(OOC: I'm working my way through the backlog, I promise.)
I'm pleased to say that my scheme for alternative income has been working splendidly. Though Odiri may have given me an earful about going beyond the wall alone, my poaching of the local wildlife for furs has delighted the variety-starved merchants in town. I'm currently working in partnership with a particularly ornery dwarf furrier, but perhaps I'll strike up some competition among the community for my work? If this does manage to upset the local economy, I can't say I'll be mad.
On the way back to the Rose Shell from making a purchase of particular interest, I caught up with Oranssi. We've become rather swell companions over the course of living together at the temple. Adi's bizarre monkey greeted us with a distribution of coin. I don't like that monkey. It's eyes are too damn smart. Odiri sat conversing with Elura, so I delivered my package quietly and took my seat across the table. Odiri was delighted by her gift, a rabbit fur cloak of grey, black, and blue. Were those my house colors? Mm, yes, but she didn't need know that yet. For some reason, this seemed to have the effect of resolving whatever issue of feminine wiles had come between her and the bard.
This was my first encounter with the odd Mister Semper. As I understood him, he was a curt, abrasive fellow from some distant land with no personal wealth and a great deal of secrets. A scrappy shit that bothered me for some unplaceable reason. He must have been filled in on our most recent expeditions, because it was actually his suggestion to take the party to re-home Third One the frog. We pushed out the following morning.
Traveling along Roth's Road and trailblazing Xiao's shortcut, we came to a brief rest at a small druid's shrine of Gaea. Oranssi mended it, leaving an unnerving feeling that something watching us had suddenly stopped. Almost immediately after, we were ambushed by 5 weretigers clad in black leather. While Odiri, Oranssi, Albion, Elura, Adi, Sempur, and I fended off their attacks, they did not seem to target Naligor at all. Naligor cast his moonbeam on one of them, turning it into a haggard looking man. He cried to the others, "Change of plans! Cover me!", and the weretigers came together in a protective formation around him as he pulled out a scroll and pounced on Naligor, attempting to kidnap him with a teleportation spell. Adi bought us some time with a slowing spell as Elura lit the scroll on fire, destroying it. Terrified, their pack leader called their retreat and they were gone in a puff of black smoke. When pressed, Naligor would not say why he would be targeted this way, though it had put all of in danger. We continued to the Pond of Echoes to camp, and the night passed without incident.
Come morning, we discussed how to proceed. Semper was battle-eager, but it was decided by the group that some reconnaissance was in order. Odiri and I went ahead around the pond. We may have been gone a hair too long… and were a bit… distracted… but we did eventually return to the group with information. There were definitely water weirds inside, but we chose to proceed with friendly intentions. Water weirds are not inherently evil creatures, so there really was no reason to approach with hostility. Adi hailed it, and a tentacle of water emerged, conversing by writing in the shoreline and "erasing" with a sweep of water. From it, we learned that the lake was the residence of Thousand Rains, one of the legendary, ancient storm giants of yore, a reclusive oracle who had previously advised Prince Yuan (and been ignored). We requested an audience with him, and the water weird disappeared below the lake's surface. Five water weirds returned, pulling apart the waters and inviting us into the depths below.
As we walked down, the weirds cleaved apart a dry path, flanking us with vertical walls of crystalline water. The further down we traveled, the more dissipated the sun's light became. All around us in the dimming landscape, vibrant plant life, well-tended and arranged in sprawling, beautiful gardens. But, behind us, the walls of water seamlessly came back together, forcing forward our long march into darkness. There would be no exit should negotiations go poorly. I could not help but feel anxious.
At the bottom, we came to a massive stone building, bone dry and 40ft tall. Two tentacles pushed open two great doors, pulling them shut behind us as we entered the air-tight hall inside. The walls of slate grey stone were encrusted decoratively in elaborate mosaics of stones and shells, depicting ancient battles and images of gods. On a raised dias, Thousand Rains himself, powerful, huge, resting his weight on a greatsword. Elura greeted him will full honors as we all gave our respects. I bowed and vowed to say nothing. Political machinations were never my strong suit and, frankly, I felt more than a little intimidated. Giants are nothing to be fucked with. Odiri was visibly quaking. I can only begin to image how he must have looked from her stature. I took her hand, and we kept each other's comfort. Thousand Rains laughed heartily, shaking the walls, amused by Albion's presence. Minotaurs have an interesting waterborne history, or something of the like.
Elura, assisted by Semper, negotiated the residence of Third One in Thousand Rains' watery domain on the argument that he would make an excellent pet, companion, and lure for larger game in return for mere protection. They then took the opportunity to ask him about the Yomi Princes, to which he replied that they were "a flash in the pan". He shared a prophecy with a clatter of I Ching coins. The Yomi Princes would indeed fall with our efforts and the help of Zui, who knew all their weaknesses, but an even greater evil, a great wind from the desert north, would come at their fall. Then, a minor prophecy. If the son of the wolf, Naligor, did not find love and family, he would be the cause of death. Thousand Rains offered to "solve" our problem for us, suddenly drawing his sword on Naligor. All in a quick flash of action, Naligor transformed into a wolf to attack, Odiri jumped in front of him, and Elura shouted, begging forgiveness for the transgression. Thousand Rains relented and allowed us to leave in one piece. Oranssi cast an offering in gratitude. Odiri clocked Naligor in the jaw, causing him to pick her up by the collar to carry her out, and we all made our exit. Led back up to the surface by the weirds in a similar fashion as our journey down, I strayed to the back of the group, far enough that the closing wall of water would lick at my boot heels if a stride fell short. I knew that Naligor and Odiri had grown close, but not so much that she would so instinctually risk her life for his sake. I could not say it was jealousy, but had Thousand Rains attacked… I tried to shake off the thought. When we came to the surface, I hastily took Odiri from Naligor's jaw. The weird who had greeted us initially said it was a pleasure to meet us, much to our surprise and delight. Odiri presented it with a flower crown, naming it Sweetums. It retreated into the waters, and we went on our way to retrieve Third One.
Two hours journey into the Jade Forest, Adi sensed a magical wolf following us. Again, Naligor was pressed to speak, and again he kept his own. The wolf began to suddenly flee towards the Kami Mines, so Adi captured it with a spell of black tentacles. Oranssi cast a Zone of Truth in preparation for interrogating him, which Semper deliberately and suspiciously stepped outside the area of, and not before throwing about some insults against elvenkind. Hm. All his actions seemed to confirm my initial assessment of his character…
Elura convinced the wolf to turn back into a man, revealing a haggard looking man in a loincloth. He had no name, none at least since he joined the pack of The Shadow Wolf, Naligor's cursed father. He attempted to offer the secrets of necromancy to Adi in exchange for the handover of Naligor, which he categorically refused. We learned that "the master" was indeed aware of not only our existence, but of where we were as well, and sought the return of his son to the pack. Naligor was visibly shaken with a rage, and, surprisingly, offered that he go himself in return for the rest of the group's safety, to our collective protest. We also learned that The Shadow Wolf willingly took on the dark power of a Yomi Prince, suggesting that perhaps some of the others had not. Exhausted of information and only inciting further anger, Naligor viciously cut the werewolf's throat with a silvered blade, killing him. As the body was burned, Naligor explained that there would be no diplomacy with The Shadow Wolf. Only death. Semper demanded to know why. Honestly, fuck him. I would join Naligor's cause whether or not I knew his past. But, Naligor relented and agreed to tell us all that night.
Settled around the fire that evening, Naligor told his story. I…. I will not repeat it here. But by god, that man bears plenty his own scars. I pledged my sword, my soul, and my life to his cause right there, and such pledges I do not take lightly. It is beyond a matter of honor to see his demons defeated. No one deserves to have such suffering go unavenged. I seethed my watch that night in quaking rage, haunted by both Naligor's words and my own similarities to them. Odiri stayed up with me, keeping company in the lonesome night of wolves wandering in the distant woods.
In the morning, we traveled the last leg of the road to the Kami Mines. Somebody had been camping there, but had already packed up and gone before us. As we walked through familiar fields, Odiri picked a flower for me. I tucked it beneath the collar of my vest, comforted by it.
Our reunion with Third One was a joyous affair! We explained to him what we had arranged with Thousand Rains, and he seemed fully pleased by it. Naligor transformed him into a tiny frog, and we bore him aloft in a floating disk full of water Elura had summoned up. Truly a king's procession! Arriving back at the Pond of Echoes, we were greeted once again by Sweetums. It and Third One were formally introduced, Sweetums accepting him into the pond. Naligor transformed our frog friend back into his usually large self, and he went off, all happier for his new home.
Our keys began to glow and, in a flash of light, we found ourselves returned to the city gates. To our surprise, in Elura's disk, a gift had been left! A detailed golden bracelet inscribed with instructions on how to get to a mysterious theater in the forest? Perhaps we'll make a date of it…