Things do not bode well. I fear that with the most recent developments, we shall soon be embarking on our most dangerous journey yet.
No hookahs at the Rose Shell this day, as Oranssi was with us. Plenty of drinks, however. I'm noticing that I've begun to indulge quite a bit. I've always been a drinker, but having proper alcohol instead of the barrel hooch I was making in the woods has been an absolute blessing.
It was a rather calm morning, until Odiri entered with an absolutely massive, bizarre looking bear in tow. Charka and I were both rather surprised, I enough to <s>jump</s> delicately move behind my chair defensively. It seemed we were the only two taking offense to the panda (a native species of bear to this region, apparently), as everyone else was all over it, cuddling and feeding it. Charka threatened to snap its balls off if it came any closer, which led to the discovery that Odiri could also understand animals. Was she trying to one up me? I wouldn't be surprised, that scheming pint. I'm going to have a problem if that bear wants to make a friend of me. (Fuck bears).
Madam Saru entered and, Adi not among the party that day, handed me a scroll to deliver to him. Charka was particularly nosy about its contents, but I refused to open it. It would be a violation of trust and honor to mess with a man's privacy that way. Soveliss, however, is a man without even the slightest scrap of honor. He stole it right out of my hands to get a look. It was a map, and a fellow patron of the teahouse identified the dwarven text as "The Thousand Sage Temple". This must be the temple of the east, the entrance to Shandao. We decided to head there, though this led to a debate on the purchase of horses to speed up the journey. Oranssi suggested buying a cart instead, as Roth and Albion were both perfectly capable of pulling one. A good idea, certainly, but I can't help but feel uncomfortable to the idea of using our companions for labor. I'm sure other elves of my breeding would take no such issue, but the circumstances of life have taught me to think otherwise. I try to distance myself from such…. high thinking.
Regrouping at dawn, we set off along Roth's Road, camping quietly that night at the foot of the Gaea shrine. The next morning, we continued through the Bamboo Sea. Roth swung his axe mightily, clearing a path as we went. Albion tore down the smaller stalks, while Xiao (the newly minted name of Odiri's panda companion) ate the debris. It was a pretty effective system. We made it to the dwarven ruins, the party resting briefly as Odiri and I checked our surroundings of animals. She's particularly cranky. Withdrawals, I imagine.
About 2 hours after we got back on the road, we were attacked suddenly by a giant boar. Aha! One of my favorite things to hunt. Violent bastards. My arrows pierced clean, but were rendered unnecessary by Albion, who chopped the thing clean in half. From the size of the thing, we'd enough hide to construct a sizeable tent. Perhaps we could set up a proper waystation at the shrine with one? As we rested and cooked the meat for rations, we got on the subject of whether or not it was morally correct for Albion to consume animal products, considering… He took the opportunity to make a show of his own… animal product. I'd sooner be slain that admit this anywhere outside of my private writings, but I have never in my life seen such sizeable beef. The life of a soldier exposes a man to all sorts of nudity, but no man I have ever seen even begins to compare to such raw meat. Odiri, who I quite suddenly became consciously aware was the only woman in our company, was absolutely taken with a vague, implacable horror. Looking again at the minotaur's mighty third horn, I think I understood the source of her horror… Albion was quickly coerced back into his trousers.
We got back on the road, traveling through the forest until we were forced to rest on the road at the fall of night. Odiri wished to join me on the middle shift, but I convinced her to rest. As an elf, I needed much less that even the hardiest halfling. The idea struck me to make her a crown as a compensation for denying her (why did I feel the need to compensate at all?), so I sufficed to braid her one of long, thin bamboo leaves. When we rested the next night, I found a similar crown in my own hair the next morning. I cannot entirely explain the warm sensation that conjured in my chest. It was … nice. It was very nice. But between the broad strokes of good sentiment, there were inlaid deep cuts of infidelitious feeling… I shall have to think on this further.
On the sixth morning of uneventful travel, I woke with a start to the sudden recollection that it was the day we had settled for the swindling of the Bamboo Spider clan. My key glowed, but I willed it to stop. I am certain the remaining others could handle the exchange without me. My presence with the current party was more readily needed.
As we traveled deeper into the forest, Soveliss and I ground the company to a halt at the sound of goblin speech in the distance. A group of them were loudly discussing that Threefangs, the hobgoblin our party had encountered in the mines, had been murdered by thieves. Thinking quickly, Soveliss disguised himself as an emissary of Skotos, throwing Goblin Queen insignia on Roth and Albion to masquerade them both as guards in his employ. Odiri, Oranssi, and I were disguised as their prisoners, Soveliss casting an illusion of chains upon us. As uncomfortable as I was, it did not even remotely compare to Oranssi. He boiled with rage. I wish there was something I could have done to comfort him, to reach out at least, but the goblins approached and we had to keep the illusion. There was a hobgoblin, a goblin mounted on a warg, and a bugbear, all bearing heraldry of the Goblin Queen and of the Silver Demons. I had never previously encountered their faction, as I knew they were a specialty unit, but I knew they were to be feared. They discussed with Soveliss the complaints of slaughter from the kobolds. The Yomi Princess, Blood Spattered Snow Tiger, had appealed to the Goblin Queen for her assistance. Not good. Not good at all. They were convinced by the illusion and were about to leave us be, when Soveliss lit them up. The illusion was broken as we burst into battle. Roth slayed the goblin with a single mighty stroke of his axe, chopping it in half. I brought the warg down with a clean shot through an eye. Odiri managed a shot at the bugbear and Xiao a swipe, but Soveliss brought it down with another burst of fire, reducing it to a flurry of ashes. Oranssi seemed only somewhat recovered, but I chose to wait to speak with him. Traumas of the war-torn past are nothing to be discussed in the open. There would be a time
At last, we arrived at the Thousand Sage Temple. It was a massive building of a single story above ground, countless levels below, flanked on all sides by many game trails. Well used by many, many kobolds, from the looks of them, and each marked as clan territory by different banners stuck to branches. Three we recognized, but three others we did not. A star shape, a hooked fang, and an owl with open wings. This was clearly a place for their congregation. But entering would have to be a mission for another day. It was late into the afternoon, and we were all weary of the long journey. Our keys began to glow, and homeward we were sent to regroup.
Dangers lie ahead, I fear. Many, many dangers.