The Speaker of the Eldarea keeps her promise to transport the newly resurrected Pr’Gillis and his friend to Port Dawn. But the price is that they must assist her as she answers a strange invitation.
Taken from the events of “Baggage Claim” & “My Dinner with Witherow”
- An Interlude
The gnome is so very tired. It is the fifth of Lothron, and neither he, nor any of his party, has slept in well over a day. And the things they have done in that time! They completed a spontaneous intelligence gathering plan and discovered that the Governor of Port Dawn is planning to attack the elves; two of his group made a side trip to Arvandor and Elfheim; when rejoined, they unexpectedly continued on to what may be described as the Armory of the Eldar; met with the mind of Galenial upon a weapon of ancient and terrible fury; awoke a horde of battle briars, and then rode with them in a stampede. None of this, of course, had anything to do with their original mission in Port Dawn. And all of it was to end, for Quingle at least, with an encounter with a group of evil adventurers, the final tragedy being that Pr’Gillis lost his life in a one-on-one match with the opposing monk. In fact, he died while still mind-linked to the party – so they all felt his life draining away. Quingle, the remaining Shards insisted, needed to take Pr’Gillis’ body back to Fennas Ear for care, and so he was then forced to make the unhappy decision to leave his comrades behind to an unknown fate. Finally, while preparing the body of his friend for the teleport, his counterpart in the opposing group summoned a Barbazu, what some call a bearded devil, right behind the busy gnome, which dealt him a grievous blow. It is no wonder, then, that he suffered a minor mishap on the teleport, but eventually made it to his destination – the castle at Fennas Ear.
Knowing that the guards probably wouldn’t recognize him immediately, he waited patiently with his arms outstretched in a nonaggressive manner, until one could be found who could vouchsafe his identity. When he had explained his immediate situation, he and the body of his friend were taken to the Isle of the Moon for healing and resurrection. Fortunately for the gnome, and perhaps owning to his race’s strong constitutions, the blow by the Barbazu did not manifest as the“infernal wound” that the devils are known to inflict, and he was healed in short order.
Two days later, on the 7th of Lothron, the sorcerer has healed completely, and the preparations are complete to perform a True Resurrect on the fallen monk, with the spell being cast by no less than Morran Tel’Kittoren, the High Priest of Correllon Larethian. The cost of the diamonds required by the spell’s casting is supplied by Pr’Gillis’ mother, the occasional elf known as Lady Borsa. In a display of temperament common to Mothers everywhere, Borsa was naturally worried and concerned for her son. But once he had been brought back, and she knew he was whole and sound, she let fly with a barrage of tongue lashings, rants and scoldings about his fighting and dying that almost made one fear for his safety all over again. Even Quingle was not spared her wrath; “you’re supposed to be the smart one!” she wailed at the gnome. The two adventurers tried to explain that the opposing monk, though evil, was still lawful and therefore bound by the agreement of the fight; Pr’Gillis accepting this fight was probably the best tactic for preventing an escalation of hostilities in which the Shards, in their fatigued state, may not have fared so well. Other than this excuse, the two partners quietly endured Borsa’s tirades until she, at last, wore herself out. She had one final point to make, however. She took Pr’Gillis down to one of the chambers in her lair, a chamber that was empty. “Do you see this clean chamber?” she asked her son. “This room used to be full of treasure. Treasure which I had to exchange for the components required for your resurrection. I expect you to fill it back up again.” She loves her son, make no mistake, but she is still a dragon!
Now that the two friends were well and rested, their thoughts turned to their companions, from whom they have not heard any word. Having used it a few times already, they know that a common tactic is for Yestamir to use his abilities to take the party to the astral plane as a last resort, if necessary. So they do not feel any ill-boding for their friends just yet. Their thoughts also turn to the poor slave girl whom Pr’Gillis bought on their first night in Port Dawn. She is now Pr’Gillis’, and by extension the Shards’, responsibility, and they feel that the sooner they can get back to “claim” her and bring her to safety – and (more importantly) to freedom – the better. A simple in-out mission to get her probably won’t take to much time, they conjecture, but how to get to Port Dawn? Quingle was out of teleport scrolls, and they didn’t have the ready cash to purchase more. They begin to remember that Lady Eqximiye Carlack, the Speaker of the Eldar, has assisted their group in the past (though they have not met her personally), by providing useful equipment for their missions. “Perhaps she may be of some assistance now,” they think. So without knowing quite what possessed them to decide to do such a thing, they determine to go to see her, and see if she can help.
It is at this point that Borsa reveals to Pr’Gillis and Quingle one of the secrets of her lair: there is a permanent teleport circle in one of her chambers, linked directly to the palace in Fennas Ear. “But,” she warns, “be sure to wear one of the necklaces hanging on hooks around the room; this will prevent the palace defenses from activating and your being instantly incinerated. The circle ports to a cell in the dungeons; when you arrive, check in with the Duty Officer currently in charge.”
So on Lothron 8, Pr’Gillis and Quingle arrive in the palace, where they request to speak to Lady Carlack. They believe their rank is sufficient that they will not be summarily refused, but they know that they will need to wait a bit, and indeed are directed to one of the palace libraries. Eventually they are shown to the royal wing by Rillelauren Aseaheru, Eqximiye’s Aide, who is nicknamed Rille, and finally are directed to Lady Carlack’s office. Her office has the look of those who are kept perpetually busy: a chaotic disarray of stacks of papers, books, scrolls, documents and the like. Eqximiye merely pushes a stack of papers off her desk onto the floor to make the discussions with her guests slightly easier. During the ususal polite introductory small talk Quingle notices that his familiar, Malachitrix, the mischievous copper dragon wyrmling, has eaten something he has found in the office. “What did you just swallow?” the sorcerer asks, worried that it may have been something important to the Speaker. “Something tasty” the young dragon responds. (To be sure, Quingle enjoys the antics of his companion, and finds that his pranks, never malicious, serve to keep people on their toes, but there are a few times when better behavior is called for.) “But what was it?” the gnome counters. “Crunchy,” was the dragon’s reply. Exasperated, Quingle makes an apology to Lady Eqximiye, who responds with an understanding nod. Also at one point during their chitchat, Eqximiye lays one of her arms on her desk, and with a dagger in her opposing hand, cuts off the hand on the desk! Oddly, the severed hand takes on a life of its own, and scurries from the room! (It returns at a later point, reattaching itself to its accustomed location.) “A very interesting druid spell,” Quingle thinks to himself, remembering that the Eldar are a blend of arcane spellcaster and druid classes, “I wonder if Nique is aware of that one?”
Aware of her high rank in elven society, her relation to the Warlord, and that she probably receives copies of any reports they make anyway, Pr’Gillis and Quingle see no reason not to give her what they thought was to be a brief account of their recent adventures (they also know that the Speaker is herself an adventurer, and what adventurer can resist the urge to regale another of one’s escapades?). As they tell their tales, Eqximiye becomes more and more animated, and when they tell her about finding the castle/weapon floating in the astral plane with Galenial’s mind contained within it, she orders the two to stop their story. The group immediately moves to a scry-proof room attended by three other scribes to take down the rest of their account. Pr’Gillis and Quingle are somewhat puzzled by all the excitement over their group’s discoveries, but it turns out the Galenial weapon is something so powerful that its use has grave negative side effects that last for centuries. Apparently, there are some within the ranks of the Eldar who believe that it is time for it to be used again and not knowing its location is all that is keeping them from doing so; while others, including the Speaker, feel it should never be used again under any circumstances. The two Shards definitely side with the Speaker on this one. The debriefing continues, with dinner being sent in at one point, and is eventually concluded with Pr’Gillis giving an account of the things he witnessed during his time dead. There was, he described, a “calling” by some undead force, believed to be the Children of the Black Sun. As a sign of how serious the things they discovered are, the security clearance of the Shards is immediately upgraded, and they now are assigned to the Eldar (or, in truth, Lady Eqximiye, who felt that someone who wasn’t aware that the group now possessed significant information would send them somewhere stupid and get them all killed). The two Shards are directed to tell no one about what they found.
What a strange turn of events for the two companions – what they thought was to be introductory small talk turned out to be a major debriefing session that stretched on for several hours, for by the time they conclude it is well past midnight, they had their security clearance upgraded, and now work for a new boss (though they wonder how the Warlord is going to take that news). And they have yet to bring up the business that brought them to the Speaker in the first place!
It isn’t until around 1:00 am on the 9th that they finally get around to why Pr’Gillis and Quingle are there: to request any help Lady Eqximiye may provide in getting back to Port Dawn to retrieve and free the slave Pr’Gillis bought. As fate would have it, Eqximiye has a mission in Port Dawn as well, but she also has business to attend to in Argotha. She agrees to take them with her to Port Dawn, if they will accompany her on her diplomatic mission. The three agree to leave right then, on the condition that Pr’Gillis can acquire a flute prior to their leaving. He borrows a fine twelve hundred year old instrument from one of the court musicians. Quingle wears the blue uniform, created for “General Purge’s” troop from their last stay in Port Dawn, but he goes with a disguise self spell going, appearing as a half-elf dressed appropriately for Port Dawn.
At 2:00 am the three teleport to Port Dawn, to the basement of the Scurvy Dog – an inn that Eqximiye usually ports to when she has business in the city. They are in complete darkness, and total silence. The inn has been completely demolished. Eqximiye and Quingle cast fly on themselves to extricate themselves from the rubble, while Pr’Gillis’ dexterity allows him to do the same. They see that there are several other buildings also demolished around the city – and all are within the shapes of giant footprints. The footprints appear to be heading toward the gate and road. Once free of the destroyed inn, Eqximiye uses a crystal ball to locate Andros, her associate that she has come to retrieve, and finds him walking down a darkened street, dressed for work. Quingle recognizes the area, and the three are off at a hustle. They do another scry when they get to the point where he was, and now see him in a room at an inn or tavern, apparently in a private meeting, but they can’t discern which establishment it is. So they pick a tavern at random, the Fish Head, and enter. In order to blend in they order beers, which is “very young,” or as another customer put it, “the yeast hasn’t farted enough alcohol yet.” Pr’Gillis attempts to gather information, but doesn’t get anywhere. Quingle, with his charisma, tries and discovers that not only is Andros not here, this place doesn’t even have private rooms. They are directed, however, to try at the Blue Fishhook, where they are told that they do have rooms.
At the Blue Fishhook, Quingle finds out that Andros is indeed there, so they settle in for the wait. They decide to have something to eat, and surprisingly the shark dinner is quite excellent. However, they notice that none of the other customers, though enjoying the shark, are not touching the bread. Believing in the old adage that the regulars know best, they leave their loaf alone.
After a time, three dwarves leave from the door pointed out to the party, following shortly thereafter by a half-orc. The group enters the door, along with another party of a human and two half-elves. They find themselves in a room with several other doors, so they simply bribe a waiter to discover the correct one, which they enter and find Andros. Eqximiye and Andros begin their discussions, in which she seeks to persuade him that is time for him to return – the attack on Port Dawn is coming, plus she has other assignments for him. He offers her a pendant of what appears to be a perfume bottle that has a name on it – “Nissian Alfheim.” As arcane spellcasters, Eqximiye and Quingle recognize the bottle as Neptian Remains – a magic item that contains the remains of a deceased person (in this case Nissian) in such a way that it prevents resurrection. He also gives her a broken slave’s collar – with her name on it! “It was his little friend’s name,” the agent explains, referring to an elven slave Nissian had been sexually abusing. Andros agrees to return with Eqximiye, but has some personal matters to attend to first, and says that he will meet back up with them in an hour at the Golden Gnome’s Rest – the site of their other part of this mission. (At some later time Eqximiye will privately discuss with Andros about going to Falls Gate and spying for the Eldar. She will not order him to go, knowing what she does about the Lucians and also knowing that no government has ever been able to infiltrate the city, which she will explain to him. She will simply ask if he would consider volunteering. Despite the danger, he will accept, be provisioned, and leave for Falls Gate – but that’s a tale for the future, not the here and now.)
The three split from the special agent, and make their way back to the site of the Shard’s adventure from a few nights ago. There they see that there are repairs being made to the exterior of the building, and it appears that the damage could be from battle briars. Eventually, Andros meets back up with the group.
Pr’Gillis, Quingle and Eqximiye enter the inn, the first two adjusting their disguises to appear as they did when they were here before. They find out the damage was indeed caused by battle briars; twelve of them did attack the city, but the giant golem was used against them. The golem apparently went off to deal with the rest of the huge plant monsters. Pr’Gillis and Quingle notice that the maitre ‘d from before was not there, and inquire about him. He had been arrested, they are told, for “security problems.” The two explain that they are there to retrieve their “property,” and the staff makes a show of checking the papers and say that they will return when they find out where she’s currently being held. In the shuffle of papers, however, Pr’Gillis notices that there is a red star next to the “General’s” name in the registry books.
Andros comes in disguised as a half-elf, and attempts to get a room and a wench for the night, but is refused and asked to leave. Quingle and Eqximiye also step outside to attempt a scry on the girl using the crystal ball, but get no image of her. The current maitre ‘d tells Pr’Gillis that they are “cleaning her up for you,” but it is obvious that they are just stalling for time. Pr’Gillis explains that they will leave to have breakfast, and that she should be ready when they return in an hour. They all leave the inn, and the three of them quickly duck into a nearby alley for Pr’Gillis to attempt a scry, but again no image is detected.
At that moment, the doors to the inn burst open, and out pour six armored men and two mages. The three duck further back into the alley, and Eqximiye casts an obscuring mist to better conceal them. They try to locate Andros with the crystal ball, and see him being questioned, but his skills as a secret agent are superb, and it appears they are believing this story; indeed, the group tries scrying on him a little later, and see that he is searching for them. They see him coming out of the inn from across the street, so Eqximiye sends Entropy, her feline familiar, out to him. He recognizes the cat, of course, and slips it a note suggesting that they all meet up at the Blue Fishhook.
Once the entire party has regrouped back at the tavern where they first met, they discuss their situation, and the possibility of saving the girl. Andros offers that he could do some spying for them, but it would take time. They reluctantly realize that perhaps this situation requires a little more firepower than they currently have, and with heavy hearts, Pr’Gillis and Quingle decide that they will return to Fennas Ear, hoping that at some point in the future they may return with their full group to rescue the girl. So they all teleport back, but Eqximiye graciously offers the use of the crystal ball to Pr’Gillis and Quingle to periodically check to see if the girls’ status changes; if she’s ever released, and can be scryed upon, then they can return for her.
Once back in Fennas Ear, Pr’Gillis and Quingle are shown to quarters in the guest wing for resting, and Pr’Gillis returns the flute that he was lent. Celemar checks in with Eqximiye. Just before going to bed, Quingle decides to attempt a shadow Sending to the other members of the Shards. He has a strong reason to believe they are on the astral plane, but the sending spell should still work, he supposes. He sends the following message to Umbrecrom: “Quingle here assuming you three are astral. Pr’Gillis resurrected. Return to Port Dawn to retrieve slave failed. Eqximiye debriefed on astral weapon, tell no one.” He then goes to bed.
The group rises at about 2:30 or so on the afternoon of the 9th, and meet back at Eqximiye’s office about 4:00. Fowyn, Pr’Gillis’ father, is there, and he performs a divination to see if the slave girl is still alive. Question: “If we try to rescue the slave girl Pr’Gillis bought in Port Dawn earlier this week, would we find her alive or dead?” Response: “Once bound by chains, now bound by pain. In the depths below the blood. Questioned for dates that are not there.” Fowyn has other business to attend to and leaves, but the group is joined by Thangil Elendu, another member of the Raptors, and preparations are made to depart for Eqximiye’s diplomatic mission.
In his earlier years of travel, before coming under Borsa’s guardianship, Quingle had been to Azaron, which is part of Argotha. Although it had been some time ago, he remembers a popular old dwarven biscuit seller, so he uses Eqximiye’s crystal ball to do a scry on her and get a better image for a teleport. He reads the scroll, and Eqximiye, Thangil, Pr’Gillis and Quingle appear next to the pleasant street vendor. The old dwarf remembers the gnome, and is quite taken with his new charge, Malachitrix. Out of friendship and for old-times sake, the group buys some biscuits all around. “These are the best biscuits,” the dwarf exclaims, “made even better with yak butter!” Thangil also offers Malachitrix a treat that is a favorite of Airamie, the ranger’s own pseudo-dragon companion. The young copper dragon enjoys it immensely, and Quingle notes that he will need to visit Rumblebum’s Necessaries to get a supply of the treats of his own for Malachitrix.
It turns out that the party has arrived during a celebration – the Festival of the Fermentor is in full swing, and everyone is drinking beer (very good beer, it should be noted) and toasting the Fermentor. The group makes their way to the Lord’s Domain, where they are met by Sir Loric Morrius, Viscount of Duraan. Eqximiye and Thangil have met Loric before. Indeed, when last they were together, Loric had a blade at Eqximiye’s throat, but the rules of Host’s Grace, under which this meeting is taking place, dictate that no harm will come to the visiting group. Loric leads them to the main hall of the keep, and while waiting, Pr’Gillis borrows a flute from one of the hall’s musicians and he and Loric give an impromptu concert, with Loric playing a lute. Loric plays with great skill, but Pr’Gillis plays with such grace and beauty that perhaps even the Gods in Their heavens may take note, and Loric is so moved that he gives the flute to Pr’Gillis as a token of esteem. A huge carriage arrives to take them to the Baron’s manor house, and the group departs. It is a four-hour ride from Azaron, and there is much pleasant small talk during the journey; Sir Loric at one point even recites some skillfully crafted poetry (Eqximiye suspects that he is the author of the Grim poems). Loric is, in fact, a Shade, and says to Quingle that “I find something I like about you, but I can’t put my finger on it.” The Shadowcraft sorcerer thanks him politely, but is not sure what to make of that comment.
As the carriage approaches the castle, Pr’Gillis notices that a female elf is running alongside the carriage, easily keeping pace with the horses. He recognizes her as a monk, but can’t see any markings to indicate if she might be from the order of the Opaline Fist, which is the same order as Tilit, the monk to whom Pr’Gillis lost his battle and life just a few days ago. The group disembarks in the courtyard of the manor house, and they notice that there is one turreted tower that has undergone recent repairs. They are met by a woman who introduces herself as Madame Sasa, the mistress of the household. They enter and are shown to a grand lounge.
Sasa attends to all their needs in preparation for dinner and meeting with Baron Witherow Soulthorn. This includes their needs for freshening up before the meal, advice on Argothan etiquette, and even arranging for suitable dinner garments for Quingle. As he is being fitted with the clothes, one of the women attending to him makes the comment to her fellow maids that “it is so nice to be able to use his old clothes again.” Quingle realizes that they are fitting him with the Baron’s old childhood clothes, so he uses a few illusions to update the appearance, modifying the colors to coordinate with those of his companions, and adding a few extra gems here and there.
When the dinner begins, the group is announced to the Baron by the seneschal. Other attendees, besides Baron Witherow, are the Lady Lilleth, Viscount Loric Morrius, and Silnaatia, the elven monk whom Pr’Gillis saw earlier. The Baron is a large, muscular, imposing man, with even more charisma than the visiting group’s sorcerer (who’s arcane abilities require a high degree of personal magnetism). He is, of course, seated at the head of the table, and to his right is Viscount Loric, then Sir Thangil, Silnaatia, and Pr’Gillis. To the Baron’s left is Lady Eqximiye, the Lady Lilleth, Quingle, and then finally Malachitrix. The dining begins immediately, and there is light conversation throughout the meal. Silnaatia, however, appears very uncomfortable, and it is obvious she does not want to be there; the Lady Lilleth hardly speaks at all. Malachitrix does get a little rambunctious at times. It is, of course, just as if a child were dining at the table with the grown ups; indeed, when asked his age he promptly and proudly responds “I’m one year old!,” holding up a single digit. Viscount Loric appears to be concerned that the wyrmling’s behavior might anger the Baron, but his superior appears to be amused by the young dragon’s playfulness.
For entertainment after the meal, Pr’Gillis and Loric again perform as they did back in the Lord’s Domain, and the audience is greatly impressed (though Malachitrix, after such a large meal, has fallen asleep; Quingle asks for a glass saucer to be brought, and gently lifting his familiar’s head, places it under his chin so the acid that he is drooling does not damage the furniture). Finally, the after-dinner activities draw to a close, and the party is directed to the Baron’s private lounge, where the real business begins between him and Lady Eqximiye.
“We have complimentary goals,” the Baron begins, and he and Lady Eqximiye agree to set aside the court courtesies during these discussions. He goes on to explain that he has objects and information that may be useful to Eqximiye, and that a mutual exchange may be arranged. “That’s possible,” Eqximiye responds, “but what do I have to offer you that you don’t already have?” “Credibility,” Witherow replies. She studies him for a moment, and then asks “is the leader of your country to be determined soon?” “That is my intention,” he responds. “Argotha needs a strong leader to be united for troubled times ahead,” he continues, “I intend to be the next King of Argotha. I have the location of individuals you are looking for – members of your organization in exile – they are within a few days ride. Additionally, and at great expense, I have determined the whereabouts of a particular location you have been seeking. I have a gift for you…” At this, Lilleth gives Eqximiye a box, “with the Dark Lady’s blessing” she states, and it is at this point that they notice that Lilleth wears the telltale scar that adorns all clerics of Wee Jas – that of a slit throat.
The box is unlocked, and Eqximiye opens it – it contains bones and a skull, clearly elven. “How very interesting,” she says. The bones are those of Sarendil Ellanta, an enemy of the Raptors at one time, who should not have been killed when he was (while under a flag of truce). Eqximiye believes his assistance to be the key to winning back those Eldar who have been in hiding since the Queen’s death, and she has been searching for his body for some time. “I thought it would be,” Witherow replies, “you understand the significance. I offer it in the spirit of negotiation…it is yours regardless of the outcome of our meeting.” Finally, he is approaching the crux of his invitation to the Speaker of the Eldar. “There are obstacles to reaching my goal” he says. “What can we do for you?” she asks. “Will you confirm my identity?” is his answer; “…shall I speak clearer?” “I believe at this point it is best to leave nothing to interpretation” Eqximiye recommends. “Of course,” he agrees, “the history of my family has been very dark. In particular my sire. There is no chance that one of my lineage in any time soon would be confirmed as heir to the throne. So you will confirm my identity as Morlain Arosian. In return for which, in addition to the previous mentioned information, I will make certain the particular person is returned to you. So, Eqximiye…can we reach an accord?” She is quite for a moment, then says “I have one very important question…what is your opinion of the Children of the Black Sun?” “Troubling.” “Would you oppose them?” she presses on. “I would give my word as King to oppose them if we came to accord;” he pauses for a moment, considers the time of night, the significance of the discussion, and then suggests “perhaps it would be in order to retire for the evening to consider things?” “That would be well,” she agrees. “Then I will bid you good night. Sleep well and soundly,” and with that, he leaves. The party is shown back to their guest apartments, with Sasa, as before, seeing to all their needs.
The following morning Sasa wakes the visiting group, and servants begin laying out durable hunting garb. Eqximiye explains that they must leave, and after some time, the Baron requests to see her alone. She explains their need to return home – the pirate armada is advancing on Fennas Ear. The Baron is very disappointed, but will not take offense; he does, however, insist that he and Lady Eqximiye take a ride together. When she goes to meet him for the ride, she finds that he is wearing heavy armor. Silnaatia and Pr’Gillis join them on their excursion, but monitor the pair from a respectful distance. Silnaatia insisted on her going along, and the Baron called on Pr’Gillis to accompany them on behalf of the Lady Eqximiye. It is during this outing that Pr’Gillis does see that Silnaatia is, indeed, of the same order as Tilit.
After some riding, the Baron says “I had intended to show you this during the hunt,” and leads her into a clearing with what appears to be a bonfire pile of wood. The pile appears to be very odd – it is bundles of twigs, but they are strangely humanoid (they are, in fact, twigblights). “These infest the region in my southern domain. I brought them here to dispose of them. But I also wanted to show you this…” He indicates a wolf’s corpse, but it appears to have been skinned and gutted, but then the skin was put back on the empty corpse. “The only difference between this,” pointing at the body, “and what we encountered is that it is not moving now. I suspect this problem and what is happening in Falls Gate are connected.” “Lilleth has been having strange dreams,” he continues, “someone to challenge Wee Jas…and it’s something connected to you and your family. Is there something you wish to add?” “I believe you are correct about Falls Gate,” she responds, and collects a twigblight as a sample. “I understand that time is pressing,” the Baron concludes, “let us return.”
When they return to the manor house, the Baron immediately takes his leave of Lady Eqximiye, then leaves – completely ignoring the rest of her party. He is not offended, but is clearly angry that they are leaving early. As they prepare to take their own leave, Pr’Gillis presents Sasa with an origami rose. She is deeply moved by the gift, and the monk sees that it almost bings tears to her eyes.
Eqximiye teleports her party back to Fennas Ear.