Starday, Calistril 2, 4713 evening
Caravan, Necropolis, Path of Spirits
The yeti’s were no longer a threat and their king had given us free passage through the necropolis, but we were still stuck waiting until tomorrow. While we could fly or air walk across the chasm, the caravan oxen and wagons needed to roll across a solid surface, and with the anti-life bubble still blocking the existing bridge, we needed a couple of Wall of Stone spells to erect our own.
It was still not yet mid day, and there was talk of removing all traces of Fumioshi from the necropolis. One of our primary concerns was the mysterious magical aura surrounding the tree in the middle of the deep blue glowing pool.
“It’s based necromancy,” Ivan said, “but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it does.”
None of us could. And so we fell back to experimenting. I took Katiyana’s head, which I had recovered from the chasm earlier, and held it in the pool while Ivan looked on with Deathwatch.
Moments later a pair of shadows appeared at the tree and approached. And just as before they stopped at the water’s edge, which was exactly where the magic field ended.
We couldn’t just leave the shadows there, and so Ivan and I used force spells to slay them. Unfortunately this left us no better off than before. Did the magical field create the undead, contain them, or both? We did not want to dispel the effect only to discover it was the only thing containing any undead created here.
In the end we used Stone Shape to carve crude warnings in various languages to keep anyone else passing through here from blundering into the pool. It was not a satisfactory solution, and none of us were happy, although Beorn had one of his hysterical cackling fits during our discussion.
Sunday, Calistril 3, 4713 evening
Caravan, Southern Foothills of the Wall of Heaven
Fresh air! It will take weeks for before the caravan itself is free from the stench of the necropolis and under-tunnels, but it took only a minute or two of blinking in the bright winter sunlight to shake off the gloom from our prolonged reliance on magical light.
A pair of Wall of Stone spells this morning and I had constructed a sturdy bridge for the caravan to cross the chasm. And then some judicious use of Stone Shape to open up a rock wall and a short while later we were out in the cold clear light of day.
Ulf said we were almost sixty leagues west of the Path of Aganhei, and then another one hundred forty or so to our first town of significant size since Kalsgard, although Ordu-Aganhei was no where near as big as the former.
But I don’t care. The delightful resinous aroma of spruce and fir has replaced the sharp smell of chert and flint (not to mention dessicated mummy and unwashed yeti). Various hues of green contrast lovely with rich browns and greys, which are all perfectly illuminated by a blazing ball of yellow in a deep blue sky.
Tonight’s camp was as cheerful as it has been since we clambered up onto the high ice. Timber summed it up best as we were sitting around the camp fire with the stars shining brightly above, “I’ve missed this!”
Wealday, Calistril 6, 4713 evening
Caravan, Path of Aganhei
We’re back on the main caravan route and heading south. We’ll be losing elevation the further we go, which means warmer temperatures. Heck, just moving south means warmer weather and more daylight hours.
We passed a group of hunters, on foot and heading north. They were a dour and grim bunch and looked at us with distrust and open hostility. I suppose we must have returned the same look, but it was odd to pass by people for the first time in weeks only to huddle down and ignore them.
At least they didn’t throw anything at us.
Starday, Calistril 16, 4713 early evening
We reached the city in the late afternoon. Brightly painted wooden buildings peeked out over an encircling wooden wall, and my spirits lifted as we approached the gate.
Here Ulf reminded us that this was as far as he would travel with us. Obviously we knew that, but we had been through so much together for so long that our party will seem lacking without him.
“There is a field within the city walls for caravans, and I’ll help you get settled in before I leave.” Ulf then frowned and looked over at the iron gate ahead before adding, “Be careful in Tien. Stay on the roads. It is not just bandits that will pose a risk if you venture away from public spaces. And be careful in Ordu-Aganhei. The prince has a reputation for being cruel, although he could prove a powerful ally should he befriend you.”
And with that we arrived at the northern city gate. A sizeable guard was posted there, and the leader hailed us rudely, “Halt! Who enters our city?”
Kali replied politely. More than politely. But she was met by scorn and accusations of our party being brigands, thieves and spies. The leader then motioned for the guards to search our wagons.
Things were about to get very ugly, and Badger hissed out of warning, “People who live in a wooden city should be more courteous when greeting guests!” when an effete looking man in fine robes rushed out shouting, “Enough!”
The guards recoiled in fear, and the dandy layed down in the road before us and begged our pardon. He introduced himself as Chua, advisor to Prince Batsaikhar, most gracious ruler of Ordu-Aganhei. He then offered each of us (correction, each of us women folk) in the caravan a black rose.
Chua led us through the gate and told us that the prince had invited us to dine with him in his palace that night. We accepted warily, and led our wagons to the (empty) caravan field.
Ulf muttered, “I’ve never seen nor heard of anything like that before.”
Star was more blunt, “The whole thing stinks like the north end of a south bound yeti.”
Indeed all of my friends were grumbling and even Huffy was not happy. The whole encounter seemed staged, but to what purpose?
I took a tentative sniff of the black rose and found it totally void of scent.
Starday, Calistril 16, 4713 late evening
We are now guests of Prince Batsaikhar, and I have to admit that I preferred being with the yetis.
I’ve seen the prince’s type before: spoiled, over indulged brats who think only of themselves and grow up to be petty tyrants. We’ll need to tread very carefully here to avoid serious trouble, and so I am saying very little.
And then there is the matter of his ever present insincere smile. Ulf had warned us that the prince had been known to keep that smug smile even while having people executed (apparently for pleasure).
We need to get the hell out of and as far away from the city as soon as possible. Unfortunately the prince has invited us to stay for another four days. He invoked something called the “Five Feasts of Hongal,” with tonight having been the festival’s opening act.
We met for dinner in the palace’s grand ball room, along with about three hundred other diners. This might have put me at ease had we not been clearly made the guests of honor and primary excuse for the event.
My companions dressed in bright coloured clothes, but I stuck to the simple grey raiment of Groetus. To hell with the damned prince.
Dinner was inedible. It was exquisitely prepared, but dishes were bizarre animal parts that you would only eat if it were a choice between that and starving.
Dinner was followed by three different forms of entertainment, which were, um, entertaining enough, but after the performances we were asked to do repeat them, as if it were a competition. Kali, Ameiko and Sparna made a good account of themselves (Olmas less so, but he made a valiant effort), and the prince rewarded us with gifts.
|||Short bow, composite, masterwork|
|||+1 Arrows (x10)|
We’ve been given guest rooms in the palace, and are to stay here throughout the festival. And by “we” I mean Kali, Ameiko, Ivan, Koya, Radella, Olmas, Sparna and myself. The others — the caravan “staff” (as Chua called them) — were not invited: lucky them!
Sunday, Calistril 17, 4713 afternoon
This morning we were finally able to sell all of the excess loot we collected since leaving Kalsgard. I’ve got a lot of gold coins, and asked Sparna to add an enchantment to my flail. I did find tuning forks for casting Plane Shift to the Astral, Ethereal, Air, and Material (need to get back!) planes.
As we walked the streets of the city we did note just how clean it all was, and unexpectedly quiet. It was as if the entire town were holding its breath.
We also were able to find a suitable diamond to raise poor Bevelek, and enough diamond dust (and to spare) to perform the necessary restorations upon him and Trask.
The casting of Raise Dead was actually rather anticlimactic. I had never cast it before and was a bit nervous, but my friends helped by reminding me of the subtle elements of the spell. I had cast Restoration before, and although expensive, both applications went well. Olmas is totally back to his full abilities, although Bevelek needs another dose in a week’s time.
Sunday, Calistril 17, 4713 late evening
Tonight’s feast was much the same as last night’s: perfectly prepared disgusting glop. And they don’t do courses here: everything is brought out at once, and so even if you wanted to eat the stuff, half of it was cold before you could get to it.
Kali was wearing a lovely local dress, but it was considerably more revealing than what she usually wore. I looked quizzically at her, but she only returned my gaze with a half smile.
Later I learned that the prince had sent the dress to her earlier with the request that she wear it. If it had been sent to me the prince would have found himself wearing it as he danced from tabletop to tabletop.
Worse, even though our performance at story telling tonight was a joint effort, the prince saved his praise for Kali.
I do not like the way he leers at her.
Even worse still, the prince invited Kali to breakfast the next morning. This clearly upset Kali, but she graciously accepted, and we spent some time back in her room discussing our breakfast battle plans.
For one Sparna will act as her escort, and for two she will be carrying a little statuette of me so I can use Enter Image to monitor the whole affair (possibly a poor choice of words there).
Oh yes, the prince gave us another present after our performance.
|||Horsehead fiddle, masterwork|
Moonday, Calistril 18, 4713 late morning
“The pig touched her!” Star screamed.
“Calm down,” I tried to quiet her.
“The filthy pig touched her!” Star yelled again.
We were all upset. Breakfast with the prince, while uncomfortable for Kali, had gone fairly well… until it was time for Kali to leave. Then, as Star already stated, the filthy pig touched her.
Kali had returned to her room, and we were trying to reassure her and decide upon a proper course of action to safely extricate ourselves from the prince’s grasp.
It was not helping that Timber, Takoda and Star were running through lists of spells to cast upon the prince, while Beorn cackled with each new strategy they devised. The rest of my friends were disturbingly quiet, and I suspected had already sided with my vocal threesome.
I would be delighted if we could make it out the city with a minimum of fuss or violence, but if it gets messy I am quite certain the prince will die.
The caravan has left without us, and we will catch up to it when we can. On its own, without us, it is an uninteresting merchant’s caravan. With us in (or near) the city it is of interest to the prince, and a target if he becomes unhappy.
Moonday, Calistril 18, 4713 afternoon
Well things are worse. Radella spent some time inspecting our rooms and found a variety of secret doors and peep holes in the walls.
Just great. Add pervert to the list of the prince’s charms.
Starting with Kali’s room we spent some time closing the holes and wedging the secret doors so we cannot be so readily spied upon
Moonday, Calistril 18, 4713 late evening
Another feast of excess and another set of performances by the prince’s subjects and an answering one by us. And another yet another gift from the prince.
|||Vials of Flaming Breath (x6)|
Tomorrow night we are expected to provide the menu for the feast, and guide the palace kitchen staff in preparing it. Ameiko and I spent an hour or so coming up with a meal plan that should impress the prince and his other guests.
Kali is working on the entertainment: a production of the odd play we found in Brinewall. But she seemed distracted. The prince asked that she sit with him at tomorrow night’s feast (reason enough to be nervous), and she thinks he will propose marriage at the end of the evening.
Seriously, things just keep getting worse.
Toilday, Calistril 19, 4713 afternoon
Kali was wrong. The Prince did not wait until the tonight to propose: he did so during a private stroll through the palace gardens earlier today. Kali wisely did not refuse him, but made the reasonable excuse that she had to ask her parents first.
Toilday, Calistril 19, 4713 evening
Say what you will about the dishes the prince makes them prepare, but the palace kitchen staff is talented. Ameiko and I are quite confident that they will properly execute our menu, which will allow us to sit at the table with the rest of our companions.
Toilday, Calistril 19, 4713 late evening
Sparna was not at dinner. In fact Ivan has said that Sparna has left.
“What, left with the caravan?” I asked.
“No, he has left the party. He was tired of the constant danger and just wanted out,” Ivan replied.
Oh. Well crap. Now I’ll have to get someone I don’t trust to enchant my flail.
Dinner was a big hit, and Ameiko and are were both happy with the way it turned out. As an added bonus we all got to eat without risking nausea.
Kali’s production of the Brinewall play was also a big hit with Batsaikhar, but I think if Kali showed up in a burlap sack and belched to the tune of “The Sailor’s Wench is a Dolphin Prince” he would still gush over her performance.
The obligatory gift from the prince:
|||Jeweled scabbard, radiates magic|
The actors Kali arranged to be in the play appeared oddly relieved at the outcome. Apparently the prince has a habit of having anyone who does not please him executed.
The warning signs are there for us all. We need to get the hell out of here with Kali, and keep the caravan safe.
One of the actors was suspiciously interested in us and remained at our table asking to speak with us. He chanted something that caused his fellow thespians to fall asleep.
Kali cast Codespeak so we could all have a private conversation.
He said his name was Dasi, and that he was from Minkai. He knew the history of the the Minkai royal family, and that while all that remained were slain, one branch of the family fled across the Crown of the World to Varisia.
He then looked knowingly at us and said, “I hear you are from Varisia and crossed the Crown of the World in the dead of winter.”
We were all suspicious and cautious, but as he had already heard of Suishen, and recognized that this was the sword Olmas carried, Beorn boldly demanded, “Make him hold Suishen and let the sword confirm his intentions.”
Dasi held the sword for quite some time, and it was obvious they were having the same sort of conversation that often caused Olmas so much grief. And yet, in the end Suishen politely accepted him as an ally!
Wealday, Calistril 20, 4713 afternoon
As agreed upon the night before I had prepared Zone of Truth for questioning Dasi this morning. In an interesting conversation we found that he knew about the branch of Minkai family that fled, and looking at Kali and Ameiko said, “If they survived any heirs would be about your age.”
There seemed little point in hiding what he already had guessed (and McLovin really thought highly of Dasi) so I asked what he would do if the heir were standing before him?
Without hesitation he answered, “I would swear my service to her.”
“Well,” I said nodding over toward Ameiko, “there she is.”
Dasi immediately dropped to a knee (“Oh no, it’s another proposal!” Timber squeaked) and to the embarrassment of Ameiko pledged his allegiance to her.
Great. Now we just need to get all of us out of here without Kali getting married or held captive by the prince. Unfortunately the best plan put forth thus far is to leave her behind and then have her use a scroll of Teleportation to get the hell out.
This has a number of serious risks, not the least of which is that the prince can keep her in a place magically sealed against dimensional travel. In fact I suspect that the moment the rest of us leave, he will drop his nice guy pretense and make a grab for her.
And as if to confirm my fears that oozing sycophant Chua showed up with a pair of guards who were to stay with Kali “for her protection.”
I hate to agree with Beorn, but I suspect “before we leave this place some people are going to die.”