A Record of the Sun, the Moon and the Stars in the Sky.

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Battling the Harpy (WIP)

We set up camp and I was quick to take to my tent.  Athena, my owl familiar, likes to visit me at night.  It is the safest time for my familiar, and I am always concerned she might be caught in some kind of danger if I keep her too close.  So as I lay in my tent, Athena perched near enough so I could stroke her feathers and speak to her in Auran (a language specific to the creatures of the sky…nothing most readers would be familiar with).   Athena for the longest time has been my dearest friend and through our bond we understand each other’s feelings—and she knew I was worried.

Somehow I still found sleep, though it was a restless one full of nightmares.  Sometime later—I am not sure when—I woke with a terrible start to screaming.  At first I thought it was just another nightmare, but as I recognized Cristman’s voice I could make out his chilling words.

“Unholy abomination from above! Oh God! Oh God, the voice is back!”

All around I could hear the camp wake and rush from their tents.  Shaking, I scrambled to find my spell book and my hat of disguise, disturbing Athena and sending her fluttering about the tent.  But then I could hear Caramipnar start to scream, too.  Oren was yelling for Rila to get out there and as I sit in horror I hear the distinct twang of a bow and the terrible and agonizing screech of something above us.  Then it was quiet.

I popped my head out from the tent in time to see the thing start to fly away and Rila start to go after it at an unbelievable speed.  I broke free from the tent, no spell book or hat of disguise in hand, and took off after them in pursuit.  The thing was flying for town, and as I took off into the sky (a great relief to stretch my wings, but at the same time terrifying being the only other thing flying close to this…creature) I could make out a better picture of the thing we were pursuing.  It was a giant harpy, at least the width of four normal men.  It started to sing as we neared Ingleham and with dread I realized it stopped to hover over 25 feet over Logan’s home.

Why did I follow?  Why, when I am so aware that this wild elf will be the end of me? I suppose I am not entirely heartless.  From what we know there has been a beast killing children, and this one was after Shana.  Rila, Oren and I were the only ones fast enough to get to Ingleham and stop it.

With courage I do not possess, I yell at the thing in Auran, “Stop, leave this town and state your intentions!”  The thing turned to me and I was sure I was about to die, then, but it shook its head at me and landed on Logan’s roof.  It understood Auran—that much I knew.

As it landed the thing shimmered and became smaller, changing into the form of a winged child.  It flew down to Shana’s window and knocked.  I watch terrified and unsure what to do when I see two arrows fly at the now child-like beast.  One hit, the other went through the window.  Seeing the thing in pain I recalled a spell I prepared that previous day—and two magic missiles gathered in my hands before blasting into the creature.  It was hit (there’s no way my missiles would miss! That is the nature of such a spell), but it was not stopping.  It opened the window.

I landed on a neighboring roof so I could concentrate, feeling more confident as I saw Rila prepare more arrows and Oren get ready to jump up after the creature.  I had my copper piece with me, thankfully, stashed in a pocket for whenever I needed it.  Focusing on the copper, I could recall my spell, Detect Thoughts.  It’s a spell I use often, and had little trouble remember the incant, but it is a spell that requires time to work.  For a moment all I could sense was the presence of thoughts—knowledge any idiot would realize when standing within a town.

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Alana’s Romantically Tragic Secret

Thinking back on our time in Logan’s house, I should have paid more attention to what was said.  Logan told us something flew into town and was killing some of the children at night—murdering them in their sleep.  Was it a harpy? They weren’t sure.  No one got a good look at the creature, and all that was left was the remains of the child left in their bedrooms. Kurt left to see the local lord for military support in what must be a desperate hunt to kill whatever this monster is.

I’ve no doubt there were details I missed.  I felt an indisputable need to be left alone.  Up until this point I’d never considered myself a part of this group.  The prophesy had not been meant for me; I was just an extra, along for the ride until I might find myself in a better station to move on alone.  However, I’ve now seen an image of myself dead alongside these party members.

I could only wonder, “For what? Why stay?”  I’ve no answer to this other than a small desire to see the quest’s end played out.  To complete a story in my writings would be the ideal form of reliable record, and if the world is as bad as these prophesies imply, I’ve nowhere safe to run.

Regardless, I have no intention of dying for any of these people.

“With any luck Kurt should be back in two days,” Logan said, and I was startled from my thoughts while Rila made plans to go after him on the main road.  Alana seemed as eager to go after Kurt as Rila was, explaining that along the way we might encounter her mother near their archeological site in the ruins.  The rest of the group must have agreed this was a good plan, since it was decided we would all set out before I hardly had the time to object.

The group split up to restock our supplies and meet back at Logan’s home soon…presumably to set out and find Kurt in good time.

As Rila left I caught her telling Logan, “Well, you all know my stand on this.  Thanks, Logan…it’s good to know that we’re all going to die.  I’m going to go get these components and will be back.”

She must have been referring to components for scrying.  What was it? A red stone, vial of tears and a bronze bowl, I believe.  Apparently the merchant district had these items, because Rila was off in a hurry.  Personally, I needed some time to think, so I headed for the general store alone.

I bought a map of the town and of the region for my collection—geography is a subset of my specialties, of course—and when I returned to Logan’s house I asked him to point out the places previous children had been killed so far.   It seems the mayor’s daughter was included in the list, along with two children in the slums, and one “well to do boy.”  All of them were eight or nine years old.

I don’t know if it means anything.  It’s all I can do to gather information when my mind is weighted with depressing and heavy thoughts.  I refuse to die for these people.  I refuse and yet, as the party regrouped and set out for the main road, I was right alongside them.

~*~

Our traveling took all day, the ruins far in the distance.  I am growing increasingly frustrated by our pace, forced to stay on foot when I ache to be back in the skies.  None of these land-dwellers understand the freedom I have been denied.  Constant warnings not to fly in these parts, particularly when harpies have been spotted, keep me grounded.

It’s so frustrating I could cry.

Along the way, Cristman presented a gift to Rila.  Apparently Rila had repaid Cristman his buckler while we were in town, but it must have been a far better one than he’d once had, for Cristman felt the payment was uneven.  He gave to Rila a dagger enchanted with the ability to return to the holder when thrown.  Rila seemed excited by this and tested it against Cedrick.

No, Rila didn’t kill Cedrick.  The dagger Rila threw glanced the dumb oaf before it returned to Rila’s hand.  Apparently the enchantment wasn’t a fake after all, and the rest of our walk toward the ruins Rila threw and caught the blasted thing over…and over…until I had the mind to destroy the thing.  Throwing knives around is dangerous.  This idiotic child thinks it acceptable to play with death.  It would not surprise me if she dies before the end of this quest.

We finally arrived at the ruins around dusk.  The ruins themselves were intriguing.  The remains of buildings, columns, and a central church with a bell tower were scattered about.  The church itself was of particular interest to me with its broken stain glass windows.    Alana explained that it was a mysterious building—a temple of Mystra, no less.  This is an odd sight, for Mystra was not a Goddess who wanted to be worshipped.  Even more mysterious, the inside of the temple was still in good condition.  A preserved interior to a fallen temple…it makes me wonder.  As for the rest of the buildings, Alana said they probably fell around the time Mystra died.  It has only been close to 100 years since Mystra’s death…it is strange to me for a group to be studying ruins so young.

As I am observing the ruins around us, I heard Oren suddenly address Alana with some interesting observations.  “You weren’t completely honest with us back in Logan’s home,” he told her.  “You’re omitting something.  Trust me, I know.”

“He’s good at these things,” Cedrick reassured the girl.  I wonder how the half elf has any idea what Oren is good at.  I’ve noticed that the human monk is quiet, and that he has an uncanny way of seeing through people’s ramblings and lies.  I suppose that comes with practiced observation.  When I asked him later he claimed his suspicions are part of his profession.  What in Faerun is that supposed to mean?

Alana was hesitant, realizing quickly that Oren knew she was lying…and was willing to resort to violence.  With a shake of her head she finally conceded, “Alright, I suppose it’s no harm in telling you.  After all, you are not from around here.”  With embarrassment, she continued, “When I told you I was on my way to town when I was knocked out and kidnapped, I was actually on my way to visit…um…you know…”

“Your lover?” Caramipnar piped up.  I’d forgotten she was there, the voice coming from so close to the ground.  It startled me a little. “Who?”

“That is definitely no concern to the story!” Alana protested, “I was just hoping to see him here.  I wanted to make sure he was all right, if what attacked me got to him.  But I didn’t lie about my mother.  She should be here.”  She paused, looking out at the ruins with a frown, “But I don’t see her, either.”

Ever the loud troublemaker, Rila yelled out for Alana’s mother, but there was no response.  It’s only been three days since Alana’s kidnapping, but as we came upon the archeologist’s campsite we found no sign of life.  The two tents and a fire pit were still there, but as Rila inspected the place she couldn’t imagine that anyone had been there in a while.  Alana seemed worried by this.  Three days was not long enough to worry her mother, who thought her daughter to be traveling to Ingleham to get supplies.

The group pondered this with increasing worry as Rila started to head back east, her eyes to the ground as though following something.  I am the main documenter of this quest, remember, and had every right to understand what she was up to…so naturally, I asked.  Rila pointed down at something as thought it was obvious.  With the fading light I can’t make out anything.  As far as I know the blasted wild elf was seeing things…and my accusations naturally sent the touchy beast into a cynical rant.  Jerk.

“Oh, that’s right!  You’re one of those people who fly and are not concerned with the ground where there may be important things like footprints!”

I couldn’t find the right words.  I could hardly believe she was accusing me of being blind to footprints.  I am aware what footprints are and the importance—but that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t see what is not there!

“No need to be so…so–” I stuttered.

“–So high and mighty and better than the rest of us?” Rila finished.

I had nothing to say.

Rila continued her tracking, though the original footprints (potentially Alana’s mother’s) had stopped…and ended in a large area of scorched earth.  Rila asked Alana about her mother’s ability to protect herself—asking if a big burnt mark could indicate her presence.  Alana explained that her mother could do fire magic, but usually preferred to teleport from danger.

Why, then, didn’t she teleport from the campsite? I wonder.

Rila found large animal like footprints that stop at tracks that may have been Alana’s from three days prior.  Both sets headed east.  I, meanwhile, took the time to examine the scorched mark.   It had to be the makings of a firebolt spell, likely from Alana’s mother.  “I am 1000% certain this was from a firebolt spell,” I reported, only to suffer another verbal beating by the wild elf still nearby.  Unable to fathom why I would use such a large number, she claimed I didn’t understand simple mathematics.  I tried to explain my hyperbole—to no avail.  The beast thinks a hyperbole is a hyper energetic bowl.  Ugh.

During our arguing the group left us.  We realized in time to rush after them, me still stewing angrily.  I refuse to let this wild elf be the end of me—she is a reckless danger I need to distance myself from.

The rest of the group had found the spot Alana may have been knocked out, Cristman pointing out an impression with blood.  We were quite close to a gazebo in the wide plain—apparently this was the place Alana intended to meet her lover.  Cristman asked Alana about this meeting and her lover…and surprisingly he makes the assumption, “Is it the young Pentkirin?” The Lord Pentkirin’s son!

Alana lied, although she blushed a deep and telltale red.  Apparently it was true.  This girl was being courted by Elric Pentkirin, a noble with some notable power with his father soon passing away.

The animal like prints continued to the gazebo, going through it and moving around to the other side.  There, we found another impression and blood interception a small boot impression trail.  If that boot prints belonged to Elric, this made things more complicated.  It could potentially mean a missing—or even murdered—nobleman’s son.

Rila suggested we head back to the ruins and wait for morning to separate and look for more clues in the morning.  Worried we may be too late, I offered to fly and retrieve Kurt on my own in the morning—only to be reprimanded for a third time by the beast.  I could see her amusement, her satisfaction, as she explained that if I were fly I were inevitably to be mistaken for a harpy and shot down…and how I looked particularly breakable.

Thinking back to that dreaded painting, my body broken and my wings in ruin, I felt myself getting sick and barely managed to turn away as I felt my body start to dry heave. I can’t take those images.  I need to fly.  I need to escape, but the thought of being shot down like a game bird, to never fly again…

I could barely hear Oren as he told Rila to stop the insults.  I was too busy trying to calm myself.  I hate her.  I hate that beastly wild elf.

Deadly Paintings of the Future

Finally we continued on our way to Ingleham.  We had gained two new members—both the crazy Clarice and Alanna…who had apparently been tied up within the tower for several days.  With us we also had a journal, written by Clarice—and thankfully in ink and not in blood, which I read while we traveled.  It detailed more about Clarice’s time in the tower after Mystra’s death.  Magic had gone crazy, and Clarice and her friends had a scheme to preserve magic until Mystra’s return.  These friends, two brothers Kurt and Raul, close friend William and a woman named T, put up safe guards and puzzles—obviously the very puzzles we had to solve on our way to Clarice.  The rest of the journal detailed her daily rituals, praying to Mystra…

However, in the last 20 pages the journal became disjointed.  “I finally, after all this time, hear the voice of my God,” Clarice wrote.  Most of it was similar to this, though the very last statement was thus: “I know the ritual that has to be done, I will carry it out tonight.”  The date was not given, but Clarice claimed she wrote it not too long before we came in.  She had not completed the ritual, did not even remember what it was.

Clearly something great is at work here, and I have serious doubts as to Mystra’s actual influence.  Some of our more religion-knowledgeable folk suspect the Lady of Pain (Laviatar?), Shar or Ceric.  Personally I am more interested in what sort of ritual this Clarice was planning to carry out…but without more information I am unsure.

We came uneventfully to Ingleham, though it was not recognizable with its new barricade.  Wood spikes lined the walls built completely around the decent sized town, and at its door it was guarded by a strong, well armed man.  Is the world on its head, everyone fearing for their lives and some incoming attack?  I am thankful to be traveling now in such a large group—though to keep inconspicuous, I again donned my hat of disguise into the laced, innocent human girl.

Oren approached the guard, greeting him and making sure we’d come to the right place.  “Is this the town of Ingleham?”

“Indeed, it is.”

“We have come to find a cleric in the temple.  His name is Kurt,” Pentaros added.

“Is he expecting you?”

“No, but we have a friend who is in need of his help—and he will be happy to meet with us if he is told of our presence.”

The guard did not seem suspicious of our explanation and allowed us passage.  Clearly whatever is threatening these people does not appear as a band of travelers.  This is news that makes our lives easier, but foreshadows something monstrous.  I do hope it is nothing we will have to face.

As we passed through the gates and searched for the temple of Amaunator, Cedric commented—though to who is particular, I am uncertain—“Hey, the town’s not burning yet!”  Cedric and his visions frighten me, to be quite frank.  I am, myself, a diviner wizard and hope to see visions of my own in my quest to find more of my race…but Cedric’s visions are chaotic at best, and his logic does little to explain his seemingly random comments.  Rila did as much as to ask what he meant, only to be told by Cedric that he had indeed seen it on fire before—but not in the past.

“Do we need to take your drugs to see these visions?” Oren asked.  As far as I understand drugs do not harbor reliable visions (quite different from the visions resulted from hard work and practice at one’s magic craft).   I hope Oren was only joking.

Ah, but I do digress.  There is more story to this town of Ingleham that I feel must be explained as our dealings continue here.  Cristman told me a story about this trading post town, where the people come and go constantly…a story about the local lord’s family.  Long ago this land had been plagued by harpies, ravaged by the filth and stench of the humanoid bird and its appetite.  The land, and the town of Ingleham included, were only to be saved 100 years ago by a normal bannerman.  He was of the Pentkirin family, with little to his name.  The lord of that time had died at the hands of a harpy, and the people had lost much hope when the bannerman cried out mightily and the harpies retreated.  Pentkirin’s victory over the harpies saved the region, and he was given the name of lord.  He continued to rule, and now his descendents after him do the same—and are fairly well liked.  The current lord is Helmoot Pentkirin, currently training his son Elric to take the throne.

As we entered the temple, Cedrick whispered about there being a secret door on the altar.  I glanced at him, considering the statement.  As far as I can tell with Cedrick, there are brief moments where he has great insights…I feel these moments are driven by some outside force, for with his own mind he seems incapable of most simple logic.  Is he possessed by some Astral Planar being, or a wizard he once crossed paths with?  Is Cedrick actually hosting two spirits—a dumb gnome and his true self, who has been suppressed beneath the other?

I give him too much credit.  On the occasion he is merely lucky.

In any case, I have spent many years studying architecture.  I find buildings and their structures fascinating, in particular when I consider the structures my own people are rumored to build high in the mountains.  Without proper supports they might crumble to the mountain floors.

With this information I have a good eye for possible traps, and in this case…secret doors.  Scanning the altar I could make out a potential door in the floorboards.  It seems this was one of Cedrick’s “lucky” occasions.  I meant to investigate further, but at that moment Rila gave a shout.

“KURT!” the young elf yelled, hardly caring for formalities or the sanctity of the temple.  It would do Rila good to have a lesson in diplomacy…but what can one expect from an elf who is but seventeen years old?  At seventeen I would expect a respectable elf to still be at home, learning from her wise elders in an ancient community.  Rila has no patience.  I imagine she left home the moment she could walk.

A human child came up from behind a pew at the sound of Rila’s shout.

The child’s name was Shana, and she seemed as bewildered as we were.  She told us that Kurt left two days previous to see the lord about something.

“Is there anyone who might know Kurt better?” Rila asked.

Shana offered to take us to her father, who might be able to tell us more.  He is a painter.  What harm ever came from a painter? I wondered.  I followed the group to the small home, not far from the temple itself.  Inside was a man with blonde hair, painting.  Finally there is someone we have come across who understands culture! Or so I believed.  An artist gains no culture points from me for simply being crazy.  The paintings on the walls struck me suddenly, just as I felt the urge to compliment the creative man’s endeavors.  Spirals.  All around I noticed his paintings had familiar patterns.  The spirals, the symbol of Mystra…and with terror we all settled our eyes on one painting in particular.  Fighting figures matching the very likeness of our own team were painted on canvas.

On the first, some of us fought a big and hairy looking monster…a monster I recognized as Grendheim—from the visions in Halruaa.   He had been friendly, then.  Or at least I had thought so.  On the canvas adjacent, Elika was hung by her entrails, naked, dangling beneath a symbol of Mystra.

“If life wasn’t so confusing to begin with, the confusion in our own lives will only increase,” Rila muttered, before turning to address the painter (As a terrible realization and side note, I am far too quick to remember what Rila says and does on our journeys…is this from a desire to catch her messing up, or am I concerned for the young elf’s wellbeing?  Is it possible I find her responses interesting, or necessary additions to fully understand the circumstances of my own journey?  I may need some self reflection on the matter).

As we all may have feared, the painter realized our similarities to the people in his paintings, and his belief that what he paints are visions of the future.  He claimed to see things, and to get them out of his head, he had to paint them.  At the painter’s confession, I glanced over to Elika to see her pale considerably.

There were more canvases on the wall still to be seen.  With the cruel knowledge that fate might be hanging before us, we all turned to look closer.  On another canvas I found Rila, and another female elf…though I suspect that she was no wild elf, but perhaps of the high elf variety.

“That looks like me,” Rila mused.  Is she never phased by any terrible news? “But I look older here…”

In another canvas there was a great amount of fire (I saw Caramipnar perk at the sight of it) and a dismembered Halfling lying scattered on the ground.  I suspect it could have been Bimbi.  In the same painting Cedrick was holding Bimbi’s axe with vines sprouting from it, while Pentaros stood in the background.  There was another painting where the current party, as it then stood, was in front of an obelisk standing around some sort of plaque—Eldrich energy emanating from us.

It was then that I turned as saw what, to me, will probably haunt my memories forever.  This painting depicted me in a bloody, broken mess upon the ground.  Smashed, and with what I could only assume to be my own blood everywhere, I looked in horror at the painted representation of my wings splintered and torn to shreds about me.  I could barely take in any other sight; I was so frightened by it.  My beautiful wings.  My beautiful, well-groomed wings.  The heavy implications of being so permanently grounded stole my soul in that brief instant.  I scarcely breathed.

To be quite fair, the painting did not include only myself.  Oren’s own arm was severed and on the ground by my own body, and his right arm reached for something.  Rila held a symbol of Mystra, warding herself from something beyond the canvas.  In her free arm she held a baby (where she would find a baby, I am unsure.  I can only hope it is not somehow her own…I never thought of Rila as a motherly type).

There were other paintings, though I fear I do not do the memory of them justice.  I fail in my recollections, and I blame the shock I was still feeling.  Four more paintings I can describe:

  • Serin was back to back with Cedrick, weapons drawn, being attacked by undead harpies.
  • Pentaros was standing on a tower in front of a beautiful sunset, reaching up and receiving a scroll from what must have been my own hands.  Rila was aiming her bow toward the ground.
  • Another painting was of the symbol of Mystra with a huge crack down the middle weeping blood, coming out from the 7 streams.
  • Finally, the painter was currently working on a commission for Kurt. It featured a tall blonde haired bearded human man giving a silver ring with a cine pattern to a dark haired woman wearing red robes.  (Cedrick says his name is Anamantor?)

The ring from the final painting caught Serin’s attention.“Elika. Your ring,” he pointed out.

Cristman, meanwhile, was concerned that he and the gnome were not in the paintings at all.  Even most of our objects were present more than they were.  Caramipnar asked the painter—his name is Logan—how long he’d been having these visions.  Logan said he saw them his entire life, and it is only a freeze frame of time that he ever sees.

If these paintings are of the future…my hand is quivering. I have to stop writing.

Bloody Writings on the Floor

The first to reach the far right door was the monk, Oren.  I was still too far to hear or see inside the door as Rila snuck past him—disappearing beyond my sight. I stood, tense, waiting for a reaction while the rest of the group continued past.  Pentaros, Sarin and Cedrick struck out for the other door, the remaining keeping to safe routes in Rila and Oren’s wake.

I support safe routes—it’s something I noticed Caramipnar kept to religiously.  The longer I find myself traveling with the group the more I feel I understand the personalities of each party member.  This is a good skill to use, particularly if ever the need to anticipate your party’s behavior becomes necessary.

Caramipnar likes to “play it safe,” preferring the quiet observer than a charging leader like Rila.  She would be perfectly content staying behind—going first implies a giant risk.  Of course, this may also be in part due to her size.  She has a difficult time keeping stride with the likes of elves (as most of us are).  Were we to be in the wilderness  and not in the bowels of a terrible torturous tower, I should think she’d have a much clearer opinion.

For the time being, however, Cara is a follower…but I will take special care to watch her through our journey to better discern her character further.

Back to the problem at hand…Rila leaned out of the door toward Oren as he came close, announcing with brunt simplicity, “We got a crazy person in here!” A crazy person?  I have the sense to wonder if it isn’t Clarice.  The woman spends years—or days? The tower is timeless, so I haven’t quite the understanding of how that must feel for the residents. In any case, the woman spends her time in a tower full of painful puzzles.  I would not be surprised to find her more than slightly cracked.

Cristman followed the two into the room, his lyre still in hand.  It wasn’t a moment he disappeared into the room, however, when we began to hear screaming.  It was frantic. Insane.

“My death won’t be easy! I will only be free when the world burns!” came the scream, ripping through the already tense scene.  Everyone but the three heading for the other door must have been able to hear it.  To say that it gave me chills would not suffice.  Every feather on my wings was put on edge, fluffed twice in size.  Cristman—I knew it to be his voice, melodic as the agonized screams were—continued. “Get it out of my head! Get it out!”

I glanced back, hoping there would be someone else to rush to Cristman’s aid.  To my general dismay I realized I was the closest to the door, and as the screaming continued I could either stay or reach the door—only about thirty feet away.  Of course, about the most I could possibly hope to do was gather information.  I’ve not much knowledge in healing.  I suppose it would be best to take the time to learn such an art.

“Someone help me!  I can’t move!” I heard Cristman explain as I slipped into the doorframe.  I did not see him right away, as the room itself stole my breath.  The room expanded fifty feet across, a ceiling close to seven feet, but it was not its size that was remarkable—its floors were smeared in red.  Written in intricate characters, the smell of it and the sticky, thick feel of it as I pulled my foot away could only mean blood.  At the center was a woman, an unclean woman with a distant look in her eyes as blood poured from cuts in her arms.

I watched as Rila stepped back from her—I can only assume she’d healed the woman with a potion or spell—to see the cuts dry and the woman’s bewildered eyes drop to her arms.

“Now how shall I write?” she murmured.  Her voice was thin, but calm.  Like the still air before a distant storm, it did not have much power, but just the sight of her and the work she’d done using her own blood as ink warned of something dangerous looming in those far away thunderclouds.

“Too much insanity in my head!” Cristman was still screaming and I turned to see him struggle from his knees.   He made for the door, Oren behind him with a determined look in his eyes.  Cristman’s grip on his head was strong and his struggle to the door faltered.  Oren stopped the elven bard, punching him, driving him back into the room.  Stunned, I at first considered Oren to be compromised, but I quickly realized that punch had given Cristman little damage, and he righted himself…perhaps just as confused.  Oren hit the elf again, and again. He was attempting to the knock the elf back to his senses, or at least that is the only conclusion I could come to on my own.  At the very least I felt Oren was trying to drive the elf into unconsciousness and silence the terrifying screams.  They didn’t stop, only doubled with groans as the monk’s fists made their targets and Cristman did little in defense.

Meanwhile I could hear the woman explain to Rila that she was writing to keep records—that she had always kept records these past five years in the tower. The writing on the floor is a record?

Surely, I think, there is some magic at work here.  The writing on the floor looks suspiciously like a mixture of script often used in holy and magic texts—all in dialects of elven, to be precise.  I reached into my bag of holding and produced a pinch of a needed component, concentrating on the room and feeling for magic.  I expected to spend half a minute detecting the magic and its location, but opened my eyes in surprise when I felt nothing.  I reconsidered the writing, crouching to get a better look.

Curiosity is easily my greatest weakness.  The way the world works is imperative to my very nature, and as I studied the writing I felt tranced due to my intrigue.  The writing was indisputably elven, but even with my fluent knowledge of eight languages I could not read it in its entirety.  I despise being unable to decipher texts…I consider it a specialty of mine, along with my many divination spells.  Knowledge certainly equals power, by my accounts.

Refusing to be bested by the bloodied mess and only able to read short snippets—most repeating the very words Cristman still screamed over my shoulder—I reached again for my components.  I spoke the incant and placed the spell on myself, feeling the effects that tickled the back of my mind.  Comprehend Languages is a spell that makes it possible to understand and read any language for a limited amount of time.  My own spell has the strength to last thirty minutes, though one day I should like to make it permanent.

I admit with embarrassment, but with no acceptance of responsibility, that in my crazed state for knowledge I did not hesitate to touch the bloody writing.  In order for the spell to work you must be in physical contact with the writing, and as I inched my fingers along the writing, careful not to disturb its outline, I came to understand the greater meaning of the woman’s handiwork.

Over and over I read the words: I need to die.  Even more disturbing, You will all be my vectors, and you will make the world burnYou are a pitiful –. You will burn, burn with the rest of this pathetic existence. —. This world is a cage. You, your death will not be easy, faithful Clarice.  You will be —. My voice and first vector.  Despair and chaos… I want to die I want to die I want to die…I want to die shall spread where you walk. There were smudges that obscured some of the text, places where Clarice must have written over it, unconcerned for the writing’s neatness.

My fingers trembled and I hardly noticed when Rila spoke to me.  I’d forgotten the group entirely.

“Do you hear something?” Rila asked, her eyes meeting mine as I looked up.  I noticed Cristman’s screams were gone, and a glance in his direction suggested that he was knocked unconscious and left by the entrance.  Oren must have finally been successful.  Beyond this I heard nothing out of the ordinary, though I suspect it was due to my distraction with the floor.  I shook my head and went straight back to reading every line I could get my hands on.

I caught pieces of Rila and Oren’s conversation.  They argued about whether or not to punch each other out due to hearing something that must have also caused Cristman’s insanity.  They seemed to keep their composure and there were no further screams, though I still admit I barely paid them any attention.  I remember the rest of the group joined us in the room and I caught more snippets of their conversation as Oren explained everything to Pentaros.  The woman was, in fact, Clarice—or at the very least a woman who claimed to be Clarice.  She opened a door in the wall to a separate room, and the next time I glanced up I found that I’d been left alone with the unconscious bard.  Rila yelled something about being back soon.

Good for nothing adventurer-types. They left me in a scary tower alone and defenseless!  It is no easy task to read and watch one’s back at the same time.

Cristman screamed again in his sleep, “No, not the squirrels…someone put out the fire on the squirrels…” He stirred, and I fluttered up onto my feet, pulling off my cloak.  Oren and Rila worried the insanity came from a sound.  Personally, I am not fond of screaming elves, and I felt that with some added defense the elf could defend his mind from whatever caused his fright—be it voice or terrible animal.  My cloak is a magical item (an article I prize, especially since it was a present from my father) and it has the power to resist both spells and physical dangers.

I draped the cloak over Cristman as he woke and was much relieved to see his calm gaze.  I wonder if this party I travel with understands how I could benefit them.  They ignore my quests for knowledge, hardly acknowledging my intellect and blindly following a child wild elf without a pause to consider a possible (and better) route.

But why do I worry over this?  I should not concern myself with their thoughts toward me or who they choose as leader.  I will be gone the moment I can find my own people…and for the better!

I replaced the cloak on my shoulders, satisfied that I’d saved the elf from further anguish, and realized my hands were covered in Clarice’s blood…the remnants smeared into my beloved cloak.  I am sick still thinking about it.  I did not have much time to fret, however, as the rest of the group joined us.  There was a pause from the gnome as she neared me at Cristman, however, and I noticed as they both looked up to the ceiling.

Small bronze spheres began to drop from the ceiling, blades poking out from their centers and beginning to spin like grinding windmills.  The group, needless to say, rushed for the exit into the previous room only to pause in greater fright.  What had once been a giant gridded puzzle with columns of fire was turning into a burning inferno.  Where the columns had once been contained they now grew, spreading alarmingly fast to block our exit.  Admittedly, this may have been one of the few times running without much thought made great sense.

The entire group bolted for the exit, a mass of frightened legs and arms jumbled together as we dodged new eruptions of fire.  I could hear Cristman’s song of confidence and as we raced through the searing heat I surprised myself with agility I’d never before shown.  Wings tucked in tight at my side I spun aside, dodging more fire that could have just as easily caught my feathers like dry tinder.  I was scared, don’t misunderstand me, but for the first time in my life I was running with grace.  Avariel seldom run, but I dared not fly with the fire so close!

I heard Rila yelling at the back of the group, “Keep running!”  I looked back at her, catching a glimpse as she dove into flames.  For an instant I nearly stopped short, stunned by the clear wild elf suicide, but then Rila and Cedrick fell through the other side, rolling and jumping to their feet.  I could hardly believe the sight, but I had little time to contemplate the evidently selfless rescue.

I faced forward and stifled my own scream.  Below me the floor gave way.  It was instinct that must have gotten me across the gaping hole, my wings acting without thought and spreading to their great length.  I could feel the singe of fire on my feathers as I glided over, a cry tore through clenching teeth at the pain and the thought of my beautiful wings charred—the thoughts of becoming a lame avariel through this ordeal enough to paralyze my lungs.

I had to continue my scramble for the exit, and the most I could do for my wings was to pull them close to my body and hope they hadn’t caught on fire.  I was in pain, but the terror of being left in the burning room kept me forward.  I heard near me as Cedrick in all his armor slipped into another piece of fallen floor.  I’d enough of a glimpse to see Rila again help save the half elf, along with the half elf’s brother, Sarin.  One for each arm they grabbed Cedrick and kept running.  Over one more fallen chasm in the floor the group fought for space inside the next room.

I should remember to give the bard my sincere thanks, as he must be the only reason I survived the ordeal.  I looked to my wings and found them only blackened, but still hurting badly, trembling.  More worried about my wings than why we’d stopped inside the room, I only noticed as Cristman reached over and touched my burns and healed them.  Immediately the pain passed, the only remembrance that there had been a wound at all was my blackened feathers.

With the pain gone I was able to realize our surroundings.  This was the room with the massive waterfall—and the waterfall was back, but flowing with blood.  We stood on a five foot wide cliff, forty feet from the landing to the door.  I felt immediate relief, testing the strength in my wings and finding no problem flying across on my own—but I gave pause, looking to the group.  I could not carry them across.  My fragile arms, never used for more than a heavy book at a time cannot even carry the gnome.  Still, the prospect of leaving them to die seemed far from decent.

“It shouldn’t be like this.  It should just be flat!” Clarice argued, clearly confused by the random bloody waterfall in her tower.

“Starting to realize that something is wrong here?” Rila asked.

“I think it’s you guys…it didn’t do it before you came,” Clarice clarified.  Well, if she thinks her terrifying puzzle tower is trying to kill people because of us, she obviously doesn’t understand much about her own tower.  Dumb…woman.

Though, perhaps the words she was writing in blood could be true, and with Clarice we are actually in more danger simply from her presence.  I need some time to think on this.

Regardless of that now, I simply had to help the poor group out.  I flew across the chasm, taking care to examine it for its realism (and I assure you, the waterfall was no illusion!).  Rila suggested moving the torches.  Not that I needed Rila’s suggestion, mind you…it was clear that something should be done.  As I returned them to their natural origins the water changed from blood to water, the path still broken.  The idiots insisted—was it Pentaros? Yes, I think it was that sun elf that insisted I arrange the torches again to spell despair.  Of course the water turned red with blood yet again!

Rila, and now I am certain this wild elf is no dim-witted ground creature, suggested rearranging the torches to spell “Spared.”  As I finished these tedious rearrangement (and I do mean tedious—picking up and replacing torches takes time, particularly when I am being so careful not to burn myself) the water flowing from Mystra’s symbol dried, the symbol rising up out of the ground.  I looked up warily to see the bronze orbs once again.  I considered bolting for the portal outside when I realized the bronze orbs were not the same as before, flying across the cliff to the group—bladeless.

Cedrick, the “brave” half elf grabbed one and was pulled across safely.  The rest followed, pausing only at the portal with Cedrick in the lead.

“Okay, okay, guys…I remember this word!” There was a great pause as we all waited for the half elf to speak the password and get us out of this hell.  “Mystra!” Finally!  The portal opened and we made it through.

Outside the tower, now feeling much safer and having accomplished something—though, in fact, we have not yet accomplished any of the tasks that sent us to this tower except to find Clarice—Cristman voiced all our opinions.

“I could use a good long rest.  My head hurts.”

I could not agree more.

A Puzzled Party

If I hadn’t been restrained by the speed of my party’s legs, the two weeks it took us to climb the mountains and reach Clarice’s tower would not have been so tedious.  I pity these creatures, unable to understand the true freedom my people possess.  The mountains alone, seemingly dangerous obstacles, are to me merely an excuse to test the sky’s depth.  The half-elf, wild elf, wood elf,  sun elf, human, two gnomes, and the halfling are limiting party members.

Despite the challenges of keeping my patience, we arrived to Clarice’s tower in sound condition.  Or at least, I have come to the conclusion that it is Clarice’s tower, and the one that William sent us to–as it meets the location and the reverence of the Goddess Mystra.  The tower itself is a single pinnacle with no windows, but it shines in the sunlight, and as we came to its base we found the words: _____.  The half elf seemed amazed in our decision to test Mystra’s name, which triggered a shimmery glow of the runes that revealed a portal.  The others, I’ve no doubt, have little knowledge in such portals, but I’ve done my share in studying the old magic weave.  I have suspicions that this portal is a product of this very weave, which should be impossible.  But then, a lot of impossible magic has been happening as of late, due to a weave that should no longer function, nor exist! I’ve the sample of shadow-weave in my pack as a very real reminder.

Naturally, the group decided to send the full plated half elf inside the portal.

The half elf is an interesting creature, though more than a little annoying with his lack of wit.  I’ve reason to wonder if his crossbreeding heritage is an influence; do half-breeds have limited intelligence? A defect of birth, perhaps? I’ve not met many, at least not enough to test such a theory.  It may simply be that the half elf never found the use in studying, though to his credit his knowledge of religion surpasses even mine.  It reminds me that I’ve far to go in my quest of knowledge.  The gods are a baffling entity in this world, and I cannot pretend to understand their complexities…all my experience with the gods is limited to my own goddess, Aerdrie Faenya.  For my 98 years she’s been enough.

Cedrick returned from the portal, the beginning of a headache clearly upon his face.  Beyond the portal, we gathered to find a giant puzzle.  No wonder the half-elf had such a look of pain on his face.  The first thing I noticed was the seven torches in a line by the entrance, then the distant roaring of a waterfall, flowing from the symbol of Mystra upon the floor, over a cliff along the far wall.   Seven notches around the symbol were perfect for the diameter of the torches–and a plaque to the left of our entrance left the instruction, “Only those who know the true cause of her death may pass.”  Each torch had its own plague, represented by the words: restoration, escape, abnegation, destruction, penance, sacrifice, and inspiration.

At first I thought for certain it would be impertinent to discuss the nature of Mystra’s death.  I seem to always assume that, regardless of the party member, I must know the most of the history of this world.  I explained how Mystra was not just one goddess, but a story encompassing two past Mystra, all dead now.  the first, Mystryl, sacrificed herself.  Mystra was killed by the hands of Helm, the guardian god on the stairway to heaven during the time of troubles.  Then there was Midnight, who became a new form of the goddess of magic, restoring the magic weave.  95 years ago she was killed by Cyric (instigated by Shar), the creator of the competitive shadow weave.  With the death of the final Mystra, the weave and the shadow weave collided, resulting in the Spell Plague…and the end of the weave altogether.  Now magic is very different than when I was first born, though I cannot remember it as I was but two years of age.

However, again, this information leads me to remind you that the weave should no longer exist.

Pentaros, ever confident in his ability, decided destruction to be the cause of Mystra’s passing–whichever Mystra that be (and he insisted it to refer to Midnight, though I felt both Mystryl and Mystra had merit in consideration)–and placed the ‘destruction’ torch at the pinnacle notch around Mystra’s symbol.  Of course nothing happened.  It could not be so simple, even when the rest of the torches were placed around the symbol.  Rila, the wood elf who has more intelligence than I gave her credit, rearranged the torches in the notches to spell, “Despair.”  Immensely to her credit, the water stopped flowing and the cliff appeared as though it had never existed–a door on the far wall revealed.  We pressed on.

Again another puzzle.  The trend will probably continue, if I guess correctly…this Clarice is fond of puzzles, and while I appreciate the test of wit (and the lack of brute force necessary to enter the home of someone who should be expecting a delivery), I am beginning to find them tedious.  This Clarice seems deaf to Rila’s calls that her package from William has arrived.  I wonder the reasoning? Is Clarice a ruthless, puzzle obsessed wizard who finds great pleasure in seeing us spend hours trying to reach the top of this terrible tower? Or is she merely a scrying wizard too concerned with distant deeds to remember that the world still very much exists around her?  Of course, there is also the rumor that she has some relation to a Lord associated with harpies.  Undead harpies.  I hope William hasn’t sent us to our deaths, and that Rila will learn where her missing man has disappeared to.

The puzzle we found is a giant room with a giant grid.  Across from us on the opposite wall are two doors–one for each corner.  Again we pushed Cedrick out onto the squares first.  His square flashed once and turned orange.  Another step and it flashed three times, again turning orange.  Pentaros’ step behind the half elf changed nothing. We decided to place Cristman’s buckler on an untouched square as another experiment, but it was soaked into the floor and disappeared.

Be it remembered that the bard wants another buckler and that Rila owes him this price.

I felt great need to keep track of each square as we stepped onto it, and kept great detailed notes in the last pages of this diary, but I shant write the details here.  Long story short, this grid works thus: As one steps, flies or jumps across any square it will turn green, flash a number of times and turn orange, or will spout in a column of fire.  Fire.  To the ceiling.  And if one does not move fast enough, it seems, they become trapped within an invisible wall, entrapping them with the flames.  I am beginning to believe that Clarice is a vile, sadistic woman.  Still, the number of flashes indicates the number of fires next to it–green indicating that there are none.

Cedrick ventured further out, always the victim of our experiments.  You should think he’d catch on to this trend and protest, but he is continuously willing to risk his own life.  Stupidity or honor–I’ve yet to decide.  Still, even the monk (who seems normally reserved and quiet) was exasperated as we slowly made our way through this puzzle.  “I have no idea where to go,” Oren admitted, his solemn gaze meeting Rila’s.  Rila was not quite so dumbstruck.  The green-skinned elf bade the group a fine farewell, announcing with a determined look on her mannish face, “Well guys, it was nice knowing you,” and she took off at a sprint far faster than I expected–aiming for one of the far doors across the room. Wild elves, as I understand, are supposedly the most reclusive of all the elves…priding themselves in their skill to keep hidden with their camouflaged skin and hair.  I’d never realized that it could be more than their color that kept them so isolated.  Rila runs with impossible speed.  As she raced, squares reacted to her faint footsteps, until from the floor fire erupted.  Once Rila dodged the thing, running past its flames and only singed by the outcome.  She continued, encouraged by her own dexterity.  Other squares flashed, turned green, but just as it seemed hopeful she would reach the door Rila met another furious column of fire.  The square was encased in an invisible force–walls?  I’m not entirely certain.

I watched Rila trapped next to the flames, though while I expected to see the fear in her face that the situation warranted, she looked back at us at the entrance and yelled–with a hint of satisfaction–“In case you weren’t planning on saving me, I’ve got the symbol!”  Personally I don’t understand why I wasn’t the one deemed to carry the thing.  I feel the least likely to die in this tower, and I’m certainly not so careless as the wild elf to become trapped in a flaming prison.   Wild elves may be good at hiding, but they burn just as well as any of us.  And they apparently enjoy sacrificing themselves as much as half-elves.

Caramipnar whined–at least all I could hear was a high-pitched noise, which I assume was a whine–that she is no good at these sort of puzzles.   Regardless of Cedrick’s plea for Caramipnar to find a way to save Rila, she refused to move.  What a druid can do inside a tower away from nature is beyond my reasoning.  Certainly the gnome is of no use to us here.  She does well to understand her own limits and to hesitate by the entrance.  The bard, on the other hand, did the only thing he knows how: he started to sing.  Around Cristamen our party felt inspired, suddenly feeling that although one had become trapped in fire, they might still be competent and make it past these challenges.   Bard magic is powerful, its influence on a person’s heart sincere and also terrifying.  Perhaps it was this singing that gave me the confidence I needed to take my own step out onto this treacherous puzzle…surely I would not normally volunteer for the chance to singe my wings–and despite my attempt to fly over the affect of each square, they changed color and flashed.  I landed, still safe.

The traveling continued, Cedrick becoming trapped in fire at some point (who can be surprised?) and Rila finding a way to break from prison with a fancy maneuver.  As she rolled from the fire she patted herself free of any left over flame, yelling back to us bitterly, “I’m fine now, no thanks to you!”   So much for confident rescues. She was nearly to the door, dodging past another column of fire before she had to pause for breath.  The breadth of this room is vast, nearly 200 feet across.  Even flying at my fastest (and I daren’t try again for fear of singeing my wings on a nearby square), it would surely take me at least half a minute to make it across…

This puzzle is giant.

Introduction

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