By Bryant Alexander
Off to see the Wizard
Even in Waterdeep, the City of Splendors , a townhouse doing a dance is considered something unusual. Naturally, I decided to examine this strange event, especially since there was a nice crowd of others who were also looking.
The sight became even more interesting when three of the house's occupants returned. I'd been hearing rumors around the temple recently of this party that had been selling unusual artifacts. How many half orcs could there be traveling with a moon elf and a tall man of undetermined race? This had to be them.
As it turned out, the commotion was just a pair of slightly wet dire wolves having fun eluding a female half orc in fishy smelling fishnets. Apparently, the maid had failed at wolf washing, and the wolves had enjoyed themselves immensely eluding her. I could only assume that she was cursing them soundly, but given what little I know of Orcish, almost anything sounds like cursing in that coarse tongue.
At least one of them was a moon elf, like myself.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Laflir,” I said. “Or Moonshine.”
“Of?” she asked.
“The temple of Sehanine Moonbow ,” I said.
They were the elf, Aeryn, the strange, tall Armand, and the half orc druid, Grolsch. The wolves were Pain and Suffering. The maid didn't seem to be in the mood to stick around to help with the clean-up. So I volunteered to help them. They seemed like interesting enough people, and I might learn something while doing a good deed. The rest of the crowd mostly scattered, save for a dwarven bouncer I'd met recently. I hadn't expected him to pitch in on something like this, but then it's hard to judge a person's character when he's on the job and the job is bouncing drunks out of a bar.
“I've heard of you people,” I murmured, more to myself than to anyone else, “but this isn't why…”
“What have you heard about us?” Armand asked.
He sounded worried. It was interesting talking to someone nearly two feet taller than I was.
“Not that much,” I said. “Mostly that you seem to be unloading a surprising number of artifacts.”
“Not that many,” Armand said.
Not here in Waterdeep, from what I'd heard, but word gets around, passed from temple to temple. Sehanine Moonbow took an interest in artifacts. Reportedly, they'd returned the ancient holy sword of Helm and the legendary Testament of Jade, a holy tome of Lathander.
They didn't have any lying around the house, though. While the house certainly looked lived in, or at least run through, they hadn't actually been living there long.
I'd intended to keep up with them, as they seemed like interesting and friendly people, temple business kept me occupied, and before I knew it, I'd heard that they'd left town. According to rumor, Armand was as tall as he was and had those strange little sparkles under his skin due to his contracting some ailment known as ‘fairy clap'. Their party had departed to seek a cure for him.
I decided to go after them. It was the full moon, so I had to do some flying, anyways. Some people (by which I mean my father) think that being a werebat is a curse. He wouldn't know a blessing if it bit him. I did recognizer that I was blessed, which is what led me to my clerical career. But working in a temple wasn't exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. So here I was, in bat form, looking for an adventuring party.
Their camp was easy enough to spot from the air, between all the animals (dire wolves, a snow leopard, an owl, a dire horse …) and the fact that Armand required a longer than usual tent. With the moon going down and the sun coming up, it was time for me to land. I found myself surrounded upon landing, though, with weapons pointed at me. I quickly changed back to my normal elven form.
“Hello,” I said. “Perhaps you don't remember me. We met back in Waterdeep.”
“Hello,” Aeryn said. “You might want to come up a way of warning us. We just fought a bunch of vampires.”
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Maybe some purple ribbons?” she suggested.
“That could work,” I said.
There were strange sounds coming from the woods. Aeryn seemed to notice me noticing.
“That's that dwarf,” she said.
“Oh, him ,” I said. “Mr. Bouncer. Yes, I met him back in Waterdeep, too. I was just enjoying a few drinks in the bar where he was employed when I met one of those types who must have a tentacle monster of some sort in their recent ancestry. Mr. Bouncer does, um, bounce people out the door very well.”
Right now, he sounded like a dwarf experiencing severe intestinal distress. It was probably best to leave him alone. I certainly didn't want to be anywhere nearby when his bowels finally cut loose. Everyone else seemed to be similarly inclined. We hit the road. The dwarf could catch up to us when he was feeling better.
I was able to carry my basic necessities with me while flying, but I wasn't quite big enough to bring a horse along with me. The party had sufficient mounts for me to borrow one. Aeryn showed me another essential item for traveling with a half orc and with animals who made a habit of avoiding baths: scented handkerchiefs. I'd have to buy some of my own when the opportunity arose. Maybe lavender scented, to go with the purple ribbons I was going to be wearing for identification.
It was some time later that we spotted a gold dragon overhead. For most us, that meant keeping our heads down and hoping that it didn't notice us. Gold dragons may be on the side of good, but they're still much larger than we are. If one gold dragon happened to be a little less inclined towards goodness than the average gold dragon, we didn't want to be the ones to find out about it.
Then there was Armand, who decided to charge towards it, waving his hand in the air to get its attention. Thankfully, Armand's horse was paying more attention than Armand. Armand was urging it forward, but it knew that it couldn't fly and it wouldn't bounce. It stopped. Luckily, Armand was well attached to the saddle or he would've gone over the cliff.
Armand was a bit embarrassed over the whole thing. And quite disappointed that it'd ignored him. He'd wanted to ask it questions, because he was slowly turning into a dragon himself.
I made a note to myself to send word back to the temple. Not fairy clap, after all. However did that rumor get started, I wondered?
The gold dragon wasn't the only dragon we saw that day, either. As we drew closer to Tilverton, we spotted the occasional purple dragon fly by. At least purple dragons are much smaller and thus far less dangerous than their golden cousins, and Armand didn't seem inclined to chase them.
The number of dragons in the area was a bit disturbing, though, whatever color they were. Then we got close enough that we should have been able to see the city. Tilverton was tiny compared to Waterdeep, but it was still a small city. Unfortunately, that was probably all in the past tense. Instead of a city, all we could see was a dome of darkness. As there was a path cleared that detoured around the strange dome, we chose not to visit the city, after all. It's always best to avoid visiting places that aren't there.
It wasn't a high class inn that we stopped at, but it would do. It beat stopping in Tilverton. Grolsch elected to remain outside, communing with nature. It was probably easier that way. The stable hands had fun with Armand's horse and even more fun with Pain and Suffering. Inside, while we couldn't get any fine wines, or even not-so-fine wines, the ale was tolerable. I avoided the mead. There are times when it's nice to get drunk and times when it's best to avoid drunkenness. Here, I would leave the drunkenness to the dwarves.
We weren't the only guests at the inn. There were some more moon elves, who were tolerating the ale, and small troupe of dwarves, who were indeed enjoying the mead. There was even a female dwarf with the group. It was very unusual to see a female dwarf traveling. Aeryn and I were delighted to have a chance to sit with some of our own kind. They even had some news for Aeryn.
“Your fiancé's looking for you,” an elf said.
“He can keep looking,” Aeryn said. “Do you know anything about what's happened to Tilverton?”
“Those who go in do not come out,” we were told.
“Maybe we could arrange for my fiancé to visit there,” Aeryn suggested.
Later, we had to decide who was sleeping where and with whom. It wasn't a very big inn, and there were plenty of guests. As Aeryn pointed out, there was the option of joining Grolsch in the stables… or bunking with our kin.
“You make our kin sound so attractive,” I said.
As it turned out, we were able to arrange rooms so that me, Aeryn and Armand were able to share. Armand might be promiscuous enough to pick up a case of fairy clap, but he was gentleman enough for us to room with without worrying. Unfortunately, I should have checked my almanac more thoroughly. The moon was still full this night. Blessings as great as my own don't come without a price, unfortunately.
In the morning, the dwarves decided to accompany us on the road. We were heading in the same direction, and the wilderness is easier to cross in large groups. I hadn't actually known before that we were heading for Elminster's tower, but I'd heard of Elminster, naturally. He does have a certain reputation for dealing with artifacts.
As we traveled, I learned some important things from Aeryn, like the fact Armand is proportional, and discovered that Grolsch had an interesting opinion about me .
“She needs pretty scars,” Grolsch said.
I gave Aeryn a questioning look.
“Pretty scars?” I asked.
“I agree,” Aeryn said.
The concept didn't make much sense to her, either.
“I can understand some people are proud of battle scars,” I said. “It's a mark of a warrior and all, but… pretty?”
Armand had an even stranger story. Among his kind, there are those who choose to scar themselves as some sort of ritual thing. Perhaps it was ideas like that which drove Armand to leave his kind behind.
This evening we had to camp. Camping meant putting together a watch schedule.
“As someone new to the party,” I said, “might I ask why Armand is being excused from watch?”
“For almost riding off a cliff,” Aeryn said.
“There was that,” I admitted.
I decided to take the middle watch shift.
“With my particular blessing,” I explained, “I'm something of a night person. And my people are better at seeing in the dark than others.”
Aeryn certainly agreed about our superior night vision. We passed through our watch uneventfully. Unfortunately, we didn't get as much sleep afterwards as I would've liked, because the camp was attacked by a giant centipede. Fortunately for me, the monster picked the dwarven side of the encampment to attack. I had plenty of time to get my bow out while it bit a dwarf in half.
It soon became apparent that my bow might not have been my best choice. It was definitely the dwarves who were taking the worst of the damage, though. Mr. Bouncer might've been lucky that he'd stayed behind. If he was here, he might've been the dwarf that the centipede swallowed.
The centipede bit another dwarf in half. I tried shooting an arrow at it, but I don't think I hit it. Even if I had, it probably wouldn't have done very much. Grolsch, however, was doing a good job flaming it, and Armand was firing some kind of magical bursts at it.
Our party survived the battle unscathed, but our dwarven compatriots hadn't fared so well. The female dwarf, Dreya, had survived, but the only other one that hadn't been bitten in half was the one that'd been swallowed whole. Unfortunately, it will still be quite some time before I'm able to perform resurrections. It was even more unfortunate when I saw what Grolsch was up to. He performed a druidic ritual, and called back the soul of Fred the dwarf. His ritual also made Fred a lot closer to nature than he used to be: He was now a brown bear.
“What did he just do?” Armand asked.
“A reincarnation,” Aeryn said.
“Which is…?” Armand asked.
He really was from someplace far away. And he sounded worried again. Maybe it was because of incidents like this that he'd sounded so worried when he asked me back in Waterdeep what I'd heard about them.
“He called back Fred's soul,” I said. “But he also… reshaped it.”
Fred the dwarf didn't seem very happy to be a bear. At least, not until he noticed how well built bears were in some areas. While I've always been good with animals, due to the nature of my blessing, I'd never particularly looked that closely into that aspect of the nature of the beast. Fred probably liked mead even more now than before. If such a thing was possible.
As for the rest of the fallen dwarves… Grolsch could only perform one reincarnation per day. So we decided to wait a few days, while he reincarnated the others as a black bear, a boar, and a human. It's a good thing we didn't have more dwarves, though. After four days, we were running a bit lower than we liked on supplies. Granted, the animals could fend for themselves, but the woods and the streams would soon run out of game to hunt, and what bears do in the woods, they do a lot of.
Dreya turned out to be a cleric, too. And she seemed to have developed an interest in Armand. Obviously she wasn't concerned about fairy clap. But if Armand was proportional, I had to wonder how Dreya could possibly make things fit.
The next big disruption to our routine occurred on my watch, when we spotted a line of skeletons approaching us. Ordinary skeletons wouldn't be any big deal, but these skeletons were flickering in and out, as if they weren't quite present on our plane of reality. I saw one actually walk through a rock.
Chances were good that they had hostile intentions. The swords they were carrying was a major clue. So I tried to Turn them while Aeryn sounded the alarm. Half of them ran away, while the other half continued their flickering charge. One of them even got close enough to give me a good knock upside the head before I managed to Turn the rest of them.
I liked watching them run away. It would've been nice if they'd collapsed into piles of dust, but I'd settle for having them run.
“Let's follow them,” Aeryn said. “I want to know who's controlling them.”
I had begun to get the impression that the point of our journey was to find out who had been spying on the party.
“I think they're just running from ,” I said. “I don't think they're running to .”
“But don't you want to know who summoned them?” Aeryn asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I just don't think they're going back to whoever summoned them.”
We followed them anyways, at least until they turned around and started towards us again. At least they weren't flickering anymore. My original Turnings must have knocked them completely into our plane. Since they were attacking again, I Turned them again and Aeryn webbed them. Rather than follow them any further, she simply blew them apart, one by one. We didn't gain any clues as to who sent them, but at least they wouldn't bother us anymore.
Finally, our party reached our goal, Elminster's tower. From the outside, at least, it wasn't very impressive looking. Knocking on the door got us the attention of a strange little blue man of some species I didn't recognize.
“The master isn't seeing anyone,” he said.
How predictable. We insisted that we were here to see him anyways.
“Ooh,” the blue guy said. “You brought food. That boar will roast up nicely.”
“It's not for eating,” Aeryn said. “It's a dwarf.”
“If you say so,” the blue guy said.
I don't think he believed us. But he did let us in, and he led us on a tour of a vast and wondrous museum of strange and unusual items that, after awhile, became simply mind numbing in its strangeness. I like strange and unusual things as a general rule, but I can only absorb so much at one time and we were here on business.
“Maybe this is part of how he discourages visitors,” I remarked.
One thing quickly became apparent: The tower was much larger inside than it was outside. I suppose that was only to be expected. And if we could all purchase haversacks that were bigger inside than out, than surely a mage with Elminster's reputation could have a tower that worked that way.
Finally, we were given the opportunity to use the bathroom. Aeryn quickly asserted women's right to use the facilities before the men. Once we got into the bathroom, however… Well, there was much more than just toilets. They couldn't be books. Their covers were so thin they flopped around. But they were obviously magical, too, because normal paper didn't have a glossy sheen like these pages did. I couldn't read the writing inside, but the pictures were worth a thousand words, at least. The women in the pictures looked almost like humans, but no race I knew of had… I suppose I have to refer to them as breasts, but surely no real being could carry breasts like those. Maybe they were just swollen.
There were other, similarly bizarre picture ‘books' available, ones with people sitting in the oddest looking carts, and even with men who had the most un-proportional anatomies I'd ever seen. Bigger is not always better, and if those were swollen, well, a little more swelling and they'd pop.
Once we'd all finished using the facilities, we were ushered into a lavish dining room. The dwarves entered from another room… and they were dwarves again.
“It was like… a strange dream,” Fred said.
I could only imagine. If I wasn't careful, I might not have to imagine. I didn't want to think about it. I wanted to imagine something else. Once we were seated, I began to imagine what sort of table manners I was likely to be seeing shortly. Rather, what sort of lack of table manners I was likely to be seeing.
“Use the forks,” I advised Grolsch.
“Forks?” Grolsch asked.
“Here's a hint,” Aeryn told a very confused Armand. “Start with the outermost fork and work your way in.”
“What is the point of demonstrating knowledge of multiple forks?” Armand asked.
“It's a sign of breeding,” I said.
The fingerbowls confused them, too. Of course, Armand's fingers were bigger than most. At least Armand tried to put a stop to things when the dwarves and Grolsch discovered that finger bowls could be used as projectiles. Unfortunately, Armand never learned the first rule of food fights. The person who steps into the middle to stop things becomes the designated target.
I must admit that I had my share of confusion during the meal, too. Many of the items we were presented with were beyond unrecognizable. In particular there was this dessert item that looked to me like a gelatinous cube but tasted like frozen sugar water. Very strange, and far too sweet for my tastes.
Then came the after dinner drinks. It had to be some kind of tea that I was served, but it was black. The first sip explained why there was so much sugar and cream out. This was a very bitter sort of tea.
“Espresso,” our blue host said.
With dinner completed, we were invited to bathe.
“I do not want to see the dwarven ring,” I said.
Aeryn heartily agreed on that count. As it turned out, we needn't have worried. There were two bathing rooms, one for the ladies and for the… I hesitated to say gentlemen. While Aeryn, Dreya and I were being manicured, pedicured, and generally pampered, the males, with the probable exception of Armand, were most likely competing to see which one could blow the biggest fart-bubble.
Post-bath, we were shown into a room of comfy armchairs. Our blue host had some strange cylindrical things he wanted to give us. I could accept an after dinner mint, but these things, whatever they were… He wanted us to set them on fire. None of us were following his demonstration very well.
“First you cut the end off,” our blue host said.
He even demonstrated it again slowly. For what it was worth. Grolsch attempted to follow his example. Our host was less than impressed, especially when Grolsch continued using the cutter, dividing his cylinder into bite sized pieces.
“If I had a dwarf's beard,” I observed, “I wouldn't want to put a fire so close to it.”
“Don't inhale,” our blue host said.
Apparently, this thing was something like pipe weed, only you did without the pipe. Some of the dwarves actually seemed to like the things. Our blue host had another variety of weed, a small twisty looking white one. He took a puff of it, and then tried to pass it to someone else.
“It's been in his mouth,” I observed.
“This one you do inhale,” he said.
I wasn't interested in inhaling anything. At least the chairs were all very comfortable, even if the air in here was getting a bit thick. They were so comfortable, in fact, that it was hard to keep my eyes open. In fact, it was much easier not to bother with keeping my eyes open.
It was somewhat disappointing when I was woken up and told that we were leaving. Apparently Elminster had already spoken to whomever he intended to speak to while the rest of us slept. Elminster provided us with one final convenience. The exit from his tower led us to the outskirts of Myth Dranor, and this was where we wanted to go. I wasn't sure why we wanted to go there, but I wasn't sure why we'd visited Elminster, either.
We settled down to discuss strategies for entering. The dwarves agreed to guard our camp. As for the rest of us, one thing seemed certain. My nice new manicure wasn't likely to last. It wasn't much consolation knowing that I had a better chance of preserving mine than Aeryn did hers.
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