War and Subterfuge

Your Mission
Should you choose to accept it...

They ask me to protect them, to fight their battles and slay their enemies; they do not realize that they are one and the same…

“Each of you has been invited here because of the skills or knowledge you possess. Your names will be called and you will gather in groups. Each group will be given sealed orders…”

The desert does not care who crosses its body or drinks its life-water. Storms flay both Rhonian and Dapreevan flesh the same. One nation dies and another is born; why should I pledge the dunes to a conflict that will extinguish itself long before they turn to stone?

“You have three objectives. Some are similar to those of other groups, some are yours alone. Keep them secret, the Rhonians will notice you soon enough so don’t make it any easier for them. You have three ways to proceed – East to the river, North straight to the desert, or following a detachment of troops…”

Which way should “we” proceed? Hah! I will leave behind these water-rich lands and return to the desert. I’ve seen nothing to persuade me towards the Dapreevan cause.

*

A form lay still across the path, unmistakably a body. Whether or not it was alive was still uncertain as Raiden bounded forward, wary of danger ahead. He found it moments later, as four snarling, savage hounds burst from the forest on either side of the path, red eyes glowing with uncanny intelligence. One leapt upon Satchel, bearing him to the ground and coming mere inches from tearing out his throat. Another menaced Reed, who had trailed behind Raiden some distance down the path. The remaining two split off, one slamming bodily into Raiden while the other viciously tried to gain purchase on Halya’s armor.

Jinan stood in a center of calm amidst the roiling chaos. As his companions fought tooth and nail with the wargs, he waited for the opportune moment to strike. He called for Bathas to engage the warg snapping at Satchel’s throat, as he drew upon the moon’s pale light to conjure fire at his fingertips.

Bathas uttered a fearsome roar and charged the warg, moving in a blink of an eye over forty feet of ground. 400 pounds of desert fury slammed into the dread beast, bowling it over and releasing Satchel from its grip. The lizard’s jaws clamped down on the warg’s neck, nearly ending its life in a single blow. Satchel rolled aside and blasted the warg with scorching flame, ending the creature’s horrid existence and leaving only the smell of burnt flesh.

Meanwhile Halya, having come to her senses, easily deflected the second warg’s attacks and brought her sword to bear, cleaving the beast twice and leaving it a pile of gore at her feet. Raiden, still locked in bodily conflict with a third dread hound, grimaced through the pain of multiple wounds as he struck with iron fists at the warg’s soft underbelly. Reed fared better, wounding and driving off the last warg, which ultimately met its end at Halya’s shining blade. Raiden bested the final warg just as the others were running to his aid, and the party was left alone on the forest path to lick their wounds. The body of a man lay across the road where the wargs had ambushed him. He was dressed in what once were fine clothes, and he bore a signet ring with the symbol of Faerendal. The man was laid to rest and his ring pocketed by Raiden, to keep or return to its family should the party ever journey to Faerendal.

*

Jinan walked ahead of the group again the next day, as the party forged ahead through the dark forest into a more populated valley.

I will be glad to leave behind this green land. It makes one lazy, fat on the water and richness of the soil. Only in the harshness of the desert can one be tested and found worthy of the Earth. Hah, “fat” – an apt description of that halfling ahead. He’d best step aside…

“Well met, travelers! I am the toll collector – nay, toll-master, in charge of the fees due to yonder village. If you kind folk wish to pass you must pay the toll…”

Beads of sweat began dripping down the halfling’s face. Raiden wasn’t buying his ruse, so he stepped forward and grabbed the halfling’s shirt and drew him off the ground to meet Raiden’s eyes. That was when the ambush was sprung. Arrows whistled from the treeline and thudded next to Raiden’s head and three red-skinned hobgoblins stepped from the brush to defend their halfling leader. From behind them the party also heard a deep roar. They turned to see a lumbering ogre charging towards them, a massive tree-branch clutched in one hand.

Raiden and Jinan sprung into action. Raiden put the halfling into a headlock and demanded he call off his band. The halfling wet himself in terror and screamed for parlay, but the drow archer in the forest loosed another arrow, and the ogre continued to charge. Raiden sighed in disappointment and slammed a fist into the halfling’s jaw – unintentionally pulping the small man’s bones and punching deep into his brain.

Reed and Halya charged forward and engaged the hobgoblins on the party’s flank, the clashing of steel sounding sharply in the afternoon stillness. Satchel and Jinan turned towards the ogre, who found himself confronted with several flamboyantly-dressed halflings shimmering before him. Perhaps its sense of smell pierced the ruse, for the massive club swung down and bowled Satchel aside. Jinan planted his feet firmly in the soil and drew from the earth an artifice of stone, rock and sand. A scorpion shaped itself from the mass and scuttled towards the ogre, snapping at its heels.

The ogre paid the construct no heed and bowled it aside, reaching Jinan and once more striking with its massive club. The Wastewalker was struck viciously in the side, a rib cracking under the pressure. The ogre stood over Satchel and Jinan, preparing to strike again, when Bathas roared and bit down on the ogre’s leg and wrenched it aside, felling the creature to one knee. The blades of Halya and Reed clove as one into the ogre’s neck and it fell lifeless to the ground.

Raiden, meanwhile, dashed towards the drow archeress, stunning her with a vicious blow to the stomach and slamming her backwards into a nearby tree trunk. She slumped over in a daze, and without mercy Raiden stood over her and and delivered the coupe de grace, snapping her neck and ending the battle. After relieving the would-be bandits’ bodies of gold, the party camped further down the road, a half-day’s journey from a sleepy-looking town at the other end of the valley.

*

It makes sense for the entire Swampview section to get its own journal, rather than introducing it here and finishing it in the second post.

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The Children of Swampview
Who's got a kiss for the Pickety witch?
From the War-Journal of Raiden, last Warden of Sandej

So we came to the hamlet of Swampview. The first thing that struck us all on our arrival was the quiet. The townsfolk walked around as though in a daze. At first I thought it was due to the strange attire of my companions and I. My fists were still bloody from the battle, and the Wastewalker’s pet would give any of these soft inlanders pause.

We decided to stop and refresh ourselves in the village, except for the Wastewalker, who insisted on denying himself the comfort of a hot meal and a cold ale. To each their own, I suppose. Perhaps he just wished to be rid of Satchel’s incessant jabbering? That I could understand. I don’t know how I can be expected to work with these people. a crazy desert mystic, a chatty little spell slinger, and a boy barely more than a child. The paladin’s the only one I can tolerate – understands the need for discipline. At least they’ve all proven they can handle themselves in a fight.

Well, we soon learned that this sleepy little town wasn’t all it appeared. The inn-keep told us the town’s children had been disappearing, one by one – wandering off into the woods of their own accord, by his account. I was loathe to slow our journey to the Endless Desert – especially if what the Dapreevan told me is true, and some of my people have been taken captive by the Rhonians. But I could not stand by and let innocent children suffer. Nor my companions.

Halya (being the most diplomatically inclined of our ragtag band) went to inform the mayor that we would help the villagers find their children. Meanwhile, Jinan took to the air, scouring the countryside for signs of our quarry. We sent Satchel and Reed scouting the nearby swamp for signs of the Rhonians – could there be slave-traders at work?. I was just searching the town itself for a hint, when a fresh-faced young fop came bellowing out of the woods. Apparently his name was Kieran, and he’d been sent by the Dapreevans. He was meant to join our little band all along, but had shown up late to the meeting. In any event, once I explained the situation to him, he was happy to help.

I managed to determine in what direction the children had all left town. When we reconvened, we agreed there was no time for delay, and set out to find them. The woods West of Swampview were dismal and dark indeed. But thanks to the Wastewalker’s guidance, and the keen senses of his companion, we found at last, a small cottage, isolated in the woods. We approached with caution from the rear. I broke the lock on the cellar door, and inside we found a charnel-house of horrors.

Bones. Some human, some animal, all reeking of rot and decay. Within a pile of refuse, I found a serviceable crossbow. Not my ideal weapon, but without the ancestral armament of my ancient kin, I decided to make do. Being that i had the best eyes in the dark – and some hand had extinguished the lights in the upper floors – I was first up the ladder to the main floor.

There I found one large plain room, as one is wont to find in a country dwelling. The table was laid as though for an elaborate feast. Straining my senses, I heard faint whimpers coming from the cupboard under the stairs. Within, I found a cluster of ten whey-faced children, and an old woman. She claimed to have found the children wandering in the woods, and that her husband was missing. But something in her story rang false, and Hayla tried to warn us that all was not as it seemed – but at that moment, the old woman vanished.

I attempted to grab her, but without being able to see her, my accuracy was somewhat marred. She managed to burst free of the closet, but in the process, revealed her form to be that of a nightmarish hag. What’s worse, she used her foul powers to enslave the minds of the children, forcing them to defend her! A grueling battle ensued. We wanted to dispatch the old horror, but the children blocked our blows with their bodies, and we were forced to hold back so as not to kill them. I attempted to wrestle the hag to the ground, but she thwarted me, dodging and throwing off my many attempts. My companions had little more success with their blades, and we were forced to knock out the children to prevent them from defending her.

Meanwhile Jinan and his pet were engaged in battle with a mysterious being on the upper floor, who periodically tried to cloud our minds with some manner of psychic attack. I had no time for this. I was busy with the hag. Once we thought we’d heard noises outside, and feared reinforcements. Perhaps it was only the stress of battle. The being from upstairs – which came downstairs in Jinan’s shape – was finally dispatched by all of Jinan’s magic – finished by the sting of a monstrous ash worm, which the druid quickly set upon the outnumbered hag. At last, she died. And we all took a moment to congratulate ourselves, comfort the children – and liberate what goods we could from these two foul horrors.

It was decided that it would be unwise to remain in the house, and that it would be best to return the children to Swampview as soon as possible, and rendezvous with our friends. However, in our weariness on our journey home, we must have edged too close to the swamp. For, with almost no warning, an alligator the size of a merchant’s wagon burst from the water’s edge and snatched up Hayla, threatening to haul her back into the swamp.

I wasted no time. I leaped forward, and focussed my qi as Master Shansuun taught me, stunning the beast with a mighty blow of my fist. The creature was momentarily weakened, dropping the paladin and allowing us a chance to close ranks around the beast. The battle was fierce. Though Hayla managed to scale the beast’s body, it tossed her aside and threatened to devour her, seemingly ignoring Kieran’s lethal blades, and my no-less-lethal fists. Jinan, meanwhile, was safeguarding the children, all the while hoping to distract the beast with my borrowed crossbow. The thing ignored me, until it nearly snapped me in half with those teeth, and I was forced to retreat. But not for long.

I would not suffer the shame of failure in my sworn duty. Not this time. Not like this! I remember a cold fury overwhelming me as, heedless of danger, I leaped at the beast and renewed my attack. It was already planning a retreat from my companion’s worthy assault – but the killing blow was mine. I leaped astride the beast and, using the Stooping Falcon Fist technique, I caved in the damned thing’s skull. Twice in 24 hours I’ll have to wash brains from my hands.

The rest of our journey passed without incident. We returned the children to their grateful parents, and the mayor rewarded us with gold, and a feast. However, he gave us some bad news as well. Apparently, the next major city on our road north has become a battleground in the war. Midlar is a war-zone, and squarely in our path. Seems likely the corpse we found on the road to Swampview was on his way to apprise the Dapreevan commander of the situation. Jinan, not much for celebration, volunteered to warn the Dapreevans, while we await Reed and Satchel’s return from the swamp. The sooner we can set out, the better. I long to have worthy blood on my hands, the blood of those who best deserve it – the blood of those Rhonians who spill the blood of innocent men and women. There is a reckoning coming. And I, for one, am eager to see battle joined.

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The Swamp
Where's Reeeeed?!

The adventurers sat at their party, enjoying themselves, when the mood was broken by their ally, Satchel, who ran into town yelling about how Reed was ‘trapped bellow the church.’ Once Satchel had explained his ravings, Raiden and Halya decided to follow him into the swamp to aid their comrade. This proved foolish. They turned around in circles, wading through muddy waters as the day turned to night. Eventually, it was decided that they would simply return the next day.

When Jinan returned from his trek back to Brene, all was explained to him and he and Keiran (who had had some trouble the night before) were ready to head into the marshes ahead. Jinan’s natural sense of direction proved useful in finding the way through the waters. The adventurers eventually crossed paths with some hungry crocodiles, but they dispatched them without even breaking a sweat.

Finally, they made it to the center of the swamp, where, only a small distance away, they could see the town and church where Reed had been trapped. However, getting to the town proved more hazardous than it appeared. Halya, Satchel, and Keiran were terriffied to find themselves sinking into the ground! To add to this, some mysterious creatures of the swamp, shocker lizards, watched on from their nest. Not willing to risk an unanticipated attack from them, Jinan sent forth his mighty lizard to scare them off. Feeling threatened, the lizards banded together and attacked with a mighty electric blast! This was enough to inform everyone that the lizards would be treated with a little more care.

Meanwhile, Raiden used his rope to attempt to pull Satchel back to shore and Jinan used a pole to aid Halya. When this proved fruitless, Jinan blessed Keiran with a mighty burrowing ability which he used to turn the quicksand into a bad memory. Once out, the band continued on their way. The way to the village would have continued unimpeded if not for a nest of stirges. They attacked the group but proved no match for their combined reflexes and strength.

Having finally made it to the village, they wasted no time. They went straight to the church, even with the uneasy feeling of being watched. Inside the found what Satchel had described to them. A stone tile behind the altar which glowed with magical aura. It wouldn’t budge… an arcane lock, perhaps?

Hoping to find some other way down into the passage bellow, the group decided to head outside… there, a massive beast awaited them. Like ogre and yet very plant-like (a plogre perhaps?), it took no notice of Keirans attempt to make peace and charged forward, batting him aside. This monster was strong. Surely the best choice was to prevent it from attacking. Thinking quickly, Jinan blinded it with a cyclone of sand and dirt while Raiden attempted to give it some of his patented brain-busting blows. When the creatures regenerative abilities were revealed, Satchel attempted to set it AFLAME!

“Try to heal THAT!” he quipped.

Halya, having restored Keiran to health, quickly joined the fray and took out one of its hamstrings. While it was distracted, Keiran hit it with an arrow so it would not stand again. As the creature fell, it caused part of the ceiling of the church to crumble. This creature proved to be quite a lot of trouble. Also, it raised some questions. What was this monstrosity? Where did it come from? A chain around its neck, and a corpse which it was obviously dragging around and snacking on revealed that it may somehow be related to the Rhonian army… but how?

Going back into the church to see the damage, the adventurers saw that the tile with the seal had been shattered. Now, surely, they would be able to lift it and find out what had happened to their ally? The opening revealed a tunnel which traveled under the swamp. Walking down it, the band found it significantly shortened their journey, preventing more unnecessary swimming. They also found tracks… Reed!

Following the path out of the swamp, the group hoped that Reed had had the same idea, and that they would find him soon. Sadly, these thoughts were cut short but a brewing storm. It seemed unwise to stay outside, exposed, when the were chances of lightning. Find the growing wind and rain, they eventually made it to a small farm. Entering the barn showed them that no animals had been here for a few weeks, perhaps more. Curious, the searched the house, which proved to have a similar story. Maybe the people that lived here feared the approaching war and left?

Since no one was around to complain, the group figured no one would mind if they took shelter in the barn, at least until the rain died down a little.

A few hours passed and the storm began to calm. Maybe now they could continue their search for their friend? But before they could even think of leaving, footsteps were heard outside… the farmer returning to his home? Whoever it was, they were searching every building… and the group decided it better to hide.

The person who opened the door was a bugbear, and he wasn’t too happy to find Halya standing in the open, or Keiran bursting out to explain everything. When he explained that they were looking for their friend, Reed, the bugbear ran for it, hoping to warn his allies. This plot was foiled by Keiran’s arrows and Jinan’s magical abilities.

The crew interrogated the bugbear, demanding to know where Reed was, if he had allies coming this way, etc. He proved stubborn even to their threats. He did however, let slip that Reed was captured by his group. His group, in fact, is what came over the bridge of the river near the barn. Knocking the bugbear out, the heroes exited the barn to see another bugbear, a heavily armored cleric, and another troll, blindfolded and pulling a wagon.

Jinan quickly used his abilities to cause a mass of plants to grow and slow the enemies’ movement to a crawl while Raiden and Halya charged forward to meet their foes. The second bugbear was dispatched quickly but the celebration soon ended when the cleric let loose the troll and he tore Raiden to shreds. Seeing their ally fall caused the rest of the group to grow uneasy. Were they outmatched here? Perhaps a tactical retreat was in order. Slowly backing off, and using the plants powers to slow the troll to their advantage, the adventurers attacked and attacked the monster with all they had. And though the cleric helped vanquish and sand scorpion/worm and attempted to heal the large creature, it was eventually vanquished by Basthus, Jinan’s lizard, and Satchel’s flames.

While this was happening, a figure rose from the wagon the troll was pulling. Shaking off the ropes that just a while ago had bound him, Reed joined the fight. His aid, and the unceasing perseverance of the others, finally brought the last foe down. With a mighty lightning bolt, the cleric fell.

Having defeated the foes, the group went to examine Raiden’s body… only to find that Raiden was somehow alive! By the will of the Gods, he explained, or one God. The one of the lizardfolks, who explained to him that a false prophet needed to be eliminated…

This cryptic message only served to confuse the group. Their frustration only deepened when they discoverred that the bugbear who had been unconscious in the barn had managed to escape…

Deciding to see what the wagon contained, the band enjoyed the spoils of war, setting flame to anything they did not take. These weapons would not be used by the Rhonian army, not today. Not if they had anything to say about it. The front line was growing closer and, finally, t the heroes would bring their skills to meet those of the Rhonians.

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Mazes and traps

I am back with my fellow recruits —or would it be better to say draftees? Haven’t figured that out yet. I can’t shake the feeling that Raiden’s death and subsequent resurrection was my fault, even though I know only the death part was. Also, the fault of poor strategy. Our band is too individualistic for group tactics, though I like to think that changed today.

As we walked North I found myself watching Raiden. He seems well-adjusted to his return to life, no signs of a death wish that I can see, or no more than before. Some people might classify his bloodthirsty pursuit of others’ death as a morbid sign, but I know better. Revenge is more about life than death.

We followed that acrid smoke and the sounds of bombardment North until we got to [the city]. It had already fallen. The citizens were all gone —evacuated. We gained the confidence of a commander on our side who told us they were about to blow the city with a strange black dragon powder. Luckily for him, we weren’t Rhonian spies about to betray his plans to the enemy inside the city. We really need some sort of official identification, especially as these outlying commanders don’t seem to know about the secret groups working on their side. Well I suppose “secret” sums it up, but still. Inconvenient. Possibly tactically problematic. Secure, though.

The commander gave us a map of the sewer system. We had an hour. Luckily the city wasn’t very big. The sewers were unsurprisingly sewerish in smell and consistency… but they provided a useful passage under the front lines. We encountered two filth monsters who seemed to be made of shit. Then we passed a small, scrabbling creature, which we talked our way past… Keiran felt an affinity for the poor little guy and tried to talk it into escaping the city with us, but I don’t think it was bright enough to grasp an idea more complex than “junk” and “lair”.

Near the Northern exit the passage was blocked. We backtracked and then, still having almost an hour, we went up to the surface in pursuit of the sorcerer who apparently controls the Rhonian army in these parts. Thanks to our map, we came up in the store room of the city hall. First we fought some very creep animated suits of armour. I thought they were super cool, but there’s no arguing with the fact that they were annoying to have to face. Flames did absolutely nothing to them. Raiden and Halya beat them to a pulp, though. Halya’s cool —cool as a cucumber, as they say. Or someone says. I don’t know who says that actually. But she is.

Anyway, what happened then… oh right our plan to trap the sorcerer and his sidekick on the stairs backfired a hundred and ten percent when they ran away instead of coming down to kill us, and used the giant statue out front to kill us instead. I guess we kind of forgot about magic. Duh.

Some people jumped out a window (completely unnecessarily); poor Halya had to do it in full plate armor. But we got the better of the giant statue eventually. Then we stumbled around in the smoke for a while and almost died of carbon monoxide poisoning before booking it out of the city.

That night we camped next to a hill of stones (aside: not ON the hill, but BESIDE the hill with our BACKS to it). Jinan kept watch, but we’d only been sleeping for a few hours when he noticed something sneaking around. He woke us up and we pursued… unfortunately, underpowered due to lack of sleep. Turns out it was a really adorable tree. It had been scared by the scary orange-wearing sorcerer who escaped us earlier, and it had stolen our important documents that we took from the [city] Rhonian HQ… or so we thought. Turns out it was our secret mission guidelines. I guess we DO have some kind of incriminating identifying documents on us after all. I’d forgotten about those.

We cornered the tree in the middle of a silent ruin in the countryside, where a trapdoor waited. I (EVENTUALLY) talked to it in Sylvan and got the story. Then we set a trap: an innocent piece of paper where the tree would have left our plans, waiting on the trapdoor. We all prepared ourselves to ambush the sorcerer when he appeared.

And waited. For hours. Finally, this second tactical plan failed when someone took the paper from inside the trapdoor. We pursued down into the dark underground, but he had passed through a door that was strangely difficult to open.

And here is where we encountered the Trap of the Moving Rooms.

It went like this: Raiden pushed through the entrance door. Then Halya and I opened the door. The glimpse we got through was of an empty room. Halya went through the door and it closed behind her. So did Keiran. [? sorry guys I don’t remember the exact sequence of how this all went. help me out if you want].

Then I pushed the door open. Raiden was not there. Halya was not there, and neither was Keiran. No one was there, only a symbol on the floor. I was alone.

It was peculiar, and what made it more frightening was the hint that the symbol on the floor provided, perhaps to an invisible peril awaiting in the room with you.
The room had four identical doors, one on each of its four walls. You might at first think your companions had gone through one of the other doors, but then you remembered that you’d seen over their shoulders as they were going through the very same door you’d just come through, and the room you’d seen then had had a different symbol on its floor.
So it became apparent that it was the rooms themselves that moved.
What made the whole trap more cunning was the fact that the doors were very difficult to open. Even in my bear shape I did not always manage to open the doors, though I had much more success than I would have in my normal shape. Halya had horrible luck about it and Keiran found it difficult also, I believe.

Eventually though we worked out that there were nine rooms, eight of which moved in a circle around the center room. They moved every second time a door closed. The way out was opposite from the way we came in. In the moving rooms it was hard to keep your sense of direction. Jinan also encountered a swarm of rats, and glimpsed through an open door a gelatinous cube, that horrible thing. Halya got skewered with a booby-trap spear, and Keiran [? who was in the room when the arrows trap got set off?] got hit with an arrow.

But through shouting to each other through the doors we all kept abreast of what was happening, and gathered in the centre room. Then we made a break for the exit, using Keiran and my longswords to prop doors open between us. Finally we all managed to scramble out into the corridor beyond, and we saw what lay there.

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Keiran's Journal: Entry 1

Some of my companions have been keeping journals, so I thought I’d keep one too.

Right..

Right.. Dear Journal,

Right.. Dear Journal,This has been quite the adventure. My companions and I just encountered this fascinating moving maze thing and after an awful lot of trouble, we finally managed to find our way through it was such an ordeal. Fortunately, I didn’t endure anything worse than the odd javelin in the shoulder, but some of my comrades weren’t so lucky. I caught a glimpse of Jinan running away from a swarm of rats. A swarm! It was very uncouth and quite horrid, My heard just about broke for poor Jinan. And then a bear suddenly appeared in our party, but he’s gone now.

Right.. Dear Journal,This has been quite the adventure. My companions and I just encountered this fascinating moving maze thing and after an awful lot of trouble, we finally managed to find our way through it was such an ordeal. Fortunately, I didn’t endure anything worse than the odd javelin in the shoulder, but some of my comrades weren’t so lucky. I caught a glimpse of Jinan running away from a swarm of rats. A swarm! It was very uncouth and quite horrid, My heard just about broke for poor Jinan. And then a bear suddenly appeared in our party, but he’s gone now.Anyway, once we got out of that, we happened upon some ruined shrines… it was all very boring. We send Raiden down the hall to scout because he’s very quiet and such and the rest of us stayed back. He was gone for the longest time and just when we were wondering if we should go and check for him, we heard a dreadful clatter. We all rushed down the hall to find Raiden fighting with an oddly familiar cloaked figure and getting himself killed. Again! Can you imagine that? Of course, we all stepped in to help him and to our surprise we were attacked by an invisible person. It was absolutely dreadful! And while we were being attacked by the thing we couldn’t see, the cloaked person tried to escape through a hole in the ceiling like a coward. Raiden was having none of that. He leapt up and grappled her which was very brave of him, but of course it meant that we had to fight the cloaked person as well as the invisible thing. Fortunately, Jinan was able to hit it with a lot of the magic things he does and that was a great deal more effective than the rest of us flailing at it. He really is amazing.

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Oasis and Pelor's Hand
Lord grant me strength - we're going to need it.

We reached the oasis under cover of darkness, wary of the unfriendly beasts gathered at its banks. There was a winged creature hiding in the trees across the water from us, which we’d spotted from a distance, but it was now lurking out of sight. We made our way to the water’s edge, keeping enough distance between us and the pack of hyenas as to hopefully appear unthreatening. Of course, Lord’s breath, it couldn’t be that easy. The hyenas were too hungry to ignore us. The harpy, too, couldn’t leave us to our business. She let out a screeching, haunting song and Jinan, Raiden and Reed began to walk into the depths of the pool, a distant cast over their eyes. Kieran was occupied staring at something and, well, I had the Lord’s favour on my side. We were unaffected. Perhaps Kieran’s density was a blessing in disguise after all. The Gods work in mysterious ways.

Kieran and I were left to dispatch the approaching hyenas, most of which had been spared the call to drown themselves. He seemed to have a knack for shooting arrows into their eyes. We made fairly short work of them, but they were many and our waterlogged friends weren’t of any help. I suppose clinging to life was helpful, in that we could keep slicing and dicing the hyenas without needing to rush off and babysit them. Honestly, sometimes I get the impression that these people have no training whatsoever. Except Raiden, of course. He’s clearly spent years practicing that scowl.

Soon Jinan broke free and took to the air, attempting to blast the harpy out of the sky. Their aerial acrobatics were impressive, I’m assured, but I was a little busy making mincemeat of my toothy foes at the time. The Lord’s work is never done, especially when the Lord’s servant is being chewed on. Really now, what part of “big shiny armour” could they possibly have found appetizing? They must have been rather hungry, especially to have kept on like that when we’d disemboweled most of their number. Raiden and Reed snapped back to the present in due time, and shortly after, the harpy was burnt to ash and the last of the hyenas hit the ground. We refilled our water supply at long last and moved on through the night, stopping to camp later.

When the heat of day was gone and night was once more upon us, we made for a shadowy form on the horizon. It turned out to be a village, nestled around a great stone formation that looked much like a hand. Pelor’s Hand, it was called. I wasn’t sure what good a rock hand could possibly do, except throw a little shade during the day. Perhaps the hand of Heironeous is simply a more active one. I have, after all, been kept quite busy doing his good work. It is not my place to question the wisdom of the Gods. It is not always easy to serve without question, but I trust that my Lord guides me for the greater good. The other gods lead people astray, including this imposter God and its false prophet that Raiden spoke of after his miraculous resurrection. But my faith is strong and my sword true. I have no doubt that we will continue to follow the path set before us and rid the world of these Rhonian villains. Lord preserve us, I know it will only grow more perilous.

The village was unwilling to supply us, since attacks from the surrounding wildlife had left them under great hardship. Their well had also run dry. I sympathized with their plight, though I didn’t agree with their attitude. I was pleased to hear that my fellows were just as eager as I to help this stricken village. Perhaps their thoughts were more turned to the unlikeliness of finding desert equipment elsewhere. Then there was an eerie scuttling sound and a flurry of movement, and a swarm of man-sized scorpions charged for the village. Villagers grabbed crude farm tools to defend themselves. We drew our weapons and took on the bulk of the horde. While their numbers were daunting at first, and their appearance stomach-turning, I found that a good swing could cleave them in two with relative ease if I softened them up a little. Raiden seemed completely invulnerable to their stingers’ venom.

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