Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dorben, Entry 18 ---12th Flamerule--- Some exploration and quick and tearful partings

Adventure Journal of Dorben Wainfoster
-Continuing, 12th Flamerule, The Year of the Haunting

---It seemed that Myka was looking at us in the strangest manner as we recovered from our fight with the vile orcs. Or more accurately, she was looking toward us. It occurred to us that the illusion must be fooling her as well and so we retreated from the room to reassure her. She was indeed seeing the rubble filled ruin that had at first fooled Aedron and saw nothing of the orcs at all. However, our attempt to have her touch the key was fruitless. For some reason the key passed right through her hand. In fact, she could not see the key at all. Even after she had cast a spell of True Seeing, she could neither see nor touch the key. Neither was her enchantment able to allow her to perceive the demised orcs nor the room which they occupied. She saw only a pile of rubble overgrown by scrub plants.

Seeing Aedron tense as the key passed through Myka’s hand, we made it clear to him that she was solid and not a spirit. It was some magic of the key. I thought perhaps this was some further manifestation of our fated bonds. Emah gave the key to us as a group. The key became bonded to each of us in turn. I began to think that by extension we had become bonded to the Keep. Perhaps there is a finite number that may bond with the key and the Keep? Perhaps the key did not “feel” like letting Myka touch it? There are many possibilities I suppose, far beyond my poor imaginings. But the truth of the matter was that Myka simply could not interact with the Keep as the rest of us were able.

Myka remained behind in the main hall as we moved inward to explore the rest of the Keep in search of Kord. At the time, I suppose we were thinking that the orcs must have been trailing Kord and so we continued our explorations through the room we had so recently breached. Or at least we made an attempt to do so. We thought to open the door that seemed to lead deeper into the Keep but something thwarted us. The door opened only a might, barely even a hairs breadth and then slammed shut. It seemed as if something large had dropped against the other side just as it was opened. We moved to the other door and tried again.

Euphestas made sure the door was free of traps and then opened the portal. I believe a trio of kobolds may have been the absolute last thing we had thought to find beyond that door. But that is what we found. One of the little blighters seemed to be a caster of some type as it appeared to be concentrating very intently up0n keeping a large stone block suspended in midair just above the top of the door. Euphestas understands their language evidently, as he engaged them in a short barking conversation. I understood none of it except what Euphestas translated for the rest of us. I must admit; I never would have thought to learn the language of kobolds. Although I understand it is in some way supposedly related to the ancient Draconic tongue. Strange to think these yappy little lizard creatures share some relationship with the great wyrms. I am sure the dragons would in no way admit even the possibility of some possible relation. I certainly am not about to be the one to start that conversation. But that is neither here nor there and far afield from the subject at hand.

So, there we were, with Euphestas trying to convince the little yappers to simply let us by. But they would have none of it. The thought that I had seen another doorway nearby, perhaps leading to an adjacent area, occurred to me. I asked a couple of the others to accompany me as I am not built for silent exploration. Nor was I so overconfident in my combat prowess as to simply assume that I alone was a match for three vicious knee biters. And if there are three, for all we know there could be thirty.

Our little side exploration bore fruit. Near the stairway that ascended to the upper story we found a door. This door opened onto a narrow hallway which Illandria explored quickly. The hallway did indeed lead to the hall in which the kobold trio was giving our compatriots such grief. We returned to the other room and indicated to the others that we had found a secondary entry point. At some point while we had been endeavoring to investigate a roundabout route, Aedron quickly run outside. As we readied to move our exploration from the orc room to the kobold hallway, Aedron returned with a tree. Well, perhaps not a tree per se. More of a large stump really. He rushed it into the orc room and jammed it under the stone block; thereby rendering the threat of the very weighty stone block harmless.

From that point the encounter descended into melee. Part of the group stayed to fight the kobolds through the doorway while the rest of us went around through the hallway to engage them from the rear flank. Two of them fell rather quickly but their sorcerous leader was not so easily taken. He used his magic to become invisible while we faced the other two. We had no idea where he had gone until a nearby door swung free. Nia moved to follow and I readied to cast Faerie Fire in hopes of countering his flight. Kaliki summoned what turned out to be one of the largest rats I’ve seen, and asked her furry new friend to sniff around and point out where we might find the nearest living kobold. To our surprise, it pointed just to one side of where we had gathered. I let fly my readied spell and our lost kobold was found again. At least long enough for Aedron to split him almost cleanly in half down the middle. Amongst the thoughts speeding through my mind at the time, the most eminent was a thankfulness that Aedron is on our side. I shudder to think of being at the terminal end of one of his axe swings. It has been my observation that, as of yet in my experience, none have found the experience pleasant in the least.

We continued exploring in hopes of locating Kord and of rooting out any more kobolds so as to keep them from attacking us from hiding. Our observations soon led us to believe we had found the “below stairs” servants’ quarters area of the Keep. We found small single rooms, narrow hallways, cupboards and supply closets. We also found that anything less substantial than wooden furniture crumbled to dust at a touch. Further along, we found what appeared to be an office suite and an attached bedroom larger than those we had already found. We hazarded a guess that this had been the quarters of the seneschal or castle steward. There was no sign of Kord and so we only gave a perfunctory search. In the desk we found what looked to be a badge of some type. It consisted of a representation of a sword, point thrust down through a knot-work design similar to that decorating our key.

As it turned out, the only further signs we found of the kobolds was a small bolt hole dug into the floor of the main hallway. Euphestas explored it for only long enough to ascertain that the hole showed signs of working and was not simply a random bit of damage. He found ladder holds descending the hole and said that was enough sign for him. Euphestas described the tunnel at the base of the shaft as being too small for even him to stand comfortably, let alone the rest of us. We decided to simply hedge our bets against further attack rather than seek to beard the kobolds in their own demesne. There was more than enough of Aedron’s tree to spare so we had him lop off a goodly sized chunk and used that to cork the kobold hole. We had more important things to do. We continued back along the hallway beyond the kobold stone and Aedron tree barricade. Luckily, neither completely filled the hallway. Euphestas took point to scout ahead. The rest of the party followed a short distance behind him for the sake of stealth; myself at the rear for the sake of expediency. We all knew I would make noise and so it were best that I keep a goodly distance from any attempts at stealthy skulking.

Beyond the tree trunk and stone we turned a corner and found anther sizeable block. It was indeed the same that had jammed the first door we had attempted from the orc room. We continued on and soon came upon the remains of the kitchen. Like other areas we had found, parts of the kitchen were whole but others remained in ruin. It occurred to me that it seemed as if the Keep were somehow rebuilding itself bit by bit. I am unsure why I had that impression. We could just as easily been exploring any old tumble down keep, collapsing under its own age and weight. But the areas that were intact seemed virtually undisturbed, other than the passage of time. There was dust in great quantities, yes. But the rubble seemed only to be present in the immediate area that was still ruined. No errant bits of stone or mortar or dirt littered the tabletops and prep areas or even the floor just a short distance away. If this was indeed simply a collapsing building then it was the most orderly and tidy example I had ever seen.

We had only just begun to poke into the kitchen when Euphestas poked his head around the doorjamb and whispered intensely that he believed he had found our quarry. He had scouted only a short distance forward and spotted a man he felt matched Kord’s description. We quickly moved to where Euphestas indicated and looking in, we did see Kord. He held a key similar to, but by no means identical to, our own key. It seemed of simpler design. Kord’s key was however surrounded by a crackling nimbus of energy. We reacted instinctively and rushed to stop Kord. There may have been some attempt at setting a plan but it was quickly forgotten at the sight of the energy crackling around that key. The mad scribblings we found scrawled all over his sleeping chamber said that he believed he had found a portal to the Abyss. The magical energies brought forth from that key like a mad tempest of multicolored lightning seemed to indicate he had certainly found something. We rushed forward in hopes of stopping Faergrim from forcing Kord to blindly march himself into the Abyss in furtherance of some mad quest for vengeance.

Our efforts to stop Kord’s advance fell on deaf ears. And strangely enough, it seemed that, although blindly determined to carry on, Kord was in control of himself. We only got him to stop for a moment when we had him surrounded and it was obvious he would have to fight his way through us. I was under no illusion that Kord could not do so. I only hoped he would choose not to since Faergrim did not seem to be in control.

While we had him stopped for those few moments we were able to speak with Kord. He said that he must go through the Portal. He explained that since it seemed that Faergrim had been unable to bond fully with Aedron then he was still bonded with Kord. Kord believed therefore that Faergrim would be forced to manifest in the Abyss and would hopefully be unable to return to our world. I looked into Kord’s eyes and saw no true madness there. He was simply a man who felt he finally had the chance to right a terrible wrong in which he had taken some small part. I felt I could not in good conscience stop him from taking the path he had chosen for his redemption. But our time of conversation was soon cut short.

Illandria and Kaliki had needed to open a different doorway leading to our current location so that Myka might come to where we had found Kord. By that time we actually had been speaking with Kord for a few moments. As we spoke, he had looked all around us at the mention of Faergrim’s name. We told him that if Faergrim was not in control of him as we had thought then we were fairly sure he had been destroyed for a short time by Myka’s magic. The look of desperation, fear and determination returned to Kord’s eyes tenfold and he pushed through our gathering as he cried “Myka is here?!?” We tried to catch him up and explain that Myka came to help. Perhaps she could give him aid in his quest? Why not talk with her about it? He called back to us that Myka wouldn’t give him the choice and he pushed on. Nia ran forward and grappled with Kord. Her goal did not seem so much to physically stop his advance as it was to make him pause to realize that she was not going to let go and where he went she would go. At least that was my impression. Largely fueled by the fact that she wrapped her legs about his torso, thus giving up any leverage, and her weight had no chance of even slowing him down.

The magic crackling about the key gathered and swelled in intensity and size as Kord moved forward. He thrust the key into a door of the keep he found there. As we heard the locking mechanism open, Nia again begged Kord to listen to reason but his answer was that he knew exactly what he was doing. Aedron also moved forward to grapple with Kord and I moved up to try and pull Nia out of the engagement. It was my feeling that even together we were no match for Kord and I did not wish to lose my friends to the Abyss. I entreated Nia to let go, for Kord had made his choice and it was not our place to tell him nay and none of us had any chance of survival where he was choosing to go. She finally did relinquish her hold on Kord, as did Aedron, as the door swung to against the adjacent wall and we beheld what was beyond.

I believe the stench and heat struck us first. A hot wind from beyond bathed us in the smell of brimstone and sulfur and the heat upon that hellish exhalation made our skin quickly burn like that from a hot summer sun. All this occurred before we were able to fully comprehend what it was we were seeing on the other side of that portal. Or should I more properly term it Portal in recognition. For this was a magic Portal most certainly. A short passage festooned with stalactites and stalagmites led away from the door. The ceiling of the tunnel quickly rising higher than the floor and roof of the Keep above us indicated that this doorway did not simply open upon some cavern below the Keep. The passage curved away from our position and we caught only a small glimpse of what appeared to be an even larger cavern beyond, bathed in some vile and bilious light.

Kord barely hesitated and then resolutely pushed on into the passage beyond the Portal. I laid my hand upon his shoulder in parting and wished him gods’ speed on his quest. Myka rushed at us from behind. We called out to her that Kord was in full control of his own faculties and was choosing to make a noble sacrifice to hopefully stop Faergrim from being the doom of even more noble warriors. The White Witch barely paused as she sped past us. She stated forcefully that we needed to get out of her way. Much more quietly and in a tone that I thought sounded like affection, she said that Kord would need help where he was going if he were to have any hope of success in his quest. Her flight paused only after she gained the far side of the portal. From within her cloak she pulled forth a great white staff, turned and struck at the key still protruding from the door lock. The key shattered into naught but dust and the door slammed back into its frame almost instantly. It was obvious that we were not to follow. I can only hope and pray for their safe return some day.

I collected what little amount of the dust of Kord’s key I was able and stored it away for later study. Its magic broken, I believe it may yield very little further understanding. We opened the door and looked beyond to find only the Keep as we had experienced it before. As Kaliki and Euphestas had not been with us the first time we had explored the Keep, we showed them about a bit. It was during this exploration that we made a discovery. As we had suspected before, we are linked as more than just comrades and friends. There is a link between our souls. And also between us and the Keep. We now understand that the Keep is indeed rebuilding itself and we are a part of that. I believe we may learn more as the bonds between our souls strengthen and the Keep rises from its ruins. It shall be interesting to walk this path. My fingers begin to tell me that old familiar ache that says I have been at the pen and paper a goodly long time and I am at the point where I may end this entry. By my Lady’s grace, I shall write again soon.

*******

[The adventurers again have ventured into the secret area of the Keep where the Soulforge is found. No official record is to be kept of interactions with the Forge and so, the following is another peek within the thoughts of Dorben Wainfoster.]

I must say it was quite surprising to realize that we were mistaken in thinking that Kord was mistaken about the presence of a Portal to the Abyss in the Keep. I know not what research led him to his conclusion but it did indeed prove correct. Kord’s key made the doorway that we had found to open into the chamber of the Soulforge open into another world. I have only seen representations and observed the scrying of others into the Nether worlds but I do believe that Portal did indeed lead to the Abyss. I only hope that we may one day hear good news from Kord and Myka.

Something else happened below the Keep though, after the door had slammed upon the Abyssal Portal. We used our key to open the door and show Kaliki and Euphestas the secret we had agreed to keep from the world at large. They agreed to hold the secret as well after they heard of its power. Toria answered from the globe of the Forge when we called out to her. Toria elaborated on our description of the Soulforge’s abilities. We had been under the impression that physical contact was required for one to draw the life force from another being through the power of the Soulforge. That was not so. Toria explained that the person drawing out the life force did indeed need to be in contact with the Soulforge’s globe, but the life force could be drawn out from any being with whom the activator was fairly familiar. That made it even more clear to us that we needed to keep this mighty creation from falling into the hands of the wrong people. Or even some of the right ones.

After explaining to us about the powers of the Soulforge, Toria encouraged us to all touch it. We asked if she had misspoken. She said that touching the Forge would finish the bonds between our souls. We asked her to explain further and she said that there were strong ties connecting our souls but the bonds were not yet complete. The bonds had begun when we had been awakened from death all together, further strengthened by our soul bonded and soul linked armor and weapons, and then solidified even further by our agreement to take stewardship of the Keep.

Illandria, Nia and myself chose to be the first to touch the Forge. The experience is very hard to describe. I remember little that could be described as “seeing” anything. All experience was felt and experienced in ways beyond normal senses. It was as if we could “hear” a great many voices engaging in constant murmuring conversations all at once “inside” the Forge. I had the impression that my soul spread out and mingled amongst all those other soul fragments. I could feel the presence of Illandria and Nia “nearby” if that term has any relevance. I had to concentrate to pull myself back together and become aware only of myself once again. And then I found myself standing in the Forge chamber once again.

The rest of the group in turn touched the Forge and the soul bonds were completed. Aedron was reluctant but was convinced once we explained that this would make us stronger as a team. I believe a strong part of his reluctance was simply that Toria’s voice came from everywhere and nowhere when she spoke to us. The experience seemed to agree with him in the end. He aroused from his trance, which is the only way I can describe the appearance of the experience from the outside, and said that he now comprehended the parts of his Fighter training that had been eluding his grasp.

A second contact with the Forge did not result in the same detachment as the first experience. There was still the feeling of detachment but we were in full control of returning our souls to ourselves. Toria explained that there is now a strong bond between our souls and we are also bonded with the Keep. She said that it will in the future be able to some of us away so that we may help it rebuild itself. I believe she said that the Keep was drawing back pieces of itself from other worlds. I believe that I may be sorry I didn’t hear her wrong.

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