Sigil, City of Doors...

Of Murder and Lightning
The final battle begins

Syephos

How to take my mind off matters on which I’d prefer not to dwell….productivity ought to help. Ooze hadn’t exited the brothel yet and I wasn’t sure where Bob’bi was. Maybe she was off doing Githzerai stuff, whatever that might entail. By now, I was plenty familiar with the area and could find the marketplace easily enough by myself. Locating a merchant, I sold a healing staff I happened upon. Healing naturally is rather useful and I wondered if I might not be able to help Zariel out with his newfound absorptive properties, but then there were my owls to consider. That spell Zariel had cast on Alma seemed pretty handy, though permanency would be expensive. I’m a ranged fighter anyway. Water elemental hugs and opening perilous doors aside, I don’t tend to get injured too much. Steeled owls of doom ought to make any future battles go faster and help prevent some injuries. Practically the same thing, really.

Staff sold, owls’ feet enchanted, I made my way towards the Temple of Ao to talk to Fin and hopefully not Thrimbar. Maybe he’s a perfectly nice guy and probably wouldn’t do anything too bad to me, being fated and all, but he still kinda scares me. Neither did I much feel like informing him that he was wrong about the Sensates.

Just as I was leaving the marketplace Bob’bi came running up to me, her long arms flailing with some sort of necklace dangling from her hand.

“Syephos!” she called, “wear this and you’ll never have to worry about drawing breath again!”

I was initially a bit surprised that she remembered my name, then grew wary of this magic necklace she claimed to possess. I wouldn’t need to breathe? Would it blow my head off if I placed it around my neck? I doubt the dead have need of air. Dang, there goes my “Ooze is a zombie” theory. Now standing before me, Bob’bi must have noticed the odd look on my face. She quickly grabbed the necklace she was wearing, hanging at about eye-level for me, and presented it as proof of its safety. Smiling again, she handed me a necklace, looking entirely too pleased with herself. Was it possible to enchant an item to be safe for one race to wear, but not another? Or even sex, being the only female member of the group. I’m not terribly familiar with the art of enchantment, apart from Aislyn’s lovely golden eyes. That aside, I couldn’t think offhand of what she could gain from killing me. And so I took the offered item, hopefully without notable reluctance. I thanked her for it, gauging her reaction as I went to put it on. Excitement shone in her dark eyes with no hint of malice I could perceive. My shoulders tensed as the new weight hit them, but my head seemed to still be attached. Practically giddy, she suddenly launched into a half explanation, half ramble about how much easier it would be to get to the compound with them and various planes. Not one to tarry needlessly, as well as I’m aware, Bob’bi soon bounded off to find Ooze, I think. Certainly the most animated I’ve ever seen her. Maybe it’s a matter she’s been mulling over for some time now. Such an artifact would undoubtedly relieve much of the difficulty of traveling to the compound and I began to notice that the typical stench of the city had dispersed.

Shrugging at the strangeness of it all, I continued to make my way towards the temple. Considering all the time I had to consider my words, I didn’t formulate too well what I was going to say to Fin…that was maybe a mistake….if I stopped to think it over, I’d probably end up losing my nerve again. All too soon arriving, I took a deep breath, hoping it’d go well. Fin seemed like a nice guy. Maybe he’d take the news okay, all things considered.

Walking in, I saw Fin going over some papers at his desk. Breathe in, breathe out…. Making my way over to him, my sudden shadow caught his attention as he slide the papers he’d been working on under others.

“Ah, Syephos, what brings you here today?” Fin asked, his troubled brown eyes glancing up at me.

So many people remembering my name today…okay no, don’t get distracted. You’re on a mission! Small talk or cut to chase, small talk, cut to chase….
“I…don’t think….Ooze..quite…feels the same….as you may do,” I painfully fumbled. Panicking, I ended up rather blurting everything about Ooze out without nearly the care I should have had.

“Syephos…I don’t want to discuss this here,” he said with a tired sigh, further pain ghosting across his face at the confirmation of what I suspected he already knew.
“Is there anywhere else we could speak then?” I asked, refusing to be dismissed. I couldn’t very well deliver such news so crassly and then run, tempting though the thought may have been. After pausing a moment, Fin agreed to take a walk with me.

“I suppose I already knew Ooze’s interests laid elsewhere, especially after our last date, so to speak,” Fin admitted breaking the awkward silence as we strolled through an almost decent part of Sigil.

“What were you working on when I arrived?” I questioned, but he just shook his head and claimed it nothing. I could feel sinister intend of some sort coming off him as he recalled his previous activity. Not towards myself so much as likely a certain orc, so I wasn’t terribly concerned about it. Priests aren’t typically violent, are they? And one could hardly blame him for being upset after being wronged so. “I’m so sorry for how this all played out, especially at the hands of one of my own companions. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Is there any way you could ensure that Ooze will be in the city tomorrow?” Fin asked, looking perhaps the happiest he had since I had shown up.

“I don’t see why not,” I said smiling, just happy to give him some good news. “We’ll likely be investigating the anarchists tomorrow.” Being a Priest of Ao and subordinate of Thrimbar, he undoubtedly already knew of our assigned task. Informing him of what we specifically intended to do seemed okay.

“Ah, yes, the investigation,” Fin said nodding, recalling the information. “Well, I should be getting back to work.”

“Would, um, would you like a hug? Hugs always make life better,” I offered. Hugs from any of my family always made me feel better. I didn’t see why it shouldn’t have the same effect with Fin.

“That would be nice,” he said with a faint smile. Accepting the very platonic hug, he returned to the temple.

Feeling a bit better, I wandered back towards the inn. While our discussion definitely could have gone better, so too could it have gone worse. And neither did I have to confront Thrimbar. That makes for a good day. I still rather regretted not talking to Fin or even Ooze before when I had meant to, but such couldn’t be helped now. I’m trying to help Ooze’s human, Bob’bi is trying to help his gnome…that which he touches doesn’t seem to fare too well as of late.

The next morning, mostly Bob’bi and Ooze shared what they had been up to the previous day while I listened and wondered idly if Ooze would try to catch gruel in his mouth if I flung it at him. Outside, I suddenly heard screams and the strangest, most inconsistent footsteps. They loomed closer, sounding as if produced by one creature, but I couldn’t fathom how one being could possible generate such variance. One moment the steps would be soft and quick, the next incredibly heavy, always changing in weight and even the number of limbs the thing might lurk upon.

Hearing whatever could be outside creeping ever closer, I prepared my bow and faced the door. There was an awkward fumbling at the doorknob, like it was trying to figure out how to pass the barrier. The door began creaking open before suddenly slamming into the wall.
Standing or maybe more accurately oozing at the door was a pinkish, shifting…mass… Hmm, that explains the screaming. A feature or grained pattern would occasionally form before fading back into the rest, as if it was trying to maintain some other shape and continually falling back on mimicking its surrounding. Could this be Zariel? He looked so different being conscious. The top of it turned as a head might, perhaps glancing between the three of us as we must have been staring at him in obvious shock.
“You’re alive!” Bob’bi and I yelled.

“What happened? What do I look like?” Zariel asked in a voice as strange and inconsistent as his appearance, still maybe looking around. Or possibly just oozing like a bizarre sponge.
I silently lead Zariel over to the mirror in our room, touching him as little as possible. It wasn’t his fault this had happened, but neither did I want my hand to phase through him as it had in the forest. Motionless for a time, he only stared forward at his reflection. Slowly, he turned and cast his gaze upon me, only for an imitation of my own face to look back at me. He then turned to Bob’bi and judging by her reaction, it was her own vague likeness she saw. We looked at each other in mutual horror, wondering what to do. Zariel’s original face flickered a couple times like he was trying to recall what he looked like and couldn’t or any one form refused to remain.

Watching panic and frustration shifting across him, I tried to think of something to say when Orag and a couple Mercykillers appeared at the door, demanding to see me. I couldn’t possibly guess what interest they might have in me. I made my bed every day when we stayed in the barracks, honest! I didn’t even try to draw anything on a sleeping Mercykiller’s face as I had been considering. I stepped forward before my mind could come up with any more odd notions to explain their presence. They probably wouldn’t make a house call for something I didn’t do two weeks prior.

After they finished staring aghast at Zariel, Orag proceeded to charge me with the murder of someone from the foundry the previous evening. I simply stared at Orag in shock, the Mercykillers standing behind him glaring down at me. Murder? I hadn’t killed anyone! Okay, that wasn’t entirely true. I’ve killed more people than I sometimes care to think about, mostly those who would use the fights to sate their cruelty. Those with cold eyes, preferring to torture and humiliate their opponent as much as possible before slowly killing them. But I hadn’t killed anyone in Sigil! Wait, did he say last night?

“I was here all night with my companions, Ooze and Bob’bi,” I argued.

“And you suppose I expected you to say anything else?” Orag countered. “The witness clearly identified you and their word was verified with magic.”

“I didn’t do it!” Can’t you verify my word with magic? Or that of Bob’bi and Ooze? They can vouch for my presence.” I glanced between the two of them for an eternal moment, praying they’d say something.

“He was here with us the entire evening,” Bob’bi evenly stated, Ooze nodding after her. “It couldn’t have been him.

“And did you sleep last night?” Orag asked.
“What?”

“Sleep. Did you sleep at any point last night.”

“Well, I suppose eventually,” they answered.

“Then you can’t know for certain that he didn’t slip out while you were sleeping,” Orag said calming, seemingly anticipating the rebuttal.

“Well, what was he killed with?” I asked, nervously twisting my pendant with my fingers.

“He was stabbed with an awl,” Orag said, his voice unwavering.

“I’m an archer. Why would I kill someone with an awl of all things? A tool entirely unfamiliar to me?”

“Why indeed might a murder use a foreign weapon? To throw suspicion off from himself, mayhap?”

He sorta had me there…wasn’t there anyway to prove my innocence?

“Just because they were honest doesn’t mean they saw what they think,” Bob’bi tried again.

“True though that may be, I must bring him in. I’m sorry. I did try to defend Syephos against these allegations, but to no end. Will you come peacefully or will we have to take you by force?” Orag asked, directing his attention back to me.

“I’ll go with you,” I said, glancing in his general direction. As fun as trying to take out three Mercykillers sounded, I didn’t foresee it going well. “Thanks for trying, Bob’bi,” I said looking back, offering her a small smile. She nodded, looking thoughtful. Waving goodbye to them, I followed the other two Mercykillers out. Orag stayed behind for a short while, maybe to talk to the others.

Walking towards the jail, they’d seizes my arm by the crook of my elbow and jerk me back into place if I’d so much as stepped too far on either side, laughing and jeering all the while. Or maybe they simply enjoyed pulling me back and forth. It was hard to say. This was going to be a long walk. Don’t shoot them in the face, don’t shoot them in the face, don’t shoot them in the face….or the knee….the knee might fun. You don’t need two functional knees, right? Okay, maybe assaulting my jailers wouldn’t end well, but before then it’d make me feel better. Though honestly, what could they do to me? Execute me? Pretty sure my neck was already on that block. Might as well hold out for some hope that they’d realize they had the wrong guy.

When Orag finally caught up, I think they pulled me around a bit less. And here the bruises forming just above my elbows had so been looking forward to the additional company. Guess I’ll have to cancel those other reservations after all. I thought about trying to talk to Orag, but ultimately decided against even looking at him. Whatever caused his demotion, if that was indeed what the change in his weapon meant, congregating with a murderer wasn’t about to help him at all.

Arriving at the lone jail cell, Orag relieved me of my weapons and the other two took the opportunity to give me one last good shove into the cell, for old time’s sake, I’m sure. Orag hung my bow and quiver on a nearby hook, nodding slightly in my general direction before departing. Did…he believe me? It wouldn’t save me, but it was some small bit of reassurance as the steel door closing echoed throughout my dank cell. I didn’t dare say anything lest I further his punishment and risk my bow being moved, but I hoped he knew I appreciated it. Sir Grumpypants #1 doesn’t seem as grumpy as I seem to recall.

The cell was rather small, not really anything to look at. One of the remaining mercykillers thrust a blanket and a bowl of food at me. At least I think it was food, not glue to attach the blanket to the wall for insulation. It tasted similar enough to the gruel spoon we rather often subsided off of, though there was a tragic lack of positive plane dirt to mix in. The blanket looked clean enough. Now, to sit on it or try to attach it to my back and pretend to fly? The latter sounded like more fun, but there wasn’t much room in the cell. Hey, you do what makes you feel better as you await execution and I’ll do the same. Finding the least diseased-looking spot I could, I threw down the blanket, pulled out my book, and curled up with Aislyn and Alma. Owls and books make life better, regardless the anticipated expectancy. While flipping through the pages, idly looking for Ooze’s brain-damaged lizard chicken, I started to wonder how they would kill me if I didn’t find a way out. There hadn’t been any shortage of various shiny blades in the barracks. Stabbed? Throat slit? Would they use my own bow on me? What would happen to my owls?

Before, the two Mercykillers had been largely preoccupied, wondering back and forth, fulfilling whatever duties. Passing me, they never failed to make loud, rude remarks. Now, evidently, they had finished whatever they had been doing and were bored, allowing me their full attention. Today sure is my lucky day. I had a rather difficult time believing that in Sigil of all cities, there wasn’t anything more pressing to attend to than taunting a caged elf.

Between the morbid thoughts and constant commentary outside, reading in Draconic, even aloud, was quite the ordeal. Sighing and pinching the bridge of my nose, I sat up. Something had to be done about the idiots outside my cell. If I were to share a few creepy owl facts and have Alma speak with his ever so unsettling voice, maybe I could intimidate them. Make up something about what happens to those doomed to hear Alma’s screech. If it worked and they left, that’d be great. Even if they just laughed at me, such wouldn’t really be anything new. But what if they tried to do something to Alma? If I’m a dead man walking, so be it. Maybe they could return to their old lives or become an owl police force against the mistreatment of familiars or something. If we were really lucky, the others were looking into what really happened and all three of us will get out. I can’t risk the safety of my owls on the assumption that the Mercykillers can’t or won’t cause any of us harm. Hmmm….big, tough guys, huh? Maybe hearing about something no so threatening would annoy them enough to that they would leave. I could try talking about how cute and fluffy owls are. Even if it didn’t work, happy owl thoughts beat wondering what it’s like to take an arrow between the eyes.

Launching into an elaborate description of the insane cuteness of owlets, especially their enormous eyes and tiny, fluffy bodies, I strived to impress upon them the vast magnitude of owl kind. When I finished, they stared rather blankly at me for a time.

“You know, I think it might be true, what they say about elves,” one of them began.

“And what might that be?” I asked.

“There isn’t all that much difference between the male ones and the female ones.”
……….Well, that was unexpected…..so long as they don’t try to personally investigate the matter, this may work out yet. They are certainly worse things to be called and as a long-haired elf, it wouldn’t be the first time someone thought me female. It’s hardly my fault that the male counterparts of so many races seem to be so disagreeable that any fair features are confused as femininity.


…………I’ve been here forever….weeks, months, maybe even years….in all actuality, it’s probably only been a few hours, maybe seven or eight? But that’s a long time to be babbling at bored Mercykillers about owls! As wonderfully creative as I like to kid myself to be, there are only so many things that can be said about owls in so many ways. How many odes to owls have I composed on the spot? If archery should fail me, I’m becoming a bard.
As I strained to think of another overelaborate description of an owl, I began hearing familiar voices up ahead. Sounds like the rest of the group brought some friend of the receptionist guard guy’s. Maybe he’s the one who actually killed the man at the foundry. As enjoyable as being framed for murder has been, I was rather growing weary of it. Meanwhile, Ooze wandered on back and asked me how I was. Loud and kinda smelly though he may be, at the moment he was my favourite tuba-playing half orc bard ever. The competition there may not be too steep, but I was truly glad for his company.

We chatted for a while until I heard a male voice yelling in pain and Bob’bi saying something about not liking the other suspect guy’s hands, or maybe what he was doing with them? The receptionist said he’d have to arrest her too for stabbing the suspect in the hands. ….did she seriously just stab a suspect and friend of a Mercykiller right in front of him? Was she trying to get arrested? She almost had to be, but why? As glorious as life in jail sounds, there are possibly better ways to spend time. But maybe her face will scare away the two Mercykillers back here? That’d be great.

The lot of them soon came back by us, Zariel squishing along behind them. As I had hoped, soon after my new cellmates were ushered in, the two idiot Mercykillers departed. Finally something worked! I could’ve kissed Bob’bi. Or smacked her upside the head for her questionable judgement. Or both, if I didn’t value my life.

Ooze and Zariel stayed for a while longer, making jokes and asking if there was anything we needed. Zariel kept offering to turn into a cake for us. Somehow, despite all the wonderful positive plane dirt I shoveled onto him, I doubted he would have adopted the same delicious flavour. And eating one’s companion is typically frowned upon by society.
“Could you go to the temple and talk to Thrimbar? Or Fin, if he is otherwise engaged?” Bob’bi asked.

“I don’t see why not,” Zariel said, I think nodding.

“Wait!” I called out to them just as they had turned to leave. “Ooze? Ummm…you maybe shouldn’t be the one to talk to Fin…or be there…”

“If..if you say so,” Zariel responded, startle confusion evident. “I’ll talk to them when we arrive.”

I’m not sure what compelled me to warn Ooze after having spoken to Fin the other day, or why I might need to warn him at all, but I had a strange feeling about it. All he asked of me was that I ensure Ooze was in Sigil and that he was.

When they left, I was forlorn to see them depart. Laughing with them, as the strangest group of four even Sigil had possibly ever seen, had been so nice, so normal, the situation aside. Though Bob’bi was still here and the Mercykillers weren’t, so that was something. The other suspect and what appeared to be his pet owl staring creepily at us wasn’t as comforting. Another reason to be glad for Bob’bi’s presence. If things went south, I could probably take him, though backup would be nice in such a small cell for an archer deprived of his bow.

The other suspect just continued to stare at us, looking oddly pleased despite also having been imprisoned. “You people think you’re sooo special,” he ground out, setting down his owl’s cage and opening the door on it. “And you played right into our hands.”

The owl then took flight and transformed into a man, his face a mixture of amusement and hatred. Well, there goes my owl interrogation plans, not that either of them looked terribly willing to talk. I cast mage hand to retrieve my bow as the druid’s skin turned to bark.
The other suspect promptly punched Bob’bi while Alma, Aislyn, and I focused on the druid. The druid launched flaming acorns with better aim than I might have cared for. What’s with all the pyromaniac druids, anyway?

Glancing next to me, I saw Bob’bi take another good blow. Staggering, she gripped her dagger and thrust it into Enemy Down #1 while screaming “you’re going to feel this!” He cried “Talos” as he fell, the invocation causing the door to explode. Undoubtedly hearing the noise, the Mercykillers came running just in time for the resident pyro to give into peer pressure. When the second cultist called out to Talos, a huge bolt of lightning struck grazing my owls and I, also incinerating both the cultists and Mercykillers. Bob’bi fortunately managed to evade what likely would’ve been a lethal blast for her.

Outside, dark clouds swirled right above us, a hand appearing as if pressing through a veil. The cage was breaking. Four enormous bolts of lightning exploded out of the sky, Talos following in their wake. The Lady of Pain appeared next to him and the battle for Sigil began.

We ran to holding to retrieve Bob’bi’s other weapons. She tossed a frost bow to me while continuing to look around for her other daggers and maybe anything else worth taking. I was already wanted for murder, so what was a bit of theft on top? With the impending battles, the bow was better off with me anyway.

Leaving the jail, we saw that the four bolts had actually materialized into stable streams and were still connected to Talos, seemingly anchoring him to Sigil. Maybe if we were to investigate and destroy each contact point, the drain would banish or at least weaken Talos enough to give The Lady a fighting chance against the deity. As it was, she wasn’t fairing too well.

Going to the nearest contact point, we found the scattered remains of a bar, six very large lizardmen, and our other two companions. The lizards stood in a circle, generating lightning to feed the portal, all connected by a stream of energy. Bob’bi promptly ran in and stabbed one. Commendable though her courage is, it truly is of little wonder she barely survives many of our encounters. Silly close-range fighters, that’s what bows and magic are for. From a safer distance, I called acid splash to my hand, willing the fates to alter and grant the low level spell greater strength than it would ordinarily possess. Feeling the sea of magic swirling around my fingers, I focused on it, causing the arcane force to contaminate the stream connecting the six lizardmen. The toxic energy killed two of the lizards.

Zariel took a bite of his apple and began to glow gold like he did once before in the compound. Transforming into a giant scorpion, his staff becoming a large stinger, he too struck at the stream, charging the lightning gold.

Ooze knelt down clutching his beloved tuba as he prayed to Tubatron, imploring him to appear in the room before us. Bob’bi and I glanced at each other, both pulling at strings of fate and willing his prayer to be heard, knowing so fully how much it would mean to Ooze. His tuba suddenly began glowing and floated a short ways away, transforming into a half orc much taller than anything has the right to be. Ooze wept at the sight of his radiant bronze deity before him.

“Thank you, Ooze, for your undying devotion and dedication, without which I would never have come to be,” Tubatron said, turning to face the bard.
“If it wouldn’t be too much to ask, could you grant me a tuba? To replace the other one?” Ooze asked.

“Ah, yes. A tuba. And a mighty tuba you shall have,” Tubatron replied, thoughtfully resting his hand on his chin. Facing the remaining lizardmen, he raised his hand and turned them into a living tuba with some divine magic I couldn’t quite comprehend.

“Oh thank you, Tubatron,” Ooze said accepting the tuba and bowing deeply.

Tubatron nodded, acknowledging Ooze before turning to Bob’bi and I. “Thank you two as well. I shall bestow upon each of you a favour of your choosing. Now, I believe I have a false god to take care of.” With that, Tubatron vanished.

The destruction of the portal disrupted the first lightning bolt, causing the stream to crash back into Talos and explode. The Lady of Pain took the opportunity to stab Talos and his blood rained down on Sigil. If we were paid for the number of times we took showers in questionable substances, we’d make out rather well in the end.

Paying little further mind to the delightful summer rain, we head towards the next closest contact point. Out roaming the streets was a minotaur covered in chunks of dirt and stone wielding an enormous hammer. Trying to move towards the giant, I was knocked to the ground by an earthquake. Climbing to my feet, I shot the beast twice and Aislyn and Alma swooped down on him, talons bared. Zariel charged by in his gelatinous glory just as another earthquake hit and the ground beneath the rest of us started to fluctuate and wave. Moving was difficult, but I could still aim. I lined up another shot, only for the minotaur to disappear into the ground as if he had melted into it. Instead, I merely shot at the yet wavering ground, hoping it might do something useful. Near my arrow, the ground only split, and I’m sure would’ve stuck its tongue out at me if it had one.

Meanwhile, Ooze was playing with a weasel he summoned. I couldn’t tell what he was trying to get it to do, though the effort was probably brought on by a similar motivation to what made me shoot the ground of all things. Zariel arrived near where the minotaur had stood, shifting himself into the same form and claiming the hammer the other had dropped to become one with the earth. Moments later, the minotaur erupted out of the ground, goring Zariel in the process and reclaiming his hammer. Bob’bi managed to edge her way forward enough to stab it and I fired in rapid succession, all hitting in the same spot and splitting the previous arrows. The first arrow caused it to bellow and turn towards me. The second appeared to have killed the minotaur while the last exploded through it, destroying the portal behind it.

Like the first time, the shockwave released from the destruction of the portal crashed into Talos and he lost his advantageous position against The Lady of Pain. Lady Grace then approached us to heal our wounds and share that the pervert who molested my ears the other day had been executed. I wasn’t clear on the wherefore, but wasn’t sad to hear of her passing.

Near the next contact point, we found a fortress and a strange mechanical golem rampaging. A crater the golem must have come out of was full of gears and cogs.

“All that clockwork looks like an entropy puzzle we’ll have to solve,” Ooze said, peering down into the hole. “And it looks like there’s a timer.”

“We could go find Zilvyn,” Bob’bi suggested.

“A good idea, but only if we can find him quickly. Here, let me try something,” I said, climbing down around the gears. True, he’d likely know something about the gears, certainly more than an archer, but he might not be able to solve the puzzle with an arrow lodged between his eyes. When in doubt, throw fate at it. Holding my hands above what might have been a control panel, I willed them to find the right buttons and levers in the proper sequence. Gradually, I would feel a gentle pull one way or the other, guiding me though I knew nothing of “entropy puzzles” or the inner workings of clockwork. At my ministrations, the timer wound tighter and alerted the golem. Seeing it running towards us, I clambered out of the pit.

“Even agents of entropy are subject to their own laws,” the golem rumbled before collapsing back into its entropic dwelling.

Gazing back towards the battle yet raging above, the third portal closing didn’t seem to hurt Talos, but he was visibly weaker. He and The Lady were now on equal footing!

Three down, one to go. The last contact point was in the foundry, or what was left of it. Bodies of cultists and godsmen lay strewn about. If anyone was still alive, they hid it well. Creeping though, trying not to step on anyone in a lovely exercise in dexterity, we eventually discovered a gapping aperture a heavy iron door once guarded. Something about the multitude of scattered corpses and otherwise excessive display of power just didn’t bode well with me. Deep breath, cross the threshold, and survive what lies ahead. Certainly nothing impossible. I buried my face in Aislyn’s side and rested my hand on the small of Alma’s back for a brief time. Not a goodbye or anything so morose so much as an attempt to pull myself together. We three luckily hadn’t much been injured, but fatigue was starting to show. Just this last one, is all. So simple, so near. I clutched my bow, the moment of respite passing. At least with this possibly lethal necklace from Bob’bi, I couldn’t smell all the blood in the undoubtedly thick air. A small comfort, but I was glad for it.
Passing the doorway didn’t immediately reveal anything new. Just more bodies, their endless blood splashed against most surfaces, drops steadily dripping as we traipsed through puddles, the pools of fading red clinging to our steps, marking our path. The eerie silence was at last broken by a faint rustling ahead. For better or worse, something ahead was alive.

Approaching another room ahead, I saw a colossal cannon as well as a high priest, judging by his garb. He walked around the cannon, fingers trailing along it, his eyes wide with fascination and glimmering with dark intent. Cultist high priest, then. Oh goodie. When he finally noticed us, he gave a delightful monologue, perhaps memorized from his “Bad Guy Speeches for World Domination” textbook. Nothing that much bears repeating, however. I was rather more interested in lodging an arrow good and deep between his eyes.

Zariel ran forward first with a hammer he materialized, his swing only narrowly missing the priest. I released a couple arrows and Aislyn and Alma swooped down on him. We didn’t seem to do too much damage, but distracted him enough that Ooze landed a devastating blow with his tuba, bringing the cultist to his knees. The priest stood with difficulty, starting to cast fire out of a portal appearing behind him. Taking advantage of his slowed state, Zariel ran in again and I readied my bow once more. Though it’s harder to accurately fire three arrows in rapid succession, I grabbed the extra projectile anyway. Whatever spell he was preparing, I had the feeling we wouldn’t all be walking away if he were allowed to finish. My first arrow thudded solidly in his torso, causing him to turn towards me as he raised his hand for the incantation. Panicking, the second flew, missing wildly and he smiled creepily, a crazed look about him. My last arrow…either it hit, and well at that, or I was to become the first victim of his torrential flames. I inhaled deeply as I pulled my notched arrow back, my hand pausing beside my ear. My breath escaped as the string slipped from my fingers and I prayed that Corellon guided my arrow’s flight. Just as the last syllable of the cultist’s fatal spell would have been uttered, my arrow shot through his open mouth, exiting the back of his head and landing in the wall beyond. The final portal imploded upon itself as the priest’s corpse slumped to the floor.

Outside, The Lady moved in once more to attack Talos, only for him to grab her and begin to beat her into the ring. Beside us, a godsman moaned and tried to reach out to one of us.

“The cannon,” he gasped, pointing towards the gun. “Our greatest invention…wielding the power to slay even gods…but it can be powered only by life force…one of you must climb inside the cannon for it to work…it’s the only way…” he barely bit out before his hand fell and his breath stilled.

Life force? As in all of it? Were we to decide amongst ourselves who was to die? Couldn’t we go get a few living cultists and shove them in the cannon instead?

“I’ll do it,” Zariel volunteered, stepping forward. “I’m an abomination. I can’t abide by this form.”

For a time upon hearing Zariel’s words, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t blink, think, or do anything but stare at him in growing horror. As a druid, being something so…unnatural must have been weighing on him more heavily that I had realized. Most other such entities we encountered he had cleansed with flames. Maybe we’re lucky he hadn’t tried to just torch himself. But would I be more callous to allow a friend to kill himself or deny him that which he desires on the simple basis of not wanting him to die? Looking back at the sky, at The Lady and Talos, I could tell we hadn’t much time. I shuddered to think of what should happen if Talos were to escape The Lady’s distraction. To come so far and sacrifice even a willing victim…but how much choice did we have?

Casting my gaze back to Zariel, he had already planted his apple in his chest, his mind made up. Bob’bi was doing something with her anti-Talos dagger and Ooze was performing an epic on his living tuba. What if the cannon didn’t have to kill him? If, say, a demi-god were to owe me a favour? The immediate joy that filled me at the notion of saving Zariel was soon tainted with mortification. To request Tubatron’s assistance, I would have to…to pray to him….a half orc tuba… There would be no forgiving myself if I allowed Zariel to die for so petty a cause, but to open myself to Tubatron, utter his name on my lips with earnest…at least at the brothel, it was only my ears that were violated…oh Corellon Larethian, forgive me. I beg of you, know that it is for the love of my comrade that I would do this, not the desire to worship any other deity. It is only that in your infinite glory, my lord, one such as I could never do anything that would cause one such as you to become indebted to me.

With lingering reluctance, I began…contacting Tubatron, hoping with his yet limited power he might be able to shield Zariel from harm, to guard his life force so that the cannon might not exhaust his precious supply. No sooner had I recalled Tubatron’s face did a flash of bronze light erupt in the room, leaving the new demigod towering in its wake. Dangling from his grasp was the severed head of Lothar, to Bob’bi’s obvious delight. Well, there’s one less archmage vying for divinity to worry about.

“I will suffer no rival!” Tubatron cried out, his melodious voice reverberating throughout the room as he threw down the skull. Ooze stood up straighter, his eternal devotion glowing in his eyes.

“Can you save him?” I asked sparing no further moment, though I was aware he already knew of my request.

“I’ll do what I can,” Tubatron responded with a nod and disappeared with a thunderous clash of tuba “music” that made me grimace.

Okay, operation “Keep Zariel Alive” was looking good. Now to make sure the cannon does what it’s supposed to. Turning my focus to my bow, I willed my weapon of choice to lend its strength to Zariel, to grant him its same accuracy and piercing strength. Maybe Bob’bi was doing something similar with her dagger. This…could work, couldn’t it? We could all walk away from this terrible ordeal yet.

Watching Zariel morph into the opening in the cannon, endless words I could have told him flooded my mind, but they all sounded too bleak, too final. “Hey, I hope this doesn’t kill you” isn’t a very good farewell. Not that this was goodbye. I offered a weak “see you later” and short wave, the guilt residing in my chest despairing further at seeing Alma’s savior offering to forfeit his own existence, begging that this might not be the end.

I hazily recall the deafening explosion of the cannon firing, Talos shrieking as he was impaled with druid surprise, the torrential downpour of divine blood, warm drops hitting me despite out relative shelter. The Lady mended “the cage” and disappeared. I pretended it was to fix her mask, a small attempt at humor, as if blood wasn’t yet raining down on a sea of corpses.

Like an ember fading, the bond between us grew dim and vanished. Nor could I feel the strings of fate wound through my fingers when I’d try willing something to happen. What now? Reporting back to Thrimbar might be a good plan. Maybe have him talk to the Mercykillers about that little murder charge there. Lady Grace could likely help. That woman she killed was somehow related to all this. After that, with us losing our ties to fate, I don’t know that he’d have any further need for us. Unless we were to develop a sudden interest in doing paperwork. I think I’ll pass.

Those humans I was sold to were probably dead. Even if they did survive the firenado somehow, I’ve no intention of returning to them. After so long, they invariably would have assumed me dead and wouldn’t even be looking for me. There would be no telling where my family might be after the decades I’d been gone. I’m…..free…? I can choose what I want to do with my life and where to go. To keep fighting or rediscover what peace is, that intangible concept torn from me so long ago by the human greed that pushed a bow into my hand. Truthfully, I don’t know if I could lead such a quiet life anymore, but the knowledge that I had been gifted the power of choice was exhilarating.

I could stay in Sigil, possibly make something out of the compound with Bob’bi. I could just travel with my owls, maybe find one of those planes of air and reference the cloud formations. I might even cross paths with my family in the meantime. I could take up an instrument, anything but the tuba. I could go find Zariel, or try to. Seeing him again would be nice. Ask him what it’s like to be launched out of a cannon, if flying was cool. Hope that landing wasn’t too unpleasant. Oooo I could find a way to go flying with my owls. I bet there are scrolls for that. Or I could find someone to just cast the spell on me, cut out the middle man. Middle parchement. Whatever.

Privy to my emotions, Aislyn flew happily around me. Alma, perched on rubble to the side, just watched us, a feeling of general contentment coming from him. Whatever came, I knew I wouldn’t be alone again.

View
Forgeries, Music, and Loot.
Wherein a Succubus allows her followers to experience new things.

We can return to Sigil at any time now… the problem is, we don’t know what to do with the Zariel / Rossinante cocoon. Then there’s also my Gnome friend. The poor guy is still catatonic. I feel sorry for him… for what Ooze did to him… I can’t just leave him here – at the site where it all happened to him. So what are we to do but wait?

A day or so passes (it’s harder to tell here… day and night seem shorter) before anything of significance happens – Ooze shows up… holding his tuba? We buried that thing as a memorial to him… and to mute that damned wizard that was spying on us. Ooze collapsed at the threshold. Syephos and I dragged him onto the other bed in the barracks. I don’t think we cleared the skeleton off first, but he’s an Ogre… or half of one, anyway… he’s used to the macabre. When we dragged Ooze in, there was a very faint glimpse of recognition from the Gnome, almost a whimper. I forced the tuba from Ooze’s hands and threw it into the hidden treasury room that only Syephos can find. A small defiance, but one that guarantees that Lothar wont be listening in.

Ooze looks to be in bad shape. Neither Syephos nor I have the ability to heal, and none of us has a magic item with healing abilities. The closest thing we have is… the rain. Yes. I dash out and fill a waterskin with the rain. I rush back to Ooze and empty the skin down his throat. What happened next was… interesting. Apparently continued exposure to the positive energies causes a buildup within a person to the point where it will literally explode out. This is what happened when I forced the rain water down his throat. That explains all the stab marks on his stomach then. He was forcing the energies to serve a purpose, instead of just building up to the point of bursting out violently.

The Gnome recovered before Ooze did, which is likely a blessing. It allowed me to talk to the poor fellow. The traumatic experience has made him loose himself. He has a picture of himself and what is likely his wife holding a child, an infant… this poor fellow. I must help him find himself. I must try to keep him safe. The only connection I know of is to the odd Gnome boss who needs to install the augments in my hands. Well, the Gnome will just have to accompany me back to Sigil. For now, I shall just have to give him a name, since he can’t remember his own. There were several Gnome families back on Faerun, I’ll just have to try and remember what a traditional Gnomish name would be, as I don’t think he’d be happy with a Gith name… Zook! Yes, there was a little Gnomish boy named Zook back on Faerun. This name will suit the Gnome until we can figure out his true name.

Once Ooze recovered, we decided that the best thing to do would be to venture back to Sigil. I grab the scroll that Zariel had – it’s a divine spell, of course. I will have to try and activate it for Zook… and Syephos… and myself. I don’t fancy having to wait a day to try again. The good news is that I already know what the scrolls are, which is half the problem. So we journeyed down to the portal and Syephos opened it. On the other side, I managed to activate the scrolls both for him and myself, but the one I swiped for Zook didn’t activate. We quickly rummaged through his pack and found a strange device that he grabbed and stuck to his face. He didn’t know what to call it, but he knew instinctively that it would allow him to breathe until we got to the other side.

The journey was uninteresting. Back in Sigil, we meet up with Thrimbar. He’s slightly irritated that we have yet to begin our investigations into the Sensates, the Godsmen, or the Anarchists. We informed him that we needed to handle a private matter and that the investigation was now our primary focus. He accepted our explanation and bid us on our way. I asked a priest at the temple if there was anything that could be done to help Zook get his memory back. The priest told me that there is a specialist for mental health that rotates around the city, including this temple, but it would be about a week… and it might be expensive. I’ll just go see the Gnomish inventor and see if he has anything that can help me – employment records or something.

The workshop door had some kind of note on it. It apparently was a warning not to disturb him during the day, as I had Zook knock while I backed away, expecting the axe to come swinging at my head again. Instead, gouts of flame erupted and engulfed Zook. He lived and I rushed him to a temple for healing. Apparently I will have to wait. Well, while I’m waiting I can go case the Godsmen’s facility. So I head there.

At the gate, I spot Syephos. He apparently has a work order of some kind as the guard summons another guard and Syephos enters. The guard then turns his attention to me and requests my work order. Apparently, without paperwork for an order, I wont be able to get inside. I quickly try to forge something with my back turned. Not the greatest plan. The guard immediately declares them as forgeries and discards them. Fine. I know how to do this.

I stop by a market and grab some supplies – paper, ink and a pen. Next is a stop at the temple of Ao. I bought a purchase order from them for two daggers of masterwork quality made from cold iron – one engraved with my sister’s name, the other engraved with a friend’s name. I give the priest my jink and he gives me the order.

Now that night is falling, I can return to Zilvan’s workshop and get some answers. I knock and duck, this time letting Zook stand back and out of danger. Zilvan appears and lets us in, berating me for wasting fuel for his “flame tossers” when I came by during the day. “I don’t like visitors during the day, didn’t you get that from my note?”. His note… Yeah. Anyway, he had nothing more about Zook. Didn’t know his name, never needed to know his name. I guess all I can do is hope his memories return. Anyway, I get the first installment of the augments to my hands. It doesn’t hurt nearly as much as he says it’s going to… or I guess being prepared for it allowed me to ignore it, anyway. A week. I’ll have to wait a week for him to finish the augmentation. I’ll wear some gloves until then. Zook and I travel to an the inn where I’ve rented a room for us for the night. While in the inn, I play the music box I was given by Thrimbar after we returned the first time from the stronghold through the well while I forge two more purchase orders for masterwork cold iron daggers. The music from the box is soothing – much more so than it would be if it was a normal box.

In the morning, I return to the Godsmen’s compound. The guard at the gate is leery of me, but takes my purchase orders. He quickly looks them over and discards one as the forgery it is, then passes the other two off to another guard who takes them back to a workshop. I ask the guard if I could speak with the craftsman who will be creating my daggers – I want to make sure that they will be crafted with care, making sure that they will be spelling the names properly. My pleas must have softened him enough that he agreed that I could visit the craftsman, with whom I made the same pleas. Of course, I was being earnest, but I also had an ulterior motive. I used my time inside the compound to see what I could see… which was nothing all that damning. Ah well.

I suppose the next group will be the easiest to investigate – the Sensates. En route to their brothel, I ran into Syephos. Apparently, we had the same idea at the same time. Not too much later, we also ran into Ooze, who was also heading in the same direction. So we journey together. Ooze apparently knows where he’s going so we let him lead. When we arrive at the building that the Sensates use, we are greeted by a Succubus, Fall From Grace. She agreed to allow us in. Whether or not she knew what we were investigating, I couldn’t say… until Ooze blurted out that we are under orders to root out all Talos worship and that we suspect the Sensates… so much for discretion.

We are shown to their initiation area – where those wishing to be Sensates are able to get information and meet one-on-one with full members. Ooze takes to playing his tuba, which gives me an idea. When he finishes his song, I pull out my music box and crank it. I then tell Ooze to play along the melody of the box. He worked some of his bardic skill into the song and soon enough, nearly every Sensate in the room was asleep. Those that weren’t, left, forlorn, thinking they missed out on something beautiful.

This was, of course, my time to shine! I took to looting everything of value that wasn’t bolted down. I very much hate that the planes run on currency, but I feel it is very much my goal to get enough currency to make it so I can choose the jobs I take and not be forced to take any job that comes my way. I grabbed quite a bit of loot. I’m not ashamed to say that I made out like a bandit. There was even an enchanted book among their possessions. The kind that I’ve seen mages sell for quite the chunk of jink. Maybe I can turn this book into something useful? Who knows?

Behind one of the doors was a Sensate that is oblivious to anything that is outside of the room. She didn’t notice me until I opened the door. She offered me a curious exchange. I tell her a story, she tells me a story. So I told her a story. I told her the story of the inciting incident that got me banished from Shrak’at’lor. That the gang I was running with stole confidential information so that we could disseminate it among the people of the fort. We were looking for the truth behind the trade caravans.

Her story in payment spoke of a great protector of a village. The protector, though mighty, was cruel and mean-hearted, such that she did not care who she hurt. The villagers of the town, outraged by her slaughtering one of their own came up with a plan. One night, they ran to the protector and told her that a dragon was ravaging villagers just outside of town. The villagers lead the protector to a cave. Inside the cave was a lonely mirror. Turning around, the protector looked to the villagers to ask them where the dragon was. As they sealed the protector in the cave, all she could hear was “look in the mirror.”.

The Sensates appear clean. We were allowed to leave without harassment. Now we are left with only one real group to investigate. We just hoped that they weren’t the target, as they would be the most obvious. The Anarchists.

View
Sweet Soil
A Tale of Cake or Death

Syephos

I was raised by migrant worker halfings. For us, life consisted of making semi-permanent dwellings, setting up a farm, and fixing various things the locals needed fixed. Some knew various crafts they would sell among the surplus food produced. We’d stay in one place for a year or two usually, until most of what needed fixing was fixed and our other wares lost their novelty. Then the settlement was packed up and we’d find a new place to live for a while.

As a wee elfling, much of my own time was spent wandering out in the fields with my family, watching them work the land and playing in the dirt when I got bored. Though I became quite the little expert at making mud castles, mud men, and the like, if I do say so myself, other crafts of greater interest to the local villagers rather eluded me. This left me with the great desire to become the best farmer I could to help everyone out, as dirt was something I was already quite familiar with.

For my seventh birthday, I think it was, I received a little hand trowel. Of course to me, it was the greatest dirt-mover/spoon in all the land. Not that my mother much appreciated my attempts to eat my soup with it when I thought she wasn’t looking, but I tried all the same. With this glorious instrument, I knew all things were possible.

The next few days, when I wasn’t building even cooler mud castles or chasing butterflies and crickets, I was planning in meticulous detail my elaborate plot to create the most wondrous garden anyone had ever seen. In the dead of night by the light of my little candle, I wrote them out in what broken Sylvan I could recall from the rare elves that would pass through. Just in case anyone else happened to find my secret plans. It was perfect. I would go out into the forest, careful so no one would see me, search until I found where I wanted to put my garden, plant it, and tend to it when I could. Giddy, I hid the list in my pants and blew out the candle before crawling into bed. Staring at the ceiling more than attempting to sleep, I waited for dawn.

When the sun rose, I followed, as was typical of everyone in the community. While the sun worked, we worked. While the sun rested, we rested. At the breakfast table, I had a hard time not bouncing with excitement, which made eating eggs with a trowel quite difficult. My mother had given up trying to discourage my using it, but washed it off so I’d stop getting dirt in my food. My father just laughed, attributing it merely to the energy of youth.

As soon as I was excused, I tore out the door. No one else was really outside yet, so it would be the perfect time to make my way into the forest without being seen. Just to be sure, I laid down as flat as I could on the ground and awkwardly crawled towards the trees. I occasionally peeked to see if I had been spotted. The few who had wandered out were just giggling to themselves as they prepared for that day’s work. I’ll take that as a no. Encouraged by my stealth, I crept along, ignoring the periodic laughter I heard. Must be a good day for everyone.

Reaching the forest’s edge, I leapt up and hid behind a tree. Peering around it, I saw everyone was still going about their business as usual. Now just to find the perfect spot. I couldn’t say what would constitute the “perfect spot,” but I was sure I would know it when I saw it. One plot somewhere within this forest awaited me, beckoning my trowel closer so that it might sow the garden of the ages.

On I walked, confident that I would find the spot I was looking for. As I traveled deeper and deeper into the forest, I was reassured that by choosing a spot so far in, it would stay safely hidden from my family until I was ready to reveal my masterpiece to them. When walking straight through didn’t seem to be helping much, I began weaving through trees, wandering away from beaten paths and following whichever direction felt right somehow.

At long last, I had found it. There was a perfectly round clearing, despite the otherwise dense trees growing all around it, with a ring of red toadstools along the outer edge. The sun by this point was high in the sky, hidden behind pale grey clouds. I was so happy to have found the spot that I didn’t much care that so much time had passed or notice the wind picking up. Taking a moment or so to celebrate, I danced around in the circle, many butterflies following me all the while.

With that, it was time to start my garden. Looking around, I found various sticks, rocks, leaves, pinecones, and other things to plant. I thought about picking some of toadstools for the same purpose, but they seemed happy where they were. Just like I had seen my family do, I dug a bunch of holes in a line, moving over to make new lines until I had a good square. I separated all my seeds out so I could better plant full lines of each. I placed one of each seed at the head of the rows to mark what was where before covering all the holes and seeds with dirt. I couldn’t wait for my seeds to start growing! How proud my parents would be to see what I had done, all on my own, mind you. Now to water them somehow. There was a small stream flowing through nearby I had taken a drink from periodically, but no bucket or watering can. Maybe that would have been a good thing to bring. Simply using my hands, I scooped up some water and tried to bring it back, but most of it slipped through my fingers before I reached my garden. Even running didn’t help. After a few failed attempts, I used my trowel to carry the water. In its infinite magic, it worked! So long as I walked very slowly, I could get water back to my plants.

When I was finally on the last row, it was becoming very difficult to carry water back. I was getting really tired and the wind had grown so strong, even with the trees, that it often took several trips to bring even a little water back. My stomach rumbled with the sky and I remembered I also forgot to bring any food with me. Drinking water from the stream helped, but my mother’s hot soup and a thick slice of fresh bread sounded better and better by the second. A raindrop hit me square in the nose, followed steadily by others. Home was starting to sound very good indeed, and the rain could finish watering my garden. Giving one final tour around the circle, I left and walked a short ways. Looking around, I kept expecting to recognize something, that the path I had taken would somehow light up in the oncoming darkness. No matter how far I walked or where I looked, nothing was familiar, or maybe everything was. Every tree seemed the same standing next to identical fallen limbs and the symmetrical placement of various hollows and large stones.

Realizing I had no clue where I was, I broke into a mad dash, as if I could outrun the rain pouring down with increasing fury. I willed my magic trowel to tell me which way, clenched firmly under white knuckles, but there was no answer. No pulling in any direction to lead me home. Falling out of my sprint, I collapsed in a miserable heap in the moss and mud. Somehow in the circle I hadn’t noticed my fatigue or hunger too acutely. It was there, but nothing to really worry about. Just another chore upon returning home. Sitting in a growing puddle, I didn’t think I had ever been so tired or starved. Rain fell as icicles as fear stabbed through my heart. How could I ever make it back? So far away, so cold, exhausted. And who could find me? No one even knew I was in the forest.

I don’t know when I might have started crying, but I became aware of it then, of the tears’ faint heat cascading down my face growing numb. I clutched my trowel to my chest and looked around desperately. There had to be some place to hide, some sort of safety to be found. In a flash of lightning, I saw a small hollow in a fallen tree a short ways ahead, further sheltered by an overhang of dirt and roots. Hoping something else hadn’t already made such a perfect little spot its home, I scrambled towards it, doubting I’d find a better nook to hide in.

Nothing of particular concern lurked within, so I curled up as tightly as I could against the back, trying to find what warmth I could. Rain was still splashing in, no matter how much I pressed against the wooden wall behind me. Hearing it creak, I looked to see that beyond the rotting wood was solid dirt. The tree must have fallen and in its rot conformed to some sort of slight hill. Once again wielding my mighty trowel, I dug at the back wall, tearing out much of the remnants of the rotting tree and burrowing into the soft dirt beyond. Its sweet smell and residual warmth called me in like a loving embrace.

Safe at last from the spray and slightly warmer, I remembered my hunger. I couldn’t recall seeing anything edible on the way out here and even if I had, I doubted I had the strength or orientation to find it. All that was in this hollow was rotting wood, the occasional insect, and dirt. None of them sounded appealing, but I needed to eat something. My stomach refused to be ignored and hurt terribly. Unsure of what to do, I closed my eyes and pressed closer into the dirt when the sweet smell hit my nose again. Opening my eyes in weary confusion, I stared at the soil as well as the lightning outside would allow. Has dirt always had such a pleasant aroma? I had been around and in it as long as I could recall, so it was hard to say. So pleasant and familiar…. I hadn’t cared too much about getting some dirt in my food due to eating with my trowel, grittiness aside. Cautiously, I reached up and grabbed some of the dirt. It felt like moist cake in my fingers. Picking through it to make sure there were no bugs, I took a tentative nibble. Not quite cake, but not bad. After another bite, I grabbed my trowel, taking a fair scoop out of the wall. Quickly scanning for bugs with my fingers and deeming it safe, I nearly inhaled my newfound dinner. The more I ate, the more cakelike it seemed to become. Stomach satisfied at last, I curled up again in the recess for what warmth was there to be found, soon falling into an uneasy sleep to the constant pounding of rain outside.

When I opened my eyes, bright light stabbed through them, awakening a wide variety of pain erupting throughout the rest of me. I was so tired and sore, all I could think about was sleep. Closing my eyes again against the blinding light, I was nearly asleep when I hear voices calling outside. I couldn’t think offhand who might have been out there, but had the feeling that being found would be a good thing. With all the strength I could muster, I extended my arm towards the opening, raising it as high as I could and letting it fall to the ground repeatedly, the metal of my trowel clinking on the hardening soil and rocks. I tried calling out to them, but my voice was maybe a whisper. I kept at it anyway, knowing I couldn’t let these people leave without finding me. I couldn’t understand why not, why just sleeping could possibly be bad, but the need persisted. I watched my arm slowly moving up and down, the movement surreal to my blurry vision. At least the light didn’t hurt my eyes so much anymore, though I winced whenever the sun reflected off the tip of my trowel. The voices grew closer and hands soon pulled me from my shelter. A blissfully cool hand rested against my forehead and I prayed it’d never leave. The voices sounded upset, but I couldn’t make out words. I might have heard my name. Pressed against someone’s chest, I flew. Looking up I saw flashes of tan skin, brown hair, and so much green. The face looked down at me and said something in a kind voice. I closed my eyes and tried to move closer to them somehow, soon knowing no more.

When I woke up again, I was in my bed with my parents seated on either side of me, holding my hands. My mother began crying, kissing the hand she held and my check as soon as she noticed my eyes had opened. My father squeezed my other hand, fear, anger, endless relief, and maybe other emotions battling behind his eyes. He placed his hand upon my forehead, frowning. Removing the cloth from my forehead, he disappeared momentarily, returning with a cooler one. My mother went to retrieve a glass of water, hot soup, and some bread before helping me eat and drink. Satisfied, I fell back asleep.

My next waking was clearer and less pleasant than the previous. I felt better, until my parents and as many others as could fit in the room began asking me questions. Why had I ventured so far into the forest alone? Didn’t I realize the danger of my actions? Did I know how lucky I was they were able to find me? As the questions kept pouring in, I did my best not to cry again, remembering my reasons and the heartache at where they lead me. My happiness at finding the perfect spot and just wanting my parents to be proud of me. I think they noticed, guessing my thoughts, and the room grew unbearably quiet. My mother took my hand once more in hers, only slightly larger than mine, and very kindly started over, asking simply why I had gone into the forest. From there, the tale spilled forth. I don’t know if I could have stopped at any point had I wanted to. She did nothing but smile and encourage me to continue, her hand still closed over mine. My resolve gave out halfway through and I began sobbing despite desperate efforts not to when I told her of my greatest triumph turning into a night of terror, feeling the gaze of much of the community upon me. When I finished, she kissed my forehead and said we’d talk about it more later. For now, I should rest. I asked for my trowel back and someone brought it forward. Clinging to it, I fell into dreams where forests are safe havens, filled with faeries dancing in rings of toadstools red.

Eventually, we had a long talk about the dangers of going off alone, but nevertheless they promised to teach me more about farming if learning was that important to me. I could even have my own little plot near the house to take care of, though I was sad to learn that planting rocks and sticks didn’t have the effect I thought it did. Since then, I’ve continued to nibble on dirt occasionally, noting different flavours and consistencies in different areas. The taste still manages to comfort me somehow, despite the gritty texture.

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Investigation and Molestation
I really don't like Sensates...

Syephos

The stronghold, compound, whatever you want to call it, is a really big building for just two people, two owls, and a sponge to inhabit. So quiet….I think I had forgotten what quiet sounds like, just the soft patter of rain outside, echoing through these vast, lonely halls….adrenaline fading, the realization of what had happened to our group could better sink in. Ooze was gone, and Zariel…it was hard to say. Sadness…loneliness…how have I dealt with them in the past? Bob’bi was still around, somewhere, though with how quietly she moves more often than not, it was easy to forget I wasn’t alone. Aside from my owls, but they can’t quite carry on conversations.

As desperate as I was growing for communication, some sort of interaction, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to Bob’bi. I didn’t want to face her yet. The gnome, her plans, Alma’s pain…rain is good to reminisce to. Something about the gentle spray just coaxes memories out, for better or worse. Terror-filled nights lost in the woods, dirt my only protection, losing my family to become a tool for humans, watching everything burn, only to be pulled away at the last second and find myself in the company of the strangest group I’ve ever seen. The tallest, too. Growing up I was so tall next to everyone else. And then there’s Ooze. We may not be the closest group of people ever, but we were a group, weren’t we? Were…now there’s just the rain. There’s no tuba playing. Zariel isn’t yelling at Bob’bi and I for killing things or glancing periodically at Alma and giving praise to Shialla. I suppose I could keep coming up with creative ways to tell Ooze he should consider bathing more, or at all, but he’s not here to pretend I would actually tell him. If Bob’bi is practicing cool acrobatic tricks, I can neither see nor hear her. I couldn’t help but feel I was losing everything I had precariously found…

My thoughts continued to ramble incessantly as I sat along a wall, my face buried in my knees. Aislyn sat on the ground, nudging my leg gently with her beak. I could feel her concern, her gaze. Even Alma was worried, though he didn’t try to touch me. His consideration made me smile briefly. Before, he cared for my health only for Aislyn’s sake. Emotional state was something of another matter. I wrapped my arms tighter around me knees, gripping my shoulders. What now? Investigate the factions with Bob’bi and hope she doesn’t sell Alma to the highest bidder? Try to defy Fate and just leave? Fling dirt at Zariel until he wakes up? That last thought made me smile again. I should probably get up. Darkness feeds thoughts and thoughts can be cruel. Lifting my head, I blinked at the light. Aislyn perked up, immediately hopping up onto my knees and nuzzling my face. I ran my fingers through her feathers and glanced over at Alma. I think he realized I had noticed his concern and was trying to pretend he hadn’t been distressed in the least. Chuckling at his efforts, I stood up, stretching lightly. Aislyn landed on my shoulder as soon as she could, having taken flight as I began to stand. Alma waited until it looked like I was prepared to leave. I nuzzled the bottom of his right wing quickly before heading out. Good thing he’s too tall to peck me while sitting. It’s like having one of my parents riding around on my shoulder.

Now if I were a chaos-cuddling githzerai, where might I be? Not moping in the corner like a loser, that’s for sure. Maybe plotting world domination, but not moping. After wandering for some time, I found her in the chamber of blood. I still didn’t like the feeling of the room. So much evil in one space doesn’t dissipate with haste. I’m not sure what Bob’bi had been doing, but she gave me a rather neutral greeting as I entered. I simply nodded back at her. Should I ask about the gnome now? Address the palpable issue lurking between us? But how to bring it up? I needed to know that Alma would be safe and not much has been done to garner trust. Sure, she hasn’t tried to slit my throat in my sleep yet, but that’s not terribly reassuring.

While I was mulling over what to do, something approached the opening in the wall, soon falling gracelessly with a solid thud. Both investigating, we realized that it was Ooze! How he had returned, tuba clutched in his arms, I couldn’t begin to fathom. Was he even alive? With his strange, greyish skin, it was hard to tell. He could be a zombie. And how did he get the tuba after Bob’bi buried it so deep? Staring in confusion, we debated what to do. He appeared to be breathing fast, raspy breaths. Did zombies breathe? Eventually we decided that letting him explode outside in the rain was probably a bad idea. We dragged him inside and Bob’bi immediately took his tuba, locking it in the secret room that had been left open again. At least it didn’t talk this time.

While Ooze slept (?), his bag started moving. Cautiously, a strange chicken started poking its head out, revealing lizard traits as well. It looked kinda cute in that soulless, I’ll devour your very existence sort of way. Bob’bi promptly stabbed at its head, causing the thing to retreat back inside. I grabbed one of my arrows and stabbed the top of the bag. It could be “cute” in there.

Ooze wasn’t looking very good. Breathing or not, I was starting to lean more towards zombie in my amateur diagnosis. Bob’bi decided to play nurse and feed Ooze some sort of dry rations and poured some water down his throat, likely collected rain water. He immediately started vomiting and screaming in pain. Operation Don’t Make the Orc Explode wasn’t going well. Soon he regained consciousness, though he didn’t seem to quite be all there. He merely asked about his tuba, to which Bob’bi told him she had put it somewhere safe. Appeased, he lumbered off to bed.

Bob’bi then asked me about going back to Sigil. I grew suspicious over what “business” exactly she had to take care of, though there wasn’t anything in particular I wanted to head there for. As much time as I swear had passed already, it had only been five days. I would have to wait another two for the owls’ armour to be ready. Any investigation into the factions could surely wait until then. Upon my declination, Bob’bi also decided to wait. Maybe in two days’ time, Ooze would wake up and be prepared to join us. Not all was what it had been, but it was a start. Leaving the chamber myself, I made myself comfortable and pulled out the large text I was borrowing. Any confrontation could maybe wait until we were back in Sigil. It could be that I’d never hear of the gnome again and was worried for nothing. It seemed unlikely, but hope does unfortunately spring eternal. Such dense content made for slow reading, though Aislyn and Alma couldn’t really understand any of it anyway. Aislyn looked fascinated that these funny scratch marks could mean something to me, looking between the pages and myself, often bobbing and turning her head. Maybe if I were to study magic some more, she could start making out words. Alma didn’t too much like hearing Draconic, but I think he was starting to understand that the language itself does not lead only to pain and death.

About all that broke up reading sessions was occasionally finding that gruel spoon and sleeping. How I’ve missed reading. I wondered if I shouldn’t have picked something more interesting, but it was what I had and more importantly a book. After two days, I was rather tired of gruel. I mixed it with about equal parts of dirt, giving me something rather like warm chocolate pudding with a hint of cardboard. Endlessly better than plain gruel and the dirt gave me energy to remain awake through the long passages in my book. As happy as I was to have so much time to read, I can only read so many pages on tree bark from a plane I’ve never even heard of before.

At some point the little gnome woke up. He speaks strangely now, acting even more docile, if possible. Preparing to return, Bob’bi asked him if he wanted to go back to Sigil and he just cried. I pray she can show half as much compassion for Alma as she seems to for the poor gnome.

As we were about to head towards the portal, Ooze began pleading for his tuba back. Naturally, I’m the only one who can see the door, as was soon pointed out to Ooze. I told him of how the tuba was speaking and that it may be best to leave it where it was for the time being. It was certainly safe in the hidden room. He refused to think about that, caring only to be reunited with his beloved instrument. Unleashing his bardic powers, he told possibly the most painfully beautiful story I’ve ever heard of him receiving his tuba from his parents and it saving his life. I thought of my trowel, my only remaining physical reminder of my own parents. How could I deprive him of such an irreplaceable treasure? But at the same time, if Lothar was indeed speaking through the tuba, I couldn’t possibly let him have it back either. We really didn’t need the archmage poking his nose into our business and following our every move. I tried again to explain my reasoning, but he wouldn’t listen. With a heavy heart, I had to simply leave, needing to be content with knowing at least the tuba was safe. Maybe eventually we could figure out how to get Lothar out of his tuba.

Finally reaching the portal, I opened it for the lot of us. On the other side, the stench was no more. Thank the gods for small favours. Or Bob’bi for removing the corpses. Eh, I’ll thank her when I’m more certain of her intentions. Standing before the door, I remembered we had gotten our scrolls from the temple….the kind I can’t cast…I guess this is what I get for thinking Zariel could just cast it for me…. Bob’bi mentioned that she has some skill that would allow her to cast it for me. It isn’t as reliable as naturally being able to cast it, but she looked confident enough. Maybe I had been eying her more suspiciously thought…or I’m just a paranoid git and it is okay to trust her. About some things. On occasion. When I need to. Gah….either way, I had no other choice now, so I handed over my scroll. She successfully cast the spell on us, but that left the gnome. The whole idea of magic was pretty incredible to him. Digging through his belongings, she found this odd mouthpiece thing that evidently allows one to breathe underwater. That’s sure convenient. I suppose that’s how he arrived here in the first place.

Out the door for more swimming lessons. This time I followed Aislyn’s lead and tried to enjoy the swim. Forget for a moment all that has been troubling me the past few days. Just Aislyn and I, moving about like a couple of land dwellers in water. Seeing the water elementals gliding by, I vaguely wished I could speak Aquan, though I probably didn’t want to hear what they thought of our “swimming.”

Ah, Sigil. Home again, home again. Kinda. I wanted to follow Bob’bi and see what she was up to, but I think she knew that. Well, might as well go get the armour for my owls. Anyone wanting to mess with them will sure have to work for it.

I arrived at Thrain’s, only for him to call me a “lass.” Very friendly of him, but I had the odd feeling that such a title tended to be reserved for women. Noticing the face I was making, he quickly apologized. I suppose to a dwarf, maybe anything without a beard must look like a woman. All that was easily forgotten when he pulled out the armour for my owls and fitted it onto them. They looked bewildered, pecking cautiously at each other’s armour, testing it. Now if I found a way to make them stronger for a more permanent basis, they’d be the most adorable little killing machines I had ever seen. I thanked Thrain for the breastplates and he was still pleased with the notion of starting a line of familiar armour. I mentioned to him the possibility of hiring him to work at the stronghold if we ever get anything up and running over there. Evidently his business has taken a hit as of late, and it’d be nice to help him out. There wasn’t really anything he could do with the opal though he mentioned something about magic. Maybe if I found the right merchant, I could figure something out.

As I was preparing to leave, Thrain stopped me to ask a favour. He said the Godsmen sent too much iron in their last shipment to him and he wanted to return the extra. I had business with them anyway, so returning the iron would be of little consequence. I didn’t think such honesty lived in Sigil, but he assured me he merely wanted to do the right thing. I couldn’t refuse such a simple request and maybe it could help me work my way into the foundry. Thrain feels better about returning the extra iron, the foundry gets their iron back, and I can investigate a little. What could be bad about such a mutually beneficial arrangement?

I was bit nervous to try to infiltrate the foundry alone, should something go amiss. I wasn’t terribly familiar with the Godsmen, or at all really, and didn’t have any way to predict how they might react to my inquiry into their business. I could sure use Bob’bi as backup…or frontup, maybe. I tend to follow her lead and we somehow have become battle buddies, you could say. We flank and kill things while Ooze plays his tuba and Zariel yells at us for killing things. A beautiful system, really. So I can’t quite bring myself to trust her and yet more or less need her around? Oh, what a tangled web we weave. Have I always been so dependent? Neither farming nor being a prize fighter for humans really required anything like this. Well, it’s about time I learned.

I found my way to the foundry, only to see Bob’bi speaking to the guard before me. I considered joining up with her, but decided against it. If nothing else, she appeared to be trying to forge some document right in front of the guard. If, possibly when, that failed, him knowing that we were associated in any way wouldn’t do me any favours. The guard easily saw through whatever paper she presented him and then she left. Moment of truth…taking a deep breath, I walked up to him and smiled. Lying hadn’t worked for Bob’bi, so maybe being honest and friendly would work out. I simply explained what Thrain had told me about there being too much iron in the last shipment and I intended only to return it. Mostly the innocent truth. The guard looked a bit confused, the return of a valuable good not the everyday business. He paused to think a moment before letting me through. Okay, infiltration was going well, just to drop off the iron and look around as well I could. Another guard was to escort me, so I wouldn’t be allowed much time or freedom in looking around, but hopefully I could yet figure out if they had any relation to Talos.

The other guard rather quickly led me to some work area with a pool of molten iron in the middle, in no way interested in any small talk. In the work area, everyone simply went about their forging and casting of various objects. Morale seemed fine, though the work looked hard. If they were being mistreated or had any fear of a lightning deity, they hid it remarkably well. I dropped the iron into the pool before looking around at the workers more. The guard, however, rapidly grew impatient and asked me what I was doing. I apologized, claiming only to be fascinated at their work, never having seen it before. He didn’t question my response, but bade me to follow him back out if there was nothing else I needed to do. In walking the halls both ways, I noticed neither signs nor symbols of Talos, only representation of the Godsmen faction. They could simply be sneaky about their affiliation to Talos, but either way I’d have to come back with a better plan if further digging was required. On my way out, the guard at the gate thanked me for my honesty in returning the extra iron, something a bit rare to find in Sigil indeed. He was actually quite friendly in the end, not very much at all what I might expect to find from a grr faced Talos follower. In the meantime, maybe the other two should be investigated.

The sun was escaping the sky by the time I left. What to do for the evening….I didn’t want to make my way back through the portal, which would require another 500 coppers in breathing spells and finding some lizardman blood. There’s bound to me somewhere around here I could stay for just a night. Maybe they’d let me curl up in the corner at the Temple of Ao? We’re helping them out, after all. Thrimbar isn’t really all that friendly, but it could work. Let him know about the Godsmen, maybe talk to that priest, Fin I think his name was, and see what’s going on with him and Ooze. I don’t think Ooze cares for him as Fin might hope.

Wandering through the darkening city, I made my way to the temple. I ran into Thrimbar just as he was leaving. Evidently Bob’bi had just been by. I wondered what she might have wanted from him, but didn’t ask. I told him instead about what I had and hadn’t seen at the foundry, to which he largely said “Of course it’s not them. That’s why I told you to check out the sensates.” Feeling a bit (lot) sheepish, we discussed books and why scholars are cool for a short while before he left. It’d be nice if he wasn’t so intimidating…or if I was better at talking to people…shooting people in the face is easy, conversing is another matter. Guess I’ve been more of a recluse than I had realized. 20 odd years of little interaction isn’t that long, is it? Glancing over, I saw Fin working on something at his desk. And then left. I’m so wonderfully brave, aren’t I?

Having had enough of investigation into factions and introspection, I went back to Thrain’s shop and asked him if I could stay there. He’s far less scary than the priests and was rather happy with me for returning the iron. As I was hoping, it wasn’t an issue. He had a small area he sometimes sleeps in when he doesn’t feel like returning to his house for the evening. I wasn’t inclined to get mugged, so it was perfect. Before leaving, he thanked me yet again for returning the iron, despite the favour he was now allowing me. What a strange guy to thank me so many times. Maybe it’ll help his reputation or relations with the foundry. That’s a reason to be happy, I supposed. Shrugging, I curled up and read to my owls some more before sleeping. I had left off at a terrible cliffhanger, just about to find out more about the unusual cloud formations in an air plane.

Early the next morning, Thrain returned, again thanking me profusely for helping him, saying I had done him a great favour. Surely giving an elf and his owls shelter for an evening trumps simply returning a small piece of iron? Maybe it’s a dwarf thing. Deciding to continue investigating, I asked Thrain about the Sensates. Apparently they have no leader per say, but I could readily find some to talk to at the Civic Festhall. Sounds like talking my way into and out of things again. Oh Corellon Larethian, grant me the words.

The festhall was significantly larger than I had been anticipating. Walking in I saw a large hall, filled with groups of people conversing. Off to the right were several smaller rooms, many of which held lectures on various skills and classes. I wasn’t standing there gawking long when a man approached me. He was rather friendly, plenty happy to answer my questions about what Sensates do. Evidently their faction strives to experience as many things as possible. Maybe he was didn’t mind answering my questions for the experience of it. I asked him many questions about Talos, probably too directly. Sensates, it would appear, are more inclined to pick a deity, worship them for a while, and then pick another, repeating the process. My new acquaintance here had little interest in Talos, getting struck by lightning being good enough for him. He mistook my inquiry as personal interest, a notion I had a difficult time discouraging without blurting out the real reason for my presence. Fortunately, he didn’t much care who I wanted to follow, as each path leads to an experience regardless of which one might choose. He then very much surprised me by recommending I visit a brothel, where they just “talk.” At first I wondered if he wasn’t mocking me, but he sincerely insisted upon what he had said. He recommended I speak with Fall From Grace, the owner of the brothel. Come to think of it, didn’t Thrimbar mention her before? If I had recalled her name sooner, I could have simply asked Thrain for directions. Though maybe the last thing I need to be doing is asking an old man for directions to a brothel….would it have killed her to name is something else..?

While I was lost in thought, he had begun staring at my owls. Eventually, he asked how I came to have two owls, especially one so large. Not caring to share the gory details, I tried to pass it off as an experience I had felt would be interesting. When in doubt, fall back on what they’re inclined to understand…right? Maybe. He didn’t question my answer, too focused mayhap on his next request: to pet Alma. Hmmm…let a human pet my excessively large, traumatized owl who hates humans…what could possibly go wrong? Thus, I had to decline. He was disappointed, but understood. Or he thought he understood. I don’t suppose most assume that animals they see have been tortured and killed before. I thanked him for his information and left.

Shortly thereafter, I regrettably realized that I never asked for directions to the establishment in question. Maybe I thought it’d be nearby, both involving Sensates? Backtracking to the Festhall, I entered to see the man I had been speaking to had already departed. If he’s off to find another elf with a three foot tall owl, I wish him luck. I guess I was quite lucky the first time to not get surrounded and have everyone shouting weird requests. Most pertained to my owls, especially Alma. The wanted to touch his feathers or beak or have him land on their arm. I considered offering to have him rip their faces off, but that might attract more attention than I really wanted. One man enthusiastically asked me to punch him in the face as hard as I could, a tempting request indeed. I think someone gave up asking and tried touching Alma’s for which he indignantly yelled at them. I swore the requests of phrases for him to utter would never cease. I would have to talk to him later about using his vocal cords in public, or rather not. The last thing I need is word getting out that my giant owl, who already stands out plenty, can also speak the common language. Hooting, hooting is good. Eventually, I managed to get directions out of someone without shooting anyone or removing any faces. I pray I will never have to return to this place…

I finally arrived at Lady Grace’s establishment, only to find it closed for the day. On one hand, I was annoyed, but on the other I was quite glad to not have to talk to any more Sensates for the day. I turned around to find Ooze and Bob’bi walking towards me. Ooze somehow got his tuba back and Bob’bi’s arm was much shinier and more metallic than I recall it being prior. With the irritation from the hordes of Sensates, the building being closed, fear for Alma higher than normal due to him having spoken, I found I didn’t care too much how Bob’bi might take my questioning. I promptly asked her what happened to her arm and what her future plans regarding the gnome were. She excitedly explained with more detail than I had any interest about the “upgrade,” eventually including that once her arm was complete, she had no other plans for the gnome. I expressed disbelief, but she maintained her statement. After possibly staring her down for a while, I conceded. I then asked her to apologize to Alma, which confused her more than what made sense to me. She couldn’t see how her actions could possibly have hurt him, but did apologize for any injury she may have caused. Her bewilderment was distressing enough in its own right. How could she not see the obvious connection? She did, however, honestly seem to mean him no harm. Even a casual drop of his relation to that lab could put him back in the dead book, if owls went there too, with how crazed that gnome is. For the time being, I had little choice but to accept it. Not meaning harm and not causing it are two very different things, but for now he was as safe as I could hope for. Besides, as of late, I feel stronger somehow. My bow feels stronger, like magic pours through it. Maybe I worry too much. I won’t encourage trouble if I can avoid as much, but if I should find it, mayhap it won’t be my owls that need fear for their lives.

Ooze was mad at me for not giving back his tuba, oddly not at the one who took it in the first place. Maybe he was too afraid of Bob’bi to yell at her for it? Regardless, I insisted upon my previous rationalization. He continued to be unreasonable. Why had I missed these people again? Turning towards an inn, I thought of Zariel, hoping he would recover soon. He at least I felt more comfortable around, not so much at the mercy of a githzerai’s whims, if I should come to stand between her and something she desired, and the bumbling stupidity of an orc. As we walked, Ooze continued to grumble at me before eventually falling into a grumpy silence. I wasn’t terribly sorry for refusing to return it to him, regardless of what trouble he had gone to in order to retrieve it. Though I had felt bad for him, having that tuba around must be causing more harm than good.

Arriving at the inn, each shared what they had been up to since we had parted. It sounded like Bob’bi came to about the same conclusion I had about the foundry. Ooze spoke more about how he was able to sell that dragon Thrimbar had given him to Fin for 4,000 coppers. I felt a pang of regret in my chest at his excited words. If I had spoken to him before, maybe I could have helped him see the extent of Ooze’s…affection. Fin seems earnest, though Ooze appears to feel entirely differently, even if based on this incident alone. He doesn’t talk about him or plan to spend any time together so much as just arrange what he wants, running as soon as he can. It saddened me to think he would so abuse the poor man’s love for him. While I may not know too much about appraisal, that dragon couldn’t have been worth nearly so much. I’ll have to speak with him on the matter when I can. If he hasn’t figured out the truth yet, may I find the words to break it to him as gently as possible.

Curling up, I ran my fingers through Aislyn’s feathers as she stood watch. When my hand approached her face, she nuzzled my fingers with her beak, hooting softly. I smiled at what I think was part suggestion part order to sleep. Nearby, Bob’bi started her music box up, the gentle, relaxing melody washing over the room until sleep took my hand and led me away.

The following day, we returned to the brothel as a group. Fall From Grace was expecting us somehow or another. Though she said little on the topic, her relations with Thrimbar appeared strained. Ooze, true to form, began making inappropriate comments to her. I smacked him in the back of the head, needing to jump some, and told him to behave himself. I shouldn’t be surprised he wouldn’t know how to address a lady. I may not be good at talking to people, but I can at least usually figure out what not to say.

Lady Grace gave us leave to explore the area as we pleased. As I walked past her, I noticed an odd aura about her, though I wasn’t sure what it was. I think she noticed my slight pause, smiling and nodding at me. Blinking rapidly a couple times, I returned the gesture and continued on.

Not far down the hall, Ooze began playing his tuba. A woman with a red veil and snake hair exited her room, leaning slightly against the doorway as she listened to Ooze play. Bob’bi walked over and played her music box, Ooze following the tune this time. The veiled woman began dreamily speaking, answering any questions she was asked. Recently there had been a new patron who had rather aggressively promoted Talos to the extent that Lady Grace forbade his return. Possibly too hopeful, I asked if this patron was an Anarchist. She mumbled a noncommittal response before slumping onto the ground, fast asleep. Indeed, nearly everyone was sprawled across the ground, taking deep, slow breaths. Lady Grace poked her head out from around the corner, chastising them for putting everyone to sleep, but thanking them for the new experience regardless.

Bob’bi soon began sneaking around, “relieving” anyone she could of their excess possessions. Sighing at her antics, I merely looked around for anything that might suggest a relation to Talos. I doubted that they were involved as Thrimbar so suspected, but looking couldn’t hurt. There wasn’t much honest activity that could be done aside from looking anyway.

I was looking at the plants in the central courtyard when Bob’bi approached me. She said there was an interesting storyteller she thought I should go talk to, though the odd look on her face made me pause. Whatever story she might have heard, she didn’t quite seem to know what to think about it. Either way, there wasn’t much else to do here. Might as well talk to one of the few left awake. I agreed to go and Bob’bi pointed out the storyteller’s room. Carefully stepping over the bodies littering the floor, I made my way over to the indicated room.

Poking my head into the room, I saw a woman sitting at a desk, scribbling away on some paper, occasionally dipping her pen into a nearby well without looking up. When she didn’t notice me, I simply greeted her. She jumped slightly at the noise, her gaze flying towards me. Surprise fading from her eyes, she soon donned a smile and bade me to enter. As I walked up to her desk, she quickly finished what she had been writing prior to my interruption. Not bothering to set the pen down, she turned back to me, excitement flashing across her face. Awkwardly, I informed her of the ink getting comfy on her nose. Entirely unsurprised, she produced a handkerchief and wiped her face off. Having ink adorn her face seems rather commonplace for her. I wonder why Bob’bi hadn’t said anything. Maybe she hadn’t noticed. She is used to having spots, I should imagine.

With the battle of the ink coming to an end, her gaze again fell upon me as she asked me for a story. The first story that came to mind was when I had been rather young and decided to start my own garden deep in the forest to impress my parents, learning part of their trade on my own. It wasn’t until the sky grew dark and a storm began blowing in that I realized I was terribly lost. I hid in the hollow of a tree with an overhang of dirt and roots, so finding my current love of sweet soil.

All the while I spoke, the storyteller furiously wrote, trying to capture all she could of my tale. When she finished, she thanked me and began telling a story of her own. One day a man walking through the forest was met by a young girl, a sort of faerie or guardian of the forest. She asked the man to stop murdering her trees, but he only responded “what you call murder, I call survival.” Bound to his duty to serve and protect his people, he couldn’t spare the trees. Returning to his home, he found everyone had been turned into wooden statues. Horrified, he confronted the girl. She merely said she had freed him from his duty to the people. Wood fears neither the cold nor absence of food. The man came to happily live with the girl in the forest. Such is the danger of the dutiful man.

When she finished, I thanked her for her story and asked how the man could forgive her so easily for what she did to his people. She replied that he was simply a very dutiful man, putting that above all else. I wondered if this could somehow relate to my companions or myself, but did any of us truly put duty before all else? Before I left, I recommended that she try eating dirt sometime, though perhaps not from Sigil. Laughing, she agreed to consider it.

Leaving her room, I saw Bob’bi heading outside, probably hoping to be out of sight before everyone woke up and questioned the weight of their pockets. I started to follow her when Ooze hopped over to me, oddly giddy. I immediately grew suspicious, as he hasn’t been too willing to talk to me since the incident with his tuba. I questioned him on his sudden change of heart and he waved it off as the simple past. I woman then stepped forward with a hopeful look in her eyes. Refraining from stepping backwards was more difficult than I care to admit to. Evidently she’s always wanted to touch an elf’s ears. Being somewhat of a rarity in Sigil, that’s where I came in. Thank you Ooze for notifying her of my presence……I really didn’t want some strange woman touching my ears. Not the worst part she could’ve picked, but bad enough! “But would it really hurt anything?” I thought cringing. She wasn’t really asking for much and at least it didn’t involve my owls this time. Could I really refuse such a simple request on solely my own possibly unreasonable discomfort? “Yes!” part of me screamed, watching her big eyes staring at me, her fingers twining restlessly together. Ooze towering over us to the side, looking thoroughly amused and pleased with himself. If that sensible part had corporal form, it would have forcibly pulled me from the hall before foolish empathy could agree.

“Too late,” it thought, hearing my affirmative echo in the quiet hall. Without hesitation, she stepped too close, fingers barely grazing the upper edge of my sensitive ears, running up and down a couple times before warm hands enclosed fully over them, thumbs taking the opportunity to caress the back. My fingers twitched, fighting the urge to shove her as far from me as I could, to grab my bow or summon magic to my palm. I stared down at my fists, watching as I clenched them, not wanting to look at the woman in front of me or at what Ooze might be doing, what secrets his face might betray as mine burned. Warmth ghosted over my ears in mockery of a lover’s touch, in the same endless moment so craved by such couples. Slowly, she returned to her previous position and my hands flew to cover my violated ears, shield them, and remove unwanted lingering sensation. I think she said something, but I couldn’t be sure. I asked her not to grope me anywhere else, I think softly. She smiled and said it wasn’t that kind of brothel, but maybe another time. No, no, I think not. Never. I bade her a quick farewell, as was only proper to a lady, regardless of what had transpired. I wanted to say something to Lady Grace, apologize for our presence, following Thrimbar’s accusations, something, but I had had enough. Passing her with but a nod, I exited, trying to force a slow gait and failing. I don’t think I was quite running. That’s something, right?

Curse me, curse my way of thinking, curse my inability to refuse people, curse the sensitivity of elven ears. In my haste, Alma and Aislyn had taken flight at some point, though I know not when. I crouched by the wall near the door, again covering my ears, and took a deep breath of air not perfumed. I’m not sure where Bob’bi was. Probably staring at me with her dark eyes, as she is wont to do. Discerning weakness, wondering idly what broke the elf this time, caring for wellbeing, who knew what it was those eyes saw. The feeling of the unwanted touch almost having faded, I lifted my head and looked at my owls, who had settled near me again. Aislyn hooted when our eyes made contact and I pet the top of her head. She hooted contently, moving so I’d pet along her wing too. I smiled at her before taking another deep breath and stood up, moving my hair off my shoulders for Alma and Aislyn’s perching pleasure. There will be time later to regret my actions. For now, there’s one faction left to check out.

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A Christmas Morning and a Love Lost

Ooze walked blindly on…further and further into the darkness of the deep forest. He felt surprisingly invigorated…too invigorated; and every now and again he found the sting of the sharp stick in his gut as the splinters tore into his flesh. But he was alive, and that kept him moving on and on.

What was this feeling of mistrust in his lord? why had Tubatron failed to see his devotion? Ooze knew that he had some mistakes, but why such harsh treatment? and above all why had Tubatron’s spell failed to get him where he needed to go? Surely a being of such musical splendor would not have blundered. Ooze was dazed, he felt so full of life, and yet at the same time he knew he was dangerously close to losing his consciousness. his mind wandered, he hadn’t thought of home since that fateful day that led him to this accursed place. Had his parents survived that giant wave that seemed to spell doom for the village?

As Ooze thought about his past his hazy mind went back to better days….

It was Christmas day, and in the dark of early morn a young 8 yr. old Ooze ran anxiously down the steep stairs that led to his loft/bedroom in the rafters of his parents humble cottage. at the bottom of the stairs his young hopeful eyes filled with glee as the scene unfolded before him. A large fir tree which his father had chopped down the week before was the most spectacular sight to the young half human in him, so decorated with reds and greens and blues. His father sat in his favorite chair smiling contently as he polished his favorite old battle axe. When his father saw him his smile grew broader and Ooze gazed on in growing excitement as his father reached behind his chair and said, “Got something for ya kid”. Next it was Ooze’s half orc side to be pleasantly awed, for his father was holding up a delicious whole pork by its hind legs. Soon his mother was in from the back room yawning wide but looking happy as always. “Merry Christmas mother!” Ooze said. “Oh Ooze, dear why don’t you put on some clothes before we start with the presents” she said sleepily. “Oh let the boy get on” Ooze’s father replied. His mother gave him her usual loving glare, but seemed to nod in defeat. Without a second thought Ooze dashed for the wonderfully wrapped bulk under the tree and ripped it open with orcish abandon.

what he saw next was beyond what his little mind could find words for. A golden instrument, gleaming in the light of the pale window just behind and to the left of the tree. Its large strong horn was heavy to his little hands, but it was a good heaviness, a solid feeling. “Its called a tuba dear” his mother stated proudly, “I bought it from the strangest wanderer I had ever seen down in the village; I know how much you love watching that brass band that comes to town so…. here we are love” “I….I….thank you mother!” he reverently placed the mouthpiece to his lips and took a deep breath, then blew into the instrument. a glorious sound reverberated through the room, he was too entranced to notice the slight cringe on his mother’s face or the chuckle from his dad. “Just remember dear” his father mused with an ‘I told you so’ sort of look towards his wife, “you brought this on yourself”.

That tuba had since been Ooze’s life, his passion, his pride. it had been with him at every moment, indeed he had found his faith through the trusty thing. and now it was gone. He felt empty inside as he trudged ever on with his mind full of thought….

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The Truth, The Beast, and the Tuba
Wherein lightning strikes and a tuba is buried six feet under.

We were no longer officially in the service of the MercyKillers. At least… that’s what they told us when they kicked us out of their barracks. Never mind the fact that the citizens of Sigil can now freely drink from the wells again. Fat lot of gratitude that got us.

Of course we have been given the task of investigating the Godsmen, the Sensates and the Anarchists. We can always start investigating those organizations as Thrimbar asked. I have lived without shelter before, but I’m quite sure my companions have not. This thought is confirmed as it is suggested that we return to that pocket plane to claim it as our own.

I know that we must return to it. I want to return to it. But, I would like to take the time and find the right supplies first. Seeds or seedlings of the rarest herbs would do quite nicely. I could grow them in bulk and reap the profits as they multiply before my eyes. An entire orchard springing up overnight! I’m also quite sure that the lightning could be harvested somehow…

Everyone else is intent on leaving swiftly. Ooze decided to take off to the market where mages sell their wares. I have a different idea. I sought the temple closest to the well that we will be using. See-eh-fos apparently decided to follow me for the acquisition of our waterbreathing spells. We each purchase two – one to be cast at the well and a scroll for the return journey. The well was the meeting place and we all gather there and receive our spells. Zariel apparently had the wit of us all as he had acquired a bladder filled with lizard man blood.

We open the portal and make our way. The pocket plane for Sigil’s drinking water is much calmer this time. While there is still a current (as there would have to be, seeing as how water is being removed and then replenished), it isn’t anywhere near as swift as it was the last time. It actually made for a rather nice and easy trip to the bunker.

Entering the bunker, we realize the mistake we made when we were here last: the corpses we left behind had started to rot. Apparently I am the only one without the fortitude to keep my most recent meal from escaping me, as I wretch into a corner. This simply will not do. If we are going to be using this passage frequently, we either need to find a way to cover the stench or remove the source. I chose the latter option and dragged the bodies with me through the portal that Ooze had opened.

Once through the portal, I began to be nervous. That little Gnome never told me how long he was going to take or when he was going to bother getting here. I really would not like having to try and explain why he’s here…

Of course, everything changed when we entered the laboratory. Fresh blood all over the place! This blood was odd though. It has a kind of shimmer to it. Must be some kind of latent magic left in the blood. The concentration of the spray seems to increase closer towards the cathedral-esque room on the other side of the barracks. Yet, there was something odd about the barracks, too.

I wasn’t the only one to stop and look where the secret door is. Ooze stopped too and asked the question out loud – did we leave the secret door open or shut? I was quite certain we had left it open. We didn’t need to close it and knowing where it was for later could have been… useful. Of course, neither Ooze nor myself could actually SEE the door, so we had to get See-eh-foss to open it again. As soon as he did, a sword came through the opening, trying to blindly stab at the Elf. Ooze reached in and pulled out… a Gnome. Crap.

He wasn’t the same Gnome I had made my agreement with, but he still seemed to know who I was. Then he started screaming. He was screaming about how there was something out to kill him. That his boss was likely already dead. That we needed to get out… I really wish that he wasn’t looking at me this whole time. It’d be nice to be able to bluff my way out of this. Especially since Druids really don’t care for it when intelligent species mess around with nature and experiment on less intelligent creatures… and then there’s the Elf, who REALLY doesn’t seem to be happy right now.

What choice did I have? I have to try and lie my way out of this. A half-truth, yes. A half-truth. I tell everyone that I hired the Gnome to come by and clean out the place – the removal of the corpses, yes. I don’t feel the need to explain that he wanted to research the bodies, find out how they came to be so… mutant? Freakish? Unnatural? No need to tell them how I managed to find him.

Apparently, the only one I didn’t convince was Zariel. Crap. I have seen him work with the power of his deity. He has kept me from death. Fine. Small details. I explain how I found the Gnome. I explain that the Gnome was interested in the bodies. That he and I had an accord that this plane was ours, but he could have the corpses. I didn’t reveal anything else to the Gnome about this place.

I know that the others are less than happy. This Gnome here is still panicking. Something about his panic must have brought out a sadistic streak in Ooze as he grabbed the Gnome and thrust him through the door to the cathedral. The poor Gnome was already traumatized and Ooze just threw him into the next room! The poor creature pleaded with Ooze to open the door. Eventually he went silent. Ooze asked him what was on the other side – what was waiting for us. All that the Gnome could say was “big”.

Ooze’s sadistic streak aside, we open the door and enter the cathedral. The Gnome already knew we weren’t going to open the portal out of here for him. He knew we didn’t have the resources to open it more than once. Taking my assurance that I would do all I could to protect him, the Gnome agreed to stay with us. Ooze, on the other hand, pushed the poor thing in front of us as far as he could. I eventually got Zariel to agree to let the Gnome ride his kammel.

We let Ooze lead the way. He was following something that apparently only spell users can see. We ventured out into the storm. The rain is particularly invigorating. I must remember to obtain more and store it in waterskins. As we came upon a forest, the storm abated. The clear skies are particularly beautiful here. Again, when the skies clear you can see how rapidly the plant life grows here. Anyway, we came upon some kind of burrow that looks to have been destroyed and dug up. Now, however there are distinct traces to follow.

So, follow them we do. Eventually, we find what we’re looking for. To even try and describe this beast is quite the feat. It is some kind of amalgamation of multiple creatures. It has several sets of mis-matched wings; multiple limbs, none of them matching; a tail; tentacles; and it is big – VERY big. The strangest part, to me, is the two glowing spheres – one above each shoulder (for lack of a better word). I took a quick step behind a tree and ready my dagger. I can hear the beast turning towards us. Ooze, on the other hand, simply grabs his tuba and begins playing.

The tune he plays is soothing, and, thankfully, not directed towards me. The beast has fallen prey to the song. This has given me an idea, or, rather, the ability to investigate the spheres. Something about them is bothering me…something I remember about positively charged planes… AH! That’s right! These spheres are creatures composed of positive energy. Mages have a tendency to try and capture them to fuel creations – golems, items, abominations… They transfer their energy to the host, healing it… Looks like they have to die first then!

The creature took no notice of me as I scaled its back. It wasn’t until I got near to the energy creatures that anything took notice of me. Suddenly I was struck by the sphere I was approaching. It shot an energy bolt at me. I now know how badly it would hurt if I were to remain exposed to the rain on this plane for too long. This apparently broke the spell the music had over the beast as it launched an attack on Ooze. I’m keeping my focus on these spheres.

The spheres are ethereal, as I learned with my first attack. I can feel the damage of my blow, but I can also feel where my attack slipped through… I can also feel the pure energy they’re made of charging my dagger… Siayphos must have sent his owls to assist my efforts as the larger one that we rescued? revived? came to help, flanking with me. It took another two hits of my own before the sphere dissipated. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am not in very good shape, but there IS one more sphere to deal with… I can always just imagine it is an Illithid… that might help.

The second one is felled faster with the assistance of some excellent shots from the Elf. I’m in pretty bad shape at this point… yet it keeps getting worse. One of the tentacles from the creature’s back reached up and grabbed me. It tried to squeeze me, but thankfully I’ve trained to get myself out of situations like this. I managed to slip out of the grasp of the tentacle, but I was quite high off the ground. I’m in a very sorry state. I fumble my tumble and hit the ground. Hard. Or, as fate would have it, not so hard after all. In fact, I think hitting the ground caused a mild release of the energy in the soil.

As I get to my feet, I hear, what is unmistakably the Gnome that I had contacted about removing the bodies and getting an upgrade to my own hands. All I could hear was his screaming “watch your head!”… which, surprisingly, gave me an idea… The storms here come frequently… Metal attracts lightning strikes… Stick something metal in this beast’s head and wait for the lightning… yeah… my dagger… in its head…

The kammel, Rossenantay is behind the beast, near where I am. I sprint at him. I jump up onto him and feel him buck at the same time, spring-boarding me up farther than I could have alone. The boosted jump got me up to one of the tentacles, which I again use to jump further up the beast. I use my momentum and gravity to stick the dagger in the creature’s head, but lose my grip on the dagger and fall forward in front of the beast.

This time I stick the landing. I look up and see the Gnome holding one of his hands up and shooting lightning from it at the dagger I stuck in. He missed the first shot, but made the second, temporarily paralyzing the beast. Where’s Ooze? Where’s Zariel? All I can see besides the Gnome is some kind of fleshy-looking blob… which is kind of disturbing. It has begun to rain again, as I had hoped it would. I yell at the Elf, telling him to do what he can to entice the lightning to strike the dagger planted in the skull. I can’t make out his response. But it doesn’t matter, as the naturally-occurring lightning struck my dagger and exploded the head.

I tracked my dagger and returned to see that the bulk of the corpse had fallen on top of the fleshy blob, which I am informed is actually Zariel AND his kammel… what will this mean for them? The Gnome is taking notes. I suggest to him that he move the corpse of beast so that it doesn’t crush Zarinante. He obliged by shifting the corpse for us – single-handedly – with his enhanced hands. It is also at this point that I’ve learned that Ooze was absorbed into the belly of the beast. My dagger appeared effective earlier, so I got to cutting.

Whilst I was cutting, the Gnome was gathering the pieces I hacked away – collecting them as samples, maybe? Anyway, after a few minutes, I found Ooze’s tuba, but no Ooze… then again, there’s not sign of the other Gnome that was absorbed, either. Ah well. Ooze was a good companion. Least I can do is bury the instrument in his honor.

As I grasped the tuba, I heard a voice coming from within… it was the voice of Lothar. I ignore what I’ve heard and even tell him to shut up as I start digging a hole. Siyefous offered me his trowel – a small instrument, but better than nothing. Even the Gnome helped to dig the hole, in his own way. As soon as I had dug out roughly six feet, I placed the tuba and filled the hole. Eventually I’ll find some kind of marker to memorialize the spot, but that’ll have to come later. We have a more pressing matter to deal with: Zariel.

Apparently Sieyeaphous has been tossing dirt onto the blob of flesh that is now Zariel and his kammel, Rossinante. We gather his gear, which has fallen from him, and string a length of cloth between us and use it to push / roll his blob back to the sanctuary. Once we get him / them inside the sanctuary, something odd begins to happen – the blood that was splattered all over the walls is being drawn into the blob. I look over to Seayeaphous and suggest that we roll him from room to room just to be rid of the blood. He agreed.

While I COULD use my skills to activate the scrolls we obtained from the temple, the safer thing to do would be to wait and see if Zariel emerges from this… mutative state, as he can use the scrolls without any effort at all (and if I fail, the scroll is consumed!). So, we part ways with the Gnome, who I had a quick word with before he left. I reminded him of our deal and stated that he is now in my debt, for having saved his life. He disagreed about being in my debt for saving his life, but he acknowledged that he still must fulfill his end of the bargain before he left.

All we have to do now is wait…

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Tentacles and Sponges
Gnome Thank You

Syephos

Woke up to a lovely morning and some Mercykillers ever so kindly informing us that we were no longer welcome in the barracks due to having completed the task assigned to us. Thrimbar has his own jobs for us, but he’s not associated with the Mercykillers really and it would be a stretch to say we were every truly welcome. Grumpy grumpy.

Homeless “Fated Ones,” forced to roam the streets…hehe maybe, maybe not. Still having the other side of the portal, recently vacated, we decided to head over there verses trying to stay in Sigil. We could possibly make something useful out of it and I at least have no complaints over our new “home sweet home” not being in Sigil. It’ll take a lot of soap, water, and purification rituals to make that place clean again, but being near that rain again sounded nice. Ah the nostalgia of the sound of rain and smell of sweet dirt. If ever I were to start a garden, that might be the place. I was also looking forward to giving a proper burial to the poor experiments in that terrible lab, if the storm should ever give way for even a short time so I could safely venture outside long enough to lay them to rest. They undoubtedly didn’t deserve their cruel fate. The human corpses I didn’t much care about, but the animals were innocent. Alma grew antsy as I thought about that place, opting to fly above and a short ways behind me. I certainly couldn’t blame him for his reaction. I imagine it’s the last place he ever wanted to return to. Maybe upon cleaning it up and avoiding the lab, it will be different. Aislyn alternated between resting on my right shoulder and going back by her mate, the two of them hooting softly at each other from time to time.

I just followed Bob’bi to a temple near the well to get a spell that would allow us to breathe underwater. Her morals are maybe a little questionable, but she seems to know her way around. Also, she’s kinda freaky looking and that possibly lowers our chances of randomly getting in unfavourable circumstances. So long as she doesn’t try to kindly lighten anyone’s pockets for them.

Easily purchasing two breathing spells each, we went to the well, eventually all assembling there. Alma continued to flit around as well as a bird so large can flit. Some people openly stared, probably wondering what was going on as he is rather hard to miss, practically a small, feathered child with wings. After the spell was cast, he perched once more on my left shoulder, his long talons digging in more than I cared for in his anxious grip. I briefly placed my hand on the middle of his back, lightly petting his brown feathers with my fingertips before walking through the portal.
I’m not sure that the sensation of being in water yet breathing as though there was air is one that someone can quite get used to. My owls seemed quite confused initially to be floating without the use of their large wings. Aislyn soon began to happily swim around, enjoying the water trailing heavily through her feathers. Alma never quite lost the perturbed look on his face, occasionally flapping his wings slowly as the gentle current pushed us all along towards the bunker. I was tempted to embrace my inner merman, though memories of fighting many a water elemental bade me to pay attention yet to my surrounds. We did, however, arrive to the bunker without a hitch. The elementals didn’t seem to be concerned at all about our return.

Upon opening the door to the bunker, the most vile stench assaulted my nose. Silly me, worried about elementals when clearly this smell would be our downfall. While fighting down the urge to gag, I saw Bob’bi run past me and retch in the corner. Water elementals must not have noses, but it was hard to tell. That’s not quite what I was paying attention to in our past, ever so intimate encounters. Ooze soon opened the portal and Bob’bi, upon finishing displacing her breakfast, pulled the bodies of the lizards through, hoping to dispel the offending odor. With any luck, it’ll work.

On the other side of the portal, we appeared in the same small room. Alma flew over to the wall, listening. “Storm rages on,” he reported. Well, there goes my plans for proper burial, at least for a while. I wonder if the sun ever comes out here. Heading over to the lab, Alma became increasingly agitated. It quickly became obvious that something was very wrong. Entering the room, there was blood everywhere, even more than what originally had tainted the room. With dismay, I noticed that all the bodies were gone. Who or what could have taken them? While it hadn’t been a task I had been looking forward to necessarily, I felt obligated to give the poor creatures that much respect and dignity which they had ultimately been denied in life. The only thing I could do was try to figure out what had happened. Maybe they had merely been moved? Chances of such seemed slim, but hoping couldn’t hurt. Somehow I felt like I owed at least this much to Alma.

Casting detect magic, I sensed terribly evil magic lurking within the new blood, invisible wisps connecting it to the chamber of blood farther ahead. To my eyes, the blood lit up on the floor as I followed the dreadful trail through the barracks. Realizing the trap door was closed, we paused. I was sure that it had been left open after we had raided the coppers and Ooze got a new favourite spoon. The deformed horse also claims he’s sure the door had been left open. I very cautiously open the door, only to find a terrified gnome inside. Whoever he is, he seems to know Bob’bi. She claims that he’s simply part of a cleanup crew that she found to help restore the place, but I’m pretty sure we could all tell she was obviously lying. Truthfully, she tracked down some crazy gnome to try to get that mechanical arm attached to her, evidently offering up the research here as part of the trade. She sold the suffering of Alma and countless others to a crazed gnome, knowing full well that he intended to use and continue the research. Counting on such for her own grotesque gain. The jovial side of me wanted to joke, to comment that she hardly needs a mechanical arm with how scary the rest of her is, but the rest of me seethed, far outweighing any such trivial play. I clenched and released my fists a few times, trying to remember how to breathe. Now wasn’t the time for this. Now something was still terribly wrong. Maybe, with any luck, whatever tore through here crushed that gnome into more pieces that could ever be counted and the research remains buried, where it belongs.

At some point or another, Ooze caught the little gnome and began trying to interrogate him. I was tempted to lock him back in the room and “forget” he was there for a couple weeks or so…though the only intent this little one seems to have is to exit as soon as he can. Ooze asked it what it saw and it just held its arms out as wide as it could and said “big.” That sure narrows it down. He’s only barely bigger than Alma. An owl. That sits on my shoulder. The doors in this place must seem fierce.

Ooze then picked up our helpful witness and threw him into the cathedral. He screamed, pounding on the door and begging to be let out before all abruptly goes quiet. I might have felt a little bit bad for the guy. This one didn’t seem too bad. Eventually, it gave another pretty useless description, but at least we knew whatever it was so scared of wasn’t in the room. As Ooze opened the door, the gnome tried to stab him screaming “I hate you! I hope it eats you too!” With that, he ran away as fast as his chicken legs could carry him. We were about to enter the room when he poked his head back around the corner, asking Bob’bi and I if he could stay with us or for help going back. Still none too pleased with the gnomes being here, I largely ignored it, instead wondering idly what the skittish thing would do if say Alma suddenly leapt off my shoulder and landed directly in front of him. Bob’bi explained that we didn’t have enough blood to open the portal for just him, but he could stay us and she promised to look after him. Maybe I should have warned him that Bob’bi might sell him if it became convenient.

Entering the chamber of blood, there was what I can only think to describe as a beacon of magic. As if the new blood coating the walls, the evil magic, or the gnome’s panic weren’t worrisome enough, this certainly promised trouble; trouble that seemed to have left a train out the hole in the wall, leading deep into the forest beyond. We needed to follow it. That much was obvious. What might be waiting at the other end wasn’t a terribly pleasant though. Whatever could do so much damage was bound to be much larger and stronger than elementals and poor experiments. Well, there were four of us and past trials hadn’t killed us yet. Seven, including my lovely owls and the deformed horse. Might as well find it before it finds us.

When the gnome realized that we were going out after Big Evil Guy Not To Be Messed With, it started shrieking again. So much noise from something so small…given the choice between tagging along with Bob’bi to protect him and waiting alone, it decided, more or less, to come along. Something about this gnome seems to have caused sadistic tendencies to form in Ooze, or to bring them out more. He looked ready to kick the gnome the entire way there rather than leaving him behind. He probably would have been safer back in that secret room. The offer to let him ride the yellow horse seems to have helped. Oh well. One must drink the poison he chooses.

Outside, the rain was most welcome. The energy from this blessèd water gently tugged away at the rage tinged with betrayal swirling in my chest, washing it all away for the time being. I still remembered the cause perfectly, but the reaction was kept at bay. I could breathe again and the fresh forest air did me some good. Aislyn and especially Alma were relieved to be out of that place, despite out intended destination. Regardless of whatever else she might be, Bob’bi was useful to have in a fight and a fight is what we’re inclined to get on this path. Ooze chattered pretty endlessly about what he was seeing, also having cast detect magic. I could still see the magical trail just fine, so I tuned him out and enjoyed the scenery. Everything just seemed…better somehow. I was aware that we had been walking for quite a while, but felt no fatigue. Rather, I felt I could walk endlessly without issue. The colours of the dense forest grew brighter, clearer and my owls happily flew about in the droplets. If things don’t work out with the rest of the group, maybe I could find a way to live out here, hopefully without exploding. That can ruin a nice day pretty fast. The rain gradually eased up, allowing the sun to shine down from behind the clouds, casting a glorious rainbow across the sky. I don’t recall the sun ever looking so perfect before or sunlight feeling so pleasantly warm on my damp skin. I watched in fascination as the grass began growing longer before my eyes. Still the trail glowed on.

Approaching the edge of the forest, the ground began to grow steeper. Soon we came across some type of burrow with odd holes in it, like something brutally tore the inhabitants out. My owls then heard a scream in the distance. Sounds like we found our fight. I considered trying to identify the sound, but it would take longer than it was worth to page through the massive book. Instead, we simply continued on. It wouldn’t take long for our eyes to do the identifying.

Entering a clearing we saw a huge, blue, tentacled beast somehow attaching other animals onto itself. Two small, luminescent orbs floated a short ways above the hideous thing. The gnome looks up in utter terror, shrieking wildly and trying to take off on Zariel’s horse before passing out. Bob’bi pulled out a dagger and hid behind a tree. I was about to ready my bow when Ooze, true to form, began playing his tuba. The beast began staring intently at Ooze, fascinated by the sound. I paused, not wanting to break the trance of sorts it seemed to be under as it began swaying slightly, happily listening. The gnome woke up again and Ooze kicked it to silence him, though the beast paid it no mind.

Meanwhile, Bob’bi snuck around behind the fiendish creature and began to scale its back to reach the orbs. Upon her attacking the orb, it retaliated, causing bursts of energy to flood out of her where the shots connected. The spell broken, the beast roared to life, its sights set on the owner of the illustrious tuba. Bob’bi tends to have a pretty good idea about where to start, so I sent Alma up by her where they flanked one of the orbs. My precise aim can be both a blessing and a curse sometimes. One on hand, I was confident I wouldn’t hit Alma. On the other, I couldn’t pretend an arrow accidently lodged where Bob’bi’s nose ought to have been. Alas. Arrows to the face have solved so many other problems before.

Finishing off the orbs, I began firing at the rest of the monster. I saw what looked like a sword briefly poking out between the plates on the tentacled monstrosity‘s chest out of the corner of my eye. Bob’bi then was snatched up by the beast’s tail and Zariel was also struck. Alma moved on to swooping at it, but the beast was thrashing so wildly he couldn’t seem to make contact. Looking over I noticed to my horror that Zariel had begun to glow and his skin became translucent. Below its thin protection, his heart visibly beat. Something seemed to have exploded as another gnome erupted out of the beast’s chest, screaming “watch your head!” “He’s alive!” the other gnome yelled, running up. Evidently noticing the gaping hole only slowly closing, the beast reached out with a tentacle, catching the smaller gnome and plugging the aperture with him. “I’ve got you, buddy!” Ooze ironically called after the gnome he’s done nothing but torment, trying to pull him back out. Bob’bi pulled some crazy acrobatics, jumping off the horse and flinging herself up onto the beast, stabbing it in the head while yelling “watch your head!” Mayhap this is a common gnome greeting? Over to the side, Zariel’s bones started poking out and his yellow horse, finally noticing something was amiss, ran over, only to fall upon him.

While I wanted to be able to do something for Zariel, there was still our lovely tentacled acquaintance to attend to. Alma still wasn’t having any luck hitting it, though seeing what was happening to the other two, I didn’t mind too much. My arrows luckily hit from a safe distance. The gnome shot at the dagger in its head but missed. I may need to study more magic. Something to hold this thing still would be quite useful. Ooze, refusing to release his “buddy,” ended up getting swallowed as well. The gnome fires again, this time hitting and paralyzing the beast, who knows doing what to Ooze within. My next arrow thudded into its eye, causing it to spasm. Nearby, Zariel and his increasingly deformed horse began screaming as they seemed to be meshing together. Lightning from the storm that must have started up again at some point struck the dagger again, causing the beast’s head to explode. I raised my arms to shield myself from the blast, looking up to see the beast slump forward onto the Zariel mixture. The battle was over, but so much had yet to resolve. The gnome lifted the body off them with his mechanical arm, likely out of interest of cataloguing the changes, not out of any concern. Unsure of what else to do, I prayed for Ooze. He may have been half orc, but he still fell in battle and deserved that much.

Distressed at the loss of Ooze, as dark as he was becoming, as well as Zariel’s confusing state, I went off to the side with my owls. There was no knowing if Zariel would survive whatever was happening and with Ooze gone, that would just leave me with Bob’bi…and the gnome, if she had any plans on trying to keep that demented thing around. Still none too pleased with Bob’bi and certainly not the gnome, I munched on some dirt and tried to once more enjoy the constant spray of the rain. The dirt was indescribably delicious, I swear akin to the most decadent of chocolate pudding, if not better. Aislyn tilted her head some, watching my behaviour in confusion before taking a hesitant nibble at the dirt. I don’t know that she appreciated it quite the same as I did, but I smiled at her attempt anyway. Alma didn’t seem to know what to think of my choice in sustenance. Bob’bi openly stared, though I didn’t expect her to understand the fantastic taste of high quality dirt.

Standing up, I felt lighter, somehow faster, more agile. It must have been some sort of residual effect from the dirt. Feeling a bit better, I walked over to Zariamel. They seemed to be stabilizing some, but were still rather formless. I tried to touch them to see what would happen. Their skin was spongy and my hand began phasing through them. I quickly pulled it back, looking over my hand, occasionally glancing back at them. Nothing seemed to have changed. Curiously, I picked up some dirt and dropped it on The Sponginator. The dirt rested on top of their “skin” momentarily before it was absorbed. I tried it again to the same effect. Well….such fine dirt couldn’t possibly hurt, right? I took out my belovèd trowel and began shoveling dirt onto them. At some point Bob’bi found Ooze’s tuba and seemed to be having a conversation with it. And she thinks I’m weird. Ah, well, maybe the tuba was actually speaking, or someone was speaking through it. All Bob’bi would say was “shut up, Lothar,” which Mr. Tuba didn’t seem to appreciate. She went to bury it and I lent her my trowel, which, unlike the silver dagger, I was going to be given back. Not sure why she was burying the tuba rather than Ooze, chattiness aside, but I didn’t ask. I suppose it’s less gruesome than Orc a la Crispy. After digging a nice little moat around Zariante, which the rain happily filled, they seemed to be thinking about picking a shape and sticking to it. They were, however, still squishy like a weird mass of dough. Maybe now cookies and cream dough with all the dirt.

After Bob’bi finished with the tuba, I took back my trowel. Now to get back without touching Mass Not Us…the rain was possibly helping or possibly preparing to cause them to explode. Wrapping them up in Zariel’s clothing and various possessions, we began dragging Mr. Cook and Lieutenant Cream back towards the compound. Once again, I was grateful for the rain, so despite the weight I did not fatigue. Call me crazy, but I skipped the horse dragging portion of my training with the humans.

Finally returning to the compound, we deposited Soggy McSponge in the lab, as there was the most open space there. Aislyn and Alma then began flying around in a frenzy as Alma pointed towards the wall and shrieked “blood.” Carefully watching the blood, I noticed that it was beginning to move, gravitating towards the conjoined twins on the ground. When the blood made contact, they absorbed it like they did the dirt and probably would have my hand if I had been too careless. I wonder what would happen if I were to promote a prolonged hug between them and the gnome. Soon all the blood in the room had been absorbed and His Spongness remain unchanged. Bob’bi then proposed rolling them around the entire compound to clean up all the blood. I wasn’t so sure that such was a good idea, though the evil magic seemed to have dissipated and isn’t that what sponges are meant for? I still felt bad for using them in such a fashion, but after everything else, hopefully some more blood would hurt. With that, Zariante the Bloody was left once again in the now cleaner lab. Now all that was left to deal with was some debris and the gnome.

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Story Time
Syephos reads to Aislyn and Alma

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Back to Sigil
Where the plot doesn't advance much, but much fun is had.

Most of us are in bad shape. The blood from the exploding pool burned everyone else on contact. We search the building, finding cache of treasure behind a secret door found by Syephous. Syephous also beat me to grabbing a lizard man corpse and letting the water elementals back through to the pocket water dimension. So I went back to the corpse of the hairy creature. Looking at the arm with the metal replacement for a hand, I decide I want to take it. Who knows? It may come in handy.

Carving off the arm at the shoulder proved harder than I thought. I couldn’t quite manage the metal rope that ran through the middle of the arm itself. I know it to be damaged somewhat, but seeking someone out who can repair it should be simple, if we ever manage to get back to Sigil.

We decide to look outside a bit, see if there is anything out in the storms that can help us. The rain has an unusual invigorating effect. In fact, we watched as the various flora and fauna about the land outside the structure grew at astounding rates, only to be burned to ash by lightning strikes… An enterprising person would find a way to capture these lightning strikes and sell them off… Perhaps even build a device that captures the lightning, but allows the rain to fall on plants below, creating a swiftly growing greenhouse… A sample. Yes, a sample. I used buckets found in the “surgical suite” to collect this rain water into my water skin.

Still, getting back to Sigil is now the task at hand and the choice is left up to those with magick. Ooze is the one to make the choice, we all follow him back to the portal that brought us from the water sub-plane, where he does the one thing I wish he wouldn’t… he prays to that moronic wizard, Lothar whom he has dubbed “toobahtronn”. A massive burst of energy is expelled from Ooze, and the portal opens – only, the other side is Sigil! Thankfully it isn’t Lothar’s home, but close to it. One of these days, Lothar will be dealt with, and then Ooze will see he is not worshiping a deity, but a mad megalomaniac.

…Still, we are back in Sigil! Our first duty is to report back to Lt. Orag of the Mercy Killers. After that, we should probably try and get in touch with Thrimbar at the temple of Ao.

No sooner than we arrive at his desk, than Orag’s jaw dropped. He succinctly expressed his astonishment by claiming he presumed he wouldn’t be seeing us again. Still, here we are. He scratched his head nervously as he told us that the station wouldn’t be able to give us much as a reward for our services, but gave us what they had – a paltry sum of coppers. He did, however, take us straight to Thrimbar, who had been anxiously awaiting our return.

We told Thrimbar of our varied accounts of what happened, which included the acts of torture and experimental surgery on helpless woodland creatures; worship of Talos; and the poisoning of Sigil’s water supply. Our tales impressed this High Priest, and hearing of the paltry sum given to us by Orag, opened up the coffers of the temple and granted us a larger sum of jink and three works of extraordinary craftsmanship. I personally was gifted a jeweled music box. Ooze made the unfortunate faux pas of asking how much this “crap” was worth…. right under Thrimbar’s nose…. What lack of tact this Half-Orc has! Apologizing profusely for the idiocy of the Bard, I thanked Thrimbar graciously. I even intend to hold onto this gift. Who knows what keeping it will lead to? We were also given our next assignment: to investigate three of the city’s factions – the Godsmen, the Sensates, and the Anarchists.

We were also gifted a monthly stipend, to be turned in to the temple treasurer. I followed Ooze as he discovered (I think much to his dismay) that the treasurer is none other than his drinking buddy (who would seem to have a romantic interest in Ooze). After he turned in his voucher and got his first stipend, I approached the priest. I turned in my voucher and, confidentially, told the priest that if there were anything he could ever pass along that was extra, I could give him information about getting in good with Ooze. I even gave him a freebie – metal instrument polish.

After that, we were free to roam the city, as we would be tackling our next assignment starting in the morning. I picked up an enchantment for my armor, checked in with Orag who, thankfully, was able to recover all my stolen possessions. Then, as “dusk” approached, I remembered the severed arm that I brought along to have investigated.
After asking around some, I was told to knock on a given door and to “watch my head”. Sure enough, as soon as I knocked, my reflexes kicked in and I ducked to avoid an axe aimed just high enough to decapitate anyone taller than half my height. The door opened and a gnome looked at me saying "Well, you kept your head anyway.”

He and I conversed about the arm and he invited me in. Not being used to tight spaces, trying to pay attention to him avoiding his own traps was difficult and I accidentally triggered one. After an interesting exchange, he disabled his traps and we made a bargain: he could collect all the corpses and anything else left behind that he wanted and he would give me his enhanced hands. The final part of the agreement was that he would have no claim over the compound.

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Through the Portal, Into the Unknown
Where a Camel beats a Frankenstein Monster, Solo

We discuss our options. As we are doing so, the pools remaining from the defeated elementals coalesce and shoot out, poisoning the waters we traveled to get here. There is only one way now for us all to survive: to try and open the portal that the owl took. I reason with Siyephos – who has the training of a sorcerer. That the key ingredient of the portal was the blood of the lizard-man that the owl had slain, and he agreed. He took blood from the cultist I had slain and smeared it upon the wall and added some of his own magic to the mix and we were able to pass through. I passed through without incident, but as Zariel passed through, his kamel, Rossinannte, comes through with him. Around the neck of the kamel is a necklace of rope and adorning this necklace are three potions sealed with the mark of Shialla. As Siyephos emerged, his owl also was adorned with a necklace containing only one potion. We each down a potion and bask in its effects.
I take notice of the room we are in – a mirror of the room we just left. Painted across the walls is a mural depicting a series of events – a prisoner trapped; the prisoner escaping; the prisoner gaining strength; the prisoner’s return and the violence that that entailed.
This room exits out into another. In this room is written (with what, I dare not guess): “friedum”.
Pounding. We can hear pounding. We open the door leading out. To our right, the hallway ends. To our left, the passage angles awkwardly so that we cannot see very far ahead, but that is where the pounding is coming from.
Siyefous is at the lead, and stops abruptly. He tells us that there are pure water elementals fighting the poisoned ones ahead of us. I deftly weave my way around both Siyephos and the battling elementals. The pure elemental in front of me suffers a devastating blow and splashes to a puddle on the floor. The poison elemental the engages Siyephos. Between us, this elemental is destroyed. As we look around, the remaining pure elementals have dispatched their adversaries and swiftly bypass us to go back the way we have just come.
As I investigate this room, there are several oddities. This room was obviously not intended for the instruments in it. There are several different writings here. On the walls is: “paene” (pain) and “noledge” (knowledge). Written under the only table is: “deeth 2 hoomans”. We each collect a scalpel, and Zariel cobbles together a surgical kit, further illuminating what the random animal bodies in this room were subjected to. Siyephos and his owl search and find a corpse of an owl that they find particularly troubling. They take the owl corpse over to the table and asked Zariel to investigate what was done to the poor creature.
My attention focused elsewhere, I pay very little attention to what is going on behind me. I do catch phrases like “vocal cords” and “bigger brain”. What REALLY catches my attention is the sudden glow of brilliant light behind me. I turn just in time to see that Zariel has been praying to Shialla and that his prayer was answered – hence the light. The owl on the table has been resurrected by Shialla who answered Zariel’s faithful cry for the fate of the wretched creature.
After a few minutes of awe, we continue on to the next room. Standing between two pillars are two lizard-men. I swiftly dash behind a pillar and am followed by Siyephos. I dispatch one, who manages to yell to the other to run. Zariel runs after the fleeing lizard and manages to knock it out using his staff. I suggest that he finish the poor creature, but he instead lashes the creature to the back of his kammel. The door here appears heavier and metallic. Indeed, the hinges squeal as I open the door. Greeting us on the other side, are five more lizards as well as a multitude of animals that are quite hideous to behold. I quickly step behind the door as I frequently have been, and await the creatures’ attacks.
I don’t have to wait long. The patchwork creatures all swarm around me – biting, scratching, clawing. I try to shake them, but it’s harder than just swinging my dagger at them. Then, an unusual creature burst through the door. It is quite hairy and has some kind of metallic construct instead of a hand. I react to its entrance into the room. I can’t say what I hit, but it must have been damaging, as the creature turned its attention to me, raised the arm with the metal construct and then I was hit by some kind of green energy. Needless to say, it hurt. A LOT. There is also still the issue of the swarm of creatures on me. An idea. Stepping away from the hairy brute, I lured the swarm off of me and onto Siyeaphos.
By the time I can recover to a fighting stance, the hairy brute is on the floor and the swarm was dead. There is still the odd arrow flying through the doorway, so I maneuver myself to look without risk. There are a few lizard men still shooting arrows, but hitting nothing. Of the five, two are slaughtered, one was knocked out by Zariel, causing the remaining two to run in fear.
This room… it resembles a chapel… a decayed, crumbling chapel. What was this place? We chased the two lizard men to the door at the end of this chapel-esque room. Zariel lagged behind, tying up the lizard man he knocked out. Beyond the door, is a room. Strung up by chains wrapped around the arms between two pillars is a woman. Human by the look of her. Dripping down from her body is her blood, collecting into what looks like a lethal pool. Beyond that, perched on a throne is the weird owl-thing that we followed through the portal… only, this time I can really see it. In place of claws, it has hands. This is certainly not the only thing different about it.
I know that there are at least two lizard men in here. There is something shuffling in the corner. Siyeahfous ended the life of the woman. Was this the right thing? To spare a creature such agony, it was the only thing to be done. But which creature was spared? I dashed to the left column, where a lizard man with a bow was waiting. I dispatch him with relative ease. The next thing is to assault the other two lizard men, one of which had dropped its bow.
On my sprint across the room to where they stand, I take stock of the situation. See-ay-fous and his owls are assaulting the weird owl-thing. My mad dash must have set me off balance as I swung my blade wide, missing this foolish creature that had dropped its weapon. Unfortunately for me, these things have claws. Launching itself at me, the lizard man lashed out at my throat.
I can feel the blood flowing from the wound. The world dimming around the edges. I can feel my life leaving me. My eyes turn towards the ceiling, vision fading. A screech pulls my attention towards the male owl that was discovered and somehow brought back to life. Maybe the deities that my companions worship actually do exist and even occasionally answer their prayers… Why am I still clinging to life? What is this pull I feel on my very soul? I feel the strength of the others keeping me from slipping into the next life. I black out, but still clinging to life.
The next thing I know, Zariel is standing over me. He must have used his divine gift to heal my wounds. I thank him for his aid. He seems to have a reverence for all life. I have suspected for the last few days that he is more or less a pacifist. He seems unwilling to end a life unless it has done something or is something that offends him to his very core…
The fight is not over yet. I can hear Zariel’s kammel, Rossinantay, growling(?) at something in the corner by the throne. I take a quick look to see what’s going on. The kammel is single-handedly fighting what looks to be a construct composed of corpses. I don’t like the undead, and killing the creature that created it might just end whatever magicks keep it together, so I head instead to help against the owl-thing.
Sea-ae-foss and his owls seem to be doing quite well against this creature, but I must aid them any way I can. It is the least I can do. I can’t reach the fight that is being waged up at the ceiling, but I know that I have the ability to aim a decent blow, so I hurled my dagger at the owl-thing. My aim was true. It wasn’t a crippling blow, but it did some damage. After I threw my dagger, I heard a great collapse on the other side of the room. Rossinantay apparently managed to defeat the corpse collage construct by itself. The owl creature must have decided that fighting the elf’s owls was futile, as it dove and cast a spell. Lightning crashed through the room, collapsing part of the wall behind the owl creature.
It was a calculated move, but not the best. Between the two owls and the elf himself, this owl creature was done for. When the arrow struck, it fell to the ground. As soon as it fell, the pool of blood exploded. Everyone besides myself was covered. My trained reflexes allowed me to take cover behind the pillar.
Accomplished… our goal complete. Now just to find our way out of here…

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