Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Excerpts from Aust's Personal Notes, I

Trials of the Free City Arena

On the evening before our scheduled fight with the Dwarves, we meticulously continued our search of the underground structure of the vast Free City Arena. After encountering multiple of its guardians, we found at its heart a gargantuan undead, an ulgurstasa of Kyuss, encased in a life-sapping stasis field. Erik carefully studied the containment field only to conclude that such magic was far beyond any of us, and both Hawk and I found little evidence ourselves to doubt this conclusion. Having already depleted considerable parts of our strength we thus withdrew to our designated sleeping quarters to await the coming of dawn, leaving this mystery as well as a single, unexplored doorway behind.

As for the conflict with the Dwarves it turned out to be surprisingly short and decisive. Although formidable opponents our magical prowess and strength in numbers gave us a tactical advantage, which could not be offset by their sundering blows. Suffering no particular ill feelings against our challengers, this was a non-lethal confrontation. Like us the Dwarves are just actors in this strange play of life and death which is carried out for the pleasure of the cheering crowd – an inspiring spectacle of heroics! Sadly, our defeated opponents turned out to be much less than heroic once out of the Arena. While Erik and I were busy gathering information, the Dwarves - now restored to full strength - treacherously attacked Eron and Hawk while resting. Alerted by the sound of battle Erik and I joined the fray and helped cutting down our attackers though not without cost: two magic blades lay sundered on the stone floor. I fear this could prove a major set-back given the challenges we know to be before us. On the other hand I have felt my mastery of song magic improving, and this bears well for the future. I am still a novice, though, and so I must continue to hone my musical skills as Círya suggested upon our last meeting.

Most of the guards had settled in for the evening, when we returned to the underground to investigate the last doorway and to search for more hidden passages. While successful in both I dare say that fortune did not fare us well this night, as Eron was slain by a demon and Serindë by a magically trapped door. We also found a small chest, which was protected by the most intricate and terrible magic trap I have ever encountered, lest heard of. Fortunately Erik managed to resist it or I fear that our body count would have increased even more. Finally, we discovered a zombie, which could be Ekaym’s sister. Since it is beyond my power to raise her from the Dead in her current state, we left her where she was.

Early next morning we found out much to our surprise that this day we would be fighting a monster and not another group of gladiators in the Arena. Amrod asked around and discovered that the creature was some sort of cryo-monster with tentacles, who was supposedly vulnerable to fire. In the Arena Erik was the first to realize that we had been duped. The creature called a Froghemoth was in fact resistant to fire, leaving many of my prepared spells useless against it. Still we managed to defeat it though it cost Amrod his life. Our numbers are now down by three, I dread who will be the next to fall? From the Arena floor Erik tried signalling to our sponsor, I hope he understood that we now need additional diamonds if I am going to bring back all our three friends before the final or it will over long before it has begun.

Then something happened, which changed everything. While recuperating we received a chance visit from our opponents in the final, Auric and Khellek. They brought with them a friend, the proprietor of a gladiator school, who wanted to meet us and invite us to train with them, regardless of the outcome of the following day. Erik seized the opportunity and shared with them all our knowledge about Loris Raknian and the ulgurstasa. The truth obviously caused them great distress and the same evening they ventured with us into the underground structure to confront the ulgurstasa. It turned out that the containment field could be weakened by channelling positive energy into it, however, nothing had prepared me for the backlash which drained at my very life force. I knew instantly that there would be some sort of permanent effect, but this was a small price to pay for our slaying of the undead behemoth. As was our defeat in the final the next day. Perhaps if we had all been less battle-weary, we could have triumphed over Auric and his band. At least it was a fight which I believe was worthy of remembrance. After it had ceased, we presented the overwhelming evidence against Loris Raknian, who of course had vanished without a trace. And so our adventures in the Arena ended.

.... The next few months we stayed at the gladiator school, while each of us spent the days on various tasks, and Hawk took leave of us to pursue personal matters. We will fast grow to miss his skills with the blade, I fear! At the school we have been introduced to an elf warrior called Coraanu, whom Erik seems to find suspicious.

.... This day we went to see Eligos. Entering his home we found the sage and his servant dead. Obviously our enemies are not resting. We must travel at once to Diamond Lake to find out what Allustan has discovered and to warn him!

Return to Diamond Lake

We made the journey to Diamond Lake in haste. As we approached the city, we saw that the mining town was in turmoil, smoke rising from many burnt houses. It had been attacked by a large black dragon seeking Allustan, who is rumoured to be investigating the Whispering Cairn. I have a grim feeling that this dragon is the same, whose plans we thwarted earlier in the swamps. After having done what we could for the townsmen of Diamond Lake, the others set a fast pace for the Whispering Cairn while I stayed back in the house to keep an eye on things in case the dragon would return.

The wait upon the return of my friends seemed as endless as it was cruel, my eyes fast aching from staring into the horizon from where they had vanished. At long last familiar silhouettes appeared from afar, carrying a heavy burden between them. It was Amrod, who had once again fallen in battle. While Erik hastily travelled back to the Free City for the diamonds that I needed to bring the elf back to life, Eron and Serindë told the tale of how they had slain the dragon and entered the Cairns again, finding more unexplored rooms. It was in one of these rooms, Amrod had met his unfortunate fate.

.... Following Erik’s swift return I immediately performed the ritual to call back Amrod’s spirit. With a sigh of relief I felt his soul answering to my call and saw the colour return to his face. The rogue had returned to us! Soon after my friends were thus ready to return to the Whispering Cairn – and it was only hard pressed that they were able to persuade me to stay back and complete my works in town. With Coraanu now having joined them and the dragon vanquished I pray to Corellon that they will fare better in the depths of the mountain this time so that no more souls need be called from their resting place.

.... This night Amrod, Coraanu, Eron and Serindë returned to the house, pale-faced and visibly shaken. Erik, they explained, was gone! They had encountered a terrible monster, a huge elder black pudding, which had been lurking in one of the chambers, disguised as a piece of the tiled floor. Although it was slow and easy to outrun, it had grabbed hold of Erik first and before their very eyes the wizard had been dissolved in its acidic grip, before the thing could be destroyed. Erik’s body and all his belongings had simply vanished into thin air, and Eron’s weapon was gone too. And so severely weakened my friends had wisely decided to withdraw while considering our next move.

The quest

His body consumed, it was well beyond my powers to bring back the spark of life to the young loremaster. And thus we needed to find someone who could, this vote was unanimous! Before our departure I communed with a powerful servant of Corellon, who confirmed that such help could be found amongst the clergy of the Death God in the Free City and in Glamis. When asked about Allustan, however, the celestial’s answers were unclear, and I deeply wonder what has happened to him that he seems to be neither alive nor dead?

Obviously, we travelled back to the Free City in haste, a road that was getting well-known to us. Upon arrival we first spent a few hours gathering information about how to best contact Ravel Dasindar, the High Priest of Al-Khadun, before Eron and I went to the Temple to petition for an audience. Eventually, we were led into the office of a church official, who listened carefully while I explained why it was so important to see his superior. The priest seemed to be swayed by our words and the following day we were summoned back to the Temple for an audience. Lacking the insight which only Erik would have had, I recollected our travels as best I could and presented our conclusions regarding the Conspiracy to bring about the Age of Worms. Obviously, without any hard evidence all I had to present was my words and my name, so we were dismissed that the High Priest could investigate the story.

A few uneasy days passed while we awaited his judgement. Finally, we were summoned back. The High Priest had decided that Truth rested in at least part of our story, and therefore he would give us a chance to prove ourselves. If successful he would bring back Erik from the Dead.

Our quest was to investigate the fate of a small deserted abbey in the village of Tharan, three days out of the Free City. And if possible to lift whatever curse now rested there. The abbey itself was built partly into the mountains and had been abandoned almost 200 years ago. Witchcraft was rumoured to be involved and horrible stories effectively had kept people away from reclaiming it.

As we slowly descended the slope leading into the overgrown ruins, which would have housed the inhabitants, we discovered that we were not the only ones seeking its secrets: a group of ogres had set up their camp right amidst the demolished buildings. Awaiting an opportune moment we eventually charged their camp and disposed of the war band and their two leaders while taking a single prisoner. After a bit of persuasion he told of their confrontation with a ghostlike creature inhabiting the abbey church located a while away inside the mountain. From the description it seemed likely to me that this creature was an incorporeal undead. Protected by daylight we made a short sweep of the outer parts before returning the next day under the protection of Corellon’s prayers to investigate the inner structure. The undead, once a priest of the abbey, was destroyed but the biggest surprise was yet to come. Hidden in the depths of the mountain a Glabrezu demon was bound by some sort of magic circle! From documents found in the abbey we learned that the demon had been summoned and bound by a dark-eyed priest, who had wanted to use it as a tool in obtaining knowledge and power otherwise unavaible to him. His ambition had ultimately led to the brothers killing each other and to his own damnation into undead.

The towering demon mastered telepathy and promised us to fulfil our wish, if we would let it return to its home. The demon’s words rang sound and true in my mind, it seemed likely that it would really do as promised. For a moment there I almost forgot that this creature comes of the Pits of the Abyss and by the looks of the others, I was not the only one. Especially Amrod seemed taken by it, by its promises of riches beyond imagination. To escape the scrutiny of the glabrezu we retreated to the outside to discuss the matter.

Although not everyone was convinced it was decided that the demon had to be destroyed or at least sent back to the Abyss. I felt everyone’s eyes resting on me, looking for leadership. There was one prayer that would send it back to where it belonged, but since this powerful demon was highly resistant to my magic it was highly unlikely that it would succeed. So blinded was I by this path that I completely forgot about another prayer which could bind the demon to this place at least temporarily. Thus, as we foolishly attacked it breaking the magic circle, the glabrezu just thanked us for letting it free into this world, its laughter still resonating in my mind. Then it was gone not having struck a single blow.

Our obvious failure fresh in our minds, we journeyed back to the Free City, where the story was told, and Erik was resurrected. The ogre war band proved to be surprisingly well equipped and most of the funds gained by selling their items as well as most of our undivided gold we gave to Erik that he could start equipping himself for the return to the Whispering Cairn, where Allustans fate is still unknown.

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