A Troubled Economy

A Good Night and a Goodbye

The red wine lingered on each taste bud of Pandora’s tongue as she laid herself down for rest. She inhaled the fragrance of her bear fur as she laboriously slumped it over her shoulder. The ranger’s head spun with wine, a belly full of meat, and a heart full of laughter. Weeks had passed since the last time anyone relaxed or even smiled. Pandora had only ever known Oriseus, the magus, to be grim and tormented. However, his conviction for finding an exit had only grown stronger and caused a furrowed brow. Pandora imagined it would become a permanent effect. Even Houn’s, the amorous rogue, attempts to flirt with their healer Mainika or entertain the group seemed forced and lacked creativity. Tempers flared and a fight between the druid Drugaes and Oriseus nearly ended in bloodshed. Had party members not intervened, risking their own lives, surely one of them would have perished. Every member had been wearing thin. The only thing getting thicker was the film of oily filth which covered their bodies and had seeped into their very being. The dark, depressing dankness of the underground caves ate at their flesh, into their bones, into their core. It was as though a gaunt pestilential bonedrinker had attached its wriggling pale tentacles into everyone’s body to slowly consume their marrow and spirits. It is an oozing undead humanoid parasite which feeds solely on the bone of its victims. It’s permeating stench resembled the rotting puss of an abscessed sore under the sweaty folds of a grave dirt golem on a sticky humid swamp afternoon. Although the depressing caverns felt endlessly draining, it broke for a few hours that day.

Much earlier, the group discovered many valuables among Natasha’s belongings. Along with Natasha’s cumbersome stack of notes and diary logs, a plentiful bounty of fine wine, water, meats, and cheeses had been hauled to their safe haven. Alaric’s tomb, and site of Pandora’s baptism, held the only sanctuary against the unremitting danger their adventure had taken them. However, that day was worthy of celebration.

While the rest of her party lugged their newly acquired booty, Pandora’s linguistic capability had allowed her to lounge in the tomb as she read through the Drow scrawling of Natasha’s logs. To her relief and excitement, she discovered everything the group needed to free themselves from their duty. Though her discoveries were enough for joviality, it was the edibles which uplifted the ranger. Up until the ransacking of Natasha’s personal quarters, they had been living off Mainika’s conjured goodberries and individuals’ rations. Pandora, being a skilled ranger, added variety to her diet with whatever crunchy, slimy, or prickly insects and juicy rats she could kill. Not to deny her attempts to share her bounty with her party members, though they never agreed.

With the thought of her improvised meals, she let out a drunken chuckle into her bear fur while she reminisced about her attempt to get Oriseus to eat nutritious bat guano and rabbit droppings.

For hours, they passed cups of wine amongst each other and some indulging themselves straight from the cask tap itself. The tomb filled with songs, stories, and jokes from everyone’s home lands. It was nice to hear Mainika sing something other than healing spells. To which it was suggested Houn take a few lessons. They taught each other drinking games. To everyone’s surprise, Magnus was consistently a top contender. They all agreed, her years as a lawyer gave her an advantage. So, it came down to games of athleticism. While Pandora and Drugaes were always the first to fall on the floor laughing, the magus and senior rogue followed shortly , and Mainika gracefully declining to look like a fool, that meant with Aaliyah’s circus experience was against Magnus’s ability as a monk. Bets were placed, won, and lost as they played their games. That night of good wine and better company warmed them from the inside out. The tainted stain of gloom had been washed from them.

As Pandora retired herself to her drunken thoughts and laughter, a low Chessentan taunt playfully jaunted across the room, “Oh dear, first one down. We’ll have to… work on that. When we get back to the city, you and I will have to spend a night, or three, in a tavern. Houn, you’ll have to join of course. May I suggest not the Kraken’s Afterbirth.”

Without looking, her sharp Elven ears picked up the crooked flirtatious smile curling Oriseus’s lips and the predictable look on Houn’s face.

“So there really is an establishment too low for you?” the ranger retorted.

Content with her sharpness amongst a swimming mind, she exhaled a loud drawn out yawn. Her long aching limbs stretched like a bowstring.

Before giving anyone a chance at a comment, Pandora quickly stated, “For being a Drow, Natasha has decent taste in wine. I’m surprised she would drink anything other than mushroom wine.”

Pandora admits to herself, thinking back on the large gulps of red wine she ingested and thankful she was not accosted with the foul flavor of Drow wine. With that thought her heart began to ache.

The group laugher and Oriseus’s comments fell on deaf ears. As Pandora turned her back to the group, her large hot tears plopped silently from her face as she drifted to sleep.

The sun’s glow warmed her exposed skin. The fresh grass beneath her body was cool and comforting. It was a pleasant contrast to the sun’s rays. She inhaled the wild free air deep into her lungs. Earthy aromas of soil mixed in harmony with the sweet fragrances of pollen as they danced within her nostrils. The insect hum serenaded her. She opened her eyes and saw her love, Bystal, while he groggily adored her. His luminous green eyes filled her with serenity. For several moments they laid there gazing upon one another while fingers
ran long bare flesh.

Her eyes took in every detail of his face. Though he was not as striking as most Elves, she found him the most handsome. His lush black eyelashes accented his kind almond shaped eyes while bringing out the brightness of their pale green color. His nose and eyebrows traditionally elven sharp but his strong jaw and cleft chin surely were not. Before she knew it, her fingers stroked his thick deep auburn curls.

“I have always envied your hair,” She smiled.

“Is that why you keep your locks in dreads?” Bystal smiled and pulled her head towards his for a welcoming kiss. The taste of his mouth had not faded from Pandora’s memory.

“The only person to be envied is you.” He said once their lips parted.

His eyes slowly and lovingly washed over her while she wildly blushed. His hands cupped the cheeks of her face for another lovers welcome. She rolled into Bystal’s arms and looked up at him. Her bright copper hair rested in the grass. Lover’s hands caressed one another’s.

Contently she sighed, “Do you think our daughter would have had your hair?”

A frown stretched Pandora’s face as she said, “We had a girl. So they told me.”

Billowing clouds began to roll in. The sunshine dimming and her skin began to pucker as the warmth faded.

“Those who rescued me brought her cold body with them. I could not bring myself to look at her. To hold her. To attend her funeral. Yours either," she choked out.

She could feel the pressure fill her chest and her throat tighten. Cold wind blew across their loving embrace.

She said, “I miss you…Every day. I see your face in such anguish every night I sleep.”

Her voice cracked as did distant thunder, “I saw you. I felt you in everything at home.”

Her eyes fluttered as she fought off her tears. “I wish we had not parted. I wish to be with you in death. I tried once. An alchemist potion I stole. One of my hand maidens found me unconscious with the bottle and forced her finger down my throat. I was sick for days, but it was nothing compared to the pain of feeling your emptiness in my world. I suppose that is why I put myself in danger. It distracts me, and in some way I hope each battle will bring me closer to you.”

Her face became wet with sorrow like the ground became with the pattering of rain drops. Her chest heavy like being trapped under a boulder. Bystal watched her with great anguish while she made her confession.

He said, “My love, the only thing which brings me misery is watching yours.”

His hands dried her face and the droplets of rain followed suit as he comforted her, “Though the weave of life is complex, mysterious, and fraught agony, it can also be wonderful.”

Bystal’s voice cleared of pain just as the heavy clouds retreated from the sky. He looked solidly into her eyes and continued, “Extinguish your anguish. Walk no longer on the journey wrought with guilt my sweet love. Be at peace and let go of melancholy’s hand.”

Pandora’s heart swelled as she resisted his words, “Much easier said than done. What if I don’t want to? What if I forget you? I cannot draw breath if you are not part of me.”

Laugher spurted from Bystal’s lips, “I see your stubborn attitude has not wavered. I will always be part of you. My memory should not be tainted with such great pain. Think of me the way you loved me. The way you would sneak into the woods with me. Remember me as I am now.”

The sun glowed on them once again and he kissed her passionately. “When have you ever forgotten anything?”

Pandora blushed again and heartedly chuckled. She knew exactly what he meant.

He continued to assure her, “We will be together soon enough. And hastening our reunion will only bare fruits of futility and hurt. Trust me Pandora, you are purposefully on this journey.”

Gently, his lips pressed against her forehead and his hand rested on her heart. Calm once again, she took in the experience of being with her love again.

She said tenderly and earnestly, “I am…I will always be in love with you.”

Bystal’s arms lifted her into a strong embrace and she buried her face into his shoulder.

He stroked her hair and whispered softly, “As will I”.

He laid her down onto the grass. The moment Pandora’s back hit the ground it became hard and cold. It was stone.

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The Sun
they find a way out

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I have died more then once to reach the sunlight.

What a horrible place. I looked back down the dark tunnel of wet rock reflecting on what had brought us here, finally at the bottom of the shaft leading up to the life giving sun. An entrance to the lair of the manticore predators we had seen flying over the forest over a month ago, before our ill advised foray into the depths. I remember the little dwarf Elaric who had bravely stood with shield brandished when those same beasts had attacked us by the treeline ages ago. Now those beasts lay dead in the tunnel a few hundred yards back. Probably being eaten by the moray who’s tunnels line the walls were they would lash out at any passers by. Our group included.

Searching through the tunnels we had tried this way and that. Through the mist filled caverns we searched, spirits rising when we found worked stone. Our group explored the inhabited complex. Finding cots and mats, chests recently left. The stink of rooms occupied by unwashed unscented peoples. But still people. And where there are a people there is a door to the fresh air of the outside.

We searched those rooms. One after another, and found no one. An abandoned complex? Perhaps the cultists were on the move. Marching on some unsuspecting village somewhere.
No. It was an ambush.
Dozens of evil priests of varying power attacked through a craftily concealed door that Houn had missed. They spit vile curse after curse on our backs. Only our divine protection bestowed apon us by the Saint Olaric in his tomb helped us resist their fowl powers.
We thought perhaps this was a token force left behind. Or maybe a group surprised to see us here. Oriesus attacked with Tusti [Duparian for “gusto”]! plowing into their ranks with such power that he pushed them back down the hall they had come from! Pandora turned on them and starting whistling arrows passed Oreisus’ head and Drugeaus cast a spell I could not tell what the effect of it was but as he raised his hands with a flourish a light appear from the hall way and men screamed!

I tried to follow but the battle was clearly moving at speed down the hallway. I rounded the corner in time to watch Oriesus turn a corner up some stairs bound over a pair of massive armored boots obviously belonging to a giant or ogre and watches those boots convulse in the air accompanied by a bright flash of white light that I had come to recognizes as Oriesus’ lightning spell.
Unfortunately that was the end of our valiant push. The cultists rallied and as i topped the stairs I saw Oriesus frozen in place sheathed in a nimbus of black magic that swirled about his arms and legs holding him fast. Pandora was fireing arrow after arrow down the hall but they were being deflected by shadowy figures from the nether realm before they could reach their mark. The plate armored ogre lay dead on the floor but another armored warrior barred our path. An orc like before. A Blackguard or some such foulness. Magnyss strove to best him but her fists were not much good against his heavy steel armor. I moved forward and healed Magnyss but I could do nothing for Oriesus. Then when I attempted a spell to prevent the reanimation of the ogre into an undead combatant I saw one the cultist Priest cast a power disenchantment. My heart sank. Against such power, as cultists streamed down the hallway in zealous abandon, we could not hold let alone push forward. We were outmatched.
Then a great thundering voice bellowed from the depth behind the cultists. A deep cracking rumble like massive stones rolled down a lava river with fire and force. I did not understand the words but I knew them. it was Abyssal. The language of demons.
The cultists immediately wheeled about abandoning victory at their Master’s call! We where saved by the most unlikely of rescuers and did not wish to linger but we could not move Oriesus from his bonded state. So with our hearts thumping waiting for death to return around the corner we searched to dead for what aid might be had and waited for the spell to break. Once it did we fled back into the tunnels.

Back in the tomb of Olaric we rested and chewed on our frustration. So close to a way out but obviously barred form it we could do nothing but explore some different rout. Drugeous and Oriesus were fighting again. Yelling at each other in the antechamber while I tended the wounded. Houn had disappeared and we I worried for his safety. Of us all Houn had been the most stalwart. Never flinching in the face of danger. Never losing hope or having too much of it. He was like a piece of fine steel. But he had not accompanied us back to the tomb to rest and Dugeous and Oriesus argued whether they should return to the cultists laid to seek him.
The argument made made moot before it could once again come to blows as Houn reappeared offering nothing for his risk but to say we would find no way out down that path.
A coin was tossed between Pandora and Houn then. I wonder at the significance.

After resting and eating a few of the remaining “Goodberries” I had left we entered the misty tunnels once again. This time to investigate a door Pandora and I had found that we could not open. Houn however was able to decipher the magical runes that sealed the door and break them. The heavy iron door swung open to a lushly decorated hallway. A fine crafted table of dark wood rested agains the wall with a small crystal lamp and a pot with some glowing mushrooms in it. On the wall hung a wrack of hooks for cloaks made of the same carved dark wood. A fine yet someone dirty carpet covered the chiseled stone floor and a painting of a shocking contrasting colors rude to the eyes adorred the wall in a elaborate led frame.
“The lair of Nazzatazh” Oriesus growled.
Earlier Oriesus had been captured enchanted and “raped” by the moriquendi sorceress. Such an emasculation must be hard for Oriesus to bear. He laughed as she died horribly by the hand of the Efeet we had discovered in the spider’s cave. He has a darkness on his soul that I worry about sometimes. I think perhaps Oriesus enjoys dealing death too much.
We explored her abode very carefully. Houn ahead searching carefully for traps. Dark elves are known for their love of poison and their deviousness. Who knows what detestable things this creature had devised for those that invaded her home.
We were correct to be couscous. Houn found several traps. Poisons, blades, magical horrors. He disarmed most with skill. Some however bit him, but I was able to immediately heal his hurts. In the end we found her bedchamber and her stores. A workshop filled with treasures and notes and a journal detailing all that she knew of the cultists and their plans! This was what we had come here from Assur for! If we could make it back to the city we would be able to place this journal in the hands of those who could stop the cult’s mad plan to spread undeath over the whole of the world!

We packed up what wealth we could and moved it all to the antechamber of the tomb of Olaric. Then once again st out to find an escape rout. But we didn’t make it far. Soon we were attacked and pushed back by the horrible cave moray. Eel-like creatures that burrowed into the wall of the cavern and struck out like spears at anyone that passed by. If they did not kill instantly they would retreat just as quick into their black holes.
They pushed us back and we wee forced o rest again and heal. But their was still more tunnels to explore beyond the moray and we wouldnot be denied. In the “morning”, night and day having no meaning here, we again sought to push through the cave eels, and that is when the manticore attacked!

Now we sit at the base of this great sinkhole staring up and blinking at a sun we thought we would never see again. Pandora estimates the assent at several hundred feet. For too much for the amount of rope we have left. Drugeous however knows of a druid trick to, I’m not sure, make it so a person can climb like a spider? He assures me that you don’t grow spider legs or any such thing. I have had all I can stand of bugs for this life time.

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Feeling of mortality

I have never felt more fragile in life, laying there on the cold stone floor, bloody and beaten. I could feel it, my own life force being accepted into the other side and felt my soul separate from my body, when at the last second when I was moments away from death my soul was suddenly pulled back into my body and as soon as I saw Ruby above me, my first instinct was to run away from the madness. After we had returned to what seems to be the only safe area of this god forsaken cave, I realized something that I never thought would ever cross my mind. Perhaps death will be the only better option for us all in this place. For the first time in what seems like years, I had felt peace for only a moment before being ripped back to this hell. Makes me wonder, why even bother fighting anymore? Why are we so afraid to die? Why do we fight so hard live, just so we can suffer? I can’t even remember what the sun feel like, let alone fresh air. Maybe I’m giving up too soon? Perhaps if I just keep at it, I’ll be able to see my family soon, and maybe be able to find my real family; Assuming that they aren’t dead.

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Fate in a Glass

“Do you drink this of your own free will?” inquired Elaric, the risen paladin saint. He offered the ranger a holy goblet containing simple water. The beautifully etched silver filigree chalice would have made his hands look small had he not been a dwarf with massively meaty hands.

Still a young naïve half-elf she initially thought, What does he mean? Of course I accept of my own free will. It is not as though he would force the water down my throat nor is someone controlling my actions. Quizzically, Pandora looks down at his holy figure. He may be a dwarf standing a foot and a half shorter than the ranger but he is by no means a small man. Pandora’s gaze met his deep walnut brown eyes. His thick black eye lashes accentuated his round dwarven eyes which reflected more than the light of the room. Like the rest of his body, his eyes glowed but it was different. His stare radiated with more than his divine spirit. It was solidarity or purpose. Like a sudden snap of a twig, she knew he was not offering her a simple blessing as was the case days prior when their paths first crossed.

She and her group met Elaric after Ruby, the Illmater healer, performed a ritual with the same chalice Elaric now holds to Pandora. Though she drank from its masterly crafted mouth the first time for thoughtless selfish reasons, on this occasion he offered her something more. It was not simple a light hearted blessing. This came with great weight. What was in the cup was more than she could have known. It was an understanding. A change of her world view. She did not know how her life would change once she accepted this gift, but deep inside she felt this round would yield a greater result. She had to make a life changing decision of her own volition.

For the first time since she left her home, the fate of her future was hers to decide. Standing still amongst the drifting current of life was an uneasy feeling for the half-elf for she had spent her life rafting along the waters. Now she must deliberately choose a fork in the river instead of letting it drag her.

Do I accept this? Pandora asked herself. Large forest eyes looked through the chalice and into herself. Letting silence be their only companion. I may never come back from making this choice. Why does he have to be so cyptic? Do I want the weight of responsibility which comes in tandem with this blessing? If I do not bare its burden, who will? Why am I the one he offers? Perhaps it is no burden. Rather, an opportunity to rebuild not only the damage within…

Momentarily, Pandora’s chest squeezed in pain as she recalled her lover and unborn child, who’s essence had been viciously and violently ripped from her world by evil. This could be the path I need to right that which was so tragically wrong. To keep evil from tainting another life as it has done mine. Is this why, in singularity, I am the one he has chosen? Have I the only one with a past so tragic it requires such justice and prevention? Am I meant for more than surviving in balance with nature? If so, what does this mean for my place within my group? His voice echoed in her mind “to strike at the rot in the hearts of men”.

Her expression cleared like the state of her mind. She lifted her head from her thoughts to and met his awaiting stare. She knew the answer and so did he. With the last fleeting feeling of trepidation and hesitation, Pandora resolutely guided her hand outward, like a master bowman to their quiver, to accept the chalice. Elaric nodded as he extended his brawny arm and with it Pandora’s fate.

Cold was the metal on Pandora’s slender fingers. Although it was light in materials, it sat heavy in her grasp. My fate. She told herself before lifting the rim to her lips. The cool water hit her tongue and filled her mouth. As she swallowed, the refreshing liquid could be felt throughout her chest and into her stomach. Suddenly that sensation branched out into her whole body. Chilled and refreshing figners laced their way through every fiber of her being. She felt it in her skull and behind her eyes, tingling at her fingertips and toes, heart swelling, and lungs drawing the deepest breath. Her vision did not go white, but instead the room filled and she was bathed in white. Not the white of the thickest fog, or the sun’s rays. It was not the same as a being in a room of white. It was the intangible crystal clear white given off by millions of glistening snowflakes which cannot be muted even on the blackest of nights. Even then, it was in infinity and without definition. The brightness and purity was alive as it engulfed Pandora. It entered her nostrils, and filled every crevasse of her lungs. It became the very breath she exhaled. It danced on every inch of her skin as though she was not armored. Which was met with raised hairs and gentle chills. It seeped into her pours and under her nails. The whiteness whispered in her ears and wordlessly filled her mind. It’s fingers worked through her muscles , and played with her hair. Her lips were parted and it glided along her tongue, down her throat, and into her stomach.

She felt cradled and loved by what she was engulfed by as it returned her to the Forgotten Realms. With the blink of her eyes she was back in the room with Elaric. Nearly weeping she buckled to the floor. Though she could not see the whiteness, she felt confident it would always be with her.

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midnight musings

Smooth and round, a fading light stone rolled between long leather clad fingers, Pandora longed for the feeling of sun kissing her cheeks. Her memory of real light had been engulfed with stale dimness of the underground caverns which had swallowed her and her companions. Their laborious lull of sleeping breaths cued Pandora of their adventures in slumber-land. Each breath is unique to their person. Her half-elven, ears acute and multitasking, scanned for sounds of danger whilst keeping account of the piles of sleeping comrades. Only during her diligent and protective night watch did she get time to herself. To take in the environment and be one with forces of nature around her. Never in her short life on Faerun did she believe her surroundings would become draining . Her earlier fascination for the water carved caverns faded alongside her memory of fresh air. Her group had been exploring the caverns for weeks. An urge had been stirred within the caverns of her mind to abandon these caverns of stone. Though rare for a ranger, urgency was a sensation far from novel. However, the ever so recent events had Pandora unsettled.

The dimming ice blue light illuminated her large, round childlike eyes and sharp elven features. Light cast from the magical light stones was the sole weapon against the complete and unknown blackness which stood ready to devour the group. Staring solely at the light stone, Pandora’s mind faded to the events prior.

What are we doing here? She mutedly asks herself.
Olaric, the great paladin of old, manifested in her mind’s eye. Tall and broad, he beamed with goodness. He stood upon air as his feet did not grace the ground, he stood before her with unwavering resolve. Handsome, masculine features compiled the resurrected saint’s face. His voice clear in her ears.__ It is your decision whether or not you choose to believe the truth which spills from my lips. However, I know your life, including those of your comrades slain or otherwise, and every single moment prior has lead you here. To fulfill your purpose.__ The saint gracefully emphasized “purpose”. There is a great evil here. It is your purpose to strike quickly and forcefully against rot in the hearts of mortals. You have been chosen by Torm to bring justice to those who have brought plague to this area and to those who serve evil.

Her voice echoed within her thoughts. Survival and preservation of natural balance is my purpose. The mantra she had always felt complete with, she had quoted to Olaric. However, a hollowing feeling accompanied her as she repeated it. She tapped the light stone as anxiety tinged through her muscles.

Survival. Balance. Why am I no longer content? She stands. Disguised her anxious pacing she walked the perimeter of light. Desperately she attempted to console her unsettling lack of confidence, she tried to convince herself the Paladin Saint could not be right. I am a being of free will. Not tied to a sense of justice declared by man. That is not the way of my people. That is not MY way. I preserve the balance of nature. I do not right the wrongs of others. I survive and strive to be one with Faerun. The course of my life is free flowing as is all. This is how life is and wrongness will eventually be righted. That is the natural balance. There are no hero’s. I am no hero. Yet, why can I not fill this hollow place in my chest? Frustrated with herself, she sighed the stale cavern air. How I wish I could be amongst the trees. Walking in the fresh air. My breath tastes of mummified air. We would not be here if that hole hadn’t collapsed. Then again, the guise on my friends would not have been lifted nor our threats destroyed. We would not have found Olaric…

Within her core, she felt a weightlessness. A sense of rightness. Her anxiety transforms into enthralled yet suspicious speculation. Perhaps…

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Respite & Deliverance

I collapsed to the floor exhausted. My friends had taken a horrible beating and I had asked Ilamter for more favor then I was comfortable with. Even though the power that I directed to heal my friends did not come from me, it took a tole on my body and spirit. Wave after wave of divine energy coursing through me is like climbing a sheer mountain face. It is both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.
There were a few minor injures to take care of and I did that. Then I found a not horribly hard corner and curled up with my back to the light.
While I rested Houn and Magnyse explored the creature’s den while Aahilyah and Dugeas kept watch. Pandora became obbsessed with the poison she had repeatedly been exposed to and with Oriesius’ help began the disgusting process of finding and extracting the poison glands from the corpes of the spider beast.

I must have dozed off because I awoke to Houn sliding down the wall next to me with a bottle and a circlet of gold in his hands. “Ruby, can you divine magic in these things we found in the cave?”
I rolled over, my shoulder aching from the hard stone. Wincing a sat up. “let me see?” I took the bottle in my hand and grasped my Bound Hands and began chanting a mantra to see auras “Om bhur bhuvah svah…Om bhur bhuvah sva’ahv…” My eyes popped open in surprise! “By Mystra!” It was indeed magic and very powerful. “It is powerful magic Houn. Of the type that brings forth things from other places. With this I see an elemental aura.”
“What does it do?” Houn asked, “Can you activate it?”
Oriesius hearing or conversation walked over. “Magic you say? What do you have there?”
I handed him the bottle and told him what I knew. Oriesius took it and promptly uncorked the stopper to take a whiff and no sooner had he done so then a tremendous acrid smoke billowed forth!
“Oriesius!” I scolded “What in the…” I was cut short because something was forming in the smoke!
“Koldremadala! Eachchoo nib sumoon!” thundered a deep voice and before us towered a massive demon from Patala!

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Startled, we all stood dazed for a moment and it was fortunate that we did because the creature sought to engage in conversation instead of battle.
“Akha….Men. So I am on The Prime still. Who has released me from my prison?” It’s body wreathed in flame and smoke, it’s horns scraping the ceiling twelve feet up, it’s fiery gaze rolled over our beaten and battered group and came to rest on Oriesius holding the bottle. “So it is you, child of Cheuntea, that have possession. I am [name]. An Efreet Prince from Kalorndieru on what you would call, the Elemental Plane of Fire. And because you have released me from my prison I will aid you in so much as I can.”

I rolled back over. I was so tired and this thing didn’t seem to be a threat to us. I heard some exchange between our party but was so exhausted and sleepy it was hard to follow. My body just couldn’t seem to generate enough adrenalin to stave off my exhaustion any longer. I laid there and half listened to Oriesius, Houn and Pandora explain our situation and what we had been through. At one point the demon Ilamter had slain through me was mentioned. And then after awhile the efreet explained that the magic of the bottle limited his time with us and would soon pull him back in. In a few minutes it did and it was gone.

We moved off then down the shelf and into the Tomb of Olaric we had found in our searches. I don’t believe I mentioned the tomb before… So many things have happened and perhaps I din’t want it’s location discovered through this journal.
We had discovered the tomb soon after getting Oriesius back form the drow priestess. Through a hidden illusionary door we stumbled on this ancient place of goodness. In one chamber rested the tombs of several knights who’s names are carved there but who’s stories have fallen out of all memory. But in another changer we found a tomb in chief. an elaborate sarcophagi carved wit reliefs surrounds my ancient wall painting of great battles with hideous abominations Pandora named “beholders”.
Pandora explained when she joined us that she had been attacked and her compatriots killed by such a creature. She was visibly shaken being in the room but the beasts in the painting were being firmly defeated by a heroic host of shining knights.
The sarcophagus was flanked on one side by a chalice of dark silver and gold and on the other side by a stone.
Houn moved to take the chalice and I forbade him. I felt a divine goodness here. I didn’t want to disturb the tomb so we had left it. Now though, after exhausting all other avenues we had returned here. The only place of safety in the vile dungeon.

I spent the next few days tending my friend’s hurts. Taking care of them as the poison from the spider beast made them sick. Healing the damage to their bodies and resting our minds.
Oriesius continued uncorking the bottle of the Efreet and talking to it. I told him he must do this outside the tomb and I felt a evil from the creature I did not want taint or only sanctum. he did so without comment.
As my friend’s strength returned I realized we had to move on. But we had gone every way we could to avoid conflict and had only found more. I had determined that Ilamter must desire the resolution of these two. The wraith and the drow. And so I sought guidance in this holy place.
I concentrated the tomb with song then took from their places the chalice and the stone and placed them before me. I asked the spirits to fil the chalice with water and they did so, then I asked Ilamter to bless the water. I lifted the cup to my lips just as my companions realized what I was doing and became frightened for me. Houn came to the door of the chamber “Ruby? What are you doing?” I drank the water and felt a powerful pure force course through me. My companions said that I began to glow with a sun like radiance though I saw nothing.
“It’s alright Houn. I’m alright.” I responded. In fact I had not felt so good in weeks!
I filled the chalice again and blessed it as I saw, shapes? moving around the room. Visions of valorous knights. The pictures were seeming to come to life! I took the cup and blessed the water and then lifted it to the sarcophagus and said, “I am Manika Gulaiba. We are trapped and seek guidance. Won’t you please help us?” I tipped the chalice to my forehead and poured the water over myself and as I did a figure, majestic and sublime rose from the sarcophagus in radiance!
“A call for aid from innocence is never ignore by a Paladin of Torm! I am Olaric what peril do you face?”

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The Wrack

We had tried to escape back the way we had come, but the burrowing insects had collasped the tunnel. The purple mist blocked one rout and swarms of giant mosquito bats the other. There was one tunnel we had not yet tried and we decided to attempt it.

Houn went first, as he usually did, scouting ahead of us with Aaliyah a par paces behind. He didn’t get far though when he came up on a wall of scintillating webbing with the color of oil floating on water. Oriesius examined it but thought little of the barricade and summoned his ball of fire to burn through it.

The barrier traversed we found ourselves in another tight chamber and as the group waited Houn and Orisius went forward. No sooner had the party broken into two group then a hideous spider beast with a human face swarmed down apon us!

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It attacked Drugus and several times, poisoning him, and as we moved to assist it poisoned Magnyse as well. Houn raced back to us and the beast attacked him. It was all I could do to keep everyone on their feet as the poison sapped their strength and health from them!

Oriesius was burning through another wall of webbing as we fought the best off. but just as we thought we had the upper hand the creature somehow vanished from sight and touch. Gone!

I quickly patched everyone up as best I could and we moved forward, but the tunnel narrowed again and as we moved the spider creature returned striking at as and then slipping away. It was terrifying not know were it would be. It seemed to be able to move through the walls of solid stone. We would move and it would attack! I would heal who needed it most and then we would move again and it would attack again. We continued this for what seemed like hours. By the time we broke through to the open I was exhausted and feared to ask Illmater for more favor for our misguided adventure. And what made matters worse, We had ended up right were we had started! We had done nothing but traverse a great torturous circle.

We continued to the platform where earlier we had been pummeled by lightning and began to climb down. Pandora, being uninjured hung back protecting us. I stood in the middle always wanting to make sure I was where I could be most useful and once everyone but Pandora and Houn were down I climbed down.
Then Houn descended and when he was halfway down the drop the We heard Pandora scream in pain! The evil spider-beast had returned and attack once she was alone up on the shelf!
Immediately I began climbing as fast as I could but Magnyse bounded over me like a ricocheting arrow!
Pandora screamed again and we heard a terrible scuffle! Houn and Magnyse topped the shelf at the same time as I struggled up the pitons. They found Pandora struggling, grasped by half a dozen taloned pincers! They could see that Pandora had take several stab wounds and was weakening quickly.
Magnyse leap forward with a flying kick as Houn loaded his crossbow and as soon as I topped the shelf I raised my Bound Hands of Ilmater and cried out “Om Shree Ilmata Nahmaha!” and a blinding white light burst from the symbol and washed over my companions! Pandora’s bleeding wounds closed just as the beast moved to strike the killing blow!
Magnyse then brutally pummled the creature with a so many fist strikes I couldn’t see her hands moving, and the beast shrieked and began skittering away using four of it’s eight legs to climb to the ceiling were Magnyse could not reach it. But Houn could with his crossbow and he shot bolt after bolt at the creature!
By this time the rest of our group accended the shelf and Oriesieus drew his sword and charged it with magic and Aaliyah raced after Houn wipping out her blades as she ran. Magnyse spinted forward under the creature to try and head it off but the corridor was still too high for her to reach it.
Several of Houn’s arrows protruded form the thing as it tried to scramble away but it was visibly very badly hurt and apparently couldn’t phase through the walls carrying a victim. So the beast stopped and tried to bargain.
In a voice from my worst nightmares it said “One more step healer… and I will end this one’s life! Drop your weapons, or she dies!”
“She will die anyway with so much poison in her veins, if you don’t let me heal her.” I pleaded. I could tell Pandora was close to death but felt she might survive one more bite. It was a judgment based on years of training in the temple and my own heart wrenching experience with poison. However while I examined Pandora I also looked over the creature holding her. It’s legs quivered and breath raced, sweat poured down its face and every movement caused it great pain. This creature was bargaining for it’s life. It was a wonder it was still conscious.
“You destroyed my home, My webs! I require compensation! Surrender and recompense me and I will allow this one to live.”
Even so close to death this vile beast sought to gain from the misery it had caused. Oriesius had come up behind me. I whispered over my shoulder to him “it is close to death.” Oriesius grunted acknowledgment and although I couldn’t see it, I would guess he had that rye smirk on his face.
“No.” I said and called to Ilmater that I would take Pandora’s injuries if he would grant me that favor!
As I began my Mantra the beast struck Pandora with it’s fangs and Oriesius threw bolts of arcane energy at the the creature splitting it’s head in two with jolts that hit like hammer blows!
The creature died and fell from the roof landing on Pandora’s unconscious body and I felt the crushing pain in my own body as if I’d been slammed into the wall by a tree trunk!
Oriesius darted forward and rolled the beast from Pandora and I was able to perform a proper healing spell on her and as I chanted her wounds closed but the poison still clenched her heart. I could keep her alive though, till it worked it’s way through her system.

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Trapped Between two Evils

I can only assume that it is the will of Ilmater that we confront this festering evil in the bowls of the Giant’s Belt Mountains. I have tried to avoid the useless conflict between the drow priestess and the wraith… there seems to be no way out save through them.

When Oriseus disappeared he was taken by the drow. She enchanted him and raped him, if it’s even possible to rape a man since most will happily succumb to feminine advances given the chance. We found the door to her lair, a wall of black shadow energy, and had a brief ridiculous exchange with the creature were she demanded that we kill her wraith rival and take his “ring”. To get Oriseus back we agree.

Back to the wall with the giant mosquito-bats and more of those creatures and we climbed to the top only to be assaulted by lightning. I think Oriseus describes it as “electrical” some arcane word wizards made up for lightning. Drugaes nearly died. Aaliyah nearly died. Only Ilmater saved us as another wave of mosquito-bats attacked, while we were being pummeled by lightning.

We retreated back up the shelf and then magical darkness descended and more lightning. Then I entered a side tunnel and found the wraith. He gave us much the same superiority “you have no choice” montage as the drow did and sent us off after her.

I refused, and persuaded the party to try to make an escape. Every attempted failed.

I can now only assume that Illmater sent us down into the wretched place for a reason. I will beseech the Ancient powers of this place for their aid.

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Going The Wrong Way
lost in the bug warren

I want so badly to get out of this place.

While exploring the twisting tunnels under the tombs of the Red Knight we came apon a small tunnel slightly inset in the ground next to the main passage. Houn decided to explore it a bit and crawled down the tight shaft no more then a dwarf’s shoulders wide. What a miserable mistake.
Of course he was attacked. Everything here seems to want to kill us. This time though it was our own looking for trouble that caused it. We had invaded a nest of giant insects called ankhegs. Burrowing monsters about the length of a man.

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Magnyss jumped down the hole to help Houn and I climbed in after her but the creature had dropped down from a tunnel above the one we were in and had cut Houn off from escape. Magnyss was forced to fight the thing laying on her stomach while I channeled healing into her. Houn was badly hurt so we had to reach him and finally with help from Oriesius we killed the thing and were able to push it out of the way to reach our Scout.

With most of the party in the expanded tunnels beyond the first we decided to explore. Another mistake.
We turned a pair of corners, Houn and Pandora scouting ahead and in the darkness they were set apon by more insects. These, with paralyzing poison. Pandora was dropped and nearly killed. Houn followed her and when Oriesius attacked he to was felled. Only by the grace of Ilmater was I able to resist the poison when I too was bitten more then once by the disgusting beasts. But so wounded was i from the attack that I couldn’t reach my companions to help them. I had to withdraw and depend on Magnyss yet again to protect me while I healed myself.
Magnyss was struck over and over by the insects stings but for some reason, her monk training perhaps, she was able to fight on with only a small amount of support from me. The druid, Drougus hid behind us and summoned forest creatures while it was all little Aaliyah could do to stay on her feet, darting in and out with attacks.
It took some time but Magnyss and Drougus’ animals managed to kill the things and I rushed to Oriesius’ side fearing him dead. But then I saw he was but paralyzed and breathed a sigh of relief. We found Pandora and I healed her and that seemed to free her form the paralysis so was able to use my last remaining Cleanse on Oriesius.

We must be more careful i warned and demanded that we leave this place immediately. I believe we have wandered far from the path and that we should return to areas despoiled by cultists to find the answers we seek. Here, in a natural cavern that could go on for miles and miles we could wander for the rest of our lives.
Unfortunately the killing of the ankheg caused the other ankheg in the nest to collapses the tunnel behind us. We were trapped.

We feared that the left caverns would hold more paralyzing insects. So we went right. Another mistake. Houn and Aaliyah climbed a short cliff and were attacked by blood sucking insects the size of my fist! The beats drained the blood so fast that it weakened their victims considerably. I had to call on Ilmater to restore their strength.

When we fought off the creatures we rested. But not for long. A swarm of rats came screeching into our small cavern and attacked us. This was no problem for Oriesius who simply conjured a ball of fire to chase them off. But for some insane reason he began chasing the rats down and quickly disappeared down the tunnel we had come in through. As we moved to support his mad charge the entire tunnel was filled top to bottom with sticky gossamer webbing which blew down the corridor with a horrible noise lack lapping tar!

Oriesius was cut off! Houn and Aaliyah cut away at the webbing strands but it was too slow. I unwrapped my gore spattered (and honestly ruined) saree and lit it ablaze from the sputtering fire sphere and threw it into the webs which burst into flames!
Even with the web burning it took several moments for it to clear and as it grew close to the end of the corridor a stone wall appeared magically blocking us in!

But it didn’t seem right to me. Houn tried to pass throught eh stone and a ancient sword cam e through the stone and struck him! The wall was illusion! We could here struggling from the other side and Drougus sent his beast companion through the wall. We hear a horrible cry from the beast and Drougus screamed it’s name in anguish as it died! Then Houn said “Enough of this!” and shoulder rolled through the illusion of stone Aaliyah fast on his heels!

On the other side they fought ancient mummified warriors. Long dead in garb covered in dust. Houn and Aaliyah used a flanking tactic one could only call pared opportunist and quickly dispatched warrior after warrior. It was an effective tactic and it was good to see Aaliyah finally find a nitch to fill in the group. Teamed with Houn she was decidedly dangerous. Or victory however bared no fruit. Oriesius was gone.

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High Harvesttide
Ruby explains the festival

Camped in the twisting tunnels the group huddled around a small fire Pandora had somehow been able to build to cook their dwindling rations and the bland conjured food Ruby called down from the ether.

Pandora was stirring the little pot of bubbling deer jerky soup sprinkling in this herb and that as Oriseus sat with his back to the group so the little fire could cast some light on the book he poured over. Aaliyah sheepishly spoke up. “Well, this has certainly been a day to remember. Something different from the carnival for certain. Much less colorful…” she trailed off then spoke again much quiter, “…especially during the High Harvesttide.”

“What do you mean?” asked Drugaes the new member of the party. “In the forest it is nothing but an observance of the passing of stars. I make an offering and hope I don’t die in the winter. What do you people do?”

“More. In Assur the festival is four days long.” Ruby leaned forward and stared into the campfire as her soft voice began to croon in that familiar “teacher voice” she slipped into when she imparted her memories of hours spent in study and prayer. “High Harvesttide is an observance of the Gods of the harvest and the beginning of Autumn. It starts with the ritual cleaning of the body in the family or communal baths. Then the people go to their temples and clean them as well. Water is dashed on the stones of the temple while a mantra of the names Istisha, Selune, Talos, Umberlee is chanted, calling the Gods of the waters to wash away impurities. The whole of the day is spent cleaning. Yourself, the temples, the home anything that needs to be refreshed.”

“The second day a great fire is built either at the home or the temple and people bring their sacrifices to the Gods to toss in the fire. As things great and small are cast into the flames people mingle solemnly and speak of the dead and of endeavors. It is a day for binding contracts and solemn oaths. To either end them or renew them.”

“Next comes the Pruthrvi The Day of the Earth.” Ruby smiles her bright smile with that slight squinting of her eyes that makes those that see it hearts flutter. “The Best day!” she gleamed and cocked her head slightly to the side. “The day of festival!”
“It is the day of beasts. A day to give thanks to all the animals that make life so abundant. Grumbar Lord of Stone is recognized on this day. As is Chauntea, Mielikki, Silvanus and Lurue-Malar. Animals are cleaned and decorated. Their fur is painted and flowers hung about their necks. A great feast is held and fighting tournaments and other competitive sports are plied. It usually ends in a great drunken celebration of life!” She raised he hands a eyes up to the cavern ceiling and laughed, then came back down to the eyes of her companions. “So much fun.” she added more solemnly as the group all felt the gloom of the place return somehow closing in on their backs.

Quieter she continued, “On the last day the Goddess Akadi is observed. The day is spent in quiet prayer. Sometimes people put out seeds for birds. Tymora is also called on and Shaudakul Goddess of the winds. It is a time to reflect on the passing of the year and the beginning of the new. Prayers for luck and love are muttered and feathers are cast off high places.”

“This is High Harvesttide.” she softly said. “Now sleep my friends, and be gentle.”

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