By Beth Griese
Date: January 4, 1997
|Telaran||1/2 Elf, Buzz cut||fighter||Jim Gaynor|
|Verence Gallow||Thin human||Mystra Cleric||Kent Jenkins|
Quote of the Day:
"You smooshed my widdums!" -- Jim Leitzel
To Garen Thundersson, cleric of Mielikki. From your faithful servant, Jade.
Our second quest was finished, and when we put Sir Perschetti's Hallowed Ale on the wizard's tray, I half wondered if we might be done. But the momentary black of his spell brought us to a new location, and sure enough, words were written on the tray again.
"A pair of saddlebags containing equal measures of earth from two sources. 1: The center of the Gods' Battlefield, and 2: Under Torm's Seat in the garden of the tabernacle of Torm."
Neither of these sounded inviting, although I was again relieved to find that our mysterious employer wasn't going to try to demand any black acts from us in the end. We looked around and found ourselves in a cool area, near forests, on top of a cliff that afforded us a beautiful view of an ocean - I've never seen so much water! - and our surroundings. To our left, within an hour's walk, lie a monstrous crater, blackened and raw. And to our right, even a bit closer, lie a large city. It didn't take any leaps of intelligence to label the crater as the Gods' Battlefield and the city as Tantras, the home of Torm's greatest worship, and his tabernacle.
We held a hurried consultation, although I was a bit distracted by the sights of that ocean. The Gods' Battlefield was the site of Torm and Bane's final struggle, of course, the one where the evil god was slain at the end of the Time of Troubles. Strange magics and lingering effects were said to still pool in that crater. Tantras, by comparison, looked to be fairly easy. None of us knew for sure what Torm's Seat would be, or how readily dirt from beneath it might be available, but at least it was a known territory. So, of course, we chose to visit the Battlefield first.
The boundary of the Battlefield is shocking. It's perfectly circular, straight and smooth, and within an inch of space grassy, fertile field turns into black, charred, overturned earth. Not even the birds above fly over it. And the boundary didn't just enclose a change in the land. The moment we stepped over that line, B'rinth sat down heavily on the ground, Nory looked around as if suddenly lost, and Borreau turned pale as milk. Only Verence, the one who worships the goddess of magic, was protected; apparently magic is turned all on its head within that crater, and all of our magicians and clerics felt the impact of it. B'rinth flatly refused to go farther, and waited for us on the grass. The rest continued along, although Nory looked more frightened than I've ever seen the little gnome.
Other than the strange magic effect, and the giant footprints sear in glassed dirt in the center of the crater, we were able to retrieve a bagful of earth without difficulty. All of us were glad to scamper back to the grass of normal earth, normal magic, and normal influence of the gods again. So with half our quest already completed, we hiked through peaceful, beautiful land to Tantras.
Tantras was a well-guarded city, but in the case of lawful citizens like we were, that simply provided us with more people to ask about a place to stay and the location of Torm's Tabernacle. As it turned out, the Tabernacle was easy to find; it rested in the exact center of the city, on the highest plateau, as the tallest building in Tantras. The city takes their worship of Torm seriously.
And that fact worried me as we found a serviceable inn to spend the night. I felt like a skulker for even suggesting it, but when we found out that we had time to catch the final tour of Torm's Tabernacle, I suggested that we all stay apart from each other at the temple, and that I would go alone to ask for the earth under Torm's seat. That way, if we needed to resort to sneakier methods of getting this dirt, the staff of the temple would not immediately know us all. Not surprisingly, I suppose, the rest of the party readily agreed to the suggestion, and even Borreau did not question it.
The tour of the Tabernacle was impressive; Torm himself had walked this city during the Time of Troubles, and nearly everything you saw was now sacred to the Torm worshippers. My last hopes of easily retrieving our dirt flickered, though, when I finally saw Torm's seat. It stood inside an inner garden in the center of the tabernacle. It was Torm's favorite spot to ponder during his visit here in Faerun, and so now the garden was sealed, hardly ever entered, and there stood the seat in the center of it all. Nevertheless, after the tour was over and the rest of the visitors, pilgrims, and my party had been escorted to the outer reaches, the guide showed me to the offices of Precentor Monso, the administrator of the Tabernacle.
Unfaithful stories are not in my blood, Master Garen, and though I distinctly heard moans when I later retold my story to the party members, I told Precentor Monso the simple truth of what I hoped to retrieve. The large, balding cleric seemed reluctant to even give credit to what I was saying until I told him the name Buvarik of our mysterious employer. It was like watching the ears of a hunting dog perk up, and I suddenly began to hope that I might be granted our favor with the cost of only some large sum of money. But to my amazement, without further question, Precentor Monso took me with him, had an acolyte retrieve a shovel, and brought me inside the holy garden to dig out my patch of earth from beneath the giant throne. The only price Monso asked was that I return in person to report to him whether "Buvarik's experiment is successful." I practically begged him to tell me what work we were involved in, but the official said that such information was only Buvarik's to give, and that our word to him should not be entrusted to any courier.
I was frustrated to be so close to answers and still not able to grasp them, but I carefully took our earth, gave all due thanks to the kind Precentor, and showed my heels to Torm's Tabernacle with a great deal of relief. Our quest items were in our hands. I gave the full report to the party on my return to the inn, interrupting their plans for a full-scale invasion, and we spent a peaceful night and hearty breakfast before ending our quest and placing our saddlebags on the magician's tray.
This time, my hopes were actually rather high that we might be finished. Surely, not much stranger could await us than these two saddlebags. But after the engulfing black passed over us again, the immediate blast of cold told us we were nowhere near any magician's den. It seems our "up to four" items to be retrieved would, indeed, be four. The cold and gusting winds with snow even distracted us from the tray for a moment as we sought shelter. Thanks to the gentle power of the ring of warmth you yourself gave me, master, I was the first to alight eyes on what was written on the tray, and the shock of it made me drop it into the snow while the others scrambled for cloaks.
"Five gold dragon scales"
How could such an impossibility be written in such a short phrase? True, gold dragons are the most noble of the great wyrms, and would present us no danger as prey, but even the great dragons are notoriously intolerant of visitors, let alone favor-seekers. They are more frequently plagued by treasure-hunters, so what would distinguish us from such slaughterers to spare us from being instantly destroyed?
Such were my doubts as we climbed the trail up to the top of the mountain peak we had been placed on. We hadn't even walked more than a few hundred feet when we came to a great gulf that, in the blowing snow and darkness, looked as though it dropped into the center of the earth. One suspension bridge crossed the gulf, and on the opposite side, a campfire burned with people milling about it.
We discussed our options in the howling wind, and we decided that I would cross the bridge alone first, with a rope that the others would hold, in case trouble with the bridge or the people on the other side arose. We couldn't be sure whether those people might be guardians of the dragon, perhaps even zealous worshippers of it, or thieves or assassins hoping to plunder the dragon's carcass and lair. There was no way to know except to cross and find out.
And so I tied the rope around my waist, and to our dismay, B'rinth began making his own plans and casting spells to go across before we knew the measure of what we faced. We tried to talk him out of proceeding with me, but that stubborn elf would no more listen to us than follow the plan we had agreed to. Someday his strange combination of joining a party just to act on his own will bring disaster on his head or on all ours, but with little to do unless we cared to physically restrain him again, I walked on across the bridge.
As I neared the far side, the group at the first spotted me. A pair of twins, strong-looking young blonde fellows, ran towards the bridge, and I ran as close to the edge as I could, holding out my hands without weapons, hoping to calm them. They immediately pulled blades, though, and began to hack at the bridge's support ropes, which made me think perhaps they were protectors of the dragon after all. I tried to push my way through, but then I heard a loud, clear woman's voice from the campfire. She called out that our party should be slaughtered because we loved goodness, and one of the twin's blades swung right at my head.
I was actually relieved to have no more doubts. I drew my weapons and attacked without reservation. My first strike sent one of the scimitars flying, and then I got my first clue that not all was as it seemed. As I watched, the disarmed twin's hand flattened and sharpened to become a replacement blade for him. I felt the bridge shake as my friends began to cross it as quickly as they could, even though one of the twins was still trying to hack through the ropes. I tried to wrestle my way through to get onto solid land, make room for the rest of the Wayfarers, and to get these things away from the bridge, and as my sword found a home in one of their bellies, its shape melted into a thin, bald, almost featureless creature - a doppleganger.
Now we knew the nature of at least some of our enemies, but I heard Verence call out behind us, sounding almost the same as the woman's voice earlier. "Drow!" he called. I immediately remembered the woman's voice near the fire. I have no idea how Verence had figured out her nature, but my course was set. Borreau and Telaran were at my heels; they could take care of this remaining doppleganger, and I could push past to clear out a hated drow. And so I kicked into a sudden run straight for the fire.
I was taken aback - literally - by one small problem. When trouble had begun brewing, Telaran and the others had tied down the rope about my waist at the far side of the gorge to offer me extra protection. Instead, it ended up giving me extra leash before snapping me back with a gut- wrenching yank. I ended up with every mote of air knocked out of my lungs, flat on my back in the snow.
And from my low vantage point, as I struggled to my feet, I saw the arrival of another enemy. This one was strange-looking, indeed, a small, bald man with yellow skin and a strange way of moving that looked almost like water. He slithered with amazing speed and sudden stops right to the edge of the gorge and started flailing at the edge. My only guess was that B'rinth and perhaps others of our party were trying to sneak across over there.
From the snowy reaches of the campfire, where the hated drow woman was supposed to be, a bolt of lightning shot over my head and struck the bridge. I glanced over my shoulder to see Borreau recovering from impact, but at least he was still on his feet. I finally managed to cut through my tether and continue to kick through the snow towards the campsite.
Verence hadn't led me wrong; a drow woman stood sneering at me, waiting for my approach. She was damnably fast, and she and I traded blows while the sounds of the rest of the fight echoed through the wind behind me. It was hard to not be distracted; I could only hope the rest of the party was faring all right. I saw one more fellow out of the corner of my eye - a huge, red ogre of a man who steamed in the snow - but he disappeared from sight almost immediately. It wasn't until after I finally drove my dagger home in the drow woman's throat and was able to spin around that I caught some measure of what had been going on behind me.
Borreau and Telaran had dispatched the second doppleganger without problems, but their attention was now divided between the yellow slitherer and the other side of the gorge. I followed their gaze to see that huge red steamer who had been beside the campfire a scant moment ago. He was now on the other side of the gorge, without a trace, and stood over Verence's back as the magician struggled to his elbows. And as I watched, lights shot from his fingertips and drove Nory straight to the ground.
It was clear where the more trouble lie, and while Borreau squared off against the short yellow man, Telaran took off across the bridge, and I strung my bow. I shot once, twice, while Verence scampered madly from the blows of the red giant. Mielikki herself must have blessed my last shot, because it drove into the head of the beast like a spike, and he crumpled to the ground at Verence's feet while Telaran rushed to help him and Nory.
Now, though, we had one last concern. The little yellow man suddenly sprung away from Borreau - the beast moved like lightning - and headed toward me. I was left scrambling for the sword at my feet, totally open, but then magic light bolted over my shoulder and straight into the chest of the yellow man. I had forgotten B'rinth, who now appeared behind me at the edge of the campsite. The creature was slowed down, but not stopped, and though I managed to cut flesh for it, he hit my shoulder with a strangely shaking hand.
The next thing I knew, I was curled up in the snow in pain, mostly blind, and freezing cold. My brain was so clouded over I could barely think, but I saw yellow above that I knew was danger, and though I slithered and slid aside as best I could, he seemed to have become a giant. He got nothing but bigger as he finally fell over me, and as his body shook the ground around me, pain struck again as I grew, and lengthened, and reformed. It wasn't until I curled up around myself again, this time with hands to grasp and legs to shiver, that I realized I hadn't been myself. Borreau stood over the body of the yellow man, his weapons bloodied and eyes frenzied, and I began to piece the last of the clues of the past three seconds together. My clothes - and my warm ring - lay in a heap around me. Borreau explained that the yellow creature - whose eyes looked serpentine and skin scaly - had turned me into some kind of snake with his touch. I pulled the ring on first, and returning to heat let only the shock shake me as I pulled my clothes and my gear back on.
The battle was finished, praise all the gods, and we were now safely on the other side of the gorge. But where to go next? We were barely beginning to try to plan when, through the driving wind and snow, a bright yellow canary flew steadily right for us. It struck us all dumb as wood as this peaceful canary settled right on my shoulder, pecked my cheek with a kiss, and then dove to the ground in the midst of us to reform into a man with golden blonde hair. None of us had to be told, by the time he had finished a strange bow for us, that we had found our golden dragon in the last way we expected.
He was grateful to us for clearing out these brigands, for they had indeed been planning to slaughter the dragon and steal his wealth. He offered us recompense, which of course we immediately asked for in the form of five scales, and explained the reason why. He immediately agreed, disappearing for a moment to reappear with five scales the size of small shields of bright, shimmering gold. They were absolutely beautiful. He told us we were in the midst of the Dragonspine Mountains, and that his home lay on one of the peaks above. He granted us healing that would take care of most of the wounds we had taken for his sake, and before he left, I spoke up with a request I hoped he wouldn't feel too bold; I asked to see his true form before he goes. I was now burning with curiosity to see a golden dragon in full form.
He smiled and nodded, and in the field beside the campfire, turned before our eyes into a serpent as long as a row of buildings, bright and shimmering, with impossibly small, delicate-looking wings, and a whiskered face so full of power and wisdom that I lost my breath. He was amazing, and took flight for the peaks without a care for the howling winds in the slightest.
We had our last item at last, and we quickly put it on the tray to get out of this harsh weather. True to the wizard's word, our blackness this time brought us to the stone walls of an elaborate castle, with murals and tiles covering almost every flat surface in bewildering, exotic patterns. We had reached the home of Buvarik, and Cadiphal, the short, dark-skinned man who had started us on this adventure, awaited us.
Cadiphal was most pleased to see us and to see the success we had made of our errands. He promised us a fine dinner with Buvarik and time to speak with him, but bade us to make use of his hospitality until dinnertime. We had to ask, a bit sheepishly, what time it could possibly be, but were happy to be led - in some of our cases, by strange golem-ish walking machines - to rooms that looked as exotic as they did luxurious. Cadiphal led Borreau and I to one room without even asking, and left us with a warm room and a steaming bath that was unlike any of the baths we've seen in Arabel. Instead of just the water steaming, here the whole room seemed to radiate heat, with the strange tile covering every inch of the floor and walls in patterns and murals showing people in strange turbans and robes. It was almost magical, it was so enticing, and we were actually reluctant to be called away for the dinner hour.
At last, we met our mysterious Buvarik. He was a dark-skinned man with wild black hair and robes of deep colors wrapped around him. While we ate a delicious dinner with strange spices in it, he explained that we were in the capital city of Amn, a land an ocean away from home to the north and the west. Buvarik not only agreed to tell us the results of his "experiment," but invited us to attend the casting of his spell.
We readily agreed, and met with him in a strangely-shaped room full of inscribed pentagrams in the stone of the floor. No strange tiles here; this room had absolutely nothing in it that might disrupt the symmetry of the etchings on the floor. We began to get an inkling of what was ahead as he sealed us inside our own pentagram inscriptions, instructing us not to dare move or disturb the spell. He spent the next few hours casting in strange languages, and we saw each of our errand items go into the casting of this spell. And in the last, in the center of the room, imprisoned in the most powerful pentagram of all, a huge creature, swelling with anger, eyes red as blood and skin black as a drow's, formed together.
This demon didn't seem concerned at first, taunting and ridiculing Buvarik, telling him his quest to be rid of him was for naught, until Buvarik finally called him by the name of Graz'zt, and ordered him banished for Buvarik's lifetime, and barred from harming he or his. The roars of that demon almost brought the walls in on us, but this prince of the hells was finally sucked away, like mist in the morning sun, and the exhausted Buvarik grimly bid us good night. His job was done, as was ours, and in the morning we would be sent onwards.
Borreau and I returned to our lavish rooms and spent a decadent evening, as I'm sure the others did too, although probably not with such company. I came to a conclusion that has been becoming more and more inescapable these past weeks, that I am in love with this kind cleric, and I declared so to him as we spoke that night. I don't know what the worth is of the love of an owned woman, but I would do neither you, he, nor I any good by denying that it exists. I guess that, come Midsummer's Day, we'll have quite a lot to talk about, not just for the adventures we've seen since our last meeting.
In the morning, everyone looked well-rested and we reeked of the bath oils those heavenly waters were filled with. Buvarik met us one final time, gave us our payment, and, as promised, let us each choose one of his supply's potions. After the hurts we had seen in our adventures, I immediately took a healing bottle. B'rinth took a potion that would give explosive power to his weapons, Telaran and Borreau both took potions that would let them fly, and Nory one that would make water like air to his breath, all useful things to have. Verence's choice was the strangest; he took a potion of youth, one that would reverse age. I'm not sure why Verence fears aging so, but perhaps he'll explain it on another road some evening.
Buvarik will now be sending us back to Tantras, so that I can report to Precentor Monso as I promised. From there, we'll be seeking travel back to home, and Midsummer's Day not too far beyond. It will be good to be home after such a strange batch of travels, and to walk in our own lands again. And so, I end this letter, and remain, as always,
Your faithful servant,
The Jade Letters are the property and copyright of Beth Griese, not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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