Category: The Blackwing

Serpentswood Motte

Serpentswood Motte. That’s what I decided I will continue to call what we up until now have dubbed the Lizard’s Keep. It’s not the troglodytes’ keep. Upon careful reflection I decided that I would refuse to cede linguistic ground to the idea that it might be. Names are important. It’s why I forfeited my name and chose my own.

And so I choose Serpentswood Motte. It sits on a hillock in a wooded area and it was infested with serpent-worshiping lizards when we found it. The name suits it perfectly. Later, when the keep has been reclaimed and refortified, we can consider renaming it to something less ominous sounding.

5th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

Right before the troglodyte and gnoll forces reached Glister they seemed to turn on one another. Perhaps this already started much earlier, but it was incredibly beneficial to the defense of the town. Their forces withdrew and we could survey the damage they had done, which turned out to be minimal.

Because we had arrived from the east, coming over in barges from The Range to The Hoof, I decided to get some rest in Jago’s hut. I was dead tired and probably wouldn’t have been able to make the trip to Wizard’s Hill without collapsing. Jago and Widukin decided to rest as well, while Quentyn made sure he was seen in and around town. David and his ward prepared to take care of the wounded militia men and villagers.

I am not sure I ever stopped to consider that Jago and Widukin shared a hut together. When we came in and bedded down for a few hours, I remember thinking about it for a few seconds before sleep found me. I don’t quite recall what I thought about it at the time, but now that I have some time to reflect upon it further, I think it’s remarkable. I am not one to cast stones, of course, considering my own history, it’s remarkable because rural people tend to be isolated and superstitious about this sort of thing. In the case of Jago and Widukin they might simply be sharing a hut. They bedded down in separate cots after all, though this could have been a bit of theatre for my benefit.

When I awoke later in the day, I felt groggy and disoriented. I forced myself to get up, and I was once again confronted by the disparity between my body and mind. The fog of sleep was easily shaken from my mind, but the sluggishness that came along with it lingered much, much longer.

I forced myself to eat something that my stomach would accept and would cause any trouble later in the day, and I went through my preparatory ritual. We would be heading back out to Serpentswood Motte to relieve Ser Fosco and the men we left behind, and we’d likely have to cross through hostile territory to get there. Once again, I felt like my frailty was becoming a serious problem and so I spent some extra time reading through the abjuration spells I have collected over time. My collection has grown quite considerably, and I believe it is time for me to focus on some basic protective spells if I am to continue putting myself in harm’s path the way I have in the last few weeks.

Eventually, we all met up back at The Hoof in order to take several barges. It had been decided that the fastest and likely safest course to make our way back to Serpentswood Motte was to go by water. Gilbert, who had the most experience traversing the waters of the Shadowed Lake, arrived in a kayak, ready to lead us east.

Quentyn had assembled another party of able-bodied men to accompany us, and I recognised a few faces in their midst. We divided ourselves across several barges and we started to head east.

After several hours we spotted a large group of ogres and gnolls on the northern bank, lead by the horned ogre. Whispers of “blue giant” went through our group as tensions rose, which irked me. I have read about giants, and from all accounts a giant is to an ogre as a human is to a halfling.

One of the gnolls was carrying a stick with a white cloth attached to the end of it. It seemed they wanted to parlay. Quentyn took them up on the offer and one of our barges slowly made its way towards the northern bank. We had decided to take a smaller group of people to talk, the rest stayed behind on the other barge.

When we came within distance, I noticed that the horned ogre was somewhat smaller than the other ogres, more hunched but with a clear, intelligent look in its eyes. The arcane abilities of the horned ogre was clearly not innate, but learned, like mine. A chill went down my spine as its gaze settled on me for a moment and again, the only thing I could think of was how ill prepared I am in defense.

The horned ogre tried to convince us to give him the bloodstone. The way he put it, he was doing us a favour by taking it from us. That he turned on Oxul’Nitha when she wanted to march on Glister to get the stone. That he saved us and that there were worse things coming for the stone. He could take it away, into the mountains, where it wouldn’t threatened us or the town any more.

Quentyn was in conversation with the ogre, and I tried to remind him of the ogre’s duplicitous nature by softly singing the first two lines from a Cormyrian nursery rhyme about an evil spirit called the Mirrorman;

His smile fair as spring, as towards him he draws you
His tongue sharp and silvery, as he implores you

I don’t know if he heard me, or if his house didn’t have the resources for schooling in letters and literature, or even if this nursery rhyme is perhaps not as common in Westchester. This is the full rhyme:

His smile fair as spring, as towards him he draws you
His tongue sharp and silvery, as he implores you
Your wishes he grants, as he swears to adore you
Gold, silver, jewels – he lays riches before you
Dues need be repaid, and he will come for you
All to reclaim, no smile to console you
He’ll snare you in bonds, eyes glowin’, a fire
To gore and torment you, til the stars expire

When we didn’t want to relinquish the bloodstone to him, he pulled out a large, hail-white stone and withdrew, saying that it would withdraw back into the mountains from whence it came. The stone had some significance, but I couldn’t discern it at the time. I didn’t believe that the horned ogre would depart for the mountains and no longer pose a threat, and so I asked Blackwing to follow him and return to me immediately if it would come close to Glister.

At the end of the day Serpentswood Motte came into view and the troglodyte activity in the area went up. Eventually, I saw a smaller female that I recognised to be Gal’Nutha. Once we docked the barges and disembarked, and talked to Gal’Nutha who was unhappy about us leaving people behind in the keep. I tried to make it clear that were there to pick up Ser Fosco and leave. She wanted to escort us and make sure that we weren’t moving more people into the keep. Also, she wanted to eat one of us in retaliation of what she considered a breach of our agreement.

At that point, I may have lost my temper. She didn’t seem to back down until Quentyn drew Scalebane and Gal’Nutha probably understood that even if she and her warriors would overwhelm us, she herself would be the first to be slain. That seemed to settle things.

Once we got to Ser Fosco, he and the others he was in charge of were visibly relieved. Our extraction from the keep was swift and painless, and everyone felt relieved. Something in the back of my mind kept gnawing at me; we took a major risk in liberating Serpentswood Motte, only to relinquish it to Gal’Nutha because we can’t fortify and hold it over the winter.

The winter. Again I was reminded of the coming of the Frostmaiden’s embrace. I decided to place a cup of water outside of my window to determine when night frost would set in. Many things will need to happen before the first snow falls.

6th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

Night had fallen and we were still on our way back to Glister, when David suddenly asked me if learning magic was hard. Pretty quickly, I realised what he wanted; he wanted one of the townsfolk to go into study with me. I explained that the gift first had to manifest itself and that I could only consider tutoring someone once I had seen the way the dealt with their ability.

The night had been cold but clear and quiet. Calm and peaceful. I was enjoying the boat ride until David brought up the tutelage. The weight of what had been bothering me for months came crashing down on me. I didn’t want to teach, I wanted to be taught! I hardly had time to study myself, let alone offer the proper guidance for someone else. And then I haven’t even address the question of propriety. I would essentially be raising one or more renegade mages.

While I hardly ever saw eye to eye with the Circle of Wizards at the Tower of High Sorcery, I did agree with them that a renegade mage, or a hedgewizard, had the potential to cause a lot of disruption in the realm. I considered myself a starting wizard. Could I bring to graduation someone who I had tutored all by myself?

I got frustrated and angry at the thought of it. David brought it as an essential part of Glister’s defenses to teach someone the mysteries of the arcane. I just saw it as an opportunity for a novice to accidentally burn down a building, or get devoured by their first conjuration, or get absorbed in their own hunger for more power.

I wanted to leave Glister. I didn’t get to study under Marbrand, I didn’t find Marbrand’s grimoires, I stagnated as a wizard and had been distracted by the ambitions of a local lord. On the way over from The Hoof to Wizard’s Hill I confided in Quentyn and shared all my frustrations with him. He has come to rely on me, I needed him to know what was going on with me so that he could prepare for my eventual departure. He was remarkably understanding about it.

That night I was awoken by soft but incessant tapping on my window. I sat up and raised the lantern that I keep next to my bed and walked over to the window. I saw that on the windowsill, next to an overturned cup of water, which I had left there before turning in, sat an extraordinary snow owl. It was pecking at the window.

My suspicion was confirmed that this was the horned ogre’s familiar and it came to deliver a message, carefully written on a piece of troglodyte skin, carefully rolled up and tied to the bird’s leg. The message was a snide congratulations on being able to hide the bloodstone from him, but also a promise that he would get the stone eventually. He referred to it as his “quarry,” which I thought was remarkable. He also offered the opportunity to get in touch if I was ever in need of it, saying that Blackwing would know how to find him.

I tossed the skin in the flames of the low fire in my room and went back to bed.

7th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

The following morning, at breakfast, I discussed my plans to depart from Glister after the winter. David, Jago and Quentyn were there, and so was Ser Fosco. I explained myself and suggested that I was perhaps to travel onward to the Dalelands, but that nothing was set in stone yet.

David, to his credit, was quick to offer help of finding the grimoires during the winter months. Quentyn reminded me that traders could be persuaded to buy scrolls from Thentia and bring them to Glister for my consumption. I, however, didn’t believe that Lord Marbrand’s grimoires were out there to find in the keep at Wizard’s Hill, otherwise I would have found them already. And also didn’t think that buying scrolls, which is expensive, was going to give me the speed of development that I yearned for. I thanked them for the offer nonetheless.

10th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

A few days went by and I found myself in the process of making some sketches of a windmill that I wanted to design. I had noticed the winds across certain parts of the Oldmark could be high, which would make it an excellent place for a good windmill in which we could place a large millstone for grinding. It could simultaneously act as a granary.

I already had the design for the internals mechanics drawn up, partly by my own design, and partly taken from different books in Lord Marbrand’s study. The only thing to calculate was the load bearing capacity that the outer framework would need to have, and come up with a pleasing design that was within the capacity of the woodworkers of Glister to accomplish.

To be honest, while Glister could use a more advance grain storage, and could definitely benefit from a windmill, the only reason I was engaging in the mental exercise of designing it was because of the stagnation I feel in my studies. It’s not uncommon for magically talented people with a stellar intellect to seek diversions in matters of engineering and crafting.

There was a knock at the door. It was Quentyn, informing me that two guardsmen had come calling to inform him that a wounded troglodyte had appeared at the ferry across the moat dividing the Oldmark from the Newmark. We decided to go to the ferry together to investigate. The walk was tedious, and once again Quentyn remarked that a couple of horses in the lord’s stable wouldn’t be misplaced.

When we arrived at the ferry we saw a slight figure standing across the moat. She wore a severed troglodyte hand around her neck. Oxul’Nitha. She was severely wounded.

We felt little threat from her, so Quentyn and I, together with two militia men, made our way across the moat by ferry. I was there to translate, but Quentyn did most of the talking. The militia men were commanded to keep an eye on our surroundings.

She came to deliver us a warning; the horned ogre had three stones with entities inside, and it wanted the bloodstone. He had a white one, probably the one that we saw the the ogre take out during our encounter on the northern shore of the shadowed lake. When we asked her where the ogre found the stone, she pointed to the north-west, in the direction of the abandoned mine. Another stone was red, and had been found somewhere on the Thar. The last one was black, and Oxul’Nitha couldn’t say where the ogre had found it. When we asked her where the ogre was staying, she said that it was staying in the mountains somewhere east of the High Pass keep.

The shaman seemed very wounded, tired, and resigned to her death. When she wanted to leave, Quentyn decided that she wasn’t going to steal away into the night for a slow death. He would have her head on a spike, and he drew his sword. Like a cornered wolverine, she fought fiercely! She ultimately fell to the combination of my magic and Quentyn’s Scalebane.

During the fight, she was lobbing small globes of fire at us. The dragonskin doublet made me over-confident, and I stepped in front of Quentyn to protect him, trusting the doublet to absorb the fire. It would have, had I not gotten too close to Oxul’Nitha, close enough for her to swipe at me with her claws. Her nails raking into my skin probably physically hurt me as much as anything ever has, reminding me once again that I was going to have to do something about my own protection soon.

The Lead Character in My Own Tale

Winter, 1374

It has been a while since I seriously considered my future. I have been a resident at Glister for more than two years and I’m beginning to grow dissatisfied with the direction my life is taking.

When I first arrived in Glister, in the spring of 1372, my goal was to convince Lord Marbrand to let me study from his grimoires. Misfortune befell me, and the good Lord Marbrand, for he was found dead the day after my arrival. I got caught up in solving the mystery of his death, the ascension of Quentyn Martell to the seat of the unfortunate late lord’s domain, and the vanquishing and imprisonment of a vicious demon.

From that point onward, I became a trusted counsellor to Lord Martell, helped Glister thrive, expand its influence, and defeat its threats. I’ve made career choices for the good of Glister, and crafted a magical container at great personal expense to further secure the imprisoned demon.

I’ve done a lot for the ones around me. I’ve done a lot for Glister and its people. But I’ve stagnated as a wizard. With the exception of a handful of scrolls liberated from the High Pass Keep, everything I’ve learned was self-taught.

I never did find Lord Marbrand’s grimoires.

While I have settled in as best I could, the people around me don’t take me seriously. They see me as a tool. I’ve not made any real friends, or any real connections, nor learned anything that I couldn’t have learned elsewhere.

Quentyn cares only for his advancement as a lord. I’ve been useful enough to him that he allows me to stay at the mansion, but he considers me nothing more than an obedient court wizard whose arcane forces he can apply as an answer to the question on how to further his success. My presence lends his rulership some allure and legitimacy. He completely neglects the work I put into optimising the crop yields, the time I put into working through the ledgers in order to figure out how to integrate the settlers, or what I sacrificed in order to come up with a more permanent solution to the problem of the imprisoned demon.

Truth be told, I hear his Westchester accent and it nostalgically makes me long for home. I have let that grow into a misplaced sense of loyalty. His ambitions of governance were exactly the reasons why I left Cormyr, but these old familiarities drew me to him because they were comfortable and safe. But I do not want to be a pawn in politics. I do not want to be used like a weapon to achieve another man’s goals!

David doesn’t seem to care for anything at all, certainly not my feelings or opinions. He does as he pleases and is as stubborn as a castle wall. In comparison to Quentyn, whom I suspect harbours the same false sense of kinship that I feel for him, David truly sees nothing more than a wizard. As long as my interests are aligned with his we walk the same path, but the instant that changes he’ll set out without me. He has not one ounce of excess sentiment for me. No discussion, no hesitation, he’ll simply keep walking, whether I follow him or not.

David thinks me naive, foolish, dumb or all of the above. He’s so rigid that he takes a dogmatic stance in every disagreement. I intellectually outrank him by a country mile, but I wonder if he realises that. I wonder if he even considers intellect a virtue. I can imagine many situations in which I would help him achieve his goals, but I can’t imagine any in which he’d help me achieve mine.

Jago… I only have good things to say about Jago. He’s kind, loyal, smart, resourceful and caring. He’s been in Glister as long as I have, but he’s entrenched himself deeply among the people of the Hoof. He has become like a brother to Widukin, of enormous value to Quentyn for his ranging and scouting missions and an undeniably good fit among the settlers of Oak Hill.

He has everything a man could possibly ask for in terms of talent and potential, so the only criticism I could have about Jago is that he could do with a little more personal ambition. His aloofness, I suspect, is an attempt to hide his humble and soft-hearted nature. He has had a rough beginning, and I’d wager that a personality like his wouldn’t last very long without the façade on the harsh streets of the cities along the northern Moonsea coast. He reminds me of Olivar and perhaps that’s why I like him so much.

And so I’m stuck with three people with which I maintain unequal relationships. Jago doesn’t care for me the same way I care for him. Quentyn cares only for what I can do to achieve his goals. And David doesn’t care for me at all.

It’s time for me to start playing the lead character in my own tale, rather than playing a minor character in the tale of another. I will try to gather the resources necessary for me to depart after the winter. It will be three years since I arrived and high time for me to find place that either accepts me, or caters to my own goals. Perhaps the great forests of the dalelands, or the tempestuous sword coast beyond. We’ll see.

Nighttime March to Glister

4th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

We camped in between the outer wall of the keep and the broken tower, trying to stay as far away from the stench of the troglodyte bodies as we could. Even after death they seem to ooze an indescribable stench that was hard on my stomach. Jago once again stunned me with his practical sense by building a large, smokey fire to cover up the stench.

We had a discussion about what to do next. We considered several options; going back to join Ser Fosco on the Thar, trying to find the second troglodyte camp, heading back to Glister. Every option seemed to have a strong drawback which kept us from deciding anything. Instead, we decided to go to sleep and make a decision fresh and early in the morning.

One thing that struck me during the conversation was the notion that before we found the carnage at the Lizard’s tower the troglodytes and gnolls had been collaborating. I asked how that conclusion was reached, and Widukin explained that he recalled the gnolls and troglodytes meeting after the encounter at the Stillwater Rapids. During that time I was dealing with a surge of adrenaline and repeated spasms from voiding the contents of my stomach. I had just taken a deep breath of the vile mist the troglodytes were capable of producing, and I was not well. It bothered me tremendously that I had only learned of that encounter then. It changes a few things.

My assumption had always been that the Lizard’s Tower was the base of operations for a troglodyte leader who held tight and merciless control. Our conversation with Gal’nutha reinforced the idea that Oxul’nitha was that leader. Her powers are demonic and more than enough to drive the troglodytes to these acts of aggression. But I don’t believe that she would have enough power to bend gnolls and ogres to her will.

No, a far more powerful force is at work here. I suspect the ogre mage we spotted at the Stillwater Rapids is in charge of the gnolls and ogres and has enlisted Oxul’nitha and her troglodyte followers.

5th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

When I awoke the following day, I quickly began to prepare my spells for the day. I noticed that Gunnar had perched himself atop a section of wall that was left standing. He was performing an augury. Later he said he wanted to return to Glister. He wouldn’t speak with certainty on what augured, but he felt it for the best if he made his way back.

A conversation was had about how to proceed next. A consensus was reached that the men on the Thar would come and take up shelter at the tower, preventing Gal’nutha from moving in and retaking the tower and keep for herself. I volunteered to help the men bring down the goods since I had prepared a lot of arcanokinetic spells. Gunnar would make his way to the ropes that Ser Fosco and the others had prepared for a possible hasty retreat and make his way over the Thar towards Glister.

I took off flying, together with Blackwing. I had yet to really take the time to go flying with her, but it was as exhilarating and energising as expected. The sense of freedom, of opportunity and of mobility was unparalleled. Long have I desired to be able to fly. Since the time where I was bed-ridden as a young boy I’ve dreamed about it. It helps that it significantly relieves the pain in my joints that I feel when walking for long stretches at a time.

Bo med faal ven
Fly like the wind

Arriving at Ser Fosco’s camp, we found that Sigbart was not doing very well. The bloodloss he had incurred was too profound for him to remain warm, despite a good campfire. It would take a long while before he would recover and to do so he would have to return to Glister. Gunnar, who arrived at the camp a little while later, would take Sigbart, three donkeys, some excess supplies and building materials, back to Glister. I helped levitate the other two donkeys, together with the rest of the men, down to the marshes below the Thar.

We arrived back at the keep around noon. Jago and Widukin had busied themselves in searching for troglodyte tracks. They had found tracks leading south-by-south-east. It was unclear which group the tracks had belonged to, but the going theory was that they belonged to whoever survived the fight at the keep. It lead me to think about the fight again.

The gnolls and ogres are seemingly working together with the troglodytes. I now believe they do so under the leadership of the ogre mage. But they are probably very reluctant bedfellows, and infighting is likely. What if the fight between at the keep was nothing more than a reestablishment of dominance within a loosely aligned group with a common goal? And if so, who won?

After showing Ser Fosco around the keep, making special note about the tunnel entrance through which we sneaked into the keep, we left him and the rest of the men and set off down the path through the forest leading towards the small river. We kept following the tracks that Jago had found and followed them upstream for a while before they lead north. The tracks were essentially heading roughly in the same direction as we had come from, except that they passed between the hill that held the keep and the hill we suspected held another camp.

When we were about middle way between the keep and the other camp Jago reported he had found gnoll tracks which crossed the troglodyte tracks. Jago estimated that they were tracks coming from the keep and heading towards the other camp. The gnoll tracks were freshest, which meant that the gnolls had crossed from the keep to the other camp after the troglodytes that we’d been following had made their way from the keep to the river and back north.

What did this say about what happened at the keep? Were the gnolls victorious? Did they come to the keep to hand out the orders given by the ogre mage and did they enforce them by engaging in battle? Did the surviving members of the troglodyte, now beaten into submission depart for the river only to return north again under orders from the ogre mage?

The tracks continued and we kept following them. Soon after, Jago found more troglodyte tracks coming from the direction of the second camp, joining the tracks of the group of troglodytes we were following and heading north. North towards Glister. At that point I thought Gunnar may have had the right of it.

We continued following the tracks down the path until the path veered off west towards the Thar. Shortly after, the tracks seemed to turn north again, away from the path and up a hill. Another discussion started about what to do next and what the troglodyte actions meant.

David, who had grown very quiet and was unwilling to engage in conversation, suddenly walked off without a word and continued down the path. My guess is that he was tired of the talking, the indecisiveness and confusion. For a man of the cloth he has little patience for contemplation, rhetoric and counselling. He is a man of action. Either that or thinks us all stupid.

Quentyn had given up trying to penetrate David’s reasons for doing anything, and he wasn’t about to run after him. He ordered us to continue following the tracks. I suspected that perhaps the troglodytes decided not to follow the path but continue straight across the hill in order to save time.

Atop the hill we found a clearing where the tracks temporarily got muddled. Eventually Widukin and Jago decided that this had been a site where the troglodytes had met up with two other smaller groups of troglodytes. There were several dead troglodytes in the clearing, whose throats had been slit and hands had been severed. This gave me the confidence to assume that Oxul’nitha was among the group of troglodytes and she was either demanding a sacrifice from the smaller groups who were joining her, or she was preparing for battle and made offerings for good fortune.

We continued on, deciding to skip eating, despite the dying light. Soon after we caught up with David, who had continued to follow the path. This supported my earlier assumption that the troglodytes had cut across the hill in order to save time. We decided to give up trying to search for tracks and simply march for Glister. Soon afterwards, we started hearing sounds coming from the north, coming from the woods that lay more land inward, away from the Thar.

Jago spotted five stalkers along our path, laying in wait to ambush us. We could either fight, maneuver around them. I handed out dollops of the protective ointment to everyone. If we were going to have to fight them it was best we were protected against their awful stench. While we were getting ready to attack, Widukin shot off an arrow, which missed horribly but sent them scurrying away. Clearly they were not interested in a fight where they weren’t able to catch us off guard.

We continued down the path and a little while later I heard some draconic hissing coming from the darkness up ahead. I was trying to make out what was being said, but couldn’t quite hear it without moving in closer. Suddenly we heard drumming of weapons against wooden shields coming from our right, more land inward, and was afeared we were getting boxed in by another group of troglodytes.

We decided to retreat in order to not get caught between the Stillwater Lake and two groups of troglodytes. Soon after we heard a fight coming from up ahead. We heard gnolls resoundingly defeating the troglodytes who we had heard hissing and whispering in the darkness. I had been completely off, the group banging weapons on their shields weren’t troglodytes but gnolls.

Why would gnolls, who shared a common cause with the troglodytes, be attacking the troglodytes? Was their dissension within their ranks? Were they ordered to set an example? Was this another case of infighting? I decided that we needed answers before we could effectively decide what to do or how to proceed.

We snuck back down the path towards Glister and found the corpses of the defeated troglodytes. Further down the road we came upon a group of three brutes, six stalkers and four regular troglodytes. A well-placed fireball took out the stalkers and two of the regulars. The other two regulars ran off, but the brutes engaged. Two of the brutes we cut down with fire and steel, but not before they managed to critically injure Widukin.

Ag ko faal toor do Dinoksetiid
Burn in the inferno of the end times

I called for the last brute to be taken alive for interrogation. It took David, Jago and Quentyn to bring the beast down and tie him up. Now it was time to use a spell to read its mind and get some answers!

The Lizard’s Tower

4th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

After the fight with the priestess, I took a moment to look around for any items the priest might have left behind. I found the crudely carved snake figurine that the shaman threw at me. I decided to keep it with me, perhaps I could use it to intimidate one of the simpler troglodytes in the future.

It had occurred to me that the enormous snake that Quentyn, David and eventually Gunnar, killed, would likely have to have eaten at least one adult troglodyte each day in order to attain and maintain that size. I guess we know what happens to all the troglodytes who refuse to submit to Oxul’nitha or bow to Sess’Inek.

Further down the tunnel we found a wall with small hand and foot holds. Quentyn couldn’t manage to climb up due to the slimy and wet stone. So Jago climbed up first and I followed him, carrying my rope on my back. We lowered the rope and Jago could lift items back up while I made some light.

Finally, everyone climbed up along the wall, with the exception of Quentyn. At that point we heard a slithering. I asked Jago to light another torch, while I summoned an unseen servant to carry the torch to the next corner of the tunnel. At least we might have some advance notice in case something came slithering down the tunnel.

And something did; first two, and later two more snakes appeared. These were not as big as the previous snakes. And these were not constrictors, these were vipers. I called out to the others and Jago immediately called upon his patron to summon forth a rat the size of a small dog. I traded places with David and then with Quentyn, leaving space for them to engage the vipers.

We got closer to the exit of the cave and we got a hint of the troglodyte excretion. We all used some of the ointment we had made before we rushed out.

We exited through a thick curtain of roots and bushes and we emerged on the lowest level inside the tower. The tower was in a sorry state; the entire interior had collapsed in on itself and most of the walls had jaggedly collapsed all around. The ground was littered with stones, brambles and weeds, as well as shards of flint, crude pottery and lots of bones. A ruined, once arched entrance on one side of the tower had long since lost its keystone and had since started to lose stones overhead. Despite that, the entry was clear and often used.

Opposite of the entrance, at the back wall of the tower, was a large block of stone, adorned with dismembered troglodyte hands and crude writing in dark blood. It was clearly an altar, once to Laogzed, but now defaced with praise and iconography of Sess’Inek.

Walking around the bottom one could hear crunching of small bones underfoot.

The tower’s radius was about five yards. I carefully made my way to the offering stone to investigate the writing on it. My footsteps made crunching noises as I crushed small bones, brittle twigs and shards of stones underfoot. Jago went to take a look outside the tower, and quickly found a battle scene, littered with many bodies of troglodytes, a few gnolls, and even an ogre or two. Quentyn could make out from the wounds that the fight had been between the troglodytes and gnolls, with the ogres likely fighting alongside the gnolls, like we had seen at cairned camp on the way back from the High Pass Keep.

The crude draconic writing on the offering stone were made by someone who clearly didn’t understand what they were writing. The eldest ones were offerings to Laogzed, while the newer ones were dedicated to Sess’Inek. On the alter there was a golden coin, covered in blood, surrounded by dismembered troglodyte hands.

David took out the suntoken and compared it to the gold coin, it being roughly the same size. I called the unseen servant to clean the coin in order for us to examine it more closely. David decided to pick up the coin, and just as I wanted to warn him not to do so, I started to notice the mist coming up from the inside of the broken, tower walls. There was a sudden blast of air that threw me backwards. As I scrambled back up, a dozen strange figures emerged from the mud. Two of them lunged at me, and I didn’t know what to do, so I levitated myself up, away and out of danger.

Fus kotin faal su
Force into the air

When I looked down, I saw what these things were; dretches, the foot soldiers of the tanar’ri. Cowardly creatures who overwhelm with numbers, and could summon other demons. I was confused as to what they were doing here. The two below me seemed to be mindlessly trying to grab for me, but one of them stopped and summoned another, which appeared from the ground.

I kept out of range and cast a burning hands on them, which didn’t really seem to do that much damage. The rest were faring quite well against the dretches. I decided to levitate myself upward and out of the tower to take a better look at the situation around the tower. The dretches who I had ignited seemed to have fled the battlefield.

Burning Hands
Ag voth yol nol haali
Burn with fire from my hands

I came up from the tower and saw the Thar, the barrows, the construction that Ser Fosco had built on the edge of the Thar, the forests and the clearing of the Oldmark, and the trail to Hulburg. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any trace of the ones that had attacked the tower

I heard David yell down below and saw him use the gold coin, held it out before him, and rebuke the Dretches. Five of the Dretches exploded in rancid, muddy chunks. Unbelievable. It was an incredibly risky move to use the coin without him knowing exactly what it was, but it seemed to have paid off, because otherwise he would have been overwhelmed.

What are these lower abyssal creatures doing showing up here? While the others were killing off the dretches, I took another look to see if I could find the other camp on the hillock close to the tower. I saw the area where the camp was supposed to be and saw the forest had thinned out, probably because of logging. It was too dark and the forest was too thick for me to make out anything else.

When I came down the situation seemed well under control. Quentyn asked what the creatures were, and I told him that they were lesser demons. Sess’Inek is a greater tanar’ri, which would explain the presence of the dretches.

Sess’Inek, Nar-Narg-Naroth, Yeenoghu, these are all tanar’ri. Zenghi obeyed Orcus, the demon prince of undead. Am I just making connections because my mind yearns for there to be a pattern, or is there really something there?

The carcasses were cleared from the courtyard and we used them to close the entrance to the caverns underneath the tower. We set up camp between the tower and the outside wall. It was defensible, sheltered from the elements and relatively clear of the stench of the bodies. Later Jago would start a large fire with some moist branches thrown in for good measure; the smoke from the fire would mask the stench from the bodies. He’s so clever.

Blackwing returned in the early evening and said that she was well-fed by Mund and said she was in touch with Godric, whom she called “dog throat”.

Gal’nutha approached with her two bodyguards and asked how long we would stay. Quentyn wanted them to know that we were going to stay until the morning, but that the tower was his possession. I advised him against it, cautioning that we would have to think about our safety and the safety of Ser Fosco on the Thar.

Gal’nutha asked to take some of the bodies. She went into the tower and spent another hour consecrating the altar, removing the Sess’Inek paraphernalia and painting a toad on it with the blood of one of the troglodytes. She took two gnoll bodies and departed for the Thar.

The Enemy of My Enemy, a Troglodyte Deal

4th Day, 1st Ride, 10th Month, 1374th Year

During my stay in Glister I’ve heard many curious tales about a great orc empire, supposedly responsible for the barrows on the Thar, the standing stones on the Oldmark, and many more wondrous structures hidden away in the secluded woods of the Galena foothills. I’ve always considered it poppycock. There is no evidence to suggest that orcs are capable of anything but the most primal urges. Never in a the last hundred lifetimes have they shown any interest in the type of collaboration necessary to achieve an undertaking of that magnitude. The lower humanoids are crude, and even if there would be an individual who’d have the intellect and mental fortitude to achieve something, it would never be supported by their brethren. I believe that exceptions can occur in individuals, but nothing that could support an empire.

After the fight, when Sigbart was on death’s door, David created a fire. The element of surprise had been lost and tending to Sigbart’s wounds would be easier by firelight rather than moonlight. Jago, ever pragmatically clever, set a ring of torches around our camp, beyond the range of the blowpipes the troglodyte stalkers had been carrying.

The conversation quickly returned to twice covered ground; what the purpose of our expedition. Ser Fosco, always the military man, wanted to set up camp close to the tower, dig trenches and set traps. I argued that our numbers wouldn’t support an assault, and that it would be best if we would continue to be a scouting party, like initially discussed. If the opportunity arose that we could take out the leader at the Lizard’s Tower, we would, but an all out assault was not something we were equipped for. I was actually quite surprised. Ser Fosco, for all his initial bluster, had always been relatively prudent and somewhat conservative.

Eventually we decided we would indeed scout out the tower with a small group, while the rest, under Ser Fosco’s leadership, guarded our descent from the Thar and made sure we could retreat up the Thar in safety, should the need arise.

The next morning I rearranged my prepared spells to accommodate the new plan. I cut about three yards of rope off the rope that I had taken so that I could summon a secret, dimensional pocket in which we could hide. While I was preparing for what was to come, Gunnar had been reading the signs and portents. He had a suspicion that perhaps the real battle would be on the Oldmark. He decided to come with us because his augury was inconclusive, but it was enough for Quentyn to demand I send Blackwing to warn Godric to raise the militia to a state of alertness.

When we were ready to depart, we caught up with Jago and Widukin, who had scouted ahead to the edge of the Thar and had found a good place to set up the ropes for our descent. They had spotted a barrow in the distance similar to the one we had found close to Glister. Midway through our preparations we noticed a trio of troglodytes slowly and openly approaching our position.

The smaller, female troglodyte, dressed in ragged robes, was noticeably smaller than the two brutes that flanked her. She held out her claws and spoke in a crude form of draconic. They had clearly observed our nightly skirmish and noticed that I spoke their language. They wanted to parlay. She introduced herself as Gal’nutha, a priestess of Laogzed. She explained that the group that had attacked our camp were also the ones that occupied the Lizard’s Tower. They were lead by another priestess by the name of Oxul’nitha, a follower of Sess’Inek. She also explained that Gal’nutha’s tribe was the erstwhile occupants of the tower, but were driven out by Oxul’nitha. They were rivals.

In our talks, through difficult, I did manage to understand more about the troglodytes than before. Loagzed and Sess’Inek were both minor deities, Abyssal princes with a small, but determined following. Semuanya was the major god of the troglodytes, who didn’t concern itself with either demon prince.

The outcasts offered us access to their tunnels, which would allow us to get up close to the tower without being seen. In return, they wanted a donkey. After some negotiations, they realised that we were offering them a much greater prize than a donkey; the death of Oxul’nitha. She agreed and lead us to the barrow. Gal’nutha explained that Oxul’nitha had arrived last winter and gathered all the tribes. Supposedly she was looking for something. Those tribes that wouldn’t submit fled onto the Thar.

Once at the barrow, about an hour from the edge of the Thar, we found that the group of outcasts were clusters of different troglodytes, all remnants from different tribes. We counted perhaps thirty armed warriors among them. We were lead to a tunnel which lead back to the edge of the Thar. We convinced Gal’nutha to draw us a map of the surroundings of the tower and she explained that we could recognise Oxul’nitha by the severed reptilian claw she wore around her a neck, a symbol of Sess’Inek.

At the end of the tunnel we found another troglodyte keeping watch. He reported to Gal’nutha that it was quiet at the tower and that many departed for the north-west, which happened to be towards Glister. In the exchange between Gal’nutha and the scout I noticed their language was more cruder than what she used to speak to me. It seemed as if she had been adopting a slightly more accommodating accent when we spoke. At that point it struck me again; this crude race had figured out how to work magic, fashion tools and clothing and build crude huts, but given another hundred years, they would not develop to the point where they could build a city, let alone something as intricate as the barrows on the Thar.

With some difficulty we got down from the Thar and stood on the embankment of the Shadowed Marshes which lead all along the edge of the Thar up to the Shadowed Lake that flanked one side of the Oldmark. I levitated myself up and used the evocation I learned from the scrolls we liberated from the High Pass keep to project a violent gust of wind against the wall of the Thar to propel me across the marsh. The others, unfortunately, had to swim across, but I arrived on the opposite side without having to get my clothing wet.

We made our way north, on Gal’nutha’s instruction, to a set of caves in the side of the hill the tower was situation upon. The cave itself was spacious enough for us to walk single file, with the occasional stalagmite to skirt or stalactite to dodge. It reminded me of the caves I explored with Laenore and Harlan around the Bray Valley and once again longed to be back there, pretending to be knights and war wizards. I wondered if Laenore had succeeded her wonderful father, Lord Mortimer, and whether Harlan was riding besides his legendary father, Ser Lorimer. I wondered about the library at Brayford Keep, and I was so caught up in my reverie that I only noticed that Quentyn and David were ensnared by large snakes when I bumped into the man who had been walking in front of me. Soon after, Jago got attacked by an even larger snake that managed to sneak up on us during the commotion.

Once the initial shock of the serpents wore off, we kept going through the meandering tunnel. We certainly had the feeling that we were ascending the hilltop from the inside and that we’d eventually emerge somewhere close to the tower.

We came upon a bend in the tunnel we were following and some of us could hear some sound from up ahead. It turned out to be a Sess’Inek priestess who was whispering to a very, very large snake. I could make out that she was bidding the snake to be patient, that the snake would feed soon. Was she waiting for us, or was she merely urging for patience until the next scheduled feeding?

Was this Oxul’nitha? She clearly was a priestess, and she had the symbol of a dismembered troglodyte hand hanging from around her neck. We couldn’t be sure.

Regardless, Quentyn charged in with David close behind him and they were immediately engaged by the enormous snake. Despite us being able to catch the priestess and the snake unawares, they responded with astonishing clarity and speed. This only strengthened my suspicion that the priestess had been waiting for us.

While Quentyn and David were fighting with the snake, the priestess threw a stick carved in the shape of a stick directly at me. I recognised it as a summoning spell and I fired off a counter spell and the stick fell uselessly to the ground at my feet.

Dispel Magic
Kren lah!
Shatter magic!

The snake started to constrict Quentyn, which gave David the opportunity to pass the coiling mass of the snake and charge at the priestess. He bull-rushed her to the ground and struggled to get her under control. Gunnar ran up to the snake while it was preoccupied by Quentyn and instantly killed it. Immediately after the snake died, the priestess secreted that awful mist from her neck glands.

I retrieved the pot of ointment we had made in Glister and started going around everyone who was immediately engaged in the fight to rub a dollop of ointment underneath their noses to protect them. Luckily, only Gunnar seemed to be affected by the horrible stench; Quentyn and David were made of stronger stuff. I made a mental note to keep the pot of ointment on my belt so that we could apply it before rather than during a skirmish against the troglodytes.

In the meantime the priestess continued to struggle and kept trying to bite at David’s face. She even tried to appeal to Sess’Inek in prayer. I tried to reason with her, telling that if she wanted to continue Sess’Inek in this realm, instead of being devoured by Laogzed in the next one, she should calm herself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get through to her. Eventually, she managed to break free and started running. Again, she was remarkably fleet-footed, but luckily Quentyn ran her down and killed her.

She was clothed in hide and bone armour, and only had a holy symbol and a few trinkets and sticks on her, which made me doubt that this was Oxul’nitha, the feared priestess warlord.

David used the healing power of Ilmater to get Quentyn back on his feet and we decided to continue moving.