Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dorben, entry 29 ---29th Flamerule--- Confusion leads to fighting but we finally conclude with an understanding

Adventure Journal of Dorben Wainfoster
29th Flamerule, Year of the Haunting

---It would seem that other than Meg, our party has been absent from this plane of existence for the most part of three days. As noted above, this is indeed 29th Flamerule and I have no recollection of the intervening days. It bothers me a bit to have gaps in my recollections, but at least we returned in time that I will not miss the three nights of my Silver Lady’s glory. However much the gaps might bother me, I must say, with the assumption that our absences from this world in some way account for the appearance of more and more of our Keep, it would seem we were busy while we were gone. I shall elaborate.

We returned to this world in what we soon found to be the second floor of the tower in which we had so recently fought the hellhounds. But the second floor was now a completed chamber with arrow slit windows rather than the unfinished rooftop which we had left. We heard a noise from above and found all of the horses milling about upon the open upper floor. They seemed rather nonplussed at our return and did not seem troubled at being on what was essentially a rooftop some thirty feet in the air.

It was as we were ascertaining the well being of the horses that we realized how much things had changed in our absence. A great deal of the Keep has come to this world and it is quite impressive. The most immediate thing to notice is the great tower at the middle of an elaborate configuration of walls that appear for the most part less than half finished. I believe that from a higher vantage point, the layout of the walls will most likely describe the pattern of the snowflake that adorns our company banner. And at the very center of this design of walls, is an edifice which I will refer to as the Grandtower.

We have yet to have time to actually explore but I would estimate the height of the Grandtower at some ten stories at least. The very top of the tower appears to be on fire; however, the fire does not appear to be damaging the structure in the least. All in all, it bears a striking resemblance to a truly gigantic lit candle. My companions of a more, shall we say “clandestine” nature, complained that the flame would be visible for miles. I understand their aversion to overtly drawing attention but it is not as if this were intended to be some secret hideaway. Not to mention, the bloody thing is perhaps a mile across, made of shining white marble and laid out in the shape of a stylized snowflake for goodness sake. Just exactly how is one supposed to hide something like that? Even without the flame, this place will still be clearly visible for the better part of a league or more when the sun is up and there is no snow upon the ground. During the winter, however, we might need that great fire atop the tower to find the place.

The rampart walls look to encompass the entirety of the Keep grounds; however most appear to only be complete up to approximately ten feet in height. Above that they are simply uneven rubble. From their width, it is almost a surety that they will be capped with catwalks and some form of crenellations when they are finished. And as far as we can see all of the stone appears to be the same blue veined white marble. I do not believe I am familiar with the stone right off hand but I shall attempt to make time for an alchemical analysis as soon as possible. I am curious as to whether or not the stone may hold some properties other than simply being ascetically pleasing to the eye.

Further observation of the surrounding Keep structure showed us courtyards within the larger gaps of the snowflake pattern. Several appeared to hold more than their fair share of foliage. They shall bear further investigation later. Perhaps within one of those gardens or stands of trees we might find some plant or herb with which the Blue Diamond Fever might be eradicated? We can only hope and pray. And I do pray. Those unfortunate children populate my prayers each night. But we must remember that each step on the path must be taken in its proper order and only in so doing may one find one’s path forward.

The nearest courtyard did not contain any garden however. It would seem that the tower in which we found ourselves is at one point of entry courtyard of the Keep entire. Several hundred feet to one side we spotted what could only be the Gatehouse, the only obvious opening through the Keep walls as far as we can see at present. However, it was the barbarian camp within the courtyard which raised some questions. Two largish skin tents were the central feature of the camp, surrounded by more informal fire sights. Although we could see a thin stream of smoke rising from the smoke hole in at least one of the tents, the camp on the whole gave the impression of being presently unoccupied.

We began to lead the horses down from the roof to the second floor. We left them there in preparation for entering the ground floor, since we as yet were not aware if it was presently inhabited by either friendly or unfriendly occupants. Although we had certainly made enough noise to rouse any and all, Euphestas did quietly scout ahead of the rest of us as we made our way down. A slight creaking from across the expanse of the room alerted us that there was currently someone present.

The occupant turned out to be Meg, apparently on her last legs and more than willing to fight to the last. She groaned audibly as she lowered that great tree of a bow from full ready position. The poor woman was really quite beat up. As I tended her wounds and called upon my healing magics, Meg explained that we had been gone some three days. The camp outside was that of a tribe of strange barbarians that had arrived not more than a quarter hour after she had observed us all fade away into the rainbow illumination. She’d had only time enough to ready the horses to haul the hellhound carcasses to Westwall when the entirety of the Keep materialized around her. She got the horses inside the tower, which had only at that moment acquired its new second storey, and barred the door.

She had been attempting to explore the newly appeared Gatehouse, trying to find a way to sneak herself and the horses past the Keeps newest interlopers no doubt, when she ran afoul of the barbarians. Meg had been on the receiving end of a great deal of grievous wounds and retreated again to the Tower. She said that the barbarians showed little interest in her once she had locked herself within the Tower. She had been harassing them with guerilla tactics the last few days but was near the end of her rope by the time we arrived.

We returned the horses to the second floor and began to contemplate our next move. The arrow slits afforded a good enough view but there really was little to look at; as I wrote before, the camp really did consist mainly of two large skin tents and several untended, unlit fire pits. Plans for exploration began to be hatched, discussed, discarded and rehashed for the better part of a quarter hour. We had finally settled upon having Euphestas and Sa’d go out to scout the camp itself and only then realized that Nia had gone missing. I swear, we really must give some thought to putting a bell on that lovely young lady. I do admit that I understand how she could grow impatient with our planning session but I do wish she wouldn’t run off. But at least she hadn’t run far.

Nia had actually only gone as far as the roof above us. We found her keeping a low profile behind the remains of the upper storey’s walls, little more than a few blocks high, as she looked intently toward the Gatehouse. I will give her credit where it is due, she had sent little Bug out to scout rather than simply haring off on her own. She is simply impatient, not stupid. Considering that Bug appears to be little more than a stray chunk of pretty stone if one does not know what they are looking at, he does make a decent scout. Now, if only Nia could actually see through Bug he would be even more effective in this duty.

The rest of us joined Nia upon the roof since it gave the best vantage to observe both the Gatehouse and the camp. Euphestas and Sa’d sneak so well however, that I at least had little chance of spotting their movements. As it turned out, I had little enough chance to spot our barbarians adversaries either. Illandria however, was able to spot movement amongst the ruined stones of the upper floor of the Gatehouse. Since I was unable to spot the targets myself, I asked Illandria to point out a landmark to guide my aim. I aimed for the tip of the odd brick pile she pointed out and let loose with a Faerie Fire spell that did quite the trick. Where little if anything had been visible before, now we could see the lit outline of two humanoid shapes of a stature equal to Aedron.

Evidently this seemed the signal to charge to the attack. Nia led the way and the rest of our troop soon followed. Well, other than our two diminutive roguish investigators, who were busily sabotaging and pillaging the barbarian camp, but more about that later. As I said, Nia led the attack, Aedron and Illandria running quickly after. Knowing how these things often go, I chose to broaden my options by casting Fly upon myself. Kaliki encouraged us with bard song from atop our Tower while Meg held the anchor position at the door and covered us with her bow and spells.

These unseen barbarians proved to be quite stiff competition when it comes to combat. Mainly for the simple reason that they were bloody damn near impossible to even see. Even at melee range they appeared to be little more than blurred air and it proved quite difficult for me to even connect with my mace. Nia, Illandria and Aedron did not have it quite so difficult I think. It was quite the pitched battle. I believe the most memorable incident was Aedron’s attack from above. He had made his way to the Gatehouse along the top of the walls since we had last seen our targets on top of the Gatehouse. However, our quarry had since made their way to ground level where they had Nia, Illandria and I sore pressed. Aedron took the most expedient course and leapt down from above. He landed upon one of the barbarians, virtually driving the blurry shape through the paving stones as his axe all but split another. I spent most of the fight spreading healing spells among my friends. Once again, I must give thanks for my tutor who taught me to use healing energies more effectively.

We had almost bested the four or five we faced when Kaliki called out that she had caught sight of reinforcements entering through the Gatehouse passage. As we were at that moment fighting just beyond the inner portcullis, we decided that it was to our best interest to advance to the rear. We made a fighting retreat and began to fall back toward our Tower. The rest of us had made our way back to the Tower door when Euphestas and Sa’d finally appeared. At first we hardly knew it was them other than realizing, who else would come running from under the edge of the tents, a small iron chest carried between them and a tiger skin head and mantle draped over the whole odd little parade? They had evidently been quite busy on their little scouting foray. I had to choke back a chortle because they looked like the oddest cat in the world.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the barbarian horde made their way into the courtyard about then and Euphestas and Sa’d were cut off. Aedron and Nia rushed out to help them while the rest of us leant ranged support as best we could, what with their blurred appearance. Euphestas cast an entangling spell, Bramble Web I think, which momentarily slowed the reinforcements we could only just barely see moving into the courtyard from the Gatehouse entry. Most of our people were able to make a break for the Tower while the barbarians were distracted. Unfortunately, Euphestas was not quite so lucky. The barbarians proved to be quite fast and were able to push their way through the entangling enchantment and Euphestas quickly found himself surrounded.

Aedron and Nia rushed to assist once again but the number of enemy combatants was double what we had faced to that point. Aedron and Nia still had a clear field of escape between them and the Tower but Euphestas was still in the middle of two ranks of the enemy on all sides. And then I realized that my Fly spell was still active which meant that I could offer one more avenue of escape for our scrappy little friend. As the ground combatants held the enemy’s attention, I took to the air and drew out several fathoms of rope from my climbing belt. Thank the Lady that we purchased the climbing belts and accoutrements after our little foray into the mountains. There are squirrels and monkeys that would be jealous of the alacrity with which Euphestas scaled that rope. I retreated up and back to the roof of our Tower with my cargo while Aedron and Nia made haste inside and barred the door.

The barbarians beat upon the door for a bit of time while I tended wounds but they apparently soon grew bored and retreated. Soon, we observed the barbarian camp quickly taken down and readied for travel. There did seem to be a bit of a mishap as they tore down the tents, which caused Euphestas and Sa’d to erupt in gales of laughter. Between gasps for air, they explained that while they had been pillaging the tents for any possible information and potentially useful loot they had decided to sabotage the tents. The intention had been to cause a distraction with one quick rap on a support pole in the case of a fight within the tents. The motions of disassembling the tents had more than sufficed. It really was quite funny. I swear that I should have realized sending those two out together could end like this. I mean really, it does sound like the beginning to a joke. “A gnome and halfling sneak into a tent…” I’ll have to think of a punch line some day.

The barbarians continued to pack camp and soon withdrew from the Keep. That is, all but one that soon appeared before the Tower door, perhaps half a hundred feet across the courtyard. This was the first time we were able to see one of the barbarians without their magical blurring effect active. As I recorded earlier, his stature was on a par with Aedron’s and he was almost as heavily muscled. At that point his resemblance to my large comrade ends. This fellow was humanoid but carried several strikingly feline features, most noticeably the shape of the face, a mouth full of pointed teeth and a pelt of fine dark purplish fur. It seemed that he bore more than a passing resemblance to a humanoid displacer beast without those awful rasping tentacles or the extra legs.

He called out that he wished to talk peacefully. He demanded the return of certain “relics” that had been taken from their camp. In exchange for the relics, he and his would withdraw from the Keep and forget about the effrontery of their kidnapping to this strange world and our invasion of their claimed territory. It was at this point that we began to understand that there may have been some sort of misunderstanding here. Aedron explained that raiding their camp and making off with their important relics had given us the opportunity to deal from a position of strength; otherwise, it is very likely there would have been no peaceful negotiations. With further advice from Aedron to not appear to show weakness and to keep the upper hand, we withdrew to the Tower roof so as to literally be bargaining from higher ground.

Through some discussion it was ascertained that as far as this tribe was concerned, our Keep had been abandoned upon some distant world for many, many years. They had been camping within the shelter of the courtyard walls when the whole place had been transported here to our world. They further explained that they had simply assumed Meg was yet another combatant on the opposite side when they were attacked upon investigating the Gatehouse. Meg agreed that there had been other creatures present. As to the fight only recently ended, we had to admit that we most likely would have responded violently as well if suddenly lit with Faerie Fire and suddenly faced with a quartet of strong opponents. Both sides jumped to conclusions and both sides paid in blood. Thankfully, there had been no actual fatalities on either side of this unfortunate squabble. Evidently, the barbarians had a scout outfitted with Curing potions whose one mission had been to tend any of their number who fell.

In the end, neither side made any clear cut apologies. Again, to do so might have been perceived as weakness on one’s own part or even possibly imply that the other side might be weak. And I thought negotiations amongst merchants and trade houses was complicated. After dealing with this tribe for a bit of time, it occurred to me that some of their attitudes seem vaguely familiar. I finally twigged to it when the tiger skin mantle was handed over. The item reminded me of the totemic worship of the Uthgardt tribes in the Swordcoast North. I do believe that this tribe is worshipping the same or at least a similar god as they.

The relics have been returned and an accord has been met whereby no member of the White Tiger tribe will war against us nor we against them. We have also told the tribe that we will look into finding some way to return them to their native world. We can make no promises but we can at least try. They are here through no fault of their own. Perhaps Zolven might know of a way. Illandria has suggested sending her bird, Onyx, to his tower with a message. The bird is obviously a strong flier so we might have an answer soon enough. I believe we will most likely stay here in the Tower tonight. I look forward to observing my Silver Lady’s radiance from the roof of our new home this evening. By my Lady’s grace, I shall write again soon.

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