Elder Players' - Interlude Fourteen
The shiny black walls of the Temple to Erythrunal reflected the looks of concern and fear on the Finders' faces.
One minute they were in Tunis, seeking the Tome of Purity. Zeek had convinced them to go as a group to meet with
the Raksasha that haunts him. The tiger-man had told Zeek to meet him in the Black Temple in Tunis, City of Thieves.
They met the Raksasha alright, but it ended up being a gnomish technism...an artificial construct that walked, and talked, and basically thought like the real Raksasha. When the moved to flee the Temple, beyond its front doors they witnessed a horrid sight. The Temple, and the party, was no longer in Tunis. Outside the Temple howling vengeful winds howled and tore at a strange looking town within a closed cavern. So large was the cave, and so strange was the gravity, that buildings covered the floor, walls, and ceiling of the rocky wind-torn cavern. An entire city sprawled on every rocky surface.
Will quickly spoke. "We are in some sort of Hell. We are no longer on our home plane."
Jeremiah immediately began praying, while the rest of the party argued whether to destroy the gnomish technism of the Raksasha. In the end they decided to let it go free, and possibly strand in this dark city it kept calling the "Madhouse." What harm could it do in this hellish mad place.
Jeremiah's prayers were answered, and as the party of Finder linked hands into a circle, there was a flash of multi-colored light...and then all was brightness...and heat! When their eyes adjusted, they realized they were outside...with limitless sands stretching out before them in all directions. While the Madhouse had been all winds and cool darkness, this place was still, and the sun inflicted pain on the skin that it touched.
With some discussion, some praying, and a high flight by Vikos into the desert air, it was determined that the party was once again on their home plane, and that they were certainly on Kempin. But they were hundreds of miles from the Azure Kingdom, as the crow flies...and possibly a 1000 miles from the Azure Kingdom if they were to travel by land.
The sun cooked their flesh from above, and as it reflected up from the sand, it cooked from below. They had spells that could create water, and spells that could heal the sunburn and blisters. They even had ways to travel fast and not suffer as much from the effects. But they did not have the time to travel by foot all the way back to Tunis. They knew the location of the Tome of Purity. And it was very likely that Demons or Devils sought the book even now. And what if the real Raksasha grew bold, stole the book, and broke the seals at Birchmont himself...just to earn the admiration of his demon-lover?
No, the party quickly decided they must do whatever it took to get back to Tunis as quickly as possible.....
A POWERFUL MAGE IS CONTACTED (by Scott, Matt, and Mark)
Kit sat in the hot sand with one thought in her mind, she had to get relief from this infernal heat. She had
been out in the summer sun before and it was enjoyable when you had a breeze and shade close-by, but this was ridiculous.
Her dark skin seemed to draw the heat and it was unbearable and the sooner she could cast a endure element spell
the sooner she could help figure a way out of this situation. Vikos had levitated as high as he could to find some
refuge for the party, Zeek had thrown the bones for guidance on which way the Finder's should go. Now Vikos had
returned from above. Kit admired how direct priest of vengeance could sometimes be.
Vikos shook sand from his clothing and hair, and then he spoke. "How we ended up in this lifeless barran hell I'm not quite sure. It certainly is better than that wind-swept city the Raksasha kept calling the Madhouse. Even with our disagreement regarding the nature of our gods, I am again indebted to Jeramiah. We are in a terrible place, but we have powerful magics to deliver us. I can cast a darkness spell to give us shade for a while, so that we may rest and think of the best way to return to Tunis. We need to deliver the widows and orphans to a safe place and slay the giants and recover Jerimiah's book. I have a teleport scroll and won't hesitate to use it if we have no other means of deliverance. I know Javair has a tome with many teleport spells stored in it. I don't know how generous he would be, but considering how important Birchmont is to him...he may be a good person to contact. Thought, he has saved my ass so many times in the past I may be past my limit. Maybe we can trade the bag of desires we got from Grinval to him for enough teleport spells to bring us all home. If Javair won't help us, Vavasha is a good option, and he might take the bag it trade as well. Jerimiah can you get a message to Javair or Vavasha, if need be?"
Kit finally stood and cast her spell and felt a wave of relief wash over her as the intense heat was shielded from her and she once again donned her cloak drawing her hood to shield her sensitive eyes from the glare. She then said to the party "We have only one choice if we wish to continue with urgency on our quest to regain the white book. We must contact Vavasha and hope he finds our quest worthy of his attention."
The Finders discussed the option of contacting Vavasha, and alternative plans were rejected. Finally, there appeared to be a consensus...Vavasha seemed like a good first choice. Vikos shook his head and got everyone's attention.
Vikos let it be known that he was pretty sure he had mistakenly caused the death of a friend or family member of Vavasha. It seems that a rogue mage was tormenting the countryside around the town of Haven in the country of Crunal. Vikos slew who he believed was the trouble-making, but disquised mage. It was only after the fact that it became clear that he had slain Shapiro...nephew to Vavasha himself. Vikos was first imprisoned, and later exiled from Haven for a time.
The party silently stared at him for a few minutes till Kit replied "Why does that not surprise me." She turned to the party and reiterated, "That aside, we still must try this course for it may mean the difference between success and failure. Those that oppose us will only be better prepared as time passes."
Jeremiah asked Kit if she would word the sending, since she had spoken to Vavasha the most in their meeting on the quest for the Key to the Storm Gates. Kit sat down and started writing out the message that may get the busy mage to pull himself from his other projects. A while later, Kit rose and handed the note to Jeremiah and the group watched as he started the spell invoking Heronious' name and reading from the parchment in his hand. "Kit and the Finders of the Key beg for your aid. Devils threaten the fledgling Azure Kingdom. We seek the white book...the Tome of Purity, before it falls into the hands of our enemies. We travelled to Tunis, City of Thieves, but the trap of a clever Raksasha placed us in the hands of Erythrunal...black hand of slaughter. We escaped his realm, but we are far afield from our quest."
He stood there gazing off to the north waiting while others sought to strip away armor and gain relief from the sun. Suddenly Jeremiah stiffened and said he got a response, and everyone wanted to know the thoughts of Vavasha. Jeremiah responded, "All he said was, 'very Interesting.'"
Will said, "And what else?"
Jeremiah shook his head. "That was his entire response."
There was a stunned silence among the group. Zeek leaned to Vikos and whispered, "I think I've heard that name 'Shapiro' before...it brings up a thought or two of someone we've met. How was the troublesome mage disquised, anyway?"
Vikos gave Zeek a look of annoyance, and completed the darkness spell he had promised the group. An inky black cool spread over and throughout the Finders. Then Vikos answered. "The damned mage was hooded."
THE MANY PATHS BESIDES THE NARROW PATH
(Posted 6-8-2002, written by Jeff, Kevin, Matt, Scott, Steve, Mark, and even a line or two from Chris!)
Ruadhin sat in the darkness of the spell, glad of what little respite it provided. It gave him a chance to
think – something for which he was afforded little time of late. Normally, the long hours riding would give him
time for reflection, but his companions made that nearly impossible. If it wasn’t Zeek, going on about his newfound
“love” and her beauty and purity, it was Kit, telling tales of her “colorful” past, trying to embarrass him and
bringing the color to his cheeks.
He was uncomfortable, and not because of the oppressive heat upon him. Ever since he had seen the Drow and followed her, thinking she was his key to the city Tunis, he had been uncomfortable. This band he had fallen-in with was as worthy a group as he had come across, but considering the state of the lands, that was begging much.
He longed for the days of martial training to hone his body in defense of all that was good and just. There is a simple joy in stretching one's body to its limits, then taking it just one step beyond. He missed the silence of the library as he studied great religious writings and psalms to his god, Heironeous. Most of all, he missed the long hours of silent meditation and prayer as he communed with Heironeous in both heart and mind. Back then, he knew what he was doing was worthy, and there were no questions as to what needed to be done to accomplish his goal. Study, learn, and live the narrow path – that in itself is beautiful in the eyes of God. Everything he did was in praise of Heironeous.
Now, for the first time since he felt Heironeous’ touch, he felt doubt. He felt no doubt about his calling. “Never!” he exclaimed aloud, eliciting some unseen glances from his party. But, though he knew the end set before him was pure (For surely he could think of nothing more worthwhile than reclaiming a defiled monastery and restoring it for the glory of God!), he daily questioned the means with which his companions went about it.
Black and white was such a simple way to view the world. He only wished the world presented no shades of grey. How did Kit put it? “When in doubt, a Paladin just looks in his ‘code book.’ Someone is caught stealing? The code says to stop him. A Paladin requires no thought. Just a code." The real world, the world outside of his teachings, was not so simple. The thief he caught stealing? What if she was stealing bread to feed her starving child? Did she deserve to lose her hand for such an act of mercy? Everything he was taught was perfect…in a perfect world. Most people he had met did not perceive Paladins as the most intelligent of beings, and in truth, he could not begrudge them their opinions. Most of his comrades did not seem cursed with an overabundance of wit. And while he appreciated his intelligence and introspection in theory, sometimes he wished for the simple purity of task with which other Paladins approached their journeys. “Right wrongs in the name of Heironeous!” they would say. But would punishing that mother for her deed be righting a wrong, or simply insuring her baby’s death?
Ruadhin shook his head violently enough to rattle his armor. This time, his party didn’t bother to look in the direction of the sound. “You are a Paladin of the most holy god Heironeous!” he thought. “Even if your way is not clear, you must put trust in your decisions.” If he followed his heart, he knew he could not make the incorrect decision. After all, his heart’s desire was only to praise God and to see the world a better place through Him. Any decisions he made with his heart were surely the correct path. He knew, though, that this line of thinking was not done. One day, Birchmont would be clean, and then what of his future with this group of adventurers?
With a heavy sigh, Ruadhin put away these thoughts. They would do him no good right now. The only thing he needed to trouble himself with now was how to get his breastplate off. Even in the dark, it was still infernally hot in it. After a minute of fumbling with one of the leather straps, he gave up removing it himself. Maybe Vikos could help him with the buckle. “There’s salvation in the little things we do” he said to himself, “and Vikos could use a little salvation these days…”
"Zeek has some bad demons in his past. Who has he met that was hooded?" Eytai mumbled to himself
while pondering how the desert air burns his lungs. He had endured many difficult terrains in his years of travel
but never has he seen anything so barren -- not the arctic wastes produced by the magic of the Storm Gates, not
the scorched city of Archabel burned by warring wizards lightning, nothing. He amazes that the sun is so powerful
to create this place yet is required by all life on this plane.
He scans the horizon looking for anything, but this place is so hot, the sky and the earth melt together. He shakes his head in amazement and pulls his hood up to protect his head and eyes. Then he concentrates on the ground in front of him, slowly and methodically pacing an ever increasing spiral.
"Eytai? Where are you going?" Will asks.
Without pausing or lookin up, he replys, "Not going anywhere. Just looking for tracks or holes, any sign of life or place to take shelter."
The sun had been eclipsed by Vikos' magic and orange tracers filled Eytai's sight. At least they won't burn to death today.
Eytai stopped to wait for his eyes to adjust. Then he continued his search. Deep down he knew his wilderness skills could maybe save himself, but certainly no others. It would require magic he didn't possess.
Vikos wandered from his sphere of darkness and lay down in the sand. The hot sun beat on him, and then he began to speak quietly. “Tobin give me guidance. I have allied myself with this odd group of Heironious worshipers and those from distance places, in order to cleanse the Azure kingdom of Demons and Giants and send them back to their rightful places. I realize at some point in the future I may be at odds with the followers of Heironious but at this time our goals are the same. Why would Heirionious’ followers allow a consorter of The RakRon Deamon to live? I failed you Tobin. I was outnumbered and didn’t think they would actually allow him to go. In a moment of weakness I did not give Grinval his rightful retribution. For anyone who enslaves the souls of the living does not have the right to live on this world. Give me the strength to deliver judgment, even went the righteous ones around me do not. I plead of you Tobin, tell Heironious of his followers’ poor judgment and let him show them the right path to deal with evil ones such as Grinval. Deliver me from this terrible dessert and I will not fail you again.”
Ruahdin sat in the darkness, overhearing Vikos. He felt guilty listening to the lightning Priest's prayers...but he was unwilling to interrupt his words with his god. Was it not Vikos that chose to pray out-loud? Ruahdin had thought long and hard about letting Grinval go. For just the slightest moment he allowed himself to wonder what it would be like to live like Vikos...no code to study...no Narrow Path to walk. But then he remembered the insanity that comes from chaos. The lawlessness and disorder that comes from not having a code. He had promised Grinval he could walk away if he would give up his list of souls. And the code protects those that "surrender to your power,"...and that includes those that are evil. No, if they had not been travelling to Tunis...and place of evil itself...on a most important mission, Ruahdin would have arrested the surrendering Grinval, and taken him to the proper legal authorities for trial and punishment by law. For it is Heironeous' role to end life...and a paladin must only take life to protect his own, or the life of one he protects.
When Vikos came back into the darkness, Ruahdin approached the sound of his steps in the sand. "I overheard your prayer, my friend. Though we may not agree, I can tell your belief is sincere, and you feel you are serving your god. Know that I do the same."
Vikos nodded unseen in the darkness. "To follow a god, is to follow the unknowable. I want the things that you want...but my path is much more clear of obstacles than your path."
Ruahdin answered. "Your path is wide and much travelled. My path is narrow and true."
Vikos answered quickly. "Let us hope our paths lead to the same end...."
Both followers of gods chuckled softly and sat on the cooling dark sand beneath them.
"If Vavasha will or cannot help us, Let me and one other use my teleport scroll to travel to the Azure Keep, there would could borrow an item of Javair's that could teleport the remainder of the group back to Tunis or the Azure keep. If we hear nothing more from Vavasha by tomorrow's noon that is what we must do. What do you think?"
Zeek spoke up, "I agree, Vikos should go to the Azure keep."
A discussion broke out among the party. Some felt they should wait for Vavasha to reply...at least till tomorrow's
noon. A few suggested that Vikos teleport to the Azure Keep right away. Jeremiah spoke to the party. "I
believe it is time for prayer. Any who wish to join are welcome to but I have the feeling that Hierounous wishes
that we were to complete this mission without the aid of others. To this point I think it best to ask for his aid
in these matters."
Jeremiah, walked out into the Sun and began to chant. Within the darkness behind him the discussions continued. After a few minutes Jeremiah fell to the ground unconscience. Hearing his moan as he fell, Kit came running to the priest and lifted Jeremiah up into her ebony arms. "Jeremiah what has happened?"
Jeremiah with the aid of Kit stumbled back to the group, now standing just outside the sphere of darkness. "I have been given a message. Hierounous has said with his aid channeled through me and the current teleport scroll we could be back at the gates of Tunis by tomorrow afternoon. He will grant me the ability to wind walk. This will allow me to take the three heaviest individuals plus myself through the sky and deliver us to the Tunis. The other three could use the teleport scroll now and go back to protect the individuals of the caravan that we left behind until we meet up tomorrow afternoon. When I asked if we should ask others for aid all he said was that knowing when to be self-sufficient is part of growing up and knowing when and who to ask for aid is the other part. The party must decide, as a God's place is not to give answers to such mundane questions...just to give direction to the person's soul. What say the party, should we attempt to do this on our own or should we rely on others as time is precious? Just one thing I would remind each of you, do we want to owe a high level mage a favor when none of us can be sure what that favor might be, or exactly when that favor might be called into play."
All of the party save for Kit and Jeremiah retreated to the circle of darkness to escape the blistering light
of the sun. Kit stood staring off to the north as Jeremiah move next to her, "Don't be so disappointed in
Vavasha. It was a long shot that we could expect him to help...he has an Empire to look after and much on his
plate." He said in a consoling voice. Kit just kept looking silently at the barren horizon. "Come out
of the sun and rest. The party still has two paths from which to choose. Either Vikos can teleport to the Azure
Keep and ask for Javair's help...or half of us can teleport home, with the other half to wind walk there with me.
Either way, we have our way home. We will soon resume our quest in Tunis!"
Kit straitened and replied " Yes your Lordship"
Jeremiah looked at her perplexed. "Excuse me?"
"I wish to hear in detail of this quest of The Finders and how you came to this spot forsaken by the gods of man."
Kit glanced at Jeremiah "It is Vavasha, He wants to hear our tale." And with that said she launched into a very detailed summary of all that had happened involving the Finders from the kidnapping of the ambassador and his rescue. The plans to cleanse Birchmont with the aid of the white book, and the search to find Tunis to gain this Holy Relic. She told of the encounter with the Infernal Demon, the Giants, and their entry into Tunis where they met up with the automaton of the Raksasha and his plan to trap them. She finished off with how they had escaped the Madhouse in Erythrunal's realm and his wish that one of them give their life for passage from there. She explained how crucial it was that they hasten back to continue their quest for the fate of the Azure Kingdom and possibly much more was at stake. She once again went silent and glanced over her shoulder at the strange sight of a half-globe of darkness transposed against a vast bright desert with five faces looking at her like pale masks on a black wall.
"Is that Vikos Stormbringer I see with your party?"
Kit slowly turned. "Yes it is my Lord." She replied hesitantly.
"Is he still brash and impulsive, tending to leap before looking?
Kit sighed deeply before responding. "That seems to be so your Lordship." There was a long pause.
"Very well, tell your comrades I will help you with your quest if they will all swear to their gods that they will repay me by performing a task for me. It will not be something that will go against any of their codes or beliefs, but it will not be without risk. Should any of them worry of the risk, let them know that I am not inclined to send men to certain deaths!"
Kit turned and relayed Vavasha's offer to the party stating she was willing to swear on her mother's spirit she would honor his demands, if that was the path the other party members decided to choose. More discussion ensued. Should they take the time to wind walk back...or should they immediately accept the help of Vavasha? And how long would it take for Vikos to teleport back to Javair, muster up his help, and return? It was better to have three paths before you, than a pathless wasteland, all agreed on that.
Suddenly the darkness was gone. It was high noon, and the sun burned their darkness-coddled eyes. The spell Vikos had cast had expired.
Jeremiah smiled. "And so the gods tell us to hurry with our decision making. I believe, as I have argued that half the party should teleport back immediately, with the other half to wind walk with me. Those that walk with me, shall arrive home before midnight tonight...."
Kit mused aloud. "What is our fear of the mage that protects an entire Empire...a mage of good reputation, and one that we should like to get to know better?"
Vikos clapped his hands and laughed. "I bet you would like to know him better! But I am in no hurry to owe any mage such a debt. What of the rest of you."
Ruahdin had a very serious look on his face. "I know that Vavasha is a honorable man...all who are good know of his honor, and his power. But if we can accomplish this on our own...then that is the path I would walk." Several of the others present nodded their heads.
Vikos stepped into the center of the group, turning to look into each party member's face. "Vavasha is a fearsome mage, but his actions rarely seem rational to me. I will use the teleport scroll found at the Mind Flayer’s lair to take myself and two companions back to the Azure Keep. The others of you will follow with Jeremiah, and walk on winds born of Heironeous himself," and then spoken very quietly, "but loaned to him from Tobin's stable of storms."
Eytai kicked a bit of sand off his boot. "I knew I had but to wait, and one of you spellcasters would come up with some way out of here. I would rather die anywhere but here, and would not have enjoyed living had you all died slowly around me in this blistering desert."
Vikos nodded in agreement. “Zeek, it is your fate to be the last of the dessert, for it is your battle that brought all of us here to this lifeless stretch of sand.”
Zeek frowned, “I would have it no other way...I will stay. It is my past that brought us all to this place. I will enjoy walking upon the clouds with my fellows. I never dreamed of doing such a thing!”
“Kit,” began Vikos, “Your self imposed exile form the Azure Keep is well known. With the importance of our quest, it is not the best time to heal old wounds.”
Kit smiled, glistening in the heat, “I have my own plans for a meeting with Javair and now is not the time. As much I wish to get out of this sun I am not ready to return to the Azure Keep." And then in a quiet voice, "Vavasha, your generous offer is appreciated and will not be forgotten. But we shall save ourselves, this time."
Unheard to all but Kit, "It was an offer, and only that. I graciously accept the fact you have declined it." There was a touch of laughter in the voice that Kit heard in her head.
Ruahdin stared at Kit, momentarily entranced by her beauty, then snapped out of it, hoping she had not noticed and been caused any embarrassment. It was not chivelrous for a Knight to stare in that way.
Vikos noticed the stare, and suppressed a smile. “Ruahdin, I don't entirely trust you, right now. Though I think we have some understanding between us, it was not so long ago that you rode me down and kept me back from killing Grinval. You will walk the winds with the priest."
Ruahdin looked slightly surprised, "I am one man you can certainly trust, but I can take the heat of the
desert and the cold of mountain peaks. I will gladly walk with my brother priest."
Zeek speaks up “That leaves Will and Eytai. I'm surprised you haven't come up with some reasons for not taking them?!?”
Vikos gave Zeek a look that made it clear he had caught the subtle insult. “I have no reason not to take them. The three of us will travel magically to the Azure Keep. Step up close to me Eytai...Will.”
Will put up his hand. "Wait. Why are we travelling to the Azure Keep. Why not directly to Tunis?"
Vikos began to answer, but Eytai stepped in front of him and answered Will's question. "By travelling to the Azure Keep, we can properly warn the City by the Lake of the encroachment of the Giants and their allies. We can also arrange a party of rescuers to deal with liberating the women and children slaves we hid away in the Valley that leads to Tunis. We are great men and elves, but we can not do everything."
Will nodded. "I see. Perhaps by mobilizing some troops and men from the Azure Keep, we can focus more quickly and fully on our quest at Tunis. Even more quickly than teleporting directly there would allow us."
Zeek rubbed off some stand that was stuck to his arm. "Then it is decided. You will return now, and lay the groundwork for immediately dealing with Tunis when us 'stragglers' arrive. Shall we meet at just southeast of Tunis, in the Valley...just after Midnight?"
"Agreed," was the answer that was voiced aloud by all of them. Not that everyone perfectly agreed. That would be quite unusual. In fact several party members thought they may have better plans, or some changed they would like to make to the plan. But the sun and heat, and the long discussions that had already occurred made it clear that this was the best compromise between them. To this they could all agree.
Vikos stepped closer to Will and Eytai, and unfurled a brown scroll. He began reading the incantations, and
touched Will and Eytai. The three began to vanish as Vikos spoke the final words of the spell.
Zeek called out a final message to his fading friends. "We'll see you outside Tunis at Midnight! My your spirits endure!"
Vikos, Will, and Eytai appeared in the Great Hall of the Azure Keep. Vikos called out, “Javair old friend,
where are you?!? Our need is great and our time is short!”
In a moment the threesome heard a gentle baritone voice, "The return of friends to your door, should be welcomed like new life to your dull world...Vikos my friend, what have you brought to me?” Javair laughed and then spoke over his right shoulder. “Quick servants, four glasses of wine!”
“Javair,” Vikos pleads, “We have returned from a trap in Pandemonium...and from a scorched desert on the other side of the Dark Sea. I used a teleport scroll to return to you...for Giants are building fortifications along the Blood River, in the valley that leads to the Martial Fields. We also need to arrange the rescue of a group of freed women and children slaves, stranded in the wilderness near Raker's Asylum...near the hidden City of Thieves...."
Javair distributed the glasses of wine that his servants had brought to the heavy table. "Drink my parched friends. I will dispatch an elite unit of goblins to rescue your stranded slaves. And just minutes ago, scouts returned with details about the giant encampment...for your friend Jeremiah sent me news of it just yesterday by way of his voice within my head. Having an unexpected noise in your head is quite disconcerting, really. The giants build quite a wall in the valley, and then seemed to retreat far beyond the entrance to the valley that leads to Raker's Asylum. I'm sure they left a few yetis behind to bring news to them of an encroachment by humans. Seems the giants are nibbling away at our holdings, but not assaulting the Keep as of yet."
Vikos placed his empty cup upon the table. "I am glad to hear you have taken steps to learn of the giants...and are willing to rescue the women and children. As for us, we must leave for Tunis. It is there we will meet the remainder of our party. The Finders must find and take the White Book before it is taken by another!"
So give it a try...there are points and levels to be gained!