bigger apartment. Chelsea, ever with an eye to detail, had everything in exactly the same spot it would have gone in had it been in the smaller apartment with ample room for Julia’s things.

The course listing this year is huge! I would have missed several key classes had Lady Chander not circled them in red. Top of her list? Abyssal.

Ha ha.

After that was a course in recovered materials from Glivid-Autel. That did not bode well. At all. Even after the city’s utter destruction, the very real concerns about survivors have meant that learning about our ancient enemy was just as important now as when they existed in full force. The only real benefit of the Necromancer’s school is that it allows us to find hidden survivors when their students display a set of working knowledge no one outside of a guildsman should have in the Flanaess. Someone reinventing the wheel of necromancy every generation never figures out that necromancy is less about undeath and more about positive and negative energy use.

She also circled ‘Botany of Flan Herbals.’ And being a master I am now actually able to get into the class! Talk about filling up fast. Anatomists and masters always get first dibs leaving everyone else waiting and hoping for an open seat. I’m really disappointed that I can’t take it at home, but at least I still get to take it.

While digging through the course list with Kaila and William, James and Chelsea came in with a cake to celebrate my passing of the exam. During the party, a bar of chocolate came flying into the room saying it was for me. When I opened it, I found a golden ticket inside, wrapped around the chocolate. When I pulled it out to see what it said, everyone burst into a spontaneous and obviously magic induced song about having a golden ticket.

Master Silverbreak proved to be the brave one and ate the chocolate.

I’m really starting to hate this place.

View
Journal Hunting
Readying 27th, 937CY

On returning from Hollowfaust, I took a moment to update the file on the appearance of the Underfaust for the next edition of the annotated Journal. As per my word, I did not include anything about Gray Night. Before the end of Zagyg’s mission, I’ll need to redact those pages from this journal. A promise is a promise.

Sally came by to talk wedding dresses and instead spent two hours either yelling at me or yelling at my wardrobe. With all the running around, I had lost a few inches on my waist. It hadn’t occurred to me that my stays were laced so tight they were overlapping in the back and still loose enough to put two fists down the sides. Wedding dress discussion was put off while she fitted me into a new corset and refitted my clothes. Michael walked in in the middle of Sally’s tirade and walked right back out. He came back with a slew of cousins turning my trial by fabric into a peanut gallery. My mother, looking to see how the wedding dress was coming along, was kind enough to send them all packing.

Felicia came by to practice with Michael. I asked her once why she practiced against my brother when she was by far the better swordsman. She said it was because Michael was completely unpredictable and fought dirty. It didn’t matter how good you were if your opponent wasn’t fighting fair.

And Michael excels at ‘not fair.’ Any sparring session with him ended with the need for a bath and a serious need to pommel him senseless for his rampant, defamatory commentary. I honestly don’t know how Felicia keeps a cool head during the verbal onslaught that accompanies his attacks. Michael’s only gotten her goat once and was floored hard for it. Thinking she’d seriously hurt him, Felicia went to help him and ended up pinned in a mud puddle.

Engagement is supposed to mean that the bride and groom would be trusted to have time unchaperoned. Andrew and I found out very quickly that doesn’t apply to us. Lunch was chaperoned by Gavin. An evening at the opera was accompanied by Andrew’s father. A morning stroll was spent helping yet another in an endless group of chaperones from slipping in the snow. I swear they’re all using the engagement as an excuse to mooch free meals and tickets.

It didn’t take me long to dig through the records to find Serena Hollis’ file. Her journal with the required information might as well have had a big red arrow on it. Honestly, how did no one notice this for the past 300 years? A rhetorical question when a painting of my Great Ancestor is on the wall in the records office.

After making a copy of the journal, I spent some time writing out my proposal to take down Penelope Dronik’s prostitution empire. While the rumors spread by the True Watch have kept a considerable number of girls on the scene out of her stables, she’s still stepping on my territory. When I finished the first draft, I left it on Gavin’s desk. Lately, he’s been spending a lot of time at the library. I really hope that it’s with a secret girl friend. I’m getting tired of Grandpa’s not so subtle hints that he should be getting married. I agree with Grandpa, but he could be less annoying about it.

C.

View
Wild Mornings
Wild Mornings

Aleistar could feel the approaching dawn. It was still a little under an hour away, but after so many years he could tell the coming of dawn from multiple senses. He had no idea if this was due to his curse enhancing them or if it was simply habit. But, no matter what the reason, there were signs his senses never missed.

It always started with the scent of morning. No matter where he was he could smell the unmistakable but subtle smell of the world heating as the yet unseen rays of the sun began to warm Oerth. It was slightly different depending on where he was. On open seas, it was a refreshing salty, crisp smell as the entire planet slowly simmered. In a city, it depended on the character of the city. Greyhawk City had a slightly sweet smell with a depth that could never be identified. But sometimes there were differences even in the same place. Here in Greyhawk City when docked at the Wharfs outside the gate there was a muddy smell that hinted at something older and more primal. He assumed it has something to do with the river. Rivers were odd, give him a sea or ocean any day. But no matter where he was he smelled dawn before he heard it.

The sound of dawn was like the soft rolling of an insistent wave. This made it hard to discern on the ocean. But the familiarity, the ancient and relentless changelessness of it, made it identifiable even in a chorus of similar sounds. Here at the city docks it was easy. The subdued roar of day was like an alarm clock.

His familiar gazed at him from across the room. Xerxes, the undead parrot who showed up one day, was part of his curse. The thing was as vocal or silent as torment necessitated. Although not strictly a tormentor, it would not spare him the pain of self reflection. It could be he was really part of the curse. Or it could be birds were jerks; Aleistar could not say.

For the 16,443 morning he was waking up not knowing many things that were important about his curse. He and his father had, all those mornings ago, stumbled into a bad situation on an archeological dig in the jungles. In rapid succession they fought undead, ran into a lich who experimented on them, apparently freed said lich from a curse by accident, his father was seemingly killed. He escaped, fought more undead, found a ship, and caused some serious problems. The lich fused with the ship by accident and left with, surprise of surprises, his father very much alive and imprisoned.

Then things got bad.

He was found half dead by angry Olman tribesmen who did not take the freeing of the lich from an ancient curse with much class. So, because it was apparently the way of their people, he was cursed by Mictlantechuhtli, god of death and darkness to wander the earth seeking the ship. He must never leave the water for more than three days. He must greet the Sun each morning and Moon each night. Each time he fails this he turns slightly more into a vampire. He must find the ship and imprison the lich or destroy him.

He looked at his translucent image in the mirror as he got ready. It was barely visible. Over the years…mistakes had been made. There were times when, through no intention, he could not meet the commands of the curse. He had slid more than a little toward a state he had no intention of inhabiting. He adjusted his clothes and took a deep breath. As always for the last few years…the others would be waiting.

Penny Treesong gazed up into the blackness of the sky. Stars were visible, as were the two moons Luna and Celene, but it was a dark night. She looked to her left at the face of the ship’s cook, Baozhai Suntouched. Baozhai was watching the predawn activity on the docks. People hurried in the darkness while they loaded supplies. The obnoxious scent of sailor food came across the deck but was repulsed by the divine smell that always came from Baozhai’s kitchen. To serve on The Wild was unique in many ways. Assuredly, the quality of the food was one of the good ones.

Penny prepared for the coming of the light by raising the illusion that hid her appearance. Slowly the two side horns that were draconic ridges that encircled her head and emerged on either side, faded. Her ears lost their points and became the normal human rounded shape. Finally the central horn from her forehead vanished.

Baozhai looked at her, “It is Greyhawk City. Perhaps the illusion is not necessary here. After all, there are few things that shocks these people.”

Penny smiled because a smile was always expected from her rather than the frown that was in her mind. “Doubtful. Besides what do I say when someone even politely asks. Hello there, I’m part dragon and part unicorn, oh I know I look human but that’s just because both of the species that made me like to wear your form.” She laughed a real laugh, “Could be a tad uncomfortable.”

“But,” Baozhai said, “interesting to say the least.” She looked back toward the crew quarters. “Sometimes I wonder why he cuts it so close.”

“Aleistar?” Penny asked. “I suppose it’s the only thing he can control. Cutting it close.”

“Hmm…I suppose.”

Penny shook her head at Baozahi’s motherly concern. She did that with all of them from time to time…treated them like she was their mother. Although odd at first, Penny had grown used to sharing her morning ritual of waiting for the sun with her two crewmates. There was no denying that the first time they all realized that they waited for the sun each day was a moment of discomfort and suspicion. It was as if each person had intruded on a private moment of the other. And for months they did it divided, sometimes close in proximity, and in silence.

It was Bazahi who, long ago, asked the question they all had wondered. She was the first to ask: Why? Penny had no problem with telling them she liked it. She did it just because she liked it and for no other reason. She guessed that it was because of her nature and calling as a healer that seeing Pelor each morning was something deeply important to her. Penny then asked the question back to Baozhai who said that her people had a deep love of the sun and explained the nature of the Emperor of the Isles: The grandson of the sun. And also there was a spell that allowed her to communicate mentally with her fiance at dawn.

Then Aleistar told them about his curse. Slowly it became an unspoken pact between Penny and Baozahi that he would not wait for the dawn alone. They greeted the dawn because they loved it and life. He did so with obligation and dread.

As Penny reflected on how they had gotten to the point when a half dragon half unicorn waited with a mysterious cook for a gradual vampire to meet the dawn, she heard Baozhai remark, “Someday your penchant for racing the sun to the horizon will be your undoing.”

Aleistar smirked as he bounded onto the deck from the stairs that led down to the crew quarters.

“For my daily date with two beautiful women…I had to make myself acceptable.”
Penny smiled, “You’re pretty Aleistar, but she’s engaged.”

“And you?” he asked with a grin.

“I’m part Bronze Dragon and part Unicorn. You’re either going to be killed or get nowhere.”

“Disappointing.” He said with a shrug.

“And standard morning conversation.” Baozhai added.

Akilu looked down the deck at the three crewmen waiting for dawn as he pulled himself from the water. He enjoyed long night swims next to the ship while it was moving. Short dips in harbor were sufficient since he often found the water unpleasant. He had received odd looks from some of the newer sailors in the dock. Even in Greyhawk City a Darfellan was almost unknown. Rare to begin with, the aquatic humanoids related to whales, were the focus of a mass genocide carried out by the sahuagin. The sahuagin father god and creator; Sekolah the god of sharks, demanded living sacrifice. The peaceful Darfellan met the need. Although stronger than most of their attackers, they were vastly outnumbered at the start. And that was a situation that grew worse with each death.

Now there were very few Darfellan villages and almost all of them were hidden from outsiders. Even most Darfellans were not trusted with the knowledge of all the locations. Akilu came from a village hidden on a small island in the Lordship of the Isles. His people were trying to get their numbers back to levels that would enable them to survive more in the open. So it was rare for an able bodied male to be abroad on the sea rather than at home mating in the rotation of mates. But some did go into the world to keep the people aware of events, be the connection between scattered villages and to hunt their enemies. He did return home to mate in the rotation as well as at allied villages yearly.

Even the thought of the hated sahuagin made his rage grow. Akilu sighed a prayer to the whale mother for peace in his mind and went about the morning business. With the Captain away he had to see to the running of the vessel, it would not do to dwell on things. And as one of the few who actually did know all the locations, he must be calmer than others. Even when thinking of the enemy.

As he was dwelling; Rotaesha nodded as she passed by on her way to breakfast. The aquatic elf from the underwater Elven City of Shavainwin was, after the captain, the person Akilu trusted the most. She had not lost her people but she had lost her family. They had been murdered by humans while swimming. The reason for the murder and the identity of the murderers was still a mystery.

Rotaesha gestured behind him toward the gangplank. “It seems Gren is the victim of a late night.”

Stepping onto the ship was Grendlestomp Heartbreaker, a gnomish giant slayer who has a large appetite for romance and wine. His ramshackle appearance and the smell of alcohol indicated that he had not just stepped out for some air. The gnome smiled at the large whaleborn first mate as he remember the night and anticipated the question.

Gren woke up with his head down on a table in the Last Stop Inn in the River Quarter. He checked the coins in his hand and noticed that the amount of a nights stay had been deducted. It was fair, he had slept there after all. He remembered something else: A poker game. A poker game, comments about someone’s mother and then fighting three men. He looked around the room until his eyes settled on one man who bore a familiar bootprint on his face. One accounted for, thought Gren. He followed the trail of blood to the kitchen to find the second man. He found him, in mostly good condition but missing most of his right ear. Gren became aware of an unaccustomed wet heaviness in his left pocket. He tentatively reached in and removed the fragment of the ear. He held it for a moment in amused confusion before licking it and slapping it onto the mangled remnant still attached to the man’s head. The force of the reattachment woke the man from his state. As he sat up, Gren delivered a right fist across his jaw. It would not do to have a conscious loser of a fight behind you to bring reinforcements. The shudder of the blow knocked the carelessly reattached ear to the floor.

“Well, I tried.” Gren mumbled as he went to find the third man.

Finding the third man did not go well. He was nowhere in the inn or stable area. Nothing for it now, Gren thought. He hated to leave with a possibly conscious vengeance minded man behind him. He wondered if that was actually worse than having him in front of you. After all a man in front of you would be waiting outside the inn when you left. With two more friends. He most certainly would.

Gren looked over the three men before him as he emerged both grumpy and mentally allergic to the bright light of the sun. Two were stupid, one was an idiot. The idiot would be the one who wanted to do this all again with the same number of people.

“Really?” Gren said as he unfastened the hook ropes that were both weapon and belt. “You brought two friends. Like the two from last night, Not good at math?”

The man scowled. “Last night you got lucky.”

The man was twice again as big as Gren, but gnomes were used to that. Gnomish giant slayers thrived on it. “No. I was lucky two nights ago.” The man paused confused until Gren added, “Just ask your mother.”

The fight would have started right there if it was not for his friend laughing. The first man spun on his friend but before he could say anything Gren looked at the second man, "Yours was there too, she provided the costumes. Both of them looked at the third man. “Nah,” Gren said, “nothing to say about his mother. Good upstanding lady.” He paused as he finished getting his weapons fully ready, “his dad however, is a total freak. I was with him three days ago.” That’s when the fight broke out.

He smiled at the memory of what followed and began to tell the first mate the story.

In the mornings Thalendale would fly. Actually in the latest and deadest part of night she would fly until dawn. She would do the same at twilight. There was something about seeing the world from above at the beginning and end of each day that helped her keep things in perspective. For the morning it served a purpose beyond her own embrace of freedom. It made sure the ship was safe. She could see for miles, even in the dark. She was the patrol and security who made sure everyone was safe. She spun in the air, her wings twisting at impossible and nearly magical angles and staying in flight. Thal was an experienced aerobat and loved to push the limits of her speed and ability.

As dawn was breaking she saw Gren plodding up the gangplank. She smelled, even miles in the air, the slightly acid oily scent of the first mate bristling. She dove at a straight ninety degrees toward the ship. This story would be too good to miss. She could see that Gren had blood laced with alcohol on him; someone elses blood. It would be a bar fight story. She loved bar fight stories. She never got into them and painfully desired to be in one. But the one time Gren took her to get involved in mischief she ended up cheerfully resolving the dispute. The gnome told her to get a little bit of an edge to go along with killer looks and he would take her out again in a year. Still, she learned much from his stories and was not about to miss one.

Roderick sat in the crows nest and watched Thal dive toward the ground like the downward arch of a long shot arrow. The elf loved stories and gossip more than he did. And that was saying something since he was the bard. He would hear Gren tell his tale at each meal today and for the next week; there was no hurry. Roderick was deep in thought about the Captain’s new questing strays. The Redsky did not seem like the type to quest or care about quests in any form other than a story. Indeed she showed an interest in the tales of people but not in people themselves.

The captain was an experience who experienced. And she did so with detached amusement. But now she had a group of heroes in tow at the behest of Zagyg. Truly Zagyg was the only person she seemed to show any loyalty to as far as doing what they said. She was loyal to her crew, as any good captain would be. They all knew the bond of their words to each other and that bond, the one of your own word, seemed to matter to her. So the presence of these people made little sense. But it was from Zagyg so it could hardly be expected to.
Of more concern to him was the idealistic young half orc. She was what…fifteen or seventeen at the most.

At thirty five Roderick could be her father, and he felt a sense of that obligation. He was an older one of her kind. He had seen the world. There were precious few good half orcs who made a difference in the world. He was on the edge of that. He was a poet of fairly decent skill, if his on evaluation and that of the crew was to be trusted. He did good in the world; but he was no hero. This girl, raised by elves, pretty, smart, an alchemist and excited to see the world and be on a quest…she was a hero. How could he show her what she was going to face as far as racism and hatred and still let her keep the idealism that defined her intact?

It did no good to ponder on an empty stomach. As dawn folded into the world like a rug of soft colors rolled out to welcome a kingly day, he saw Penny, Aleistar and Baozhai head toward the mess hall of the ship. By the time he descended Gren was leading the others in that direction while saying something about licking a severed ear.

He had not seen the ship mage, the halfling Nirene Stormborn. But she was as fickle as the weather itself, sometimes jovial and sometimes reclusive. Sometimes the soul of joy and sometimes the scion of dread. It seemed the captain was the only one who truly understood her. They welcomed her when her erratic moods drew her to them and gave her the space the other side of her demanded. As he headed toward the luxurious smell of exotic spices and morning standards he passed the ship’s engineer Humphrey heading out to watch while everyone ate.

“Morning good sir.” Roderick said, tipping his feathered hat to the old man.

“It is one.” said Humphrey in an accent that most of the crew would bet was from a distant world and plain since it had no counterpart in any they have visited. “But lad, you go eat. I’ll take my old bones and do the work of half a dozen people while you all have a delicate breakfast like hothouse flowers. Eating your pancakes and egg dishes…like flowers do.”

“Oh sir,” Roderick said as he descended into the mess hall, “You know you are happy…we are just giving you time alone with your lady.”

Humphrey watched the half orc descend the stairs and vanish. Sly green bugger he thought to himself. Nice enough for a sack of circulating water, iron and oxygen. He was right though, this was time for him and the ship. The start of the day, when they discussed the course ahead. He had the mental bond with the ship, as the the captain and the first mate. The halfling mage had something similar but different. Still, it was his time to commune. The little vitamin bags did not need to keep watch. The grand lady the Wild Endeavor could do that herself if needed while they ate.

As he was heading to the stern of the ship he nearly ran into Nirene Stormborn as she came out of her room. She looked grumpier than usual, Her hood was up but the vague blue electric glow of her eyes was visible radiating out from beneath. He could smell the wiff of burning oxygen and hear the crackle as energy passed between her eyes.

“One of those mornings eh?” He asked.

Nirene nodded. “A bit of ionization in the air. The air is alive with anticipation of something?”

“Storm?” asked Humphrey.

“Not the traditional kind,” she said, “But yes. Yes. I would say…” she trailed off a bit confused, “I would say a storm of some kind.”

“Well we’ve seen many a storm, the good lady and I…natural or unnatural…or supernatural for that matter.”

She mostly dismissed him, not interested in a story or twelve about daring exploits of a whatever the hell he was and a ship.

“Are they eating?”

“Indeed lass.”

“Do I smell….Seed cakes?”

“Always the halfling girl eh…you smell them as sure as there’s air. She makes them for you.”

The crackle and blue light faded and she looked at him with warm brown eyes. “Good morning, Humphrey.”

“Morning girl. Same as always. Good morning.”

View
Gray Night
Readying 25th, 937CY

The evening after Eve’s exam, I left a letter at the 3rd gate for her, asking her to call on me at the Sevestrian house the next morning after breakfast. She showed up looking sleepy but elated. To celebrate her passing of the exam, I took her to The Baths.

Eve chose a massage with her bath and then to have her henna redone. I followed suit, but instead of henna, I went with a manicure in the red black that’s so popular in Hollowfaust. It looks absolutely ghoulish. I am sure Vicky will disapprove as much as Michael says he likes it. During our treatment, a long, thin, snake-like construct crawled around Eve, though it moved out of the way easily enough when the girl working on her would push it aside.

When I asked, Eve said that the construct was a result of one of the exam questions. Master Bloodsin had tossed a bag of materials on the table and she had to identify the animal, part of the animal, and sex of the animal from the pieces inside. After the identification, she was to construct, animate, discuss why she had chosen the specific items used, how it effected the animation process, and the construct’s temperament. Despite its disturbing appearance, it was rather sweet and gentle. She named it Evan after her dad.

After a light lunch together she told me to meet her at the Third Gate just before night fall and to bring Bannik along. An easy task. I showed up at his hotel room in the First District and told him he was my date for the evening. If he’d had the blood to blush, I’m pretty sure he would have. His gait changed to the awkwardness of someone who is really happy but also really nervous as he walked in arm with me. Points for him: he remembered to walk on the carriage side of the street. As we walked, he pointed out that tonight was a Gray Night. When Luna was dark, the top of the actual hollow faust lit up with some riotous ritual the necromancers performed.

Eve was waiting for us at the gate and she took us deep into the Underfaust. We ended up waiting in a crowd for a lift to the top of the faust. Everyone around us was laden with food. Everything from homemade dishes to bakery boxes filled to the brim. The three of us ended up holding food while the owners of the dishes shuffled children and familiars into the lifts. Once in a lift, Eve swore us both to secrecy.

“It’s been our thousand year old secret and a bit of a prank we play on the populace,” she said. “Gray nights were established as a way for the guilds to put politics aside and have a good time together. That anyone thought our monthly barbecue was sinister delighted the Pilgrims so we’ve kept its nature a secret.”

At the top of the faust, it was exactly as described. A large bonfire was set up in the middle of the festivities. Tables ringed the entire area and groaned under the weight of all the food. Smaller cooking fires had large iron pots filled with soups and stews. Hot coals taken directly from the bonfire were used to smoke large racks of pork and chicken. There was absolutely no organization to the food distribution. Food was placed where ever there was an available space. Extras of anything were carefully wrapped and placed under the tables to be switched out when a plate, box, or dish emptied.

And there wasn’t a start signal. Party goers were already sitting together on large picnic blankets, eating and laughing away. The dragon construct Hareneth landed to one side and was immediately rushed by a mass of children who crawled on him like a playground jungle gym. Eve gave us both amulets that would allow us to see and interact with the ghosts and other ethereal undead on the faust.

As she led us through the crowd, hand after hand would pat her on the head or yank on her sleeve with a congratulations of some kind or another. Eventually a few incredibly pale, red eyed, full blood Suel, later identified as her cousins, gathered around us to help us get to a table for food and then to a blanket. Bannik and I were introduced to her father Evan, his Unfailing Gregory, the stunning half-elf Ivy, and her boyfriend Lucian. Who is the prettiest man I have ever met. And that’s saying something. Borrowing the words of Kylie Evernight, I’m pretty sure that all a Sevestrian woman can birth is eye candy.

While we ate, different masters from guilds stopped by to offer congratulations and also to talk with Bannik. Eve had managed to arrange, even in this crowded atmosphere for several people who might have a clue as to Bannik’s origins to meet and talk with him without overwhelming him with too many people. Many ideas were bandied about, but what wasn’t up for debate was his origin. They all believed Bannik was human, which was something of a shock to him. Eve’s father explained that his memory problems were a textbook example of a trauma induced stress disorder. While it happened on occasion to demi humans such as elves, it was a clear indication of a human mind. Eve thinks that Bannik’s soul was moved from his body into the artificial one though she wasn’t sure if it was something someone did to him or if he did it to himself. A few of the masters were attempting to guess his age based on the materials he was made from rather than his memory. This started a new round of debate over the age of a particular style of sack weaving versus the apparent age of obviously magical materials.

The most fascinating part of the exchange was how they listened to Bannik. Anything he said weighted heavily in their theories. And not once was he treated as a thing. He was just another person here, albeit one with an interesting dilemma. I’m not sure if this made Bannik more or less comfortable. But no one invaded his personal space and everyone asked before examining him.

The oddest part of the night was watching every undead circle by Eve at least once to touch her hair or her shoulder. Some she simply smiled at and others she talked to for a few minutes. Even Hareneth, who would walk the entire area, eliciting delighted squeals of laughter from the children riding him, stopped and very gently touched her on the shoulder. After watching the umpteenth undead act bizarrely around Eve, I broke with my manners and asked her what exactly I was seeing. She suddenly looked sheepish and explained that she was naturally what most necromancers work their entire lives to achieve; an undead master. She said that all undead react this way to her. For unintelligent undead, she often has to command them to return to their master’s service, but intelligent undead find her to be incredibly soothing.

I think she finds them just as soothing.

As the bonfire died down in the early morning light, Eve and her father helped us back to the Third Gate where carriages manned by undead waited to take Gray Night celebrants home. I took one last look over my shoulder at the festivities and saw a familiar looking ghost speaking with one someone. Which is odd. I spoke to a few ghosts that night, she didn’t look like any of them. My dreams that early morning were filled with swirling ghosts, each pulling me further and further away from the one I couldn’t identify, obscuring a clear view.

C.

View
Lab Journal
Readying 23rd, 937CY

In cramming for the exam, I intentionally left animation for last. It’s always been my favorite subject. I’d do nothing but pour over my books again and again neglecting everything else… including eating. I love the feel of bleached bone, the smell of cured sinew. The touch of a skeletal hand is as comforting as my father’s hug. The cold that exudes from liches and ghosts is warmth to me. Constructing and animating are as easy as breathing.

I would have made one hell of an Animator.

Saving animation for last has the added bonus of being able to study surrounded by my many constructed pets and servitors. Scratch that. Covered in them.

Which is how Ivy and Lucian found me when they stopped by with a late supper for me. A few went flying when I stood to hug Lucian. He twirled me around to get a look at the coat he bought me before stealing a kiss long enough that Ivy coughed to remind us that she was standing there.

During supper they wanted to know how I was handling being away for so long. I explained that it hasn’t been easy and with this mission involving Zagyg, I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be away. It’s one thing to be far from comfortable when you know there’s an end in sight, but there was no end to this. The temptation to bring one or two of my constructs with me is overwhelming, but would not go over well. Even taking time in the crypts under Greyhawk City is ill advised. The steel toothed rats helped a bit, but I hadn’t realized how bad it was until Braithwaite started playing with zombies like they were candy.

After getting me to promise that I would get some sleep, Ivy headed off leaving Lucian and I to have some time alone. Speaking for myself, that’s not exactly a good idea. But Lucian never lets our time together go too far and all I really wanted was to be held. The natural negative energy sink within him responded to my talent the way it always does and my little constructs attempted to crawl up in between us. Annoying as it was, it was a good sign that it was time for me to get to bed.

I have three ghostly retainers and they were sure to get me up and ready in time for my father to come by with breakfast. He helped me carefully pack the qanat plans into my massive portfolio before giving me a hug and promising to escort me to the test after my meeting with Master Baryoi.

Having read all of Frederick Wolfsmith’s case files, having a lost one revealed was incredibly exciting despite the circumstances. That the work of two of Hollowfaust’s greatest heroes would touch us here and now was both astounding and a bit terrifying. A secret cult working tirelessly for hundreds of years only discovered through shear luck? We are woefully unprepared for it. I take that back. Some of us are woefully unprepared. Braithwaite questioning the logic of people both far wiser and far more intelligent than him was maddening. There is no way that he hasn’t read the other case files. They are incredibly popular reading across the Flaness. People only vaguely familiar with Hollowfaust often ask me if Master Moonrise was a real person.

Right now, I am seriously thankful that Aderyn isn’t here. While I was disappointed in her sudden dropping of important information, I also wasn’t surprised. I’m not sure how she would have reacted to what was revealed here. The only people who look to be taking the situation seriously are Marcy, Bannik, and Sir Rigby. Marin doesn’t seem to care. The Duchess looks bored out of her mind. Belle doesn’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation. And sweet Delwin seems really confused that metallic dragons may not be the best of allies in this case.

After the meeting, Marcy wished me good luck and Dad helped me carry my portfolio to the Sovereign Council’s chamber. The chamber was not a grand room of importance. It was a cramped place barely bigger than a walk in closet, but all the better to get debate rolling and decisions made. Quite a crowd had already gathered to wish me luck and wait for the results. Master Ravensmark was getting the buffet together while my cousins cleared a path to the door.

Grandmaster Derraine sat for the Anatomists. Grandmaster Ulat sat for the Animator’s Society. Grandmaster Stormcutter sat for the Chorus. Master Erin Bloodsin sat for the Disciples. Allen sat for the Followers. Lady Chander sat for the Speakers. And Master Thorn Metalson sat for the Sowers.

The next several hours started with Master Ulat attempting to stump me right out of the gate with a question about Lady Danar’s work on juju zombies in light of Master Hiram Wan’s work on positive energy undead. He might as well have asked me if two plus two equaled four. His jaw dropped at my response. Throwing up his hands, he said, “I have masters in my guild who can’t answer that question. You have my vote of pass.” Thanks to Lady Chander, I was ready for Master Metalson’s question on golems.

“Describe medical treatments for Unfailing suffering from the condition commonly referred to as “Moonflower.”

“Choose any passage from Master Iris Sinclar’s ‘Love Song’ and describe it’s significance to dogma in the Church of Leara.”

“Why does Master Longroad’s play ‘Sweet Warm Night’ succeed where his play ‘Queen of Dreams’ fails despite expanding on the same fear inducing themes?”

“Discuss the work of any Hollowfaust seer who was not a member of the Readers Guild.”

Round after round. Question after question. Vote after vote of pass. The last question came to Allen and he hit me with a doozy: “How do positive and negative energies interact in temple pagodas on the Isle of Pearl?”

Leave it to my Guildmaster to check my record and see that I’d never taken a class on Isle of Pearl architecture.

Flying blind, I used the chalk board to map out the basic pagoda structure, remembering from random reading that the number of floors always ended on an odd number and that the roof would have a metal finial to act as a lightening rod. Calling on my knowledge of how positive and negative energies play in overly tall buildings with multiple eaves, I cobbled together an answer that drew smiles from all assembled. And Allen gave me his vote of pass.

The pressure suddenly gone, I fell into my chair and took a few deep breaths before presenting my gift: the plans for the qanat. I’m not sure when Master Baryoi or Master Demos came in, but both were on either side of me, cooing over the simple yet elegant design that would improve irrigation on the fausts. After making sure I could stand on my own, Allen walked me to the door and the waiting crowd. He yelled, “FULL PASS!”

And I’m pretty sure the rest of the Underfaust could hear the cheering!

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.