(OOC: Overdue ny'all.)
I feel as though a great curse has been lifted from my head. But have I chosen well?
Odiri, Naligor, Oranssi, and I began the day by convening at the Gaea Shrine in the temple at Mato's behest. The moment we were inside, all possible exits were shut and we were trapped. We probably should have been plenty more concerned about the situation than we were, but there were 2 yards of ceremonial wine hidden in the wall, so the collective attention was rather occupied. Odiri seemed rather uncomfortable and did not partake. She had yet to get over the incident with the table, and Oranssi had yet to apologize. There was bitterness in the room enough to spoil the wine. Mato entered after some time, explaining that the party had been collected together for the purpose of Oranssi and Odiri making peace. They did, but not before a harsh exchange of words. Only when Oranssi admitted to having been a fool did Odiri accept and relent. Mato presented a second gift by way of explaining that Odiri's festival-won fan once belonged to Lady Hana and would render the user immune to the cries of her banshee spirit. Some sass was exchanged (including some unexpected foul languge from Oranssi!) then Mato opened the door to exit, revealing an eavesdropping Frivolity behind it. That sneak! I wonder how much he heard?
Having been informed of newcomers in town, we went all together to the Rose Shell to scope them out. I noticed that Odiri had indeed taken up employment under Frivolity. She wore his colors. It was not my right by any means to be upset by this, but my passing comment on the matter did, to my great satisfaction, fluster her.
Arriving at the Rose Shell, we were greeted by a rambunctious, near-naked gnome swinging from Albion's horns. Odiri was absolutely furious at her designated seat being usurped. Beside Albion was the other new man to town, a half-elf. A noble, or so I recognized him to be from his insignia. House Faervel. He, rather flamboyantly and with what possibly could've been flirtation, introduced himself as Hok'ee Faervel. I had fought alongside his father in the Goblin War. Great man, though he was put out of service by injury, if I recall correctly. Two sons. One was said to be a fantastic warrior in his own right. So this was the other son. I disliked him from my first good look at him and did not introduce myself by full name or title.
The gnome, Zui, though a drunkard of incredible capacity, was handy with a staff and signed on to our coalition immediately. I inquired if the halfbreed fop had his father's ability. Hok'ee demonstrated with a whirl of weaponry that, yes, indeed, he was just as skilled. I tried not to look too impressed as I motioned for him to sign the charter. While Zui barely skimmed the contract, Hok'ee studied it carefully before putting his name on it. He even took notes on it. Hm. He is nothing to be fucked with. We gathered around the table to fill in our newcomers on the state of things in Shore Blossom and our mission with the Yomi Princes. Zui, a monk of sorts, had spent his whole life studying them for the express purpose of their defeat. A good thing that we found him before anyone else did, then. Armed with Odiri's fan and Naligor's ring, we decided then that the mission for the next day's journey out would be to see to Lady Hana's grove.
Then, music. Onto the stage at the center of the inn entered a dazzling woman with a vibrant air, dancing expertly and lasciviously. I'll admit that my attention was certainly aroused by the sight of her. Odiri noticed my slack jawed stare from her perch atop Albion and saw it fit to nail me in the head with a goblet. Oranssi commented that she was learning a great deal of tact. If Odiri's sense of tact translates to headaches for me, I'd rather her stay tactless. After her show, the lady came and introduced herself as Elura. My god, really a lovely woman. She had joined the party for previous adventures, and would be doing so again now that she had returned to town. I was certainly glad to have her along, but Odiri was… Well. I certainly made my apologizes to her that evening, which she was more than happy to accept. Though, the wee hours were plagued by nightmares and I did not get much rest from it. Karma, I suppose.
The party breakfasted at the inn before setting off. Frivolity had acquired a horse and cart of his own, as well as a gorgeous starhorse named Lunestra. Mm, I do miss my horse. I think that once I've worked up some funds from my fur trapping, I shall look into acquiring a new one. As we traveled out, Odiri slept like a babe in the back of the cart. Rather cute, really. It was a pity to have to wake her when Albion and I had need of her assistance in marking a path. Apparently, the minotaur can use his horns as a compass of sorts. Bizarre, but useful. We trailblazed 5 miles to the north. Zui gathered herbs as we went. Ah, I knew what he was up to. I'd done my fair share of homebrewing in seclusion. Considering the wiff of that barrel he insists on rolling about with him, I image he's got a talent for this sort of thing.
By sundown, we came to the edge where the Bamboo Sea met the Jade Forest and made camp. Hok'ee and I got into a bit of spat while stoking up a fire, which really only confirmed my distaste for him. Naligor, Elura, and I stayed the midnight watch. Naligor questioned my handiwork on Odiri's neck, but believed my lie on the matter. Can't believe he did. Elura played at some flirtation with me. I may be a man of weak will and weaker loins, but I did my best to brush her advances. The night's relative peace was broken by an attack of spear-wielding Bullywugs. I killed one immediately as Naligor fried another one in lightning. As everyone was roused from sleep, Elura, clever thing, dropped a sleeping spell on the remaining two creatures with a one-liner. Ah, the entertainment benefits of a battle bard. After tying the two up to a tree, we settled back to sleep to deal with them in the morning.
Come sunrise, a debate was had as to whether or not the bullywugs should be allowed to live. I'd never really questioned my instinct to kill. A soldier's second nature, I suppose, but I rarely stopped to question. If a thing was evil, it deserved death, did it not? Zui silenced all arguments by throwing a rock at Oranssi with a yell. We came to an agreement that the frogs would be tried and intimidated into leaving us alone. Their warrior culture would permit no other option. Oranssi intimated them sufficiently, then asked me to cut them free. "They have a message to deliver". Shivers ran up my spine. There is no way he could have known the circumstances under which I'd heard that phrase before, but it still left me a little shaken to hear it said. I left quickly, hunting a feast of rabbits for the morning. As I sat skinning pelts, I overheard Zui and Naligor discussing their "herbalist" exploits. It's not my place to comment, but I cannot say I approve… We traveled on through Lady Hana's Grove, following Naligor's glowing amber stone, camping there another night among the familiar fields of flowers and lush green. Elura made us all crowns. I accepted mine out of courtesy, but I could see the jealousy and distaste in Odiri's eyes when she was handed hers after.
In the morning, we arrived at the crypt. "We should stealth!," suggested Frivolity, the least stealthy member of our party. Going further through than we had gone before, we came to a domed building in the eastern part of the enclosure. Odiri tried to take point, but I pushed her back and went ahead. There was absolutely no way I was letting her walk headfirst into danger. Beyond a hallway, we came to a room to the north. Zui dismantled the falling block trap that awaited us there, allowing us to access a shrine in a hallway ahead. It seemed to have been recently cleaned. Someone, or something, was upkeeping this place. A number of us left small offerings, myself included, though Odiri's contribution to this surprised me. She didn't seem the type to care.
As we made our way back to the north room, we were attacked by 8 animated sets of armor, 4 tall and 4 short. Human and dwarven, perhaps. Naligor dropped the first before transforming into a dragon wyrmling. That was new! Elura threw a patch of grease in the path of the constructs, resulting in a grease ballet of them, Charka, and Xiao. Albion shattered one, then another, with terrifying barbarian strength, but also became one with the grease, gleefully making angels in it. Zui jumped on his staff, stabbing one of them, then vaulted over another. I had not yet seen him in proper battle, but the skill of this little man is great. When the armor was at last defeated, though not before a few more greasy fumbles, Elura melted it down.
Odiri's fan, functioning as a guide for magical items within the crypt, led us quickly through the maze of halls until we came upon a massive room with a beautiful spiral of green stonework for floor. It had once functioned as a part of Lady Hana's wedding present, a giant go board, but it was now marred. This place had once been her palace of pleasures, and now, her tomb. A morbid thought. As we approached the adjacent hall, we heard the sounds of chanting. If the intent of it, regardless of the source, was to keep Lady Hana at rest, we quickly found that it had not worked. Not one bit.
In the next chamber, we were met with Hana's banshee, two wights, and ten spectres, all keen to kill. Charka and Xiao were unable to move in their terror. We all cut in with rapid attacks. Albion felled the two wights alone, slashing them both to dust. The banshee wailed, dropping Charka, Oranssi, and Zui. The sound of it, the agony. Haunting, really. In a flash of silver and moonlight, Hok'ee went for the banshee. Thought his attack missed, he managed to distract the banshee enough to drag Zui out of harm's way. I quickly healed Charka, getting her back on her feet. Suddenly, a spectre attacked Albion, black wounds and the unmistakable pallor of death overtaking him. The battle pressed on until Naligor, still a dragon, bit the banshee. The spectres disappeared in a flash of light as a beautiful golden glow enveloped the room, transforming the banshee into the holy spirit of Lady Hana. She thanked Odiri and Naligor and warned that the Yomi Princes must be destroyed. They had done this to her, and would not stop their torment of the earth until they were dead. Naligor's stone returned to her ring, then the ring came back whole to Naligor. Lady Hana allowed us all the spoils of her ruin, and was gone, dissipated into light. Odiri absolutely broke down, bawling as I held her comfortingly in my arms. I was shaken, yes, but not nearly to the degree that she was. This mission was much closer a thing to her, but something must have struck her deep for this sort of a reaction. Hok'ee asked if monsters normally thanked us for killing them. No. No, they didn't.
We continued on, as the fan indicated that there was still one magic item in the ruins. It was not an item, however, but a place. A glowing, enchanted pool of water. Around it, the inscription that it would grant beauty in exchange for the sacrifice of a magic object, "but only once".
Before I could even open my mouth to speak, the entire party erupted in discussion that, obviously, I should be the one to use the pool, but what magic item should be given up? As considerate (or offensive? I still cannot decide how to feel about their assumption), they acted as thought I had not the opinion or consent to disagree! Not my best moment, but I roared at them all in a fit of rage. What if I didn't want to change? They had no right to choose for me! This quieted them down enough that I could hear myself think, until they each began to voice their own thoughts. Odiri encouraged me, citing that without my scars, I could begin to heal. She knew my nightmares and maybe, just maybe, this would help me sleep at night. Oranssi argued that I had been changed by my scars, and I would be sure to change again without them, not necessarily for the better. The two of them argued, until Elura stepped in. Casting a spell, she transformed herself into a mirror of my form, though unscathed. As unsettling as the experience of facing my own double was, she did impart on me the wisdom that visible scars or not, I would always bear them on my soul. Even Hok'ee chimed in, asking if the sacrifice would bring me any peace. I did not know why I listened to his words, but my mind was desperate and he did have a point. Odiri pressed her fan into my hand, granting it as mine to choose what to do with. I remembered our night, her hands taking mine , the warmth of her chest. God, I would trust her with anything.
Our keys began to glow in defiance, forcing time. My chest tightened. My heart raced. It was then or never. These scars were mine. They always would be. But this way, at least, I would not have to wear them open wounded. I threw the fan into the water. The pool dissolved it, and when I looked over to my own reflection, all the scars faded away and left me face to face with my old self. I could feel that it had not taken the ones on my body, but the return of my lost face was enough. I was too shaken by the sight to weep with the gratitude of my soul at that moment, but I surely would have. The keys lit up again, and we were all transported back to the gates.
It is too soon to say what this has done. But, at the very least, I can stand to meet my own eyes in the mirror. That alone is worth something.