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Chapter 2 — Heading Back
Having decided on their next major course of action, Solisar took ten minutes to perform the ritual for identifying Onran's magical boots. His conclusion was that they would permit the wearer to teleport short distances, no more than a couple dozen feet, when otherwise trapped from freely moving. It was agreed that such boots would be very useful for Leokas to wear, so that he would always have a clear shot, and he happily tried the boots on. They were exceptionally comfortable, though they clashed a little with his green garb.

   Since Onran was presumed dead, Hakam insisted that the small collection of magic items belonged to Szordrin, the closest Onran had to an heir, but Szrodrin had no need for the boots, the hat of disguising, or the bracers, though they packed them in their bag of holding, nonetheless.

   Solisar thought that it would be a good idea to check in with Ombert and his crew, so he used their sending stone to message Oma and asked for a status report. She responded that the lizardfolk eggs had been successfully delivered. They had also stopped at Lantan and picked up more trade goods and were now on Anadia, the first planet in the system, trading with halflings.

   There was some discussion about breaking up the massive omlar crystal outside of Onran's house for profit or magic use, but Szordrin strongly disapproved of damaging his master's former property.

   Before they headed back, Belvin used his druidic power to sense the presence of further deinonychuses. There were still a good number on the island, yet none were particularly close to them. The one that Kytharrah and Solisar had heard at the bottom of the hill they found dead, presumably from being infected by the yellow musk creeper, but thankfully, no new plant had taken root in its brain. No other creepers themselves lived on the island.

   "Should we hunt down and eliminate the remaining deinonychuses on the island, in case they are infected?" asked Solisar.

   "They are natural creatures," said Hakam, "not abominations; I do not see the need."

   "If Sofi remains here," said Solisar, "she might be at more risk than she anticipated."

   "But they cannot pass through the barrier or over the rift," said Hakam.

   "Speaking of plans," said Sofi, "May I ask what you all plan to do next? I know that you have big plans to track down this Samber person, but how are you getting off this island itself?"

   "Our plan was to use lizardfolk hang gliders to return to the port of Hisssta," they explained.

   "Do you think, if it is not too much trouble to have a sod like me banging around, that I might be able to come with you on your ride, your quest? Or if not, at least to leave the island with you. I do not see any further purpose for me here. I mentioned this before, but I find it improbable that being dropped off here, of all islands, by the mercane was simply a random chance. I should pray to my mistress first, of course, for guidance, but if she allows it...."

   Kytharrah began bouncing with enthusiasm.

   "We do not have an extra glider," said Belvin, "and I will be carrying my own camel."

   "I carry!" suggested Kytharrah, which seemed a reasonable solution to the others.

   "I have a test for you first," said Leokas. He was only jesting, but his tone was stern, and she took him seriously. "I want to see if you can catch one of my arrows. I have heard legends of ascetics such as yourself having the concentration and swiftness of hand to do so."

   "That sounds... terrifying," said Sofi, "but I shall try it."

   "I shall have my healing magic ready for if there be a mishap," said Hakam.

   "I shall not be shooting at her," said Leokas, sounding mildly offended. "Stand there by that tree. I can hit the same spot ten times in row; just remain still until you are ready to catch it."

   Sofi stood by a tall tree and was still, looking nervous. Leokas loosed the first arrow, and it whizzed six inches from her head and struck the trunk. He sent another arrow flying, and its tip drove in next to the first arrow's. She remained still. He launched a third and a fourth, and, suddenly, her hand flashed. She struck the fourth arrow mid-flight, deflecting it from its course to be lost in the bushes.

   She was beaming. "I have never tried that before," she said. "My master used to do that. He could actually catch them, but I shall have to start working on that now."

   "Well done," said Leokas. "You have my vote to join the team."

   "Of which master do you speak," asked Hakam. "You speak of someone other than your mistress, yes?"

   "I have learned so much of Szordrin's story," she replied, "I suppose that it is only fair that I share mine, but let us head back to the west. There will be time for me to tell my tale then. Are we finished here?"

   They made their way back to rift in the island — after Bevlin snagged a deinonychus skull or two from the bonfire. Once again, when they reached the rift, Kytharrah ferried them over, by the power of Hakam's spell. Then they came back to the small waterfall-fed lake where they had met Sofi. She asked them for some time to meditate, to see if she could gather how Pistis Sophia felt about her leaving the island with these strangers. They gave her the time that she needed. She sat cross-legged on the ground by the water, closed her eyes, and seemed to go into a deep trance, much like the elves did when they rested.

   After about 20 minutes, she suddenly rose to her feet again and came back to them. "I did not receive a clear answer, but neither did I receive a clear no. I would still love to come along, if you would have me."

   Hakam shared how he felt confident that the gods had orchestrated matters such that she would join them. She seemed pleased with this.

   It did not take them overly long to find their way back to the duck and goose pond at the western edge of the island. Solisar looked into the sky and, after a few moments, spotted what he believed to be the crescent-shaped island that was their target. Unfortunately, it was now very distant. He explained to them that, based on his calculations, it was going to be an excruciatingly long journey back, probably between fifteen and seventeen hours. In the time since they had landed, the islands had drifted more than 150 miles from each other, and the other island was more than 50 miles higher in elevation. They would be flying against the ever-constant westerly breeze. If they kept their gliders' noses tilted upwards, the updraft would give them the elevation that they needed, but they would have to "tack against the wind", gaining altitude while being driven farther from their destination and then diving down to get closer to their destination — a "two steps forward, one step back" strategy that they had been taught in their lessons on Hisssta. It would be a flight of endurance and will.

   No one was at all happy with this, but they had no other alternatives. All took the very practical step of emptying their bladder before getting out their hang gliders. Sofi was fascinated with how the long items had been stored in seemingly normal-sized bags. She was to be riding with Kytharrah, and, having never flown on a glider before, was excited for the experience.

   Suddenly, she turned around, her face nearly the color of her eyes. "What is he doing?" she asked the minotaur. She was referring to Belvin, who was stripping off his clothing and packing it, prior to his transformation into a flying dinosaur.

   Kytharrah shrugged. Belvin had not been the only one in the group with a "magic trick" that seemingly required the removal of one's clothing. Cassiera had often done that too, though she could simply slither out of the arm or leg of her clothes as a tiny snake.

   She took a few glances back over her shoulder, but then looked guilty and tried to get Kytharrah to explain to her what she needed to do for them to fly together. She did not learn very helpful information, but Leokas came over and found a way to tie her safely and comfortably underneath Kytharrah's bulk in a manner similar to how he tied Sif to himself, only he left her arms free so that she could hold on to the bar of glider as Kytharrah did.

   Knowing that the flight back would be more challenging, wizards, cleric, and druid had used what magics they could to make their chances of success greater. Then, they launched.

   Sofi screamed with glee as Kytharrah leapt from the edge of the island. She seemed to be enjoying herself immensely as they dove and gained altitude and dove and gained altitude over and over. Eventually, of course, the repetitive act became at first dull and then dreary. Then came the thirst, then the rumbling stomachs, then the painful bladders. Eventually, Sofi seemed to go still, which concerned the minotaur at first, but he figured that she was just doing that thing that she had done back at her lake that morning, and he was right.

   Belvin at least had more flexibility in his flight, having wings that could provide their own lift, but it was by no means fun. The only benefit was that at least the breeze kept them cooler from the planet's heat.

   At long last, they landed on ground again, a somewhat jarring and painful experience, as the ground was moving towards them when they made contact. A few of them were bruised by the impact, but mostly they were all just happy that they could find a tree or some bushes to grant their bodies some comfort.

   It was between shrinking halflight and shrinking quarterlight. Except for Solisar and Sofi, they were all exceptionally hungry, and Leokas made them a fire to warm some of their rations. Belvin used his magic to sense whatever animal life might be nearby. This was the island where they had nearly been trampled to death by the pursued axe-beaked birds and the triceratops, but Belvin's druidic magic told him that all of the large dinosaurs seemed to be far from the island edge, at least for the moment.

   As they sat on stones or fallen trees eating their meal in a circle, Sofi asked, "Belvin, may I call you Belvin? Or do you have a special druidic title?"

   "Druids are not bound by the rigid hierarchies that enslave the churches," he said, giving Hakam a look. "I have no rank or title beyond my name."

   "Why are you on this ride, I mean, this quest? The others seem directed by their gods to stop this blood Samber, but I have heard no such claim from you."

   "My god, Thard Harr, guides me," said Belvin, "but in not so clear a manner, more in the manner that a gentle stream guides a leaf. Leokas and I have traveled together for over a year, and our friendship is strong. He has saved my life many times; I have saved his. I want to see the end of his journey, of all my companions' journeys."

   "It is true," said Leokas. "Nevertheless, you must admit that last season, after we defeated Allu, you were ready to return home and did so."

   "I had thought that my visions from Thard Harr had been fulfilled then," said Belvin, "but the same dreams came to me in the sweat cave; the same prophecy was repeated by Yashiera. It seems that I had been wrong. The stream has not yet reached its river, and I am curious now to be there when it does."

   "Speaking of visions and prophecies," said Hakam. "On Bral, I was able to gather some information from my studies. Have we considered that the three jungle reptiles in Yashiera's vision for us are not actual animals staring at the pool but rather symbols of three of the gods." He looked directly at Belvin. "Notably, Thard Harr is often portrayed with the symbol of a crocodile skull, is he not?"

   Belvin did not answer directly, but he looked pleased.

   "The dwarven priests with whom I dialoged," continued Hakam, "mentioned also Thard Harr's allies, and these included the god of 'giant lizards', which, I suspect, is the 'terrible lizard' at the pool. His name is Ubtao."

   "The prophecies about the Queen of the Moon may also have to do with the gods," said Solisar.

   "We know of Ubtao," said Leokas. "He is the god of Chult. His temple was where we found the portal to the western village where we first pursued Samber. In fact, was he not the only god in Chult?"

   "Yes," said Hakam, "the other gods promised to stay out of Chult in exchange for Ubtao guarding over a portal to some giant serpent who is foretold to eat the sun at the end of time. Such is the story that Jayce told us, and Yashiera made mention to this also in her original prophecies to us."

   "Belvin, you promised the wild dwarves that we would return," said Leokas.

   "When we return to Toril again, that is one of the stops that we shall make," said Belvin, "but the time is not now."

   "One god remains unaccounted for in the vision," said Hakam. "Who is the chameleon? Do you know any 'chameleon' gods aligned with Thard Harr, Belvin?"

   "Ask your own god tonight for an answer," said Belvin. "Then ask me again tomorrow." This was presented more as a challenge than as a request.

   They did not have much more time to refresh themselves or discuss further, as the rains would be coming soon. They set up two rope tricks for the night.

   The two sylvan elves took the first watch. The rains came on schedule, but they were not the usual rains. It was a downpour, complete with lighting. One bolt stuck so close that they were all temporarily deafened, and the elves' night vision was wrecked for several minutes before their eyes could adjust again. Kytharrah could smell the ozone in the air. They retreated up the ropes lest they be struck dead from a second blast.

   By the second watch, the rain had stopped. Near the end of it, Sofi climbed down the rope and greeted Solisar, who greeted her back.

   "Finished sleeping for the night?" he asked.

   She nodded, yawned, and stretched. "Has there been anything to see?"

   He shook his head. "There are many jungle sounds, but you know of all them."

   She was silent and listened. "No, these are different sounds, from different animals. Every island that I have been on in Coliar has different sounds at night."

   They were quiet and listened for a while together. Then she asked, "How did you scan so much about the planes? Have you traveled outside the Prime?"

   "No, I have not," said Solisar. "It is all what you would call 'book knowledge', but I have had many, many decades of my youth to read and explore the multiverse through the eyewitness accounts of a multitude of sages and scholars."

   "Why focus on the planes and not on other areas of magic?" she asked, as Szordrin and Hakam descended by rope to take the third watch.

   Solisar described that as an incantatar, one of his focuses was specifically means of protecting the mortal planes from the influence of outsiders to it. "I believe that the incursion of outsiders into our world disrupts the balance set upon it when the multiverse was created, even if those outsiders have good intentions. For this reason, I myself will never summon an extraplanar entity."

   "Why have you not opposed Belvin when he has summoned elemental creatures?" asked Szordrin.

   "I will not summon them myself," said Solisar, "but I will not force my views on others, unless they are summoning evil entities, in which case, I will do all in my power to banish the intruder."

   There was a brief pause, and then Solisar asked Sofi a question. "What about you? What planes have you visited? You mentioned to me last night that you had been to the Outlands, and you spoke to us of Excelsior this morning."

   "Yes, I have been to a few of the gate-towns. I lived among the githzerai in Limbo, where I received much of my training in the martial arts. Then I came to Coliar on a mercane trading vessel."

   Solisar knew of the githzerai, an emaciated humanoid race with an orderly, ascetic society, who strangely lived within the most chaotic plane of the multiverse. He had never heard of mercane traders, however.

   "Was your master, Sarl, whom you mentioned last night to Szordrin, one of the githzerai?"

   "No, he lived on the Outlands. I was with him for only a short time." She did not say why that was, and she wandered off to look at some flowers that she noticed were glowing faintly in the dark.

   When dawn came, they were eager to get the torture of their second of three "jumps" out of the way. Rather than risk hours of journeying west through the jungle and potentially facing more large predators, they considered the idea of launching from the eastern edge, where they were, and simply circling around the island. Solisar first flew above the trees to scout out their target. The bull-head-shaped island was even farther away from them than their current island had drifted from Kaw-chi-wee-tee-tee, but he still believed that they would reach it before they ran out of daylight, since it was not even yet growing quarterlight now.

   Four hours into the flight, the dreadful boredom was broken up, though only for one of them. Solisar, who had one of their two sending stones in a pouch on his belt, heard a voice in his mind. It was Oma. "Returned to orbit above Hisssta. Met by aarakocra ship. Claim sailors stole Athanar gems. Gems in cargo. Under 'ship arrest' at Athanar. Where are you?"

   Solisar found her message confusing, but he did his best to answer within the limits of the spell. "Leaving Chi-wee-wee-seh-kaw. In flight now. Island hopping back to Hisssta. Estimate arrival in two days. Which gems were stolen?"

   It was probably foolish to ask her a question, since the magic in the stones only functioned once daily. However, he did, in fact, receive another message hours later, when the planet's white light was brightest. "We await trial, Jayce says not to worry; he will talk us out of obvious set-up. Aarakocra ship can retrieve you. Wait where you are."

   "We are mid-flight, will reach island Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi in...." Solisar paused to do some quick calculations in his head. They were probably half way to Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi now. He added on four additional hours, just to be safe. "...Fourteen hours. We will wait for you to pick us up. The island is in active conflict."

   As soon as they were all on solid ground again and had dealt with important bodily functions, Solisar shared the news that he had received from Oma.

   "This is ridiculous!" said Hakam. "I left the receipts with Ombert, proving that we had acquired the gems from the military in payment for our smokepowder."

   It was shrinking quarterlight when they landed, and the rain began to fall before they even had time to pack up their gliders and set up the rope tricks. Within the safety of the extradimensional spaces, most were too miserable from the second day of traveling many scores of miles through the air at a snail's pace to be up for much talking. Those on watch were careful to look for any signs of approaching spelljammers, but there were none throughout the whole night. Occasionally, they heard an explosion in the west. Apparently, the lizardfolk and aarakocra were still battling for ownership of this floating land.

   First thing in the morning, after receiving his daily allotment of power from Anachtyr, Hakam sent a message to Oma, asking for more details and an update.

   She replied that they were on their way but that the islands were not aligned well with the ports. She also said that the aarakocra would absolutely not fly to a contested island where a battle was happening. She told them to glide to the 'mushroom-shaped island.'"

   Frustratingly, they could see no mushroom-shaped island from the eastern edge. Belvin, however, was able to scout below the island in pteranodon form and returned with a report that an island was below them that indeed looked much like a mushroom.

   They had several hours before it would be possible to jump to the lower island, so they made a campfire and roasted some birds that Leokas had hunted for breakfast. (Sofi passed on the meat and ate only the salbread.)

   Belvin asked Hakam if his god had given him any insight about the "chameleon". Hakam replied that he would not be able to divine that until he had access to some holy implements back at Bral.

   "Are any of you married?"

   Sofi's question seemed out of nowhere, and there was silence at first.

   Then Belvin laughed loudly. Hakam looked very uncomfortable.

   "I have forsworn marriage until I have avenged Onran's death," said Szordrin.

   Solisar went into a long explanation about the society of elves, how most of them did not take spouses until well after they had reached the age of 100 years. "You must understand that such a centuries-long commitment is never undertaken lightly. While Leokas and I have passed our first century, we are both considered young by elvish standards. Belvin is older, but his people do not practice marriage at all."

   "Children are raised by the tribe," said Belvin, "not by couples." He seemed offended by the very idea of couples raising children alone.

   "If not wives, do you have any other women at home?" she next asked.

   At this, Hakam stood up an walked away from the group.

   Szordrin quietly questioned the others, "Is Hakam married?"

   Sofi apologized. "Do I ask inappropriate questions? I do not mean to. It has just been so long since I have had the company of others. I will not be offended if you just need me to bar it."

   "Your questions are not inherently offensive," said Hakam, still standing apart from the others. "It is the particulars that are difficult in the present case. Your question reminded me of something in the past that I would rather not remember."

   "Kytharrah!" said Sofi with mock excitement. "Perhaps now would be a good time to play."

   This time, she was ready for the minotaur's swings to grab her, swatting his paws away or ducking under his long arms. In moments, she was around him, leaping onto his back, arms over his shoulders. He shrugged her off, and she tumbled to the ground and rolled back onto her feet, ready for more.

   So, it went for sometime. Meanwhile, the others debated whether they should question Hakam further about his strange behavior and comment, but they thought better of it. Szordrin tried to read his companions mind, but the cleric easily blocked the wizard from doing so by the force of his will.

   It was growing halflight when they were ready to jump again. They were reminded of how enjoyable gliding could be when the journey was all a descent. Sofi shouted happily at the rush from where she was tied below Kytharrah as he looped and banked around. She repeatedly expressed how thrilling a ride it had been when they landed safely on the mushroom-shaped island less than two hours later.

   This one was the most swampy of islands that they had yet visited, more so even than Hisssta, and it seemed to be infested with frogs and other small amphibians, croaking away loudly from every direction.

   Once again, they found themselves waiting. Sofi played a bit more with Kytharrah, and Leokas crafted some more arrows, and they used the multiple small pools of water to keep cool in the day's heat.

   Over lunch, one of them remembered that Sofi had said that she would share her story over the journey, and two nights had already passed since then.

   She seemed hesitant, but as she was not one to go against her word, she readied herself and set her tiny pot down and said, "It is a long story, so park your ears."
Session: 117th Game Session - Monday, Aug 03 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Answers & Questions from the Past
The box contained a stack of seven letters from Samber — or Bremas or Rembas — with an unfinished letter from Onran to Samber inserted after the sixth. Szordrin confirmed that the script with large letters was indeed Onran's handwriting. These were all written in Lantanna, the language of Lantan.

   There were also two letters from a woman named Yunoko, who was clearly Onran's late wife. These were written in Common, and each ended with a character in Wanese calligraphy.

   Finally, at the bottom of the box was an inch-thick bound stack of love notes from Yunoko, which smelled heavily of perfume.

   "Woman smell," said Kytharrah.

   They passed the letters around and examined them in turn. There was a wealth of information within, detailing missing details of the lives of both Samber and Onran, and introducing them to Onran's wife, Yunoko. Once again, Sofi stood back out of the way and watched but did not ask to read the letters.

   "Well," said Solisar, as he set down the last letter, "we have learned that Samber relies on the Elemental Plane of Earth to procure the clay needed to make his creations."

   "We already suspected that he has been to many of the planes," said Hakam. "We know, for example, that he has been to the Plane of Fire."

   "Yes, but he goes to the Plane of Earth often, so it may be a means of finding him again."

   "We may as well start at the beginning of the stack and go through the letters methodically," said Hakam. "The first letter tells us unequivocally that Yunoko died. That was Samber and Avilda's condolences letter to Onran."

   "Who was Avilda?" asked Belvin.

   "According to Jayce, Avilda was the name of Samber's former wife," said Solisar.

   "The second letter seems to confirm the story that Jayce told us," said Hakam, "that she left him for creating a monster when they could not have children of their own."

   "Somewhere in the letters, Samber also remarked that he would never make a flesh golem again," said Solisar, "or at least something to that effect."

   "We know that his creations are flesh and blood, though, are they not?" asked Leokas. "Did Ilthian bleed?"

   "Yes," said Belvin. "Recall that she was covered in her own blood when we found her in her room after Samber had transferred his mind into hers."

   Kytharrah, who was bored and writing "Big Minotaur" in the ash of the fireplace, perked his ears when he heard Ilthian's name spoken. "Yes," he said confidently. "Shiny bones, like club." They still carried the large thigh bone of a leucrotta in one of their magic bags. The creatures had bone of a material very similar in structure to adamantine.

   "The later letters go into more details about his more recent models of construct and how they mix flesh and blood with other elements," said Hakam, "such as adamantine skeletons. Ilthian likely had a skeleton far stronger than any of ours."

   Solisar nodded.

   "The third letter tells us how he found his island," continued Hakam. "Did we ever see any of these 'animal Kell' that he describes? It seems so long ago now."

   The others distinctly remembered seeing some of the strange rolling creatures with two legs used as brakes that Samber had created when waiting in the area outside his subterranean abode. Ilthian had confirmed at the time that there were many such creatures on the island, though she only knew this because she had broken the rules and gone exploring outside the Forokell's little village.

   "That letter also confirms that Onran had a spelljammer," said Solisar, "and more important to us, perhaps, it claims that he had sent Onran a 'token' with which to find his island for the purpose of visits."

   "Yes," said Hakam.

   "It probably was used already, but it is worth considering, since we do not know how to return to the island on our own."

   "We know from later letters that Samber and Onran met each other after the sending of the token," said Hakam. "The token, if it still exists, was probably with Onran, not here."

   "I agree, but we should be on the lookout for whatever it is, wherever we happen to be investigating."

   "The fourth letter talks about mining operations," said Belvin. "This must be the mine where we fought the hobgoblins and the bone devil."

   "That one also says that they went to the Rock of Bral together," said Hakam. "It may be worth our time to go back there and see if anyone knew of either of them. None of us heard anything about either of them while there, did we?"

   "We probably would have to use one of their many pseudonyms," said Belvin.

   "The later letters discuss how he built Ilthian's people and their immediate predecessors," said Hakam.

   "The Lillikell and the Forokell," said Belvin.

   "We also know from one of Samber's journals that Ilthian was supposed to have been a Lillikell," said Solisar, "but he changed her into a Forokell at the last moment for some reason."

   "We never met any of the Lillikell," said Hakam, "correct?"

   "What about those armored constructs on his ship and that guarded his palace?" asked Szordrin. "The ones with the glowing visors. Those could be the Lillikell."

   "The letter that Onran never sent," said Hakam, "its year matches the one on most of the receipts and thank you letters from the orphanages that we found last night. Perhaps he was writing it when the rakshasa attacked this house."

   "How could he have had time to place it neatly in the stack with the others, seal it in a magic box, hide it in a secret chamber, and then teleport away, if that were the case?" asked Szordrin.

   "I only suggest it because the letter ends so abruptly, though I suppose that it is possible that he started to write the letter and then never sent it."

   "I think that that is a better theory," said Szordrin. "He wrote that he was afraid that he might offend Samber with his opinion."

   "Yes, he started to reproach him for creating his constructs," said Hakam. "That is true."

   "Is it possible from the letters to determine who else might have known about this island on Coliar?" asked Belvin.

   "If this is the 'vacation home' that Yunoko talks about in one of her letters, then her superiors may have known about it, yes," said Hakam. "It could also be somewhere else though."

   Hakam continued with another line of thought. "Another thing that we can infer from the letters is that Yunoko died because of the tiefling child, the rakshasa's descendent, that she was trying to keep hidden." They all looked over at Szordrin. "This was back in the Year of the Wandering Maiden. How old are you again, Szordrin?"

   "If you are suggesting that Szordrin here is the same as the son of this Mieko in the letters, the years do not work out," said Solisar. "The Year of the Wandering Maiden was in the early years of the reign of King Azoun Obarskyr IV of the human realm of Cormyr. That was nearly 40 years ago. The Year of the Turret, when we can presume the last letters between Samber and Onran were written, was only a dozen years ago."

   "I also have normal human teeth," said Szordrin, "unlike the child Yunoko describes in the letter."

   "When did you meet your master again, Szordrin?" asked Hakam.

   "The Year of the Sword," answered Szordrin, "when I was thirteen years old."

   "I want to make sure that I understand the details that Yunoko reported," said Hakam. "The rakshasa 'emperor' had a son, a half-fiend, who betrayed him, killed him, but the rakshasa came back, killed the son, and pledged to kill the son's whole line."

   The others agreed with this understanding.

   "So, even if you are not this Mieko's son, Szordrin, if you are in the emperor's line, the rakshasa could still be after you."

   Szordrin's grim expression showed that he had already come to the same conclusion.

   "This masquerading emperor, Kando — I would be surprised if he were not the 'ninth emperor of the seventh dynasty' that 'is in your past', Szordrin," said Solisar, quoting from Yashiera's first prophecy for Szordrin.

   "Yashiera's second prophecy for me was about an empress," said Szordrin. "Were there any hints about her within these letters?"

   "I noticed no such hints," said Solisar, "but the prophecy speaks of the 'twelfth circle of the seventh circle,' and, as we have discussed previously, I still suspect that this is one of the moons of the planet Garden — though to call it a planet is a misnomer, as it is suspected to be a root bud of an interplanar plant, perhaps related to Yggdrasil, but I digress."

   "It sounds like a planet that I would enjoy visiting," said Belvin.

   "While we are speaking of Yashiera's prophecies," said Szordrin, "Onran's letter to Samber mentioned an empty sphere, which must correspond to one of Yashiera's four visions for us."

   "The hollow 'ball of glass' 'in a rainbow ocean,'" said Solisar. "I agree."

   "It seemed like an off-hand comment of arcane interest more than something that can immediately aid us in our goals," said Hakam.

   "It may ultimately be someplace that we need to go?" said Szordrin.

   "But Onran only tells that he has been there," said Hakam, "not how to get there."

   "How do you think that they were actually sending these letters to each other?" said Leokas. "Through portals?"

   "It is certainly possible, considering the powers known by each of these two mages," said Solisar, "but there were often many years between some of them. He mentioned five years once."

   "A decade in one of them," added Szrodrin.

   "Another point of interest to me," said Hakam, "is that Yunoko was a member of the Harpers and that she had a mission, so tracking down someone from her organization may aid us in learning more about that mission."

   "Who are the Harpers?" asked Sofi, who had been so quiet that they almost forgot that she was still in the room.

   "The Harpers are a secret society," said Solisar, smiling at the irony of what he was about to explain, "but the elves played a role in their founding and have longer memories. They were founded in the Year of the Dawn Rose, about 700 years after the erection of the Standing Stone. Strangely enough, they have dryads to thank, in part, for their formation. The fey beings grew concerned over astrological events and sought aid from elven druids, who in turn called for aid from a group of human and elven priests of good deities. At the meeting in the druid grove, the powers themselves possessed their priests and spoke through them, giving them a mandate to fight against the forces of many of the evil powers, including Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul. This initial group of priests and the small force of recruits that they gathered became what was first called the Harpers in Twilight.

   "After the first 300 years, the organization struggled to exist, for their enemies fought back. It was then that the human wizards Elminster and Khelben Arunsun, both whom Yunoko mentioned by name in her letters and both who live to this day, changed the group into a secret, underground force of agents of good, no longer working openly only to be slain by priests of evil gods. Most of the Chosen of Mystra are among their numbers now.

   "Their agents live hidden lives, acting as the eyes and ears for the more powerful leaders of the group, and this seems to have been what Yunoko was."

   "What do you know about Wa, Solisar?" one of them asked.

   "I have never studied the eastern realms of Kara-Tur," said Solisar. "I know that it is an island nation. They are known for their ninja assassins, their samurai knights, and their geisha escorts.

   "I recently learned during our time on the Rock of Bral that the nation of Wa is trying hard to compete with the Shou Empire in terms of wildspace trade. Though they are far behind, they are building their own classes of spelljammers, which are, in fact, some of the largest wildspace vessels ever built. Returning to our earlier discussions of prophecies, I suspect that we might find an empress of Wa on one of Garden's moons."

   "The empress in the prophecy could be Szordrin's mother, potentially," said Hakam, "at least by some reckoning."

   "Does anyone known what Yunoko meant by 'the slaughter of Chaunteas's worshipers by the shogun'?" asked Szordrin.

   "I took that as diplomatic matters of no import to us," said Hakam. "In any case, I have never heard of such a slaughter."

   "Nor have I," said Solisar.

   "So, then, we suspect that the child Yunoko rescued may have been Szordrin's father," said Hakam. "Szordrin, do you have any memory of him?"

   "My earliest memories are of being beaten by my drow mistresses," said Szordrin matter-of-factly. Then he asked, "She mentioned that Mieko and child were sent away to safety at Onran and Yunoko's vacation home. How could my father then have ended up in the Underdark on Toril?"

   "Perhaps it was when they were being transferred that Yunoko was attacked and killed," said Hakam.

   "Then how did the son survive?" asked Szordrin.

   "The rakshasa said that he only wanted the life of the son," said Solisar.

   "Not if the mother interfered with his hunt," said Hakam, "and fleeing and hiding is certainly interfering."

   "Are we certain that the woman's son is not Szordrin?" asked Belvin. "Could someone have changed your teeth when you were a baby to disguise you?"

   "You remember nothing about your early childhood, but you know how old you are?" asked Hakam.

   "Only roughly," said Szordrin. "I am certainly not close to 40 years old! I chose the day the Onran found me as the day that I celebrate my birth, but I do not know when that day actually was."

   "Do tieflings age differently than humans?" asked Hakam.

   "We age a little more slowly," said Szordrin, "but not by that much. I still grew far faster than the drow children around me, and my mistresses constantly reminded me of my supposed age...."

   "What if you had been placed into time stasis?" asked Hakam.

   "That would not make pointed teeth go away," said Szordin. "I think that the simplest explanation is the best. Forty years is long enough for two generations: my father and me."

   "Khelben lives in Waterdeep, does he not?" asked Hakam.

   "It sounds like we have several places where we can continue our search for Samber," said Leokas. "We could seek an audience with the Harper leaders at Waterdeep. We could find whoever this empress is on the moon of Garden."

   "Yes, we could also visit Wa itself," said Hakam. "If we ever happen upon one of Samber's tokens, we could find our way back to his island. We could gather more information from Bral."

   "What is our intent when we actually meet Samber next?" asked Solisar.

   "Make him stop what he is doing," said Leokas, as if the answer were obvious. "We have been charged by the gods to do so!"

   "I understand that, of course," said Solisar, "but I waited patiently ten years on the Great Glacier to watch the Ice Queen. Sometimes pursuing one's goal does not mean acting with haste. We cannot forget, from our knowledge of what he has done and the times that we have already encountered him, that Samber is an incredibly powerful mage, far beyond any of our own capabilities at the present time. I believe that with some growth in our powers, we will be able to stop him, but that takes time. I believe that we need that time before we face him again."

   "Is your thinking swayed by your own prophecy from Yashiera," asked Hakam, "'the wizard is wisest who waits to wave his wand'?"

   "He did literally exile all of us to the other side of Toril with a word," said Leokas, "although we have learned much since then."

   "Truly, I did not have the prophecy in mind when I spoke," said Solisar, "though I agree that it fits."

   "We need not stop him with violence or a direct conflict," said Leokas, "if that was a concern of yours. We need only convince him of the error of his ways."

   Belvin nodded.

   "Yes, that was, in part, the reason behind my question of our intent," said Solisar.

   "Perhaps knowledge of why his wife left him can help us persuade him," said Leokas.

   "Jayce knows where Avilda lives," said Solisar. "Nothing is stopping us from interviewing her again."

   "It sounds from the letters like Samber just cut ties and left," said Hakam. "It is highly unlikely that Avilda has any current knowledge of him."

   "Do we think that Samber is still in love with his wife?" asked Leokas. "Do you think that if we convinced her to come back with us that it could persuade him to stop his work?"

   "I highly doubt that that would be possible," said Hakam. "She is remarried with children of her own now. It also might make matters worse."

   "She may know the location of Onran and Yunoko's vacation home," said Solisar. "That is the only reason that I can think of for talking to her again."

   "Now that is an interesting thought," said Hakam. "It sounded like the four of them may have been friends."

   "Yes," said Szordin, "and we know that she was with Samber at least until after Yunoko died."

   "It sounds like returning to Lantan may be one of our next stops," said Solisar.

   "We should schedule our next steps," said Belvin. "We need to get off this humid oven of a planet soon."

   "We could, on the way to Lantan, first stop on Bral to ask about Rembas and Ronan," said Hakam.

   The others agreed.

   "We should also check back with the Interlink Consortium to learn if they have finished repairing the rod for us," said Szordrin.

   Solisar said, "Going back to Leokas' earlier question about leverage, I wonder if delivering Onran's unfished letter would convince him. They seem to have been best friends after all."

   "We should certainly keep it in our pocket as an option," said Hakam.

   "I still think that all of this is for a far later time than now, however," repeated Solisar. "We need more information and more magical power. Our best means of actually reaching his island, in my opinion, is through his portal from the Plane of Earth, yet the Plane of Earth is hostile to creatures like us. It is solid earth and stone with only rare pockets of air, and more often than not, that air is not even breathable to creatures like us. We are not even capable of surviving such a journey without knowing exactly where to go. Spells like the one on that scroll there will be helpful for such future travels, but neither Szordrin nor I understand the complexities of the Weave to be able to transfer it into our own spellbooks yet. We need more time before we worry about leverage with Samber."

   "We do not know how to find Samber's island because we were teleported off it," said Hakam, "but did not Jayce and Nargroth sail off on the repaired Daisy?"

   "Did you not explain to us that someone stole aboard the Daisy and stole all of Ombert's star charts and maps," said Solisar.

   Hakam looked frustrated. "Yes, that is right. Jayce sent the news to me magically just before we stopped Allustairimarinastralmindivu from freeing Memnon. No doubt, the someone was Samber himself. We did not suspect it at the time."

   "Ilthian told me right after that that she would be able to draw the stars above his island from her perfect memory," said Solisar. "Unfortunately, that very day was when Samber retrieved her. She never had a chance to write it in her journal."

   "They are not the only one to sail from the island," said Hakam. "We also know that the goblinoid pirates sailed from there."

   "Captain Stubs," said Leokas.

   "Would they be able to guide us back?"

   "Hobgoblins are stupid creatures," said Leokas. "I highly doubt it."

   "He is a captain; he knows how to sail a ship."

   "He lost all his limbs and has to be carried around and fed."

   "What does that have to do with navigation?"

   Leokas relented. "It is possible, I suppose. Do we know where he currently is?"

   "We know that he has left the island only because he responded to my sending before," said Hakam.

   "He is probably back to a life of piracy," said Leokas.

   "We can probably track them down if we need to," said Hakam. "It is an option. Finding a token would of course be faster."

   Leokas said, "Hakam, if we were to catch Stubs in an act of piracy, what would we do?"

   "It depends on the laws of whichever nation controls the waters in which we find him, of course," said Hakam.

   "So, then," said Solisar, "we visit Bral, then Lantan to talk with Avilda."

   "Again, I agree," said Hakam. "It would be good to learn where Onran and Yunoko kept a vacation home."

   "Finding that home can be our next primary goal," said Solisar, "as well as learning more about his wife's death."

   "...And her last mission," added Hakam, "and for that, we may need to visit Waterdeep to speak with Khelben, assuming he would grant us an audience."

   "This moon is far on the other side of the crystal sphere, is it not?" asked Leokas. "It does not make sense to visit it first."

   "Correct," said Solisar.

   "In any case," said Hakam, "I would not feel prepared to visit the moon until we have first visted Wa to learn more about this empress."

   "Bral may have an ambassador to Wa," suggested Belvin.

   "Yes, we could certainly look for one when we are there," said Hakam.

   "I strongly suspect that Wa would be interested in Lantanese smokepowder, if we need a way to gain access to an official," said Solisar.

   Szordrin remembered Sofi and glanced back at her to see her reaction to all of this. She was still standing there, looking simultaneous confused and fascinated by everything that she was hearing.

   "Sofi," asked Hakam, "you are from Sigil, are you not? It is a diverse place. Have you ever heard of any crystal spheres that are totally empty?"

   "I have never heard the term 'crystal sphere' until this hour," she replied. "What is it?"

   "Do you know how some of the Outer Planes have multiple layers?" said Solisar, and Sofi nodded. "The 'layers' of the Prime Material Plane are called crystal spheres. Each of them floats in a substance called the phlogiston, which is similar to how the Outer Planes are — at least in some sense — separated by the Astral Plane, and each is filled with planets, such as the one we are on."

   This seemed to make some sense to her. "Are the planets within a crystal sphere within the phlogiston similar to how there are realms within each of the Seven Heavens, which are in Celestia?"

   "That is a fair comparison, I think," said Solisar.

   "Have you been to any of the Seven Heavens?" asked Hakam of Sofi.

   "Oh, no; I do not think that I am holy enough to visit there," she replied. "I have been to Excelsior. That is about as close as I have ever been to Lunia."

   Only Solisar and Szordrin knew that Excelsior was what was called a gate-town, a small village on the Concordant Domain of the Outlands that had grown up around one of the sixteen portals to the Outer Planes. The Outlands were neutral territory for most of the gods and goddesses, and the portals were how their servants traveled back and forth. Excelsior was the gate-town surrounding the portal to the Seven Heavens.

   "I wonder if the prophecy about the seventh circle has to do with the Seventh Heaven," Hakam thought aloud. Then he vetoed his own idea. "No, no one travels to the Seventh Heaven; it is the place of ultimate perfection, and it has only one realm, else it would not be perfect."

   "Continuing our discussion of the empty crystal sphere," said Solisar, "we know that Samber wants to obtain apotheosis. With the knowledge of Onran's empty sphere, he will have found a place where he can create life and rule free from all the other powers."

   "We at least know that he has not learned about this empty sphere yet," said Hakam, "because Onran never sent that letter."

   "No, Onran never sent this draft of the letter," said Solisar. "There is always the possibility that he did send another version, perhaps one less condemning of Samber's actions."

   "So, he could know about it then," said Hakam soberly.

   "It is useful for us to know, but we have no means of using this knowledge for the time being," said Solisar.

   "If we find the sphere before Samber," said Belvin, "it might be used for bargaining with him."

   "If the rod from the Interlink Consortium works as advertised," said Hakam, "we can indeed retrace Onran's travels to find it."

   "The gods would not be pleased with that solution," said Solisar, "because then Samber would become a god."

   "If he were just isolated to that one sphere," said Leokas, "I suppose that he could not longer harm Toril, but what if just built up his own power until he could overturn other powers from their own realms?"

   "The gods do not want him to ascend by any means," agreed Hakam, "either within this sphere or another."

   "Well, we have a plan, then," said Belvin. "Bral it is for our first stop. So, how are we getting back to our spelljammer?"
Session: 116th Game Session - Monday, Jul 27 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Passing the Night
Unable to open the box this night, they brought the magic items from the storage room and looked at them more closely upstairs in the kitchen. Solisar rolled open the scrolls again and began to examine them in more detail.

   "This first one makes one immune to physical harm from a type of energy for 24 hours," he explained. "It is beyond my ability to cast a spell so powerful. I shall have to look into this more."

   Besides a weaker spell to put monsters into a daze, they were familiar with the other four spells written on the vellum. All of the scrolls had blank regions where spells had once been written but had vanished from the page when cast.

   He next picked up the hat. Flipping it over, he found Elven runes sewn into the inner rim. "It says, 'disguise,' in my native tongue. No doubt that this is a hat of disguise." He removed the circlet that held his black hair back and placed the hat upon his head instead. Then he tried to imagine Szordrin's appearance. He felt a strange sensation as his face and body morphed into that of cat-eyed, bearded man.

   "Szordrin is always making multiple copies of himself when we are in combat," said Hakam. "We do not need any more."

   "Are we assuming that these items are ours to take?" asked Leokas.

   "These things were Onran's," said Hakam, "so they belong to his heirs, so, no, they are not ours to take. That does not, however, prevent us from learning what we can about them."

   Solisar shifted back to look like himself and took the hat off. "I shall identify the red boots in the morning as well, but that will take more effort."

   Sofi had been standing back from everyone else, watching in silence with fascination but trying to stay out of the way. When there was a moment of silence, and it seemed like the adventurers could not answer any more questions until morning, she spoke up. "Well, this day was a yawn, was it not?" It was the most sarcasm they had ever heard in her voice.

   "It is a rather typical one for us," said Hakam.

   "I must say," she said. "I have never punched a dinosaur before."

   "The trick is to aim for the snout," said Belvin.

   "Father Hakam — it is Hakam, is it not?" asked Sofi.

   "My proper title is Justiciar Hakam yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr yi Memnon, but yes, it is."

   "We just call him Hakam, and you may do the same," said Leokas.

   "Justice Hakam in Hamulah ill Anachtyr yi Memnon," she tried, succeeding more than most, "Szordrin's leg is badly cut up; there is blood all over his boot. Can you tend to him with your magic?"

   "I could take care of that also," said Belvin."

   "Assuredly," said Hakam.

   Leokas raised his forearm, which was also covered in his own blood. "I was also injured," said Leokas. "Is that not also a concern?"

   "I am so sorry," said Sofi, a bit flustered. "You took the injury so bravely that I did not notice." There was a brief pause. "Not to imply that you were not also brave, Szordrin," she continued. Then she turned red and said, "I think that I shall bar that now."

   The glow of positive energy surrounded the hands of both Hakam and Belvin, and they restored the wounds of Szordrin and Leokas, respectively.

   Sofi watched with continued interest as supernatural acts were performed before her. "Justice Hakam yi Memnon," she said, "from which of the high-ups do you draw your powers?"

   "I am going outside to take the first watch," said Belvin.

   "I am taking first watch with him," said Leokas.

   "The great god Anachtyr is the source of my power," Hakam began.

   Sensing the beginning of a long sermon, Kytharrah tapped Sofi on the shoulder and said, "Play?" and motioned to the door with his head.

   "No more play tonight, Kytharrah," she said, "but I shall play with you again; I promise."

   Kytharrah followed the two sylvan elves outside.

   "What can you lann me about him?" asked Sofi.

   Szordrin and Solisar stayed in the ransacked kitchen with them as Hakam began to describe to Sofi the wonders of his god, focusing on the power and importance of law in the lives of mortals and how following a just path led to the greatest life. "It can right wrongs, it can restore the fallen, it can heal wounds — if you only obey."

   Sofi — and Solisar — listened intently to Hakam's words, and then there was a brief pause as Sofi seemed to be contemplating them. "As you know, I follow Pistis Sophia, but I do not worship her. I follow her for inspiration, and her hand of blessing is upon me. However, she does not have the power to grant me a home in the afterlife. In truth, I have not chosen a higher power to follow, as I really do not know much about them — not enough to choose one good power over another. So, I find what you say worth considering."

   "It is more than worth considering," said Hakam. "It is truth."

   "I wonder though," she said, "is he a forgiving god? Is he pure justice personified? Or is he justice tempered with mercy?"

   "I will have a different answer to that than members of other sects," said Hakam. "Unfortunately, there is great confusion among clerics of Anachtyr in the countries north of Calimshan about who Anachtyr is. They wrongly confuse him with a god of war from another crystal sphere, because he has a similar name. Moreover, he is allied with two other gods, Ilmater and Torm, and despite the work of my Church to correct the errors in doctrine, more and more followers of Anachtyr confuse his pure essence with the portfolios of the other two gods in the Triad. The truth is that Anachtyr is neither a god of war nor a god of mercy. If he were a god of mercy, it would be impossible for him to judge rightly. Impure justice is not justice at all. It is for Ilmater to provide mercy to those who need it."

   "Why did you choose to worship him?" asked Sofi, and hearing this, Szordrin perked up. None of them had ever learned much of Hakam's past before.

   "My father, Holy Judge Hamdulah yn Hamdulah el Anachtyr yi Schamedar was the seventh of that name. Hamdulah I was a priest of Anachtyr in Memnon during the Eighth Age of Calimshan. Just after the start of the Ninth Age, Hamdulah VI moved the family to the recently rebuilt town of Schamedar, in the Year of the Bright Sun, because that town had no temple to the Even-Handed. The males of the family have always been priests of Anachtyr, and my path was no different. My older half-brother, Hamdulah VIII, became Holy Judge of Schamedar in the Year of the Wyvern, upon the death of my father. Since there was already a priest in our line in Schamedar, I was sent to Memnon, the birthplace of our patriarch, two years later, to begin my training in law, and that is where I had served until Anachtyr assigned me a special mission with these companions a year ago."

   When Hakam had finished his story, Szordrin explained how he had also, until very recently, been without a patron deity. "I believe that I was sought out and chosen by the goddess Waukeen," he said. "She is the Golden Lady, Liberty's Maiden, and the Merchants' Friend."

   "Merchants' Friend?" said Sofi. "She would never choose me; I do not even have a copper to my person!"

   "Neither did I," said Szordrin. "I was once a slave, until Onran took me in and taught me the Art. I realize now that it has been her guidance that has led me to great wealth, without which we would have no chance of stopping the ones who sought my master's death. You need money to change the world for better."

   "Onran reminds me of a mentor that I once had," said Sofi. "His name was Sarl." Then she asked, "When we first met, was the illusion of your old master?"

   "It was the closest that I could come to him," said Szordrin. "I could never match the greatness of the man."

   "I see that you keep the same beard."

   Szordrin nodded but was silent.

   "Where are you sleeping tonight?" she asked. Then she realized that it was an awkward question and said quickly, "I mean, where is everyone sleeping tonight?"

   Solisar explained to her how he always slept — or rather tranced — in an extradimensional space that he created with his arcane magic. Hakam and Szordrin moved into the old bedroom and made space for themselves there, using each end of the mattress as makeshift pillows.

   Sofi remained in the kitchen. "It has been a long time since I have slept in a case." She untied her towel from her waist, rolled it up, and set it near the kitchen wall to use as a pillow. "I am a little bit peery sleeping here; I almost expect a ghost to appear."

   Solisar went outside briefly to set an arcane alarm around the whole house with his silver wire, then bid the other elves goodnight and came back inside to climb up the rope.

   In Onran's old bedroom, Szordrin spoke quietly with Hakam. "You need to ask Anachtyr for the power to detect the presence of evil when dawn comes."

   "She sensed when you tried to read her mind;" said Hakam, as he unfastened his heavy metal-banded layers. "I fear that she would know if I were trying to detect an evil presence on her."

   Szordrin looked nervous about this decision, and voiced this.

   "Pistis Sophia is a being of order and law," said Hakam. "She is allied with Anachtyr, and I trust her choice of this woman. I see no need."

   "Need I remind you about the incident with the family of werewolves? Need I remind you about how Solisar would not have died had you had the power to detect evil with Nulara?"

   "The 'incident with the werewolves' did not end well, true," said Hakam, "but even had I detected their evil then, I think that the ending would still have been the same. In the present case, I believe that Anachtyr is telling me to trust in the power of law and not become a zealot in the pursuit against evil."

   "She may wish to join with our party; how can you trust that she will not try to steal whatever is in the locked box?"

   "Do you not have the box with you? Take care that you guard it well."

   "Keep your voice low! She is only on the other side of the wall."

~~~~

Belvin and Leokas were pacing around the overgrown garden on the hill, sharing occasional words in Elven but mostly walking in silence over the wet ground. Leokas held Kytharrah's everburning torch for light, while the minotaur was curled up under the overhang of the house by the front door. The rain had come and gone, and the planet was in the darkest point of its rotation.

   Suddenly, there was an intense scream from inside the house. Belvin tapped Leokas on the shoulder and the two rushed toward the door.

   Inside, Hakam was startled awake and sat up. There in the window was the shape of an enormous horned creature, backlit by faint torchlight. "Let there be light!" he commanded.

   It was only Kytharrah, trying to see what had happened through the window, gripping its frame in case he needed to rip it free from the wall to help his friends.

   Szordrin was sitting bolt upright and sweating. Sofi rushed into the room and put her hand on his shoulder to shake him gently, before removing it from him awkwardly. "You are okay; it was just a dream," she said.

   "What is going on?" asked Hakam.

   Szordrin looked around the room and tried to orient himself as the elves also stepped into the room, wondering what had happened. First, Szordrin checked on Ferry. The little weasel's fur was standing up like a cat's, as it had magically felt the same terror that Szordrin had felt, but he was alright. "Oh, it was just a nightmare. Do not worry yourselves about it." Ferry snuggled up against Szordrin.

   "Do you want to talk about it?" asked Sofi.

   "Perhaps tomorrow."

   "Do you want some water?" asked Belvin.

   Sofi offered her little mug, and Belvin filled it with fresh water magically.

   "How did you know it was a dream?" Hakam asked Sofi.

   "I suppose that I did not," she replied, "but usually when someone wakes up in the night screaming, it is only a dream. Right?" She did not seem confident in her answer.

   Hakam probed further. "You were in this room before I even evoked a light."

   "I am swift on my feet, and I can see in the dark. I did not mean any harm by it." She looked nervous at Hakam's questioning.

   "Let us get back to our watch," said Belvin.

~~~~

During the second watch, Solisar and Kytharrah were on duty. Kytharrah was certain that he could smell more of the deinonychuses in the area. He nodded to Solisar, pointed to the west of the hill, and drew his axe.

   "Use your words, Kytharrah," said Solisar, echoing what Ilthian used to say to their friendly beast.

   "Smell," said Kytharrah, and he gestured for Solisar to keep back a bit for his safety.

   Both of them could now hear the noise of movement to the west, at the base of the hill outside the fence. The minotaur suspected that it was about 50 feet away.

   They never saw the animal. The creature seemed to be moving around for a half hour, never straying far or getting much closer than the bottom of the hill. Then, they heard a soft thud and no more.

   Near the end of the watch, Sofi came outside. She asked Solisar how the night watch was going, and he described what they had heard. During his report, Kytharrah shuffled back over to them.

   Sofi nodded. "One of the hardest things to get used to when I first moved to these islands was all the noises at night. It was nothing at all like the sounds of the city or even of the forests of the Outlands, where I lived for a short time. I am more used to it now, and I have perfected my skills at meditation through any distractions, but I still do not ever feel safe sleeping for long. There is less a chance of some predator finding me in the night that way."

   "That is a wise choice," said Solisar, "but a tiring one when alone."

   "Chant is that Pistis Sophia promises that those who are tired will find rest, and I have found it to be literally true in my case."

   It was not just talk; Sofi had only had about four hours of sleep — and that disturbed by Szordrin's nightmare — but she did not return to the house to sleep again.

   When the shift was ending, Solisar shared with her how he could relate. "I spent nearly a decade living alone on the Great Glacier in the north of my planet Toril, so I know how you feel about sleeping. Elves naturally need less rest than humans do, but I also wear this magic ring, which permits me to subsist with even fewer hours."

   She smiled at his understanding.

   "I grew accustomed to trancing in the extradimensional space that I mentioned earlier. Have you ever been in one? It is strange to experience for the first time. I still remember the first time that I entered one as a young elf. You always must be careful, however; you cannot bring any extradimensional containers with you. Leokas, for example, cannot climb the rope with his magic quiver."

   "I have nothing but this mug, and it is not magical."

   "I know," said Solisar with a smile. "It was just a warning for the future."

   Sofi was delighted to climb the rope after him and observe the strange other-reality of the empty white space at the top.

   "Does it end? Or does it go on forever?" she asked.

   "It wraps around on itself," he explained. "If you keep walking one direction far enough, you will come back to where you started from the opposite direction. Kytharrah always enjoys running as fast as he can until he comes back to us again. Try it out."

   "I think that I shall take your word for it," she replied.

~~~~

Szordrin and Hakam were to take the third shift.

   Sofi was outside with Kytharrah, stroking Kamil's hair when Solisar woke the cleric and wizard. The sun elf departed to prepare his spells for the day.

   "Good morning," said Sofi, when Szordrin and Hakam stepped outside. Other than that, she let the two men do their job and remained with the animals or sitting next to Kytharrah as he slept. The minotaur seemed to take comfort in her nearness and moved his big head closer to her.

   The third shift passed without incident, and, as dawn came, everyone gathered with anticipation in the kitchen. Solisar stood over the box on the table and simply commanded it to unlock with a single word in an ancient Elven tongue.

   He raised the lid effortlessly.

   The box was full of letters.
Session: 116th Game Session - Monday, Jul 27 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Onran's Dwelling
Solisar was warned by Belvin to be wary of traps as he walked up the hill to the fence gate. From the back of Kamil, the druid now looked past the wizard at the giant crystal. He agreed with Leokas' earlier assessment. "Like in Samber's mine," said Belvin.

   Szordrin carefully examined the area for traps and did not find any signs of them. He also enspelled his eyes to detect anything invisible but saw nothing amiss. They opened the gate. The gravel path forked at the gate and led to the house on the right and to what they soon realized was a severely overgrown garden.

   "We may have to look out for other plant-based guardians," warned Belvin.

   "It is not like my master to have such dangerous guardians," said Szordrin. "His chosen defenses were always illusions and hiding well, not summoned or conjured monsters. Planting a carnivorous plant on his property would be fully out of character. I doubt that he was to blame for the yellow musk creeper."

   "For what it is worth, I see nothing magical in the vicinity beyond the giant crystal pillar," said Solisar. Solisar did not see any aura on the omlar crystal pillar itself, but he could see strands of the Weave stretching in all directions above and around them, convincing him that this was indeed the origin of the powerful illusory effect surrounding this part of the island.

   The garden would have been 25 feet wide and twice that length. Belvin cautiously moved forward and determined that it still had carrots, potatoes, green beans, and other vegetables — all plants that a human might grow for food — growing among the jungle ferns and bushes that had taken over the rich soil.

   West of the garden was a well, still full of water. Next to it sat a plow, its wood now rotted. South of the garden was the remains of a simple bench.

   The house itself was roughly square, only about 30 feet to a side. It had a thatched roof and a chimney. A tiny structure was also east of the house with a single door. The roof on the west side of the house overhung a narrow stretch of ground and sheltered the stone steps up to the main door. There was a back door on the east as well.

   They cautiously peeked into the windows all around the house. Most of them still had glass, but inside, the house seemed to be in chaos. Solisar first peeked through one of the western windows into a rectangular room. There was a bed frame and mattress and an open wardrobe, but everything was a mess. The bed was half off the frame, and a pile of books were strewn on the floor. This seemed to be more than just the results of five years of no inhabitants; someone had tossed things around, searching for something.

   "Szordrin, have you checked for traps at the front door?" asked Hakam.

   Szordrin did so, not finding anything suspicious.

   As Kytharrah sniffed the air; all he sensed was decaying wood.

   Leokas, however, crouching low to the ground at the base of the stone steps, claimed to recognize a footprint. "A giant cat stepped here," he said.

   "How long ago?" asked Hakam.

   "I cannot say. It could have been years. Tymora smiled upon us by placing this overhang above the steps, else the nightly rains would have washed the print away in a day or two."

   Kytharrah sniffed no lingering smell, confirming that the print was very old.

   Through the north windows, Hakam saw an overturned wooden washtub and a flattened, empty sack in the entry room after the front door. In the next room over, moving east, he saw a broken chair, a desk, two empty bookshelves, and more books scattered about. It looked like all the books had been tossed from the shelves.

   He returned to the others standing near the front door. "It all seems fairly mundane to me," said Hakam.

   Solisar agreed. He still did not detect any magic, having wandered along the south side to the east. He opened the back door, which was unlocked. The door opened into a fifteen-by-twenty room. A large amount of dark mold grew at the base of the door. This seemed to be a kitchen. There was a small table with two chairs to the left and a stool sitting beside a cooking fireplace of stone to the right. In the southwest and southeast corners were an overturned and shattered clay vase and a broken wooden barrel, respectively.

   Following Solisar's lead, Kytharrah opened the door to the tiny shack east of the house. It was clearly an outhouse, but it had been so long since it had been used that even his minotaur nose had not noticed the scent.

   Belvin hitched Kamil to the post supporting the roof overhang, and the others came in through the unlocked front door one-by-one, with Hakam leading the way.

   The cleric stooped down to look at the sack. It had been ripped open, and any food that once had been stored within was completely gone. He found evidence of both piercing — perhaps by small teeth — and slashing — whether by blade or by claw he could not tell.

   Belvin passed him and stepped out of the room to the southeast. There was an open closet door to his right. Within was a large wooden chest. It had been smashed open. It was empty.

   Szordrin walked by Belvin, briefly moved into the kitchen where he saw Solisar, and then stepped north into a small ten-by-fifteen room. He realized that he was in his former master's study. The broken chair that Hakam had earlier seen through the window had definitely been smashed apart intentionally. Books were all over the floor. He bent down to pick one up. It was decayed beyond readability, its pages eaten apart by mold. He began looking over all of them, hoping to find some clue to his master's past, but each one was in a similar state of decay.

   Sofi stepped into the kitchen with Solisar. He was examining the stool by the fireplace. The padded seat had been slashed, and all the stuffing had been pulled out and searched.

   "What berk would do this to someone's case like this?" said Sofi.

   Belvin approached the kitchen table. On the floor underneath it, he found a small booklet. When Solisar turned to look, he told the druid that the booklet had a very faint aura upon it. Unlike the other books in the house, this one was in perfect condition, likely protected from decay by a simple arcane cantrip. It was a catalog for the Interlink Consortium of Bral.

   Hakam entered the kitchen and then passed into the remaining room in the southwest, the bedroom with the displaced mattress. The wardrobe was empty of any clothes.

   Sofi stepped into Onran's old study to find Szordrin looking at the desk. There were scattered pieces of parchment scattered over its surface in a disorganized fashion. Szordrin was holding a picture frame. It was a charcoal portrait of a woman with dark hair held up in a bun. At the bottom of the drawing were etched the words "My beloved bride, 1335 – 1338".

   "She is beautiful," said Sofi from behind him.

   Szordrin set the picture frame carefully down. He did not recognize the woman. He had not even known that his master had ever been married. He had always sensed that Onran's past was too difficult for him to share.

   Belvin had also entered the room. He picked up the portrait that Szordrin had set down and examined it, while the tiefling wizard searched among the scattered notes on the desk. Most were moldy and hard to read, but a few were still legible. One of them was a formal thank you letter from an orphanage in Cormyr. Onran, it seemed, had donated a large sum of money to the charity. This was not the only such thank you letter on the desk; there were a few.

   There was also a receipt. He carried this and some of the more-legible letters out to the others. "I found some interesting things," he said.

   The group passed around the items and discussed them.

   The receipt was from the Interlink Consortium, regarding the purchase of a "runestaff of passage" for a large sum of Lantanna trade bars on the seventeenth of Ches in the Year of the Turret. It had been shipped here to Kaw-chi-wee-tee-tee.

   "Onran was only married for three years," said Solisar, indicating the years on the portrait that Belvin held.

   "Unless she was three years old," said Hakam, "like Samber's creations. Does anyone remember any of the constructs on his island looking like the woman in the portrait?"

   None of them did.

   "Which year is this on the letter and the receipt?" asked Szordrin.

   "The Year of the Turret?" Solisar replied. "That was the year that the Tuigan Horde was defeated by the alliance of King Azoun IV of Cormyr, 1360 in the Dalereckoning."

   Most of them remembered the event, when a horde of barbarians on horseback invaded interior Faerûn from the wastelands in the east. The king of Cormyr had gathered an army from nations all over the continent to repel the invaders. This all happened a bit more than a decade ago.

   "This woman died decades before the runestaff was purchased," said Solisar, "unless the numbers on the portrait are not in the Dalereckoning."

   "'Kevrin Greenbrook'," Hakam read from the thank you letter. "He was not a Calishite, but 'Saint Fanal' may have been a Calishite saint of Ilmater. Szordrin, which deity did your master revere?"

   "He worshiped Celestian, a god from one of the other crystal spheres," said Szrodrin.

   "So, not Ilmater then." Hakam flipped through some of the other letter fragments. "These all seem to be donations to orphanages."

   "Onran was always helping out various street urchins in Guallidurth," said Szordrin. "He was the most charitable, generous person whom I ever met."

   "If Onran is indeed the 'Ronan' from Jayce's stories about Samber's childhood," said Hakam, "he was himself adopted, by gnomes, if I remember correctly."

   Hakam then opened the back of the picture frame to see if anything was written on the back of the portrait, but he found only blank canvas.

   Meanwhile, Ferry, whom Szordrin had set loose to explore the house on his own, scurried up his master's robes to his shoulder and chirped into his ear.

   "Ferry may have found something in the bedroom, when he was searching under the bed," Szordrin translated. "He says that the bed was slashed open with big claws."

   Leokas led the way into the bedroom and flipped over the mattress. There were indeed clear claw marks where the mattress had been slashed. "Claws, once again," said Leokas. "Probably the same creature that left a print by the door."

   Belvin agreed. "Definitely a feline, not a canine."

   Solisar asked, "Szordrin's ancestry includes a rakshasa, does it not? Could the prints be from a rakshasa? In other words, was Onran attacked because he helped Szordrin?"

   "I do not know enough about rakshasa feet to distinguish its prints from those of a weretiger or even a normal tiger," Leokas replied.

   "I do not know about rakshasa feet either," said Solisar, "but I do know about their hands. All legends of rakshasa that I have heard describe them as having 'backwards' hands. Their palms face out not in; the thumbs are on the opposite side of where they should be."

   Hearing this, Belvin examined the claw marks more closely. He grunted, impressed at Solisar's theory. "You are correct. This creature's thumb claws are on the wrong side. See, these lower claw marks would have been the thumb claws."

   Like every other container in the whole house, the mattress had been opened and searched.

   "What else do we know about rakshasa's?" asked Leokas.

   "They are malicious, fiendish entities, like demons or devils," said Szordrin, "yet distinct from either. They do not reside on the Lower Planes but instead inhabit the Material Plane where they scheme and plot evil from the background. They are immortal beings; if one is killed, it simply reincarnates in a new rakshasa body. They are also skilled shapeshifters."

   At these words, Hakam gave Sofi a suspicious look. Too often they had been fooled by shapeshifting fiends. She was definitely not chaotic, but neither were rakshasas. She was looking at Szordrin with concern in her expression and did not notice the cleric's glance. However, he had not prepared any spell to detect evil this day. That concern would have to wait.

   Instead, Hakam prayed for the ability to detect secret doors. He saw no auras in the bedroom, but when he turned back into the kitchen, he immediately sensed the presence of one. A moment later the base of the fireplace began to glow.

   "Onran has a secret room underneath the hearth," he said, and the others gathered with him back in the kitchen with interest.

   Shortly thereafter, the spell revealed a firebrick in the back of the firebox that served as the release for the secret door.

   "I can see the stone that opens it as well," said Hakam, "but I want to scan outside by the well first, before my spell runs out. Perhaps we missed something outside."

   They all followed him outside. The outhouse was just a normal outhouse, the well was just a normal well, and there were no auras from the garden, but as they walked around the grounds a second time, they noticed another overgrown path leading from north of the house, through some thick trees, and down the other side of the hill. Once at the trees, they could look down on a small clearing, with a large wooden platform erected there, still within the confines of the fence.

   They hacked their way through the underbrush and came to the platform. It was collapsed and rotted, but something large and wooden had once sat atop it. The remains were broken apart and burned. Kytharrah and Leokas each found some glass on the platform. Belvin found what seemed to be a scorched chair buried underneath some other wooden debris.

   "This chair seemed to have resisted the fire," said Belvin.

   "It is not magical," said Solisar, "at least not anymore."

   "But it has runes carved into it," said Szordrin. "See? Here and here. This was a spelljamming helm once."

   "I think that you are correct in your assessment," said Solisar. "This was probably the landing platform for a small spelljammer, like a mosquito or wasp."

   "I doubt that there is anything else to discover here," said Hakam. "Let us go explore the secret chamber beneath the fireplace."

   Back in the house, they stood around him as Hakam pressed the firebrick in the back of the fireplace. The stone slid back without great difficulty, and there was a clicking sound. They then found that the whole base of the fireplace was on a pivot, and they were able to rotate it out from the wall, swinging clockwise, which revealed a narrow and steep set of stairs underneath.

   At the bottom of the stairs — more of a ladder really — was a very tiny room, a storage chamber. Hakam lit up his shield, and light filled the room. The room was full of a bunch of items, and unlike everything above in the house, none of these items seemed to have been touched; all were arranged neatly around the walls. Leokas checked for rakshasa footprints on the steps and found none.

   Szordrin wondered aloud. "If they searched the house so thoroughly, how did they miss this room?"

   "It was an impressively hidden secret door," said Belvin. "I searched the area by the fireplace and never noticed the trigger."

   Szordrin looked back at Sofi, who stood back on the steps out of the way. She seemed intrigued by their discoveries, but he could not read anything else in her expression. (Kytharrah was too big to fit in the room and waited at the top as well.)

   Among the items on the floor, there was a set of leather bracers. Solisar indicated that they had a very similar aura to the magical bracers of armor that some of them wore.

   There were a pair of high boots made from deep red leather with brilliant copper-colored leather soles. They looked very comfortable. Solisar described them as having a moderate conjuration aura.

   Next was a tricorne hat with a single feather. This glowed with a faint illusion aura.

   There were three potion vials and three arcane scrolls, all with auras from varying schools of magic. Solisar unrolled the scrolls quickly to check how many were written upon each. One scroll had a particularly strong aura but only a single spell. The other two scrolls had a few weaker spells each.

   He set the scrolls down as Szordrin picked up the remaining item in the storage room, a small, ornate box made of reddish wood with golden metal pieces at its corners and edges. It was held shut with two golden clasps and locked with a series of eight combination dials in two columns on the front of the box. Carved into the box were intricate feather designs. The entire box glowed with a faint abjuration aura.

   "Solisar, can you read the symbols on the dials?"

   "They look familiar," replied the sun elf. "I believe them to be Aarakocra numerals. In fact, I am certain that many of these symbols are on the address slates. My studies of the language before we came here to Coliar involved the use of Iokharic, the Draconic script, to write the language, but I also learned that the aarakocra have their own system of numerals distinct from those of the dragons. I learned how to speak the numbers from one to twenty and words such as 'hundred' and 'thousand', but I never had the time to learn their numerical or mathematical systems."

   Leaving the other items in the storage room for now, they took the small box upstairs and set it on the kitchen table and stood or sat around it trying to figure out a way to get it open.

   Belvin was the first to suggest a solution. "The two sets of dials are the two years on the portrait," he stated.

   "Let me try to simply pick the locks first," said Szordrin. However, despite his best efforts, he could not feel any catches in the rotation of the dials that would allow him to crack the code.

   He set the box back down on the table. "Onran lived simply," he said, "but if he needed something, he always found the best."

   "I think that Belvin's guess is the correct one," said Solisar. "The years of their marriage — or her life, if Hakam is correct that she was one of Samber's constructs — are the numbers at which to set the dials, but I do not know which numerals on the dials are which."

   "We can probably assume that they go from 1 to 8," said Hakam.

   "But which is 1?" asked Szordrin.

   "It might not matter," said Hakam. "If we arbitrarily chose one as 1 and it fails to open, we simply rotate all of them by one and try again."

   "That is a lot of combinations?" said Szordrin.

   "Is it not only eight to try?"

   "Do any of you have a spell to read languages prepared?" asked Szordrin. None of them did.

   "All the dials are currently set to the same character," said Solisar. "Typically, people would set the dials all to 1 or to 8, so we would have even fewer combinations to try."

   "I do not think that you are correct, Solisar," said Belvin. "I think that the simplest of the characters must be 1. In which case, all of the dials are currently set on 7. They become more complicated as you move counterclockwise."

   Szordrin agreed. "You are right. There is a pattern in the characters. In nearly all cases, the characters across from each other share strokes; they correlate somehow. If this is three here, than directly across from it has the same strokes plus this additional arc."

   "Yes," said Solisar, "and they grow more complex after this point. One stroke, two strokes, three strokes. Then it changes to an arc here — so that is an exception — and then you add one stroke, two strokes, and three strokes again."

   "There are two single stroke characters, though," said Hakam. "One horizontal and one vertical."

   "It is not 1 to 8;" said Szordrin, "it must be 0 to 7."

   "Ah, so the flat bar is zero," said Hakam.

   "Yes," said Solisar, "and then it counts one stroke for 1, two strokes for 2, three strokes for 3. 4 then has its own special character, and after that you simply add the character for 1, 2, or 3 to the character for 4 to get up to 7."

   Convinced that they were ready to turn the dials, Szordrin asked Solisar to read off the numerals in the years on the portrait.

   "Ah, there is still a problem," said the sun elf. "One of the digits in the years is an 8."

   "Oh," said Hakam, sounding mildly defeated.

   There was a period of silence, as they considered other options.

   There was a small crash from one of the other rooms, as Kytharrah accidentally knocked something over while trying to allay his boredom. Sofi went to check on him, but he had only broken the door off the wardrobe.

   "What if we simply assume that that is an 8, not a zero?" suggested Szordrin.

   "Can we convert these four digit years somehow to only go up to 7?" asked Hakam. "What if we subtract 1 from all of the digits?"

   "That would give us 0224 and 0227," said Solisar, "but we have the same problem of not knowing whether that horizontal bar is a 0 or an 8. Szordrin's suggestion is a simpler solution."

   Another long pause. Solisar appeared to be doing some complicated calculations in his head.

   "The aarakocra keep time differently than on Toril, correct?" said Szordrin.

   "Yes," said Hakam, "they do not count hours; they use 'light calls' instead, eight or sixteen, depending on whether they count the 'growing' and 'shrinking' segments of brightness. And they use eightdays instead of tendays."

   "They may not count in the same way as us at all," said Szordrin excitedly. "We need another digit when we get to ten, but perhaps they switch to two digits when they get to eight. Solisar, can you count to twenty in Aarakocra for us?"

   Solisar did so. "Tee, chih, seh, kaw, doh, ler, hoo, oot, teet, and chit is ten; set, kat, doht, lert, hoot, ooch, teech, chich, sech, and kach is twenty."

   Szordrin asked him to repeat a few of the numbers. "Yes," he said, "all of the numbers between eight and fifteen end in a 'tuh' sound. All of the numbers from sixteen on end in a 'chuh' sound."

   "I think that you are correct," said Solisar.

   "Of course," said Belvin. "They effectively have eight fingers, remember? What would be the bones of our littlest fingers are part of their wing; they cannot use them like true fingers. They can only count to eight on their fingers, not ten."

   "The characters also look like abstract bird feet, now that you say that," said Solisar.

   "Yes," said Hakam, "three fingers and a thumb. The thumb is the arc used for 4."

   "In that case," said Solisar, "if I did the calculations correctly in my head, the series of digits that we want are actually 2467 and 2472."

   "Is that not six years instead of four, like on the portrait?" asked Sofi, who was confused by this complicated math.

   "It is still four years," explained Solisar, "but counting works differently. 2467 is the first year, but there can be no 2468, because there is no 8 numeral. So the next digit switches back to 0 and the one next to it moves up to 7 from 6, just like we would go from 69 to 70 because there is no special numeral for any numeral after 9. So, the four years are 2467, 2470, 2471, and 2472."

   "Barmy," said Sofi.

   "Let us try it out," said Szordrin.

   He set the top left dial to the vee-shaped character that they suspected was the numeral 2. The dial below that he set to the arc that they thought represented 4, and so on, until all eight dials were set, with 2467 down the left side and 2472 down the right side.

   He pressed the releases at each of the two clasps, and they did not move.

   "Flip the orientation, going up," said Solisar.

   Szordrin did so, and the box still remained locked.

   "Let us try shifting all the numerals by one, as I suggested earlier," said Hakam.

   "No, of course, I should have considered this at first," said Solisar. "Their language is written from right to left and bottom to top. Swap the numbers on the two sets of dials."

   At last, when Szordrin set the dials and pressed the releases, the clasps popped open with two clicks. They all smiled at their victory.

   However, when Szordrin tried to lift the cover open, it did not budge.

   There was a collective sigh in the room.

   "It is likely additionally sealed with an arcane lock," said Solisar. "That would explain the abjuration aura on the box."

   "I will try to dispel the magic," said Hakam.

   "Let me pray for Thard Harr's guidance over you first," said Belvin.

   Neither Hakam nor Solisar could overcome the magic that held the box sealed, however.

   "Is it impossible to open, then?" asked Leokas.

   "No, but we will need to wait until the morning," said Solisar. "We will all prepare spells specific for unlocking items. I am certain that we will be able to determine its contents tomorrow. We are so close."
Session: 115th Game Session - Monday, Jul 20 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Yellow Musk Spores
"No time to explain! Cover your mouths!"

   Sofi heard Belvin's warning, so as she rushed to the northwest, she did so with her left hand over her mouth. She sprinted along the overgrown gravel path toward the limping dinosaur that Kytharrah had just struck. Jumping into the air, she kicked high with her left foot. The raptor's head snapped back with a loud crack. As it wobbled and fell to the ground, she punched it on the side of its face with her right fist for good measure.

   "Stay away once you have taken one out!" Belvin called again in warning.

   She nodded, her hand still covering her mouth and nose.

   Hakam and Solisar followed behind her, squeezing between the fallen tree over the path where it had split apart. The cleric called out a quick prayer and touched the phylactery upon his forehead, and a shimmering field of magic appeared around him. Solisar continued past him and could now see the hill beyond. It had a simple house built upon it, surrounded by a fence.

   Belvin continued to shout out warnings and updates. "Another two are coming from the north!"

   Solisar saw one of the two animals. It leapt the fence around the house on the hill and came running down. He waved his wand and saw the beast struck by an invisible force, but it kept on running on its bird-like legs. Kytharrah ran back through the air, swinging from behind the creature to sever its feathered tail. A moment later, Sofi knocked it to the ground with a roundhouse kick to the right side of its head. It raised its head one and hissed, but she dropped to her knees and punched it. It did not raise its head again.

   Szordrin seemed to feel fine after sneezing earlier. As he floated above the deinonychus that was striving and failing to jump up and pull him from the air, he removed a flask of oleum from his potion belt and began to prepare the fuse.

   Kamil cleared the trees and bushes that were blocking the view, and Belvin could now see the house on the hill as well. Leokas followed behind them, vaulting over the fallen tree, landing, and nocking an arrow for whatever might burst from the bushes into view. At the tail end came Hakam, at last seeing the hill that all the others could see. He also spotted the second dinosaur about which Belvin had warned, and a beam of searing light blasted from his palm through all the branches and leaves and struck the animal some 50 yards away.

   Belvin targeted the same dinosaur and called down holy fire from the sky to burn it to ashes in a matter of seconds.

   Szordrin also dropped fire of a kind, though not with as satisfactory a result. His flask of black, oily liquid broke upon the back of the jumping deinonychus and ignited with a flash, searing off the few feathers remaining on the zombie-like creature. The creature's skin, however, did not ignite, and with another attempt, it leapt up yet again. This time, it made it higher into the air. Its jaws clamped down on Szordrin's right leg, and its teeth punctured the soft leather of his boot. The weight of the ten-foot-long dinosaur drew Szordrin out of the air toward the ground. As they fell, the creature slashed about wildly with its claws and the razor-sharp toe claw on its lower talons as its jaws still held fast. The mage's mithral shirt deflected its claws, and its talons missed, as Szordrin thrashed about. He kicked it in the head and freed himself. The magic from his flying spell carried him back higher into the air, and the dinosaur fell prone to the ground. As the dinosaur tried to get back to its feet, it was knocked back down by the force of two magic missiles from Solisar striking it in the legs. It raised its head one last time, just high enough for Leokas to pierce it with an arrow.

   "We need to burn all the bodies!" said Belvin, as the last dinosaur fell. "They were not undead; they were infected by yellow musk spores. We have to burn anything with spores."

   As if on cue, suddenly a number of thick vines whipped up from the jungle floor and snapped violently at Solisar. His magical force shield darted back and forth to defend him, but several blows got through, nearly knocking him senseless.

   Kytharrah's eyes followed the vines back toward a large, bush-like plant. It had large leaves and beautiful yellow flowers with purple specks. He stepped forward on air and began hacking at the base of the green tendrils, where they seemed to emerge from the plant.

   Sofi positioned herself just outside the reach of the nearest tendrils. "What do I do?" she bemoaned. "I do not know how to kick a plant!"

   "Keep away from it!" warned Belvin again.

   "Watch me destroy it," said Szordrin, as he reached into his spell component pouch, but Hakam was a moment faster and called down fire while clutching his holy symbol. The yellow-flowered plant burst into sudden flame. Its leaves and flowers sizzled and shriveled as they burned up over the next several seconds, and the writhing vines grew still.

   Belvin did not seem confident that the plant was dead. He yelled at it in Druidic, ordering it not to move.

   "Did it not die?" asked Szordrin, as he pointed at the burning ball that he had summoned and directed it toward the corpse of the deinonychus that had bitten him. At least he could burn up one of the corpses.

   "I would continue to keep your mouths covered, if I were you," replied Belvin, as Solisar emptied the contents of a healing potion into his mouth and felt his bruised body refresh. Leokas nocked an arrow and glanced around nervously.

   Kytharrah looked down at the ground. Where he had severed the vines, he noticed tiny shoots budding out of the plant flesh of the tendrils at the point where he had hacked them apart. He had never seen a plant growing so fast. He swung at them again. Then he began slashing at the bush itself, sending shriveled leaves and flowers everywhere. He then bent low and gored the thick, woody trunk of the plant.

   "Keep your distance, Kytharrah!" said Belvin.

   "How do you kill it?" asked Solisar.

   "We need to scorch it," said Belvin. "All of it, so that nothing remains at all. Even the smallest root can begin to grow back."

   "How can a plant grow so quickly?" asked Sofi.

   Hakam came up to Solisar and laid his hands on him. All of the pain left the sun elf's body. "Cannot one of you nature folk start a bonfire?" the cleric then asked.

   "It will be difficult to start a natural fire with all of this moisture," said Belvin. "We are in a rain forest after all, but I do have one idea." The wild elf closed his eyes and began chanting softly and raised his arms to the sky.

   "I am out of fire magic," said Hakam. "I am sure that Leokas would accept the challenge. Leokas?"

   The wood elf was no longer standing nearby, having followed the path up the hill to a large gate.

   "I have a few more fire spells at my disposal," said Szordrin, and he pointed at the remains of the plant, as tiny shoots began poking out of the stump and opening into little leaves. Out of all of the root fragments scattered about from Kytharrah's hacking, little buds were emerging. A flash of fire exploded outward, engulfing the plant just shy of where the others were standing. All of the little growths were annihilated by the blast, but within about ten seconds, once the steam from the explosion had dissipated, they spotted here a fresh growth and there another. Soon, tiny plants were sprouting from the scorched plant material all around them.

   Solisar thought it best to get away from the vines — hacked up though they were — that could have pummeled him to unconsciousness, and followed up the hill toward Leokas.

   "We need you to start a fire," Solisar said to the wood elf. "We no longer have fire spells. What do you see?"

   Leokas vaulted over the fence with his hands. He was looking toward an enormous pillar of dark-green crystal, embedded in the soil and supported by a ring of stones. It had clearly been erected here; it was not a natural rock growth. It was four-feet thick and ten-feet tall. "I may be wrong, but I suspect that we have found another Omlar gem!"

   "It is the center of the illusory field," said Hakam.

   Kytharrah snorted loudly, trying to get the others to pay attention again to the plant that was growing more and more shoots and tiny tendrils with every second.

   "Where did that cloud come from?" asked Sofi. A small dark storm cloud was now hovering some ten yards above them. Belvin yelled out something, and a flash of lightning struck down from the cloud. Some of the little plants drooped over and were stilled... but only for several moments. New ones sprung up immediately after.

   Kytharrah, frustrated, went at it at the tree again, this time striking the remains of the central stump, until it was in several fragments. He cut into the ground with his axe, digging up every shallow root that he could find and churning up the soil.

   "Stop chopping them up!" said Hakam. "You are going to make it worse."

   The minotaur obeyed and stopped.

   Szordrin followed with a final blaze of fire, but he failed to engulf all of the growing plantlets now scattered all about.

   "What is an Omlar gem?" asked Sofi, as Leokas passed her on his way to the decimated yet still living plant.

   "I shall explain later," said Leokas. "For now, it looks like someone needs to make a proper campfire."

~~~~

Leokas gave everyone orders to search for the driest wood that they could. They began kicking all the chopped up plant parts into a central pile, and Leokas surrounded it with small stones. Then he began arranging sticks around it. Sofi seemed impressed with how much care he put into building the fire, having never seen the ranger at work before. It was a long process, but during the time needed to build the fire, Belvin continued to call down bolts of lightning on the largest plantlets every minute or so, preventing any from growing too large.

   Only when Leokas was satisfied with the bonfire's construction did he use his flint to ignite the wood. It only took a single spark.

   Belvin approached Szordrin and neutralized any potential poison with a prayer to Thard Harr.

   "I felt no ill effects," said Szordrin.

   "I heard you sneeze. Did you smell a musky odor? If so, than its spores may have gotten into your system."

   "It can take days for one to become infected by diseases," said Leokas. "I imagine it is the same for a natural spore taking over one's brain."

   "Is it a disease, or a curse?" asked Hakam.

   "I do not fully know how it works," said Belvin, "but if it were a curse, I suspect that your divine magic would have done more harm to the zombies. All I know is that the spores take over the infected creature and cause it to care for nothing but protecting the parent plant."

   Once the fire was ablaze, they ensured that every last scrap from the plant was thrown in. Kytharrah used his axe like a shovel to toss in dirt that might contain the smallest bits. They also recovered the mushy, yellowed bodies of the six deinonychuses that had not already been burned by other means. Their open wounds revealed plant matter and what looked like vines growing within what should have been reptilian flesh. From the heads of a few of them, small plants had already burst from the skulls, each with tiny tendrils that were slithering around looking for a surface to which to cling. These were all tossed onto the fire.

   Curious, Szordrin held one final root fragment with a growing shoot and pierced it with his dagger of venom. The little shoot still wiggled like a worm. Frustrated, the tiefling wizard cast it into the fire.
Session: 115th Game Session - Monday, Jul 20 2020 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
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Chapter 2 — Zombie Raptors
"We got some saurs. Tread lightly; we are in deinonychus country. I can sense at least sixteen raptors!"

   "Where are they?" they asked Belvin.

   "At least four to the north, but they are scattered in all directions. I cannot sense the precise locations."

   "What is a deinonychus?" asked Solisar.

   "Bird-like, feathered dinosaurs standing as tall as an elf with tails just as long. They have a single sharp, curved claw on each of their talons, on the second toe, shaped much like my sickle, and they hunt in packs, taking down larger prey by pouncing on them. They are in a family known as raptors."

   "I think that I know what you mean," said Sofi. "I encountered some on another island once. I saw them take down one of the dinosaurs with armored plates on its back. They ganged up on it. I began sleeping in the trees after that."

   "They climb trees," said Belvin, and Sofi looked horrified.

   "We should try to avoid them," said Hakam, "but prepare yourselves for fighting if we need to."

   Belvin agreed. "I cannot speak to any more animals today."

   "If there are sixteen of them within this magic dome," said Szordrin. "I do not see how we will be able to avoid them."

   They proceeded forward cautiously. Belvin let Kamil follow the others while he concentrated on his druidic spell. About twenty paces from the magical barrier, they came to a small pond. On its eastern side was a small fire ring and some rocks for sitting on. There even seemed to be the remains of a gravel path leading to the northeast.

   Belvin sensed that the nearest deinonychus was only some fifteen yards to the east, out of sight in the trees, and he cautioned his teammates. "There are now eight within 40 yards of us," he said in a low voice, "but they are all spread out, and they seem to be moving around slowly in tight circles, like an animal in a cage, not like animals patrolling their territory or on the hunt. I do not think that this is their natural behavior at all."

   "Could they be the guards of whoever is living here?" asked Hakam.

   "I am curious about how recently that fire ring has been used," said Solisar. "Leokas, is that something that you could check?"

   Leokas nodded, nocked an arrow, and stealthily made his way forward to the ring of small stones, staying low to the ground. There was not much cover for him, but he was quiet on his feet. He crouched at the ring and looked into it and then rose and pressed himself up against a thick tree trunk east of it. He motioned that he had spotted motion further east, and his companions nodded in understanding. Leokas waited a moment and then darted back to the others.

   "I do not think the dinosaur spotted me. It is tall. As for the fire ring, it has not been used in many long years; there are plants growing in it."

   "Solisar, are the dinosaurs in magical cages?" asked Szordrin. "Can you see any auras in the directions that Belvin pointed?"

   Solisar shook his head.

   "Perhaps we can have the minotaur or someone flying distract them from the air and lead them away to form a safe path for the rest of us," suggested Hakam.

   This triggered a discussion of the best course of action. Just when one of them suggested, "Could not Leokas just pick them off one by one?" one of the deinonychuses came into view and charged toward them along the overgrown gravel path. Leokas immediately loosed his arrow. It struck the bird-like animal, but it kept running.

   "Valignat!" shouted Szordrin, extending his hand. Two beams of fire rushed forth. One missed, but the other flash-burned the dinosaur, and it stumbled to the ground briefly, before springing up onto its feet again.

   They all felt a rush of speed as a piece of licorice vanished from Solisar's hands. He backed closer to the magical barrier, as the deinonychus leapt into the air at Leokas, its tiny clawed wings extended. It crashed into Leokas talons first, slashing into his left arm through his leather with one of its sickle-clawed toes. The dinosaur was bulkier and heavier than Leokas had anticipated, but he managed to spring back enough to avoid being knocked flat onto his back.

   Kamil turned on his own, without any need for guidance, and snapped at the deinonychus. It jerked its neck back to avoid the bite and hissed back at the camel. The camel reared back and slammed both hooves into dinosaur's head, one after the other, dazing the beast. Leokas drew his dagger and swung in the same motion, decapitating the animal.

   Kytharrah sniffed the fallen animal and made a funny face. Sif came up and began gnawing on its thigh. Sofi moved up to a tree and stood on the lookout for more dinosaurs.

   "It never signaled its pack," said Szordrin.

   "That is because it was not alive to begin with," said Hakam. "It had no functioning brain."

   Belvin agreed. "Look at its mottled skin and lack of many feathers. This was a zombie."

   Kytharrah looked confused.

   Hakam moved closer to the fallen deinonychus and prayed a blessing of fortune over the party.

   Belvin continued to concentrate. "There are still seven more near us; they have not moved yet."

   "I think that I can see another moving to the northwest," said Szordrin, who had walked to the north of the small pond.

   "If these are undead," said Solisar, joining the party again, his magic wand drawn. "I suggest we destroy these abominations."

   Hakam agreed, and Belvin said, "Hells, my arm is itching for some holy cleansing action!"

   So, Szordrin pulled out some tallow, brimstone, and a pinch of iron powder and threw his arm toward the northwest as if lobbing a heavy ball. A sphere of flame soared a hundred feet through the air and struck the dinosaur, then bounced off and tumbled to the ground. Steam rose from the canopy floor, as the ball of fire burned the wet leaves and plants on the ground. The dinosaur squawked and rushed forward, disappearing from Szordrin's view.

   A different decayed-looking deinonychus sprung out of the bushes north of Szordrin and reached him, kicking up at him like an ostrich might and slashing his leg through his robes. Szordrin yelped in pain as several bursts of force from Solisar's wand beat back the animal and kept it from taking a bite out of Szordrin as well. Instead, it tore a piece from Szordrin's sleeve.

   "We have got movement," warned Belvin, as he moved Kamil to a fallen tree that crossed the old gravel path. "From the northeast!"

   Leokas looked at his two options and chose to aim at the one near Szordrin, drawing the bowstring back to its extreme limits with each shot. Only one of his arrows hit, but it literally caused the dinosaur's side to burst open, and yellow and green contents began sloughing out.

   Still walking on air, Kytharrah also rushed to Szordrin's aid. He rose ten or fifteen feet over the dinosaur and swung his large axe down from above. The blade split the animal's flesh wide open, and it fell apart in a pile of decayed organs and limbs. Kytharrah immediately rushed through the air back toward the fallen tree.

   Sif ran over to the fallen tree also, then under it, and snapped at the legs of the raptor that had come from the east. Sofi also sprinted to the fallen tree, leapt atop the log, and flipped herself off onto the back of the dinosaur to ride it like a mount. With her free fist, she pounded it in the side of the head, causing it to wobble about.

   Hakam hustled toward the tree as well, his holy symbol raised and glowing with positive energy. "Anachtyr rebuke you!" he shouted.

   "Szordin, north!" Belvin called out.

   The wizard cast a spell and took to the air, flying north around the tall trunks of the jungle trees. He now could see a hill and ridge curving down from the north and bending around to the east. The dinosaur that he had burned was now below him, and it tried futilely to leap up and bite at Szordrin's feet.

   "I meant, aim north, not go north!" protested Belvin.

   Back by the fallen tree, Sofi clung tightly to the back of the dinosaur she rode, as Solisar pummeled it with magic bursts from his wand, but it finally bucked Sofi from its back. She landed on the ground in a backwards somersault, then rolled horizontally to avoid a bite and kick in succession from the dinosaur that had tossed her and was then back to her feet with a rising handspring in a matter of moments.

   Another zombie deinonychus appeared from the east, flapping its diminutive wings and leaping onto the tree, trying to snap at Sif, who was still underneath its leafless branches. Kytharrah swung down from above and nearly cut its right wing off.

   "Your rebuke did not turn them, Hakam!" shouted Leokas, as he took out the raptor on the tree before it could attack his animal companion again. "They are still coming." He then dropped to his knees, turning his longbow sideways and releasing two shots past Solisar, under the fallen tree, past his wolf, and into the raptor facing Sofi. An arrow in each of its legs, the decaying dinosaur collapsed to the ground and did not move again.

   "If they are not undead, then what are they?" said Hakam.

   Meanwhile, as Szordrin hovered over another deinonychus beyond a large cluster of trees and bushes from the others, he felt like had inhaled a cloud of pollen and immediately sneezed, rising five feet into the air as he did so. With his peripheral vision, he saw Kytharrah walking north through the air to his right. Another dinosaur appeared out of the trees, and the minotaur brought down his axe again. It shrieked, dropped to its stomach, and then limped away into the bushes, leaving a trail of yellow and green upon the ground.

   For his part, Kytharrah could now see the hill that Szordrin had seen and what was set atop it, but he needed to help his friend first before he could explore. He rushed through the air toward Szordrin, when he suddenly inhaled a bunch of pollen and sneezed just as Szordrin had done moments earlier.

   Then they all heard Belvin shout out a warning. He had figured out what they were actually up against.

   "No time to explain! Cover your mouths!"
Session: 114th Game Session - Monday, Jul 13 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — The Rift
Sofi led them on a short hike through the jungle. They started off on her path, but then continued off it once it curved left to climb the hill. Since she was leading, they could not take advantage of Belvin's spell, and so the going was slower. Sofi, having not had any companionship for a long time was very talkative, but not in an overly bothersome way.

   She found herself next to Szordrin, as they were squeezing through some thick ferns. "I know that you were trying to read my mind earlier, by the way," she said. "There are other ways to find out what a woman is thinking, you know."

   Belvin, behind them on Kamil, laughed.

   "That probably just came out wrong," Sofi said.

   "I did not know if you were an adversary or an ally," said Szordrin. "We have been fooled in the past, so I had to be careful."

   While his master was speaking, Ferry scurried down his arm and into his hands.

   "I have said this already, but Ferry is so cute. Do you think that he would ride on my shoulders too?"

   "That is up to him."

   The little weasel hopped over to her without hesitation, and her face lit up with glee when he snuggled up against the back of her neck. Szordrin could feel that his familiar was quite enamored with the tiefling woman.

   "He is so soft!"

   Szordrin drifted behind a bit, as they pushed over the roots of tall trees, and Solisar was now walking beside her.

   "Solisar, please do not be offended at my noticing, but I think that your ears are longer than the other two elves'. I thought that all elves had the same length for ears."

   Solisar started to respond with a long history of his people — that is, the Tel-quessir — and the various subraces of elves and how they had separated, before he noticed that Kytharrah was looking very bored.

   "Forgive me for the long-winded answer!"

   "I do not mind," said Sofi, "though I probably will not remember all that."

   After scrambling up a rough slope, Sofi was next to Szordrin again.

   "Your eyes are interesting," she said to the wizard.

   He seemed a little taken aback.

   "Uh, that probably sounds odd too," she continued. "I mean to say, I like them. I am sorry! I am not very good at complementing people."

   "That is very kind of you," said Szordrin. "That is not how most people react." Then he added, somewhat awkwardly, "You have nice horns."

   "I know what you mean about your eyes," she said. "Bloods are always judgmental about my eyes as well."

   Kytharrah came up beside the two of them and began sniffing the air. Then he grinned and pushed up to the crest of the hill.

   "What can you lann me about yourself?" Sofi asked Szordrin.

   "What can I what?"

   "I am so sorry! What can you tell me about yourself, teach me about yourself? That was just another one of my Cager words."

   "What would you like to know?"

   "Do you know who your fiendish ancestor was?"

   "I am not certain, but I suspect that it was a rakshasa."

   "My great great great grandmother was a night hag." She looked down as if feeling guilty about something. "For a time, I tried to pass myself off as a cervidal, but this was deceptive and unbecoming of a follower of truth. Also, it did not work very well." She pointed at her wrapped ankles and bare feet. "No hooves."

   Both Szordrin and Solisar knew that cervidals were guardinals and that guardinals were to Elysium what archons were to the Celestia; they were celestial beings native to that Outer Plane of pure goodness. Cervidals, in particular, were very easily confused for satyrs.

   "The only thing that I know for certain about my history," said Szordrin, "is that one of my ancestors was an emperor."

   "Oh, wow," she replied.

   "One's ancestry does not make one who they are," said Solisar.

   Sofi nodded in agreement. "I think that I found the right group to bang around with."

   Szordrin chuckled, and Ferry made a little snorting sound, but Sofi did not seem to notice.

   "How did you end up choosing a life of isolation?" Szordrin asked her.

   Her face reddened a little. "Please do not be offended; it has nothing to do with you, but my story is embarrassing and sad and other things, and I do not think that I feel comfortable enough to share my story with you, since we only met just recently. But please, please, ask me again another time, and maybe I will not feel as uncomfortable about it then. I am sorry! It is just something that I do not like to remember anymore. I am sorry!"

   "Your story cannot be as embarrassing as mine," said Szordrin.

   She sensed his dishonesty but still gave him a little smirk, apparently understanding that his deception was to make her feel better.

   It took them about a half hour to reach the chasm.

   As she had described, the rift stretched far in both directions and was about 50 feet across at the narrowest point. It was at least as deep. At the bottom, there were several puddles, fallen trees and stone debris, and a few places where the bottom had fallen out completely to reveal white sky and clouds below.

   "Here we are," said Sofi, "What do you mark?"

   "We have seen your athletic ability;" said Solisar. "Why have you never crossed it?"

   She laughed at herself. "You probably did not recognize my lingo again, but before I answer your question, look around and see if you notice anything unusual."

   "There are fewer plants than normal at the base of the rift," said Hakam. "Could this be some sort of false bottom?"

   "I do not think so," she answered. She then lightly kicked a stone of the ledge, and they clearly saw it strike the ground below. "Also, when it rains, the bottom of the rift fills with water. It just has mostly evaporated now, being so late in the day."

   Across the rift were more trees and a number of birds flying around.

   Kytharrah began grunting and trying to communicate something. He pointed at one of the trees and began blowing.

   Sofi seemed to understand his pantomime and exclaimed, "Barmy! You are canny for a minotaur." She had spoken in her young-child voice, but then she addressed the others. "He noticed! It must be some sort of illusion. The wind on the other side is blowing the leaves of the trees the wrong way."

   "Whoa," said Belvin. He saw kapok trees on both sides, but the leaves were indeed blowing in different directions.

   Leokas looked frustrated that he had not noticed such an obvious flaw in the illusion. The wind always was blowing in an easterly direction, everywhere on Coliar, but across the chasm, it appeared to be blowing to the north.

   "I cannot see any magical auras," said Solisar, "but the illusory trees look like they might be too far back from the edge for my spell to reach."

   "Now, mark this," said Sofi. "See those birds?" She indicated a cluster of large birds warming themselves on a flat rock surface atop the largest boulder in the middle of the chasm. She picked up a stone and threw it toward the little flock. Belvin gasped, but she was not aiming directly for the birds. She aimed instead for a spot shy of any of them and struck the boulder itself south of the birds. They took to the air in fright out of the chasm to the north, but they all turned abruptly, banking sharply to the left and right in two separate groups, as if avoiding crashing into a high wall.

   "See, they sense the illusion. Barmy, is it not?"

   "Do animals naturally sense illusions?" asked Hakam.

   "Sometimes," said Belvin. "Kamil and Cloud could sense the specter in Chult long before any of us knew it was there."

   "They can sense undead then?" asked Hakam.

   "Only sometimes," the druid replied. "They never sensed the allip that put Oma into her nightmare-filled sleep."

   "Leokas, can you shoot an arrow at the barrier?" asked Hakam.

   The wood elf loosed an arrow, and they watched it glance off an invisible barrier.

   "This reminds me of Samber's island and its barrier," said Szordrin. "The weather differed on each side of the illusion that surrounded the whole island."

   Hakam agreed.

   "To answer your earlier question, Solisar," said Sofi, "I have never dared to cross the chasm alone. For all I know, a powerful spellslinger lies on the other side of the illusionary wall. But I admit that I am curious; I am game to explore if you are."

   "If you are at risk from a 'powerful spellslinger', why have you not moved to a different island?" asked Szordrin.

   "I have no transportation," she said.

   "It is very bold of you to live such a life," he replied, and she blushed a little.

   Hakam was fumbling with the pouch at his belt and removed a miniature war hammer fashioned from some black-colored stone. They had never seen him remove such a token before and watched with interest as he held the tiny hammer in his open palms and prayed in Alzhedo for about twenty seconds. Suddenly, the little hammer danced around in his palms and then was still. Hakam opened his eyes and looked into his hands. The hammer's haft was pointing directly in front of him.

   "I am sensing that we will be able to simply walk right through the barrier," said Hakam. "I am certain, at least, that I will be able to do so. If it is only I who can pass through, perhaps I can dispel the magic once we reach the other side."

   Szordrin was unconvinced. "Do you really think that with your kind of magic you could dispel my master's spells?"

   Hakam did not respond.

   "I am sure that I can climb down and up," said Sofi.

   Kytharrah turned to her. "Fly?"

   "You... can fly?" she replied.

   He reached back and began pulling out his hang glider from the magical sack hanging from his shoulders.

   "Oh, is that a lizardfolk glider? That would work. It sounds fun!"

   "Are you sure that you can land that on the other side?" Hakam asked their minotaur. "There is not a clear area to land."

   "One could catch the updraft over one of the gaps in the floor for the chasm," said Solisar, "and then drift down slowly instead of a quick dash across."

   "There is no need for the gliders," said Hakam. "I will just grant the minotaur the power to walk on air, and he can ferry all of us over."

   "That would probably be the fastest way for all of us," agreed Sofi. She then spoke to Kytharrah gently, "But I would love to ride on your glider with you sometime later. I have never glided before."

   Hakam used simple language to re-explain to Kytharrah how his air-walking spell would work, and then he prayed while clutching his holy symbol.

   With a person sitting comfortably on each bicep and holding onto a horn for support, Kytharrah walked over the chasm, carrying the rest of the party over in twos. He went back one final time to carry Kamil over his shoulders.

   Once on the other side, Solisar was now close enough to see the aura of the magical illusory field. It appeared to be a massive dome, glowing very strongly to his spell-enhanced eyes.

   "This is very powerful magic," he said.

   "Can you mark in the ground where the boundary begins?" asked Hakam.

   Solisar did so with his staff.

   Hakam slowly stuck his hand through the boundary. There was no resistance. Next, he slowly stepped forward. As soon as his eyes reached the gently curved magic barrier, a new scene flashed into his vision. It was still jungle, but it was not the same trees or the same underbrush, and the leaves were blowing the right way.

   To the others, Hakam had vanished. Seeing this, Kytharrah immediately jumped through as well and then back and forth a few times.

   Looking back, Hakam could still see the others. He called back, but they could not hear his voice. He stepped back through and reported.

   Despite the fact that Leokas' arrow had been reflected, none of their items seemed to have any issue in passing through the barrier as long as they were carried through. Sif, however, could not follow Leokas. She whined, and Leokas went back to get her. There was no resistance to his carrying her past the illusion. Belvin had ridden Belvin through without a problem.

   They were intrigued by the subtle "rules" of what the magic barrier allowed or did not allow. Szordrin asked Ferry to leave Sofi's shoulders and run back and forth through the barrier, and the little mustelid did not have the same trouble that Sif had had.

   "He is still hovering on air," said Hakam, indicating Kytharrah. "We are not within an antimagic field." Then he yelled up at the minotaur. "Come down from there."

   Within the barrier, they could hear the usual sounds of animal life, hidden away in the trees. Belvin told them to give him time, and he would try to learn what sort of animals were present. He began chanting and concentrating, his eyes closed. Every 20 seconds or so, he gave them an update. "There are no spinosaurs. There are no ceratosaurs. No triceratops. No pteranodons. No stegosaurs." Then he paused longer than normal. "We got some saurs. Tread lightly; we are in deinonychus country. I can sense at least sixteen raptors!"
Session: 114th Game Session - Monday, Jul 13 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Games with Sofi
Sofi finished eating her roots and then smiled at Kytharrah. "I think that I am ready to play some games with you now."

   Kytharrah nodded vigorously.

   "What game do you want to play first?"

   "Play!"

   "Do you like to jump?"

   More vigorous nodding.

   "Mark that flat rock over there that slopes up a bit? I often jump off it to go swimming. If we start from farther back, we can run real fast and try to jump across the lake to land on the sandy shore on the other side. Sometimes I can make it. Do you want to do that?"

   He gave his affirmation in his typical manner.

   She got up from her stone seat and led him to where they could start the run. "I think that it is 31 or 32 feet to get over the water," she told him. "I can go first, if that is good by you. Then you can watch how to do it."

   She ran and Kytharrah immediately recognized that she was far faster on her feet than any of his other friends, nearly twice as fast. Maybe she had magic shoes like him, but she was barefoot. She ran up the rock, and her feet left its surface at the very last inch of stone. She flew through the air and kicked her feet out first. Her heels struck the sand a full two feet beyond where the water ended, and she drove forward, feet first, sliding on her backside another yard and a half.

   After wiping the sand from the seat of her short trousers, she stepped aside and called out for Kytharrah to take his turn. He ran just as fast up the rock as she had, but his timing and form were not as good. He splashed into the shallow water, short of clearing it by four feet.

   "I win the first game," she said, playfully, "but you were still top shelf!"

   Kytharrah was grinning.

   "You run extremely fast; would you like to try a race next?"

   Kytharrah, not surprisingly, grinned more and nodded.

   She had Solisar draw a mark in the grass near the fire circle, and she showed Kytharrah a point well beyond where they had started running, a distance of about 100 yards, mostly straight. (It was obvious that Sofi had spent some time in the few months that she had lived here clearing some paths through the jungle around her lake.)

   Belvin gave a countdown, and they each sprang forward. For this dash, the two were neck and neck and crossed the long stick at the finish line almost simultaneously. She really was just as fast as him, even without magical shoes!

   "That counts as two wins for me and one win for you then," she said. "Why do we not see who can keep up the pace the longest for our third game? This trail curves around up ahead and then leads up the hill, over the stream, back down the hill, around the lake, over the stream again, and back to where the others are. It is about a quarter mile, in a big circle."

   When Belvin called out, "Go!" they launched into a fast run, though not a sprint. Once again, they matched pace with each other, and, for nearly a minute, neither one could pass the other. Then Kytharrah began to inch ahead. They had already made a full circle and were about to cross the log and reach the others a second time, when Sofi dropped to a jog suddenly. "You win this one," she said and then slowed to a stop. "I am in the dead-book; I cannot go any further."

   Kytharrah jogged over and scooped her up in his arms. (She was lighter than Hakam and heavier than Solisar.) Sofi laughed, almost giggled, as he carried her back to the campfire.

   "Now we are tied two to two," she said. "Shall we wrestle next? No nicking each other with our horns or your claws, but first one to pin the other wins."

   Once again, Belvin gave a countdown. Kytharrah reacted just an instant before Sofi, hopping backwards while simultaneously taking advantage of his much longer arms and swinging to grab her. His large paw caught her and tugged her in as if pulling her in for a big hug. Smothered against his chest, she did not stand much of a chance against his larger size. She was wiry, but he was able to pin her tightly in under five seconds.

   "Barmy!" she exclaimed after the minotaur released her. "You grabbed me before I could even think. I am not usually such a sod at wrestling, but my response time was terrible. You won fairly, but we shall have to have a rematch later, when I am not still tired from a run. You will not scrag me so easily next time!" She winked at him.

   Kytharrah took a defensive position. "Play?"

   "No, no, it will have to be later. I am sorry! I am just too tired now. Also, your friends want to see the rift before it rains. You won these games three to two, though. You are a canny cutter, Kytharrah!"
Session: 114th Game Session - Monday, Jul 13 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Epic!
Chapter 2 — Sofi
~ fourth-day, 28th of the sixth season, shrinking halflight
Kaw-chi-wee-tee-tee


Protecting themselves against the heat with wet cloths or magic, they left the goose lake and headed northeast into the jungle. Using Belvin's magic, they walked for about 20 minutes. Kytharrah heard and smelled a flowing stream up ahead, and Belvin let him go forward and scout a bit. After finding a log that was lying across the stream, he came back and pantomimed to the others the act of moving across a balance beam. They did not really understand what he meant, but they went forward together to see.

   Belvin and Leokas explained that the tree had naturally fallen, though not too long ago. Leokas found what appeared to be small, humanoid prints on the log from someone who was barefoot. Kytharrah sniffed them. "Smell Szordrin," he said.

   "Huh," said Belvin.

   "Some kind of fiend passed by here, perhaps," said Hakam.

   "Are these gnome footprints?" asked Solisar. "Was not Szordrin's master raised by gnomes?"

   "They are a little too large for gnome feet," said Leokas. "Gnomes are even smaller than halflings, but I suppose if it was a big-footed gnome,..."

   "If you are all willing to wait for me to perform the incantations," said Solisar, "I can search the area beyond with my arcane eye."

   Solisar removed a bit of bat fur from his spell component pouch and began a series of complex motions and utterances. In the meantime, the others refilled their water and looked around the area west of the stream. A short distance to the north was a small lake, which emptied into this stream.

   Suddenly, Solisar appeared to go into a trance or coma, as his natural eyes stopped functioning, and he began to see from a point distant from his body. He sent the visual sensor north along the stream to come out over the open lake. The lake was 50 or 60 feet across at its widest point. Beautiful cascading steps of short waterfalls tumbled down into it from a rocky hill to the northwest, flowing between two large boulders. There was a small beach and clearing on the west side of the lake and a larger beach and clearing on the east side.

   Solisar immediately saw the source of the smoke on the east side. There was a small circle of stones there with a hot bed of ash and charcoal, upon which was placed a tiny metal mug. A figure in white clothing was tending to the mug with a long stick. It was a petite and slender young woman, sitting on a small rock next to the firepit. She seemed human and was dressed in a simple, sleeveless, burlap tunic and trousers that went only just past her knees. Her wrists and ankles seemed bound in white cloth strips or bandages, and she was barefoot. Her head was covered in a tied-up cloth or towel, as if she had recently come from a bath.

   Solisar described what he was seeing to his companions. "She is also faintly glowing with a magical aura, but she does not appear to be armed."

   "Ilthian never had a magical aura, correct?" asked Hakam.

   "She did not, no, but Szordrin does."

   "As do Cassiera and Jayce," said Szordrin. "Any being with sorcerous powers does."

   Solisar continued concentrating on her for several moments. "The magic does not reveal any magic items on her person causing the aura; it is simply coming from her herself. Let me take my sensor closer to her."

   He zoomed the sensor right up over her little mug. She seemed to be boiling a few roots, a rather pitiful meal. He then looked up closely at the woman. She was pale and had a cute face, with a button nose and eyes that were a bit reddish-brown.

   "What are the colors of her eyebrows?" asked Szordrin. "For that will be the color of her hair."

   "They are brown," said Solisar. "Her eyes, however, are not typical for a normal human. They are very red."

   "She is likely of mixed blood, as am I," said Szordrin.

   "Yes," agreed Solisar, "red eyes are often present on those with a demon, devil, or night hag as an ancestor, though I could not tell you which in the present case. I have only read about red eyes; I have not seen any to compare the subtle differences. This is, of course, why Kytharrah thought that her feet smelled like yours, Szordrin."

   "We should approach carefully," said Hakam, "with cordiality, at least at first. Can we cut through the trees here to reveal ourselves on the opposite side of the lake from her?"

   This was done easily enough. Kytharrah pressed ahead of the others and into a small clearing of grass and sand west of the lake. He immediately saw the woman that Solisar had described on the other side.

   The woman sprang up, like a pouncing tiger, and spun around in the air to face him, landing perfectly on her toes in a defensive posture, like some of the persons Kytharrah had wrestled with in the past. She carried no weapon but the tiny stick with which she was tending the fire. She stared directly at the minotaur and seemed to be waiting for him to make the first move.

   Most humans stood on their feet, he thought, yet she was on her toes like him. Kytharrah gave her a little bow, similar to how a dog might bow when ready to play. Kytharrah was not the best at understanding human facial expressions, but her expression definitely changed in response.

   Hakam stepped forward out from behind a thick palm-like bush and spoke. He noted that the tongues spell that he had cast did not automatically change his words into another language; he spoke in Common, which implied that she did as well. "We come in peace!" he shouted over the sound of the nearby waterfalls.

   The woman shouted back. "I... stand on the other side of this lake... in peace!" They could not determine whether her tone was a strange accent or simply the result of uncertainty or fear.

   Szordrin was trying to sneak around the southern end of the lake to get close enough to her to read her thoughts. He stepped into the stream; it was only about three feet deep.

   Suddenly, the woman turned to look directly in Szordrin's direction. The trees were still blocking their line of sight to each other, but the others, now moving fully into her view, could see her trying to spot the one she could somehow sense hiding in the foliage. Szordrin could read nothing at all of the thoughts in her mind.

   "We are only seeking information," Hakam shouted over the water. "We would like to show you a receipt for the purchase of a magical item." He held the copy of the document in his hand and waved it. "A rod used for interplanar travel."

   "Do I look dangerous?" she called back.

   "We did not want to come upon you suddenly and surprise you," said Solisar.

   "These are dangerous parts of the multiverse," said Hakam. "We always favor caution."

   "I cannot see that paper from here, but I suppose you could come over here and we can wigwag."

   Kytharrah did not waste any time in making his way over. He climbed up the nearby ledge to the north and bounded in two big leaps across the two large boulders at the base of falls and then landed on the other shore. She hopped back a yard and turned to face the minotaur who stood two and a half feet taller than she. She still looked somewhat confused and nervous.

   "Let us cross the lake, Kamil," said Belvin, but Kamil made grunting noises. The water looked too deep for his camel to easily ford across. "Fine, we shall go around it. Wait for me," he called to the others, who were already taking the longer route, back through the bushes, over the tree log, and through the thick trees to reach her clearing.

   Kytharrah tried to give the woman a friendly grin, while he waited for the others, but she stepped back another yard from him.

   "Kytharrah, no playing!" shouted Hakam.

   Hearing the group approaching from the south and flanking her, she adjusted her posture once again. She did not look away from the minotaur, but she was clearly aware of where each of the others were as well.

   Kytharrah came up and plopped himself right down by the firepit. He pulled out his everburning torch and held it up proudly for her to see.

   She smiled and, for the first time, did not seem frightened by him.

   "You may call me Sofi?" she stated, though it sounded more like a question. He partly extended her hand to shake his paw, but then rethought this and pulled it back.

   "Unlike our minotaur friend," said Solisar, approaching her firepit slowly, "we could not make the jump across those rocks and had to take the long route. His name is Kytharrah, 'Friendly Red Beast' in my native tongue. I am Solisar Keryth."

   Then he spoke to Kytharrah. "Kytharrah, come join us over here on this side of her, so that she is not surrounded." The minotaur obeyed. Her posture seemed to relax a bit. She stood on her feet now, for one, instead of on her toes.

   The others stood in an arc, and no one said anything for an awkward moment. The woman stood just under five-and-a-half feet tall. Her bare arms looked quite muscular. She reminded them, in terms of her general build, of Loreene, in prime physical condition, all muscle, though Loreene was much taller. Hakam noted that she gave off no chaotic aura that his special blessing from Anachtyr would reveal.

   Then the woman who called herself Sofi shook her head, as if snapping herself out of a daze. "Forgive me for my silence;" she said. "I have not seen other bloods in a long time. Uh, welcome to my... well, it is not really my case, just a place where I call kip, but it is where I am currently finding peace."

   She had a strange accent and lingo that none of them could place, nor did Szordrin or Hakam's spells provide anything more than the literal meaning of such words as "bloods" or "case".

   Hakam again brought out the receipt copy from the Interlink Consortium. He handed it to her. "We are looking for the purchaser of this item. Is it you?"

   She quickly shook her head. "No. No. It was not me. I did not even know the number of this island. You are looking at all my possessions now, mark." She held her arms wide. "I have nothing." She handed back the receipt. "I do not know any of the names on that paper."

   "Perhaps you can still help us," said Hakam, taking back the paper.

   "I do not have much to offer you in the way of hospitality," she said quickly, before Hakam could continue, "no bub or anything, only water, but please feel free to set your things down and rest your backs and feet a bit." She sat back down on her rock. "This weather is hot; you are welcome to bathe in the the pond; the water is cool and fresh. I am boiling some roots that I found. I am happy to share them with you." She spoke rapidly and awkwardly, as if she was not used to carrying on conversation with others and did not know the proper things to say.

   "Impressive survival skills," noted Leokas.

   "Thank you for your hospitality," said Hakam, "but it looks like you barely have enough to feed yourself. We have more than enough of our own rations."

   Kytharrah handed her some of his own rations to share.

   "Thank you, 'Friendly Red Beast', but may I ask what that is, first? I have a... sensitive diet."

   Kytharrah shrugged, having no idea what it was that he was actually eating. "Food?"

   Hakam explained that it was salbread, a bread made by halflings and favored by wildspace sailors. It lasted for many tendays. "It has a citrus flavor," he added.

   She took the biscuit from Kytharrah and tasted it. She smiled and looked at it more closely. "This is top-shelf!" she said. "I apologize for asking about it, but I have to be very careful. I cannot accept meat, as it is dead flesh, which I have promised never to touch." She ate the biscuit happily but slowly. She did not consume it like someone ravenously hungry or underfed, though the meager meal that she was cooking in her mug would have suggested otherwise.

   "Oh!" she said suddenly, remembering something. "Forgive my appearance; I have just come from washing my hair." She raised her hand to the towel there as if to remove it and then paused, before dropping her hand again as if changing her mind.

   "How long have you lived here on this island?" asked Solisar.

   "Yes," said Hakam. "The shipment of the item on the receipt that I showed you was made to this very island, five years ago. Were you here at that time?"

   "I was in Coliar at that time," she replied, "but I have only been on this island... a few months? Well, they call them 'seasons' here."

   Belvin leaned forward and peeked into her mug. "Cassava?" he asked.

   "The plant has leaves in sets of three," she said. "I do not know its name."

   "Cassava," Belvin repeated, "a good source of sugar. Sometimes, they have sets of seven or nine leaves instead. They cook better if you sear them on the coals first before boiling them."

   "I shall have to try that next time. Thank you."

   "Have you noticed signs of any previous occupants on this island?" asked Hakam, trying to keep the group on task.

   "I have only been on this island for a few seasons;" she repeated. "I move from place to place, as I do not believe that I am permitted to settle down any one place for too long. I have never seen another person here, just lizards and birds like all the other islands; however, there is something very strange here."

   She continued. "About a half mile from here, north, there is a chasm or gorge. It seems as if the island is slowly breaking in two at that point. I have explored everything on this side of the chasm, but I have never crossed it to the other side. If you wish to come with me later, I can show you why. You can rest here and we can hike there later."

   "Excuse me," said Szordrin, who had been silent for the conversation so far and still appeared as his old master. "Do not be alarmed, but my current appearance is actually an illusion, and the spell is about to fade. It is nothing to be worried about."

   "Oh," she said, sounding confused once again. "Okay."

   Szordrin's form shifted, gaining height and losing years and weight.

   She tilted her head and looked at him intently, taking his face in — too intently, enough to make Szordrin feel uncomfortable.

   "Nice to meet you,... well, the real you." She looked away from him and at the others. "Actually, I have only met Solisar and Friendly Red Beast by name. What are the rest of your names? I was so peery that I forgot to ask."

   The others gave their names in turn. Szordrin was the last to give his, and she looked at him again and smiled shyly at him.

   "You and I might have more in common than I at first thought, Szordrin," she said. She raised her hand again to her towel. "Forgive me, sometimes my appearance can be off-putting to visitors on other worlds, but I do not think that I will have that problem with you."

   She let loose the towel. Her shoulder-length brown hair tumbled down. The act also revealed a pair of goat-like white horns sprouting from the top of her forehead and curling backwards.

   Kytharrah bounced up and down with excitement and grinned widely.

   She smiled back at him. "Yes, I have horns, just like you!" She had gathered by now that Kytharrah was much like a child in manner, and her tone to him was now different than it was to the others.

   Kytharrah could no longer hold back and forgot Hakam's earlier order. "Play?"

   "It would be rude to my other guests to play without ensuring that everyone is first comfortable," she said gently, "but I would be happy to play with you later!"

   She looked back at the others now and shrugged. "So, this is me."

   "Yes," said Hakam, still pursuing his goal, "we would indeed be interested in seeing this other side of the island. However, we are content for you to finish your meal first."

   "Are you sure that you do not want to share?" she asked again.

   Kytharrah was happy to sample a little bite.

   "So, what is your ride?" she asked tentatively, seeming uncomfortable with the awkward silence while she finished her last of the two roots.

   "What? My ride?" said Belvin. "Kamil is a camel."

   She shook her head. "I am so sorry. Ignore my Cager lingo. Why are you here? Why did you come to this of all islands? Is it simply because of this receipt? Why is the delivery of this item so important to you? Cutters do not come to Coliar often."

   Hakam elaborated a bit further. "The item is connected to a foe of ours whom we have been tracking."

   "May I ask what sort of foe? None of you are evil, so I presume that your foe is."

   Szordrin answered, "The rod is connected to the murder of my former master."

   She looked at Szordrin with genuine compassion. "I am so sorry to hear that!"

   "Moreover," said Hakam, "The gods have informed me that Szordrin's master was connected to another man who is a great danger to everyone."

   "So," clarified Belvin, "our quest is a bit of a personal vendetta, but also something much greater."

   She nodded with a somber look on her face. "I mark that," she said. Then she took a final bite of her cassava root before asking, "Where is your kip?"

   "Pardon our ignorance," said Hakam, "but we do not know what the word 'kip' means."

   She blushed and looked down. "Oh right, again. Sorry! Uh, your case? Ugh! Your home? Where are you from? I am not very good with talking to people; I do not see them very often."

   "We are all from the planet Toril," said Hakam.

   "I am from the city of Sigil. I assume that you have heard of it?"

   Szordrin and Solisar had at least heard of Sigil. It was the legendary city supposedly at the very center of the multiverse, if such a statement meant anything at all. There was no shortage of sages and scholars who balked at such an idea, but here was a woman claiming to live there, so at least the existence of the place seemed true. Solisar knew that it was said to float at the top of a great spire in the center of the Outlands, the neutral Outer Plane that connected, cosmologically, if not literally, to all of the other Outer Planes and the realms of the many gods.

   "I know of it, yes," said Solisar. "Is it true that the city is ruled by the Lady of Pain?"

   "It is true," she said.

   The Lady of Pain was one of the most enigmatic characters of the known multiverse. She was not a goddess; she seemed to have no worshipers and granted no divine spells, but her power seemed comparable to that of many of the gods. In fact, she had somehow banned all deities from her city. It was impossible for the powers to enter Sigil at all, and lesser beings, mortal and immortal alike, could only enter — or exit — the city through established portals.

   It was not surprising to find a tiefling from Sigil. Sigil was to the multiverse what the Rock of Bral was to wildspace — one was likely to find all manner of planar diversity there.

   "Why have you moved around so much from place to place?" asked Szordrin.

   "Well...," she started. "It is complicated." Then a pause. "I am a follower of Pistis Sophia. I have forsworn all worldly possessions in exchange for her guidance in turning to the light."

   "She is one of the ruling archons, is she not?" said Hakam.

   Sofi nodded. "I believe so. Although, to be honest, I have not tumbled to much more than that about her."

   "What is an archon?" asked Leokas.

   "They are the lawful and noble residents of the the Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia," explained Hakam. "Many are in the service of Anachtyr and other noble gods, and he has even granted me the power to summon some of their lesser varieties. However, the archons as a whole are ruled by the most powerful of their several orders, the tome archons, or archon paragons. Every paragon archon is a unique being. Pistis Sophia is the ruler of the Fourth Heaven. The gods have their own realms, and she has no power over their domains, but the archons of the Fourth Heaven are her subjects. She is called 'the Ascetic' by the writings of my church."

   "It is true," said Sofi, "and I seek to follow in her steps." She held up the cloth that she had formerly worn around her head. "I am not even supposed to own this towel, but I have this... quirk where I cannot bear the feeling of wet hair on my forehead if the rest of me is dry. Does that make sense to any of you?"

   They stared at her blankly, but Kytharrah nodded to encourage her.

   She shrugged. "I did not think that it would." She looked defeated momentarily but then perked up again. "I also use it as a belt, but my pants stay on just fine, so I know that that is a weak excuse. I hope that she is forgiving of this one luxury. Okay, I also own my metal mug here. So, she has to forgive me two things. Three strikes before you are out, right? I think that I heard someone say that on Sigil once. I have no idea what it references. Do you know? Help! I am rambling." She blushed again.

   "It is good that you have chosen to live your life in alignment with the law," said Hakam.

   "Well, I am trying to," she said. "I am far from perfect. I admit that I have a barmy temper, but I take no joy in that; I hate it. Anyhow, can we talk about someone else's faults now?" She laughed a little.

   When no one else immediately volunteered any personal flaws, she turned back to Szordrin, who had originally asked her about why she moved about. "To answer your question more fully, Szordrin, my vows forbid me to claim any permanent shelter as my own. The ground by this pond is soft. The weather here is always warm, so I do not get cold. I do not mind the rain and find it refreshing." She paused again, and then mumbled something about not minding her hair being wet if the rest of her body was also wet and how, admittedly, this quirk made no sense at all. "Nevermind!"

   "Have you traveled to any of the other islands?" asked Solisar.

   "I was originally dropped off in Coliar by an astraljammer," she replied. "They check in on me every year or so, and I have them drop me off at a new island when they do, to scan what Pistis Sophia has to teach me in a new place."

   "An astraljammer?" asked Belvin.

   "Spelljammers for traveling the Astral Plane," explained Solisar. He then asked the others, "That is what the neogi were after, was it not?"

   "One travels through the Astral Plane whenever he uses teleportation magic of any kind," said Hakam. "Why would a ship be needed?"

   "Yes," Solisar replied, "but if you want to travel within the gravity-less void of the Astral Plane itself, having a vessel in which to do so is most useful."

   "Did you choose this island at random?" asked Hakam. "Or where there any signatures from the Astral Plane that led you here?"

   "I came to Coliar, at first seeking a place of great isolation, where I could meditate. I believe that I have been guided to each specific island by my patron, for whatever reasons she may have." She then added. "As you must know, there are hundreds of thousands of islands in Coliar. It is exceptionally rare to 'accidentally' run into another person here, unless on one of the port islands or its immediate neighbors in the same jet stream. And the fact that this island has this 'strange thing' that I want to show you — I am beginning to think that I was correct that it was her will to place me on this very island. I do not know why I am here, yet I know that it is ordained."

   Hakam nodded. "It is indeed the will of the gods," he asserted. "They have been guiding us, too, on our journey."

   Szordrin verbally agreed, which caused several of his companions to look at him in surprise, as he had never spoken highly of the powers in the past.

   He also whispered something to Ferry, and the weasel scurried down his arm and over to her lap.

   Belvin rolled his eyes at this, but Sofi's red eyes grew wide. "You the cutest ever!" she said to Ferry, as she stroked his downy fur.

   After she had doted on the little mustelid for several minutes, Belvin led Kamil over to her. She patted the camel's nose cautiously.

   Ferry came back to Szordrin and reported that he very much approved of Sofi and that yes, Kytharrah was correct; her feet did indeed smell like his.
Session: 113th Game Session - Friday, Jun 26 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Epic!
Chapter 2 — Faux and Geese
Hakam gingerly poked his head around a tree to look upon the fallen beast. His spiritual sword and hammer hovered over the dinosaur but did not make any attempt to strike it.

   "It is dead," he called back to the others.

   "Move your poisoned dagger away," Belvin called up to Szordrin while dismounting. "I am going to get its skull."

   Szordrin flew down and retracted his dagger from the ground, then poked the dinosaur in the side. It did not stir.

   "How do you expect to carry that skull?" asked Solisar. "It would not even fit in a bag of holding!"

~~~~

It was less than a hour more of jungle travel to reach the edge of this island. Their campsite was not quite as convenient this time, because of the crowding of the trees, but they made do.

   They sat around a fire in the last hour before the rains and ate their dinner, which included dinosaur meat.

   "You know," said Belvin, "these past few days with lizard people and lizard things reminded me of Yash's vision for us."

   "Which one?" asked Szordrin.

   "The one about three dinosaurs around a jungle pool, who do not see a dark cloud approaching."

   "If I recall correctly," said Solisar, "it was not three dinosaurs. It was a dinosaur, a chameleon, and a crocodile."

   "All jungle reptiles, however," said Belvin, "...such as here on Coliar."

   "Is not this the prophecy that you had already seen?" asked Hakam.

   Belvin shrugged.

   "If not, it certainly would not be shocking to see the prophecy fulfilled here somewhere," said Hakam. "In any case, let us know if you recognize any pools."

~~~~

They passed another short Coliar night and waited as the day grew brighter and hotter, until once again it was time for their third and final jump to reach Kaw-chi-wee-tee-tee.

   "Are we expecting Onran to be on this next island?" asked Leokas. "As a powerful wizard, could he have faked his death?"

   Szordrin had also secretly been hoping that this was true. Surely, Onran, being a great magician, had the means to do so, but he did not want to appear to the others to hold to such a faint hope.

   "I am concerned that he might have set up defenses on the island," said Hakam.

   "Such as an invisible wall to block people like us from simply gliding down to it?" asked Solisar. "The thought also crossed my mind. Did you actually see him die?" This last question was to Szordrin.

   "I found his body," said the tiefling.

   "But we know that Samber can jump bodies," said Hakam, "and Jayce told us that Onran taught Samber some of his magic. Perhaps Onran did the same."

   "Onran was an aasimar;" said Szordrin, "he was naturally good. It is unlikely that he would have shifted bodies for personal gain."

   "He was being threatened with death," said Hakam. "Maybe it was his last chance to escape. Samber did not want to jump bodies either, but presumably, he had to to escape the mummy's prison."

   Belvin was already in pteranodon form with Kamil miniaturized. It was time to jump.

   As they approached this roughly circular island from the air, they observed that it had a deeper underside than the last two islands, and it seems to have more ponds and lakes. They soon recognized that it also had a much nicer spot to land, a lake near the edge, free — for the most part — from trees surrounding it. Solisar, thankfully, saw no aura of invisible defenses with his magic vision, not that he would have had time to warn the others if he had, as they were moving at too quick a velocity for that. Fearing an aquatic dinosaur in its waters, they guided their gliders above the lake and used feather-falling magic to break in the air and land on the opposite shore.

   The lake, however, was covered in swimming birds, similar to the ducks and geese with which they were familiar on Toril. These scattered from the area in crowded clouds of wings and feathers, as the gliders passed by. The shore itself was covered in goose droppings. "Stinky," said Kytharrah, who, as usual, immediately took in the smells of his new environment.

   No one had any issues landing this time, and they began to pack up their gliders or transform back into humanoid form.

   Besides the water birds, there were many flocks in the sky moving from cluster of trees to cluster of trees.

   Hakam and Solisar, when nearing the island, had each seen some smoke rising from somewhere in the northeast, probably less than a mile away, and they made sure that everyone was aware of it.

   Belvin carefully approached one of the geese-like birds. It seemed to sense that he meant no harm, and then Belvin started honking, cackling, and clucking. It honked right back.

   The druid called back to the cleric. "Hakam, what do you want me to ask her?"

   "Ask if the birds have seen any other creatures that look like us," said Hakam.

   Belvin honked and then gave the translation of the goose's reply. "She says that there is indeed one tall, white-feathered creature that walks like us but cannot fly."

   "Can they point us to this person?" asked Hakam.

   The bird indicated that the creature was to the northeast, the same direction as the small strand of smoke.

   "What hair color does this person have?" asked Szordrin.

   The goose described some off-white feathers as well, but Belvin did not think that the bird was distinguishing feathers from fur, clothing, or hair. "Remember, she is a bird," he said.

   "Onran's hair was white, when I knew him," said Szordrin, and he began to remove his mithral vest. They all wondered what he was doing, as he also took a tiny rolled up piece of parchment from his spell component pouch. The wizard muttered a few words, and his body shortened to five and a half feet tall and appeared to gain a little weight. His hair grew white and his yellow cat eyes turned more golden, almost glowing, and the pupils rounded. The hair and beard stayed rather similar.

   "This was Onran," said Szordrin's voice. "Ask the hen if she recognizes me now."

   "She is a goose, not a hen;" corrected Belvin. "The word 'goose' is already feminine. The males are ganders. Nevertheless, I shall ask her."

   Belvin honked at the water bird, and she cackled back.

   "She says that we all look alike to her," reported Belvin, "but she thinks that you have too many non-white feathers to be whom she saw from the sky."

   Belvin then tried to ask the bird if she had seen any structures, though it seemed to take him a while to explain to the simple creature what a structure even was. He tried ideas of unnatural shapes or extremely large square nests. While not sure that he had communicated the idea clearly to her, she did not seem to have seen any such thing as a "structure" on the island.

   "Do the birds recognize anything strange below the water?" asked Hakam. "Any lights, sparkling surfaces, things that are not rocks?"

   They had seen no such things under the water, just the plants and swimming amphibians and reptiles that they ate.

   Belvin asked if they had any natural predators, and he learned that they did not in this area. They migrated from island to island, and this island was where they came to raise their young.

   "Have any aarakocra landed here?" asked Solisar.

   None had in the bird's memory. "But she is only four years old," said Belvin.

   "I think that we have learned what we can from this goose," said Hakam. "Let us finish packing up the gliders and walk to where we saw the smoke."
Session: 113th Game Session - Friday, Jun 26 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Spinosaurus vs. Triceratops
The gargantuan predator brought its long head close to the ground, almost touching it, and opened its tooth-filled mouth wide to emit a deep and deafening bellow.

   Kytharrah felt the otherworldly howl deep in his bones. Nevertheless, he just shook it off, grabbed his axe, and readied himself.

   The triceratops, too, was unfazed by the larger dinosaur's roar. It simply kept on strolling calmly after its mate, which had disappeared into the tree cover to the north.

   Leokas rushed south through the trees and climbed up over the embankment. He passed Solisar, who waved a wand and sent a pulse of magic zipping through the trees to slam into the bony crest along the massive dinosaur's snout.

   From the air, two rays of fire blasted forth from Szordrin's hands. Each struck the dinosaur. It called out, took one long stride, and chomped down on the triceratops' hindquarters. The long conical teeth of the predator easily punctured the thick, scaled skin of the triceratops.

   The triceratops cried out, at last freed from the power of Hakam's calming enchantment, and began to run, but the other dinosaur lifted its back half completely off the ground, so that only the triceratops' front feet were making contact with the earth. Its rear legs moved about uselessly.

   From the top of the embankment, Leokas could easily see the tail of the giant dinosaur. It was finned and shark like. He began unleashing arrows.

   The attacking dinosaur growled and twitched as arrow after arrow plunged into its hide, followed by numerous magic missiles from Solisar's wand.

   The triceratops shook its hips and fell from the bigger dinosaur's mouth. It spun quickly around to face its attacker and lunged forward, raising its thick neck and driving its two long horns into the other beast's chest, just between its arms.

   As the dinosaurs battled just outside the cover of the trees, Hakam laid his hands on Kytharrah to enhance the protectiveness of his armor, while Belvin called out a powerful enchantment to boost the range of his companions' weapons.

   The carnivore, three arrows embedded in its lower body and burned and bleeding, twisted its head around to grab at its dinner's neck. The triceratops instinctively defended itself by lifting its head back to protect the vulnerable spot with its bony frill and knocking the bigger beast's head to the side, where it clamped down instead on the arch of the triceratops' back. The wounded triceratops bucked and yanked free, but the predator also slashed and gashed with its long thumb-claws, cutting deep into the triceratops' bulky side.

   Kytharrah dropped his axe and reached for his minotaur-sized bow, joining Leokas at launching projectiles at the dinosaur, though not as rapidly, of course. A gust of wind, triggered by Belvin's magic, guided the shot into the back of the beast's neck.

   Szordrin drew his new dagger of venom from its sheath and tossed it through the air. Another rush of wind kept the blade spinning through the air, but the throw fell short, and the dagger drove into the ground at the four-toed foot of the towering monster.

   The triceratops bellowed and gored its foe once again, this time severely wounding the larger creature in the neck. It then tried to back up into the shelter of the trees, but the other dinosaur was faster. It stepped to the side, ignoring its own wounds and bit down once again. This time, it used its clawed hands and its bite together to press its prey to lie flat on the ground with the force of its weight behind it. The triceratops let out a shriek. It was pinned, prone, and helpless.

   A mystical sword and hammer appeared in the air on each side of the upright reptile. The hammer missed, but the sword swung down on the back of the creature's neck. The magical force burst a major vessel, and blood spurted. The dinosaur growled and raised its head, swinging it over rapidly to snap at the strange flying thing that had harmed it. As its head turned, Leokas saw the perfect shot. His wind-guided arrow struck the dinosaur in the left eye and burst out on the other side. The huge reptilian body flopped over lifeless and slammed into the ground. The triceratops got up and fled away from the clearing.
Session: 113th Game Session - Friday, Jun 26 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Epic!
Chapter 2 — Stampede!
~ third-day, 27th of the sixth season, shrinking halflight
Chi-wee-wee-seh-kaw


Belvin, in the lead, saw a clearing up ahead through the thick trees. They seemed to be walking parallel now to an embankment or short earthen cliff about ten feet high. Leokas estimated that they have come about four and a half miles since landing.

   They cautiously approached the clearing. There had been clearings here and there on the last island, but this one was particularly wide, about 30 feet across. Leokas knelt down and looked at the ground. It was covered in leaves, broken branches, and dried mud. "There are countless animal tracks here," said Leokas, "going in all directions, ground birds and lizards of course, but many of them are very large, dinosaurs perhaps, like in Chult. The leaves and sticks have been ground down, trampled under heavy weight."

   Kytharrah sniffed some of the tracks. "New," he said.

   Leokas agreed. "Yes, there are no puddles in them, so these here are from this morning, unlike those there."

   Szordrin looked around the area for traps and was convinced that the area was clear. Belvin believed that the clearing was the meeting place of animals. It seemed like a wide natural "highway" led down over the embankment coming from the south to end here in the clearing.

   "The trail is leading perpendicular to the way we want to go," said Leokas. "Let us just cross and continue on."

   Kytharrah began to move over to the embankment to take a peek over it.

   Just then, everyone heard the sound of crunching leaves and branches approaching rapidly from the south. Leokas, with his elvish hearing, noticed the sound first and quickly darted out of the clearing back into the cover of the trees. "Incoming!" he shouted in warning, as he unslung his magic bow.

   With a cloud of feathers and dust, a small flock of very large and tall birds rushed over the embankment. They looked something like the running birds that some of them had seen in Chult called ostriches. These birds had similar long legs for high-speed running and small vestigial wings, but they had bulkier legs and bodies and shorter necks than ostriches. Even so, they were still taller than Kytharrah. The birds' beaks were large and thick and curved to two sharp points at the top and the bottom, looking almost like a hatchet or throwing axe in shape.

   These "axebeaks" ran off the embankment at a speed of close to perhaps 40 miles per hour. Six of the seven birds landed on the ground in the clearing with a flutter of their small wings and kept right on running. The sixth stumbled and fell flat with a squawk.

   Belvin had barely spun around to the sound of the approaching birds just in time to see one of them coming straight at him. He sprung out of the way just in time, as the terrified bird charged past.

   Likewise, another of the birds nearly missed crashing into Kytharrah as it darted by. The same bird slowed down at bit as it saw its path was blocked by Kamil. It squawked loudly, and the camel turned and bolted, and the bird followed right after him. Kamil veered into the trees out of the path of the charging bird, which kept on running.

   "Kamil! Wait!" shouted Belvin.

   Kytharrah reached the embankment and stepped up enough to peek up over the edge for a one-second glance, as the fallen bird got back up on its feet and began to run after its flockmates. The minotaur saw two gigantic animals running full speed down the wide path towards them. They were only 50 to 100 feet away and rapidly approaching. He could feel the rumble of their footfalls shaking the ground. He had never seen creatures anything like them before. They ran on four thick legs, which looked somewhat like the legs of the magic elephant that Hakam sometimes summoned from the marble figurine, but their heads were completely different. They had three massive horns. Two long and twisted horns jutted from the back of their heads, and another grew from their beaked snouts. The skulls were shaped something like a shield, or like the dragon Sseth's head, with a thick bony ridge extending in the back. Also, instead of wrinkly gray skin like the elephant, these two creatures seemed to have dusky scales.

   The two animals were also charging. Though not as fast as the running birds, they were sure to reach the embankment in seconds.

   Kytharrah spun around with a snort, swung out his long arm and grabbed Belvin and yanked him back into the woods with him out of the clearing.

   Szordrin also moved into the shelter of the trees, nearly tripping on all the roots and vines now present, since Belvin was no longer in front of him. With a wave of a wand, multiple copies of his form appeared. Deeper in the woods, numerous Solisars also materialized.

   Belvin sprung from root to root toward his camel, who had obeyed him and stopped, and mounted his animal companion.

   Hakam, seeing their minotaur peek over the embankment and respond by moving deeper into the trees, raised his holy symbol toward the earthen slope and waited. Leokas, ten yards north of him, nocked three arrows simultaneous, an arrow between each of his fingers, and also waited a brief moment to see what was coming over the ridge. "Heel!" he commanded Sif, and she obeyed.

   The ground rumbled loudly enough for everyone to hear and feel now. The birds continued fleeing, and most of them had made it across the clearing and into the trees at the other end. A second later, the two bulky, three-horned, quadrupedal dinosaurs came into view at the top of the embankment.

   "Be calm!" Hakam shouted.

   The nearest of the triceratops continued running at full gallop and came crashing down the embankment. It landed on its four massive, multihooved feet and kept on running. Its companion, however, suddenly stopped its gallop, but its forward momentum caused it to skid through the soil and off the edge. It slid down the steep slope and thudded on its stomach.

   Leokas recognized the beasts as ytepka in Chultan and knew them to be herbivores — Yashiera had kept a miniaturized one as a pet — but acting on reflex, he released the bowstring but managed to hold on to two of the arrows between his fingers. The stray missile struck the charging dinosaur and glanced of its head armor harmlessly.

   Solisar, suspecting that there was a still-larger dinosaur coming, cast a spell to boost his speed.

   Kytharrah hustled over to the embankment again and took a second peek, as the still-rampaging triceratops entered the trees at the end of the clearing, followed by squawking from the axebeaks at the rear of the retreating flock. The minotaur saw yet another creature running down the wide path, this one even bigger than the previous two but running on two powerful hind legs. It was sort of like a bird in shape to Kytharrah, and even had some patches of green feathers on its upper torso among its gray, scaled skin, but it had two short arms with long claws instead of wings. Its head and long jaw reminded him of the crocodile that Belvin could transform into with his magic trick. On the creature's back was something that reminded him of the sail of some of the spelljammers that he saw while working at the Rock of Bral.

   As intrigued as he was by this half-second view over the edge, the monster was enormous, three times his own height, definitely large enough to swallow even a big minotaur like him, and it was running even faster than the other two beasts. He sprung back away from the embankment and began to back away again into the tree cover, grunting and gesturing to the others to move deeper into the woods.

   Clutching a tiny feather from his pouch, Szordrin and his duplicate figments magically rose into the air several yards up to get a better view. To the right, he saw Belvin struggling to guide Kamil over thick roots and vines, and to the left, he saw the other triceratops standing back up. Then he saw the bigger dinosaur come into view, sprinting along the path above the embankment. It was bigger even than the ceratosaur that had nearly killed Belvin a year ago.

   "A tyrannosaur with a sail on its back is coming!" he yelled down.

   Belvin reared Kamil and turned back on his mount, prepared to cast a druidic spell. Leokas heard Szordrin's warning and retreated farther west with Sif struggling to keep up with her master. Solisar, and his many copies, all magically sped up, likewise moved quickly through the bushes away from the clearing.

   The remaining triceratops, oblivious to the threat only seconds away from coming over the embankment, trotted calmly over to Kytharrah at the edge of the clearing and sniffed deeply through the two giant nostrils on the side of its beaked snout just under its central horn.

   Kytharrah waved his arms frantically at the friendly beast, trying to get it to follow after its mate. "Go! Go!"

   It turned away from the minotaur, and immediately the pursuing dinosaur came over the embankment in a single long step.

   Belvin screamed out something in Druidic, but it was not clear what magic, if any, had occurred. Szordrin rose higher into the air at an angle, while clutching a tiny glass rod and a bit of fur. Kytharrah backed into the woods even further, dragging Hakam along with him and then shoving the cleric ahead so that he was between the human and the new big monster.

   The dinosaur turned toward the meal that it had been pursuing, which strangely had no fear and simply strolled along. Before it could swing its thick neck down for a bite, there was a blinding flash, followed by a thunder clap, as a bolt of lightning shot forth from Szordrin's fingertips. The dinosaur convulsed from the electrical shock but then shook its head, as if shaking off some minor nuisance.

   Lowering itself onto all fours, it arched its back like a cat trying to look intimidating. Doing so caused its feathers to jut out and the fin of skin on its back to tighten and expand as the spines supporting it stood rigid.

   The gargantuan predator brought its long head close to the ground, almost touching it, and opened its tooth-filled mouth wide to emit a deep and deafening bellow....
Session: 112th Game Session - Monday, Jun 22 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Jungle Journeying Without the Sun
~ second-day, 26th of the sixth season, growing quarterlight
Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi


Dawn came to the floating island numbered 0-0-4-6-2. The short night had passed without any major incidents. When the two sylvan elves were on first watch, they had heard high-pitched sounds being emitted by some flying creatures high up in the trees. Knowing that no mammals lived in Coliar, they discussed the idea that perhaps some lizard or bird species in this planet had also evolved the bat's power of echolocation. When Solisar and Kytharrah were on second watch, during the darkest hours of the starless night, they had noticed strange glowing lights on the trunks of the trees that moved slowly up, high into the canopy, but the phosphorescent lights did not set off Solisar's magical alarm, and they did not risk investigating this observation further.

   While Belvin and Hakam prayed for power from their respective gods, the birds of the jungle sang in joy at a new day from high above their heads at the top of the canopy. Szordrin packed up his hammock, Kytharrah and Leokas rolled up their beds, and Solisar climbed down the rope from the extradimensional space.

   Solisar reminded them about their timeline. "Postmaster Spiraldive said that the islands would be eclipsed at roughly brightest light on the 27th of the sixth season. Today is the 26th, so we have more than 30 hours until then, and we would need to wait at least five hours beyond that for the second, lower island to get far enough away for a safe descent down to it."

   "So we still have nine or ten miles to go in well over 30 hours," said Hakam. "That should not be a problem."

   "I am certain that Belvin and I could make three miles per hour in jungle," said Leokas, "but I am guessing that the rest of you would find it difficult to traverse much faster than a quarter that speed. I estimate that we only made half a mile in our hour of sloshing along the stream last night."

   The wide stream that they had followed was now only a foot deep and five feet wide. It had been joined by smaller streams, coming mostly from the right, as they had followed it the night before.

   "Belvin," said Hakam, "that spell that you used in Chult to drive the vegetation from our path behind you — would you be able to cast it again."

   It seemed like Belvin had forgotten about it, but, having been reminded, he added it to the list of spells for which he was beseeching Thard Harr that day.

   Leokas was looking up at the sky — at least trying to; it was not easy to spot any through the thick tree cover overhead. "Speed may be the least of our concerns," said Leokas. "Even if it were not for these trees, there is no sun in the sky; the light just changes intensity throughout the day. At night, there are no stars or moon. I think that east is that way, but I think it best that Belvin prays to Thard for guidance on this."

   "Maybe we should mark the trees once we get going," said Szordrin, "so that we will recognize if we have walked around in circles."

   "But there is no need for any of that; we have a minotaur with us," said Hakam. Then he spoke to Kytharrah directly. "Which direction is where we landed in our gliders?"

   Kytharrah pointed in a direction that most of them thought was north.

   "Are you certain?" asked Leokas.

   Kytharrah nodded. (Without Ilthian around anymore to encourage him to use words, the minotaur was back to speaking very little.)

   "The stream last night must have subtly been curving left then," said Leokas. "We need to walk that way. I am glad that I did not trust my own senses on this."

   Now that they knew which way was east again, Belvin took the lead on foot, so that he could use his spell; Kamil followed behind him. Belvin prayed, and behind him, the plants and undergrowth, extending back some 30 feet in a cone shape, slowly unraveled and moved away from the area, as if alive. A flurry of tiny lizards, frogs, snakes, and little flightless ground birds hurriedly scattered to take cover as their hiding places betrayed them and moved away.

   "I am sorry, little ones," said Belvin. "All will be restored to normal once we pass through; you will not be harmed."

   In this way, they turned a potentially twelve-hour journey into a three hour one. An extra benefit of this was that they would be able to reach their destination before the increasing temperature became unbearable at brightest light. The temperature was even worse deep in the jungle than it was in either Hisssta or Athanar.

   Half way through the third hour, Hakam's nose began to itch and his eyes began to water. Kytharrah also noticed something in the air, a strong smell of pollen. Hakam managed to avoid a violent fit of sneezing, but he was not comfortable. Thankfully, the potent pollen seemed to only be in a small area of the jungle, and the irritation soon passed.

   At last they exited the jungle and reached the edge of the island at a small clearing with grassy hillocks. Having arrived so early in the day, they were able to spend a good amount of time relaxing. There were puddles of water, left over from the previous night's rain, and with this they were able to remain cool. Leokas started a camp fire, and they ate around it on rocks and a log and joked about some of their past adventures together.

   Solisar periodically looked over the edge of the island, but Chi-wee-wee-seh-kaw, the crescent-shaped island that was their next destination, was not yet visible. It was still some 350 miles or so too far west by his estimates.

   The rains came, right on schedule, filling an area west of their campfire with water and forming a temporary pond. Then night finally followed, and the sounds of the animals in the jungle behind them changed from the chirps and tweets of birds to the calls of frogs and the hisses of small reptilian creatures in the leaves. This night passed with less note than had the previous one.

   In the morning, they were once again woken by a cacophony of bird songs. As the day got brighter, it of course got much hotter. Leokas continued to teach all of them simple tricks for staying cool. For example, he dipped his aba in the water and draped it over his shoulders. Kytharrah splashed in the shallow pond that the rains had formed, but it became little more than scattered mud puddles by the time the light was at its fullest.

   It was still some fifteen hours from the time that they woke until it was time to jump from the edge and glide to their next island. Solisar pointed it out to them, and they agreed that it matched the sketch on the copy of the address slate.

   "How long will we have until Onran's island eclipses this next one?" asked Hakam.

   "It will do so at brightest light tomorrow," said Solisar. "The calculations always seem to be for brightest light."

   "This second island is how wide?"

   "It is listed as being thirteen miles long and seven miles wide. We are crossing at its narrowest part, so aim for the center of the curve of the crescent."

~~~~

The journey through the jet streams down to Chi-wee-wee-seh-kaw was a shorter one than before, taking two hours, because they had timed the jump better. However, when they were halfway between the islands, it became clear to some of them from their gliders that this particular island did not have any obvious clearings where landing would be safest. It seemed to be jungle trees all the way up to the edge. Landing was going to be more challenging.

   They began shouting to each other over the loud flapping of their hang glider wings. Solisar and Szordrin instructed everyone to pull into a tighter formation. That way, if anyone had issues, the wizards could slow the stray glider or gliders with their spells.

   Hakam expertly banked between two large trunks at just the right moment and landed running, safely underneath the canopy of the jungle. Kytharrah came in behind him safely as well, grunting and grinning.

   The wizards and Leokas, however, came in too high and found themselves stuck high in the branches of immense trees, unharmed, but suspended. Each of them solved his predicament in a unique manner. Solisar simply unattached himself from the glider harness and let himself fall the fifty feet to the ground at the rate of a feather. Having landed safely on the leaf-covered undergrowth, he used telekinetics to jostle and guide the glider from the branches and back down to the canopy floor. Szordrin used his spider-walking spell to suspend himself sideways from the tree. With his free hand, he collapsed the glider and then carried it down the trunk. Leokas balanced on a branch with Sif still tied to his chest, and collapsed his glider. Usually the most skilled climber among them, he shockingly snapped a branch and began to fall, dropping the glider. Thankfully, he was also a superb tumbler; he flipped himself and landed in a handstand at a lower branch, then flipped around like a circus gymnast. Sif yelped and whined, but she was alright. From the ground, Belvin, back in elven form, clapped. Szordrin climbed Leokas' tree to recover his glider from the lower branches.

   Hakam watched all this with a smile as Belvin dressed. Hakam was usually the least agile of the group, being garbed in his heavy banded mail; while in the glider, he just seemed to have a natural sense of how his subtle body motions could control his descent and direction.

   The wildlife on this island was much louder. There were constant screeches, shrieks, chirps, and snapping sounds. It was the 22nd hour of the day, and using Belvin's undergrowth-moving power, they figured that they could easily beat the rains and the darkness to the eastern side of the island, where they would camp, so they set out again, entering the jungle depths.
Session: 112th Game Session - Monday, Jun 22 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi
~ first-day, 25th of the sixth season, growing threequarterlight
Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi


While exciting at first, leaping off the edge of one island and gliding to another island was not as simple an ordeal as it at first may have seemed, but the challenge in it was also not what they would have predicted. The enemy here was boredom. In such clear weather, success lay not in any technical skill but rather primarily in maintaining the will-power to stay focused on a journey through an endless white sky. The boredom inevitably came after the first hour or so of gliding. As when Jayce had guided their spelljammer down to one of these islands, distance was very hard to estimate. The relative sizes of objects to their vision changed slowly, so progress was deceptive. Their target was always there in front of them, subtly growing larger, but only if you looked elsewhere for a time and then looked back. If you did this, however, you risked moving off course. Thankfully, even if you did move off course, from stray winds, distraction, dozing off, or any other cause, you had hours still to correct. Szordrin indeed did drift far away from the others for a time, but was able to get back in formation long before the island was close enough for this to be a concern. Kytharrah was the only one who seemed to still be enjoying himself after two hours, and he was intentionally banking left and right and making grunts and calls of enjoyment.

   Sif, Leokas' wolf, in particular, was not pleased with the situation. She was tied tightly in a harness to Leokas' torso as he steered his glider. She would periodically let out a whine to remind her companion that she was not happy.

   When the island was close enough, they saw that the western "horn" of the bull-head-shaped island had a grassy open area that looked like a prime landing spot. The rest of the island appeared covered in lush jungle.

   Hakam was the first to touch down on the grassy field, and did so like an expert. The others followed one after the other, running as they dropped their legs down and tried to match speed with the ground.

   Leokas, however, came in too shallow. His legs slammed against the rocky cliff that was the edge of the island, and he fell back into the expanse with Sif still tied to him. Belvin, who had just released dog-sized Kamil from his talons, shrieked out and circled back.

   Leokas' legs were scraped up and bruised, but he was not badly hurt. His glider had avoided taking any damage, but he was now gliding behind the island, some fifty feet too low. He was following his training and gaining altitude, but there was no way for him to go any faster, having lost some of his speed from the collision. If Belvin had not flown out to retrieve him, he would have never caught up again.

   "Once again, you have saved my life, my friend," said Leokas, when he was set back on solid ground. Sif was fine, beyond being clearly miffed at having been bound up for four hours.

   Near where they landed, there was some sort of stone statue or totem crudely constructed. Kythrrah bounded over to it as the others began collapsing their gliders and slipping them into the extra-dimensional spaces within their two magic sacks. He sniffed the stone for anything familiar but only noticed the new scent of the the vines growing up its height.

   Solisar joined him at the totem. It was roughly bird-shaped, with an obvious beak. At the back of the head were scratchings that the sun elf recognized as Iokharic runes, the numerals 0, 0, 4, 6, and 2, that is, Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi.

   "This is definitely the correct island," said Solisar. "I suspect that this totem was erected by the surveyors who cataloged this island."

   Belvin shifted back into humanoid form and re-clothed. Kytharrah, head raised high, continued to take in all the interesting smells around him, mostly pollen and other plant scents.

   To the southeast, close to where they had set down, was a pond, about 40 feet wide, surrounded by scrub trees, ferns, and short palm bushes. Beyond this, the cover of palm trees and taller kapok trees grew thick so quickly as to form a wall hiding whatever lay beyond from vision.

   Solisar walked back to the edge of the island, where the grass gave way to rock. He gazed about through Ombert's spyglass. "I believe that I may have found our next island," he said. "It is shaped something like a crescent. It is at least two days before it will pass under us, according to Postmaster Spiraldive's calculations. We have that much time to get to the eastern side of this island."

   "She said that this was a medium-sized island, did she not?" said Hakam. "It is about ten miles from edge to edge, if I recall correctly."

   Solisar confirmed this.

   "I should hope that we can travel ten miles in two days, even if the jungle is thick."

   "Boom," said Kytharrah.

   "What?" asked Szordrin.

   "He hears a rumble," said Hakam. "I do too. Infrequently, in the distance to the southeast. Listen."

   It took half a minute before the others also heard the rumble.

   "Water," Kytharrah also said, and he began walking to the east, looking about and sniffing.

   "We may as well explore about a bit," said Hakam, "and we do need to move east." He followed behind the minotaur, hanging back at a distance. Everyone else followed along. Belvin used one of his druid spells to scan the area for any dinosaurs, but while they could hear the sounds of birds and frogs in the distance, his spell revealed no giant warm-blooded lizards.

   It soon became clear that they were on a peninsula — one of the "horns" of the island — because they could see that the land came to an end to the east

   The sound of running water was louder now, such that the others could also hear it. The minotaur, in the lead, at last reached the stream at a sharp turn from flowing north to east. In 30 to 40 feet, it poured off the edge into the great expanse. To the south, the river passed under a land bridge that led up to a hill. The rumbles, still infrequent, where sounding louder now when they did occur.

   Belvin rode Kamil up to the base of the arch and began to climb up it part of the way, rising over the height of some of the shorter trees and bushes. Looking up the hill to the south, he saw some bright red colors, and realized that he was looking at the back of an aarakocra male, standing on a large boulder at the crest of the hilly ridge. There was another low thud, near where the aarakocra was perched, and the sound of squawking in response. Then, the aarakocra took to flight and disappeared from Belvin's line of sight.

   Belvin returned down the earthen bridge to the others and reported what he had seen.

   "We may be approaching a battle," said Solisar.

   Kytharrah started to follow upstream a bit.

   "Keep your head low," said Belvin. "There are rocks flying through the air."

   There was another thud, and the sound of gravel rolling or crumbling in the south.

   "Do the aarakocra use trebuchets?" asked Belvin.

   "They had javelins and lances and rocks that they dropped, remember?" said Leokas.

   "And we sold them smokepowder for bombs," said Solisar, "but we do not know much about what weapons their lizardfolk enemies favor."

   Kytharrah now saw a splash of dirt atop the hill accompanied by another small boom.

   Belvin motioned for him to come back, and he obeyed.

   "Should we simply hail the aarakocra?" said Hakam.

   "They are in the middle of a battle," said Solisar, "and we do not want to take sides in this conflict."

   Leokas agreed.

   "Let us try to go around to the other side," said Szordrin. "We need to connect to the main island from this peninsula anyhow. I think that we are too far north."

   Most of them turned to go back to the grassy area where they had landed, but Belvin rode Kamil through the stream to the north side of the hill. Passing over thick undergrowth, he spotted a small crater in the ground a dozen feet ahead, with a round stone ball in it. The relatively smooth stone was about a foot in diameter. Another such crater was a short distance southeast of the first one. He turned and followed after his companions.

   They grouped together again and discussed matters.

   "If this is just a skirmish," said Hakam, "we can just wait it out until they stop fighting and leave."

   "We can remain hidden and safe using our rope trick spells in the meantime," suggested Solisar.

   "Let me scout the peninsula from the air more," said Belvin. "We do not even know what the full extent of the battle is at the moment." So, the rest of them sat and ate some rations, while Belvin transformed into a hawk and took to the air.

   Belvin started out flying east back over the stream. Not too much farther from where he had spotted the small craters, the hill became very rocky and joined with the island edge, such that passage further east from this direction would only be possible with dangerous rock climbing and scrambling. Banking around, he flew over the ridge. He spotted a total of only five aarakocra. They had several piles of small, round rocks, likely to drop on their foes from the air, and had constructed a crude nest-like wooden fence from thick jungle vines. In his quick pass overhead, he saw two take off and fly to the south, carrying a rock each in their talons. They dropped the stones into the jungle and then looped around and came back to the ridge.

   Looking to the south, he saw a few clearings in the jungle, and he thought that he might have spotted some lizardfolk hiding in the plant cover and darting to and fro.

   At the top of the land bridge leading up to the hilly ridge, the birdfolk had constructed a spiked barrier of sharpened wood embedded in a mound of clay to block anyone from climbing up by foot behind them.

   Diving low under the tree line, he flew over the water and followed it upstream. It curved around the ridge, which was about fifteen or twenty feet tall, and, after an S-curve, made its way mainly due east.

   Suddenly, a projectile flew past him from the south and slammed into the ridge, causing a small landslide. He banked sharply and headed back downstream, then returned to the others to described what he had seen.

   "We arrived in the middle of an artillery battle," noted Hakam.

   "If we try to follow the stream east, we shall be exposed to shots from both sides," said Belvin.

   He then had an idea. "What if we simply glide across from this 'horn' to the other 'horn'?"

   "There looked to be far more jungle on the other peninsula," said Leokas, "based on what I saw from the edge over there. It would be difficult to land our gliders, I think, without crashing into the trees. I am still in pain from this first landing."

   "I could ferry everyone over one at a time easily enough in my pteranodon talons," said Belvin. "It is only about nine or ten miles to the other peninsula."

   "I could also cause us all to feather fall," said Solisar. "We could all glide over, gaining altitude, and then we could drop slowly into the jungle with the aid of the spell."

   "The aarakocra seem to be staying low when they launch their attacks from the air," said Hakam. "We cannot even see them from here, so they are not likely to have noticed us either. I believe that we are safe here, and there is no rush yet. I think that we should just wait it out for a bit longer before trying to take a shortcut by air. If we wait until morning and they are still at it, I can surround all of us with a holy aura that will keep us in sanctuary against their attacks."

   "Just remember not to take the bags of holding up the rope with us!" warned Solisar.

   "We have more than 12 hours still before it even gets dark," said Leokas.

   "Both Szordrin and I can extend the length of our magics," said Solisar. "Duration of the magic will not be an issue."

   "Boredom will be, however," said Szordrin. "We just spent six hours in one white expanse and now another."

   Solisar cast the spell, and they began climbing the rope. Kytharrah heaved up Kamil with his extraordinary strength and lifted him up to Belvin. They had forgotten one detail; the rope could not be pulled into the space with them, because of the limits of the spell, because there were too many of them in the space at once, nor could Szrodrin climb up while Ferry was on his shoulders.

   "We used to set up two such spaces at a time," Szordrin reminded them.

   "I am not concerned," said Hakam. "If they can see our two bags, it will be no worse if they can also see the rope suspended in the air."

   "Even so, we still have one person too many; I will have Ferry guard the bags; that way, I will also be able to feel if he senses any danger."

   They left the bags of holding at the base of where they had tossed up the rope, and one of them kept watch on them through the dimensional portal as well.

   They saw no creatures pass within their vision or hearing from the safety of the extradimensional space. They rested and passed the time as best they could.

   When dusk came, there was an interesting effect. The presence of the dimensional window did not block the rain that began to fall, but from their point of view, they saw the drops pop into existence and fall from the plane of the window, while they remained dry. Kytharrah was fascinated by this and poked his head down through. It immediately became soaked from the rain. He snorted in enjoyment at the experience.

   Having been stuck in the blank nothingness of the spell for a dozen hours, most of them were feeling restless. It was still another eight hours until dawn, when Hakam could pray for fresh divine power.

   "Play outside?" asked Kytharrah.

   "It is darker and raining now," said Szordrin. "I am sure that it is safe to explore a bit more."

   Belvin and Leokas also were anxious to get back outside. This would leave Solisar and Hakam waiting in the rope trick. Solisar — and Ferry too — were hesitant about splitting up the party, but Leokas assured them that they would not stray too far, and would return quickly.

   The rain, as always on Coliar, was mainly a relief from the heat of the planet, which only Szordrin seemed unbothered by on most days, and being soaked was only a minor nuisance compared to other things now too common in their life as adventurers.

   This time, the smaller party headed due south. Mainly traveling along the western edge of the island. Past the pond, on the left, was where the jungle effectively began. On the right, there were more clusters of scrub trees and large-leafed bush plants and hillocks of grass. Moving beyond a thick cluster of jungle foliage, they came to a couple places where the land had collapsed into open gaps to the sky below, much like the pits that the lizardfolk had dug in the training courses to let the updraft through.

   "The island is breaking apart here," said Leokas. "This whole chunk of the peninsula will eventually tear from the rest of the island."

   Kytharrah passed between two such pits in the earth and pointed southeast. In the twilight and through the rain, they could see a wall of fallen logs, which were arranged in a way that was not natural. A good number of thick tree stumps were also scattered about, and before the log barricade was a leaf-covered clearing.

   Belvin approached one of the stumps. "This kapok tree was cut down with an axe," said the druid.

   They returned to Solisar and Hakam and reported.

   "I admit that I have realized a few flaws in my plan," said Hakam. "First, with all of the undergrowth in a jungle, we would likely not have the time to cross through the fighting while the spell still lasted. Second, the spell would only protect us from direct attacks, not from stray fire, falling rubble, or explosions. I still believe that we should wait out until morning and try to engage at least one of the sides diplomatically. If we start trying to sneak past, one of us — likely me — is bound to step on a loud branch and alert one of the parties to our presence."

   "We could travel along the stream," suggested Leokas. "In this dim light and the rain, visibility would be low, and both the stream and rain would cover any sound."

   Leokas and Belvin were not certain, but they suspected that both the lizardfolk and aarakocra would have sensitive vision, similar to that of elves, but not likely the ability to see in full darkness like Kytharrah and Szordrin could.

   "They are all probably resting until morning now," said Szordrin. "We may run into some scouts perhaps, but I do not think that we have to worry about crossfire anymore."

   Hakam asked Kytharrah if he could still hear any rumbling over the sound of the rain. The minotaur shook his head.

   "We still have four hours at least of rain," said Belvin. "If we are going to try to move past them, then this is the time to do it, before it gets too dark for us to even travel."

   "Minotaur, you will have to carry me through the stream," said Hakam. "My armor is too unwieldy for such travel."

   Kytharrah was happy to help his friend in this way.

   At last agreed on a plan, they gathered their gear and dismissed the rope trick, then headed to the land bridge and entered into the warm water of the stream. It was up to mid-thigh in depth for most of them.

   Kytharrah took the lead, with Hakam riding atop his backpack. Hakam's human eyes could barely see further than forty feet in the rain, but the elves could see well enough, and Szordrin and Kytharrah would be able to spot any body heat if they came upon any non-plant life.

   They moved upstream, under the earthen archway and then around the point of the west-to-east aarakocran ridge. At one point, they had to press through a clump of thick bushes growing in a shallow part of the stream and, after that, through rapids that made it harder to maintain balance, but then the S-curve began and the water calmed.

   When they came around the final curve, the stream mostly flowed due west, and they continued against the flow of the water. Kytharrah, in the lead still, suddenly stopped. His eyes could see a gray dim shape of a humanoid creature with his darkvision, about 25 or 30 feet upstream, sitting or crouching behind a bush on a tiny island in the stream. Kytharrah sniffed. The smell was that of a lizardman.

   Kytharrah motioned with his head to his friends behind him to look forward. The light was too dim for Hakam too see, but he placed his hand behind him to motion for the rest of the party to hold. Szordrin turned invisible, and Leokas nocked an arrow and stepped north onto the shore to take cover by a palm tree.

   The lizardman turned his head and looked at Kytharrah directly in the eyes but did not seem to respond further. Kytharrah tilted his head to the side in a non-confrontational, curious gesture. The lizardfolk turned his head away, rubbed his eyes as if to wake himself up, and then looked back. Now, he was certain that he was not imagining the large, furry, horned monster. He rose quickly to his feet, and his hand reached back for a javelin from a quiver on his back, but he did not throw it; he simply continued staring at Kytharrah to see what he would do.

   "Hold still!" commanded Hakam.

   The lizardman's eyes darted about, but his body otherwise was frozen solid by Hakam's divine magic.

   Hakam looked back at his companions and quietly suggested that they move past the lizardman scout as quickly as possible.

   As they passed by the scout, Kytharrah sniffed him amicably and patted him on the shoulder. "Play?"

   The lizardman's eyes expressed terror.

   Solisar spoke to him in Draconic. "You will be released from the holding magic once we pass by. We mean you no harm; do not fear."

   When invisible Szordrin passed by, he pickpocketed the scout, but only obtained a few frog legs, the lizardman's snack for the night. He turned back and returned the legs to the pouch before hustling to catch back up with the others.

   They followed the stream for about an hour more, before it grew too dark. Satisfied that they had successfully passed through the danger of the warring factions, they stopped and camped for the short Coliar night.
Session: 111th Game Session - Monday, Jun 15 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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Chapter 2 — Flight School
As they walked through the huts of Hisssta, led by Schlith to the Office of Flight Certifications and Registration, Jayce queried the lizardman about the aarakocra.

   "Do you know anything about Alekra Donakkis?"

   Schlith stopped walking. "Look, I can — and do — curse in four different languages, (I may be a lizardman, but I ain't stupid,) but I struggle to describe how much I loathe the Donakkises and their 'holy-poly' war. I would love for someone to strangle that parharding hen with her own entrails and shove her corpse up Syranita's cloaca. But, she is on the other side of the planet, and I am, of course, a peace-loving lizardman, so that is not going to happen now is it?" They had to step back a bit when he said this to avoid being accidentally spit upon.

   "I suspect that they are terrible rulers, from what I myself have heard," said Jayce, "but you will not be surprised to hear that the aarakocra say the most awful things in kind about your people. One utterly ridiculous tale says that you even eat them. How misinformed is that?"

   "No, of course we eat aarakocra meat!" Schlith replied. "Very tasty; you should try some. But we only eat any after we find them already dead. If you came across my dead body in the jungle, you would eat me, wouldn't you? I know that I would. What's the big deal? Some people need to spay themselves. And here we are...."

   With that they arrived at the Office.

   Gruss Longtail's tail was actually shorter than that of many other lizardmen that they had seen. He pleasantly did not reek of whatever foul offensiveness emanated from Schlith Darkscale both literally and figuratively. He was both articulate and polite. After Schlith introduced them and spoke to Gruss off to the side in the lizardfolk dialect of Draconic, Schlith departed without any sort of farewell. Gruss then approached them and explained to them how the hang glider certification would work.

   "Unfortunately, I offer classes only on the first, second, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth of each eightday. It takes five full days for me to train someone, and there is a flight test on the last day. It is the fifteenth of the season today, so the next eightday begins in two days at brightest light. You have been given top priority for training, so all other scheduled trainees have been postponed until the eightday after that. The group of you will have my exclusive attention."

   There was some discussion among themselves about timing, but Solisar assured them that leaving in an eightday would probably mean a four-hour flight for them to reach the first island. They also discussed other options, such as constructing their own small spelljammer or using other methods of magical flight, but in the end, they decided that receiving the training might still be the best option.

   "I shall be training you on these, our most well-crafted of gliders," Gruss said, as he showed them some examples. The gliders were about fifteen feet wide and five feet from tip to tail. The wings were made of the leather or skins of some sort of lizard.

   "They are collapsible," he said, as he demonstrated how to dismantle the hanging bar, which then allowed the glider to fold up into a five-foot-long cylindrical bundle. "They only weigh 40 pounds."

   "They would fit in our bags of holding," said Szordrin.

   "Also, do not worry;" said Gruss, "we have gliders large enough to carry your furry friend here. Sometimes, lizardfolk are born much larger than average."

   "Would it be possible to commission your workers or your government to craft few of these gliders for us to take with us when we leave the planet?" asked Hakam.

   "I would have to petition the government elders for that, and it would take some time, but it sounds like you will be on your journey for several eightdays. Let us see how your certification goes first and consider having more crafted after that. Shall I see you on firstday?"

   "You shall," said Solisar.

~~~~

Gruss was a kind and gentle instructor who only ever offered encouragement and advice, never criticism. He started on their first day of training by taking them to a small 20-foot cliff over swampy land and had them jump off and let them glide, or crash, into the soft ground. The gliders were rather slow in calm air, but there was a nearly constant breeze on Coliar, always from the west. With the breeze, combined with diving, the gliders could reach over 25 miles per hour. This made reaching a floating island more than 100 miles away feasible.

   There was one small problem, however; when Hakam first tried to jump from the low cliff, his glider would barely go anywhere and rather hovered. He quickly recognized that it was his magical ring of feather falling. After the first day, he made a cord with which he hung the ring around his neck, so that he could slip it onto a finger in an emergency when gliding.

   Back at the Frihet after the first full day of training, Bansh was excited to hear about what they had been taught. "I have, of course, been gliding all my life," he said, "so let me know if you want any pointers." Thus, every day after training, they had an expert review with them what they had learned. Bansh was able to confirm the wisdom of most of the advice that Gruss had provided about responding to air flow and currents and also clarified some of the more confusing points.

   On the second day, Gruss taught them how to bank, roll, and turn. You simply had to shift your body weight. The gliders could not turn very quickly, so they could only make wide turns.

   In their off time, some of them, despite Leokas' protests, tried to sell their remaining smokepowder, but the lizardfolk had no use for it. They preferred more primitive weapons and did not trust the noisy and untrustworthy guns that some spacefaring races had begun adapting in recent decades. It was suggested to them that they try selling the smokepowder to the giff, the same race that had already purchased some of their inventory back on the Rock of Bral.

   Day three was climbing. Typically, a glider cannot climb. However, Coliar was under a perpetual magical updraft. No one could explain how, but it was just a fact of life on the planet. This meant that gliders could have lift. On this day, Gruss took them to a training area near the edge of the island, where the ground below them was thinner. Here, holes had been dug completely through the island and covered with grates, so that the planet's updraft would come up through the holes. Initially, he attached them to ropes and harnesses and taught them how to hover in place over the updrafts and then showed them how to angle the gliders for climbing.

   After several days of living in Hisssta, they — with the exception of Szrodrin, who could take intense temperatures of both hot and cold — had not gotten used to the hot and humid weather. Hakam managed by casting a prayer each day to help endure the heat. One mercy was that at least there were no insects at all, whether because they did not exist at all here or because of the near-constant west-to-east breeze, they did not know.

   The fourth day was all about hazards. He showed them how to respond to powerful gusts of wind, to recover from scraping wings against a wall, and to snap free from the hanging harness and roll into a somersault if crashing. "Do not fly when it is raining, if you can at all avoid it; the gliders are much harder to handle, and visibility drops. There is also the threat of lightning. If you get struck by lightning, Semuanya have mercy! Obviously, besides the danger of darkness, night is when it rains. Plan your flights for early or midday, and you will be safe."

   Day five was all about landing, particularly about the dangers of landing on a lower, faster-moving island. "Let your legs down from the foot harness and begin running as fast as you can as you make contact!" he warned. For traveling to lower islands, it was always safest to jump from islands from the east edges and land on the west edges. For getting to higher islands, you had to rise on the updrafts against the air currents and effectively wait for the target island to come to you. You took off from the west edges and landed on the east edges.

   On the sixth day, they arrived for class at midday as usual. It was then that Gruss reminded them of the final stage of the certification process. "I have nothing more to teach you; today is the day of the pilot's exam. To make it extra challenging, we are going to test you at shrinking quarterlight, after the evening rains begin, to ensure that you can handle any challenge. Meet me at the northern edge of town then."

   So, when dusk was approaching that day, they found themselves as a U-shaped canyon at the northern end of Hisssta. Gruss led them up a wooden ladder to the flat top of a wide wooden tower, some 50 feet over the bottom of the canyon. From here, they could look over the obstacle course that was their final test.

   Gruss led them over a wooden bridge and along the edge of the canyon to point out the obstacles. First, there was a stone pillar on the left, as high as the tops of the canyon walls. There was a sign atop the pillar, written in Dragonic, which Solisar read as, "50 feet; stay right!" Similar signs were posted at various spots along the course.

   "Look down from here at those three palm trees," said Gruss. "They grow atop a land bridge, a stone arch. The only way to make it through is to dive down and under the arch. You will need to be below fifteen feet, but of course, if you are too low, your body will graze the ground and you will crash.

   "If you do crash, but are not hurt too badly to require emergency aid, notice the several rope ladders placed about for you to climb back out of the canyon."

   He continued to lead them around the outer edge. They could gaze out over the white expanse of Coliar here and saw the countless green specks of islands in the distance, but Gruss wanted them to direct their attention into the canyon. "See, we have dug through the ground here to allow the updraft through, just as at the training site. In this area of the canyon only will you be able to gain elevation and lift as you make a wide turn. After the turn, see that ridge? It is 25 feet high. There are more updraft grates beyond that ridge, but there is also another stone pillar to avoid. Come, let me show you the landing platform."

   He led them to the end of the course. Here, the ground was only 25 feet below them, and it was filled with a deep pond, in case they failed to land on the platform. The platform was made of wood and suspend by four, thick, corded vine ropes, hung from counter-weighted support beams. The platform was tied up high at the back of the course, but when a testee approached, workers would cut the platform free, and it would swing down and then back and forth over the pond. Thus, the test ended with landing on a rapidly moving target.

   By now, it had started to drizzle, as it did about now every night. The rain would only get heavier in the coming hours. "Who wants to attempt the course first?" Gruss asked.

   They returned to the "launch tower". Kytharrah, who had delighted in every day of training, was very anxious to fly, so they allowed him to go first. In his excitement, he caught his hoof in one of the planks of the tower and stumbled off the edge instead of the executing the controlled leap that was intended. Thankfully, this only meant that his initial velocity was not what it could have been. He drifted forward slowly. When he passed the stone pillar on his left, he banked left and then right again before pulling into a dive. To Kytharrah, he felt like he was in a maze, only flying through one, so he had a natural sense of when to turn and when to descend.

   With a rapid swoosh, he zipped underneath the land bridge and immediately felt the strong up-currents catch the wings of his glider and apply force.

   Feeling ever confident, he curved around in a long arch to head back toward the south and the second half of this course. Barely missing a hanging leather sign on the right, he rose over the ridge. However, he still had not turned enough. His forward speed took him too close to the eastern wall of the canyon. As he straightened out, his extra-wide glider's tip dragged a bit against the wall and sent small bits of rubble down, but he still had enough breeze to keep on gliding.

   He had safely squeezed past the final rock pillar.

   There was a creaking sound ahead, as the large landing platform was hacked free by the waiting lizardmen at the top of the canyon walls. It swung down toward Kytharrah, just as he had gained enough altitude, sailing high over the pond below now. His hooves struck the moving platform, and he matched speed with the wooden boards as it began to swing back. It was a superbly timed landing.

   "Huzzah!" cheered Gruss. "Well done!"

   Workers helped Kytharrah get out from under the glider, and he shook his wet fur off with a big grin on his face.

   Each of the rest of them relied on various magical enchantments or abjurations to increase their success. Solisar boosted his sense of bravery and was fearless as he swooped and curved around the course. Each time that Hakam approached an obstacle, he loudly shouted out to his god, "Forget not my service to thee!" and Anachtyr seemed to listen, for he had no unfortunate incidents. Since Kytharrah had already demonstrated a successful path to take, most of the rest of them were able to dulicate his choices, and with greater ease, since their gliders were smaller than his. Belvin had no need for a glider to reach the other islands, as he could remain in the form of a pteranodon or other flying animal for over twenty hours at a time, but he took the training nevertheless and easily passed, as he was used to flying on the wing by now.

   Later that night, as it was starting to get truly dark and the water falling from the sky had finally lessened, Gruss, back at the Office of Flight Certifications and Registration, handed them official, stamped documents certifying that they had successfully passed the training and now had a license to borrow the publicly owned gliders.

~~~~

As planned, on the 25th day of the sixth season on Coliar, which would have corresponded to the third of Flamerule in the calendar of Toril, Ombert and the crew of the Frihet lifted off from Hisssta River into the sky, taking a large cargo of lizardfolk eggs to rendezvous with a lizardfolk spelljammer orbiting the sun near Anadia. The six adventurers, alone again, headed to the eastern edge of the island. Ombert had lent them a spyglass, and with it, Solisar was able to spot their target island, Wee-wee-kaw-ler-chi, with a high level of confidence. "It looks something like a head with two curved horns," he said. "It is the only island with such a shape that I can see in this direction and at the proper elevation below us."

   Some of the locals of Hisssta, when they heard that the foreigners were heading to a nearby lower island took interest. "Careful," said one of them, when the target island was pointed out to him. "Some warriors go there to fight birds yesterday."

   Close to growing halflight, they all leapt from the eastern edge into the great white expanse, five hang gliders and one pteranodon carrying a miniaturized dromedary camel. They immediately tilted at a downwards slope and sailed the winds to the first of three islands and whatever adventures and answers awaited upon them.
Session: 111th Game Session - Monday, Jun 15 2020 from 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
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