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Old 09-15-2020, 04:02 PM   #21
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 176 since leaving The Homeland

Nujan poked me in the morning, saying they wanted to sleep and I sat up. We had traveled through the night and the landscape was now considerably drier than close to Guling, but not yet a desert. When we reached a small village, we parked the wagon by the side of the road and gave the horses a rest while Nuur-Karif and Grogg entered the village to obtain some food and water. Grogg was carrying a barrel of water when we returned and I used the break to practice some archery and unarmed combat with Wolfram. A few hours later, we reached a larger village that is a natural resting place on the road between Guling and Ur. Grogg disappeared into a building as soon as we stopped and I could hear the sounds of violent mating going on inside while I wrapped myself in my cloak and beard. Nuur-Karif, Yana and I went to buy supplies and then went looking for a chapel. Among a small cluster of houses on the outskirts we found a small dirt cellar marked with the signs of Ashtarites and entered. Not long after we entered, two humans that appeared to be locals entered. I withdrew into a dark corner and Yana was not very keen on speaking either, but Nuur-Karif started a meeting. The locals did not know much about what was going on in Ur, but there were rumours that the city was under siege and merchants and travelers were warned to stay away. Mir had been through earlier, but nobody knew where they were now. Nuur-Karif concluded the meeting by asking if Yana wanted to be inducted into the cult of Ashtar, but they declined.

Despite Yana declining the offer, Nuur-Karif did not appear to be upset and they went to the tavern to get a drink before we would travel on. I found a sheltered spot to study the night sky and saw that the hunters were dancing in the south again. Amna had also returned to their normal shape and the sky seemed normal, or at least as normal as it can be these days. I returned to the wagon and was met with the pungent smell of incense wafting out of the small window. Wolfram had been sitting inside the whole time, drinking and burning incense for some reason. I was planning to sit on the roof anyway, so this did not overly bother me, but their behaviour is not exactly reassuring. Looking up at the sky again, I studied Kama and Taxini dancing in the south. There was something special about their dance, but the next I remember is Nuur-Karif waking me. My eyes had been glowing again, but I had been woken too soon and could not remember anything. Looking up again, the hunters were now gone. There was little to do besides going to sleep, but I felt a deep unease. If we are hit by a storm like last time, there will be no shelter in the desert.
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Old 09-20-2020, 08:03 AM   #22
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 177 since leaving The Homeland

In the morning, I discussed how to proceed with Nuur-Karif and Wolfram. Grogg was disinterested, focusing on their needlework. Nuur-Karif was worryingly nonchalant about the prospect of another storm, even though the last one had torn down houses and would have sent our wagon flying. I suggested we deliver the cube to The Homeland and Wolfram wanted to know more about the cube. Nuur-Karif was even less interested than Grogg. Initially, Wolfram wanted it delivered to the Azura priests, preferably after consulting with the leaders of their order. They also wanted to know who where the owners of the cube, which is quite unclear. I am sure the Azura would claim they are, but they themselves said the cubes are older than their order and they do not know how to make them. Considering that they have been involved in every cataclysm the mammals know about, according to Gromann, this is probably for the best. When told that mages from both the Salt Guild and Academy in the Cities of the Prince, as well as some criminal organization related to The Company was involved in the cube scheme, Wolfram soured on the idea of taking the cube there. I reassured them by pointing out that you are also a priest of Amna, which seemed to help, and changed the topic to more immediate problems. There could be a devastating storm coming, we were traveling towards a city most likely under siege and there was a wraith out there releasing demons from their prisons. According to the map, there was a stone circle between us and Ur, and the crypt should be nearby. The stone circle should probably be our first destination and from there we could hopefully learn more about what was going on. About halfway into the desert, there should be a travelers station where we might find water, but it would most likely be abandoned and we should find some shade to shelter from Ajaw during the heat of day. In the evening, we could approach the station carefully and travel on from there, but I should scout ahead when we get closer to Ur. When the sun started climbing in the sky, we spotted a huge standing rock that had clearly provided shelter for travelers before us. The wagon was manoeuvred off the road and behind the rock and the others made themselves comfortable in the shade. I climbed the rock to get an overview of the landscape and in the distance I could see some structures that appeared to be buildings. With a full waterskin, I set off to investigate. The lack of water makes Ajaw quite uncomfortable here in the desert, but the mammals, except Nujan, seem to suffer even worse.

It was not possible to see the structures from the road, but I proceeded carefully, looking both ahead and behind me. After about three quarters of an hour, I found a sign that claimed the road ahead was dangerous, signed by Aldera. Judging from the tracks, the sign had been placed there by a single rider coming from the direction of Ur and then returned the same way. There had been little to no traffic since. I continued eastwards and after another quarter of an hour, I spotted the structures. It was indeed a run down, two-storey building with an attached shed. Across the road, someone had placed two large carts and chained them together and a sign said closed. While it would be possible to get the wagon around the improvised barricade, it would take considerable time and effort. There were no immediate signs of life, but I took a wide path around the building and thought I spotted some movement in a window. Finding a shaded cranny between two boulders, I lay down to observe and there were definitely someone inside. However, unless the building had a large basement, there could not be more than two or three inside. I also noticed two barrels in the shed, possibly with water. If the inhabitants of the shack were hostile, I would want reinforcements, so I started on my way back. About halfway back to the wagon, I spotted a rider coming towards me and dove behind an outcropping of rock. The rider did not spot me and I got a good look at them. They appeared to be some kind of soldier, but there were no obvious insignia and, while they kept a good pace, they did not appear to be in a great hurry. The only unusual thing about them were the horse's hooves, which were wrapped in bags to reduce both the noise and the tracks they made. I considered shooting them in the back in case they had spotted the wagon, but decided it was more likely they were Aldera than Larma and a missing rider would presumably cause some suspicion either way. Back by the wagons, I studied the tracks and it did not seem the rider had noticed the wagon behind the rock. At least they hadn't stopped or changed their pace.

Worryingly, the others hadn't noticed the rider either. I almost miss Lunari's keen eyes and ears. It was decided that we should wait until evening, as originally planned, and then surround the shack in case the inhabitants were hostile. Nujan wanted to scout ahead as well, mostly out of boredom I suspect, and I went with them. It appears they have not realized we are heading towards a hostile army of elves that torture their captives and enslave their spirits and Nujan's recklessness could reveal our position. The gravity of the situation seems lost on Wolfram and Grogg as well, but that is to be expected. When we reached the buildings, we could see the horse of the rider I had spotted earlier drinking from one of the barrels. The rider themselves soon appeared from the shack, mounted the horse and rode off towards east. We did not observe any other movement and Nujan soon got bored and we returned to the wagon.
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Old 09-20-2020, 08:12 AM   #23
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 177 since leaving The Homeland


Not much had happened back in the camp and I spent the afternoon writing while keeping an eye on the horizon. Even though it was getting cooler long before Ajaw reached the horizon, Nuur-Karif insisted the horses need rest and the shadows had gotten long by the time we set out. By the danger sign, Nujan and I jumped off the wagon and made our way cross country to take up position behind the building in case anyone tried to escape or signal. However, a hidden cleft in the landscape forced us on a detour and by the time we reached the shack, the wagon was already there. We were not that delayed, so they cannot have waited as long as they should have. As we were approaching, a human appeared from a hatch in the roof and raised a small blue flag that would be hidden from the road and the wagon. Fearing that the flag was a signal for an ambush, Nujan set out to warn the others while I found a position with relatively good overview of the area. Nuur-Karif came out of the building as Nujan approached, but they did not seem surprised or worried by the flag and took Yana with them inside. A short while later, riders appeared on the road and entered the shack, but soon reemerged and rode off. Nuur-Karif and Yana soon followed and they started to turn the wagon, so I moved to intercept it a bit away from the buildings.

The inhabitants in the shack had been soldiers, claiming to be from Aldera and had instructed Nuur-Karif to meet a higher ranking officer by the danger sign. When we reached the sign, a lone rider was waiting on the road, but we could see four others on foot making their way from behind some rocks. They did not appear hostile, but I readied my bow discreetly, just in case. Nuur-Karif descended from the wagon and greeted the leader of the humans. While they did not provide any name or rank, they must have been an officer for Aldera's scouts and wanted to know if we were going to Ur or Mir. The honest answer would be neither, but they must have realized who we were, because they pulled Nuur-Karif close and handed them a paper slip. They also said something about connecting us with a guide, but were very vague and this guide was outside their control. Traveling eastwards should be reasonably safe in the desert and the areas west of Ur were mostly under control of Aldera. However, the eastern part of Ur had fallen to Larma and scouting and raiding parties could be encountered anywhere. When we reached the greener areas surrounding Ur, we should dump the wagon and continue on foot to be less conspicuous.

Once again, the wagon was turned and faced eastwards again. Two of the Aldera scouts rode ahead to clear the barricade and would follow us to the edge of the desert and take care of the wagon. After we passed the shack, Nuur-Karif produced the paper slip from their pouch and read it. It instructed us to enter The Beachside and order a double Dan. This made as little sense as it sounds, and there did not appear to be any code in the notes. However, Yana pointed out that The Beachside is a bar next to a small lake at the edge of the desert. A double Dan would then be a plausible name for an alcoholic beverage. I did not point out the risk of showing secret information to a known agent.

I climbed back into the wagon to inform Wolfram and Grogg about what was going on. Inside, I was greeted with the sight of Grogg poking the cube with the silver needle, as well as all the contents of my backpack dumped on the floor. There was a small flash of star light when the needle touched the cube and I was about to shout at them to stop, but Wolfram jumped on Grogg and they went crashing into the wall. For a second, I was afraid the whole carriage would topple over, but it stabilized and a wrestling match ensued. Wolfram was trying to grab the cube from Grogg, while the troll tried to push and kick the human away. The door of the carriage had swung open and I shouted for Yana to stop the horses, but they were already slowing down. Nuur-Karif, thinking quickly, called out that they saw Lunari, which made Grogg come storming out of the halted wagon and right past me, giving me the opportunity to snatch the cube and run off. Had I not known better, I would have thought that Nuur-Karif was genuinely sorry for tricking Grogg into thinking Lunari was back. They are a great actor.

I remained hidden until things calmed down and Wolfram made Grogg promise to not touch the cube again. For once I agreed with them. Considering the amount of energy stored in that cube, Grogg could have blown up the whole wagon, as well as the riders thirty meters ahead of us. While Grogg had promised to not experiment with the cube again, I figured it was best to remove the temptation and secured it on the roof. While packing it down, I noticed it had dimmed since we charged it. It seemes Pakk and Gromann were not able to seal it as well as they thought. It was already quite dark, so I secured myself with a rope and sat down to study the stars.
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Old 09-20-2020, 08:16 AM   #24
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 178 since leaving The Homeland

As Ajaw appeared above the horizon in the east, I regained control of my senses. I had been looking for Kama and Taxini, but just as I found them, it was as if someone placed the cube right in front of my eyes. I then seemed to transfer inside the cube and it contained the entire sky over the mesa the night we charged the cube. Something plucked the Slurping Toad out of the sky which infuriated a star sign I recognized as Tityra, making it charge around and scatter the other stars. After a while, they calmed down and I saw Kama and Taxini again, but I couldn't tell if I was still inside the box or saw the actual sky. The hunters were out, looking for prey, but a wave rippled across the sky and I was left in a catatonic state, staring into the night sky, but not seeing anything until Ajaw appeared. I blinked a few times before realizing where I was and immediately checked the box. It looked exactly the same as it had the night before and I am certain nobody had touched it. My eyes had been glowing, according to Nujan, but this vision was directly related to the events of the day. Perhaps I have gotten a better understanding of how the cube works, but how can it contain a whole night sky inside it. Also, I have seen strange things happen with Grogg before, but how were they able to extract the Slurping Toad, Lunari's star sign, from the cube. Another difference is that I remembered being in a catatonic state this time. I believe that has happened before, but I have not been able to remember it. Hopefully it is a sign that I'm starting to gain better control of my star sight. One thing is certain, the cube is far too dangerous for the mammals.

We had traveled all night and the horses needed rest, so we parked the coach next to some huge rocks. One of the soldiers escorting us wandered off and Nuur-Karif asked me to follow them, but they only climbed one of the rocks to act as lookout. Grogg had finally completed their sewing and sat on the ground enraptured with their own work. It depicted a fox and several flowers, the symbols of Lunari, and while it was well crafted, I have seen them make better embroidery before. I tried to ask them about their work, but they were only interested in finding something alcoholic to drink, which Nujan provided. This was a bit unusual for Grogg, but it would be very usual for Lunari. Hopefully they will let me study their embroidery further. I fear it somehow contains the influence of the Slurping Toad, and a lying, cowardly Grogg will not be an improvement.
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Old 10-11-2020, 01:33 PM   #25
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 178 since leaving The Homeland

I continued the discussion with Grogg and tried to make them understand they should not fool around with the cube by reminding them of Remi. Judging from Grogg's emissions at Remi's execution, they found the event profoundly disturbing. However, it did not seem to register when I pointed out that the same could happen to them if they did not leave the cube alone. Further debate would be pointless, so I went to sleep in the shadow of the coach and got a few hours of sleep before we continued. As I had not slept all night, I traveled on inside the wagon. Wolfram wanted me to join them on their daily exercises, claiming it would make me bigger, and I gave a noncommitting yes while drifting off to sleep. I woke up again a few hours later, noticing that the coach had stopped and Wolfram was not inside. It was just a short break so I turned over to sleep more, but noticed that Grogg asked Kra to fetch a magic item and place it on the cube. Confronting them would be not help, so I slipped up on the roof to watch the cube. However, no items appeared. The raven is good at fetching things, but, luckily, placing them anywhere else than in Grogg's hands seems beyond it. I also made sure to destroy the note Nuur-Karif had gotten. Mir will appreciate it if their agents are not revealed by searching the remains when Nuur-Karif achieves their goal of going to Ashtar.

After about two hours, the soldiers escorting us stopped on a ridge and pointed towards the horizon. It was hard to tell with the heat making the air shimmer, but the landscape appeared to be getting more rugged. In the distance, it looked like there was a clear boundary where the landscape suddenly turned greener. Getting there would take another hour and we decided to go directly to The Beachfront. As we got nearer, the change in the landscape got clearer. The greener area was far from a lush forest, but at least the ground was covered in grass and there were shrubs and a few trees here and there. We climbed the last ridge of the desert and we were quite suddenly surrounded by grasslands, after crossing the surprisingly sharp boundary. Ahead of us was a green basin, at least a days travel across. In the middle, was the city of Ur. As I lay my eyes on the city, a strange sensation passed down my spine to the tip of my tail. While I can't quite explain it with words, the cause must have been something magical. The city itself had clearly seen better days. Parts of the city wall had collapsed and it looked like there were abandoned buildings. We could not see any besieging armies though, and at least from a distance, the whole area looked very peaceful.

Nuur-Karif was not interested in the view and directed Yana to steer the coach off the main road and onto a smaller road taking off to the north. Just a few hundred meters from the main road was a small cluster of buildings next to a murky lake. Swimming in the lake would not be very appealing, but a large number of mammals were lying on the beach and were uncharacteristically unashamed of their bodies. It appears this place is used by the local population for rest and relaxation. Grogg jumped out almost as soon as we stopped and muttered something about showing the beach to Lunari. I believe they referred to the piece of cloth they had embroidered. Nuur-Karif entered the inn, insisting on going alone, but soon came out again with a human. To get some privacy, the human was hustled into the coach and we rode a few hundred meters down the road. Inside the wagon, the human introduced themselves as Niffi and was pleased to meet Wolfram, a member of the order of Tiri. When asked who they were, Niffi called themselves Nefelonia, clearly expecting us to know that name. None of us did, me and Wolfram not being from Arland and Nuur-Karif being too zealous, and Nefalonia had to explain they were on The Council of Eleven. The news of the new council head had apparently not reached them yet and I was not very keen on informing them.
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Old 10-11-2020, 01:49 PM   #26
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 178 since leaving The Homeland

Unsurprisingly, Nefalonia wondered who we were and why we were sent to help with the spirits. I kept in the background and Nefalonia wanted to know who was our leader. Nuur-Karif initially claimed to be, but Nefalonia easily saw through the claim and were ready to leave us until they noticed Nujan on the roof. They knew Nujan well and from the way Nefalonia addressed them, we learned that Nujan is some kind of important noble in Kajar. I suspected as much, but had the impression the jaguars were too rational to care about such silly titles. With a Tiri follower and Nujan present, Nefalonia was reassured and informed us that there were Larma soldiers in the area around the stone circle to the north. They also mentioned that this circle seems to be linked to Ajaw, but did not elaborate. More importantly, the wraith was in the crypt to the south and had started some kind of ritual and that must be stopped within three days.

When asked why there was a deadline, they only said that something was happening in the sky. I did not understand what they meant, but I fear it has something to do with my vision when I saw the hunters and asked them to explain. This made them notice me and to my surprise, they knew of our existence, the first mammal except possibly the Azura priests. They referred to us as the star People in the south, comparing us to the elves in the north. I refrained from pointing out how silly such a comparison is, instead asking how they had learned about us and they said they had read about us, hinting that they had spent decades studying books. Knowing how untrustworthy apeoid books are, I will treat their information with caution. Especially since they claimed that feral People were roaming the jungles north of The Homeland and were even eating apeoids. I threw up a bit in my mouth. Returning to the subject of the sky, Nefalonia said the dragons Palongi and Tinibagra, also known as Palo and Tiba, would return and fight each other. It was unclear what they meant, but the event that would happen in three days seemed related. Palongi is the dragon in the east that Grogg has been talking about and Tinibagra is the dragon in the west. Mir also talked about a dragon, which presumably is Tinibagra. Nefalonia also agreed with Grogg that the storm that hit on the way to Sulla was Palongi. They also said the People are related to the dragons. Perhaps they are correct. Grogg described a dragon as one of the People with wings and I have seen drawings of such beings deep in the great temple of Amna in Uaxanek.

While we were talking, Grogg had been wandering around among the naked mammals at the beach. I figured the information about Palongi would interest them and Nefalonia would probably be intrigued by Grogg so I ran off to fetch them. They were initially unwilling, claiming that Lunari enjoyed the view, but came along when I told them Nefalonia knew about Palo. Nefalonia quickly recounted what they had told me and said that the dragons wanted to fight each other. Something they called the giants tried to stop the dragons from fighting and Orga, Grogg's ancestor was one of these giants. Nefalonia's impression was that all of Orga's descendants were dead and Grogg told them about the night their tribe was attacked. Trolls in the mountains live in caves. One night, beasts had attacked them and killed everyone except Grogg. Their recollection is poor and they do not know how they survived, but the beasts had been supernatural. These beasts sound like the beasts I saw the remains of in the brown forest and Nefalonia made the same connection. According to Nefalonia, the elves in the forest had tried to capture the nine dancing stars under the ground in some insane plan to stop the last cataclysm. The idea had come from the Azura priests and Albor, one of the demons. Unsurprisingly, both Albor and the elves were driven to madness. The Azura priests somehow escaped the worst consequences, but expelled all males from their order. The collaboration between Azura and Albor must have been going on for a while, because Tivito had been trying to entomb the demons in their crypts in Arland. However, the Azura priests had provoked the Tiri worshipers into attacking Tivito and sabotage the scheme, letting Krull and Albor escape. The order of Tiri was banned as a result and earlier Ebsalon mentioned that Azura temples and priests had been burned at some point. Since then, Tivito has degenerated into a criminal gang, but still enjoys privileges according to the law. Wolfram mentioned that Krull appeared to be less dangerous than the other demons, but Nefalonia rejected this idea. Tivito had saved Krull for last because they were the most dangerous and all the other demons had to be entombed before they could take on Krull.

At this point, Nuur-Karif had had enough and announced they were leaving. They were still offended by Nefalonia's dismissal and impatient for a chance to go to Ashtar and began to walk down the road in the direction of the crypt, dragging Yana with them. I ran after them, trying to get them to wait, but they were set. However, I was able to convince them to go north towards the stone circle instead, arguing that we might learn something about what was going on in the crypt, and they marched off towards The Beachfront. I wonder if they intend to take Yana with them when they go to Ashtar.

While this was going on, Grogg introduced Nefalonia to Kra. Nefalonia said Kra was a familiar and asked Grogg how they had bound the spirit raven. None of us could really answer that, but I told Nefalonia that Grogg had been to the brown forest. They had a similar initial reaction as Pakk and Gromann, slightly horrified, but quickly determined that Kra could not be one of the elves. Not any more, anyway.

Wolfram again brought up the letter they wanted to send to their order. It is clear that Tityra did not bless them with a towering intellect, because they still believe that they are unknown in Arland. As if the soldiers at The Evening Fortress would not blabber to the first female they met about the huge warrior running around on the fortress, raising totem poles and drawing magical circles. I made clear how idiotic I thought it was, but they insisted and Nefalonia said they could arrange for the letter to be sent with the priests of Tsovin and Vagan. They are gods of the ocean and the sky and their temples run a messaging system that is said to be secure and efficient. I have my doubts and at least I managed to make sure I was not mentioned in the letter.

Nujan had been dozing in the sun throughout the discussion, but now Nefalonia wanted to talk to them and climbed up on the roof of the coach. There, they sensed the power emanating from the cube and wanted to see it. After seeing it, they declared the cube was a mirror shard and like I had seen during the night, the night sky is in the cube. That we were traveling around with such a powerful artifact we did not know anything about was horrifying and they made it clear they would have preferred if we had given it to them so they could place it in The Council's vaults in Ur. Considering that Ur is partially taken by Larma forces, I found that a less than optimal solution. Besides, we would have no guarantee that we would get it back. While they thought it was foolish, they simply warned us that we must not take the shard to the Night Mirror. The mountain lake is like an enormous version of the shards and I shudder when I think of the power it must contain. Nefalonia also hintet that there is a similar lake in The Homeland. I wonder how far Krull and Gritt have gotten now.

By now, Nuur-Karif and Yana had disappeared behind some hills and I and Wolfram discussed whether we should go north or south first. I initially wanted to go north, but Nefalonia said it was unlikely we would be able to discover anything useful. While I am sure I can learn more there than the mammals, the rituals of the wraith were probably nearing completion and something would happen in three days, so the risk of delay would be too great. Grogg and Wolfram started to unload the wagon and repack while I ran off to get Nuur-Karif. They were still grumpy when I caught up to them, but I mostly ignored their comments.

Walking back to the wagon took us past The Beachfront and we met Nefalonia leaving the bar with their belongings. Having met us, their mission was complete and they were heading back to Ur. While Nuur-Karif sniffed disdainfully, I walked with them and they asked about Ebsalon. While I did not confirm anything, I let them infer that Ebsalon was on their way to The Tomb of Kings. This did not please them, but they agreed that this was probably the best course of action. If things did not go well in the crypt, we should also look for someone strong willed to contain the demon. When we reached the main road, Nefalonia took off to the left towards Ur while we continued straight ahead, following the border between grass and desert. This should take us to the crypt.
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Old 10-11-2020, 02:01 PM   #27
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 178 since leaving The Homeland

I scouted ahead and after about an hours walk, I spotted a suitable place where we could bury the cube, concealing our tracks thoroughly. Taking it with us to the wraith sounded like a bad idea and hopefully the time spent underground could release more of the energy trapped in it. We continued on and planned to make camp about a kilometer from the crypt, but we did not know where exactly the crypt was, so I ran ahead again. Returning to the group sometime later, it was clear Grogg's night of sewing was catching up to them and they were advancing at a crawl. While I still had not seen any signs of the crypt, Grogg would be of no use in their current state and we should make camp soon. However, Wolfram and Nuur-Karif wanted to press on while there were still light, so I continued on and they would make camp when Ajaw started to set.

The landscape continued as before, with the rugged desert to my right and the sloping grasslands to the left with a sharp boundary. As Ajaw reached the horizon, a dark cloud appeared in front, plunging the landscape into a deep gloom. I had not noticed any clouds in the sky before, so the sudden appearance was a surprise. Looking around, I noticed something was off with my surroundings and took cover. After studying the landscape for a while, it was clear that it was changing when I was not looking. The path ahead seemed to scramble every time I looked away, but behind me, it was reasonably stable and I could make out my tracks. Backtracking a bit, I suddenly passed a threshold and the mirages disappeared together with the cloud hiding Ajaw. Walking forward, it appeared again, indicating that it was a local phenomenon. The stars had not yet appeared and perhaps they would also be hidden by clouds, so I would risk getting lost if I explored the area further. By now, the others were supposed to have made camp, but I cannot trust them to stick to plans and they would certainly get lost if they wandered into the mirages. However, when I returned, they had made camp. Grogg looked like they had collapsed next to a withered old tree and were snoring loudly, the needle sticking out of their neck. I described the mirages and our initial plan was to erect Wolfram's totem pole at the edge of the area. Hopefully we could then lure out some spirits and dispatch them in small numbers before dealing with the illusions and whatever they were concealing. Nujan and Yana would stay back and guard the camp. Grogg would need more rest first and I sat down to observe the stars. Tityra was visible in the north, but they did not reveal anything to me. Ominously, the hunters were nowhere to be seen while the dance of The Nine looked even more manic than usual. At least the snake was visible. There was also a much fainter, but closer source of star energy. When I opened my eyes again, I realized that it was Grogg's embroidery. The slurping toad must somehow be in it.

Amna had cleared the horizon by the time we moved out but they appeared weaker than usual and it was quite dark. After about ten minutes, Wolfram stopped and pointed at Amna. They were hidden behind a dark cloud and the landscape had started shifting. Before I could say anything, Grogg sent Kra off to find the crypt and ran after the invisible raven. They got a head start and quickly disappeared in the darkness and shifting landscape. While trying to follow them would seem hopeless, Nuur-Karif was a bit too eager to let them go and tried to dissuade me from trying to track Grogg. I explained that the stars were up and I would have no problem making my way back as long as they did not wander off. Circling the camp with increasing radii, I found neither Grogg nor any signs of a crypt. Luckily, Grogg was back with the other's when I returned. Wolfram had not bathed for days and Grogg had followed their scent back to the others. Apparently the sensory illusions here only affects vision. Kra was gone though. Since we were still some way off from the crypt, there would be no point in Wolfram performing their rituals, so we decided to go back to camp and pick up lanterns and ropes.

Back in the camp, both Nujan and Yana were awake, with the latter looking quite disturbed. A troop of humans had appeared out of the darkness, but had left again when told we were there to hunt spirits. These must be similar to the "elves" guarding Gritt's crypt and they could have valuable information. I shouted into the night, expecting them to still be monitoring our camp. At first, the only answer was the sounds of the desert night, but then three humans came towards us. Like the "elves", they were only guarding the area and never entered the actual crypt, which is supposed to be ten minutes walk into the shifting area. Closer to the crypt, the illusions would be more intense, but they did not specify how, only saying that those who entered did not return. In addition to continuously shifting the landscape, the area, did not like light, which explains the dark cloud in front of Ajaw. The stars were unaffected though. The wraith had arrived seven days ago, meaning it must have traveled more or less directly from the last crypt. Since the signs of the cataclysm began in the sky, the mirages had become much more intense, but after the wraith arrived, they had reached a new level and the guardians had never seen anything like it. Having told us what they new, they disappeared into the night again.

Preparing our gear, we headed south again. Grogg lit up Lunari's old lantern, but it seemed like darkness were clustering around it so the shadows it cast were twisting and dancing, making it even harder to navigate. As the stars were shining clearly, I decided to the test the shining coin and it gave off warm star light as usual. While walking around with light sources is not exactly good for stealth, it is unclear how much one can hide from spirits anyway. We had not walked far before we heard intense cawing and flapping coming towards us and Nuur-Karif gave off an angry hiss. Kra had come at full speed and flew straight into Grogg. Expecting pursuers, we prepared for combat with Wolfram turning into a bear, but nothing happened. Getting lost in the shifting landscape was a real risk, so I tied loops on my rope and everyone was supposed to hold on, the bear holding it carefully in their teeth. Grogg suggested I should try to make the coin shine more brightly. That would be very helpful, but I was uncertain if I could get more energy into it than it could collect on its own. Not wishing to get jumped by a massive bear, I asked Wolfram if they were fine with this, but they only stared stupidly back at me, which I took for a yes. Carefully collecting star energy and directing it into the coin, I was able to reverse the normal flow and the coin lit up as strong as a lantern. Nuur-Karif has the best night vision and walked in front followed by me with the shining coin, then Wolfram and Grogg making up the rear.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 10-12-2020 at 03:15 PM.
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Old 10-11-2020, 02:16 PM   #28
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 178 since leaving The Homeland

We continued on our way in our little bubble of star light with the silhouettes of rocks and trees shifting around against the night sky. After ten minutes, Nuur-Karif suddenly stopped and pointed into the darkness ahead. About 50 meters in front of us, I could barely make out the outline of a tower. While everything else shifted around, the tower stayed put. Rearranging the rope, Nuur-Karif approached carefully while Grogg and I was ready to pull them back if they yanked the rope twice. While everything around them shifted around, Nuur-Karif stayed firm and soon returned. A bit further ahead and to the left they had spotted another tower but had not seen anything else of interest. Grogg wanted to test the integrity of the tower and threw a rock towards it. It looked like it should have hit, but we never heard any sounds of impact. There was little else to see and we approached the tower with Nuur-Karif at a rope length ahead. When they were about 10 meters from the tower, they shouted for us to stop and said they saw a door. From our position, the tower wall looked solid. Grogg has about the same level of concern for Nuur-Karif's well being as Nuur-Karif has for Grogg and lobbed another rock in the direction of the tower. I shouted a warning to Nuur-Karif making them duck and the rock flew towards the tower. Again we heard no sound of impact. Nuur-Karif also experimented with some rocks and with more careful observation, it looked like they vanished just as they were about to hit the wall.

Wolfram transformed back into a human and started erecting their totem pole. The range of their ritual is about 200 meters, so it should cover the tower and a large area behind it. To see any spirits if they appeared, the incense was lit, but like the lantern, it seemed to attract shadows and I was uncertain if it would do more harm than good. While Wolfram were still performing the ritual, I took up position on a grassy knoll behind them and readied arrows and the bottle of spirit poison. However, we waited for several minutes after the ritual and nothing seemed to happen. Coming down to the others, Wolfram almost sounded like they doubted Amna. Again we were interrupted by Grogg before I could ask them what was going on. The troll had started to stroll towards the tower and we shouted for them to come back. They shouted something about investigating the tower, but was interrupted by a voice from somewhere beyond the tower saying 'come'. In Gritt's crypt, a voice had also told me to come. However, that voice had been accompanied by the shivers of death magic, but I felt nothing this time. Grogg shouted back to the voice, telling it to come to us, but the only answer was another 'come'. Wofram sounded like they had serious doubts about their ritual and wanted to try another one. Back at the evening fortress, they said they had exhausted Amna, as if that was possible, and had also met a spirit that had refused to be banished. Now they wanted to see if they could detect traces of spirits instead of luring the spirits to them. They claimed the ritual had worked, but there had not been any spirits near us for the last 24 hours. This made sense if all the spirits were down in the crypt with the wraith. More importantly, they claimed that Amna had gone away for awhile, but had now returned. While Amna was veiled by the clouds, I could tell where they were and had not noticed any changes, so I do not know what Wolfram meant. I guess it is possible that the illusions here are affecting Wolfram differently than the rest of us. Either way, they had regained their confidence and wanted to lure the spirits one more time. I went back to the knoll again and waited while Wolfram performed the ritual and then turned into their bear form. No spirits appeared, but after a few minutes, I felt a burst of malevolent power from the area the voice had come from. Meeting the gaze of the bear, it was clear Wolfram had felt it too.

For a moment, a door appeared on the tower, but it vanished almost as soon as it had appeared. After ten minutes, Wolfram turned into human form and proclaimed that the ritual had not worked. The wraith must have had stronger control of the spirits than Wolfram's ritual. It seemed we would have to enter the crypt proper and we approached the tower. Grogg got me to tie a coin with some string and threw it towards the tower, holding on to the string. The coin and string went straight through the wall and Grogg said it felt like the coin fell down on the inside. Closing in on the tower, a door appeared again, but it was not possible to see anything through the pitch black aperture. Fetching a branch, I prodded the walls and met no resistance and could not feel any floor inside either. I could not feel anything with the tip of my tail either, so I decided to stick my head through the wall while Grogg held me. From the inside, I saw that it was not a tower at all, but a pit. At the bottom, I could see piles of gold and jewels. Clearly, this was a trap meant for mammals. While Wolfram, Nuur-Karif and Grogg are relatively resistant to the mammal's gold lust, it was better to not tempt them and I did not mention the gold. Krupik or Lunari would have insisted on climbing in.

Walking past the fake tower, I could make out the silhouette of another tower off to our left. The shifting of our surroundings intensified as we walked on until suddenly they stopped. Instead of the grasslands and stone desert we were in, we now saw a sand desert stretching out in all directions under a clear night sky. Right ahead of us was a calm oasis with a shimmering lake surrounded by palm trees. Not wanting to get lost in the illusions, we quickly stepped back and after walking a few meters found ourselves back behind the tower in the shifting landscape. Nuur-Karif said they could make out a total of four towers forming a square with two of the corners on the boundary between the grass and desert and one tower on each side. To investigate further, they tied the rope around their waist and borrowed Grogg's string coin before stepping about five meters forward. While we could clearly see them standing there and throwing the coin around, we could not hear anything from them. They eventually returned and said that their clothing had changed while they were in there. Even more concerning, the rope around their waist and even the string in their hand had vanished after a while. Before the string vanished, it had felt wet when they threw it in the lake. Now, both their clothing, the string and the rope were back and the string felt completely dry. They also estimated that the oasis were in the center of the square formed by the towers.

While we were standing there, a cry for help came from the desert to our right. It did not sound like the voice that told us to come, but we assumed it was a trap and ignored it. While Grogg and Nuur-Karif prepared to enter the oasis again, I tried to investigate the magic in the area. Unfortunately, I could detect little beyond the presence of magic in the ground here and it was not star energy. In the oasis, Grogg and Nuur-Karif were staring at each other for a bit before Grogg suddenly picked up Nuur-Karif and ran out. Inside, Nuur-Karif's clothing had changed to something that looked like what they wear in Amrosh and beyond and they had looked like another human. Their daggers had also disappeared and I suspect even their fangs were gone, judging by how shaken they were. Grogg's skin colour had changed from the normal bluish grey to a reddish brown and their hardened skin had become soft. When anchored in Monike, I spotted trolls like that working in the harbor. It seems like the image of the oasis is from somewhere far to the south. Wanting to investigate myself, I tied myself with the rope and entered the oasis. The first thing I noticed was that the stars were unchanged. Clearly, the oasis was just an image and we were not transported anywhere. Looking down on myself, I was horrified. I had expected to become one of the Small People and had braced myself for that, but instead, I was covered in fur and my feet had turned into paws like Nujan's. I immediately jumped back and ran out, breathing a sigh of relief when I saw that my scales were back. While Nujan and the other's like them I have seen are tawny with lighter patches on the belly, my fur had been striped in black and gold with lighter parts on the front. Perhaps the talking jaguars look like that further south than Kajar. At least I didn't look like an ape. Grogg was still standing by the oasis and looked confused, shouting at something off in the distance. They then started walking in the direction of whatever they were shouting at. Luckily, it took them out of the oasis and they came back when they saw me.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 10-12-2020 at 03:13 PM.
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Old 10-17-2020, 11:06 AM   #29
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 178 since leaving The Homeland

I tried to explain some tactics to the others. That rushing headlong into battle when you are outnumbered ten to one is not a good idea seems to be beyond them. Unfortunately, it did not penetrate. The spirits are relatively harmless on their own, but they are very difficult to defend against and even Grogg's thick skin does not protect against their attacks. In addition, only Wolfram is able to effectively attack them in their bear shape as Nuur-Karif's abilities are too slow to deal with large numbers of them. If we ended up in a fight with all of them, which we should avoid if possible, Wolfram should clear a path to the wraith while Nuur-Karif should try to materialize it. They were not able to materialize the last wraith, but they insist that it should not be a problem. Without the wraith controlling them, I believe the spirits would scatter. Ideally, I would be able to put a poisoned arrow in the wraith from a distance, but I found it highly unlikely that the wraith would be so nice as to present a target. As demonstrated by Mir, apeoids with strategic sense exist.

Before we could do anything, we would have to find a way in. The most likely location of an entrance seemed to be the oasis and I wished to investigate the illusion further. Tying a rope around my waist, I told Nuur-Karif and Wolfram to start pulling when I raised my arms. I would not be able to see the rope, but I believed it would still affect me. Steeling myself, I started to walk forward. To my surprise, I saw a human collecting water from the oasis and dropped to the ground. The jaguar body was reasonably adapted for the purpose, though the flashy clothing and fur left a lot to be desired. Thinking back, the clothing was reminiscent of the type worn in Monike. I had almost reached a spot behind a palm tree where I could observe the human when a force suddenly pulled me backwards through the air. My eyes met those of the human as they disappeared together with the oasis and I landed on the ground. It turned out Wolfram had randomly decided it was too dangerous to let me investigate, ruining our opportunity to capture the human and interrogate them.

To see if there were any entrances in the oasis area, Wolfram wanted to throw a rock attached to a rope, but their technique was terrible. Before they could try again, they were interrupted by Nuur-Karif who wanted Wolfram to repeat their ritual. Nuur-Karif had continuously scanned the area with the ring but only now reacted. Perhaps they had spotted something they did not let on. To humour Wolfram, I threw the rock a few more times, but did not hit anything. While I was hauling in the rock, Grogg suddenly started walking into the oasis. Everyone shouted at them to stop, but they ignored it and strode in. Rapidly tying the rope around my waist and handing the end to Nuur-Karif, I ran in after them. When I entered, Grogg looked like a red troll, standing at the edge of the lake and beginning to wade in. I shouted for them to stop, noticing that I was not speaking the language used in Arland and The Cities of the Prince, but something that might have been Arani. Grogg had no problem understanding it, but did not want to listen and continued into the lake. They claimed that Lunari had told them there was a treasure in the middle of the oasis, the height of five trolls down. Looking for their embroidery, I noticed that The Slurping Toad was tattooed on their chest where the embroidery had been outside the oasis. Explaining that the area was dangerous, they surprisingly listened to me and started to come towards me, but again I felt the force pulling me backwards. The idiot Wolfram had again decided that pulling on ropes are fun. Grogg came out soon after and Wolfram performed their rituals again. They were able to show our auras, but failed to attract any spirit.

To get to the wraith, we would have to get into the crypt. The towers were the only obvious feature in the landscape and we went back to the closest one, Nuur-Karif suggesting that I climb down and investigate. Not wanting to fall through a non existing floor and get assaulted by spirits, I tested it out with a stone at the end of a rope first. Both the floor and the wall seemed real enough and I climbed down in a rope, getting Grogg to hold the rope. Wolfram is clearly not to be trusted. Right above the floor, I tested it out with my staff and it still seemed firm so I got Grogg to lower me all the way down. The bottom of the hole seemed to be real and there was junk scattered everywhere, much of it made of gold. Like everything else in this area, the junk was magical and I suspect it will not be gold when it leaves the area. The most striking feature was a massive wooden door facing the centre of the oasis. Climbing back up, I tied the rope double to hold the weights of Grogg and Wolfram and it was attached to the ground using Wolfram's pickaxe. They made it down safely and the door opened with a light push. Inside was a dark corridor leading towards the centre of the oasis. Nuur-Karif wanted me to go first and look for traps, but Wolfram turned into a bear and forced themselves in front. For once I agreed with them, no reason to risk my life when there are so many who relish the opportunity. Besides, Wolfram and Nuur-Karif would be able to see the spirits if they attacked.

Following the bear into the darkness, I poisoned one of my blades and held the shining coin high to provide illumination, though little made it past Wolfram. After maybe 15 meters in, a strange sound, as if from a very sick mammal, came from the direction of the bear. The bear was gone and in its place was a large, light brown mammal with a hump on its back. It looked even dumber than a horse, with big eyelashes and a long tongue hanging out of its drooling mouth. Looking around, it looked like we were now in a desert at night again. However, there were no stars, so it was clear we were still underground. Ahead of us was a large building with a terrace in front. Columns supported a roof over the terrace and there were two doors in the wall on the far side of the terrace. Grogg had again turned red and Nuur-Karif looked like another human and had different clothing, again in a style that reminded me of Monike.

Without any stars, it would be difficult to navigate and I wanted to make sure that we could get go back the way we came. However, the beast did not care and shambled towards the building and started to kick on one of the doors. Someone inside told them to be quiet and not disturb the master while I started walking back, but the beast just intensified its kicks on the door which soon gave in. Screams, crashes and the demented bellowing of the beast emitted from the building. It had decided to trample whoever was in the building, even though they looked and sounded like humans.

Increasing my pace, I soon reached the edge of the illusion and I was back in the dark cave. I had come out of a larger cavern, but it was too dark to see anything in it. I could hear a lot though. The sounds of the beast was replaced with the growling of the bear and the shouting from the humans with the shrieks of spirits. Running back in, Grogg was nowhere to be seen, but Nuur-Karif was waiting outside. While I shouted to them that Wolfram was fighting spirits, I realized the jaguar was wearing footwear for some reason and there were a knife in each of them. Nuur-Karif drew a curved blade they were wearing and rushed inside, just as a voice that seemed to emanate from the ground commanded 'order, subjects'.

I finally reached the door to the building and peeked inside. The room was completely destroyed, with broken glass, cups and furniture scattered everywhere and a flood of wine gushing from broken barrels in a corner. Nuur-Karif was fighting something through a doorway nearby to the left while Grogg was striding through the room, apparently oblivious. In the far corner, the beast was stumbling around surrounded by several humans. Running over to Nuur-Karif, I saw that they were fighting a naked human that suddenly warped straight through Nuur-Karif. The head of the human was partially sliced off, but that did not seem to bother it and it dodged away from another of Nuur-Karif's thrusts while the voice commanded 'kill them'. Not expecting much, I stabbed at the human and the dagger made its way to the human's heart on its own, the skin around the wound blackening. Somehow, I must have used my poisoned blade. Three more spirits came out of the wall, but Nuur-Karif materialized two of them immediately and I finished them off. Grogg had reached the middle of the room and was standing next to a large golden, smoke emitting contraption with tubes sticking out. Due to the nature of the illusion, I had not noticed it before, but I believe the mammals use these things to inhale the smoke from herbs and get intoxicated. Grogg certainly thought so and bent down to inhale, before disappearing in a puff of smoke.
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