|Quayam Srae||Elf adventurer and sorcerer, husband of Gristel||M 188|
|Gristel Virage||Adventurer, wife of Quayam||F 51|
|Thristen Alomere||Adventurer, friend of Quayam and Gristel||M 43|
|Onorato Publius||A Missing Person, the boy in the photograph||M 13|
|Elivinsikil Mordenixus||Policewoman of Kent, knight of Diamantis||F 24|
|Manakin Kalamakin||Adventurer in Kent, knight of Diamantis||M 26|
|Eldano Kiarello||Organiser of Crime in Scartoni||M 45|
|Fiarello Laguardia||Organiser of Crime in Scartoni||M 38|
|Ahokeh Dorfen||First King of the House of Dorfen||M 67|
|Olofunke Dorfen||Heir to the Throne of Luxoden||M 32|
|Hlatshwayo||Exiled Arch-Warlock of Luxoden||M 80|
Claran date is the twenty-sixth of November, 2485. Player Attendance: Chris, Kirk, John, and Kevan. Player Location: 62 Dalton Rd. Player Date: 19th October, 2012. John plays Manakin Kalamakin and Eldano Kiarello. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen in Karadan after Ursian victory over Endor. They fly from Karadan to Pakesh on their wyverns. Here they find the city celebrating. Visit with friends and stay in their own homes. On the thirteenth of December they fly to Aries' temple in Talili Village to the north-east. The next day they fly on to Ankle, where they stay the night. On the fifteenth of December they fly to the Virage Estate.
It was a cold and sunny morning in mid-December when Gristel Virage, her husband Quayam Srae, and their business partner Thristen Alomere, approached the Virage Estate by wyvern. Flying over familiar roads, rivers, and hills, Gristel smiled in anticipation of her arrival. This was where she grew up. This was where her parents lived for fifty years.
Her parents didn't live there right now. Their house was destroyed by fire the several years earlier, and at this moment her father, Gashley Virage, was serving as the Varayan Ambassador to Gutak. So they were living in Gutak City among the orcs. But their house had been rebuilt, and Gristel was looking forward to spending the night in her bedroom, cosy and warm with a fire in the hearth and maybe a good book in her hands.
As she flew over the final hill, and looked down upon the wide lawn beside the house, Gristel's smile was replaced by a look of surprise and then a frown. Curled in the center of the lawn was a dragon. This in itself was not an unprecedented event, nor even an unwelcome one. Girstel recognized the dragon immediately. His body was decorated with red, black, and yellow stripes. His name was Kassanak. But the presence of the dragon could not be a casual thing. Kassanak would not land upon the lawn of the Virage Estate merely to rest his wings. Kassanak did not tire, so far as Gristel knew. Nor would Kassanak stop by for a chat about the weather or politics, nor even to congratulate Gristel and her comrades upon the victory of Ursia over Endor in the war that ended a few weeks before. Kassanak did not chat about anything. Gristel had never heard him utter a word, not directly. When he wanted to communicate, he did so through Enak, his homunculus. And even Enak was taciturn in the extreme.
Gristel last saw Kassanak two and a half years ago. That was when he showed up in the garden, next to the burned-down house, in answer to a request for help. But this time Gristel and her comrades issued no request for help. This time, Gristel suspected that it was the dragon who would ask for help, and this suspicion was what had made her frown.
It was with breathless anticipation that, a few moments later, Gristel dismounted her wyvern and approached the dragon. Her comrades walked beside her. Whatever the dragons might ask of them, they were bound to attempt it. With Kassanak's help they had rescued Thristen's wife from the King of Garaz, and it was not clear how they could have done it without the dragon's help. Even if the dragon asked them to travel to a far-off planet, they would go.
Kassanak's eyes were upon them. They stopped some ten paces from his head. His massive body, forty meters long from snout to the tip of the tail, curled around to their right. The thick part of his body, between his wings, was large enough to fit four saddles in a row, one behind the other. Gristel knew this from personal experience, having ridden on him several times in the past. But there were no saddles strapped to his back now. His wings were folded with their mid-points jutting up into the sky.
"He doesn't want us to go anywhere with him," Thristen said.
"Well, that's something," Gristel said.
Enak appeared from behind Kassanak's left front-leg. She carried an envelope of yellow paper in both hands, and walked towards them. Her inhuman eyes, set in her child-like face, stared up at their faces.
"Hi Enak," Gristel said, "And greetings Kassanak. Welcome."
Enak returned to the dragon. She clambers up the dragon's leg and onto its back. With a scraping of metal, the dragon's body trembled. His wings opened. Gristel and her companions backed away. The dragon rose to his legs like a giant lizard, except for the wings, which were tremendous in their span, with black and white diamond shapes on the underside. He held his wings thus, inclined and outstretched, for ten seconds. Wisps of white conjured matter swirled and rose from their edges. The wings reached up, thrust down, and the dragon surged into the air.
Gristel watched Kassanak fly away. His wings he used to steer himself through the air, but it was some other power that held him aloft and drove him forwards. In less than a minute, he had vanished from sight to the East. She turned to her husband. Quayam was opening the envelope. From within he took a photograph. The three of them gathered around and stared at it. The photograph showed a boy of about thirteen, standing upon a city square. In the background, at the far side of the square, was a cathedral with the words Faith and Righteousness carved in the stone above its doors. The boy had a staff in one hand. He was smiling. He was handsom. His skin was olive. His hair was shoulder-length and dark. He wore a short-sleeved shirt. Around his neck was a chain with a ring of metal as a medallion.
"Anything else in the envelope?" Thristen said.
Quayam looks in the envelope. "Nothing."
"Do you suppose they want us to find this boy?" Thristen said.
"Could be," Quayam said.
A cold gust of wind turned the corners of the photograph.
"Let's put the wyverns in the stable and go inside," Gristel said.
The next day, Gristel and her companions flew to Gutak City, where Thristen was re-united with his wife, Zak, and his little girl, Kim. Quayam was reunited with Sid the Demon. Gristel was reunited with her parents, and they saw their old friend Bolus, Ursian Ambassador to Gutak. Here they received an important clue. Gristel's mother, Dominican, identified the cathedral in the background of the photograph as Scartoni Cathedral in Kent. And so the three of them made plans to go to Kent, hoping to find the boy in the photograph.
"Don't you think you might just keep the photograph, and wait for more detailed instructions?" Dominican said.
"We could," Gristel said. "But I don't think that's how it works with dragons. I don't think they give detailed instructions."
"We at the very least have to find the boy, or find out what has become of him," Thristen said.
"I want to know why he is so important to the dragons," Quayam said.
On the twentieth of December, 2485, they talk to Aries by space bridge from Gutak. They tell him about the photograph, and show it to him as best they can. He tells them that he has two Journeymen of Alamasius in Kent who might be able to help them locate the boy in the photograph. They are Elivinsikil Mordenixus, a woman, and Manikin Kalamakin, a man. Both are from Diamantis. Both have olive skin and dark hair. They wear the Ring of Alamasius as a sign of their association with Alamasius, or they have one such ring in their possession. In order to identify QTG as friends of their god, Aries gives them the following information that would be available only to him. "Elivinsikil, the first thing you said to Alamasius was How do I know you're a real God?" and "Manakin, your childhood dog was named Ginger." According to Aries, the Kentish War on Drugs takes a lot of soldiers. They have conscription for ages eighteen to twenty-one plus whatever older volunteers they can get into their army.
The next day, fly to the cliff house and have lunch. They leave Sid behind with Zak in Gutak. Fly on to the Green Horn Tavern and are reunited with Falmut Grossman. Agree to pay him to keep their wyverns. Herringbones playing in three days. Next day buy horses and ride for the Bridge Inn. On the twenty-second of December, ride on to Dooby's Place and chat with Dooby. On the twenty-third of December, cross into Kent and stay at Cross Roads Inn. Pay the visitor tax. Next day arrive in Scartoni. Check into the Taerin's End Hotel. The twenty-fifth is a cold day. They go out and explore the city. They are wearing armor and carrying all their weapons, which is entirely legal in Kent, provided you have your visitor papers on your person. Go to plaza and look at the cathedral. Visit the library, and there they find the same librarian they met three years ago when they last visited Scartoni. They say hello, and go and read recent newspapers. They learn that drug dealers often pay for drugs by trading drugs for slaves kidnapped from within Kent.
Show the photograph to the librarian. "That is Onorato Publius," she says. "He went missing six weeks ago. I reported it to the police. He used to come in here for an hour or two every day. I don't know where he is." After more questioning she reveals that a local crime-boss Eldano Kiarello used to come visit Onorato in the library. Eldano eats at the Rose Garden restaurant, which he owns.
Go to the Rose Garden. Here they meet Eldano Kiarello, a slender, well-dressed man in the traditional Kentish men's costume of jacket, trousers, shirt, and tie. They end up having dinner with him in a private room, all the while he is flanked by his two goons. The food is okay and the wine is good. Eldano is played by John Byers. Give him 1000 gp to try to find a man called Manakin Kalamakin.
On the morning of the twenty-seventh, have coffee with Eldano Kiarello in the Taerin's End. He agrees to help them find Onorato, but insists that they bring Onorato back to Scartoni should they find him, so Eldano can make sure Onorato is free and in good health. To this they agree.
"You can find Manakin Kalamakin in the Horse House Pub most evenings," Eldano says, "He works for Fiarello Laguardia." Further conversation reveals that Fiarello Laguardia is Eldano's rival in Scartoni. They thank Eldano and he leaves with his two goons. That evening they do indeed find Manakin Kalamakin at the Horse House Pub, where he is slightly drunk. They identify themselves, tell him his childhood dog's name, and listen to him grumble about Alamasius and his silly journey of discovery, Fiarello, and Eldano and how he wants to get out of town. They carry him out an hour later and pay his tab on the way out. He sleeps the night at Taerin's End.
It's a sunny, cold, winter morning the next day, the twenty-eighth. They go with Manakin to his lodgings. Quayam waits outside with their three horses. Gristel and Thristen go up the stairs to the third floor with Manakin. In his room, there are five goons of Fiarello's wanting to take Manakin over to have a chat with their boss. Manakin turns and runs down the stairs with Gristel following him. Thristen stands in the door and beats up the goons until they exit by the window to the next door's roof. Meanwhile, outside, six more of Fiarello's goons have showed up to greet Manakin when he comes out. Quayam sponges them, and then blocks the street entirely with sponge for good measure.
A donkey cart turns around in the narrow street on the far side of the sponge from Quayam. This operation takes some time, because the cart is longer than the street is wide. Eventually, the goons who fled from Manakin's room arrive on the street, having made their way down the interior of the neighboring rooming house. In rushing past the cart, they frighten the donkey and the cart-driver, upsetting the cart and spilling its cargo of round stones. The goons start throwing stones over the sponge at the three horses. Quayam sponges the cart to put a stop to this bombardment, but not before all three horses have been injured.
Meanwhile, in two nearby side-alley's, Quayam sees more goons. These emerge and declare they are Eldano's men, here to help. Fiarello's men are mostly bound up in sponge, but the remainder back away. Gristel, Thristen, and Manakin arrive breathless from running over roofs and along streets.
At eleven in the morning, they leave town on three new horses given to them by Eldano, and Manakin's horse which Eldano's men have somehow fetched from its stable. They follow the path taken by Onorato on the day he was sold into slavery. This path, according to Manakin, leads out of Kent to the West, and into Morden. And so they leave Kent on a little-traveled road leading to what the Kentish call Barbarian Lands. At the border, there are two Kentish soldiers and a shack with smoke coming out the chimney. On the other side the road becomes unkept and wanders to and fro, descending into a wide valley. They guide their horses over a fallen tree.
They come to a village where they stop and are made welcome by an old man. They leave their horses outside the village hall and sit down. They have a mug of beer. They are not sure what is going on, but Manakin tells them to make nice for a while before asking about the slaves. He goes out "to have a pee", but he never returns. Thristen checks outside and sees that Manakin's horse has gone, with tracks leading down the road.
Our heroes don't speak any language in common with these people. The people speak Morden, which is a dialect of Celtic. But by sign language, they determine that the old man has met Manakin before and does not like him. But there are no slaves here.
They see no point in following Manakin, so they return to Scartoni and meet again with Eldano, who expresses disappointment at their return. Nevertheless, he accepts another 1000 gp to find Elivinsikil Mordenixus. After pocketing the gems Gristel hands him, Eldano points to a woman at a nearby table in the Rose Garden. "That's her. She is an undercover policeman." When this woman gets up to leave, they follow her to her home on the Cathedral Plaza. They tell her what she first said to Alamasius. She is frightened, but lets them up to her apartment to talk. "Manakin and I came here together. We were close. But no longer. He has lost his way. He used you to escort him out of town. He uses everyone until they get wise to him. He owed money to Fiarello." She sighs. "I'm glad he got away. The slave trade goes out into Taerin, the land of the hobgoblins. The hobgoblins trade drugs for slaves. The slaves go East into the Outlands, and many end up in the mines of Luxoden, or so rumor has it. Nobody really knows. But they don't go to Morden. Manakin deceived you. He may have been involved in Onorato's enslavement, but he didn't take Onorato to Morden. The Mordii don't allow slavery except for their own criminals, and those have to stay in their own village. They're a strange people. They have no rules about drugs, for example, and yet they don't take drugs."
"Go figure," Quayam says.
"If you want to find Onorato, go see Fiarello Laguardia at The Broken Arrow. I think he'll know. I have been looking into Onorato's case. I believe he was working for Eldano when Fiarello caught him doing something and sold him into slavery to get rid of him."
"Could he have been murdered?" Gristel says.
"Unlikely. He's worth more as a slave, and when he's a slave, there's no body to hide. He's gone across the borderlands and will never come back."
"Nobody returns?" Gristel says.
"Some do, but if Onorato escaped, Fiarello would get to sell him into slavery again."
The next day, the twenty-ninth, they spend the morning talking and at the library. At mid-day go to The Broken Arrow and meet Fiarello. He's a big fat guy with four goons sitting at a large round table looking benevolent and cheerful. "Onorato worked for Eldano, my business rival," he says, "He was a good boy. I wanted to talk to him. He was a fine boy. He should have worked for me instead. I heard that the had an argument with Eldano, stole a horse from Eldano's stable and rode out of town on the High Road of Taerin."
After thanking Fiarello for this information, Gristel donates 1000 gp to the Laguardia Homeless Shelter down the street. That brings the total expenses so far in Scartoni to 3,000 gp plust the hotel bill. "Why did we give him a thousand guineas?" Quayam says.
"Yeah, why is that?" Thristen says, "That's a lot of money."
"A lot of money compared to what?" Gristel says.
"Compared to our hotel bill," Thristen says, "Compared to how much that guy makes in a week. Compared to how much the average guy makes in a year."
"The median family income in Kent," Quayam says, "Is four hundred guineas a year."
"You're comparing it to the wrong things," Gristel says, "If you compare it to the cost of screwing up in a mission given to us by the dragons, then you'll find it's down in the one or two percent range. But it buys us the cooperation of Scartoni's two most powerful criminals, or at the very least they won't oppose us."
Thristen and Quayam contemplate these wise words and find they have merit, but they bring up the matter every day or two in the following weeks, to receive the same answer and come to the same conclusion.
Visit Elivinsikil and tell her they are going to ride the High Road of Taerin in search of Onorato. She says she is going to go with them. She will meet them at the borderlands tomorrow. If they don't want her to come, she'll just follow them. They can't stop her. She has armor and weapons. She has been working as a Kentish policewoman for the past two years, studying the slave trade and trying to figure out how to put a stop it. She wants to go and see where the slaves end up. This is a rare opportunity.
"Okay," Thristen says.
When they leave Elivinsikil's apartment, Quayam says, "Here we go again. Make sure you keep it in your pants."
"Easy for you to say," Thristen says.
The morning of the thirtieth of December, 2485, is cloudy and cold. Our heroes ride out of Scartoni on the High Road of Taerin. Their mounts are the horses given to them by Eldano Kiarello. They recall their previous journeys on this same road. The dramaturgist invites one of the players to go through the old diaries to summarize these trips for insertion here. There are at least two in Early Days, and another in Traders when they went on the Alone with Cats adventure. At the border, they are joined by Elivinsikil, and to their delight they meet Strum Lute, a comrade of theirs from the Green Cavern adventure (see Traders, April 2475). Strum Lute has just traveled the High Road from Anplery with several companions and two wagons. He is waiting now while the Kentish customs agents search his wagons for drugs.
East of Kent is the land the Kentish call the Goblin Moors. The people there are predominantly hobgoblin. Much of the terrain is open, grassy hills with shallow soil and protruding rocks. The High Road of Taerin follows a natural line of high ground running east from Kent two thousand kilometers to the Roden Mountains. You can see the western end of the High Road marked on this map and the eastern end on this map. The eastern portion of the road is well-used by sapien traffic from Luxoden, Anplery, and Finalur to Sax and Weiland. From the eastern terminus of the road, travelers make their way south around the Roden Mountains, then follow the course of the Jamchelk Qanat to Jamchelk itself, and from there take the Jamchelk road to the eastern end of the Pakesh Road, and so to Drakma. For the first half of its length, the road runs across the Goblin Moors, and here it is traveled by slave traders, drug dealers, and merchants supplying the local land-holders. This land was once a sapien nation called Taerin in the times of the Weilandic Empire, when the road was built. The watershed of the Fen River lies to the south of the road, and that of the Tarrish River (or Grototh River) to the north. The High Road in between is at an altitude of a thousand meters.
The Law of the High Road is this: none shall rob another nor attack another within fifty meters of its flagstones. According to a book called The Hobgoblins, which our heroes read back in 2482 while working on the Iron Road, the law of the high road is enforced by agents of the Princes of Hell. That book, written fifty years earlier, described how the hobgoblins living east of Kent, and north of the High Road of Taerin, protect themselves by playing off certain powerful persons who live between their tribal territories.
These powerful persons are called land-holders by the black-orc rulers of the Western Outlands. Each land-holder has made an arrangement directly with the Prince of Hell who owns the temple plot containing their land. Some of them rent the land, others bought it, and some are even rumored to have seized it by force. But all have made some kind of deal with the devils. Among the land-holders are renegade wizards, ancient creatures like demons, monsters, and dragons, some black orcs, elves, and wealthy sapien exiles. The Grand Master of Assassins is rumored to have his headquarters south of the High Road, beyond the reach of the law of any sapien nation, and it may be that the Claran Bounty Hunter's Association is based in the same neighborhood also.
The region called Gelden, south of the High Road, is reputed to be filled with the estates of land-holders, with the exception of a Holy Place at its center that each black-orc of the Western Outlands visits on a pilgrimage at the age of fifty. They walk into Gelden, face whatever mysteries and tests that land will present to them with its maze of roads, land-holders, way-side inns, and cunning traders. Even these powerful land-holders must eat, or their servants must eat, and they need cloth, iron, and ceramics. They might summon all they need from Olympia, but it turns out that they don't have to. As part of their lease with the Princes of Hell, the roads are supposed to be safe to travel, so that they might travel the roads themselves, or receive visitors. And therefore merchants are, under the law, permitted to travel along these roads to visit the estates and do business.
And so our heroes head out on the High Road, with the land sloping downwards in gentle hills to the north and south. It starts to snow, and soon the grass and rock of the moors is covered with a layer of white powder, and their horses's steps are muffled upon the flagstones. They pass two clusters of four or five wagons going the other way, with sapien men and woman driving the mules and horses. They are bound for Kent. What they have in their cargo, our heroes can only guess. Elivinsikil suspects they have taken manufactured goods out of Kent and they are bringing back drugs and contraband. But our heroes absolutely forbid her to question the drivers.
"This is the High Road of Taerin," Quayam says, "Have some respect for tradition. Everyone's business is their own."
"I understand," Elivinsikil says, "But when I think of how many kids are going to have their lives ruined by whatever these people are bringing back into Kent, I want to do something."
"We have no laws against drugs in Pakesh," Quayam says.
A long debate follows, in which Elivinsikil is outnumbered three to one. Eventually, Gristel suggests that it is time to set the matter aside and stop for the night. Quayam makes them a fine shelter twenty meters from the road and they sleep well.
In the morning, they light a fire and eat. "Why do people obey the Law of Gelden on this road?" Elivinsikil asks.
"If they don't, and I catch them, I'll punish them," Quayam says.
"You're not here most of the time."
"There are many others like us," Gristel says, "We adventurers have a code. We don't mess with anyone else's business, and we don't like people starting fights. But if you want to start a fight, we will kick your ass. Or something like that."
"I'm not convinced," Elivinsikil says. "How do you know that the person who appears to have started the fight is the person who actually started the fight. You could end up beating up the wrong person."
"There are the black orcs and these Land-Holders to be scared of," Thristen says, "And occasional companies of orcs marching up and down. Who else is on this road but traders and travellers? Neither of them want to fight. Only bandits will want to fight. But they have to have a base somewhere, and if they have a base, the land-holders or the black orcs will find it, send in a company of orcs, and capture them." He gestures to the surrounding, snow-covered moor. "This land is empty but it belongs to someone."
Their debate about the rules of the road continues through breakfast, which they summon from Olympia, and into the morning. At noon, they come across three wagons parked on the side of the road. The wagon-drivers are sapien men. Quayam shows the photograph of Onorato to all three drivers. None of them have seen the boy.
"That third cart was full of marijuanas," Elivinsikil says.
"How can that be?" Thristen says, as they ride away, "The harvest was months ago."
"I could smell it," Elivinsikil says, "There must have been five hundred kilograms of it in there. If I could seize that on the way into Kent, I'd get a promotion."
"Why? Because of all the kids you would save from certain death by marijuanas?" Gristel says.
Another enthusiastic debate about the merits of Kent's prohibition on drugs follows, carrying them through until evening, when they camp once again in style. It is New Year's Eve. They summon some mulled wine and each have a glass. Elivinsikil does not usually drink, and by the end of the evening, she is leaning on Thristen's shoulder in front of the fireplace.
It is New Year's Day, 2486, a full twenty-five years since Quayam and Thristen first travelled the High Road of Taerin. Today the sun is shining. The glare of its light off the snow forces them to squint, until our heroes take out their sunglasses. Elivinsikil does not have any, but refuses to borrow Thristen's. Beside the road, a solitary merchant is getting ready his wagon. Quayam stops and shows him the photograph. The driver, a man with a thick gray beard and moustache, speaks Latin with a Kentish accent. "Oh yes, a handsome boy. I remember him. He was at Erenor's place, at the Traveler's Rest. I was there, oh, five or six weeks ago, in late November."
They ride on. "Who is Erenor?" Elivinsikil says, and Thristen has the pleasure of relating to her how Quayam had become so enamored with Erenor the Succubus Queen, that he was about to embrace her in the night, on the moor, in the middle of a rain storm, when Thristen pulled him away and saved the day.
"It was not exactly like that," Quayam says.
"Well how was it then?" Gristel says.
"She was very attractive," Quayam says, "And I thought: how is she going to kill me? She just needs some attention, poor woman."
"What is a succubus?" Elivinsikil says.
By mid-afternoon on the third of January, they have gone two hundred and fifty kilometers along the road since leaving Kent. Every ten or twenty kilometers there are paths leading south or north from the road. Some have signs next to them, and all of them have a stone marker with a number on it. One path was marked by a ten-meter black obsidian obelisk, another by a granite arch. One had two columns with carved human skulls on top. All agreed that this one was tasteless and not at all frightening. Their favorite marker was a border of orange spirit stone bolders on either side of the track as it headed south through a stand of birch trees.
"Making colored spirit matter is hard to do," Quayam says, when they stop to admire the bright orange in the wilderness of heath and scrub. "And the effect is so inviting and impressive, but at the same time so creepy. I like it."
Now they come to a sign on the road in the shape of a human hand, pointing with its index finder to the north along a cart path. On the palm of the hand is written, "Traveler's Rest".
"This is it," Thristen says. "Are you ready, Quayam?"
Quayam frowns and Thristen laughs out loud.
Erenor is a hobgoblin kingdom under the rule of Erenor the Succubus. They have already ridden past the kingdom of Orgon, and they recall that beyond Erenor is Faraway, a place they enjoyed visiting after they fled from Erenor. One hour's ride leads them to a village of stone houses with thatched roofs set on a hill. The slopes of the hill are forested. At the center of the village is a large hall of wood timbers, with a sign above it. Travelers Rest.
The interior of the hall is warm and spacious. An old man serves them soup. They show him the photograph. "I see nothing and I hear nothing." When they have eaten, the old man tells Thristen that Her Highness Erenor would like to see him.
Two hours later, the four travelers mount their horses and ride out of the village. "Nice one, Thristen," Quayam says, "Taking one for the team." He laughs. He laughs again. He leans towards Thristen and pushes Thristen's shoulder. "He who laughs last, laughs loudest, right? Am I right?"
"I was willing to make the sacrifice," Thristen says.
Gristel says, "Did you have a good time?"
"Yes. I enjoy my work."
Elivinsikil is frowning while the others are smiling. "And what information did you obtain, as a result of your great, noisy, and enjoyable sacrifice."
"She owned Onorato Publius as a slave for most of November, and a girl slave also, who she bought at the same time. Onrorato refused her advances upon him, so−"
"Advances?" Elivinsikil says, "He's only fifteen years old!"
"But Onorato was in love with the girl, and said he could not betray her. So Erenor sold him and the girl to a slave trader, and she tells me she's certain they will both end up in the mines of Luxoden, so we should go look for him there."
"Thank You Madam Succubus," Elivinsikil says. "Why couldn't you just put a sword to her throat and explain to her the benefit in cooperating? Or pay her money like you paid Kiarello?"
A silence ensues. Gristel is wondering how Elivinsikil knows that they paid Kiarello money. Thristen is thinking that the course they took had certain advantages. Quayam is thinking that information obtained under threat of physical harm is not as reliable as information given freely. Elivinsikil is thinking that good people don't go around threatening other people with swords. She takes a deep breath. "That was a stupid thing to say. I'm sorry. Well done Thristen."
They camp the night outside the village. In the morning, the fourth of January, they summon four hippogriffs and pass their horses through to Olympia so they will be well-cared for. Elivinsikil has not ridden a hippogriff before, but hops on and lets her mount follow Thristen's. The wind is forty kilometers per hour out of the north-west. It is cold and clear. They go south to the High Road, and then point their mounts to the north-east and fly at fifty kph with respect to the air, and so make a net progress of sixty kph along the road. By lunch time, Elivinsikil is getting frost-bite in her face, toes and hands. They land beside the road and light a fire.
"It's amazing," Elivinsikil says, between grimacing at the pain in her extremities. "Absolutely amazing. I can't believe I was actually flying. Thank you so much for bringing me. This is the best adventure I have ever been on."
Above them, three other hippogriff riders go by, heading west.
"The amnesty of the High Road applies to the space above it also," Thristen says. "So we will stick to the road and be safe from black orcs on wyverns."
They ride a few more hours in the afternoon and camp for the night beside the road. They have gone three hundred and sixty kilometers in a single day, by Thristen's reckoning. In the middle of the night, there comes a stamping on the road. Thristen looks out with his night vision goggles and sees a company of a hundred orcs going by in full armor.
The next day, the fifth of January, is marked in the dramaturgist's notebook as the fourth of January, because we forgot a day in between. The dates in this diary will be correct. We will mark the dramaturgists notes accordingly.
On this morning, there is no wind, with cloud at 1000 m, and it is not as cold. So they spend three hours teaching Elivinsikil to control her hippogriff. After lunch, they set off, leaving their conjured shelter behind them. They travel a hundred and fifty kilometers before night-fall, and camp again. They are at the point on the road from which you can see one of the main sources of the Grototh River. A mighty spring is the source of this stream, and when viewed from the road in the summer at sunset, the stream appears to flow uphill, over a rise to the north-east. This illusion is so convincing that some travelers, who never leave the road, believe the stream really does flow uphill, and so they have named it The River of the Gods.
After breakfast on the sixth of January, they mount their hippogriffs and climb up into a clear blue sky. At a thousand meters, they enter a steady wind blowing at twenty-five kilometers per hour out of the south-east. They fly with this wind towards the Huran Mountains visible on the horizon to the north-east. Meanwhile, to their south, only fifty kilometers away, are the sudden peaks of the Encircling Mountains, which enclose the plateaux that is Gelden. To the east, the road continues as far as the eye can see. To the south-east, the land slopes down and in the far distance is free of snow, and shining yellow with desert sand.
Elivinsikil rode well today. We gauged her ability with a roll of 1d20 and she rolled a 20. She has mastered the art of riding a griff, and is thrilled with the experience, despite the numbing cold of the wind.
As they fly north-east, the land drops below them, and they descend with it. They pass over a line of obelisks, and then a few kilometers later, another line. They have passed over the borderlands. They are now crossing the sapien nation of Neuroth. There are scattered farms and crude houses below them. To their east, they see a road that runs from the High Road of Taerin towards the mountains. After an hour, they cross a river and the land starts to rise towards the mountains. After another half an hour, they are arrive at sudden, towering cliffs. They find the Cliff of Woe, which they remember from an adventure twenty years ago, and knowing its location with respect to Luxoden, they fly east until they see below them the Wall of Lufstrood, the small state of Lufstrood within the semi-circular wall, and the market place in front of the entrance to the underground city of Luxoden. Flowing past the west side of the market is a river with an unnatural green color to it, steaming in the winter sunshine amid snow-covered fields. There are two gates in the wall. One is for the road through Neuroth from the High Road of Taerin. The other is for a road that runs through Finalur, the sapien nation east of Neuroth.
Thristen's ceiling on his hippogriff is 1300 m. Lufstrood is at 1300 m. His griff is laboring. They turn towards Finalure, a country they have stayed in before and found to be welcoming. It is populated by barbarians, but they are principled and libertarian barbarians. They land outside the town of Draycoughton, return their hippogriffs to Olympia, and walk into town. They find the inn they stayed in the last time they wanted to sneak into Lufstrood. It is called the Four Dragons, and now has a bright sign with four dragons painted on it, each with its own color. They get three rooms for the night.
In the common room, they talk to a merchant called Grunwold. He says slavery is outlawed in Finalur. The slaves sold in the market outside the entrance to Luxoden come into Lufstrood via Neuroth. Ten thousand people live in the underground city of Luxoden. Another ten thousand live within the semi-circular wall. The radius of this wall is ten kilometers. It runs from one cliff of the mountains to another, and is three meters high. Luxoden's primary export is Luxoden steel. They sell it in plates, ingots, and bars. They sell manufactured metal goods like nails, screws, pliers, latches, ploughs, and shears. They buy food, cloth, spices, and everything else that they need from the merchants who come up the two roads to the market. The city is ruled by the Kings of Dorfen, and has been for hundreds of years.
"The king is a cruel dictator," Grunwold says, "Some say he is a vampire."
"Can we go into the city and look at it?" Quayam says.
"They run a tour," Grunwold says, "For a gold piece they will show you around inside. But I wouldn't go in. Those faced people are insane. I might never come out. I sell flour to them, that's my business, and I buy their steel plate, but I don't like them."
New session: Chris, Kirk, Kevan, at 3A Julia Ann Drive, Holland, MA 01521, weekend beginning eighth of March, 2013. Game date is 7th January, and this night is the night of the new moon. We begin with some of Kevan's pre-game notes, which are not authoritative.
Luxoden: the city under the mountain, population 10k. Language is Latin with Germanic accent. Lufstrood, the tiny nation that contains Luxoden, population 20k including the city, other 10k in surrounding country extending for 10 km in a rough semi-circle. Luxoden exports metal and imports food. People in countryside farm to supply themselves and provide guards for Lufstrood's three-meter, semi-circular wall. They get their armor from Luxoden city. These guards, and those from within the city that venture out to patrol the roads, are called salters. The city contains 10 Mkg = $1B of iron (at $100/kg), or 107 kg for 104 people = 103 kg/person = $100k worth of iron per person. Staircases and railings and walkways you can see through. Much of it supported by stained oak beams that smell like a strange oil dug out of the mountain. Non-residents no allowed in. There was a time 2472-2476 when they had a tour organized, but stopped that because people were so amazed at the quantity of iron. Slaves work the mines. Other citizens make weapons and armor and other metal products. Ventilation by fires that cause heat and suck air, or by venturi effect. Have pools of hot water from underground to bath in. Always warm in the city. Wear very little clothing. Pale luminous stones everywhere for light, as in dwarf cities. The mines go on for thousands of meters through iron-rich rock. Dangerous. Hammering and cracking. The Kings of Dorfen permit travel out but not free speech, and recently into the city required confirmation papers. They are an arrogant lot, haughty and snobbish, but they do not torment their people. The slaves do the suffering. The people are unimaginative craftsmen with an intense pride in their history.
On 7th January, at 8 am by their clocks, which they have set to read 7 am at dawn, Gristel summons four horses and they ride to Luxoden from Draycoughton. It is cloudy today, and warm for the season: 9 °C. In the market they count six slaves, two hundred 20-kg bags of flower, fifty barrels of wine, and observe cloth from East and West. They speak to a slave trader. He says an adult male in good health of twenty years with strong limbs is worth about $30k here. A gorgeous twenty-year old woman about $40k in most markets, but not this one. Here they value laborers. All six of his slaves are white-skinned, but he says you will also see black-skinned slaves from the East.
Zorat Fennat is today's Gatekeeper of Luxoden, age 57 male. The gates are open, and a breeze blows in through them. Zorat fills out an application to visit the steel rolling mill for them, on the grounds that they want to buy a large quantity of steel plate. This done, they go to the west end of the market and look down into the defile that contains the Filthy River, which flows out from beneath the city. The water is oily, much as they remember it from The Early Days. Back in the market, they confirm that they can sell gems if they need to, then return to Draycoughton.
The next day, 8th January 2486, they set off again on their summoned horses. They pass through the Lufstrood wall at the Finalur gate. It is snowing, −2 C and windy. They are cold by the time they get to the market, and hope that they will gain entry to the city, where they believe it will be warm. The gates of the city are closed. The guards outside are shivering. Zorat stands in a booth with a fire inside it. He says their request to enter the city has been denied because Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen are a potential threat to the state.
"How flattering," Gristel says.
"What about me?" Elivinsikil says. "Am I not a threat?"
"You also are not allowed in, by association. I apologize," Zorat says.
As they walk away, Thristen says, "I think he really was sorry."
They plan their entrance to the city via the Filthy River. They know how to get into the underground passage of the river, but they don't know how to get into the city from that passage.
"There has to be a way," Quayam says.
Ride seven hundred meters down the road to Neuroth. It is still snowing. They reach the stone arch bridge over the Filthy River. They are visible from the market, so they are careful what they do, but they take a good look at the river, and note that there is a ledge on both sides of the river beneath the bridge, one wide enough to walk along, or sit on. A path down the side of the bridge leads to seats for defecating in the water.
The snow on the ground is ten centimeters deep. "We can't trek about without leaving a trail," Elivinsikil says.
They proceed down the Neuroth road, and out through the gate in the Lufstrood wall, which is open. They are now in Neuroth, a nation of tribesmen that sanction slavery, in contrast to those of Finalur, who prohibit slavery. Proceed to Staachten, within a kilometer of the wall (referred to as Stockton in The Early Days). Here, they find an inn and get rooms for the night. They stow their armor in a lock-box in their room, and stable the horses.
That night, they leave with their small-packs, swords, and bows. They walk up the road to the wall. It has stopped snowing, but the sky is still cloudy, and it is very dark. The only light comes from lanterns on the gate house. They leave the road and make their way through the trees until they are opposite the wall a hundred meters or so from the gate house. They do not want to go any farther from the gate house because it would be so dark that they would see nothing without a light, and the light might be seen by salters.
At the edge of the forest, marking the border of Lufstrood, is a one-meter stone wall. Beyond the one-meter wall is a twenty-meter cleared space and a three-meter wall. From their outward journey, they know that there is another twenty-meter cleared space on the far side of the three-meter wall.
"How are we going to get over the wall without leaving tracks?" Gristel says.
"I don't know," Thristen says.
They soon recall the trick used by the wizard who stole Arg the Troll. Quayam takes out his telescoping brass conjuring wand, makes a space bridge and places it in the bridge ring at the tip of the wand. He extends the wand to its full one-meter length and leans over the one-meter wall. Over the next few minutes, he makes a ramp of invisible conjured wood leading up to the top of the three-meter wall. The night is dark, and his conjured wood is transparent, but he does the best he can to make it even and complete across its three-meter width and twenty-meter length.
In this manner, Quayam is the first to reach the top of the higher wall, with Gristel behind him. On top of the wall he finds chipped glass embedded in the mortar. He covers this with more conjured wood. Elivinsikil, following behind him, steps on a weak spot in the ramp and falls into the wood, up to her waist. Her weapons clang as she comes to a stop. She holds her breath. They stare towards the gate house. The salters in the gate-house don't appear to have noticed. Thristen pulls Elivinsikil out of the hole and the four of them are soon sitting on the top of the wall, looking down.
"We have only a few minutes before the ramp starts to decay behind us," Quayam says.
The salters at the gate shine a lantern in their direction. Are they suspicious? Thristen holds Quayam's legs and Quayam leans right down over the far side of the wall. He attaches conjured wood to the base of the wall and builds a platform on the snow. When the platform is one meter thick, he turns about and drops to its surface. They proceed across the cleared area with Quayam making a thirty-centimeter floor of conjured wood ahead of them. At one point, they see below them the tracks of a salter patrol in the snow, following the wall.
The light from the gate house is sufficient for them to continue across the forest floor, beneath the trees, upon an extending mat of conjured wood, leaving no footprints behind them. They reach the road. There is no-one about. They proceed on foot, leaving footprints in the snow, but there are other prints too: a patrol on foot, and two horses going towards the wall. Twenty minutes walking in the darkness takes them one or two kilometers closer to the city. Ahead of them they see lights. A salter patrol is approaching.
On their right is the Filthy River. It is perhaps ten meters across. Quayam takes out his conjuring wand and builds bridge across the river. They jump from the path onto the bridge, so that their tracks end abruptly. They cross to the trees on the far bank and hide.
Ten salters march down the path, led by a warlock. Each salter carries a lantern and wears a heavy black cape over his chain armor. Their steel helmets are polished bright like silver. The warlock wears a red leather helmet. Attached to the helmet is a luminous stone, its light directed downwards by its mounting frame. He walks with a staff. The group proceeds slowly, examining the ground for tracks. Because of their slow progress, enough time has passed for the conjured wood of the bridge to decay, and there is nothing left of it. The warlock sees the end of the four sets of boot tracks and stops. The rest of them gather around and discuss what might have happened. The warlock leans upon his staff and scratches his helmet. They search on either side of the path, as far as the banks of the river, but they find no further tracks, and eventually move on, following the boots backwards towards the gate house, talking among themselves.
"They seem like a good-natured bunch," Gristel says, "I'm glad we did not have to beat them up."
"What do the warlocks do?" Elivinsikil says.
"They're wizards," Quayam says, "Very dangerous. We had to deal with one the last time we came here, and he was good."
Flashback from the Early Days. These are the kind of notes about adventures that you will find in the Dungeons and Dragons magazine, a monthly printed in Kiali and focused on the events in the Old Hills. The notes are cast within an erroneous understanding of magic, demons, and gods as held by the magazine editors. By this device, we will accommodate the old diary, which we wrote when we played D&D, into the new SAGA world. Thus there are people in SAGA's world who think they live in the D&D world. Early Days, 03-JUN-2463. They have reached the place where the Filthy River emerges from the hill upon which Lufstrood sits. During the day, they camp in the woods nearby, but despite invisibility, a warlock in a passing patrol spots them and they have to fight. Thristen shoots down the warlock. Bolus sends the four guardsmen to sleep. But the captain escapes.
"Wizards scare me," Elivinsikil says. "I hear they can kill you with a look."
"If you let them," Gristel says.
Elivinsikil thinks about this as Quayam makes another bridge across the river. They return to the road, and press on towards the city, laying down a mat of conjured matter before them. An hour later, eight kilometers from the Neuroth gate in their estimation, another salter patrol approaches. The four companions clamber up a ramp of conjured wood to the top of an embankment and hide behind some snow-covered bushes. Eight minutes later, the patrol comes by, marching quickly, and passes without pausing.
They emerge and continue as before, with the conjured wood mat to hide their tracks, until they come to the bridge across the Filthy River. They descend to the ledge beneath the bridge and Quayam makes a boat of brown conjured wood, and four brown poles. They pole their way up the river, noting its distinctive sewage odor. By the light from the main gate, they can see the river until they reach the defile where it emerges from the mountain. They hesitate at the mouth of the defile, wondering what may lie in wait for them in the darkness.
"Is it worth taking out a light?" Elivinsikil says.
"If we are seen, they will be onto us," Quayam says. "Let's just go into the dark."
They press the poles against the walls of the defile, and the boat moves slowly against the current. The darkness of the defile envelopes them. Some time later, the sound of the river water, and their own stealthy movements, echo about them, so that they know they are in an enclosed space.
"We are in the tunnel," Thristen says.
The stench of the river is oppressive. "This is awful," Gristel says.
"Can we take out a light now?" Elivinsikil says.
"No," Quayam says, "I don't want to see what's in this water."
"We could contract typhus," Gristel says. "I don't want to die of typhus."
Minutes pass. They each push the boat with their poles. They have no idea which direction they are pointing, other than that they are still going upstream.
"There is a light up ahead," Quayam says.
Thristen peers into the darkness. A faint light reflects off the slimy walls. As they come around a bend to the right, there is a comparatively straight section of the river, with openings in the walls on either side, each thirty centimeters in diameter. Sewage flows out of these openings in trickles, or in sudden gushes. Thirty meters away, on the left side, is a ledge and an opening that leads to a chamber. Tied up to the ledge is a small flat-bottomed boat and single pole.
"That's it," Thristen says, in a whisper, "That's the chamber we came to. It was hidden then, with a wall of spirit stone. Not even the people of Luxoden knew it was there. But now it's exposed."
Flashback from The Early Days 04-JUN-2463: Enter the underground channels of the Filthy River. They all feel very ill. They dispel the hiding magic on the demon and so force it away. Before it goes, it wounds Craven very seriously, but he survives, although the accursed wound will not heal. Escape with the loot from Luxoden and go immediately to Anplery where they have Craven's wound blessed by Bishop Orthrop the Magnanimous.
"I hear voices," Quayam says.
They pole their conjured wood boat to the ledge. The chamber is large: perhaps ten meters across. Seated at a small table in the center are two men. One is old and one is young. Their skin is pale. They are both clean-shaven. The old man is lean, with short-cropped white hair. His eyes, turning to face them, gleam in the light of the lantern set upon a shelf in the wall beside the river. His wide mouth smiles at the impostors. The young man is large, with dirty black hair and red boils on his face. He stands up with his mouth open, staring at the four people sitting in the wide, flat boat. He squints and frowns. Seeing the old man smiling, however, he sits down. The old man takes a puff from a pipe made of steel. He exhales a cloud of blue tobacco smoke.
"Well, well, there you are," he says.
"Greetings," Thristen says, andhe steps from the boat onto the ledge. He is not entirely sure he understood the old man correctly. The man is speaking Latin, but his accent is thick. "You speak as if you were expecting us."
"Maybe I was," the old man says, "And so you is."
Thristen's companions get out of the boat and lift it, with their packs and poles, onto the floor of the chamber.
"John," the old man says, "Get up and let this gentleman sit down."
Thristen sits down. The old man picks up a bottle with amber liquid inside, and blows the dust out of a shot glass. "Drink?"
"Certainly," Thristen says. The old man pours Thristen a shot of the amber fluid. He raises the glass to his nose and sniffs. It is some king of spirit, with a smell of tarry rope to it. He takes a sip. It is good. His three companions are stretching their limbs and watching the scene at the table. John stands against the far wall with a finger in his mouth.
"May I ask what you are doing in our lovely sewer?" the old man says.
"We are trying to get into the city. We want to rescue two slaves, a young man and his young woman."
"Are you now?" the old man says. "Well−"
"It's a very sad story," Thristen says, "The young man was kidnapped from his home town, was sold into slavery, fell in love, and was sold into slavery again because he was in love, and now he is working in the mines, and will work there until he dies."
"I suspected you were up to something," the old man says.
"What is your name?" Quayam says.
"Braffen," the old man says, "And you are?"
The four intruders introduce themselves. "Very good," Braffen says, "And you're here to rescue some slave, well now, I was thinking−"
"It's a very sad story," Thristen says, "Two young people in love, forced to work in a mine."
Braffen bites the mouth of his pipe and frowns. "For that, you will have to get into the city, so you can get to the mines. That's what you want, and for my part−"
"Yes, all want to do is enter the mines and rescue the boy and his girl, so they can go home and be reunited with their families."
Braffen bites the end of his pipe and stares at Thristen. "Well sir, you want help entering the city, am I right?"
Braffen convinces them that he and John should go ahead, upstream, and check the door they use to get into the sewers. If the guard has gone home, they will come back and lead the intruders into the city. If not, they will try some other door, downstream. And so John and Braffen get into their boat, with their lantern, leaving the brandy and glasses behind, and pole their way out of sight around the bend.
The four intruders wait in the chamber. After a few minutes, Elivinsikil says, "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but are you sure we should have let them go off on their own? What's to stop them warning the guards that we are down here?"
Thristen frowns. The woman has a good point. "Let's go after them."
They proceed upstream until they come to a side-tunnel above the water level. This tunnel leads to a black door. Just outside the door is Braffen's skiff, leaning up against the wall on its side. Elivinsikil walks to the door and runs her hands over it. "It's solid cast iron," she says. She turns the iron door-handle. "It's locked." She smiles. "May I try to open it?"
It takes Elivinsikil two minutes to pick the lock. They open the door to find a vertical shaft with iron rings in the wall as steps. Gristel climbs up. There is an iron trapdoor at the top. It is barred on the other side. She descends and they talk in whispers.
"They barred it behind them," Gristel says.
"We may not have much time before they raise the alarm," Elivinsikil says.
"I don't think they are going to raise the alarm," Gristel says. "I think Thristen annoyed Braffen so Braffen decided not to help us."
"You're right," Thristen says. "I was interrupting him. Apologies."
"Let's get back in the boat and go farther upstream," Quayam says. "There may be another way."
It is midnight on the morning of the 9th of January, 2486. Quayam, Gristel, Thristen, and Elivinsikil are poling their way up the Filthy River, seeing their way with the light of luminous stones. The Filthy River accepts all the sewage from the city of Luxoden and carries it away. The sun never shines in the underground city, but its denizens still respect the cycle of night and day, and at night, they sleep. This is fortunate for our four adventurers, because it means that the many side conduits leading from the city into the river are barely flowing. During the day, the sewage of the city flows constantly through these conduits and fills the passage of the river with splashing, frothing filth, while at the same time causing the river itself to flow with far greater strength. As it is, the stench of the passage is numbing, but they can at least proceed up the river with steady poling and without being covered in diluted human excrement.
The river comes to a point, however, where there are no more side conduits. Following the turns of the passage, this point is perhaps half a kilometer from the place where the river flows out from the mountain, and from the side-passage with the iron door, only a hundred meters upstream. From this point onwards, the river water is clear and clean, and the passage narrows until it is no longer wide enough for Quayam's conjured boat. The current is strong, and up ahead the water roars in a dark, confined space.
Thristen crawls out of the boat and wades through the waist-deep water. It comes sliding down a long, flat shoot on his right, and comes to a stop where he is standing. The shoot disappears into the darkness. He shines his light up the shoot, and sees the water moving, but he cannot see the end of the shoot. He puts away his light.
"I'm going up," he says, and crawls on hands and knees up the shoot, with the water rushing over and around him. The water is icy cold, but it is clean, and its passage over him is a relief after the sewer below. It is perhaps thirty meters to the top of the shoot. He stands up.
Thristen is cold from the water, but the air on his face is still and warm. Above him are yellow stars that do not sparkle. Their dim light allows him to make out the approximate structure of his surroundings. He is standing in a circular courtyard. The floor of the courtyard is at the height of his waist, because he is standing in a square depression off to one side. The courtyard is surrounded by a wall three meters high. There are what appear to be six poplar trees around the edges of the courtyard, and in the center is a circular surface twenty meters in diameter that reflects the dim stars above.
Thristen stares at the reflected stars. The mirror is a pool of water. Beside him, water flows smoothly out of the pool and into the depression in which he stands, and so into the shoot beneath the ground. He puts his hand upon the floor of the courtyard. It is smooth stone. His feels a rectangular metal ring. There is another opposite, as if to hold a bar across the width of the depression. There is a ledge around the opening of this depression, to support a cover that might be held in place by the bar. But for some reason, the cover is missing.
Nearby, five steps lead to a large, carved door that might be made entirely of black iron, although Thristen cannot be certain without touching it. Above the door is a tower of sharp angles and deep shadows, decorated with spines and curved protrusions, rising and narrowing to a high chamber at least forty meters above the courtyard. Thristen stares up at the tower. In one place, there is a window with a light behind it. In another, a giant bird perches upon a wall. But the bird does not move. It must be a statue.
On the opposite side of the courtyard frpm the tower is a large double-door in the courtyard wall. The wall itself is smooth, with lines marking the panels from which it must have been made, at right angles, with many small lumps near the joints. Thristen takes one more look at the stars before he ducks back down into the shoot, to report to his comrades.
A short time later, all four of the party are standing in the shadows of the poplar trees, beneath the wall. The poplars are made of steel. Their leaves are thin and fixed in place. The wall is made of steel panels, riveted. The stars above are luminous stones on the ceiling of the great cavern of the City of Luxoden. This cavern is five hundred meters in diameter. It was dug from the solid rock of the mountain, thousands of years ago. Its ceiling is held up by a dozen columns left behind by the creators of the cavern, and each thirty meters at its narrowest point. Where the intruders stand, at the center of the cavern, the ceiling of the cavern is seventy meters above them. Along the ceiling, just visible in the light of luminous stones, are sparse walkways made of thin rods and slats.
"All those walkways must be made of iron," Gristel says. "The beams are too thin to be wood."
As they stare in wonder at the cavern, they listen to the sounds of the sleeping city. There is the water flowing down the shoot beside the pool. There are occasional clangs and thumps from the city about them, which echo off the ceiling. A cat hisses. Someone coughs a hundred meters away.
"Let's get out of this place," Thristen says, "This must be the palace of the king."
"Why not knock on the door?" Quayam says, "We could go in. Hello? Nice to meet you? What's for dinner?"
"Okay," Gristel says, "If forced, we will do that, but for now, we have the advantage of secrecy. Let me have a look over this wall."
Thristen helps Gristel get her chin over the wall. There is another wall at a radius of a hundred meters, and this one made of stone and five meters high. Within the outer wall are gravel paths and what might be bushes, or could be further statues. Ten men in metal armor march around the tower on a path beneath the inner wall. They will pass directly below Gristel. She drops down to the base of the wall.
"Next time they go by, I'll go over after they disappear around the bend."
At the SAGA table, the players are pleased with themselves for pushing the dramaturgist on the matter of what is at the source of the Filthy River, for this resulted in a random roll that went very much in their favor. Now, each climb over a wall and crossing of an open space requires a roll on 1d20 according to each character's commando level, but also a 1/20 or 2/20 chance of some random event happening that disrupts their plans. In ten such rolls, the players get seven random events. As Gristel goes over the three-meter wall, ten more guards enter the gates in the five-meter wall. She cannot climb back quickly, because the outer face of the wall is almost an almost perfectly smooth face of steel. She must hide among the strange, scented bushes of the garden. As Quayam is about to climb the three-meter wall, ten guards come out of the door in the palace tower. Thristen and Elivinsikil must hide behind the poplar trunks, moving around as the guards pass by. When going over the five-meter wall, they use an invisible rope, and someone comes out of their house to chastise two fighting cats. But they don't see the intruders hiding at the top and the base of the wall.
Out of the palace, the four intruders proceed through the city, ascending slowly to the edge of its bowl-shaped floor. They climb iron staircases and cross roads on iron walkways. They go slowly and tread carefully. They proceed only with the light of the artificial stars above, whispering when they must speak. After four or five hundred meters of walking, which may have taken them two or three hundred meters from their starting point, they reach a road that runs around the entire rim of the city. In the walls of the cavern are doors of oak reinforced with iron, with barred windows. Beyond these doors are storage spaces revealed by Gristel's flashlight. Some are twenty meters deep, others much larger. They find one full of lumber, pick the lock, and enter.
Through the barred window, the intruders have a superb view of the city, and the vast, dim cavern. Inside, they find a space behind the lumber. There are two spiders in this space, with sticky webs and bright green bodies, that Thristen kills with the flat of his dagger before they settle down to rest.
"I don't like spiders," Elivinsikil says.
"I don't think many people like spiders," Gristel says.
It is three hours after midnight on the ninth of January. Quayam makes a toilet out of conjured wood, with a lid.
"This is so exciting," Elivinsikil says, "What a great adventure this is. Thank you for bringing me."
"You're welcome," Thristen says.
Quayam whispers in Thristen's ear. "Keep it in your pants."
New session: Chris, Kirk, Kevan, at 384 Bow Wow Rd, Sheffield, MA 01257, weekend beginning ninth September, 2013. Game date is 9th January, 4 am. The previous night was the second night of the new moon.
The city of Luxoden sleeps. The artificial stars in the cavern ceiling shed a dim light upon the city's slate roofs, gravel parks, bathing pools, iron walkways, and supporting columns. The floor of the cavern is a great bowl, five hundred meters in diameter and fifty meters deep. Its ceiling is an inverted bowl, fifty meters high. From the lowest point in the city to the highest point in the ceiling is a climb of a hundred meters. At the center of the floor is a hill thirty meters high, and upon the hill is a wall five meters high enclosing the palace grounds. Within the grounds is the tower beneath which Thristen emerged from the spring of the Filthy River. Light shines from a window towards the top of the tower.
There are no gusts of wind in this underground place, but air moves steadily past the door of the lumber room, from left to right. The sleeping city emits a distant rustle and a rumble. The rustling is the sound of ten thousand people sleeping and ten thousand cats hunting rats and mice. The rumbling is more of a mystery, but it appears to be coming from the right side of the cavern.
"I don't think my compass is working," Gristel says.
"Sometimes they don't underground. To the left is south," Thristen says, "Those galleries in the cavern wall are behind the ones that overlook the market. To the right is north, into the mountain."
Three salter patrols, each of five salters and one warlock, move along the main streets of the city. These streets are arranged as an inner circle and an outer circle, with eight radial streets joining the two. The outer circle is the one that runs along the rim of the city, past the door of the Lumber Room. The inner circle is the one that runs around the base of the hill upon which the palace is built. One of the salters in each patrol carries a lantern on a staff, and walks directly behind the warlock. Each time a patrol comes to a junction, they stop, and the warlock among them performs a ritual that involves waving his arms up and down. As soon as this ritual is completed, they head off in one of the two possible directions before them. Meanwhile, within the palace, a party of ten salters and a warlock marches around the path outside the metal courtyard wall.
"Let's watch them for a while and figure out what their routine is," Quayam says. And watch them they do. But they can see no pattern to the progress of the patrols. Several times, a patrol passes by their door. The salters wear chain mail and carry swords and spears. The lantern is a luminous stone on an iron pole. The warlock wears a black robe with a cowl around his head. Most of the men on patrol are pale and white in the extreme. But two salters and one warlock have jet-black skin. All Gristel can see of the black warlock's face is the whites of his eyes within the shadow of his cowl.
"Hello Romayne. I have to whisper because we are hiding in a lumber room underground. Yes. Fun so far, except we decided not to poo in here because it will make a smell, which might be noticed by anyone passing by the door. The door has a window with iron bars. No, no battles yet. There's still time. Lots of sneaking around. What about the slavers? Oh, well done. I'm sorry to hear that. Buried by the side of the road? You must send word to his family. No matter that he was a slaver, he still has family. Where are the rest of them? Varay is fine, yes. And the slaves? That sounds okay. Be careful what you commit to, even slaves can be devious. Have you seen Zak and Kim? Good. Oh, I'll tell Thristen. Fine. Is Sid behaving himself? Hah! Yes, Dad is fine. I should go. Okay. Bye."
To Thristen, Gristel says, "The slaves were in a covered wagon on their way from Morden to Varay on the Iron road. They were young men and women. Apparently there are some diabolical people in Varay who are willing to pay top dollar for them on the sly."
The hours pass. The adventurers take turns sleeping. Eventually, Thristen sees people moving around the bases of the columns. He catches a smell of baking bread and frying meat. A hint of light appears in the galleries on the south side of the city. A dozen people are climbing the staircases of the central support columns. It takes them five minutes to reach the top. They traverse the walkways suspended from the ceiling until they are beside the bulge at its center. They wait a little while. A bell in the palace tower rings three times. In two teams, the people on the ceiling operate a crank mechanism that draws back two great screens. As the screens are drawn aside, the light from a hundred luminous stones shines down upon the city. A new day has begun. It is 8 am on Thristen's watch.
The houses of the city that are on the lowest level are grottos dug into the granite. Above these are structures made of stone and mortar, with slate roofs supported by timbers, and iron railings and walkways leading between them. There are many larger buildings for offices and factories. There are small churches with spires topped with steel ornaments. There are school houses and parks. People begin to emerge from their houses. They walk to the base of the support columns. They collect hot water for tea and washing. They buy bread and have serving bowls filled with food from stalls around the columns. It is breakfast time. The air is filled with the thousands of voices, near and far, echoing off the walls of the cavern. The people are either pale or black, and they wear very little clothing. Thristen feels certain that several of the men and women he has seen were wearing nothing more than loin cloths.
To light a fire in Luxoden you need a Fire License. Without such a license, you may not ignite so much as a candle. Within each of the great columns that supports the ceiling of Luxoden, there is a ventilation shaft five meters in diameter or more. At the base of the shafts are the water boilers, bread ovens, and cooking fires. The heat of these fires draws air into the columns and up the ventilation shafts. These shafts run up through the mountain, sometimes joining other shafts, until they emerge into the open air in secret places amid the cliffs and peaks. Winding around the walls of these shafts are iron stairs. There are places where the shaft turn horizontal, and here there are portcullises to prevent enemies entering the city, and guards to watch for such enemies.
At 9 am, the bell in the palace tower rings five times. Children emerge from their homes and go to school. Doors open in the gallery that faces the outside world. Cool air flows past the window in the Lumber Room door. Men and women set off to their places of work. The double-door on the north side of the rim road is open. Fifteen hundred men make their way up through the streets and pass through the doors. A hammering and rumbling sounds from the door. Some time later, a wagon emerges from the same door, drawn by two men. It passes beneath the Lumber Room window and Gristel catches a glimpse of shiny, rectangular steel plates piled on top of one another. Throughout the day, three salter patrols march about the city in the same way their comrades proceeded at night.
The mountain into which Luxoden is cut is made of granite. Magnetite, Fe3O4 formed in volcanic activity long ago, occurs in abundance in veins within the granite. Some of this magnetite is magnetic when it is dug up. Luxoden exports lodestones. Magnetite must be smelted at high temperature, which requires charcoal. The Luxoden miners start with 50,000 kg of rock. They extract from this 10,000 kg of ore-rich rock, and discard the other 40,000 kg on the tailings pile to the west of the city. They crush the 10,000 kg of ore and smelt it to get iron, which they turn into 2,500 kg of steel plate in their forges and water-powered rolling mills. The smelting chambers and rolling mills are behind the city, before the mines.
The first king of the House of Dorfen crowned himself in the year 2003, after driving out of the city a dragon who had occupied it since the fall of the Weilandic Empire. This king was a warrior-wizard whose parents had emigrated from Leaena to help in the war against the orcs. The symbol of his house is a rampant lion wielding a fire lance. His name was Dambudzo Dorfen. His followers occupied the city, but they numbered only a few hundreds. In the years that followed, they accepted members of the local Celtic and Gothic tribes into their population, and the city began to prosper. Until this day, the people of Luxoden are split between those with white skin and those with black. The law of the king states that no child of mixed race may live in the city. Your skin must either be white or black. The royal family is exclusively black-skinned, but the majority of the population is white, including those of noble rank.
When two people of mixed color decide to marry, they must refrain from having children, or they must adopt a child from another family. If they have a child of their own, they must give the child up for adoption to a family outside the city, or they must move out of the city themselves. As a result, the population of Lufstrood that lives outside the underground city, farming the land between the mountain and the Wall of Lufstrood, are of mixed race. Their skin is all shades of brown, and their hair is curly and dark. The people of Neuroth and Finalur think these brown people are all wizards and witches in league with the devil, and fear them. But they do not fear the black and white skinned people of the city itself. And so, when traders visit Lufstrood, they go straight to the market, do their business with the people of the city, and take the road out of Lufstrood again before sunset.
Today is a work day in Luxoden. If it had been a day of rest, which is one out of every five days, the people would go to church after breakfast. Today the bell rings seven times at 1 pm and everyone goes home for lunch, even those who work beyond the double doors to the mines. At 2 pm the bell rings nine times and everyone goes back to work. They come home at 6 pm, when the bell rings eleven times. When all the workmen have passed through the door to the mines, the door closes. Thereafter, anyone passing to and from the mines uses the small metal sub-door in the larger oak double-doors.
King Dambudzo made wizards welcome in his city, and they remain welcome today, provided their skin is of an acceptable hue. The warlocks are among the most respected members of the community, and every young man aspires to be one. Young women can become wizards also, but they cannot hold the office of warlock any more than they can hold the office of salter. The law of the city forbids women to be placed in danger. They are forbidden to pass through the great doors that lead to the mines. They are forbidden to be soldiers or guards.
Cold, clear water flows out of the mountain behind the city, amounting to 6 m3/s. Half is taken to the city in stone conduits and cast iron pipe for drinking and washing. It ends up in the sewers, which empty into the Filthy River. The other half cascades down twenty meters over four water wheels. The water wheels drive the crushing, rolling, hammering, and stamping mills. When it leaves the cascade, it collects in a pool and flows out through a passage that is barred with iron. The drinking water is distributed in the Water Room behind a +10 lock. Three blast furnaces occupy a cavern fifty meters long and thirty meters high. The heat of the blast furnaces draws air from the city through horizontal ventilation shafts. At the entrance to the mines is a cavern with a circular, open office for the Mine Guard, which is made up of ten salters and a warlock. Their purpose is to stop the slaves from escaping the mines, and to keep fires burning under the blast furnaces.
Beyond the mine entrance cavern are the mines themselves. The mines are horizontal passages and vertical shafts. Any shaft that is in use is equipped with a removable ladder made of riveted steel slats. Ore and rock are carried out of the mines in pack baskets by slaves. A wide passage from the blast furnaces hall runs five hundred meters to an opening in the side of the mountain. Beneath it is a cliff, and at the bottom of the cliff is the great pile of tailings accumulated over two thousand years of mining. There is no path to the opening in the mountain, but the climb up the cliff is still feasible to someone with the skill to attempt it. So the opening is closed with a double-door of steel, barred from the inside.
The water from the pool at the bottom of the cascade flows into another pool, the Pool of the Slaves. It is this water that the slaves must drink, bath in, and use to carry away their refuse. They collect the water as it enters the pool, bath in the main body of the pool, and do their toilet in the channel that carries the water away into the mountain. The slaves live in a cavern about thirty meters wide and five meters high. At its center is a great fireplace with a shaft leading up to the outside world, barred in several places along its ascent with iron. A fire is always burning or glowing on the hearth, and its heat draws air from the mines, through the cavern, and up the shaft. This air smells of sulfer and smoke. When the channel leading out of the Pool of Slaves backs up, it smells of excrement.
Thristen determines that summoning will be granted for food and drink and medicine, but creatures and weapons of any sort require permission from the plot owner. Thristen summons supper. At midnight, the bell rings thirteen times and the cover over the hundred luminous stones is rolled back into place. Now that darkness has returned, the adventurers get ready to move. They watch the three salter patrols moving about. At 1 am, the patrols are either far away or marching away from the Lumber Room. Gristel opens the door and the four of them emerge. They sneak along the wall on the inner edge of the Rim Road. They take refuge down one of the Spoke Roads to avoid a patrol, and arrive at the door to the mines.
While her companions hide nearby, Gristel listens at the iron sub-door. She hears nothing. She picks the lock, opens the door and looks inside. Beyond is a passage forty meters long, ending in a circular chamber thirty meters in diameter. This chamber is lit by a luminous stone in its ceiling. Sitting within an iron railing at the center of the chamber are ten salters and a warlock. She closes the door and joins her companions. They wait. Two of the marching patrols take the place of the palace patrol. A 2 am, Gristel re-opens the door and all four of them slip inside. She closes the door behind them. Thristen and Gristel advance until they are almost to the chamber of the guards. Quayam and Elivinsikil remain by the door. Quayam casts a Targeting Sponge and gets the center of the guard room. He catches four of the salters. The others advance to the fight. Within seconds, Thristen and Gristel have knocked out three of them.
The three remaining salters turn and run. The warlock abandons a spell and runs also. Quayam stops one salter with sponge. Thristen chases another and knocks him out. Gristel chases the warlock. She encounters Thristen at a junction and he continues the chase. The warlock slides down a ladder to the level below, and by the time Thristen gets down the ladder, the warlock is out of sight. Thristen returns to his companions. They have nine captured salters. These they tie up. Quayam applies a sixty-minute sponge to the inside of the door to the city.
The companions now explore the Smelting Hall, the Water Cascade, and the Water Distribution Hall. They go 300 m down the wide passage that leads away from the Smelting Hall. After considering the dozen wagons lined up at the base of the hall, they guess that this is the passage along which the smelters take the slag and mine tailings, and dump them off a cliff. The lock on the Water Distribution Hall is exceptional. They open it all the same, and transfer their nine prisoners into the hall and lock them inside. They apply more sponge to the door leading to the city. They have not yet found any slaves, so they decide to explore the mines in search of them.
Two levels down, near the Water Cascade, they find a cavern with a fire glowing in a hearth. It is the cavern of the slaves, and the slaves are asleep. There are one hundred of them lying on cots, some out in the open, some in make-shift shelters of cloth. The four intruders walk to the fire hearth. Several slaves notice them. One of them screams and all the others jump out of their beds. Every one of them has had their head shaved. They are young adults to old men and woman, but all of them are healthy. They have been fed well. They wear hardly any clothes, but there are helmets by their beds, and leather boots. Most are pale-skinned, but some are brown and a few are black. There are no children. It is 4:30 am.
Elivinsikil stands before the slaves and announces in Endan with a Kentish accent, "I am a police officer of Kent. I am here to learn about the trade in slaves across our borders. My companions are here to rescue one person in particular, a Onorato Publius."
"I am Onorato," a young man of about fifteen years says. The intruders recognize Onorato from the photograph when he stands forward. Beside him, holding his arm, is a girl of about fourteen. Thristen tells Onorato they are here to rescue him.
"If I escape, the others will be decimated," Onorato says, "One in ten will be sent to their deaths. So I will not leave."
"It's true," an old man says. He is wiry and strong.
"This is Link," Onorato says, "He has survived ten decimations."
The intruders summon a hundred bananas and distribute them. The slaves eat them gladly.
"What ways are there out of the mines?" Thristen asks.
"Two ways," Link says. "One is the cliff where they dump the tailings. The other is through the city."
"And the Door of Doom," Onorato says. "You told me there is suppose to be a way out beyond the door."
The Door of Doom is a door far along the main passage of the mines. When the king orders the execution of a slave or a citizen, the convicted is given beef jerky, three candles, a bottle of water, and shoved through this door. None has ever returned. If you can survive long enough, there is supposed to be a way out. Legend has it that there are creatures behind the door that eat people, and that one of these creatures is an ancient dragon, trapped by King Dambudzo.
The adventurers dscuss among themselves how they might evacuate all the slaves. It would cost around two million dollars to gate them to Overlook and bring them through Jamchelk with Free World Passports. If they go out the tailings passage, they will be expected, and the city is full of enemies. The Door of Doom sounds best, because the monsters can't be too bad.
"We are going out the Door of Doom," Thristen says, "Who's coming with us. You are all welcome. We can feed you."
The slaves discuss the matter. There is no one language they all understand, so communication takes some time. Many speak Endan, some speak Latin, others the Gothic language of the surrounding sapien nations. After a half-hour, seventy-nine want to come. These argue that the others have to come, because they cannot be left behind to be shoved through the Door of Doom later. Eventually ninety-eight agree to come. Link and his wife say they would rather stay and take their chances.
"The salters will execute you," Onorato says. "They cannot allow you to remain and tell the story of our escape to the next crop of slaves."
Link finds this argument persuasive, and agrees to come. So all will go.
"We have no time to spare," Elivinsikil says, "The guards of the city may be down here within a few minutes. Pack up as quick as you can. Bring whatever candles you have, and clothes."
It turns out that the slaves have no candles nor any source of light other than burning logs. But they have plates, spoons, cups, pots for boiling water, and miscellaneous possessions. These they wrap in their blankets. and put in their ore packs. It is 5:15 am.
Quayam stands beside Onorato. "Can you make space bridges?"
Onorato looks up into Quayam's eyes and smiles. "Yes."
New session: Chris, Kirk, Kevan, at 20 Sylvan Rd Monterey, MA 01245, weekend beginning 18th October, 2013. Game date is 10th January, 2486, 5:15 am. The previous night was the third night of the new moon.
Some of the slave miners are weeping with fear. So far as Thristen can judge, Onorato and his girl are frightened and excited at the same time. Her name is Nucca. She is from Kent also, captured by slavers while picking mushrooms in September, and sold to Erenor a few weeks later. Link speaks Latin, Endan, and Gothic. From what he has said, there appear to be half a dozen executions per year, most of them slaves, but an occasional citizen of the city. The door is guarded for a week after an execution by four salters.
"Where is your necklace?" Quayam says to Onorato.
"The salters took it. Stole it."
There is a distant detonation somewhere in the mines, from up above, like a Flash Spell.
"They have annihilated my sponge," Quayam says. "The warlocks are coming."
They leave the cave. Link leads the way with Thristen, who carries a luminous stone. Behind them are the hundred slaves. In among the slaves are lights carried by Elivinsikil, Gristel, and Onorato. Quayam is in the rear with his own light. He casts conjured sponge and uses a wand to fill the tunnel behind them twice as they make their way through the mines.
Of the slaves, two know who Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen are, and the story of their exploits is spreading up and down the column of people. The passages along which they walk are cut from solid rock, irregular in height and width, with only occasional timbers to hold up the ceilings. Several times they ascend or descend to another level, and each time there is a ladder of iron rods, which they pull up or down behind them so as to slow their pursuers.
The company of slaves and adventurers proceeds as quickly as they can, but their lack of illumination slows their progress at every turn and every opening in the floor. At such points, those with lights wait until another with a light comes up, and then push their way back to their place in the column. The passages are often only two meters wide, so the column is two abreast and fifty deep.
Twenty minutes after leaving the slave cavern, the company arrives at the Main Tunnel, which is square-cut through the stone, five meters wide and three meters high. There is no sign yet of any pursuers. Quayam blocks the passage twice in sixteen meters. The company is now five abreast and twenty deep. They proceed three thousand paces to the Ante-Chamber of the Door of Doom. There are frequent side passages leading to the mines. Thristen has lost his sense of direction, but he has been watching his compass. Its needle is not behaving well. But overall he believes they have been going almost due north into the mountain.
The Door of Doom is at the end of a short corridor on the far side of the Ante-Chamber. The door is made of iron. Gristel checks it for traps and finds none. It is barred on this side with two iron rods, and there is an elaborate lock of the local style. She picks the lock in a few minutes. The slaves are gathered together in the Ante-Chamber, which is twenty meters across. They sit down. Some of them pee against the wall. Some chew jerky and drink water from glass bottles.
Aside from the way they came in, and the way to the Door of Doom, there are two other exits from the Ante-Chamber. Thristen and Elivinsikil stand at the cavern center and watch these two exits, while Quayam stands at the end of the Main Tunnel. He can see about thirty meters before it bends. It is around 6 am. Quayam sees a light approaching.
The light is carried by a warlock on his red helmet. He stops in the tunnel when he sees Quayam, who also holds a light. There is more light in the Ante-Chamber. Behind the warlock are ten salters. The warlock himself appears to be about thirty years old. His face is white beneath his red helmet.
"I have orders to arrest you and take back the King's slaves," the warlock says.
"That's bad luck for you," Quayam says.
"How about handing over the slaves, and we'll let you go through the Door of Doom?"
"No, you can't have the slaves. We're all going through," Quayam says.
"That seems rather cruel to me," the warlock says. "I mean: you free them only so that they can be eaten alive by monsters, or fall into the pit of spikes, or whatever it is that happens to people beyond the door. Nobody ever comes back. There is no way out, you know: that's just a myth. There are horrible things beyond the door, and all those slaves are likely to be dead within ten hours."
"We will protect them," Quayam says.
"You sound very confident, sir."
The warlock leans on his staff and scratches his helmet. Quayam recognizes the gesture. "Were you and your men out on the road to Neuroth a couple of nights ago?"
"Yes we were," the warlock says. He furrows his brow. "Was it you who left the disappearing tracks?"
"It was," Quayam says.
The warlock sighs. "Be that as it may, I have my orders. I don't want to go back empty-handed to the king. So how about handing over a few of the slaves, so I have something to show for my efforts. If you don't do that, I'll have to be more aggressive."
"I think we'd all prefer it if you would be more aggressive," Quayam says.
The warlock nods and leans more heavily on his staff. He blows out his cheeks. "Let me talk to my men." He withdraws with his men, out of sight around the corner. Quayam hears loud whispering. After a minute, the whispering stops. The warlock's head appears. There is a hissing in the center of the Ante-Chamber. A ball of invisible conjured sponge traps six slaves. Quayam sponges the Main Tunnel at the bend. Some of the salters are trapped in the sponge, but the warlock is in front of it. He presses himself against the tunnel wall, out of sight. The salters struggle to cut themselves out of the sponge with their swords.
The warlock throws a bridge ring. It glances off the roof of the tunnel and is headed for the Ante-Chamber, but Quayam catches it and throws it back. The warlock and his men cut themselves out of the spong and move out of sight. Thristen joins Gristel at the Door of Doom. They open it and look through. A flight of stairs descends and widens to the floor of a cavern roughly thirty meters across. There is a pool of clear water on the right. Immediately inside the door is a skeleton picked clean of all flesh, and two candles. At the bottom of the stairs is a pile of human bones.
"Seems The Door of Doom lives up to its name," Gristel says.
Thristen descends the stairs alone, sword drawn, with a luminous stone in his helmet. A giant spider drops from the ceiling and lands upon the cavern floor in front of him. Its black, bulbous abdomen is thirty centimeters across. Its dark, shiny legs span almost a meter. Its fangs are two centimeters long and dripping with venom. Within seconds, five more have dropped from the ceiling. They rush across the floor and leap at him, flying through the air at his body and head. His sword sends the first one flying to one side in a spray of green fluid. He steps out of the way of the others. They leap again, and he kills one more. If he had his armor on, he would have no fear of these creatures, but as it is, he is wearing only winter clothes, which the spider's fangs appear quite capable of penetrating. There are four of them left. One leaps at Thristen and the other three leap immediately after. A minute later, all six spiders are dead or twitching on the ground.
"Nice work," Gristel says from the top of the stairs.
Thristen pushes the bodies to one side and examines the ceiling. He sees no more spiders. But they could be hiding.
"Someone's coming," Elivinsikil says. She is watching one of the side entrances to the Ante-Chamber. Quayam sponges the passage beyond that entrance. Moments later, a company of salters with a warlock in the rear approaches the other side entrance. Quayam faces them with his bow drawn. The salters come two abreast with shields locked and spears ahead. The warlock tries to envelop Quayam in sponge. Quayam shoots at the warlock, driving him back. The salters advance. Quayam stows his bow and draws his sword. He knocks aside their spears, pries apart their shields and sends them sprawling with surprise. He knocks both the front salters out with the pommel of his sword. The others stare for a moment, and then, with urging from the warlock in the shadows behind, charge forward. Quayam disables another four and the remaining four back away, dragging their wounded with them.
Thristen continues his examination of the cavern. There is a clawed footprint in a patch of sand. It is too imperfect for him to identify its source, but it is not a spider. He advances down the passage beyond the cavern, which slopes downwards. He sees the next cavern opening up. He returns to Gristel. "I think we can bring them into the first cavern. I'll guard the passage out, and we should be safe."
The slaves pass through the Door of Doom. Gristel closes the door and Quayam casts Hold Portal upon it, which holds it shut with ten-hour conjured rubber. Thristen summons a hundred loaves of bread, two hundred bananas, twenty kilograms of pemmican, and an all-wooden barrel of hard cider. The slaves are more cheerful than when they left their cavern, despite six of them being caught in sponge for a few minutes, and despite the pile of bones and dead giant spiders. The summoned food is good.
It is now 7 am on the 10th of January 2486. Three people have to defecate. Thristen sets up a burying toilet area with a blanket as a screen. From among the pile of bones he finds a dozen candles. He gives these to Link to distribute.
"It's easy to get lost in caverns underground," Thristen says to the slaves. "There are holes to fall down and things to bang your head on. Keep your helmets on. Pick a buddy to move with. Make sure you know where your buddy is at all times. Don't move without your buddy. If you don't know where you buddy is, tell one of us. In that way, perhaps we won't lose anyone. There are giant spiders in these caves. They attack people. I expect they are poisonous."
At 8 am there are salters outside the door. Quayam can hear their voices through his conjured rubber Hold Portal. A ball of sponge springs into existance on the stairs. Someone is pulling on the door, trying to break the Hold Portal. Onorato volunteers to help: he can fill the passage with an atomic bridge.
"Do it," Quayam says.
The salters rip the door from the Hold Portal and look down the stairs. Only the new ball of transparent conjured sponge lies between them and the cavern. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, Onorato takes a deep breath, closes his eyes for a moment, and assumes a stance with one leg bent and the other tucked up. He jumps, stretching his arms, steps forward, cartwheels backwards, leaps to the side while turning in the air, and thrusts his arms forward. Immediately there is a tearing sound just audible from beyond the sponge. The salters in the doorway stagger back. A thin circle of some smokey material expands in the air just inside the door. Generating the same tearing sound the entire time, the circle expands and forms itself to the passage wall, all in the space of a couple of seconds. The tearing stops.
"It's done," Onorato says. He is panting.
A hiss fills the cavern. "Hit the dirt!" Thristen shouts.
The slaves throw themselves to the ground. A ball of conjured sponge twenty meters across fills the cavern center. Ten slaves are too slow responding to Thristen's order, and are stuck in the sponge. A dozen crawl out from under it to join the others against the cavern walls.
"Not bad," Quayam says. "This is someone new we are dealing with."
A voice calls from beyond the door. It is muffled by the intervening sponge, but Quayam can hear it well enough. The voice speaks in Luxoden's Latin. "Hello in there! This is Katlego Nafari, Arch-Warlock of Luxoden. Surrender the King's Slaves or die."
"Good speech," Quayam says.
Quayam dives to one side as the sponge on the stairs erupts into white light and heat. There is a rush of air and a bang. Most of the slaves scream or shout in alarm. Salters in chain armor form up on the far side of the door. They thrust their spears out in front of them, only to find the tips and shafts destroyed by the invisible surface of Onorato's atomic bridge. The arch-warlock shouts orders to them and they back away from the door. The warlock himself looks down the stairs. He is middle-aged with jet black skin and an elaborate red leather helmet. His staff is brown wood and is topped with a luminous stone. He looks at Quayam. Quayam steps to one side and a crackling spell goes off near his ear. It does him no harm, but he is shaken by the thought of what would have happened if he had not moved at that moment. Nevertheless, he smiles and waves at the warlock. The warlock frowns. His Paralyze spell did not have the effect he hoped for.
Quayam turns to Gristel. "He can cast spells at us but we can't shoot at him because of the space bridge."
"We have to get rid of the bridge and charge them," Girstel says.
"Watch that passage, Thristen," Quayam says, "We'll take these guys."
Gristel runs up the stairs with Quayam. She strikes the edge of Onorato's bridge. With a tearing sound, much louder now that it is not muffled by sponge, the bridge collapses. On the other side are ten salters in a shield wall five abreast and two deep. Ten spears thrust out in front. The arch-warlock stands behind them, moving the fingers of one hand, and holding his staff in the other. Quayam and Gristel charge. Gristel breaks through the shield wall and knocks down a salter. She pushes forward and Quayam comes up beside her. The shield wall breaks apart and it is a free-for-all in the five-meter wide passage, with three salters attacking each of Quayam and Gristel.
Katlego casts several spells, but they do not stop the two adventurers. He is not sure if his spells missed their target or were dodged by application of the prescience he knows such adventurers have in abundance, and which he himself has developed to some extent. His Enfeeble Spell surely would have had some effect had it found its mark. In around thirty seconds, Gristel has knocked out five men and Quayam has knocked out three. Katlego holds up a large, rectangular atomic bridge produced by a Circle II Spell. He is going to have to fight these adventurers himself. He casts a Grand Flash right in front of him, hoping to blind the two adventurers, even at the expense of blinding his own men. But as the flash is fading and its sound is echoing in the caverns ahead and behind, Quayam leaps over a fallen enemy and charges. At first, Katlego defends himself with his atomic bridge, but he realises that this efforts are pointless. He casts spells instead, and trusts to his prescience to protect him. He lands a Paralyze Spell in the space where Quayam's head should have been, had it not been for a rock thrown by a soldier behind the warlock, which Quayam ducked to avoid. What next? Perhaps Destroy will do something. But that's the last thought he has before Quayam knocks him out with an elbow to the side of his face.
There are twenty more salters and two more warlocks in the passages leading into the Ante-Chamber (passages 2 and 3 in the dungeon map). They are watching and hesitating. Quayam drags the arch-warlock back through the Door of Doom. Gristel drags a salter that's about Quayam's size. Quayam looks rattled to her eyes, and she knows him well. She wants him to have some armor. This salter is wearing scale mail, which Quayam is just about strong enough to wear.
Gristel's concerns are justified: Quayam is down to eleven dodging points from forty-five. The first Paralyze Spell took eight off him. During the fight, he dodged an Asphyxiate, which took another three. Katlego missed him with the Enfeeble, but got him with a Grand Flash and then a Paralyze right at the end. That's a total of twenty lost from spells, and another half a dozen from the fight with the salter shield wall.
Once through the door, Quayam fills the passage to the Ante-Chamber with brown ten-hour conjured sponge. Thristen binds and blindfolds Katlego. Quayam watches the passage out of the cavern with Katlego sitting at his feet. Gristel strips the armor off the salter prisoner, binds him, and sits him next to Katlego. Most of the cavern is still filled with Katlego's earlier sponge. An hour goes by, and it dissipates. Thristen sees to the injuries of the two prisoners, allows them to pee, and questions them. He finds a communication space bridge on Katlego and takes it. It is 9:30 am.
In the map below, Chamber One is the cavern occupied by the slaves at 10:00 am. Gristel is working on the suit of scale mail to get it to fit Quayam. Thristen and Elivinsikil proceed down the passage to Chamber Two. Thristen finds several more clawed tracks in patches of wet sand. They watch the ceiling for spiders. Chamber Two has a drop to the left of the path, and at the lower level, a pool. Ten spiders crawl across the cavern ceiling.
"I'd like you to stand back in the entrance," Thristen says. "Stay in the dark and watch the ceiling. I'll hold the light here. I think the light attracts them."
Elivinsikil complies, and the spiders gather above Thristen on the ceiling. When one starts to crawl over another, it falls to the path and lands on its feet. The others fall in quick succession and they leap at Thristen. So long as only three of them are jumping at him at one time, he can be almost certain not to get bitten. He can kill one with his sword and stay out of the way of the other two. He moves about so as to make sure that he is not at the center of a group of more than three. The spiders ignore Elivinsikil.
In half a minute, all ten spiders are dead. Thristen flicks them off the path to the lower level of the cavern. He has several blobs of green body fluid on his clothes. He scrapes most of it off with his sword and wipes his sword on a cloth he keeps in his pocket for the purpose.
"I'd like to help next time," Elivinsikil says.
"Okay," Thristen says. "I wanted to check my theory. I think they just go towards light."
They proceed down the next passage to Chamber Three. "These are huge caverns," Elivinsikil says. "I wonder if they are natural, and how old they are."
Thristen shines his light upon the ceiling. There are dozens of spiders. As he shines his light, the spiders begin to move. He looks at the five-meter wide causeway between two pools on the cavern floor. The water is still except for some drips from the ceiling. Behind them, in Chamber Two, they hear a distinct plopping of a body falling into water.
"What was that?" Elivinsikil says. She has her sword in front of her and faces backwards.
Thristen keeps his back to the passage wall, watching both sides. "Let's go back and see."
There are ripples in the pool in Chamber Two. Thristen descends the embankment to the lower level and stands beside the water. One of the spider corpses he pushed down the embankment is missing. After a short wait, a four-headed hydra rises up out of the water with a cascade of spray and a display of teeth and tongues and writhing necks. Its skin is black and its eight eyes stare down, its jaws ready to bite. It remains motionless for a full second. Thristen has his bow strung. The heads dart down. Thristen steps out of the way and shoots. He shoots three times. The attacking hydra heads hiss. The hydra's body forces water out of the pool. When Thristen shoots one of the hydra's necks, the head above screams and keeps screaming. When three necks are shot through, the hydra drops into the water and disappears. Waves lap on the cavern floor and then all is still.
"Wow," Elivinsikil says. "That thing was scary."
In Chamber One, some of the slaves are weeping with fear at the sound of the hydra's screaming. Quayam has put on his armor. He has armor protection twelve and burdening three. Gristel is adjusting the armor with a tool. "Are you okay Thristen?" she shouts. Her voice carries easily into the next chamber and Thristen answers that he is fine. He and Elivinsikil return and report on what they found. The slaves discuss the news and ask questions. What are the clawed footprints? Thristen says he does not know, but to his companions he says he thinks they are demon tracks.
"Huh," Gristel says. "An angry scurrier fighting demon could go through these people like a... like an angry scurrier fighting demon."
"Quite," Thristen says.
"What is a scurrier fighting demon?" Elivinsikil says.
There is a ferocious detonation of sound and light on the stairs to the Door of Doom. A warlock outside has annihilated Quayam's ten-hour brown sponge. Quayam and Gristel run to the bottom of the stairs and start shooting. Elivinsikil and Thristen move the slaves and prisoners out of Chamber One and into the passage beyond. The warlock and salters retreat into the Ante-Chamber of the Door of Doom in the face of Quayam and Gristel's longbows.
Onorato places two vaporizing barriers inside the Door of Doom. Thristen and Elivinsikil guard the entrance to Chamber Two. The slaves sit or try to lie down in the passage, which is five meters wide, like the Main Tunnel, and square-cut with a fairly level floor. One slave finds a gold piece. Others find more candles. For three hours, they rest.
At around noon, Quayam goes to the entrance of Chamber Three and sponges the entire ceiling, freezing most of the spiders in place. The sponge has longevity one hour. Thristen and Elivinsikil advance along the causeway between the two pools. Seven spiders drop down and attack them. Back to back, they kill these together. Elivinsikil gets two of them and is well pleased with herself. She is splattered with green goo. Thristen has now developed a method for killing them and throwing them away in one blow, which avoids getting splattered.
The salters beyond the Door of Doom are hiding in the dark. Onorato's vaporizing barriers have collapsed. "I don't like it," Quayam says. "We can't shoot them in the dark." With the help of an atomic bridge and a stand made of rocks, Quayam, Gristel, and Onorato shine light up the stairs from a luminous stone within the passage. They can see up the stairs from the passage entrance, where they are in the dark.
Thristen and Elivinsikil proceed to Chamber Four. Here is a great pool of water, a collapsed bridge that once lead to an exit in the far wall over the pool, a partially-collapsed continuation of the five-meter wide path around the left side, two side tunnels, the exit of the Main Tunnel from the chamber, and a shelf above the pool opposite. Upon the shelf sit two gargoyles. Upon the ceiling they see at least a dozen spiders.
Thristen and Elivinsikil return and report. Onorato bars the passage leaving Chamber One with a space bridge. Thristen and Elivinsikil lead the slaves through Chamber Two and Chamber Three, beneath the spiders in sponge, until they are all in the passage between Chamber Three and Chamber Four. Thristen and Elivinsikil note that there is only one gargoyles sitting on the shelf.
"Demons," Thristen says.
The two of them take the first side passage into Chamber Five, which is a confusing space with bolders twice as high as a man, and an irregular ceiling. They see spiders on the ceiling. Behind them, Quayam calls out. He is guarding the entrance to Chamber Four, while Gristel is guarding the exit from Chamber Three. He thought he would be less likely to get into another fight in his current position, but the spiders in Chamber Four start to move towards him. Five drop onto the causeway and attack. He has to stop them from getting past him and in among the slaves behind him.
We decide at this point that holding n places in a line by yourself gives you a to-hit roll adjustment of −5(n − 1). So Quayam is holding five places and suffers a to-hit roll adjustment of −20. He holds off the spiders long enough to allow Thristen and Elivinsikil to return and join the fight. They kill twenty five spiders in the next few minutes, as the remainder of Chamber Four's spiders drop to the ledge and attack.
Thristen and Elivinsikil return to Chamber Five. Four scurrier fighting demons enter through the far passage and start jumping around from boulder to boulder, but not attacking. When the two intruders try to go to the passage that leads back to Chamber Four, the demons block the passage. When they try to go back to Chamber Four by the way they came, the demons block them again.
"They are trying to corral us towards that third exit," Elivinsikil says. She is shaking with fear of the demons, but keeping her voice as calm as she can.
Despite the demon's efforts, Thristen and Elivinsikil dodge their way past and back to Chamber Four, where they relate their experience to Quayam and Gristel. It's about one hour after noon.
"My sponge is about to dissipate in the chamber of the two pools,' Quayam says, "The spiders there will soon be free."
"So long as we have no light back there," Thristen says, "They won't come into the passage."
They hear a clang of metal from the direction of Chamber One. For the past few hours there has been a slow movement of air from the Door of Doom through the caverns. But now this breeze stops.
"They have closed the Door of Doom," Link says.
Quayam repairs the causeway around the edge of Chamber Four with 100-hour conjured wood, then makes a ladder up to the ledge where two demons are watching. The adventurers debate with the slaves as to what to do next. They need a safe chamber to rest in. Thristen and Elivinsikil go into Chamber Five and hold up their lights. There are twenty spiders in the room that drop and attack. The two adventurers kill them all, and even Thristen is now splattered with green goo. Proceed to Chamber Six, where there are no spiders. They move the slaves into this chamber. There are five demons in the room with the slaves, standing on the top of a slope of collapsed gravel and rock. There are four human bodies in the room, not picked clean of flesh like, in Chamber Six, buried under thin layers of gravel. The demons bring water in bottles from the reservoir in this room. They appear to be excited, jumping up and down and occasionally issuing bursts of their strange clicking language, Rattikit.
"They are trying to look after us," Gristel says. "They wanted Eli and Thristen to come here earlier. These bodies must be the bodies of people who died in their care. What did they provide for food?"
At 3 pm, the demons have calmed down. Two sit on their shelf and three sit on the gravel, watching the slaves in the light of the luminous stones.
"It must be absolutely dark here most of the time," Elivinsikil says. "How do the demons see? They must welcome the light. Maybe that is why they want us here."
"They like to have company," Gristel says, "Maybe we should tickle them on the head or something. They like that too."
"What?" Elivinsikil says. "You first."
Quayam makes a path to the ledge of Passage X (which we will later refer to also as Drambudzo's Passage) in the wall above the great pool of Chamber Four, from the ledge where the demons are standing. Thristen walks along Passage X. Ahead of him he hears a muffled sound of metal scraping against metal. It is an unpleasant sound, crying out for the application of grease. He moves aside two barriers made of reeds and comes to a reed curtain. These reeds cannot be more than a few years old. They are made of a plant that grows in wet soil. Later, he realises that the barriers are to stop spiders.
Thristen looks past the curtain and sees a huge chamber, perhaps a hundred meters across and thirty meters high. Its walls are sparkling crystals. There is bright light, huts, a few people moving around, a bridge over a stream, some crops growing in the light. Passage X ends in the wall of the chamber, about three meters above the floor. A dragon with rust-colored scales is curled upon the floor with its great wings folded over its back. In front of of the dragon is an old man sitting at a table. His skin is black and he wears the robe and hat of a warlock. On the table is a chess board.
Thristen has seen Thrassus the Dragon, who has been trapped at the end of the Main Tunnel, in the Crystal Cavern, for almost five hundred years. Thristen returns to the company and tells them the news: the legend of the dragon is true.
Ahokeh Dorfen is the current king of Luxoden. He is a direct descendent of Dambudzo Dorfen, the first king who trapped Thrassus by cunning and good stonework. Ahokeh became king after his uncle fell from the ceiling of the city cavern when a trellace collapsed. There was rumor that the Arch-Warlock Hlatshwayo engineered the accident with the help of a well-placed Slice spell. Ahokeh's uncle was not popular with the warlocks. Being unpopular with the warlocks tends to be unhealthy for the Kings of Luxoden. That was twenty-six years ago. One of the first things Ahokeh did, in an effort to show that he would not be intimidated, was to sentence Hlatshwayo to death, and the arch-warlock was forced through the Door of Doom. Unknown to Ahokeh, Hlatshwayo still lives. It is he who Thristen saw playing chess with the dragon. He is now eighty years old.
"The dragon is trapped in there," Thristen says. Some investigation reveals that the Main Tunnel, where it leaves Chamber Four, passes around a bend and is then walled up with granite blocks one meter wide and mortared together.
"It looks like the secret of the Door of Doom is this," Thristen says to the company. "If you can make it past the spiders and the demons and somehow get to Passage X, then you can live with the dragon. I think we should do the same. I'm happy to go and speak to this dragon, and see if he will welcome us. We need a place to stay for a while. There may be no way out. We may have to go back into Luxoden again. We need a place to rest and think."
At 7 pm, Thristen returns to Passage X. One of the slaves, a woman named Patricia accompanies him, saying that she will protect him from the wiles of the devil. "I don't think I need protection," Thristen says.
"Oh, I think you do," Patricia says. She insists on walking behind him. In Passage X, by the light of Thristen's nearly-covered luminous stone, Patricia tries to persuade Thristen that it would help him a great deal in the face of the wiles of the devil if he and her were to spend some quality time together before they move on to talk to the dragon. He declines and they proceed.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," she says, and laughs.
The screeching of metal comes from up ahead. Thristen pulls aside the reed curtain. Part of him wants to say, "Greetings fellow-dwellers of Clarus," but instead he tries something else. "Hi," he says.
The man playing chess stands up. "Hello! Hello! Welcome!"
The dragon raises its head and looks at Thristen and Particia. Its eyes are ten centimeters across. Its head is two meters long. The rust-colored scales on its eight-meter neck squeal as it moves. Thristen smells baking bread. There are chickens stepping around on the other side of the stream, in the bright light. The light shining from the ceiling on the other side of the cavern is so bright it is as if the sun is shining upon the small plots of corn, wheat, and vegetables. To his left is a steady hissing, coming from somewhere on the cavern wall, he is not sure where.
"Beatrix!" the warlock says, "New people!"
A woman of about seventy, plump and wearing a blue dress comes out of a hut and hurries to the chess table. She looks up at Thristen and Patricia and claps her hands. "A man and a woman! Who are you?"
Thristen introduces himself and Patricia.
"It is as spoken in the prophesy. He shall come with a slave girl. Thrassus, may they come down?"
The dragon moves its head to the cavern wall and presents its neck like a walkway, or more like a goat path, down to his body and the cavern floor.
"Come down," Beatrix says.
Thristen takes Patricia's hand. They walk down the rusty metal surface of the dragon's neck, to the body, and from there they slip down past the front of the great spirit-leather wings to the floor. Beatrix clasps their hands. "This is a great day for us."
"Thank you for saying so," Thristen says, "And why do you say as much?"
From the far side of the stream come five more people. A woman of thirty-five is Agatha. Her skin is black and she was a citizen of Luxoden. She holds the hand of a twenty-five year old man called Agrot. He is muscular and tall, with pale skin and a red beard. He walks with a limp. A teenage boy says nothing but looks Kentish. He is sullen. A woman of fifty is slender with combed hair. She has scars on her face. A man of forty has a brown beard and fair skin. He smiles and seems excited, but his eyes are open so wide that Thristen things he does not understand what is going on around him. These last four were all slaves in the mines.
"My name is Hlatshwayo," the old man says. "I was once Arch-Warlock of Luxoden. But for twenty-six years, I have been here."
The people of the cavern bring out stools for Thristen and Patricia to sit on, and Beatrix goes and gets tea and fresh bread. They drink and eat. They ask about Thrassus and learn that he cannot escape because the Main Tunnel is blocked. Thristen looks across at the granite blocks that seal the Main Tunnel. They are scratched and cracked, a dozen meter-wide blocks are pulled out and cracked. Thrassus tried to escape.
"Why did he give up trying?" Thristen says.
"He gave a prophesy to one of the first people to come here. The prophesy implied that he would not leave until a man and a slave girl arrived at the same time. So he has been waiting."
"Oh. That's us, I suppose."
"I suppose we could help. We have a hundred freed slaves to look after for now. Is there a way out through this cavern to the outside world?"
Beatrix laughs. "No, of course not. Or else we would all be gone. We are trapped here. The only way out is through the Door of Doom, and that is either locked or guarded, and between us and it are hundreds of poisonous spiders, demons, and at least one hydra, and perhaps other things we don't know about."
"We have a hundred miners. If we can go back into Luxoden and get picks and shovels, we could clear that blockage. I don't know how long it would take. I can summon food. We can get it done. If we did that, would Thrassus leave with us, and protect us on the way out?"
"Thrassus," Beatrix says, "Would you leave with us all?"
They all look at the dragon. It has not yet spoken. After a minute, it says, "I will leave."
"And will our company of one hundred be able to stay here while we work?"
"All are welcome," Thrassus says.
Thristen steps aside for a while and explains what has happened to Quayam and Gristel over a space bridge. For an hour, the company in Chamber Six discusses what to do. People are defecating in one corner and pissing on the walls. The air is still and rank. By 8 pm, the company agrees to move to the Crystal Cavern. Quayam and Gristel try to lead them to Passage X, but the five demons blockade them, and appear to be willing to harm the slaves to stop them from leaving. Quayam and Gristel retreat and talk to Thristen.
"I have to go help my friends," Thristen says, "The demons are trying to stop the company from coming here."
"The demons want companionship," Hlatshwayo says. "They detain people in that chamber, sometimes until they die. But I have taught them to keep people for no more than a few days. When they start to get weak, the demons carry them here. But they won't want you to leave yet. We shall have to bind them up with sponge. I'll come with you."
"Very good," Thristen says. He bows to Beatrix. "Farewell for now."
"Goodbye," Patricia says. She has been frowning most of the time, and keeping her eye on the dragon's head, sitting as close to Thristen as she can.
Thrassus raises his neck. Patricia and Thristen help the old man up the narrow metallic path. The old man brings with him three dim luminous stones he has made with spells and pieces of borax and quartz, both of which occur in the cavern. In the next half-hour, the old warlock sponges two demons in Chamber Six, Quayam sponges all entrances to Chamber Six, trapping the demons inside. The company has moved to Chamber Five, so they are separated from the demons. Gristel shoots a spider on the ceiling. Quayam makes a floating platform bridge to cross the water to the entrance to Passage X, complete with side walls and decorations and gray color to entertain the warlock. There are still two demons on the ledge. They are agitated and look ready to jump. So the warlock sponges them both.
Elivinsikil leads the company across the bridge and down the passage. It takes them four minutes to get to the Crystal Cavern. They are in a hurry because the don't want the demons to escape from the sponge before they are all in. She pulls back the curtain and looks down. She swallows at the sight of the dragon. "Can we come in?".
Thrassus looks at her for two minutes and presents his neck. Elivinsikil climbs down and the slaves, some of them whimpering, others hesitating, follow her. One falls off and sprains his leg. Another slips and hurts her hand. But within minutes, they are all in the cavern with the bright light on the far side. Quayam, Gristel, Thristen, the two bound prisoners, and Hlatshwayo come last.
Katlego is bound and blindfolded, but his salter guard is only bound, and tells Katlego what he sees. "Well Katlego," Hlatshwayo says to the current Arch-Warlock of Luxoden. "My new patron is a dragon. He plays excellent chess. Don't try any tricks. Thrassus is not forgiving." Katlego Nafari stands with his ear turned, listening to the occasional sound of the dragon's scales.
New session: Chris, Kirk, Kevan, at Ashley Falls Rd, Sheffield, 25th Jan 2014. Game date is 10th January, 2486, 10 pm in the Crystal Cavern. This is the fourth night of the new moon.
We begin the session by refining the details of the discovery and colonization of the Celesti Sector. Zoroaster is the dragon who, as a god, engineered the deal between the Gods of Terra, the Illuminati, and Nemesis the daemon to move elves and dwarves, and ultimately sapiens to the Celesti Sector. Nemesis found Olympia, a world that was both magical and hospitable to Terran life. The story involves several bridges and is rather complicated. We did not write down the details, but resolved to go through it again next session, so this we must do. This time, we might also consult and modify the History of the Galaxy to include the story.
We decide that the trees and plants left by the Former Celesti on the inhabitable worlds of the sector are edible to Terran life, but not resistant to Terran insects and blights. Many of these plants contain valuable chemicals. Some survive in special places, such as Ornam Spice, Fanflower Leaves, and many others that are used in potions, medicines, and spells. Because their survival is dependent upon a particular environment in which they are not destroyed by Terran pests, and the climate and soil being just right, they are hard to cultivate. Some are so valuable and inaccessible that gathering them is lucrative work for adventurers. We noted this in The Celesti.
We estimate that dragons weigh 3000 kg, are 30 m long with 10-m body. Their armor is 2.5 mm steel plate, for protection 60. Their talons weight 50 kg each. We intend to update the Divine Dragon entry in the Creature Manual.
The bright light in the Crystal Cavern comes from a window in the cavern ceiling, above the huts and crops on the far side of the stream. Upon closer inspection, this window gives a view of the sun, only the sun is larger than it is in the sky of Clarus, and its color is more white. Hlatshwayo does not know how the window came to be there. "Perhaps Thrassus put it there, but I'm not sure how he would do so. Maybe one of his earlier companions put it there. But I believe it has been here for far longer than Thrassus. The main tunnel that leads to this cavern from the tailings cliff is as ancient as the cavern of Luxoden, perhaps more ancient. I think this light may have been here for thousands of years, and was the reason that a tunnel was dug to this cavern."
"Does it shine all the time?" Gristel says. "The direction of the light has changed since we first entered the cavern. It's shining directly on the cavern wall now."
"The sun moves across the window. It's as if the window were on the surface of a planet close to the sun, and the planet is rotating every sixten hours. We have eight hours of day and eight hours of night. In the morning, the sun shines through onto the main floor of the cavern, where Thrassus sits. In the evening, it shines like this. Soon it will be dark."
Thristen summons food for one hundred people, at a cost of 100 gp. At 11 pm according to his watch, the sun of the Crystal Cavern sets and it is dark, except for the dim luminous stones made by Hlatshwayo. Our heroes are spying on Chamber Four in the dungeon with a 4-cm space bridge made by Onorato in two halves of a gourd. An hour before midnight, they settle down to sleep in the section of the cavern that is between the crops and the toilet, next to a point on the cavern wall through which air leaves with a steady hiss. Quayam, Gristel, Thristen and Elivinsikil sleep between the freed slaves and the main body of the cavern. Their two prisoners, Katlego and a Salter, are both bound and sitting against the wall. Katlego remains blindfolded. Quayam makes large, dark green conjured rubber sleeping mats adequate for a hundred people. It is 20°C in the cavern, so no need for blankets.
At 7 am on January 11th, the sun rises in the Crystal Cavern. It bathes the cavern floor with white light. There is no hint of red in the dawn. Quayam, Gristel, Thristen, and Elivinsikil have a cold breakfast and discuss their next move.
"Let's spend a few days here," Quayam says. "I don't know how much safer we can be than here with a friendly dragon. So let's rest."
"I can't sleep easily knowing that warlock is nearby," Gristel says. She is referring to Katlego.
"Maybe Thrassus does not want all of us to stay here for long," Thristen says.
At 8 am, they approach Thrassus and explain to him their intention to take the slaves out of Luxoden and Lufstrood. He listens, and at last says, "There is a gold mine in a valley. I can show you where it is."
This declaration they take to imply a number of things. First, Thrassus is willing to help them set the slaves up in a hospitable place. Second, this hospitable place will be a source of gold, and Thrassus will want to stay there, supervise the mining of the gold, and sit on most of it. Third, Thrassus intends to leave the cavern with the slaves. If he is going to leave the cavern, he can either dig himself out, or they can dig him out. Thrassus has shown no inclination to start clawing again at the granite blocks that fill the main tunnel leading out of the cavern. So they conclude that they and their slaves must do the digging.
The dragon's body is roughly two meters in diameter. All dragons can fit through the three-meter aperture of a conjunction. Indeed, there are those who speculate that the dragon's body shape is designed to allow them to pass through conjunctions. "We don't need a five-meter passage," Quayam says, "We could widen Drambudzo's Passage to three meters and Thrassus could crawl out that way. We make a bridge over the pool in Chamber Four, and the rest of the way to the tailings pit we have the main passage." (Note that Drambudzo's Passage is the one marked as Passage X on the map.)
"We'll need picks and shovels," Thristen says.
"And buckets," Elivinsikil says.
"I see wicker baskets," Gristel says, and points to the huts and the stand of bull rushes beside the stream. "Wicker baskets will do."
"I want to search Katlego," Thristen says. "He may have a space bridge on him. I should have done it last night."
This he does now, and finds a space bridge in Katlego's cloak. This they destroy. They offer to unbind him and take off his blindfold if he promises not to try to escape and not to harm anyone in the cavern. He promises. They release him. He stares in wonder at the dragon and the cavern.
Our heroes resolve to stay in the Crystal Cavern for eight cavern days, or six Claran days, until 7 am on 17th January. At that time, they will ask for volunteers and go back into the mines of Luxoden to retrieve some mining tools. They relax. Each cavern day they summon food for the hundred slaves, at a cost of 100 gp.
Award experience points: 100 kxp (like a $10M job). 26 kxp to Quayam and Thristen, 21 kxp to Gristel, 2.3 kxp to Elivinsikil. Pay expenses 3 kgp each January 85 to January 86. Elivinsikil is: female 24, al=6, fl=6, tl=10, dp=11, hp=19, DEX 10, STR 0, TOU 9, INT 3, xp now 5300.
It is 7 am on 17th January, 2486. The sun rises in the Crystal Cavern. Quayam, Thristen, Gristel, and Elivinsikil gather beside Thrassus with six volunteers from among the escaped slaves, four of whom know the way to the stash of picks and shovels that is locked up near the location in the mines at which the slaves were most recently excavating iron ore.
Hlatshwayo addresses Thrassus. "These people want to leave the cavern to fetch picks and shovels to widen the small passage so that you can leave."
Thrassus turns on the floor, with a scraping of rusty scales. He raises his two-meter head to the level of the opening in the cavern wall though which Thristen first entered. He raises the front of his ten-meter body a meter off the ground with his forelegs, and presents his eight-meter neck as a path to the opening. The party of ten climb up onto his back, up his neck, and into the passage. Their hands and clothes are touched with the powdered rust that covers the dragon's armor.
Quayam makes a ramp down from the ledge in Chamber Four to the floor on the other side of the pond. He uses ten-hour gray conjured wood. In Chamber Three, there are thirty-four spiders. Thristen and Gristel stand on the causeway at the center of the cavern. Over the course of three minutes, they kill every spider, except perhaps for some that remain hidden, as has happened in the past. They advance to the Door of Doom. As they approach, there is a hissing in the air and Chamber One fills with poisonous gas, in this case, gas that makes you pass out. They back away and wait one hour. Gristel goes forward. Another poison cloud bursts from a space bridge beside the Door of Doom. Quayam notes its location. Girstel retreats. They return an hour later and Quayam fires upon the one-centimeter bridge ring on the cavern wall beside the iron door. (His to-hit roll is 10.) He misses.
"Huh," Quayam says. He fires again and misses.
"Do you need help with that?" Gristel says."Come on," Elivinsikil says. "That's an impossible shot. Why even try?"
Quayam fires a third time and hits. The arrow passes through the bridge ring and shatters its head on the rock. Gristel approaches the door, searches for traps and finds none. Quayam sponges the space beyond the door with his targeting solenoid, or whatever it is that creates the targeting effect in his sorcerer's brain. Gristel moves the bar off the far side with a metal shim. The lock is open. They thrust the doors open and find two guards trapped between the door and the sponge. Quayam knocks one out and the other goes three rounds with Thristen before he goes down with a blow to the head.
Beyond the sponge are a warlock and twenty salters. Quayam sponges the ante-chamber and the warlock sponges back, also targeting. The adventurers and their six guides retreat from the new sponge, but from their safe position, Quayam envelopes the warlock. Quayam, Gristel, Thristen, and Elivinsikil charge forward, pushing the remaining sponges out of their way and do battle with the salters. Gristel knocks out four, Quayam five (counting the first one), Thristen three (counting the first one). The slaters run away along the main tunnel.
"I didn't get any," Elivinsikil says.
They bar the Door of Doom behind them.
They now proceed along the main passage almost two thousand paces and come to a gray barrier that fills the passage entirely, with arrow slits and a panel door. Quayam makes a transparent shield for Thristen, who advances with a thunder-egg. Arrows stick into his shield, fired through the slits in the barrier. Thinking that the barrier is made of conjured wood, Thristen throws the thunder-egg. There is a mighty bang, but the barrier remains unharmed. An arrow flies from one of the arrow slits and strikes Thristen's shield. He lets go of it and runs as a space bridge in the arrow head annihilates his shield.
"It's spirit wood, not conjured," Quayam says.
Quayam and Gristel give covering arrow fire while Thristen advances. He attacks the barrier with his sword, cutting through it in three blows. He jumps through and his comrades follow. Five salters and a warlock were manning the barrier. One man lies dead with an arrow in his eye.
"I shot him," Gristel says, "Damn."
The others are fleeing, turning down a side passage, taking with them a salter Quayam shot in the shoulder.
The six freed slaves lead the adventurers along the main passage for another few hundred paces kilometers, and then turn off into the mines of Luxoden, by the light of luminous stones. They go up and down ladders and along many winding passages. In half an hour, they come to a metal cage containing dozens of picks and shovels. Gristel picks the padlock on the cage and they take as many tools as they can carry. They start back.
11:30 am, 17th January, 2486, in the Mines of Luxoden, Quayam, Gristel, Thristen, Elivinsikil and six freed slave miners are making their way back to the Crystal Cavern with stolen picks and shovels.
Five minutes after picking up their tools, Thristen descends a ladder ahead of the others and looks about. Something is approaching him. The passage is about two meters wide and two meters high. The noise comes again. It is a scraping. He peers down the passage in the light of his headlamp.
A massive creature bounds along the passage, sending sparks flying from the walls, scraping as it comes. It's body is so large that it almost fills the passage, proceeding on its hind and forelegs like a bull-dog. Thristen fires an arrow. The arrow sticks into the creature's body and makes a scratching noise as it goes in. The body is made of sand or stone, not flesh. By the way it moves, Thristen figures it is a demon. The creature charges on, and Thristen presses himself against the wall, in an alcove, as the creature goes by.
"What what that?"Gristel shouts down from above.
"Demon. Big one! He may have gone."
"It is the Attatash!" the miners say, and they groan in fear.
The demon turns somewhere in the darkness and charges back. Thristen fires again and hides, the demon stops with a grinding of sand on stone, turns around, and charges again. Thristen fires twice. His arrows are hitting, but its going to take a lot of arrows.
"Help please!" Thristen says.
Gristel jumps down with her bow and stands beside him. The demon turns and charges back. It does the same thing a dozen times. Quayam fires down upon its back every time it passes by the vertical shaft to the passage above. After a few more passes, Thristen is convinced that this demon has prescience. It has at least three eyes. One of them must be time-shifted. Each time the demon charges, Thristen and Gristel fire two shots as it approaches and another as they push themselves out of a nook in the wall when it has gone by. When the demon has been hit twenty times, Thristen fires the twenty-first arrow and penetrates a weak spot below the demon's head, severing something vital in its neck. The demon collapses at his feet.
"I think he's done fighting for now," Thristen says.
The remainder of the company descend into the lower passage and gaze upon the huge, immobile demon. Its head is already growing a skin of spirit rubber. The party proceeds in haste with its tools. They hear hissing ahead, and conjured sponge blocks their way. Gristel goes forward and clears it with an annihilation egg. They find the main tunnel blocked as well, and annihilate a massive body of sponge. There is a huge burst of lightening and thunder, echoing down the tunnel and through the mines. They proceed to the Door of Doom unmolested, through the door and the dungeons, and so up Quayam's ramp to Drambudzo's passage and the Crystal Cavern, where Thrassus presents his neck, and they descend with their tools to the cavern floor. Nobody is hurt. (Thristen down to 30 dp from 60 dp, Gristel down to 25 dp from 45 dp, Quayam down to 42 dp from 48 dp.)
New session: Chris, Kirk, Kevan, at 384 Bow Wow Rd, Sheffield, MA 01257, weekend of 4th April, 2014. Game date is 17th January, 2486, 1 pm in the Crystal Cavern.
The sun in the Crystal Cavern sets at 3 pm outside time, and rises again at 1 am on 18th January. The adventurers talk among themselves over breakfast. They have been summoning food for all the escaped slaves every outside day since 10th January, at a cost of 100 gp/day. After breakfast, they speak to Thrassus. He confirms that he will leave, although he is not specific about how, and he says there is a vein of gold that can be mined not too far from Luxoden. From this they deduce that he means to take along the miners and start some kind of colony, although Thrassus is not specific. Hlatshwayo claims that Thrassus has several times said that he will protect his people, and he has recently said that all are welcome in the cavern, and on any journey with him also. Taken as a whole, the adventurers deem these comments by Thrassus to be encouraging.
They discuss with Onorato what he was doing in the mines, and ask him about his sorcery. He says he was trying to dispose of rubble more efficiently when he was a slave, using large space bridges. It was dangerous work, because the stone would explode or burst into clouds of dust. But his slave-masters of Luxoden insisted that he continue. He figured it was only a matter of time before he died in the effort.
The adventurers discuss their mining proposals in detail with Link and some other experienced miners among the escaped slaves. They figure the project as follows. A team of four people, in which two are working hard while the other two are resting, can put in a vigorous eight-hour work day without suffering strain or hardship. This is how our heroes decide to organise the former mining slaves of Luxoden. Each team has one large chisel, one sledgehammer, one pickaxe, one shovel, and ten wedges. All these tools have steel blades and wood handles, and are of good quality, having been stolen from Luxoden's own mines a few days before. The chisels and pickaxes are to make cracks and holes into which the wedges can be driven farther into the rock by the sledgehammer. Eventually, the rock cracks all across the width spanned by the wedges, and the sledgehammer may be used again, with leverage from the pickaxe, to pry out the loose rock. The loose rock is smashed up further by the sledgehammer, then transported by basket to the dumping ground. Provided this dumping ground is not too far from the digging site, and in this case it is only a few dozen steps at most, such a team can move one cubic meter of granite a day.
The mountain of Luxoden is mostly granite. Here in the crystal cavern it is granite with veins of crystal. The job at hand is to expand Drambudzo's Passage, or Passage X as we named it initially, so that it can accommodate the breadth and height of a dragon with folded wings. At the moment, the passage is 1 m wide, 2 m high, and 30 m long. They mean to expand it to 3 m wide and 3 m high. So they must remove 210 cubic meters of rock. With the help of Link, they select eight teams of four from the one hundred escaped slaves. These should be able to remove 8 cubic meters a day. They will dump the debris either into the pool of Chamber Four, or onto the floor of the Crystal Cavern, where they hope the rock will form a pile up which Thrassus can clamber when it comes time to leave.
Only thirty-two miners will be working each day. In addition to the miners there will be ten cooks, ten cleaners, and twenty tailors. The cooks prepare bread and meals from the bulk foods summoned by Thristen. The cleaners will make sure the cavern does not start to get unhygienic, and will organise the pile of rubble that will be building up below Drambudzo's widening passage. The tailors will be working on spirit and conjured cloth made by Quayam, turning them into conjured cloth vests, spirit cloth robes, and spirit cloth leggings. The cloth is 5 mm thick. Both the conjured and spirit cloth have longevity 1000 hours, which is about forty days. He expects the clothes to start showing signs of wear in about ten days, but hopes that most will survive for forty.
The rest of this cavern day is spent explaining the plan to everyone in the cavern, and obtaining the approval of the majority. This done, everyone goes to sleep with the knowledge that the next day, a great labor will begin, and with any luck lead to their final escape from Luxoden.
At 5 pm on 18th January, the sun rises in the Crystal Cavern. Breakfast is ready, and after eating, the miners get to work. In the first eight cavern days, they clear seventy cubic meters. In the next eight cavern days, they clear one hundred cubic meters. In the next eight days, they clear another eighty cubic meters, and the job is done, and done well. The rubble beneath the passage has been formed into the foundation of a ramp. Quayam covers the ramp with conjured wood.
And so it is, at 5 pm on 5th February, the inhabitants of the Crystal Cavern pack up their belongings and prepare to leave their home. Those few who have lived here for decades are sad and frightened, but at the same time resolved. Those who have lived here for weeks are of mixed emotions. They will have to face the soldiers of Luxoden on their way out. And none of them are quite sure what the dragon will do. Many believe Thrassus will move off down the great passage and fly away without looking back, having tricked these weak-minded mortals into freeing him.
Two people will be staying behind, against their will. Quayam and Thristen tie up Katlego and the Salter. Thrassus ascends the ramp and squeezes his way through the passage. He moves through Chamber Four and disappears from sight into the darkness of the catacombs with much scraping of rusty scales on rock. The escaped slaves and adventurers follow. Last comes Quayam. He seals the passage with spirit wood to slow Katlego down. While he is working, he hears a rending of metal in the distance. He guesses that this is the sound of the Door of Doom being destroyed by Thrassus, and he is right.
In Chamber Four, five demons stand in the way of the company's progress. Hitherto, there had been some doubt as to whether there were as many as five. Some claimed there were only three. Others ridiculed the idea that there were less than six. Now there are five. And they are unwilling to let all these potential companions and light-bearers leave them behind. Hlatshwayo confronts them and talks to them in Rattikit. The demons answer. A debate ensues, all carried on in this language of clicks and snaps that nobody else present can understand. After several minutes of such debate, the demons withdraw into Chamber Five.
"I told them they could follow us," Hlatshwayo says, "They are very distressed to be left alone."
In Chamber Three, a surviving spider drops from the ceiling towards a woman. Gristel is nearby and tries to push her way through the escaped slaves to protect the woman. She calls out a warning. The woman, who is carrying a shovel, smashes the spider as it falls, then smashes it some more on the causeway until it is dead. Gristel stands over the mangled, oozing body.
"Well done," she says. "What's your name?"
The young woman is wild-eyed. "Jane," she says. "My name is Jane."
Jane throws up into the pool of water. Quayam spots another spider on the roof and shoots it dead.
When the company catches up with Thrassus, he is in the Antechamber of the Door of Doom. The three passages leading out are blocked with rather attractive plugs of blue-green conjured wood. It is not clear to the adventurers who put the plugs there. It could be Thrassus. It could be the warlocks of Luxoden trying to keep Thrassus contained. Hlatshwayo resolves to aid them by annihilating one of the plugs: the one in the Main Tunnel. He casts his spell. Nothing happens for a few seconds. And then, in a leisurely fashion, the blue-green conjured matter begins to burn off. The annihilation proceeds no faster than one meter per second until the entire plug is gone. There is noise, as of tearing of a big sheet of cloth, and there is heat, and an entrancing light, but nothing violent occurs.
"Interesting," Hlatshwayo says. "Maybe I have lost my powers. Or maybe my countrymen have learned something new since last I saw them."
But there is no time to spend contemplating these magical phenomena, for in the main passage there are salter archers firing upon them. Thrassus moves forwards, placing a space of twenty meters between his own body and the escaping company. A warlock in the Main Passage casts a surrounding sponge into this gap, and the company is stopped, while Thrassus presses forward along the main passage, driving salters and warlocks into the side passages.
"Where is he going?" Quayam says.
The plugs in the other passages are being annihilated from the far side, and they burn up in the same leisurely way as the first plug. The company finds itself attacked from the rear by five charging salters. Gristel is at the back, and she holds these five off for two rounds of combat, losing nine dodging points in the effort, while Quayam presses through the company to support her. They both fight with swords. Quayam swats aside a space bridge thrown by a warlock behind the salters. Another five salters are by now backing up the front five. The warlock does not get a chance to try any further tricks, because Hlatshwayo strikes him down with a Shock spell. Hlatshwayo also annihilates the conjured sponge ahead of them, and it explodes with the more familiar ferocity, noise, and heat. Many of the escaping company scream in fear because the annihilation is so close ahead.
With the barrier gone, the company proceeds along the main tunnel, with the four adventurers guarding the occasional side passages to prevent salters attacking the company's flanks. There are some skirmishes in these side passages, but as the company proceeds along the tunnel, the attacks stop. After three kilometers they pass the entrance to the tunnel that leads to the smelting cavern. They hear the roar of a blast furnace. They follow the iron tracks that lead to the end of the Main Tunnel, where they find Thrassus, lying in front of doors of iron that bar the way out. The air is chilly.
Thrassus pushes himself forward. With one fist, he strikes the door. His movement is swift and noisy. His steel talons strike the door with a mighty clang. The doors give way. A few more blows and the doors are thrust aside. Those in the tunnel behind the dragon see the dim glow of dusk in a clear winter sky. The sun is setting behind a mountain in front of them. Thrassus crawls to the ledge beyond the doors, pushing the broken doors off the ledge and into space. A few seconds later they hear the doors slamming against the mountainside. Thrassus fills the tunnel with his rusty body, his head thrust out over the valley beyond. The adventurers and the company stay well back.
Thristen is at the back of the company. Looking down the passage behind him, in the light of his luminous stone, he sees the five demons from Chamber Five lurking in the shadows. "The demons have followed us!" he says. Hlatshwayo and Beatrice join Thristen. The old man is leaning upon his partner. He looks tired.
"I think it would be wise to place a barrier between us and them. They may try to carry off one of our people in the night."
Thrassus launches himself from the ledge and spreads his wings. He floats away, in a manner most unnatural to look upon, but familiar to Quayam who is at the front of the company. Quayam advances to the ledge and looks down. There is a sheer drop of one hundred meters, and a vast pile of tailings from the Luxoden mines at the base, sloping down for a kilometer or so to an isolated valley with a lake in the center, another one kilometer farther. The lake is entirely frozen over. Thrassus is circling in the fading light. The cold winter air chills Quayam's body. Elivinsikil, standing beside him, shivers and rubs her shoulders. The ice in one part of the lake shatters. Thrassus is sinking into the water.
"He's crashed," Elivinsikil says.
Quayam watches the lake. Could it be that this mighty dragon has dropped out of the sky, unable to fly, after so many years of inactivity? The water of the lake is churning, and the ice is cracking around the open space. After a few minutes, Thrassus comes surging out. Water pours off him in a great cascade, and he rises, spreading his wings, above the forest. He makes no pretense at flapping his wings, he simply hovers over the trees. A streak of dim violet light shoots from his mouth. Immediately, two trees burst into bright yellow flame. Thrassus rises above the trees, his scales shining faintly in the firelight. Soon after, the dragon looms over the ledge. Quayam and Elivinsikil retreat into the tunnel. Thrassus lands and curls up, covering the tunnel entrance.
The company resolves to spend the night in the passage. Hlatshwayo makes a wall of spirit wood one meter thick to separate the company from the demons, and from any forces from Luxoden who might attempt to harass them. This done, he declares himself exhausted, and lies down to sleep. Beatrice makes a bed for him and tries to keep him warm. Hlatshwayo has barely closed his eyes when the wall he has just made is destroyed by the Attatash, which appears to be in fine fettle, and charges forwards. Quayam has already blocked the passage with sponge, so the Attatash is brought to a halt. A warlock places another sponge in the passage, separating Quayam and Thristen from the company. The Attatash is tearing at the way at his own sponge.
At this point, Thrassus moves from the ledge and crawls back along the tunnel. He tears the warlock's sponge apart and joins Quayam and Thristen. The Attatash has itself destroyed Quayam's sponge and is now free, but a warlock approches the Attatash, gives an order, and the Attatash withdraws. Thrassus sits in the tunnel, watching. Quayam makes a wall of conjured wood at the tunnel entrance to keep out the cold night air. An hour later, Thristen's watch reads 8 pm, and the Attatash charges out of the darkness at Thrassus. There is a violent metallic scraping and Thrassus bashes the Attatash against the tunnel wall, sending the demon tumbling out of sight.
"That's one way to deal with it," Thristen says. He is slightly in front of Thrassus, also keeping watch, with a luminous stone mounted in his helmet. It is a dangerous spot to be, because when Thrassus moves to attack, he moves with stunning speed and strength, leaving little space to avoid him. An hour later, the five demons emerge from the darkness and appear to make an attempt to get around Thrassus. But the dragon fills the passage and waves a taloned paw at them, which is sufficient to scare them away.
It is sunrise on 6th February 2486. Beatrice is cradling Hlatshwayo's head in her arms, tears falling silently from her eyes onto his face. The old man is dead. He died in his sleep. The entire company is dismayed. Beatrice decides Hlatshwayo should be buried in his own city. Thristen carries his body down the tunnel, and lays it beside Thrassus. The dragon stares long and hard at the old man's body.
"Farewell Hlatshwayo," he says. "I will miss you."
Beatrice wishes to return to Luxoden. She has survived the Door of Doom, and she is no escaped slave. By all rights, she should be welcome in her city. In the tunnel, there is a force of salters and warlocks. Thristen, Quayam, and Beatrice meet the leader of the this force.
"Greetings," the leader says. He is a tall, portly, man with jet black skin, an ugly face, and a kind smile. "I am Olofunke Dorfen, Prince of Luxoden."
Olofunke assures Beatrice she will be welcomed back in the city, and that Hlatshwayo will be buried with proper ceremony in the crypt of his ancestors. Hlatshwayo's wife and daughter still survive and live in Luxoden. They will be grieved to hear of his death, but at the same time glad to pay their respects to his body.
"Are you sure about this?" Thristen says to Beatrice.
The elderly woman smiles and touches his cheek. "You are a good man, Thristen. Yes, I am sure. But I hope to see you again one day."
"You have with you one hundred or more slaves that belong to us by title and law of purchase," Olofunke says. "You know that we will do all we can to retrieve them, dead or alive. It is winter outside. You have a cliff to descend. You will suffer hunger and hardship. It is my fear that many of you will die. Any slave that wishes to avoid this fate may return to us now, and go unpunished. I give you my word."
"Thank you," Thristen says, "We will all be going. We'll manage somehow. If you confront us, don't forget that we have a dragon."
Beatrice leaves, and the salters carry away Hlatshwayo's body. Thrassus jumps off the ledge and circles the valley as the day brightens. Quayam makes a net 120 m long and 2 m wide of spirit rope in squares 30 cm × 30 cm. They lower this down the cliff and fasten it to the door hinges at the top. Quayam and Thristen climb down to see how well it works. They are satisfied. Those at the top lower the picks, shovels, and other mining implements down on conjured ropes. This done, the company descends in parties of ten, each accompanied by one of Quayam, Gristel, or Thristen. (We give a 1/20 chance per party that someone falls off the net.) Link almost falls. He loses his grip on the slippery spirit rope. But Thristen is nearby and saves him with an outstretched arm. (That's two dodging points.) And so all parties reach the bottom. At the top, Gristel and Elivinsikil summon hippogriffs, cut the ropes holding the net, let the net fall, and fly down two kilometers to the lake.
It is bitterly cold in the winter sunshine. The company picks up their mining equipment and makes its way over the snow-covered rocks and into the woods. At mid-day they reach the lake shore. The griffs are sitting on the ice. It is −15°C in the shade. Thristen checks everyone for frostbite. The spirit and conjured clothes appear to be providing adequate protection. Many are cold, some have mild frost bite. There are sixty-nine able-bodied. Thrassus is still circling above, although he sometimes makes figures of eight, and sometimes he swoops a little, but he is always watching.
The able-bodied gather wood. Thristen gets a big fire going in about thirty minutes. They take out bread and meat and have a meal. An hour after noon, the company is discussing where to put their shelters, because they figure they should rest here while others scout the countryside to figure out how to get out of this valley.
New session: Chris, Kirk, Kevan, at Kirk's Berkshire Home, weekend of 19th September, 2014. Game date is 6th February, 2486, 1 pm in the valley below the tailings exit from the Luxoden mines.
The players discuss the developments in Ursian military technology. We figure that a man can fly with a bridge thruster apparatus around his waist. One bridge would be to the for, and the other aft. This arrangement would tend to tip over, unlike a thruster above a bench. But this instability would also make the single flier maneuverable, provided controls over the two thrusters, and perhaps two auxiliary thrusters, could be made responsive enough. At this point, the Ursian air force is getting close to having individual fliers. With a magical amplifier in place around the bridges, these fliers have the potential to outstrip hippogriffs in range and speed. We call this invention the jet pack. Another effort is a seat made of dense conjured matter for lift, with thrusters for forward momentum, and steering handles for the rider. We call it the jet ski. This arrangement is unstable like the jet pack, but gives gives more space for responsive and reliable controls. Its disadvantage is added air resistance and the expense of making dense conjured matter repeatedly to give it lift. The design of such machines is called maeoengineering, and its practitioners are for the most part adjutants rather than wizards.
Thrassus circles over head in the clear, cold, winter sky. The sun shines down into the valley. The steep, towering, and rocky sides of the mountains all around are garnished with snow, and their lower slopes are covered with it, so that the sunlight is blinding. It is bitterly cold. The fire that Thrassus started, on the other side of the lake the night before, is long extinguished, leaving two charred stumps and a circle of cleared ground. The hole he made in the ice has frozen over, although it is obvious as a patch of ice without snow.
"We'll camp here until we figure out where we are going next," Thristen announces to the company, after a short and agreeable discussion with Link and other representatives of the miners. The able-bodied set to work making shelters, which they do in the following way. First they clear an area of trees by chopping the trees down. They choose an area with a suitable distribution of saplings around it. They bend these young trees over and fasten them together with rope or anything else the miners have in their packs. Quayam makes Spirit Cloth, reference level −1 makes 1 liter in 20 minutes that lasts for 100 hours. When distributed 5 mm thick, that's 2000 cm2, or 0.2 m2. Quayam has sorcerer power 7 only at this time, so he casts a total of three Spirit Cloth spells to make a total of 600 m2 of spirit cloth over the period of an hour. In order to make the cloth so thin and ensure it is strong, Quayam needs a flat cleared area to work in. The company clears a patch of ice 30 m square. They take strips of spirit cloth and lay it over the bent saplings, and so create three separate yurt shelters each roughly 10 m in diameter.
While this work is going on, Elivinsikil and Gristel fly over the valley mapping out the passes in and out. They land at sunset and put the griffs together in a conjured shelter. Quayam is prepared to have the griff's shelter annihilated by Luxoden warlocks, but not the shelters of the company. They draw the following map later that evening. The lake in the valley is the blue patch in the mountains.
On the floor of the shelters, Quayam lays down Conjured Rubber in a layer 20 cm thick, coloring it dark green, and using almost all the power he has left. The left over spirit cloth now makes blankets. In the center of each yurt is a hearth where they light a fire of whatever wood they can drag out from under the snow, and some charcoal from Thrassus's fire. The smoke from the fire leaves through a chimney hole in the ceiling, which can, by virtue of the ceiling being within reach, close with a flap of cloth. The fires are lit by sunset and the company moves into their shelters. Quayam and Gristel stay in one, Thristen in another, and Elivinsikil in the third.
After sunset, salters and warlocks appear on the ledge overlooking the valley. They carry magical lights. But Thrassus, who must still have been flying overhead, settles on the ledge and drives them back. He spends the night blocking the exit from the mines with his body.
"He was flying all day," Gristel says. "Is he tired?"
"I don't think he gets tired just circling like that," Quayam says, "Its when they flap their wings that their muscles get tired. He's not doing that much at all."
Quayam and Gristel are standing by the lake looking up. Thristen and Elivinsikil are standing outside their yurts doing the same. "I think he has a crush on that young woman," Gristel says of Thristen.
"He's got to keep it in his pants," Quayam says.
Gristle shakes her head. "I think she admires him, but I don't think she's going to be jumping into bed with him."
"Don't count on it. Him and his son, always the same story. The more inappropriate the moment, the more likely he is to make his move."
"His son is married to our daughter."
"Yes. Tell me about it. And I want to speak to her, she left a message."
By the lake, in the cold, they talk to Romayne. "We're in Gutak today," she says, "I had lunch with Bolus. He told me that Orbelastican, King of Garaz, has abdicated in favor of his son, Prince Scholastican." We note that Bolus is now Ursian Ambassador to Gutak. "I also spoke to Prince Steelquencher and he says it's true."
The next day, the 7th of February 2486, dawns clear and sunny and unseasonably warm. Thristen guesses the temperature is 4°C (and as a ranger of renown, his estimates are good to ±1°C). The wind up above is 33 km/hr out of the East. Quayam and Gristel mount the two griffs and ascend into the air. Quayam stops at the ledge above the valley, where Thrassus is still lying.
"Where is this place with a gold mine of which you spoke, Thrassus?" Quayam says. "Which way will we be going next?"
"We go towards the setting sun, and then north.""Should we walk? How far is it?"
To these questions Quayam receives no answers. He mounts up and Gristel and he fly to Staachten, with the intention of picking up and returning with their armor, after paying the hotel bill of course. They fly out of the valley and down to Staachten without incident, for it is only ten kilometers away. They land in the town square. A crowd gathers to admire the hippogriffs. Gristel stays with them and Quayam walks down the side street to the hotel. When he enter the common room, the landlord drops a beer jug on the ground. It shatters.
"I thought you were dead!"
A woman emerges from the kitchen. She screams. "You idiot, Rolf!" she says to the landlord, in the language of Neuroth, which Quayam canotn understand, but her meaning is clear enough. "I told you not to do it!"
"Quiet, woman!" Rolf says.
She continues to berate him. He pushes her hard on the chest and she falls backwards and slides to the floor. He gives her what appears to be a good kick. Quayam steps forward so he can obtain a better view. If Rolf draws a knife, maybe he'll do something, but otherwise he will stay out of it. Rolf bends down, grabs the woman by the armpits, and drags her into the kitchen. Her lip is bleeding and she is still struggling and cursing. He drops her on the floor and slaps her across the cheek. She curls up in a ball muttering. Rolf returns to the bar.
"Well, I'm of course glad you are not dead," Rolf says, gritting his teeth. "How are your friends? I trust they are not dead either."
"In excellent health, thank you," Quayam says. "And may I ask about the fate of our armor?"
"Yes, well... I..."
"Out with it, man."
"I sold it."
Quayam stares at him. The woman stands up, wipes the blood off her mouth and shakes her fist. "I told you, but would you listen? Oh no, mister pig-headed won't listen, will he? Now you're in trouble, they'll kill all of us."
"How much did you sell if for, if I might ask?"
Rolf grimaces. "Five hundred guineas?" he says.
"I see," Quayam says.
"Was it worth more than five?"
"Yes. To whom did you sell it?"
"Chief Verconix. He was here with his men only two days ago. I was worried to have your armor sitting on my property. Someone might steal it. I still have the money Verconix gave me. I could buy it back from him."
"I doubt he would sell it," Quayam says. "Where does he live?"
"He went hunting, and then he was returning home, I believe. I think he lives south of here, but I'm not sure."
Quayam questions the rest of the guests in the courtyard, but not speaking the language, learns nothing. He returns to Gristel and they fly back to the valley, arriving at 11 am. Among the company, there are twenty who are from Neuroth. But none of them know Chief Verconix. One of them, Jane, is the woman who smashed a spider. She speaks Latin and Neurothi. So they summon two more griffs, making four in all, and Jane gets up behind Gristel. Jane is nineteen years old and weighs only forty-five kilograms. She has agreed to go on this terrifying mission, riding on the back of a griff, because Quayam has assured her that they will fly her to her home in Neuroth when they are done, and she believes him.
Quayam stops to inform Thrassus on his ledge that they will be back by sunset. In Staachten, Jane interviews a dozen people, and the consensus is that yes, there is such a person as Chief Verconix, and yes he was there three days ago with ten armed men, and most likely he lives somewhere west of the road, about a day's ride south of Staachten. And so they take off again, from the center of a crowd of a hundred or more on-lookers, and head south, flying east and west as they go, looking for fortified villages such as the one Jane assures them Verconix must have.
This section has become a repository of notes on Neuroth. Some information it has accumulated may not have been available to our heroes during their time in Neuroth.
The population of Neuroth is stable at 1 million. There is a motto in Neuroth, "If you can take it, it belongs to you. If they can't take it, it's yours." According to Jane, the men and women of Neuroth are warriors. Their greatest wish is to die in battle with their sword in their hand. She wants to go back to her people so she can rise to the rank of warrior for her chief, and die in battle, and so go to heaven, for which she has a long and dramatic name. The Neurothis keep the skulls of their slain enemies over the doors of their houses. When they die, their skulls are buried with their body. If you die in battle, your enemy will chop your head off afterwards, if she can, to take it home and boil the skin off. Most people are buried without their heads, because most people die in battle. But they are buried with any skulls they might have earned. Whether you have earned any skulls or not, so long as your sword is in your hand when you die, you go to heaven.
Given that the population is stable, and everyone brings only one head into the world, the average number of Neurothi skulls earned per person cannot be greater than one. Some people die of of their wounds after a battle. Others die of accident or sickness. A very small number die of old age. These are buried with their heads attached. At the same time, some skulls will be robbed from graves and claimed by young warriors as their own. We propose that the number of trophy skulls ends up being roughly equal to the number of people. Nevertheless, only one in two Neurothi has a trophy skull. The ambition to obtain a trophy skull drives some Neurothi to murder. But unlawful killing is punished by death, and in that case the murderer's skull is buried as a trophy of his victim. On average, a Neurothi has one trophy skull per adventurer level. The fraction of Neurothi of each adventurer level is: 1/2 ≤ 0-level (no trophy skull, includes children), 1/4 1st (one trophy skull), 1/8 2nd (two trophy skulls), 1/16 3rd (three trophy skulls) and so on up to tenth level. After tenth level, the rate of decrease is less, because there must be a few 40th level fighters in Neuroth. The resulting distribution of levels in a population of one million is shown below.
The total number of trophy skulls, meanwhile, as a fraction of the population, is 1/4 + 2/8 + 3/16 + 4/32 + 5/64 + 6/128 + .. = 0.99, so the number of trophy skulls is roughly equal to the number of Neurothi. Of one million Neurothi, 500 are 10th level and two are 45-49th level. When Neurothi go on raids, they leave their skulls behind, in the care of the warriors who remain. When they go on a crusade, they take their skulls with them, so that they might be buried with them if they die in a conquered land.
There is no sterilization of young women in Neuroth. The population is limited by war. Women and men are encouraged to refuse to make love to one another until they are over twenty, so that they don't sap their strength, because love undermines war, and war is the path to heaven. The population of Neuroth is limited by violent death rather than by disease or starvation. We obtain the following plot of population distribution with age. Neurothi custom prohibits men and women from conceiving children before the age of twenty. Many young adults have sexual relations with one another secretly, but they know of ways to avoid pregnancy and to abort pregnancies. The penalty for conceiving a child before the age of twenty is death, but so long as the pregnancy does not come to term, the sentence is unlikely to be administered. Neurothi children die of disease and accident. Young adults die in the many violent conflicts in which they embroil themselves before they start their families.
A birth rate of 1/4 grandchild per person per year is 1/2 a grandchild per couple per year, so each woman has one child every two years. Humans who breast feed their children but use no contraception tend to have one pregnancy every three years. If we consider miscarriage and menopause, the birth rate per couple will be close to 1/4 than 1/2. We adjust the death rates until we have 100 grandchildren born, and now we see that 75% of people die by the age of 30 and 85% by the age of 40, but we still have 2% over 80. The average age of a Neurothi is 21, and the median age is 13. Half the Neurothi population are children. Given that half of the Neurothi population are zero-level adventurers, and the other half are first-level and up, we see that by the time a Neurothi is 14, he is already a first level adventurer.
The Celtic Pantheon owns all the Neurothi temple plots. Their priests live apart from the rest of the population. They are often solitary, but they can also have large families, and they may be male or female. We call them druids. Druids do not carry weapons. They do not fight in battles, nor do they duel to settle their differences. They live apart so they can live their non-violent lives in peace. Because they are non-violent, those who have children will have many children. Most of these are likely to leave the druid's house at a young age to live in the violent and exciting society of the majority of the population. The druids themselves will enter towns only on holy days, and to attend councils of the chief. On holy days, druids will come to town and perform ceremonies. These ceremonies can include sacrificing criminals to the gods, but more often sacrificing animals. The home of a druid will look as if they have been produced by the wilderness rather than made by man. Caves are popular living-quarters for druids. Houses half-buried in the ground with a wood frame, roofed by slate and earth, are common. Inside, they are usually comfortable.
Druids provide medical care, either in the form of effective advice on how to avoid infection and care for the sick, cleaning and binding wounds, setting broken legs, and operating upon people suffering from painful maladies such as appendicitis. In extreme cases, they will administer healing serums and antibiotics, after a ritual in which they apparently obtain the approval of the gods. To the population, it appears that the druids are casting some kind of spell, with minor somatic components to ensure its efficacy. The syringe is one such component. Despite our description of these clerics as druids, they are not experts on the use of herbs and animal products in healing, as are the clerics of the Druidic Pantheon. Unlike the Druidic Pantheon, the Celtic Pantheon in Neuroth insists upon its priests being non-violent outside sacrificial rituals. There are no warrior-priests in Neuroth.
The Neurothi do not pay druids directly for their health care. They pay the Celtic Pantheon by providing mercenary services to the gods managing the Open Worlds. To return to Clarus, a free world mercenary must come through a conjunction. Neuroth is well-blessed with conjunctions to the open worlds. Of the 137 known conjunctions on Clarus, 7 occur in Neuroth, and 5 are to open worlds, so that mercenaries can gate directly to the other side of the conjunction. There are an average of eight conjunctions to open worlds every year, which means roughly two months of waiting on Olympia per trip. A mercenary tour of duty is six months, for which the pantheon gets paid $100k. The pantheon pays $20k salary to the mercenaries, has $50k in costs of transportation and administration, and makes a profit of $50k in six months. The employer provides room and board. These mercenaries are fifth level adventurers and up, or "five-skull warriors", of which there are around 15k in Neuroth, and 5k of these work as mercenaries six months of the year, for a profit of $250M per year. Of this, the pantheon has found it necessary to provide $200M worth of health care to the population, leaving it with a profit of only $50M for a 1M population. That's $50/person/year, compared to $100/person/yr average for Clarus, and up to $200/person/yr in recent years using different management on Clarus.
The Neurothi druids may keep chickens and a herb garden, but they do not farm, nor herd animals. They hunt with snares and traps. They fish with hook and line. Anything they cannot obtain from the wilderness directly, they purchase from merchants with gold. The gold they receive from agents of their pantheon, who visit Neuroth through its seven conjunctions. The pay received by a druid is his or her measure of their favor and status with their pantheon. It will vary from year to year, and arrives in a bag, handed over with thanks from the pantheon's agent, who is often an elf. A novice druid might receive $10k per year. An accomplished druid with a large family may receive $100k per year. Given that this cash is kept in the druid's house, hidden somewhere, the druid makes an attractive target to thieves and bandits. Attacking a druid or any member of his family, or stealing from a druid, is a capital offence in Neuroth. Druids wear a particular costume so that they may be recognised: a dark green robe with a hood. Above the threshold of their home is the sign of the Celtic Pantheon. There are several thousand druids in Neuroth, serving the population of one million. Their salaries are included in the $200M it costs the Celtic Pantheon to provide health care to Neuroth.
"I think we are going to get into a fight," Gristel says.
They land a couple of times, at likely places. Jane asks the locals where Verconix lives. Just over the hill, they learn, and over the hill there is a fortified village. They land and dismount, all five of them. Chris plays Verconix and draws a map of the village.
Verconix emerges from his hall with his wife Beatrix. Both are wearing armor and carry swords, but they don't have their helmets on. He is followed by ten guards and soon joined by another twenty. All wear armor and carry spears. Through Jane, Quayam addresses Verconix. "We are looking for our armor. We left it in the hotel in Staachten. The landlord tells us you purchased it from him. We want it back. It was not his to sell. He has the money you gave him, and he will return that money to you."
"I have the armor," Verconix says, "but it is mine. I will not give it to you."
Quayam and his fellows confer. They decide to fight. Gristel instructs Jane to say, "You had better go get your helmets."
Verconix sends men to fetch his and his wife's helmets. Jane mounts a griff behind Elivinsikil. She says something spirited to Verconix, but our heroes can't understand. Verconix smiles. Elivinsikil takes all four griff up to circle above the village. Verconix, his wife, and the men attack. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen form a dynamic triangle, moving through their enemy as needed, and fighting without armor against heavily armored opponents. They themselves are vulnerable to the slighted cut, while their enemies must be struck hard with the sword. Verconix and Beatrix are accomplished warriors, and fight hard and with unwavering resolve. In a few rounds, the first of Verconix's men goes down with a broken leg. In round twelve, Quayam breaks Verconix's wrist, and his men drag him from the fight so they can have a go at Quayam themselves. In round thirteen, Gristel breaks Beatrix's arm. In round twenty, the men are still keen to fight, despite seven broken legs, one smashed knee, one smashed arm, and the injuries to their chief and his wife.
"Enough!" Verconix says. "Stop the fight! Back away!"
Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen walk to the blacksmith shop and find their armor there, all of it, intact. Outside, Verconix and his wife, despite their painful injuries stand watching. Elivinsikil brings Jane down and Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen answer Verconix's questions. Where are they from? Are they real people, or demons? Where does the armor come from? Would you like to stay for dinner? They refuse the invitation to dinner because it is 3:30 pm and they have to be back by sundown, with a strong easterly wind blowing. But they assure Verconix that they will stop by if they are ever flying over again.
"That went well," Gristel says to Jane as they fly away. They reach the valley by 4:30 pm. First thing they do is put their armor on. "I'm not taking it off again unless I have to," Gristel says. Elivinsikil puts hers on also.
"What about my horse?"
"The one you rented for me from your Three Aces institute. We left it in the hotel in Staachten, along with the other three you rented for yourselves. Did they go back to the institute themselves?"
"You know, with all the worry about the armor, I forgot about the horses. Don't mention it to Quayam. He might get annoyed about it. So this way, that guy Rolf gets to keep the money he made selling the horses."
Our heroes offer to all the Neurothi that they will fly them home if they like, before going to the gold mine. Out of the twenty, every single one asks to be returned home. They want to become warriors and die in battle, with a sword in their hands, not a pick or a shovel.
Our heroes spend the next four days transporting twenty Neurothi miners back to their homes by hippogriff, and replacing the spirit and conjured matter in the shelters. When this is done, we award experience, because we figure that all can sleep well in the valley with the dragon watching over them. (Award 15 kxp to QT, 13kxp to G, and some to Elivinsikil also, so she is now adventurer level six.)
Today is the 12th of February 2486. Quayam flies on one of the hippogriffs with Thrassus one hundred kilometers to a decaying sandstone village in the foothills of the mountains to the north. Quayam lands and explores. The stone houses are overgrown, but appear to have been neglected for only a few decades. In one he sees a rocking horse. In another he sees plates and bowls. Some must have had parchment windows, but many had glass windows, and only a few of these are shattered. There are some tracks leading down through the town, of one person with boots, to the gate, which has collapsed. And here there are tracks of a pack horse and another man, roughly three days old, so far as Quayam can tell. There is snow on the ground, so the tracks have lasted. There is a wood and iron door blocking a mine entrance at the highest point in the town, looking over the town square. On the right side of the door to the mine is a house of cut stone with several stories. Its windows are shuttered. Thrassus is circling overhead and Quayam's griff is in the square.
Quayam knocks on the door of the house we will call the Manor House. A key turns in the lock on the other side. A pale man in a black robe with a longsword at his belt and chain armor of fine manufacture answers. He speaks Latin once Quayam has addressed him in Latin. "I am Baron Rechstallen. Come in."
"No thank you, I have to leave soon. Do you own this town?"
"Yes. It is mine." There is a moment of silence. "Come in. It is cold outside."
"Okay, just for a little while." Quayam enters. The hall within is lit by one candle only. As he stands there letting his eyes adjust, the baron locks the door behind him. Quayam sits on a couch. The other furniture is covered with white sheets. The baron serves Quayam a glass of crimson liqueur and sips one himself while leaning on the mantle piece. No fire burns in the fireplace. It is cold. The room stinks of rotten meat. From below the floorboards comes the wailing of someone in despair.
"So, you're the baron. This is your town. What is it called?"
"Guildencrassen. Yes, it is my town, although not as populated as it once was."
Quayam says, "A friend of mine is flying around up above, and he believes that he owns the town, and he's bringing his people to settle here. So you will have to come to some kind of arrangement with him."
There is another wail, long and mournful, from below.
Quayam does not touch his drink. The baron asks him to stay for supper.
"No thank you, I have get going to meet my friend," Quayam says.
"I did not invite you to leave," the Baron says.
Quayam jumps up from the couch, runs as fast as he can across the room, and dives at the glass window head first. He is, of course, wearing his helmet and armor. He smashes right through the window and the shutter, somersaults, and lands on his feet on the cobbles of the square outside. He runs for his griff. The Baron has pursued him, and dives through the window, landing on the ground and running. Quayam jumps on his griff and the bird takes off. The baron leaps into the air, his pale face distorted with rage and evil intent, swinging his sword at the griff's neck. But Quayam moves the griff aside and escapes. The baron watches him leave, then returns to the door of his home.
"The guy was a super, duper, duper, bad-ass," Quayam says, once he has returned to his friends in the valley. "He was not scared of me at all. Not at all. I had to get out of there fast."
"Well done, you make me proud," Gristel says.
The next day, the 13th of February, dawns clear and bright. It is −18°C on the ground. Up above there is a 20 kph easterly wind. The four adventurers mount their griffs and fly towards Guildencrassen, leaving Thrassus circling over the valley. He does not follow them. Several hundred meters up, the rush of cold air over their bodies is bone-chilling. They have their armor on, and over that their jackets and trousers, and over that some spirit cloth garments. But their hands are almost frozen by the time they get to the neglected mining town.
They land in the town square four hours after sunrise. Elivinsikil takes the griffs up, leaving Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen on the ground. There are tracks of one man wearing boots and heavily laden, probably with a pack, leading from the manor house door and down through the town's main street. The Manor House door is locked. Gristel picks the lock and they enter. It smells of rotten meat and of fresh blood.
In the basement, they find the corpses of three young men and one middle-aged woman. Thristen estimates they were killed by slitting their throats at about three hours after midnight. "The tracks were made a little later," he adds. Also in the basement are chains, where these four poor souls had been kept, and apparatus for cooking or making potions.
"Or making blood-based drinks for a vampire to combat methuselaic anemia," Thristen says.
They search the Manor House. They find diaries and books and accounts from the days of the mine operation. They don't take time to read them, they are looking for the baron. He appears to be gone. While he lived here, he spent his time reading, drinking blood, and sleeping in a bed in the library.
"Vampires are real?" Elivinsikil says, when she has brought down the griffs. "Dead people that come alive again?"
They are outside the town gate now, having determined that Baron Rechstallen left that way and went down towards the river that runs west at the bottom of the valley. Gristel answers Elivinsikil's questions about vampires and they debate what to do.
"We have to find him, or else he might come back and cause trouble," Quayam says. "And if we meet him, we have to be together, because I'm not sure I can take him. He could have circled around and be overlooking the town right now."
They send the griffs back to Olympia and rent four more horses, at which point Quayam does remember about the horses in Staachten, and curses Rolf the landlord. It is one hour before noon. They mount their horses and follow the Baron's tracks. The tracks lead to a dock on the river. It appears that the baron has taken a boat. They ride along a path that follows the river, a path that has been maintained for a pack horse to make the journey up to the town roughly once a week.
After one hour of riding, they see no sign of a boat left on the river bank, no tracks crossing the trail, and no sign of anyone in the forest. After three hours, they come out of the woods and into cultivated fields. The river runs on their left. After another half an hour, at two-thirty in the afternoon, they arrive at The Trout Tavern on the main road running north-south along the west side of the Aegalean Mountains. They learn from the innkeeper that the Baron arrived that morning and bought two horses, then rode south on one and put his heavy bags on the other. The people of this town know the Baron. They are afraid of him. The four adventurers ride off to the south.
At sunset, they arrive at The Blacksmith's Arms. Baron Rechstallen is sitting in a chair near the fire, the hood of his cloak obscuring much of his pale face. His luggage is by his side and his feet are resting upon a stool. Quayam approaches, and the baron looks up.
"Mr. Quayam Srae, good evening," the baron says, without getting up. His longsword is within reach and he is wearing his armor. He jestures towards Quayam's companions. "And friends, I assume."
The four adventurers sit down at the nearest table. Elivinsikil whispers to Gristel, and Gristel whispers back. They order mulled wine, sausages, and sauerkraut. "May we buy you dinner?" Quayam says to the baron.
"Thank you, but I prefer to eat alone."
More whispering from the two women.
"It looks like you are going on a trip," Quayam says. "Do you plan to return to Guildencrassen?"
"We would rather that you did not."
"Whether I return or not," the baron says, "It remains my property."
"Could we buy it from you?"
The baron look Quayam in the eye. A negotiation follows. The baron has the deed to Guildencrassen in his bag. He takes it out. The town was given to a Rechstallen by the King of Neuroth just after the Reconciliation. The first Baron Rechstallen was a hero in the war against the orcs. There is no King of Neuroth now, but the baron claims the deed is still binding, so long as it is backed up with sufficient force of arms. Every thirty years, on average, the deed is signed on the back by the former holder and the new holder, transferring ownership to the baron's heir. The deed was signed over to Leopold Rechstallen in 2372, and that is last signature on the back.
"How long as the town been deserted?" Quayam says.
"Not quite deserted," The baron says. "I have lived there with very few companions for a while now."
They take out gems and lay them on the table. The other customers in the tavern are staying well back from these strange and heavily armed individuals, but they are staring, except when one of the individuals meets their eye, and then, they look away. The baron goes through the gems. They have agreed upon a price of five thousand guineas for the town. The baron takes a full hour to examine the gemstones with a loupe he borrows from Gristel. When he is content, he signs the deed over to Quayam, who signs it also.
"Well, Baron of Guildencrassen, Baron Srae," Leopold says, "It has been a pleasure doing business with you. I have had a long night and a long day. I will retire." He picks up his bags, which are smaller than they expected, given how heavily laden his foosteps were in the snow. He carries the bags up the stairs. They do indeed seem remarkably heavy for their volume.
The four adventurers stay in one room that night. "Let's not take any chances," Quayam says. "He could come looking for his deed."
"Or my blood," Elivinsikil says, "I'm young and female."
"Tell me about it," Thristen says.
"Stop that," she says, "Maybe I should stay with the baron for protection."
"I am the baron," Quayam says.
The night passes without event, and the next morning, the 14th of February, they find that Leopold has gone, but he has left for them a bag containing twelve keys, four of which are duplicates. Quayam carries the deed and the keys. They weigh one kilogram. They send back their horses when they find a secluded spot on the road by a marsh, and summon four griffs. They also summon ironwood shovels and a pick. They fly back to Guildencrassen.
They bury the four unfortunate souls from the manor house basement in the town graveyard, which is just outside the walls. They wash the basement with the manor's piped water supply. The water comes from a spring that flows into the river. At one time, the entire town received water from this spring via underground pipes. They open the windows and burn the drapes. They work until three hours after noon, and then enter the mine, which Quayam opens with one of his keys.
In the mine they enter a fifty-meter wide cavern with passages leading off. One is blocked by a cave-in after seventy meters. There are signs of someone working the other passages and weighing and purifying gold with the help of water.
Four hours after noon they fly back to the valley of the tailings, arriving at sunset, where they find the company well, although short of food. They summon more food and draw a map of the route they propose to take by foot to Guildencrassen.
On the morning of 15th February, 2486, the company sets out on foot for the gold mine. Quayam flies up to Thrassus, who is lying on the ledge at the entrance to the Luxoden mines, and tells Thrassus how he purchased the deed of the town from the vampire, and is now himself the baron. Then he flies down again to join the company, and Gristel sends all four griffs back to Olympia. That day, they climb out of the valley to the north-west. They make only three kilometers progress. It is cold, slippery, and steep.
For eleven days they march. On the eighth day, Thristen and Gristel are at the front of the party, heading down a slope towards a fine, sunlit valley with a river running through it, when they hear a mighty noise form the earth. The trees about them sway. The land begins to slide. Rocks beneath the earth grind in a most terrifying and deafening fashion. Thristen turns and shouts for everyone to run back. He saves three or four people himself, and Gristel saves several others, as they stumble on the shifting ground. But all twenty people on the slope make it to the top before the whole hillside slides down into the valley, taking the trees with it. (Avoiding the slide took 20 dp each for T and G, then they took dp for each person they saved.)
On the eleventh day, the 25th of February, they arrive two hours after noon at the town. The company is delighted with the place. Thrassus is lying in the town square, awaiting them. An hour later, they have a town meeting and agree upon a way to assign the living quarters by lottery, with large groups having higher priority than small groups. The company explores the town. That night they stay in a shelter in the town square, near the dragon, and have a big meal, all from summoned food.
On the 26th, they hold a lottery for the houses and apartments available in Guildencrassen. The lottery is managed by Babatunde, a thirty-two year old man, tall and slim, with jet-black skin. He was once a cattle trader in the East, or so he says, but fell afoul of debt and ended up being sold into slavery. In the lottery, the largest group of seven gets the biggest house, although the manor is set aside for the Baron and his friends. At the end, there are six studio apartments left untaken, and these become the property of the Baron, to be used for his guests. The company moves into their houses and start tidying them up.
Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen talk to Thrassus. "We figure this is how we will manage the mine," Quayam says, "We have Babatunde do the accounts. The miners get a third of the gold they extract to split between them. You get another third to do with what you will, and we get the final third to repay us the money we invested in the deed to the town and all the food we have been summoning and so on, and in the end, as profit."
They wait a while for Thrassus to answer. "I agree," he says.
This is most welcome to the ears of the adventurers. They retire to the Manor House, where Quayam and Gristel talk to Romayne.
"I don't know if we will ever get the smell out of here," Gristel says.
"What news with you Romayne?" Quayam says.
"Things are not good, Dad. Not good." She explains that the Iron Road's conjured wood surface where the road passes through the Long Hills is disintegrating six months ahead of schedule. A dozen wagons are stuck, unable to proceed through the mountains on the north side in Mokul, another half-dozen on the south side of the hills in Gutak. The remaining surface is too rough.
"And then there's Scholastican." She and Travis, in flying around and trying to figure out what to do about the stuck traffic and the faltering road, see orc troops in the country between Mokul and the Long Hills. The troops are dressed in white and wearing sunglasses and moving around in the daytime. The ground is covered with snow, so the orcs are hard to see. She and Travis visit the court of Daybreak and speak to Steelquencher, who tells them that Scholastican claims he is venturing into this territory to subdue the many monsters and other reprobate creatures that inhabit the area, and have been raiding the borders of Garaz. Maybe he wants to put them to some use, or maybe he wants to collect taxes. But Rackhammer is wondering if he should move troops to confront them.
"You have to come back, Dad. I don't think Travis and I can handle this."
"Well," Quayam says, "Um. The traffic that's stuck on the road, are they being taken care of?"
"Yes, they are crammed into hostels at the base of the hills. And we have stopped traffic at both ends. But people are angry, Dad."
"You have a summoning bridge, right?"
"Summon food for the travellers. Do what you can for them. We're almost done here. We'll be on our way back soon."
New session: Chris, Kirk, Kevan, at Gillian's place on Bow Wow Road, Berkshires, the weekend of 31st October, 2014. Game date is 26th February, 2486, 4 pm in the Manor House, Guildencrassen.
The town of Guildencrassen has ample housing for two hundred people. Right now, its population is only eighty. The Clerk's Office in the Manor House contains the town registry of births and deaths going back to its foundation in 2013, when the King of Neuroth bequeathed the mine to the first Baron Rechstallen. In the twenty-third century, the town's population had swollen to one thousand. So far as our heroes can tell, the town is much the same as it was at that time, so there must have been entire families living in each one-room apartment.
Suppose the average population of Guildencrassen over the next century is two hundred people. To enjoy a comfortable life, these two hundred must each generate $20k/yr income, or $4M/yr for the entire town. Thrassus, meanwhile, wants to accumulate a hoard of gold so he can fly every day if he wants, and recover his strength by lying on it. We figure that a hoard 2 cm thick and 5 m in diameter is sufficient to generate the required cold maeons to nourish his muscles. That's 0.5 m3, with mass 10 tonnes, generating 50 kW of heat from Clarus's maeon wind. At $10k/kg, this hoard would be worth $100M (1 Mgp). So he is looking to acquire 100 kg/yr of gold from the mine, value $1M/yr.
Our heroes figure that the mine should be able to produce at least 100 kg/yr, or else Thrassus would not have chosen this place as his destination. The records of the gold mine in the Clerk's Office show roughly 500 kg/yr being mined every year. In some years, the yield is double, and in others it is half. The records show the barons restricting the extent of the mining. Other records show the gold being used to pay the miners, and to buy food and fuel for the poorer families in the town during winter. All went well in Guildencrassen until the Rechstallen began to develop methuselaic anemia. This disease is mentioned a few times in some of the records, and is the subject of many books in the library. On 24th July 2432, the entire population of the town fled. The working of the mine was performed by only one man, Leopold Rechstallen. He took roughly ten kilograms from the mine each year, working two or three hours a day.
Thus our heroes settle upon a target of 300 kg/yr of gold from the mine, and instruct Babatunde accordingly. Of this, 100 kg will go to Thrassus, 100 kg will go to the Trans-Outland Highway Authority, and 100 kg will be distributed among the residents, with the greater share being given to those who do the mining. We assume the residents will start farming and taking up other trades to make money, because the $1M/yr from mining is only 25% of the income the town needs to flourish.
In the morning of the 27th February, summon two griffs. Our heroes plan to summon food to last the residents of Guildencrassen until the end of April. But they realize that they cannot summon salt, because of the one percent of lifetime summoning rule. So they must buy some salt. So Quayam and Thristen mount the griffs and set off for The Trout Tavern, which they passed through when pursuing Leopold, to see if they can buy salt. Before they go, they ask Thrassus to come with them, but he does not answer. He remains curled up in town square. The day is cloudy and cold. It is nine in the morning when Quayam and Thristen take off.
Elivinsikil is guarding the town gate, which is still in disrepair. She warms her hands at a fire some of the miners have made for her, and chats with them. From out of the trees ride twenty Neurothi cavalry, heavily armed, and lead by a large man with a fine red beard. Elivinsikil shouts out the alarm. Gristel, hearing her, rushes to her side, arriving before the cavalry have reached the gate. She and Elivinsikil draw their swords. The cavalry charge. Their leader laughs as he slashes at Gristel with his mighty blade.
There is a scraping of metal and a beating of great wings behind Gristel, and Thrassus is hovering thirty meters above her. He breaths a jet of violet fire at the trees on the west side of the path, and they burst immediately into flames. He sends another jet over the heads of the attackers. The bulk of them turn an flee down the path, taking sanctuary in the trees. The leader finds himself alone, facing Gristel and Elivinsikil. He berates his men. Thrassus torches another half-dozen trees. With much cursing, the leader turns his own horse and follows his men to the forest. Gristel can see them gathering two hundred meters down the hill.
Hearing the alarm from Gristel, Quayam and Thristen have returned. They, too, see the cavalry in the trees. Thrassus returns to the town square and alights. Thinking that the town is adequately defended, Quayam and Thristen fly on to The Trout. Here, they leave their griffs in the rear and enter the common room by the back door. The room is crowded with men, women, and a few children. It is warm and smells of fire and beer. Half the people look up and stare at the newcomers. A boy follows Quayam and Thristen into the room and passes word that there are two griffs in the back yard.
Quayam and Thristen order two mugs of ale and ask the innkeeper if he knows where they can buy some salt.
"Alog has a good supply he's trying to get rid of," the barkeep says, and points to a man sitting nearby. He says something to the man in Neurothi. The man nods.
Half an hour later, Quayam and Thristen have purchased a 20-kg bag of salt, which now sits on the floor by Thristen's feet. Quayam has introduced himself as Baron Srae of Guildencrassen, and Thristen as his partner. Twenty people are crowded around asking questions about the pervious baron, the intentions of the new residents, what it's like to fly on a griff, whether the town is haunted, and wondering if there is any gold left in the mine. All these conversations must take place through the innkeeper and two or three others who speak Endan or Latin. Quayam and Thristen inform their audience that the residents of Guildencrassen will soon be needing food, and they will have gold to pay for it, so anyone who wants to transport goods through the forest to sell in Guildencrassen is welcome to do so.
It emerges from these conversations that the local chief, Alerix, set off early this morning with twenty cavalry, after drinking heavily the night before and sleeping on the floor of the common room together. They rode up the river to seize control of Guildencrassen now that Leopold had gone. Quayam explains that they are probably on their way back again, after encountering Thrassus the Dragon.
At noon, Alerix the Chief returns with his men. They enter the tavern. Alerix is in a foul mood, scowling and shoving his men around. People make way for the soldiers, but Quayam and Thristen remain seated at the largest table. They introduce themselves to the chief. Quayam suggests that the revival of Guildencrassen's gold mine will be of benefit to the local people, because the residents of Guildencrassen will need food. Alerix, hefting a huge mug of ale, spits on the floor and says, "I have another idea. You step outside and I kick your ass, you flowery-mouthed sissy. If I want the gold in that town, I'll go get it, as much as I want."
There is some coughing and looking at the ceiling from his men at this last comment. Quayam and Thristen wait for the chief's declaration to be translated.
"I'll fight you," Thristen says.
"I'll fight whoever I damned well please, and I'll to start with the skinny one with the little beard who says he's the baron."
The translator says, "He insists on fighting you, Baron Srae."
Quayam and Thristen go outside with Alerix. Quayam duels with Alerix until Alerix gives up. Alerix duels with Thristen and gives up. Alerix instructs his men to try a few rounds each with one of Quayam and Thristen. After eight guards have been knocked down and defeated, Quayam suggests six on two, which does not last long, and at the end they do eight on two, and when two men are down, it's six on two again and Alerix calls a stop to it.
The chief is laughing and friendly by the end of the many duels. He slaps Quayam on the back, saying, "My grandfather fought the previous baron. He told the story many times. I did not think it was possible, what he described. But now I believe it. You are like the old baron, but not as strange."
"Thank you," Quayam says, "And thank you for the exercise."
"Come in and have a beer," Alerix says.
Their meeting with Alerix ends with Quayam and Thristen agreeing to pay the chief 1 kgp/yr, with the first payment in December 2486. In exchange, Alerix will protect trade with Guildencrassen.
In the late afternoon, they mount their griffs and fly back to Guildencrassen.
On 28th February, 2486, summon sixty days rations for eighty people. They ask for rice, beans, flower, limes, and other items.
After breakfast in the Manor House on 1st March, 2486, Quayam, Thristen, and Gristel decide it's time to go. There is trouble with the Trans-Outland Highway. Elivinsikil has volunteered to stay in Guildencrassen as Policewoman, and to this they agree. She will live in the Manor House. They summon a third griff for Gristel, leave it on the far side of the square from Thrassus, and go speak to Onorato and Nucca in their small house. They have a fire going and they are sealing a hole in the wall with stones.
"We did promise to take you to Eldano Kiarello," Gristel says. "But we're not going to force you to come with us."
"How could I come with you?"
"We could summon another griff," Thristen says, "And I could teach you to fly."
Onorato wants to learn to fly. It is clear, sunny, and cold today, with barely any wind. Onorato climbs up onto Gristel's griff. Thristen straps him in and shows him how to steer the bird. Onorato must roll 3/20 to learn adequately in one day, and rolls 18/20. He takes to flying easily. But he gets cold quickly. Gristel and Nucca find him warm clothes from the wardrobes in the Manor House.
Over dinner, Gristel reads from her notebook. "That's one million dollars for food we summoned for these people and ourselves and four hundred thousand for griffs so far. We have billed that to our TOHA Olympian account. Together we spent three hundred thousand dollars in Scartoni in bribes, and we paid five hundred thousand for the deed to Guildencrassen."
"I wouldn't call the Scartoni payments bribes," Thristen says
"Oh, I would," Elivinsikil says. "Eldano Kiarello is a hardened criminal, and so is Fiarello Laguardia. Scum."
"I thought Eldano was charming," Thristen says, "He was intelligent and unassuming. I liked him."
"I recommend you keep a sharp eye on Onorato when you take him back," Elivinsikil says, "Those two bosses are experts at kidnapping."
We note that Gristel, Quayam, and Thristen each brought with them two net bridges from the TOHA private network, which also provides access to the broader net. "I have both of mine still," Gristel says, "Thristen, Quayam, Elivinsikil, and Babatunde each have one. Also connected to our network are Travis, Romayne, Zak, my father, and Rackhammer. Why do we have Rackhammer on our private network?"
"I think that was to keep our communications secret from Lucifer," Thristen says, "when we were talking to Rackhammer about plans to take his father to Ursia."
"We keep a private bridge to Rackhammer," Quayam says, "No question about it."
"Well, that's eleven bridges in all, which costs TOHA about a hundred and ten thousand dollars a year to maintain."
"Well worth it," Quayam says.
"I have a telegram from Richard Crockford," Gristel says. "I'll read it. Am the new ambassador to Ursia. Traveling in spring from Caravel. Would like to take Trans-Outland Highway. Let me know if is safe. Want to see you. Much to discuss."
"He wants to interrogate us again," Quayam says.
"I'd love to see him and Lee-Ping, and I'd love to meet his children," Thristen says.
"And if he's the next ambassador to Ursia," Gristel says, "we might as well make nice with him."
We award experience points, for all is peaceful in Guildencrassen, and who needs to keep guard at night when there is a friendly dragon sleeping outside your front door? We award 50 kxp on the grounds that the mine is worth $5M. Of this, Q and T get 17 kxp each, G 15 kxp, Eli 1.5 kxp
On the 2nd of March, Gristel summons a fourth griff. The wind is 15 kph out of the south-west, with scattered clouds above, and air temperature in the town is −8°C. Onorato says a tearful goodbye to Nucca. He's not sure how long he will be away. They set off at first light. The sun has not yet risen above the mountains to the east, but there is light in the sky. Once they are up in the winter air, it is bitterly cold.
At around noon, they land at Verconix's village. He is away, but his wife Beatrix is there, her arm in a cast. Thristen inspects the cast. It is made of plaster, and well done. She does not speak Latin, but she summons the man who applied her cast, and he speaks Latin well. He is the Chief's Druid. He is a young man. He translates, but he does not speak for himself. They accept Beatrix's invitation to eat in her hall. The four riders are chilled to the bone, and they spend the next half an hour warming up. They eat meat and bread.
"Thank you," Gristel says, as they stand to depart. "Please accept this gift." She gives Beatrix a flashlight, which is an engraved brass tube with a one-year luminous stone in the bottom. Beatrix is delighted.
They mount up and take off, flying south to the High road of Taerin. Quayam makes a shelter for them, and a cover for the griffs. They summon four sheep carcasses for the griffs to eat. In the shelter, Gristel is depressed until Thristen summons a hot meal from Olympia. They huddle close together for warmth.
On the 3rd of March, there is barely any wind. The air is −4°C and there are thick, low clouds. They fly beneath the clouds, going around scattered snow flurries, until the snow becomes thick and continuous, forcing them to land, for the griffs cannot see when snow is striking their eyes. They make a shelter at mid-day. This time, Thristen gathers wood for a fire, for which he has to trek some distance, and they spend the rest of the day in relative comfort, although there is plenty of smoke in the shelter.
On the 4th of March, the day begins with scattered snow flurries as the day before, but by lunch time the griffs are forced to the ground again. They resign themselves to another afternoon in camp, and Quayam makes a shelter. In the early afternoon, three armed men lead a wagon full of twenty slaves past their camp. When the wagon is a hundred meters past, a slave jumps out of the back of the wagon and runs on bare feet through the snow towards Thristen and Gristel, who are watching. One of the armed men runs after him, but the slave arrives at Thristen's feet before he is caught. The armed man reaches down to grab the slave, but Thristen restrains him. A struggle ensues, in which Thristen chastises the slave trader handsomely, much to Gristel's approval.
The slave trader withdraws, grumbling, and the slave wagon continues. "Thank you sir," the slave says in Endan with a Kentish accent. "Thank you. My name is Ronaldo Brasius. I thank you. My family thanks you."
They see no choice but to take Ronaldo with them. He is twenty-four years old and has a young son and a wife at home, or so he claims. He was kidnapped one night, when he passed out drunk in the street, and woke to find himself on a slave wagon.
On the 5th of March, Ronaldo rides with Quayam. The clouds are low again, with snow flurries. They fly to Erenor's Hall for lunch. Here they warm up. Ronaldo is trembling from cold and from fear. Being on the griff terrifies him. Thristen goes to Erenor's room to pay his respects.
"You were Erenor's slave, right?" Gristel says to Onorato.
"Yes. For several weeks. I met Nucca here," Onorato says, between mouthfuls of lamb stew. Unlike Ronaldo, Onorato loves to fly and eats to stay warm.
"Did she treat you badly?"
"I thought so at the time, because she bossed me around and if I did not do what she told me, she would cause me an excruciating pain in my head. It was awful. But then I was a slave in Luxoden, and that was much worse."
"Shall I go back there and beat the hell out of her for you?" Gristel says.
"No thank you. No, I don't think I'd like that."
Thristen emerges forty-five minutes later, claiming he kept the succubus at arm's length.
"Such restraint," Gristel says. "And what for?"
"Last time, it was part of the job. This time, I'm going home to Zak." Thristen has not seen Zak, his orc partner, in almost three months. He has not seen Kim, his daughter, for the same length of time. He misses her almost as much as he misses Zak. Kim was born 27th August, 2484. She is now one and a half.
On the 6th of March, our heroes break camp at dawn. There is four centimeters of snow on the ground. It is just below freezing, with wind out of the north-east, helping them on their way to Scartoni. They set off and arrive at the Taerin's End Hotel at around noon. They stable the four griffs, take two rooms, get their visitor papers sorted out, and see Ronaldo off with 5 gp in cash to get him home. He thanks them many times, then leaves.
"I notice he did not offer to let us stay with him in the future, or to repay us if we ever need a favor." Gristel says.
"Nice guy," Quayam says, "Unreliable. Now, we should go see Eldano."
"After I have had a bath," Gristel says, "And I want some clean clothes."
"Always with the delays," Quayam says, but he has a bath with his wife all the same.
It is 6 pm on the 5th March, 2486. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen sit in the private dining room of The Rose Garden restaurant in Scartoni. Opposite them are Eldano Kiarello and two of his bodyguards. Beside them is Onorato, who has already hugged Eldano in greeting.
"These people, they treated you well?" Eldano says.
"Yes, Mr. Kiarello, they did. They rescued me and all the slaves with me, from the mines of Luxoden."
"You must tell me about it. But first you should eat." Eldano pinches Onorato's cheek. "You're skinny. Have some home cooking."
When Onorato has finished his meal, Eldano listens for half an hour while he tells the story of his enslavement and rescue. At 7:30 pm, Eldano says he has some business to do. He gives Onorato a card with an address written on it: 63 Laconia Street. "Go there for me. Knock on the door. Talk to the person who answers. Do this for me, will you Onorato?"
"Yes sir, I will. Thank you for supper."
"You are like a son to me, boy. Eat at this table any time you want."
And so the party of four bid farewell to Eldano and make their way through the streets of Scartoni to 63 Laconia. A staircase leads up the side of a stone building to a wooden door. There is an oil lamp burning over the door. They climb the stairs with Onorato and knock on the door. A man of about forty answers.
"Father!" Onorato says. The two embrace immediately and for some time. Tears are falling from the man's eyes.
"These are my friends," Onorato said. "They rescued me. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen are their names. My friends, this is my father, Fabio Publius."
"Pleased to meet you," Fabio says. "Where are you from?"
"We live in Pakesh," Quayam says, "Or Varay. Mostly."
"Come inside," Fabio says, "Your friends are welcome too, but it's only a small room."
The room inside is light with several oil lamps. With the five of them inside, it is cramped. There are several large copper bridge holders on the floor against one wall, a work bench with various metal tools for bending copper, and one stool. The light is brightest over the bench, and a magnifying glass rests beside a notebook filled with small handwriting. On the walls are shelves with dozens of books. There is a fireplace with a kettle. The fire is lit now, burning coal.
"Who sent you here," Fabio says to his son.
"And you sir," Fabio says to Quayam, "What do you want with my son?"
"Nothing. We rescued him. Now he's free."
"Why did you rescue him? How did you find him?"
Quayam tells Fabio about the photograph. He takes out the photograph for Fabio to see. Fabio opens a book and takes out another copy of the same photograph. "I paid the photographer in the square to take this. He made the print for me. How did these dragons get the photograph?"
The discussion that follows is tense at times. Fabio repeatedly accuses Quayam of wanting something from him, Fabio, or his son, or of hoping to use Fabio's affection for his son to some advantage. Quayam is not sure what advantage that could be. Onorato reassures Fabio constantly that Quayam and his friends are good people.
"But I thought you were in jail, Father."
"As you can see, I am not, at this moment, in jail."
"You were released? Pardoned?"
"We will talk about that later." He turns to Quayam. "I am grateful to you sir, for returning my son to me. I am truly grateful. I don't know why you went in search of him and brought him home. In my experience, things like this do not happen by chance or purely out of charity."
"We did it to repay a debt to the dragons, nothing more. We are curious, of course, as to why the dragons would be so interested in your son. We note that he is an accomplished bridge tuner already."
Onorato tells his father about Guildencrassen and how Nucca is waiting there. He speaks to her twice a day through one of two bridges he left with her. "You would be welcome there, Father. I want to go back. I promised Nucca I would come back."
"May we talk privately?" Fabio says.
Quayam, Thristen, and Gristel wait outside. After ten minutes, Fabio calls them back in again. "We will go to Guildencrassen. I will care for my son from here. Thank you for all you have done. Please give Eldano a message. Tell him I'm grateful for all he has done for me and my son. I am his friend. I will be talking to him in the future."
The three adventurers say goodbye. They wait outside in the street, because they don't want to leave Onorato unguarded. They are unsure what to do and where to go. They hear a sound like the tearing of thick fabric from inside the small room. Gristel listens at the door. There is no sound within. "I think they are gone."
"That was the sound of a slice spell," Quayam says.
"Or one of Onorato's large bridges," Thristen says.
They walk to the Rose Garden and deliver Fabio's message to Eldano. They return to the Taerin's End.
The next day, the 6th of March, they talk to Babatunde in Guildencrassen just after breakfast. Babatunde tells them that Fabio and Onorato arrived in the town last night, and were out and about this morning. Elivinsikil has taken Fabio's name as a new resident of the town.
"Fabio can tune molecular bridges," Thristen says.
"They used one of the bridges to Nucca," Quayam said. "And he was going in and out of jail with bridges smuggled in to him by Eldano. So he was sometimes in his cell and sometimes not."
"But why was he so suspicious of our motives," Gristel says, "if we came from Eldano?"
"He can tune molecular bridges," Thristen says, "That makes him valuable. If you had him on your side, you could win wars. He's like Gelden."
They leave Taerin's End at nine in the morning, riding three griffs, having returned one the night before. They arrive at the Green Horn Tavern just after noon. They return the remaining griffs and wake up their wyverns. We note that their wyverns have been dormant for the past few months. In this state they need only one sheep a week. Their body temperature drops to 10°C, and they will be okay so long as their stable does not drop below freezing, and they do get their one sheep a week to keep them warm. Blankets help, and Falmut supplied them.
The next day, the seventh of March, they set off on their wyverns, flying south.
Expenses: Thristen summoned food for 100 people at a cost of 100 gp/day starting 10th January and extending all the way through to 30th April, a total of 110 days, for a cost of around 10 kgp. They bought horses at Green Horn Tavern, sent the 4 horses back to Three Aces while out on Goblin Moors, summoned 4 griffs, returned the 4 griffs outside Draycoughton, summoned 4 horses outside Draycoughton, stabled these 4 horses in Staachten and then forgot about them. On escaping from Luxoden, summoned 2 griffs from Three Aces. To get to Staachten and pursue armor, summoned 2 more griffs. On 13th February, sent back the 4 griffs and summoned 4 four horses to pursue the vampire. After meeting the vampire, sent 4 horses back and summoned 4 griffs. Returned the 4 griffs a day later so all can walk from valley to village. Summoned three griffs to fly back to Kent. Total is 10 kgp for summoning food, 3.6 kgp for summoning mounts, 3 kgp for bribes in Scartoni, and 5 kgp for the deed to Guildencrassen. The 13.6 kgp for summoning was paid out of TOHA's Olympian account. The remaining 8 kgp was paid in gold and gems, which will be reimbursed by TOHA when they return home.
This scene comes from the game we played at 1236 Norfolk Road, 24-JAN-15, with snow on the ground outside. The SAGA date is 4th of May 2486. Richard Crockford, Quayam Srae, and Thristen Alomere are talking over brandy in the library of the Cliff House. Gristel is helping Richard's wife put his four kids to sleep.
"You found a boy. Onorato Publius," Richard says, "Took him back to Scartoni. And then he disappeared. With his father. His name is Fabio Publius." Richard knows that this revelation will come as a surprise to Quayam and Thristen, because they have never mentioned Onorato Publius to Richard.
"That's true," Quayam says.
"Other people were looking for Onorato. Other people were interested in his father."
"We were not interested in his father," Thristen says, "We rescued the boy. We met his father. They left Scartoni together."
"Why were you interested in Onorato? Why not Fabio?"
"That's our business," Quayam says.
Richard grunts. His old friends don't trust him. One way to inspire trust is to give away some secrets. "May I talk off the record? What I want to say is confidential. It's classified. Must remain confidential. With Gristel, of course."
Quayam and Thristen exchange a look and nod their consent.
"My government was going to make a deal with Fabio Publius. To work for our army. Fabio can make molecular bridges. You know that. But you did not know that we knew that, did you? No, you didn't. He can transport an entire division of infantry a thousand kilometers in one hour. There is a man who could work for us or work for someone else. And he had a problem that needed solving."
Thristen and Quayam wait in silence.
"Endromis is a democracy. We don't all agree on what must be done. Some of us were in favor of the Ursian Wars. We lost both of them. The pro-war faction lost credibility. But not all credibility. Ursia agreed to restrict Thunder Eggs. Compromises are being reached. Some of us say the war was worth it. Ursia respects us more. Ursia does not want to fight again. They can't afford it. Some of us say exactly, Ursia cannot fight again. One more push is what we need. And if we had a man like Fabio Publius on our side, we could win. You understand the implications? Pakesh? The desert? No need to cross it?"
"Yes," Quayam says. "But it would not work anyway."
"Perhaps. Secret defences, I'm sure. As always. Nevertheless, if we had Fabio Publius, some of those high-up, who know about him, would want to try again. One thing we all agree on: he must not fall into enemy hands."
"You could have had him killed," Quayam says.
"Yes, certainly," Richard says. He grits his teeth. "Yes, absolutely." He leans forward in his chair. "If we were a bunch of cut-throat bastards who did not care a jot for human life. But we're not."
"You attacked Ursia," Quayam says, "You brought swords−"
Thristen motions with his hand, indicating that Quayam should stop talking. "Go on Richard. We are glad to hear that you did not consider killing Onorato's father."
Thristen fills Richard's brandy glass.
"Fabio wanted his son back," Richard says, after he has had a sip from his glass. "And he wanted his own jail sentence commuted. We agreed to do both. But we never found his son. You found him. And now Fabio has disappeared. There is great concern in the Department of State. We will look for him. Eventually, if we keep looking, we'll find him. Eventually. I don't think, personally, we should have him on our side. I don't think he should be on anyone's side. I want all sides committed to peace. I want to enjoy being ambassador to Ursia. But my government will keep looking, because we all agree that we don't want Fabio Publius in the wrong hands. In Ursia's hands, for example, or Varay's, or even Kent's hands, or some madman in the Outlands who wants to bring back the Dark Ages."
"I can see how that would be worrying," Thristen says.
"Who sent you to find Onorato?" Richard says, "To whom did you deliver Fabio?"
"That's private," Quayam says.
"For heaven's sake," Richard says, "If you can convince me he's not a threat to my country, I will give my word to my government that there is no need to keep looking. That would be better for both of us. But if he's a threat to my country, most likely he's a threat to you too. And if we keep looking, we'll find him, and if he's working for another military, we may, at that point, determine that we have no choice but to kill him."
"So in fact you would consider killing him," Quayam says, "So much for human life."
Richard rubs his forehead. "Fine. I will go back to my government and tell them to double, or even quadruple the resources allocated to the search. We'll put our best people on the job. We don't have many wizards, but we have plenty of excellent spies. They will find him." He sits up, setting his half-finished brandy on the table. "And now I had better get to bed."
Thristen raises his hand. "Not yet, please. May Quayam and I talk privately for a moment?"
Richard leans back in his chair. "Go ahead."
Richard listens as they talk in Varayan, perhaps imagining that he does not speak the language. Varayan is a close relative of modern Weilandic, both languages being descended from the language of the Weilandic Empire. Richard understands it well. But he tries not to overhear, and tries to enjoy his brandy. After a few minutes, Thristen addresses him.
"Apologies. Thank you for waiting," Thristen says. "We'd like the details of the story to be confidential. We'll tell you so we can convince you personally. Do you agree?"
"Yes," Richard says.
"It was the dragons. They set us off on the search for Onorato. We knew nothing of Fabio's abilities. Fabio and Onorato are both living in the custody of a particular dragon that we trust. He will take good care of them. They are safe. They are not working for anyone. There will be no need for them to work for anyone. The dragons already have the molecular bridge and the spirit bridge. They don't need Fabio Publius. If someone comes to take him or his son, we'll find them and bring them back safely. Or the dragons will get them back. You don't have to worry. Tell your compatriots that they can stop looking."
Richard nods. It is a while before he answer. "Good. That's a relief." He smiles. "I thought it was something like that."
"You know what we mean by The Dragons?" Quayam says.
"I think so." It turns out that Richard has read a great deal about The Dragons, and in him Quayam finds a well-informed and eager partner for discussion of Quayam's favorite subject. An hour later, when Richard has at last gone to bed, Thristen says, "The dragons did not want Peace and Prosperity to get the molecular bridge. They had us go and get the bridge sorcerer, and make sure he was secure. Mission accomplished."
"All they had to do was show us a photograph," Quayam says.
"And help us rescue Zak," Thristen says, "And threaten Orbelastican's castle with a huge rock."
"True. They earned it. But it serves us also, Fabio being in Guildencrassen. And it probably served them to have us get Zak back and weaken Orbelastican."