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coronatiger 01-16-2020 03:48 AM

Campaign Log: Confessions of a Forked Tongue
Greetings, forumites! Some of you may be following the story of Mattea Vishi in the Chaotic Pioneering campaign and noticed that while sometimes there's a new log entry each week, other times there can be a long time between sessions. While it's to be expected that as adults, we have other obligations that occasionally take priority over gaming, I would like to get my regular fixes of role playing. The solution was to gather another group to play with, which worked well. This other group is now on its second campaign. At first, I was the only overlapping member of both groups, but for the new campaign, two members of the Chaotic Pioneering group joined up.

As in my other log, I will be writing this one from my character's point of view. We've played ten sessions already, trekking into the wilderness to perform a magical experiment. The journey went reasonably well, but when we returned, different motives, opinions and allegiances surfaced, causing much turmoil among the characters. I won't go into too much detail at this time, but some of it may come up in the logs. The characters tried to come to an agreement, and made some headway, but at one point I realized that what the others were planning to do, my character had absolutely no desire to be part of. So I took the GM aside and told him I wanted to retire the character.

The week between the tenth and eleventh session, I spent creating a new character, someone who would get along with the others better than my old character. A flurry of emails and text messages was exchanged with the GM, and we came up with a very interesting character concept, so interesting in fact (at least in my opinion), that I decided to log her experiences here on the forum.

We kept the new character secret from the other players, and I played my old character in the eleventh session, dropping hints along the way that he wouldn't be joining them on their next expedition. The GM role played my new character during the first interactions with the other players, guided by my detailed character description and a torrent of secret messages. When the other players at last figured it all out, we switched, delegating my old character to NPC status.

Warning: All members of our group are adults, and our game features topics that some readers may find inappropriate or disturbing, like sex, religious fanaticism and slavery. I will use the literary technique called "fading to black" where necessary. Please be respectful in your comments. Explicit descriptions of sex/nudity are not allowed on this forum, and will be deleted.

This is a TL3-ish fantasy campaign, set in a homebrew world. I'll be writing from the point of view of a person living in that world, but I'll try to explain things in the log if I can find a natural way to do it. Feel free to ask questions if there's anything you don't understand, references you don't get, etc. I'll answer as best I can, or maybe I can entice the GM to elaborate. You shouldn't expect to receive secret information that my character doesn't have access to.

If you want to see the story from another angle, check out Xipil's version here: Campaign log: Report to Great Priest Ixanama

coronatiger 01-18-2020 01:44 PM

Khordak’s Inn

Who I am? Didn’t you expect to see a strange young woman in your basement, at ease among your snakes? You shouldn’t be surprised I’m unharmed. My greeting gesture identified me as an initiate, and by your response, I know you’re one, too. Like the snakes, we are Ashtar’s children, so why should I fear them? I expect you’re the caretaker of this chapel, and responsible for the snakes, but you needn’t worry. Like the snakes are my brothers, I am their sister, and they will not suffer by my hand.

I am a Fang, and on a holy quest, and thus you should know I’m under no obligation to share information with you. However, I come seeking aid, so it would be prudent for me to divulge a little. I’m traveling east, and thought that here in Byblos, the capital, I might be able to get passage with a trade caravan going to our neighbors in the Prince’s Cities.

On the other hand, our faith encourages us to share stories, that we may grow in wisdom. I will tell some of mine at the Meet, when your friends get here tonight, but since you identified yourself as an Ashtarite of relatively high rank, I assume you can hear more. May the Divine Mother of Snakes fork my tongue so I speak only according to Her will.

Orphaned at a young age, I have no recollection of my family. Their faces are gone, their names are gone. Even my own name is lost to me. My features tell nothing of my heritage; having brown eyes and hair is fairly common in Arland, and while my skin is fairly dark compared to most of our countrymen, my natural tan, as I call it, doesn’t imply foreign roots.

I was taken in by an innkeeper named Khordak, but it was not an act of kindness. I had to work long hours helping out at the inn, and for my efforts, I only got a blanket in the attic, and scraps and leftovers to eat if I’d been good. Khordak always said I should count myself blessed I wasn’t a slave. I quickly learned to follow orders and to be polite to the staff and customers. I still got regular thrashings in the alley whenever he felt the need to remind me of my place; he had a stick in the kitchen, leaning on the wall next to the back door, just for me. I would have run away, but I thought that would make me a slave, and I’d be even worse off.

I know the inn is in the vicinity of the city Sam, but while I’ve prayed to Ashtar to let me pay him back, I haven’t tried to find the place, afraid I’d collect an unsanctioned bounty if I ever lay eyes on Khordak again.

After a few years, a rich man entered the inn. Escorted by three guards, he was finely dressed, not the usual patron at this run-down place. I served him his meal, and afterwards he beckoned Khordak to approach. He pointed at me and asked if I was for rent. I didn’t understand, but coins changed hands, and Khordak came over to tell me to follow him upstairs and be good to him. I still didn’t understand, but it didn’t seem like the rich man would hurt me. Oh, how wrong I was! I’ll spare you the details.

As I mentioned, the inn was rather shabby. There was something wrong in every room, be it a drawer that wouldn’t open or a dented chamber pot. This room had a cracked bedframe from before my time, when something heavy had dropped on it. Sharp splinters protruded from beneath it, and I managed to break one off. The sound startled the bad man, and I punched the splinter into his neck. He collapsed on top of me, blood gushing out of the wound. I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t shift the body. A cold tingle, like the chill of death, crept over me, and darkness took me.


I dreamt of the creaking of axles and the clomp-clomp of hooves, and then a wheel hit a hole in the road and jolted me awake. Someone had wrapped me in a blanket and stuck me among coarse sacks in the wagon bed of a cart. A faint scent made me guess they contained vegetables. Although my head stuck out of the blanket, the rest of me was trapped, and I started sobbing quietly. Khordak hated the sound of crying, and the threat of his stick loomed large in my mind. To my surprise, it was a woman’s voice I heard, asking how I was feeling. I was afraid and trembling and didn’t answer. She tried to soothe me with assurances that everything was all right, that the bad man would never hurt me again.

The cart stopped soon after. The woman lifted me out of the cart and helped me out of the blanket. We had stopped at a small creek, and the woman instructed me to wash. My chest was covered in dried blood, except where it had stuck to the blanket and been torn off. While I washed, the woman emptied a sack and cut three holes in it, providing me with a makeshift dress.

We traveled for a couple of days. I spent most of the journey crying or sleeping. The woman’s name was Rhuk, and she knew I had no family. From what she’d heard, there was nobody I cared about that would miss me if I didn’t return. She did offer to turn the cart around and bring me back, just in case. The look of terror in my face said all that needed to be said. She asked for my name, expressing doubt that my mother had named me “Girl”. I whispered “I don’t know” and started crying again. “There, there, we’ll get you a new name, to go with your new life.”

Rhuk began teaching me about Ashtar, and I found comfort in her tales. A higher power watching over her was just what a terrified child needed. We arrived at a large but nondescript building in Sam as the sun was setting, and an old man came out to meet us when Rhuk parked the cart in a dark alley behind the building. Rhuk told him, “This is Nuur-Karif, who wants a new life with us. By Ashtar’s will, I delivered her from evil. I also bring your cargo.”

The man went inside, and I asked why Rhuk called me that. She explained that it meant “Red Twig” in the ancient tongue, and reminded me of the splinter I had used to defend myself from the bad man. There’s also an insect that’s called a twig because it looks like one, seemingly harmless, but with a deadly sting. Also, I’d been as red as the splinter when she found me. She thought the name suited me. She told me that the truth behind my new name was a secret between her, me and Ashtar, and if I wanted to share it, I could, but she swore she’d never speak of it again. “A mentioned secret is no secret,” she quoted.

The old man came back with two younger and stronger men. Rhuk gave specific instructions for unloading the cargo, and left the younger men to it. The rest of us entered the building and descended into the cellar. We washed our feet and hands, and entered a chamber with snakes all over, but the grown-ups didn’t seem afraid of them, so I determined that they couldn’t be dangerous. They sat down on the floor, facing each other, and Rhuk directed me to sit in front of her, between her outstretched legs. Whenever a snake came near us, she gently pushed it away. Maybe there was some danger, after all…

Rhuk was mostly silent while the old man spoke of Ashtar. Some of it I had heard from Rhuk already, but much was new. He asked what I thought of these things, and I answered honestly that while there were some things I didn’t understand, I had a feeling deep inside that told me that this was right and good. After a while, other people came inside to listen, all grown-ups. They sat down, but said nothing. Eventually, the old man told them my name, that I had come here to dedicate my life to Ashtar, and now it was time to see if Ashtar would accept my offer.

He taught me how to pray, that I must formulate words of praise or supplication. I didn’t have to speak out loud; Ashtar would hear my prayer as long as my tongue shaped the words. This would come with practice, but for now, I should speak the words clearly. He gave no instructions regarding any specific words I should use, so I just said, “Ashtar, I want to live here with your people and learn from them. Please, can I?” A surge of relief washed through me when the old man nodded, and I smiled. He told me to put my belly to the ground like the snake, and let the snake throne above me. If Ashtar accepted me, no harm would befall me.

I lay down on the ground, and it didn’t take long before one of the snakes approached me. It climbed up on my back, hissed, and continued on its path. The old man said some ritual words, and the congregation answered, then everyone came over to me to congratulate me and wish me welcome. I was now an Ashtarite, too.

coronatiger 01-18-2020 01:55 PM


I stayed in that building for years, only leaving to run errands. The main part housed the Ashtar-Muriak, “Ashtar’s Fangs”, and the snake-filled cellar was the holy temple of our faith. The Fangs, as you know, are our holy warriors, our guardians. Those not stationed elsewhere, or on a mission, lived and trained there in Sam. I practiced with them, and learned how to defend myself, unarmed and with a knife. I helped out in their offices, learning how to read and write, and discovered that they regularly took bounty hunter missions, tracking down and bringing criminals to justice. The authorities knew what to expect when they hired Fangs as bounty hunters; the last part of the expression “wanted dead or alive” was superfluous in mission briefings. After all, Ashtar is the goddess of death, and no Ashtarite hunted bounty without her blessing, thus no target was brought back alive.

Of course, my work and practice with the Fangs was secondary to my work and practice in the temple. I became familiar with the rites and rituals of Ashtar, and learned the holy stories. I soon figured out that there were things they didn’t tell me, but I was patient and said nothing. Knowledge would come when I was initiated to higher ranks. The ritual with the snake crawling over me had bestowed upon me the lowest rank, Spawn. I determined to be obedient, dutiful and devout, not because I desired knowledge, but because it felt right.

I had a small room all to myself in the living quarters, but I often took a blanket down to the temple and slept among the snakes. They were so fascinating! I was sad when one of them passed away, and overjoyed when a new one hatched or when someone brought one as a gift. The first time I bled, I woke up with cramps on the temple floor, and I was afraid one of the snakes had bitten me, but when I looked at them, I saw no hostility or anger, and I remembered that Rhuk had told me this would happen when I got older. When the caretaker came to feed the snakes, I was praying to Ashtar, caressing a viper that had slithered into my lap. I calmly told her what had happened, and she helped me clean up. She told me that in addition to working in the temple, she was a midwife. She helped women who were sick or injured, or who had trouble giving birth. She offered to take me on as an apprentice, but that didn’t feel right to me. I had my duties in the temple and with the Fangs, I explained. She insisted on giving me five-minute lessons each morning, and I learned a lot from her over the years, even with such short lessons.

I had stayed in Sam for about a year when I was initiated as a Bearer. I lay down naked on the temple floor, and was covered from the feet to the neck with sand and dirt, before volunteers from the congregation washed the dirt off me, starting at my feet and cleaning each body part in the proper order.

Rhuk came and went as her job demanded. She was a cart driver, mainly transporting produce from farms to markets. When she was in Sam, she always looked in on me, often staying with the Fangs for a few days to take part in teaching me. She never mentioned it, but eventually I came to see that she was the one who made sure I got all the skills I learned during my stay. It didn’t take long to figure out that she was a Fang herself, and a pretty high-ranking one at that. Everyone treated her with great respect.


I was around sixteen when Rhuk took me out on my first bounty hunt. We followed a murderer to Byblos, showing a detailed drawing of him to people along the way, asking if they’d seen him. We believed we were one day behind when we reached the capital. Rhuk pulled up at an inn, and sent me to get some supplies while she got settled. By pure coincidence, our quarry bumped into me on the marketplace. Thinking fast, I apologized and engaged him in conversation. I directed the exchange, guiding him to invite me to have a drink with him. I happened to know an inn nearby, so we went there. While I distracted the man, Rhuk added a few drops to his drink. He slumped over the table, and Rhuk displayed our papers, identifying the man as a criminal and us as bounty hunters. She said she had drugged him so we could bring him to trial. We took the body up to our room and left for Sam early in the morning, the corpse wrapped in a blanket on the back of the cart.

Rhuk was impressed with how easily I had lured the man to the inn, and with how little the kill had affected me. I asked her why she expected it to bother me. It was by Ashtar’s will this man was dead; I had done as my Goddess desired. Feelings didn’t enter into it. As for how I got him back to the inn, I had just told him what he wanted to hear. I explained that I often knew when people lied to me or didn’t tell me the whole truth, and that I just made sure I didn’t give away any of the markers I knew how to look for. Rhuk said she would mention my talents when she made her report.

After several successful bounty hunts with Rhuk, I was taken to a sacred place. I will not tell you where, but I remained in seclusion for three months. I have few clear memories from the dream-like state I was in, but I remembered someone praying over me, as if I was dead. Many secrets were revealed to me, but not in the sense of shared knowledge. It’s difficult to explain; it was more like my body was imprinted with muscle memory. Although I knew how to fight already, when I reemerged into the world, my body was a weapon. I had truly been blessed by Ashtar. Bestowed with divine gifts and the knowledge of how to use them according to Ashtar’s will, I felt like a new person.

Rhuk welcomed me back to the land of the living. A ceremony in the temple celebrated my ordeals, and as the priest spoke the ritual words, I realized I might not have survived. I asked Rhuk about it, and she admitted that while the priests only submit those they think are worthy to the trial, two out of three succumb to the tremendous power they are subjected to, and join Ashtar in her realm. I had witnessed this ceremony twice before, but this was the first time I knew what it was actually about.

Among the Fangs, those who underwent and survived the trial share a sense of brotherhood, a feeling that we are special, and of course we get the most difficult missions. I don’t know how many we are in total, but the next day, eight of us gathered for our own celebration. Rhuk was there, of course, but all the others were men. The other Fangs arrived after a while and I was officially included in their numbers.

At the next Meet, I was initiated to the third rank in our faith. A cup of poison was passed around, and we had to drain it completely before the evening was over. I had no reaction to it, even though I drank my fair share, but some of the others became unwell. We all became Daggers, though.

coronatiger 01-18-2020 02:01 PM


My next mission would take me to Ur. A nobleman there was marked for death. This was a holy mission, and highly illegal, according to the laws of the land, so I would have no papers to prove my right to kill my quarry. I was to be the main agent, but Rhuk and two priests helped me plan. We knew that the nobleman rented escorts out of a certain establishment, and I decided to get a job there.

I’ve never felt the desire to be intimate with a man – I would rather relax with my girlfriends if I’d had any free time – so I thought I should get some experience. I felt no fear or shame. Just like killing, this was a task given to me by Ashtar. As I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I asked my councilors for advice. The priests blushed, but Rhuk told me she’d teach me how to seduce a man.

A couple of days later, I tested my new skills on one of the Fangs, a fellow just a few years older than me, who I considered a friend. I noticed the marks of attraction that Rhuk told me to look for, but my friend rebuffed my attempts at seduction. “Let’s sit down and talk,” I suggested when I realized I was getting nowhere. I explained that I wasn’t really into him, not like that, but that I was learning seduction for use on a mission, and wanted someone I knew, someone I trusted, to be my first target. He responded that he had always thought I was beautiful, but because the temple sheltered me, and because I had never shown any interest earlier, he’d considered me off-limits, and consequently never made a pass. When I tried to seduce him, he thought it was some kind of test of his resolve. Now that the misunderstanding was cleared up, he didn’t mind if I tried again. He promised to be gentle, and to respect that sleeping with me once did not bestow any rights for a repetition, or a relationship.

It still hurt, I told Rhuk the next morning. She procured a lotion I could apply before the next time and an herb I should take afterwards, so I wouldn’t get with child. I told her I knew about the herb from the midwife’s lessons, but Rhuk warned me that I needed to take a much higher dose than any midwife would prescribe. The dosage I needed would be lethal to weaker people. I learned in the Dagger ritual that I have a higher tolerance against poisons than is normal, even among Ashtarites.

I tried again with my friend, and then I went to town, honing my skills on strangers in bars. Both Rhuk and my friend offered to tag along as security, but I showed them my teeth and said I could take care of myself.

Two weeks later, I travelled to Ur. This time I took Rhuk up on the offer of protection, and invited her along. I sought out the establishment and got a job there. After a few days, the nobleman showed up, and I got him to pick me. It wasn’t hard; all the other girls were experiencing bellyaches, and weren’t particularly alluring. I followed the nobleman home, feeding him grapes in his carriage under the watchful eyes of his guards. The guards searched me thoroughly for hidden weapons before leaving us alone in his bedchamber.

The searches became less thorough over time, but there was nothing to find. On my fourteenth visit to his mansion, I straddled the nobleman and leaned in for a kiss, telling him to close his eyes. Then I tore his throat out and muffled his death rattle with a pillow while I moaned loudly. I dressed hurriedly, left though the window and disappeared into the night. I would have brought his head, but didn’t have anything to cut it off with. I wasn’t about to ask the guards to borrow their blades.

My next several missions were regular bounty hunts for various criminals. I often worked alone, but sometimes with other Fangs. Once, there were nine of us, tracking down a band of outlaws. One of my companions took out their sentry; the other bandits died in their sleep.

My fourth ritual of initiation required me to locate a particular snake among the multitude in the temple and to devour it alive. Ashtar guided me to the right one, a brown-and-black-patterned desert viper about the length of my arm. I struggled not to gag while it slid down my throat. I gasped for breath, and felt Ashtar’s essence suffuse me. The snake settled calmly in my belly. I had become a Toxiner.

Then I got another holy mission, which brought me here. So, can you help me?

coronatiger 01-18-2020 02:08 PM

The Blekborg Quest

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

By Your will, the chapel I found in Byblos was able to locate a group of merchants from the Prince’s Cities. The caretaker paid my fare all the way to Blekborg so I could travel with the foreigners.

I did not identify myself as Your follower, for I knew that in the Prince’s Cities, Your faithful work in secret. Of course, the merchants noticed my devotion, but they respected my wish for privacy when I whispered my prayers or made the holy signs with my hands, and asked no questions.

We passed through Arland without trouble, although the guards at all the nobles’ checkpoints were alert with the rumor of a slave uprising near Istan in the north-east.

A few nights before the border crossing, the caravan made camp in a grove of trees. A viper approached the fire to bask in the heat, and the merchants were startled, leaping to their feet. Some drew weapons, but I seized the holy creature and protected it in my lap. I recognized it as a good omen, a blessing for my quest. The merchants were uneasy and gave me a wooden box to keep it in.

In Blekborg, I wished the merchants farewell and began my search for the chapel. I found it in the poor quarter, in the cellar beneath a soup kitchen called “Sissi’s”. A secret sign marked the chapel for what it was. I identified one of the diners as a fellow believer. Baldrian was a half-elf around forty years of age. He was a Bearer, and very talkative. He was about to leave town, as his business would take him east the next day, and wouldn’t attend tonight’s Meet. He told me that on his travels, he was more comfortable if he had other believers with him. Being on Death’s side lessened his worries. When I asked about the chapel, he bade me remember that “the masked one” was an elf. It seemed important to him that I knew this, for some reason.

The Meet was already in progress when I entered. I sat down quietly, and when the time was right, I introduced myself. Sissi was there, a Dagger who served as the caretaker of the chapel as well as running the soup kitchen above. In her mid-twenties, she was a few years older than me. She invited me to stay with her while I was in town.

Leading the Meet from behind a snake mask, the alleged elf didn’t give his name or rank, but I deduced that he was a Serpent, which would make him Rhuk’s superior, and she’s a Night Stalker! He seemed old. He had anticipated my arrival, and instructed others to provide me with information and equipment, as needed. He appointed a man named Odin, a fellow Toxiner, to be my guide.

I brought out my wooden box and offered the viper as a gift to the chapel.

Odin didn’t speak during the Meet, he just nodded when he received his instructions. The next day, he took me sight-seeing, communicating with gestures when needed, otherwise he just led the way to the next place I wanted to see. Sissi had suggested some sights to see at breakfast, but I also had some ideas pertaining to my mission.

I had come to believe that Odin was mute, and was surprised when he dragged me into an alley the next day, to hiss an answer to one of my questions. Like me, he has a forked tongue, but his words were mangled, so I understood why he wouldn’t speak in the presence of outsiders.

I spent two weeks studying my mark. Klodrik Angdal was a high-ranking city guardsman, but evidently corrupt and generally considered a bad man. If I hadn’t known my mission’s source to be a holy vision, I would have thought that someone from Blekborg had summoned me to get rid of him.

I discovered that Klodrik was having an affair, and that he kept it secret, even from his guards. At least, he visited his mistress alone and in disguise. One night, I waited for him in a dark alley. He didn’t spot me among the shadows. I moved up behind him and impaled his neck from both sides. He crumpled to the ground and I said the ritual words over the body before I took his head away as proof. Not that my word wouldn’t suffice, but one should follow the proper procedure, if one can. Odin helped me seal up the head in a box of salt so it wouldn’t rot on the long trip home, and then I settled down in the chapel to lay low for a while.

After a couple of days, I learned that rumors about me were spreading in the underworld. I asked Odin to find someone who would travel west soon. He’s impressed me with his ability to get things done while pretending to be mute.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

coronatiger 01-18-2020 02:17 PM

Session 11 (2020-01-12)
14th of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

I waited all day in Your chapel, while Odin looked for traveling companions for me. There’s a head I need to bring to the temple in Sam, and it’s wise not to travel alone. It’s easier to hide in a crowd.

Odin arrived in the evening. He indicated that he had found someone, and wanted me to come and meet them. We encountered one of them outside an inn, and I must say he didn’t make a good first impression. Lunari Grandiflora, an elf with flowers painted on his face, had obviously been at the bottle. He had a lady of loose morals on his arm, and she was clearly worried he would dump her now that someone younger and prettier had appeared, and urged him to come away with her. Odin managed to arrange for us to meet again tomorrow before the pair vanished.

Odin and I might have gone in for a drink, but the place reeked of vomit, so I decided to go back to the chapel. I brushed my teeth and went to bed.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

15th of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

While sightseeing with Odin earlier, I had noticed the sign of another chapel in one of the wealthier parts of town. I suspected that the masked man lived in the mansion above it. The chapel entrance was visible from the street, but a locked gate barred entry. I decided to check it out again, today.

The gate was unlocked when I arrived. There were guards on the street, but I walked in as if I owned the place, so nobody bothered me. The chapel was empty except for the ever-present snakes. A washbowl stood in the entry hall, of course. I had no activities scheduled before tonight, so I took off my dress and washed properly, each body part in the right order, from feet to hands. I could have done just my feet and hands, but I’ve always thought that one should cleanse one-self as thoroughly as time permits, before stepping onto holy ground.

My Lady, You know I don’t consider myself any less modest than other girls, and I don’t go around flaunting my body like the harlot I met yesterday, but I have no problem being naked in front of strangers while serving You, so I wouldn’t have panicked if other Ashtarites had arrived while I washed. Of course, if an intruder had entered, he would have felt Your holy wrath for trespassing, and I would be honored to dish it out.

I spent an hour or two among Your children, studying them with fascination. There were several kinds I didn’t recognize; please forgive my failing.

I had dinner with Sissi, and asked her if she or anyone she knows has visited the other chapel. The answer was no, and it didn’t seem like she was particularly interested in going either. She was content here.

Odin brought me to the Handsome Elf, a tavern just outside the slums. In addition to Lunari, who I met yesterday, a lizard-man and a troll was there. I studied the lizard-man, Xipil, with fascination until I discovered he wasn’t a snake-man. That would have been something! The troll was named Grogg, and was in Lunari’s employ. The three of them would be traveling to Arland soon, and I offered my knowledge of the land in exchange for food and shelter on the journey. They wanted to go all the way to Guling, in the far west. I expect we can stop in Sam on the way, so I can report in about my recent quest.

It was getting late, so we made plans to meet again tomorrow, but Lunari wanted to talk some more and to buy me a drink. I accepted, and explained the power structure of Arland. Lunari tried to shift the conversation to more personal topics, but I knew where he was going with it, and I wasn’t interested. Odin was silent, of course, and left when I did.

Xipil followed us out of the tavern. Was he spying on us? Anyway, we made sure to lose him in the slum before wishing each other a good night. I sharpened a twig to dislodge a piece of food from between two of my molars. It had bothered me since dinner, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep thinking about it.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

16th of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

I stayed in the chapel most of the day, playing with the snakes. In the afternoon, Odin, Sissi, Baldrian and two others arrived, and we had a Meet. Baldrian made small talk, and invited me to go out for a drink afterwards. I apologetically told him I already had an appointment at the Handsome Elf with someone called Lunari. It turned out Baldrian knew Lunari, too. In fact, he had planned to go see Lunari later tonight. We decided to go to the tavern together.

We talked for a while with Lunari and his friends, and I asked if we would be leaving soon, perhaps tomorrow at this hour? Lunari dragged on his answer. He was waiting for someone named Kurt. Maybe we’d leave tomorrow, maybe not. I told them I was ready to go on short notice. I had packed already, and could be back here in fifteen minutes, if necessary.

Lunari tried to charm me with stories of his adventures. I listened politely for a bit before saying goodbye. I paused outside, kneeling down as if to fiddle with my shoe, to see if anyone followed. The location of Your chapel should remain a secret.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

coronatiger 01-18-2020 02:29 PM

Session 11 (2020-01-12)
17th of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

I met my traveling companions to be at the Handsome Elf after breakfast and played moklatar with Lunari. He had hand-carved the pieces for the board game himself, and proudly told me that he had gathered the wood for them from all around the world, on his travels.

Odin arrived with a note for Lunari. The two of them go way back, I gathered. This was evidently what they’d been waiting for, for Xipil asked if I needed help with my luggage. I accepted his offer, but strolled over to where Odin had seated himself first. I told Xipil I wanted to say goodbye to Odin, but in fact, I asked if there was anything I needed to know. Lunari had made sure I didn’t see the note. Odin pulled my head closer, as if to give me a kiss on the cheek, and hissed that I needed to watch out for them. I asked if that was because they were dangerous, or because they needed protection, and he just chuckled. Both, I guess.

Xipil and I went to Sissi’s, and I introduced them. Sissi brought out my backpack and waterskin, and I armed myself, biting each of my four knives ritually while Sissi distracted Xipil with small talk. Then I put on my cloak, hiding the blades from view. I handed the backpack to Xipil. It was a lot heavier than the waterskin, but I figured since he had offered to help me, maybe he wanted to show off. I was wrong. He thought it was too heavy for him, and suggested we’d carry it between us. I shouldered the backpack and gave him the waterskin instead.

We met Grogg and Lunari outside the Salt Guild. Lunari was playing the violin when we arrived, a melancholy tune, but he put it down and went inside. He came back out with a large wagon a little later. It was very fine, and had four dwarves on top, two drivers and two guards. We’ll be traveling in style, it appears. Another dwarf, wearing a broad-brimmed hat with a veil covering the eyes, came out and approached Lunari, thanking him for their adventures, and wishing him luck on this one. Lunari gave a metal ring, almost large enough to slip onto my wrist, to Grogg and a small bottle, presumably a potion or a poison, to Xipil. He counted out twenty coins as well to the lizard-man, and my eyebrows rose when I noticed that it was gold. I have three silver pieces and three copper pieces in my pouch. Luckily, the others are paying for me. I wouldn’t get far on my slender purse.

Lunari explained to Grogg about how to drink alcohol in a sensible manner. There must be some story behind this. Maybe they’ll tell me; we have a long way to go.

We stopped at a farm just outside the city, where Baldrian was waiting. He had his own wagon, which was filled up with crates and boxes, and a companion who I guessed was a guard. He was a little concerned about the Salt Guild wagon. I don’t know why. Lunari said that the finer wagon only was going as far as Fort Holte, the border town overlooking the pass that led to Arland. The two wagons would travel together that far, and then we’d come and ride with Baldrian.

Lunari, Xipil and I rode in the fancy wagon, with Grogg on top, so he could stretch out his legs. I told the others a little about myself, that I’m religious was obvious to them, so I explained that I had left home to see the world, and to offer my services as a medicine worker. Maybe I’d find a physician to apprentice myself to, although my skills were advanced enough I could make a living with them. Turning the conversation to Arland, I discovered that I needed to correct a few misgivings that Lunari and Xipil shared.

We found a place to rest for the night just before Tovre, with a farmer Baldrian knew. I asked the farmer respectfully where I could pitch my tent, but he just waved his arm and said anywhere I’d like, as long as I didn’t trample his grain crop. I raised my tent near the wagons and went inside to remove my belt of knives in private. I put my weapons into the backpack and retrieved my toothbrush, listening to the chatter outside with half an ear while I made ready for sleep. I closed the backpack so it would be ready to go in an instant, and wrapped my cloak around me as I lay down.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

18th of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

I said my morning prayer, rolled up my tent, tied it to my pack, and joined the others for breakfast. Over the meal, we discussed religious signs and gestures, for the others noticed how Baldrian and I lifted each food item in praise before biting into them. I revealed that You are my Lady, the great Mother of Snakes.

While we traveled, Xipil and Lunari told me a little about themselves. Xipil came from a foreign land, far to the south, but Lunari was from the Prince’s Cities. They had met by chance in the jungle, while Lunari and Grogg was traveling with the Salt Guild dwarf. Krupik, his name was. On their travels, they had encountered some grey-skinned humans who worshipped a death god. What little they had learned about that god, struck me as wrong. A god of death shouldn’t be like that. You are the true master of death, Ashtar. I’d never heard of those people or their god, and I said as much.

We talked about medicine and herbs as well. Lunari showed me a pouch of black crystals, and asked if I knew what it was. I told him I knew it as “crow’s toes”, and that he should be careful with it. While it strengthens the will of someone who takes it, the crystals are highly hallucinogenic, and can be dangerous if taken too often or for too long. Outside, Grogg started singing a wordless melody, trying to sound like a raven. I told Lunari and Xipil that ravens, while not necessarily evil, were not to be trusted.

In the evening, we arrived at another farm known to Baldrian. I didn’t think much of it yesterday, but when he did it again, I noticed that Baldrian deliberately hid his wagon from view from the road. Either he’s carrying valuable goods in his inconspicuous wagon, or he’s carrying contraband. Most likely both. I decided to consult him about my box.

Lunari suggested stargazing. Elves are known as children of the stars, and he told me all about them while we lay in the grass, looking up at the sky. Xipil meditated, but Grogg was sitting with the ring Lunari had given him, watching the celestial bodies through it. I asked if I could have a look, and I saw there was something weird going on with the moon, as if it was of a color I’d never seen before. Strange. I handed the ring back to him and wished them all a good night.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

19th of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

We traveled onward. Lunari pulled out his violin and played a merry tune. I tapped the beat with my foot and nodded my head. Lunari sang along to the next melody. It was about a nobleman who got a farmer’s daughter drunk and lured her out of her clothes. I sniffed and turned to look out the window at the terrain rolling by.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

coronatiger 01-18-2020 02:36 PM

Session 11 (2020-01-12)
20th of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

My homeland, Arland, is sometimes called the Land of the Stone Circles. Xipil asked me about it while we rode along. I explained that there are stone circles scattered all around. Our people rarely bother with them, except as a source of building materials. I think foreigners add mystical importance to them that they don’t deserve. They’re just stones that our ancestors erected long ago, for whatever purpose they didn’t deign to share with their descendants. Now, the circles are toppled, overgrown and demolished. I told my companions that I’ve seen a couple of them, and that it isn’t worth the detour just to have a look.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

21st of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

The wagons rolled onwards, steadily climbing towards Fort Holte. Baldrian called a stop before we came into view of the city, and I asked him if he could help me smuggle a 15-pound box across the border. He told me he had to enter the city to arrange some things, and refrained from answering my question. He took his companion along, leaving the rest of us make camp, and to relax or stretch our legs, if we wanted to. I assumed he’d be able to answer me when he got back.

I talked for a while with Lunari, Xipil and Grogg. The dwarves kept to themselves. I asked my traveling companions if any of them knew much about medicine, herbs and the like. Xipil admitted to possess some knowledge about poisons, otherwise they were rather ignorant of the topic. I implore You to protect us from injury and sickness, but if You choose to test us with such afflictions, I have my medicine kit, and by Your gift, the skill to use it.

When the sun set, I made Your sign in recognition of the death of another day. I erected my tent and spent some time in prayer before brushing my teeth and going to bed. Lunari seems to be a ladies’ man, and I didn’t feel like fending off his advances when I could contemplate Your holiness instead.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

22nd of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

Baldrian and his friend returned early in the morning. I invited Baldrian to come inside my small tent. Lunari turned green with envy, and it was obvious his mind was in the gutter. Baldrian said he would take my box, and I retrieved it from the bottom of my backpack. No particularly damning items had to be revealed while I emptied the pack – they were hidden in my medicine kit – but my tiny red dress would certainly have set Lunari off had he seen it.

Baldrian went over to his wagon to hide my box among his, and I stuffed my belongings into my backpack again and packed down my tent. Lunari dismissed the dwarves, and they left, going back the way they had come.

Lunari had watched my tent carefully while Baldrian was inside with me, and had spotted the box. At breakfast, he asked what it contained. I told everyone it was salt, a gift from an acquaintance in Blekborg to one in Sam. They seemed content with the answer. Salt is much cheaper in the Prince’s Cities than it is in Arland.

We rode in Baldrians wagon into Fort Holte. He had to show his papers twice on the way in, but nobody searched the wagon. When the road steepened, Grogg had to get off. He’s nearly twice my height, and probably several times my weight. Baldrian had to display the papers again before we could leave the city, and then we were in the pass through the mountains. The road was for the most part relatively flat, but Grogg had to get off occasionally.

Baldrian said we needed to keep watch at night. As he and his companion hadn’t had much sleep last night, the duty fell on Lunari, Xipil, Grogg and me. I told the others I could take any of the watches, as I see fairly well, even at night. It’s colder up here in the heights, so Xipil had to beg a blanket from Baldrian. Grogg would take the first watch, so I pitched my tent, did my ablutions, and went to bed.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

coronatiger 01-18-2020 02:45 PM

Session 11 (2020-01-12)
23rd of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

Lunari woke me for my turn at the watch, and warned me that there might be orcs nearby. He pointed to the north and said that he had seen movement there earlier. I asked what I should do if orcs approached, feigning worry. “Scream, and hide behind us,” he replied, and asked if I had any weapons. I told him I had a knife that I could wave around.

Lunari had told me to wake Xipil before sunrise, so I did. I asked the lizard-man if he was going to take over the watch, for mine hadn’t lasted very long. He said yes, so I went back to sleep.

We moved on after breakfast. Baldrian was worried about orcs. There should have been more patrols in the area.

Lunari showed me his spear. It was made on the plains north of the Prince’s Cities, and while I’m not a connoisseur, I could tell that the weapon was very fine; it must have cost him a small fortune. I asked if I could touch it, and he handed it over. I displayed a lack of skill with it, waving it dangerously about. I showed him one of my knives in return, and pretended not to have any skill with that either. My two throwing knives would have given the ruse away, but the long knife I showed him was plain and simple. He recognized it as Arland-made and explained to me how similar blades from the Prince’s Cities were slightly different. He told me that when we came out of the pass, we would see the site where he and Grogg once defeated a band of orcs. He implied there would be a monument erected there.

Xipil scouted ahead, I stayed near Grogg, and everyone kept their weapons close. After a few hours, Xipil returned to tell us there had been an avalanche, and the road through the pass was blocked. There was mumbling about a possible ambush, and Baldrian turned the wagon around, retreating a safe distance, while Lunari, Grogg, Xipil and I climbed a cleft to the north of the road. When we reached the top, Xipil stealthed ahead. Without his huge cloak, his skin melted into the surroundings, and I found it difficult to keep my eyes on him.

When Xipil returned, he told us he had found tracks of two trolls and up to eight other people. Humans could have made the tracks, but Xipil had spotted a green-skinned bowman who watched the pass, so there was at least one orc among them. Grogg sniffed the tracks, and agreed that trolls had been here recently.

I listened to the others discussing how to proceed. We could sneak up on the ambushers and attack them from behind, but that might be risky, as we didn’t know where all of them were. We could probably get one or two, but the sounds of battle would alert the others. I said we shouldn’t count me as a fighter, so it would be three of us against ten of them, including two trolls. Even if Baldrian and his friend joined us and were able to fight, the enemy would outnumber us two to one.

Another possibility would be to bribe the ambushers with something from Baldrian’s cargo. If they were runaway slaves, part of the rumored uprising, the shortswords and crossbows Baldrian brought would be very useful to them. However, if we gave them weapons, could we be certain that they wouldn’t use them against us?

We agreed that Xipil should take another scouting foray. On this trip, he discovered three orcs watching the road. I suggested that we might go around. That would mean that Baldrian had to turn back, as he wouldn’t get the wagon up the cleft we had climbed to get above the orcs. Lunari and I went back to Baldrian to discuss what to do, while Grogg and Xipil remained to watch.

While Lunari explained the situation to Baldrian and his friend, I rummaged through my backpack, which I had left on the wagon when we went to explore. I smeared a few drops of poison onto each of my knife tips, taking care to keep the cargo on the wagon between the others and me. Lunari said that we would sneak up on the three orcs we knew the location of, and then begin bargaining.

Lunari retrieved a giant crossbow and asked if I would take it, but I thought it was too heavy, so he took it himself. He made an agreement with Baldrian about what kind of deal he should make with the ambushers, and then we went back to Xipil and Grogg.

We were still discussing exactly how to proceed when we spotted an orc approaching. He was armed with bow and arrow, and carried a backpack. Grogg stood up and bellowed something in what I assume was troll speech, before switching to common: “I am Grogg Orgalogg and I want to speak to your leader!”

The orc took cover, but a troll voice replied. The two of them shouted back and forth in their own tongue for a couple of minutes, then two trolls and another orc joined the first orc below us in the cleft. Above the avalanche, a few orcs looked around, uncertain what was happening. One of the trolls approached us and asked us to lower our weapons. I hadn’t drawn any, but Lunari and Xipil put down their crossbow and bow. Grogg led Lunari towards the troll, and I followed, peeking out from behind Grogg’s back.

Grogg introduced Lunari as his elf daddy. Lunari commented that the two trolls looked very similar, and asked if they were related. The other troll called himself Nark, and it turned out that he and Grogg hailed from the same region. Nark remarked upon Grogg’s weapon, a huge maul, and called for one of the orcs, Dorr, to come take a look. Dorr prostrated himself before the weapon, which clearly had some cultural significance to the orcs. I wonder where Grogg got it.

Lunari offered to sell weapons to Nark and his band, in exchange for safe passage and any trinkets they might possess. Grogg, Lunari and I followed Nark into a nearby cavern, where they had a box of marble sculptures that the former slaves had grabbed when they escaped. Nark seemed pleased to give up the marble for weapons. Military grade shortswords and crossbows were a clear upgrade over the improvised weapons they carried.

We returned to Baldrian, and he was seemed satisfied, too. We made the exchange, and the bandits cleared the road so we could pass with the wagon. Baldrian asked Lunari to do something about the box of marble; he couldn’t sell it as it was. He claimed it looked like someone had dumped loot in it.

We decided to make haste so we’d clear the pass before nightfall. That meant that Xipil couldn’t range ahead, but we figured it wasn’t likely that there would be two bands of former slaves waiting to ambush travelers in the same area. By Your mercy, we emerged from the pass without further incident.

I pitched my tent as soon as we stopped. I needed to pray, I explained. I kneeled down inside and licked clean each of my knives. I prayed silently while my glands slowly excreted fresh poison into my mouth. I only paused occasionally to spit out a few pale, green-yellow drops. Four hours later, the vial was as full as it would get, and I packed away the medicine kit, brushed my teeth and went to sleep.

O Ashtar! I surrender my life to Your coils. Take me while I sleep, or grant me another day in Your service, as You will.

coronatiger 01-18-2020 02:54 PM

Session 11 (2020-01-12)
24th of Varatga, year 412

O Ashtar, Mother of Snakes, Keeper of Death’s Door, hear my confession!

I could hear the others starting to get up, but it felt like I had just closed my eyes, so I rolled over and tried to ignore the noise. I thought it was strange that nobody woke me for a turn at the night watch. Some time later, Lunari called my name, so I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, said my morning prayer and got up.

At breakfast, we discussed the checkpoint we would reach soon. The tiny marble sculptures would fetch a better price in the Prince’s Cities anyway, so Baldrian’s partner dug a hole and buried them so they could retrieve them on their way back. They could only bring trouble if we took them along.

Baldrian wanted to open my box and pour the salt into less bulky leather pouches. I pulled rank, hissing in his ear that he didn’t want to do that. I sent a prayer to You, and felt that it would be all right if I left the box here, to be fetched later, when it would be easier to avoid the checkpoint. With the wagon, we had to follow the road. I declared that I would bury the box for now. Lunari agreed that it wasn’t important to deliver the gift immediately, but Grogg told him that he mustn’t lose his head. That made me suspect that they knew what was in the box. I fetched it from the wagon and noticed a faint odor rising from it. Odin and I had packed the head very carefully in salt so it shouldn’t rot. The box didn’t look like it had been tampered with, but when I broke it open, it was clear someone had removed the head and replaced it imperfectly on top of the salt.

I pulled out the head and held it up so everyone could see. Baldrian flinched, but I saw no other signs of surprise. On the contrary, it seemed to me that they were pleased that Klodrik Angdal was dead, even Baldrian. I explained that the killer, who I wouldn’t name, tasked me with delivering the head to Sam as proof of a completed mission.

Lunari offered to make a wooden statue and hide the head inside it with magic, in return for a kiss on the cheek, and a promise that I wouldn’t reveal him as a mage. While he worked, I told Baldrian I was a Fang, and that he should keep it a secret. As a fellow worshiper, he deserved to know the truth. He’d deduce that I had come on a holy quest to kill the man; I didn’t have to tell him the whole story. There were enough rumors flowing through the streets of Blekborg that he should be able to conclude precisely what had happened. I would have told him I was a Biter, but as a mere Bearer, he wouldn’t know the name given to those who survived metamorphosis.

I inspected the carving Lunari had made, smelling nothing through the wood. I pecked his cheek and repeated my promise to keep his secret.

Moving out, I seated myself in the front end of the wagon, resting my head on Baldrian’s shoulder while he guided the horses, trying to get some sleep. I felt safe there. Considering what I’d just told him, he would believe that touching me inappropriately would be tantamount to suicide. As I dozed off, I heard him gloating to Lunari. I didn’t care; those were just words.

I didn’t get any real sleep, but I pretended to be just waking up when we stopped at the checkpoint. I wanted to convey an impression of innocence to the soldiers there. There were about twenty of them, and they told us to take a seat on a bench in the shade while they searched the wagon. Xipil, Lunari and Grogg took their personal belongings off the wagon, but I left my backpack there. My weapons were hidden behind my back, under my cloak. Baldrian went off with the officer in charge, inside the building.

I leaned against Grogg, pretending to doze off again, but in reality, I watched carefully while the soldiers searched the wagon. They were very thorough with the weapon crates, but glanced quickly over my backpack. Then they came over and asked us to empty our packs on the ground. Mine had already been searched, so I remained on the bench while the others rose to comply. The soldiers looked over my companions’ belongings carefully before telling them to put everything back.

Baldrian returned and told us the soldiers wanted to escort us to Badahan to make sure the weapons didn’t reach the slave uprising. I told Lunari that I was worried about the attention the soldiers would give to a pretty, young woman like me. Could we possibly pretend to be a couple? I realized when I uttered those words that I might be sticking my head in the lion’s maw. When we got back up on the wagon, he put his arm around me, caressing by back and hip through my cloak. I felt him counting my knives, and he probably noticed that I wear cloth armor under my dress. One of the soldiers watched me with lust, although he tried to be inconspicuous. Seeing Lunari’s arm around me, he kept his distance.

We came to a village in the evening. The soldiers instructed us where to park the wagon, and to be back there early in the morning. We entered the inn and while Lunari rented rooms for us, he asked for information about stone circles. He was told about one near Sulla, but what little remains of it isn’t worth the trip, according to the villager.

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