It's been a moment since I last wrote something here. Mostly because I've been far too gone to hold a quill, but…
This begins eleven? twelve days ago? I was roused from my terrible state by a note passed along from Semper, that there was to be a meeting of the company to discuss the charter. Perhaps it was some ancient instinct of duty that dragged me from my bodily heap to attend, because I was certainly in no state to have been there. I could really only make out about half the conversation between Semper's quick tongue and Adi's endless semantics. The conversation was circle-shaped. That, and Syd distracted me from it. A force of habit, she had understood much of my conversation with Tannion a few nights before from reading our lips. She swore her secrecy, and I must trust her. I suppose thieves' honor is honor none the less. I recall vaguely then quitting the table to go to the bar, after Kodu had offered me water and Odiri had taken my 3rd (4th?) jug of wine from me. It was a little more than two weeks since I had last seen her, and I sorely wish now that that had not been Odiri's first sight of me in all that time. I could not have possibly looked put together based on the party's attitudes towards me… She questioned if I was upset with her, but my poor explanation only made things worse. She took off the cloak I had gifted her. (Naturally, I ruin everything I put my hands to).
Only when discussions of charter politics— something about the use of the items in the glass case, God knows— had ceased did I come back to the table. Naligor, spiteful fuck, put into my sensitive ears an illusion of blaring horns. In hindsight, it was probably vengeance for my rudeness to Odiri. Certainly didn't think of that then. Tales were exchanged of what had been discovered in Shandao, and it was decided that the collected party would venture there. Oranssi seemed particularly upset by the notion of returning there, but conceded to the necessity of dispensing with Lord Zun.
Across six long days of travel from the gate to the 1,000 Sages Temple, Odiri hardly spoke a word to me. It stung, but in my addled mind, the thought of speaking, and speaking the truth especially, to her burned worse. What possible right in the eyes of the gods did I have to her? Even by the most generous of standards, I should have been— and still should be— in deep in mourning.
Inside the dark temple, the entrance to Shandao loomed before us. A stone staircase, 20 ft down into torchlit darkness, the bottom too far below to be seen. Once we entered, it would be several days of travel in underground night before we reached our goal deep within the city. No fires, no conversation, lest we wanted to give away our position. Shandao was a vast metropolis, unlike anything I had seen before. It was as though a perfectly usual dwarven construction had been torn through the earth and deposited in such a dreadful place. Some buildings stood whole. Others, in ruin, from both the ancient damages of war and lifetimes of use. No attempts at repair were visible anywhere, the residents seeming to have simply moved on to a new building and left the old one to rot. Most unsettlingly, there was no sky above us, only a vague ceiling of dirt. No stars for assurance or guidance. The world felt inverted.
On the first day, we traveled two hours due south through the Silent Raccoon district, then through Vigilant Tiger territory. We sheltered ourselves for the night in a ruined building, good cover and an even better vantage point. When my turn for watch came, as I suspected she might, Odiri accosted me with questions. After several frustrating interruptions from Kodu and Frivolity, I burst from frustration, curtly spilling the news Tannion had brought of Allaya and hissing at Odiri that I needed space. No sooner had the words left my mouth than I regretted them. The thought could not possibly have occurred to her, and my informing her was so sudden, so harsh. The hurt look in her eyes, the shock! She retreated to bed, but I could tell from the irregular rise and fall of her small chest that she did not sleep. God, I was a fool to spurn her. In the "morning", a relative concept in the constant night, Oranssi and Naligor questioned what discussion had occurred on watch, both more than a little upset with me. Odiri smoked again with Naligor, and I again said nothing to her.
Another 3 hours of travel brought us to a wall, tall and decorated in an elaborate mural of a great battle, elves, dwarves, and humans slaying kobolds and defeating the forces of evil. Perhaps it was something from the First Kingdom? That would certainly match the ages of some of the buildings if it were. One tile was noticeably absent, which Odiri quickly produced and placed into its rightful place. The wall became a gate, opening wide for our intrepid party to enter and face the dangers inside.
Navigating the splendid palace, we were unsurprised to find it meticulously upkept. In the distance, music of some sort. Drums. Footsteps. The place buzzed with activity. Taking care to avoid any encounters, we made our way towards the seat of Thousand Peonies. 60 ft of upward stairs later, we arrived in the vast audience chamber, dotted with columns and corridors leading out of it on one side. Even at a distance, Odiri's fear and distress was evident to me. Though I had been the one to ask for space, I moved closer. I could not help but want to protect her.
At the top of the raised dias at the opposite end of the chamber, Lord Zun himself, eyes alight ferociously with ghostly goblin fire, bearing two swords. Surrounding him, four hungry dead, pale of skin, with red eyes and lips. Zun spoke, voice echoing through the chamber. "How dare you enter my realm without a proper invitation?" Suddenly, the portcullis behind us slammed shut and lit on fire, trapping us in the chamber. Zun attacked, casting a ball of fire from his hand into our party. While we all survived, Odiri's poor beast was felled. In a burst of ash, Xiao was no more for this world. Only bones remained of him. She cried out in a mournful, soul-shaking wail. I know well the agonizing sound of loss. Without missing a beat, she entered the fray, vicious and seeking vengeance. Strong girl.
Adi cast a sphere of water on the dias, Naligor transforming into a squid to attack Zun and the hungry dead from inside it. Elura disguised herself as Lady Shen, fooling Zun with the illusion of his lover. I do not know if she intended to draw attention away, but the opposite occurred. Lord Zun broke apart the sphere of water, calling out to his minions to leave her alone and focus their killing intent on the rest of us. At that moment, Frivolity transformed in a flash of blinding light, suddenly taking on golden wings, hair turning to feathers, his horns gone. Her? Not that there was an issue with that. I just wasn't aware that tieflings had the same sort of sex shifting abilities that elves do. The shape was undoubtedly female, but the heat of battle was no time to be questioning it.
The madness continued as Oranssi cast daylight onto his cape, stunning the hungry dead with it as he stepped closer. Frivolity struck at Zun with her sword as Odiri and I assailed with our arrows. In a burst of necrotic energy, Lord Zun attacked Kodu, Oranssi, and Odiri down the line, though they all miraculously remained standing. Kodu, close enough and bold enough, engaged Zun in hand combat. To have gone toe to toe with the sworn sword of the emperor is something few have known and fewer still have survived. Syd took the opportunity to slay one of the hungry dead, while another was slain by Oranssi's daylight. The two remaining ones ran into the adjacent corridors, calling to their master for aid. Was Lord Zun not their master?
In Zun's distraction, Elura called to him as Lady Shen. "My love, whatever happened to you?" It knocked him prone. Hearing the concerned voice of his old lover must have been enough to shake him. … I cannot help but sympathize with the notion … Elura made a motion as though she had stabbed herself to death, and fell to the floor, giving Frivolity a chance to swoop in. She cast a great column of holy light, slamming it into Lord Zun and reducing his form to ashes. He is yet to be defeated, we learned. In his state as a Death Knight, the possibility of his resurrection stands so long as his earthly business remains unresolved. Only redemption will put his soul to rest. But of what he must be redeemed, we do not know.
We quickly gathered up a fantastic cache of loot as our keys began to glow. A pop of light, and we stood at the gates of Shore Blossom as always. I noticed that Odiri had scooped up Xiao's remains, bearing them in her hands along with her beast's silvered claw tips. She just looked so absolutely destroyed… I tried to speak to her, give my condolences to her loss, but I fear she may have taken my words for sarcasm, considering she had only just the night before found out about my own terrible loss. She went away without a word to me, moving alone and ahead of the group. The entire trek back to town, I cursed myself for having been so cold. Drink. Drink would take the pain away.
I spent two more days in absolute state of mess. I'm no longer allowed at The Drowned Fish, nor will I ever be. If it weren't for the embarrassment of the cause, I think I'd be rather impressed with myself for managing to get barred. Another day, another round cut off at the Rose Shell, and I felt ready to face Odiri. She was none too happy to see me, of course. She chucked a bottle out the window at me when I called for her. But she let me inside, bless her forgiving spirit, and allowed me explain myself. Her state was little better than my own. Not an inch of floor remained visible beneath a thick layer of empty bottles, and the stench of pipeweed clogged up the air in the room. God, I did not mean for such a thing. And I certainly hadn't meant to hurt her in that moment of her open forgiveness either, even if it did happen terrible, drunken, passionate chaos… I'd sooner cut my hands than lay them on her in violence. She wept, an old wound opened, and I held her just as she'd held me before, the favor returned in love. Then, a miraculous thing. A blessed, joyous, miraculous thing! She pledged herself to me, what life she has to give me, and all of it. And I swore mine to her, my true feelings of love come pouring out of me. If there were a way that I could spend the rest of my eternity with her, I would. We have suffered enough, I think.
All was well and good, until we were awoken the next morning by the most horrible sounds I think I have ever heard, emanating from the master suite below us—and this is in consideration of my own youthful exploits of regularly window-breaking intercourse. Sweet mother, I had not seen sobriety for twelve days and nights. Screaming agony paralyzed me the better part of that morning…. I think I shall make purchase of a home. Far, far, faaaaar away from Frivolity's bull-dick ornamented playground of horrors.