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Old 01-26-2022, 01:14 PM   #121
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 212 since leaving The Homeland

After a few minutes, the Azura priest turned to Iloro and said that Iloro was right, they could secure their own path forward if Iloro did not have one. Iloro contemplated this for a few minutes before turning to Nuur-Karif and asking if they had to sabotage the plans of the Azura priest to save themselves. Nuur-Karif did not know, but asked why they could not be friends. Iloro was unimpressed and asked if we were friends, referring to me and my companions. Nuur-Karif's hesitation before answering yes did nothing to convince Iloro.

Instead of continuing the friendship discussion, Iloro brought up the law proposals again and wanted to discuss the advantages and disadvantages with Nuur-Karif. After stating that they could see clearer than normal, they suggested that Nuur-Karif could surrender themselves to free some prisoners. Nuur-Karif must have decided that the prisoners would die and rejected the proposal. I wondered were the prisoners were kept. Iloro did not know for sure, but thought they were most likely in the southern part of the palace.

I wondered if a the laws of an emperor would supersede the laws of a king. 'Emperor' is a noble title that is considered higher than a king. If Mir wants to create a new empire, they presumably wants a new emperor, possibly themselves. Iloro did not really answer, instead claiming that Arland had not had an emperor in many years. However, they did concede that there were supposed to be an emperor somewhere in the west were Mir had come from. I believe I put some new ideas in their head.

Unlike my companions, Iloro did not just parrot Ratanu doctrines when I said the laws did not really matter and that the law books would soon be valued as kindling. Instead, they said they had heard that it would be a cold winter from the wind and star readers. I have heard that some of the followers of Tzacol can see connections in the wind, but I have not seen it myself. It would be interesting to meet apeoids who made such claims. Either way, they had not impressed on Iloro the severity of the coming winter. They expected the cold weather to hurt a few peasants and keep the various armies from fighting each other. I doubt the peasants are going to stay in place and starve when their fields are covered in cold, dead snow. I also doubt it is going to keep Mir in place. Judging from their operation in the desert, they are a logistics expert, and I said as much to Iloro.

When they heard this, Iloro began mumbling to themselves about Mir before turning to us and saying that they thought we had helped or were going to help Mir. We did not really answer, but Iloro became distracted, as if they had heard some sound, and appeared to relax. Turning back to me, they asked what we planned to do when the dragons arrived. I said we were going hunting. They realized that I meant me and Grogg, but thought it sounded extremely dangerous. If we had made such claims in the Mitra temple, we would have been accused of comparing ourselves to gods and might have been arrested. I thought they should talk to Grogg and, as if they had been summoned, Grogg appeared in the hatch below and said everyone would die.

Iloro's nervousness returned and they looked from Grogg to me and back again. Grogg specified that they meant that the dragons would kill all the weak, which did not reassure Iloro. Attracting the dragons' attention was dangerous, if it was even possible. Usually, they just flew past and ignored whatever happened on the ground. However, when they landed, they always brought great destruction. Grogg were about to leave, but I shouted for them to come back up and they climbed up to us.

Iloro looked at us for maybe half a minute before asking if Grogg could get the dragons' attention. Grogg thought it was a strange way to talk about fighting the dragons, but confirmed. Iloro repeated how dangerous it was to get the attention of the dragons and wondered how it was even possible. They claimed there were entire polities dedicated to the dragons that barely managed to gain the attention they craved.

Grogg responded that Nuur-Karif and Wolfram were also dangerous, making Iloro ask if they were as dangerous as dragons. Grogg looked unsure and said maybe, making Iloro frown. They thought Grogg was genuinely unsure, which worried them. While Nuur-Karif and Wolfram are very violent and enjoy killing, they are not able to rain fire from the sky and set a city ablaze, so I would say Grogg exaggerated considerably. Iloro wondered if we intended to stay, even if it would cause the city to burn. Grogg merely shrugged, and Iloro said we had to find a non-flammable route to leave. Preferably over water, but sand and stone would also do.

Wolfram had followed Grogg up and chose this moment to ask Nuur-Karif why they had brought Iloro there, completely oblivious to the priest sitting right next to them. Nuur-Karif answered something vague, but I stopped paying attention as I noticed the Azura priest transmitting a light to Iloro. Focusing in on it, I realized the Azura priest was passing images they must have gathered from the stars. However, I could only pick up small pieces here and there. I am quite sure Iloro received the prophecies about the dragon, the demon, and the bloody ashtarite holy place though.

I do not know how long this went on, but it must have been several hours. Suddenly, the Azura priest broke the contact and Iloro staggered, clutching their head as if in pain. The Azura priest was unruffled, but informed us that we could leave. Iloro fell to their knees and said they would do anything 'they' wanted, presumably meaning us, and I wish I had been able to see what they saw. Kra flew over to the Azura as a last goodbye and Iloro shuffled down the ladder looking very tired. I was the last to leave, but the Azura had turned back to the sky, ignoring me.

Downstairs, Iloro said they had something to share with us, but thought we should go further down so as not to disturb Azura. Nuur-Karif wanted to blindfold them again, even though they knew where they were, but we made it down to a meeting room on the ground floor. Iloro said that everything that now happened was up to us, but if we wanted to kill anyone, we could name them and they would use their considerable influence to make it possible. Wolfram lit up at the prospect and we went outside to discuss. Predictably, Wolfram wanted to murder Elanos Larma, and after a quick prayer, Nuur-Karif agreed, though I suspect they would be happy whoever Wolfram had picked. I did not see what Wolfram wanted to achieve, and I doubt they did themselves, but it would be interesting to see how the apeoids would react and did not object. I doubt it will help Tiri's cause that one of their cultists use demonic powers to murder a leader of the demon hunters.

When Wolfram told Iloro who they wanted to murder, Iloro looked concerned, but said they would do their best. However, they warned that Elanos had been much more cautious lately and that the incident at The Cracked Pot would do nothing to reassure them. Wolfram was too excited to care, but Nuur-Karif wondered how to contact Iloro. The priest produced a small, smooth stone that looked like it could have come from Vaxo. It would show the way, but only where Ajaw had shone and would work best in the shadows.

Iloro wanted to leave on their own and Nuur-Karif relented, but wanted to follow Iloro to the hedge. I considered if I should follow to see if Nuur-Karif murdered Iloro, but decided it was probably not worth the effort. The field with the ruins was probably the only open space in the whole city where I could work undisturbed, so I should use it to investigate the illusion on Grogg and Wolfram. Turning to them, I got a hunch that they were back to normal. I asked them how they felt and Grogg started talking about a coin. While they talked, they gave a hiccup and spit a coin into their hand. From what I could gather, the coin had appeared while Grogg had looked like a young human and they had swallowed it for some reason. I searched the coin for traces of energy, and got the impression it had been magical, but it was gone now. Perhaps the Azura priest had solved the problem.

Nuur-Karif returned and I could not see any blood splatter. We returned to the northern gate through the tunnel and got a guard to let us out. The streets were empty and we hurried to the inn with the wagon without meeting any patrols. Hylda was sitting in the wagon and immediately asked for Grogg when Nuur-Karif opened the door. Wolfram answered, but Hylda was not fooled, so the illusion was indeed gone. Nuur-Karif woke Yana from their needle-induced slumber, trying to hide the needle away in a rather pathetic attempt at sleight of hand. Grogg was not pleased, but was too busy with the food Hylda had gathered in the wagon to take action beyond demanding the needle back.

I went looking for the agent to see if we could get rooms and one of the wagon guards told me to look inside. The agent was not there, but the innkeeper arranged rooms for us. I got a room for myself on the second floor with a view to the north while Grogg, Hylda, and Wolfram stayed on the first floor and Nuur-Karif and Yana stayed in the wagon. After ordering some tea, I studied the star water again for the first time in a while. It had grown fainter since last time, but there were still large amounts of energy in it. Similarly, it still tasted chilling, but the numbing effect was weaker than before. Looking up at the sky, I saw the cold and the beast sign shine brightly. Something would happen before Amna disappeared and grew full again.
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Old 01-26-2022, 01:38 PM   #122
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

I woke up in the morning and found Grogg and Hylda in the common room. There were too many apeoids for Wolfram and Nuur-karif and Yana were nowhere to be seen. We found them all by the wagon and Nuur-Karif told us that the agent had showed up in the night. The agent had told them that they had intercepted messages between Tivito and someone at the palace or temple area about a prisoner exchange. The messages had started up the night before, and Nuur-Karif thought it was Iloro's doing, which sounded reasonable. Nuur-Karif and Wolfram wondered if it was some kind of trap. While I am suspicious of their motives, I believe the plans of the Azura priest and now Iloro are larger than the spat with Tivito and that they were genuine in their offer of help.

Wolfram had Iloro's pebble, but nothing had happened with it and they wanted me to study it. It felt odd in my hand, as if I could pinpoint exactly where it was. When I asked Wolfram, they confirmed they had felt the same, but the feeling had gone away when I picked it up. It could be interesting to study Elik's techniques. Looking closer, it indeed look like a Vaxo stone, but it was much heavier. Gently probing it, I got a warm sensation and the stone and threads of energy were intimately entwined. These were not threads of star energy though, but felt much warmer and were so firmly attached to the stone that they would last a long time.

I agreed to study it closer and Wolfram and I went to my room. Drawing on energies from the surroundings and the shimmer coin, I poked and prodded at the pebble for over an hour. There were two spells on the pebble and the first I discovered appeared to be rather simple. The threads on it reminded me of earth and stones and they would affect the wearer, making them extremely aware of the presence of the pebble. The other spell was much more delicate, entwining and disappearing under the threads of the first spell, making them much more difficult to trace or even detect. However, the threads gave off a strange impression of heat that revealed their presence and patterns. In the end, I determined that whoever had made the spell could connect to the pebble from afar. This would cause the pebble to emit a small flame that could be trained at at specific point. While my impression from the threads was more from flames than Ajaw, it would require a spark to ignite it, so it would not work anywhere Ajaw had never shone.

I was tired from the analysis, so I sent Wolfram and the pebble out of the room and went back to bed. Grogg came by at some point and wondered if everything was fine and I reassured them. Somewhat later, Hylda came by for writing materials so they could draw Grogg and Wolfram. Luckily, there were some in the drawer, so I did not have to leave the bed.

I got perhaps two hours of sleep before Wolfram showed up again. They had put the pebble in their lantern and now it was burning with a small, flickering flame. Looking closer at the flame, it was predominantly flickering northwards. Possibly in the direction of The Golden Arrow. We packed up our weapons and I guided the drivers of the wagon in the direction the flame pointed.

As we got closer to our destination, the flame steadied and pointed consistently in a direction. We decided to circle the area it pointed to and it turned out to be a closed inn. Two apeoids were standing outside and from their weapons and garb, they were clearly mercenaries. The inn where I had delivered the bottle was a few minutes further east and the drivers said they could wait there while we got out.

Nuur-Karif approached the mercenaries and one of them knocked on the door and we were let in. The room inside was large, but there were only four apeoids inside, also mercenaries. Nuur-Karif suddenly rushed out and stopped the wagon. For a second, I wondered if they had decided to run, but they soon returned, stashing away their pouch.

The most well armed of the mercenaries introduced themselves as Ragon, the leader and said they were eight in total. They were there to assist us in the prisoner exchange and the counterpart was at The Golden Arrow. Nuur-Karif wondered who had paid them, but they would only say that whoever it was had lots of gold. Usually in prisoner exchanges, someone would come over and and identify the prisoners and then the exchange would be made. To communicate, we could send a mercenary with a letter.

Wolfram and Nuur-Karif were suspicious of the mercenaries and we asked them to go to the adjacent kitchen so we could discuss in peace. When Ragon was gone, it was clear that Nuur-Karif's murder lust had gone to their head, as they proposed a suicide attack on The Golden Arrow to Wolfram's delight. I pointed out all the reasons why it was idiotic, but it did not penetrate. It is obvious that Wolfram's control on Jori is slipping and such an attack would be just in line with Jori's aspects. Nuur-Karif is more surprising though. I suppose it could just be their love of killing getting the better of them, but is it possible that Gritt did more than implant the bizarre obsession with Yana?

It was clear that Wolfram and Nuur-Karif was impervious to reason and Grogg would happily follow them. If I had simply refused, I believe they would have stormed off then and there, so I decided stall as long as possible and try to figure out what was going on. It would be unfortunate if my companions died, especially Grogg, as we were going to hunt dragons.

The closest source of information was the mercenaries and I got the others to call Ragon in again. After a bit of back and forth, it became clear that Ragon's orders were to follow our instructions and try to keep us alive as long as possible. This set off Nuur-karif even further and they concocted a plan that involved them going to The Golden Arrow and checking into their room without anyone recognizing their disguise. They would then smuggle eight heavily armed mercenaries as well as Grogg and Wolfram up to their room unnoticed. Then they would somehow find all the entrances to the third floor, post mercenaries at all of them and storm the floor and kill Elanos. Interestingly, Nuur-Karif was happy to let Audria and the other ashtarites that were imprisoned get executed in the process.

I convinced them that we should send a letter to keep up appearances since Nuur-Karif would have to put on a disguise anyway. They reluctantly agreed and I wrote a letter were I accused the recipient of kidnapping, but the letter writer was willing to give themselves up in exchange for the safe return of the prisoners. However, they needed proof that the prisoners were alive. One of the mercenaries ran off with the letter while Nuur-Karif went to the wagon. I wonder if they remembered to stay discreet, after all, they were wanted by the authorities. Either way, they got back before the mercenary, looking like Platikon.

Luckily, the mercenary returned with two letters before the others could set off towards The Golden Arrow. One of the letters were signed with 'E. L.' and gave assurances that the prisoners were safe while in captivity. The other said that everything went according to plan and was signed by Iloro. E. L. was presumably Elanos Larma, and if Iloro was with the prisoners somewhere else, like the palace, it would explain the delay.

Nuur-Karif wanted to go immediately. I doubted we would ever see them again if they left for The Golden Arrow and I was of half a mind to let them go, but the mercenary said it could be difficult to get in. They had not even been allowed to enter the foyer, consistent with Elanos' increased security concerns. If they actually feared for they life, they could not risk The Golden Arrow maintaining their lugubrious arrangements. The mercenary agreed and said it appeared nobody were allowed to come or go without strict controls.

I convinced the others that we should send another letter to maintain the illusion of negotiations. In the new letter, I asked how the recipient proposed the prisoner handover was going to take place. A mercenary was dispatched and I managed to argue with Nuur-Karif long enough for the mercenary to return. In the letter. E.L. said they had to personally identify prisoners in cases of suspected demonology or necromancy. This made Iloro's plan clear and even Wolfram relented on the need for a suicide attack.

Initially we considered an ambush at the inn we were in, but decided that the lack of hiding places made it difficult. Instead we could ambush them on the way in one of the smaller streets. This would give more space to manoeuvre and getting away easier, assuming none of the king's guards got involved.

We presented this plan to Ragon and they said it could work. However, they would expect Elanos to send someone to scout the way before coming themselves. To keep this from happening, I wrote in the letter that the writer would only stay if Elanos came themselves. If they sent someone else, they would assume foul play and escape. I also wanted to suggest a maximum number of soldiers they could bring with them. The others thought this would scare Elanos, despite being what I would expect from a bunch of cultists afraid of foul play. Instead, Nuur-Karif wanted the mercenary leading the Tivito to take them in the wrong direction and then claim they had received a symbol to abort. Ragon said this was likely to make Tivito call off the whole exchange, to which Nuur-Karif responded that then we would simply storm The Golden Arrow. Ragon looked shocked for half a second when they heard this, but I think I saw Wolfram lick their lips.
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Old 02-02-2022, 03:31 PM   #123
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

We set off to the street were we would set the ambush. It was about five meters wide and 30 meters long, flanked by three storey buildings. It went roughly east-west and ended in larger streets at each end. We decided that Grogg and Wolfram, being the most noticeable, together with two of the mercenaries would hide in the wagon until Tivito entered the street and attack them in the back. Nuur-Karif and the rest of the mercenaries would take up position at the other end and block their escape. I would climb up on the roof of the building to the south, which had the flattest roof, where I could shoot down at anyone in the streets below.

Tivito, led by Ragon, would be coming from the north west down the street at the western end of the ambush street. Yana and Hylda would take up positions to the north of the ambush street where they could signal to Nuur-Karif that Tivito was approaching. A small side street near the western end of the ambush street would be useful to hide the wagon.

Just before Ragon left, we decided to use 'pistachio' as a code word. If any of us said it, the mercenaries would consider their mission accomplished and disperse. After Ragon had left, Nuur-Karif went to fetch the wagon. The drivers to be unwilling to help in the fight, as they were ordered to stay away from Tivito, but they would facilitate our escape.

After getting into position, we could only wait and watch the streets. The seemed almost abandoned with only a few apeoids passing by quickly. It took about 20 minutes before I saw Hylda signalling and two civilian apeoids appeared, followed by an armed group escorting a small, sturdy wagon. As they got nearer, I saw eight apeoids in the armed group. Five of them wore heavy armour and were carrying swords and shields. Two of them had lighter armour and carried bows and appeared to be elves. The last apeoid in the retinue was Ragon, who was sitting on the wagon with one of the armoured soldiers. What was more concerning was the civilians in front. One of them was an unknown female, but the other was Korro. As they got nearer, I noticed that Korro looked nearly catatonic and the female almost dragged them along.

As they reached the street, the female grabbed hold of Korro and hurried them along while the wagon slowed down to turn the corner. I considered if I should try to signal to Nuur-Karif, but decided against it. It would be difficult to signal without being noticed and it would be awkward if Nuur-Karif killed them and the female turned out to be an agent of Nulius. The soldiers walked two in front and two in the back while the archers flanked the wagon. By the time the wagon began to enter the street, the female and Korro had already reached the far end. However, I saw the female looking back around the corner. Nuur-Karif suddenly crossed the street to the female and they disappeared around the corner.

I had devised a new spell I wanted to try. By using the threads of energy to focus the light, it should be possible to magnify objects that were far away. This should make aiming a lot easier. Retreating from the edge of the roof, I formed the threads into a magnifying matrix and bound them in place. At first, I was not sure if the spell had worked or not, as everything appeared to shift and blur. However, after blinking a few times and relaxing, I was able to focus and could see the roof on the other side of the street in exquisite detail.

I sneaked back to the edge and the wagon had made it about a ten meters into the street. The archers were keeping a close look on their surroundings, while the soldiers in the back had taken up position at the western end of the street. Suddenly, a scream for help sounded from Nuur-Karif's end of the street and I turned just in time to see a bolt fly across the street, putting an end to the screaming. Something strange must have happened, because Nuur-Karif normally enjoys doing the killing themselves, but I did not have time to ponder it. Instead, I aimed and put an arrow in the back of one of the archers and they went down.

The street below erupted in pandemonium. The Tivito in front were rushing towards the screaming, while those in the back halted and turned when they heard our wagon charge the street towards them. When Grogg and Wolfram jumped out, the one furthest back held their ground, but they had been separated from the rest and were quickly overrun. On the other end of the street, Nuur-Karif and four mercenaries swarmed the two leading soldiers.

Below me, Ragon was able to occupy the soldiers that had caught up to the wagon, while the other ran over to the archer I had shot. Despite my arrow sticking out of their back, their armour must have saved them and they were able to get on their feet with the help of the soldier. This put the soldier right in my line of sight and with my amplified vision, I could see the blood pumping in the veins of their neck before fountaining in all directions when my arrow connected.

While the soldiers wore heavy armour covering most of their bodies, their throats were completely exposed. If I were to face cultists who liked nothing better than to stab their victims in the throat, I would make sure at least my neck were protected. Tivito must have known this, so I felt an increasing sense of worry as I grabbed another arrow.

Below me, Grogg and Wolfram were closing in on the wagon and Ragon had engaged the soldier in melee. The soldier I had shot was bleeding profusely and lying on the ground, but the archer I had shot had used some kind of spell that disturbed the air around them. When I tried to look at them, I was unable to focus and it almost looked like there were two archers blurring into each other. More worrying, they had clearly seen me and were starting to draw an arrow. From Nuur-Karif's end of the street, the female screamed that all would die.

I retreated back from the edge so the double archer could not see me and conjured up an image of myself sticking its head over the edge. A strange sound came from below, but no arrows, so I returned to the edge. Ragon and some of the mercenaries were closing in on the double archer, but to my surprise, the soldier I had shot was getting back on their feet. On their end, Nuur-Karif and the mercenaries had taken down one of the soldiers and the other one was surrounded.

Suddenly, sparks and smoke erupted below me. It formed a dense cloud, but I could just make out the other archer inside it. Either they had used some kind of spell to conceal themselves, or their spell had gone wrong. One of the mercenaries rushed into the cloud while Grogg and Wolfram cut down a soldier next to the wagon and Grogg began kicking at the wagon door. From inside, I heard a an apeoid shout "Run away, demon worshipers! You will all die!". They were answered by an otherworldly shriek coming from Nuur-Karif's direction and I turned to see Nuur-Karif jump sideways as if dodging something.
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Old 02-02-2022, 03:58 PM   #124
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

All the Tivito below were engaged in melee combat and while I got my bearings, Grogg kicked in the door of the wagon. Wolfram immediately threw their daggers at whoever was sitting inside and then lunged in, roaring something about demons. In the meantime, Nuur-Karif shouted for the mercenaries to not kill, but only disable their foes. At least Ragon heard it and responded with exasperation, but switched tactics and began pommeling the archer I had shot with their shield.

A strange, cackling laugh came from Nuur-Karif's direction and I set off towards them just as Wolfram started stabbing whoever was in the wagon with their sword. Nuur-Karif shouted that the dead turned into spirits when they died and we had to take them one by one. They ran around the corner in the southern direction.

Beneath me, one of the mercenaries came running out of the smoke, enveloped in flames. One of their friends came to their aid while another mercenary relayed Nuur-Karif's instructions in a shorthand they must have developed for battle. Behind me, I heard more cackling and Wolfram bellowing something about transforming themselves. I could not hear everything they said, because Grogg ran into the smoke cloud and an explosion drowned out everything else.

I reached the end of the roof and saw Nuur-Karif in the street below me. They looked around confused while the strange cackling sounded around them. Something about the sound made it resonate between the buildings, making it impossible to locate where it came from. Nuur-Karif was not wearing the ring, but I had seen them dodge something invisible earlier. Hoping they were just acting, I stepped up to the edge of the roof where they could see me and knocked an arrow.

Suddenly, Nuur-Karif struck out in the air and somersaulted away as an apeoid came tumbling out of the air. Their body was covered in scars like they had been tortured. I waited until they had slid to a halt and put them out of their misery with an arrow through the heart.

Nuur-Karif did not even check if the apeoid was dead before running back to the fighting in the street. I shadowed them from the roof, but spotted Korro and the female in the street across from me. The female was on their stomach and had a crossbow bolt deeply embedded in their upper back while Korro was working frantically to stop the flow of blood.

In the street, Grogg was rolling around on the ground, trying to put out flames from their clothes. Ragon had thrown themselves on top of the archer I shot and was pinning them down, while one Tivito soldier was still on their feet and fighting. The rest were either dead or subdued and the archer in the smoke cloud was a crumpled against the wall and on fire. Next to the wagon, Wolfram had transformed into the demon beer, looking as abominable as ever and breathing smoke and ashes. As I got nearer, the bear lashed out at the air and something dead appeared and crumbled before them. Before it had even hit the ground, Wolfram set off around the wagon in the direction of more cackling.

From the far end of the street, someone screamed and I saw one of our wagon drivers aiming their crossbow at something around the corner. We must have gotten our first spectators.

Grogg got back on their feet with the help of one of the mercenaries, quite the physical feat, but the fighting was dying down. The last soldier was beaten down by three mercenaries while Nuur-Karif ordered Ragon to execute the archer. The driver with the crossbow was getting nervous and shouted that it was time to leave and I agreed. Grogg was inspecting the wagon beneath me and I shouted for them to help me down. They emerged with their axe hanging from their shoulder and two daggers in their functioning hand, so I leapt to the ground via their head.

On the far side of the wagon, Wolfram was chewing on something that dropped dead to the ground. That meant that three spirits had been ended, but there were at least six dead Tivito. Three soldiers, the two archers, and the apeoid in the wagon. Wolfram had been very thorough and the inside of the wagon was covered in blood. In the back, the remains of an apeoid lay crumpled.

The mercenaries, like the drivers, wanted to get away and asked for the code word. I told them they could leave, but either did not hear or were waiting for the code word, because they did not leave. Instead, they looked on with increasing disgust as Nuur-Karif and Wolfram set about butchering the prisoners.

I was more interested in Korro and made my way towards them. As I tried to get past Wolfram and Nuur-Karif, Nuur-Karif jumped out of the way of something and I realized there must be a spirit right in front of me. I did an about turn and vaulted over the bear's back to get past them. Both the driver and Ragon sounded increasingly stressed and Ragon began talking about how every organization in the city would try to hunt us down. I said 'pistachio' just as I reached the corner and saw Korro. Ragon immediately stopped their warning and the mercenaries set off while Nuur-Karif and Wolfram killed of the last Tivito and their spirit. From what I could tell, spirits only emerged from the soldiers.

The female was up in a kneeling position, but they did not look well. I shouted for Grogg to come and help me and they came running with one of Wolfram's daggers in their mouth and the other in their hand. After tossing the daggers to me, they carefully lifted the female while Korro could walk on their own and we started towards our wagon.

As we passed the Tivito wagon, Grogg was chopping at something inside the wagon with their pick. It turned out to be a chest built into the bench in front of the wagon and it was secured with a sturdy padlock. On the back bench were the mutilated remains of an elf. Despite the blood, I could tell that they had been dressed in expensive clothing.

Chopping up the chest would take several minutes, so Wolfram set off to find their crossbow. A short inspection of the lock revealed that it would not be too complicated to pick it, but it would take at least a minute and the chest might very well be empty. The others were already running towards our wagon, so I abandoned it.

I was the last in the party to leave the street and as I passed the driver with the crossbow, they asked me what they should do with their prisoners. They were aiming at two apeoids, a male and a female, that were standing up against the wall and looked like they could decide to run at any moment. The driver, wanting nothing to do with it, told me to deal with them and walked towards the wagon. I considered killing them, but it would take time and one of them might escape. Besides, if the elf returned as a wraith, Tivito would know what happened here anyway. I walked slowly towards the apeoids and prepared an illusion spell, making my skin glow as if I were dancing the star dance. I ordered the apeoids to be silent and disappear. Judging from their looks of terror as they ran off, they would probably obey. In hindsight, I think my skin responded to the spell in some way, because the light appeared much easier than a normal illusion and followed me.

I got in the wagon and the drivers set off at a brisk pace. I got Nuur-Karif to inspect the female. As I suspected, they had a punctured lung and the bolt was thoroughly lodged in a rib. To survive, Nuur-Karif said they needed a surgeon. Perhaps Nulius could help us find one, but in the meantime I put the needle in them. I did not know how the needle would react to the presense of the bolt, but enough of the shaft was sticking out so the wound could not close up over it.

Out of the blue, Grogg opined that it would be better to kill the female. I wondered why they thought that and they said that Lunari had smelt like the female when they were arrested for murdering a prostitute back in The Cities of the Prince. I explained that if this was the case, we should not kill them, but ensure that they survived long enough to question them. Then they could tell us to who had ordered the murder and framing of Lunari. I did not mention that I wanted to know if Lunari really had killed the prostitute or not. The elf was frail, but who knows what they were capable of with enough intoxicants.

Wolfram began questioning Korro, who began rambling about how we had been right about Tivito and we needed to take them far away where they could not hurt anyone else. It was clear that they thought they had received the same treatment as the soldiers and they showed us scars on their arms, consistent with torture. They could not remember how it happened though. The last thing they remembered was getting home after Hosei and planning their escape, then everything went dark. It is very interesting that we have one, possibly two, live and cooperating victims of Tivito. Perhaps I can study them and learn how their spirit was coloured, as they called it.

I turned to Nuur-Karif and Wolfram and whispered if they thought Elanos would return as a wraith. The wagon was cramped, but I did not want Korro to hear us discuss wraiths and possibly panic. Nuur-Karif said that that there had not seen any signs of wraiths emerging, but I pointed out that we had to wait the whole night after we assassinated Irdol to make sure they did not come back and Wolfram agreed. According to them, powerful spirit creatures take much longer to rise than weaker ones. The fact that the spirits we had fought had risen almost immediately was very unusual, as if they were half dead already. That sounded like a rather nasty existence and we noted that the soldiers had appeared to be elf-human hybrids while the archers looked completely elven. Considering Larma's ideas of elven supremacy, that made sense.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 02-02-2022 at 04:32 PM.
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Old 02-09-2022, 10:45 AM   #125
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

All the hatches on the wagon were thoroughly shut, so we could not see where we were going. A door that had been badly damaged in the fighting, apparently from the inside, had been nailed in place by the drivers. However, we were starting and stopping and turning in what appeared to be a random pattern. I quickly explained to Wolfram and Nuur-Karif what had happened when Lunari was accused of murder and, if the female had been with Lunari that night, Wolfram would have proof that Tivito was working with Lunari's handlers in The Cities of the Prince. The figure I saw in the window that night could be the female lying in Grogg's lap.

After about half an hour, the wagon slowed down and appeared to be going in a consistent direction. Korro had been mute since Wolfram's questioning, so I tried to get them to elaborate on what they meant by coloured spirits. Unfortunately, it only produced confused blubbering. Just mentioning the process was enough to send them into hysteria.

The wagon stopped and one of the drivers opened a shutter and instructed us to hold on to something. Outside, someone was opening a door and the wagon moved steeply down a ramp and then stopped. Behind us, the door was closed again and we were left in the dark, but we could hear the drivers discussing outside. They sounded tense and did not want to talk to us, but one of them agreed to do it and knocked on the door.

We were in what looked like a storage room partially below street level. The driver wondered if we still wanted to go to Nulius' fleet. We confirmed that that was the plan and they instructed us to stay put while they arranged something. If we were gone when they returned, they would assume we had changed our minds. I got the impression they would be happy if we did.

While we waited, I asked Nuur-Karif what they thought Audria would do now. With incontrovertible proof that Nuur-Karif was consorting with demons, they would have little choice but to denounce Nuur-Karif and cooperate with Tivito. Otherwise, Tivito could use it as justification to exterminate the ashtarites in Byblos. Nuur-Karif did not have much of an opinion on the matter and seemed surprisingly blasé by the prospect.

Wolfram thought that since Audria presumably was scheduled for execution on the day of judgement, Tivito would have a lot of leeway. On that day, a large number of accused are executed or released according to the whims of priests, nobles, or just the assembled mob. Often they are paired up, with one executed and one released. While obviously a convenient way to resolve awkward cases where the law does not align with the interests of Ratanu's sponsors, it is a bit surprising that they can get away with such blatant hypocrisy. Notably, the most important convictions are saved for midnight. By then I expect Byblos to be on fire, so perhaps there is hope for Audria.

After a few minutes, we heard a new knock and the driver had returned with another apeoid that looked like an innkeeper. They looked very nervous, but we were led up to a room with four beds on the first floor. Again we were told to stay in place and the innkeeper said they could not guarantee anything if we did not. The only window in the room was closed and the shutters secured with a padlock, so we could not tell exactly where we were. However, judging from the furniture, we were no longer in the richest part of Byblos, but still somewhere respectable.

I asked the others if any of them were wounded. Grogg had some burns and Wolfram had been assaulted by spirits, but none of them had taken significant damage and Nuur-Karif had not received a scratch. Food and wash water arrived, but we were soon left to ourselves again. The female was placed on one of the beds and Korro sat down next to them. They were too hysterical to eat, so I asked Nuur-Karif to try to calm them down and I believe they had some success.

Wolfram was about to clean their knives that were covered in the blood of Elanos. It might be possible to use it to find Elanos' wratih using the blood, so I told them to wait. If nothing else, I would be able to tell something about their state when they did. Wolfram insisted that they had to clean the knives, but were willing to wipe it off with a dry, clean washcloth. The blood tasted of equal parts fury and fear, which combined into a kind of contempt. It also had a strange, unnatural taste, somewhat reminiscent of the dead Tivito in the tower in Guling, but not quite the same. Grogg also wanted to taste and pronounced it tasted like sweet, delicious elf.

If I were to find the wraith, I would need starlight. I wondered if the wraith would be as hungry as the wraith in the jar at The Evening Fortress. If so, it might be possible to lure them to us. Grogg pointed out that Wolfram could attract spirits, but Wolfram said it would be difficult during daytime. At night, while Amna was full, they could perhaps attract spirits up to a kilometer away. In the room, however, they would only reach a few hundred meters and it was doubtful whether they would be able to attract powerful spirits like wraiths. It would also be interesting what other spirits would come in the middle of a city. Instead, they could set up an alarm if any spirits would show up.

Just then, bells began to chime through the city. Similar to last time, it started from the direction we thought were the palace and spread throughout the city. It was about 40 minutes since we left the site of the ambush, but there was not much to do, so Nuur-Karif, Yana, and Korro laid down to rest. The innkeeper knocked on the door again and recommended that we packed up our things and were ready to go. We had not unpacked anything, so that should not be an issue. When I asked if there would be patrols controlling the buildings in the town, the innkeeper refused to answer and simply left.

Wolfram wanted to make their stake difficult to see, which sounded interesting, so I told them to go ahead. They could reuse the circle they had drawn on the ground, but made a new prayer. After they were done, Kra began cawing and it felt like the stake did not want to be seen. In fact, I had to focus to see it and anyone who was not aware that it was there would probably not notice it. Quite a handy trick.

I laid down to rest as well, but almost immediately, the innkeeper knocked on the door again. Behind them were another apeoid dressed as an officer in the city guard. Wolfram began to take down their pole and the moment they broke the circle of symbols, the weird effect on the pole disappeared. In the meantime, the innkeeper thanked the officer profusely and scurried away. Nuur-Karif asked Korro for the name of the female and they said we could call them Nillet, which is a relatively normal name in Arland. Lunari said the prostitute they had been with had called themselves Nina, which does not prove anything, but sounds similar.

Outside the room, the officer instructed us to follow them and stop when they said so. They led us down to a wagon shed where a wagon was waiting. It looked similar to the one we had taken to visit Nulius, of a type which was normally used for prisoner transport. We all crammed in and the guard told us to agree on a password. If we used it, they would stop, let us out, and disappear. We agreed on 'mango' as a password, and set off.

This wagon was even more closely shut than the previous, but we could hear that there were still apeoids in the streets outside, despite the bells. The bells began to die down while we moved, but had been chiming for nearly 15 minutes.

The wagon continued for another five minutes until someone outside shouted 'halt'. In response, the officer shouted that they were of higher rank and demanded to be let through. They were told that nobody would be let through, but the officer interrupted and commanded the shouter to come over and look at something. It was quiet for a few tense minutes until we heard the shouter discussing quietly with the officer. They asked that any more transports would take another route before shouting to someone else to let the wagon through. Nulius' network of agents must have thoroughly infiltrated the city guard.
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Old 02-09-2022, 11:04 AM   #126
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

After another few minutes of driving, the wagon stopped and we could hear someone opening a gate before we entered a building. One of the drivers opened a shutter and told us to remain still unless we wanted to run away, then we could use the code word. We waited in silence for about ten minutes before someone arrived and unlocked the wagon door.

It turned out to be the officer, who pointed to a stack of grey clothing and told us to put them on. On closer inspection, it looked like the type of clothing usually worn by sailors on the Ar. Impressively, they had managed to get clothing of more or less the correct size for all of us. While we got dressed, the officer pointed out a number of large chests and told us to put our things in them. They and another "city guard" also produced a large chest and told us to put Nillet in it. We stashed away our things and I noticed Nuur-Karif placing their knives in a chest. It was a bit surprising, but I suppose they could always use their teeth if they got an excuse.

While we were packing up, the officer said they would return shortly and left the building. They returned a few minutes later and said that our transport was ready. We were instructed to be quiet and would be told everything we needed to know by someone on a wagon. I worried that Grogg or Wolfram would be recognized, but they said we were not going far and opened a large sliding door.

Outside, a large cart was waiting with two soldiers from the west in front and someone dressed as a sailor in the back. There were already five chests on the cart, so we stacked our chests on top and followed the cart on foot. I finally had the chance to orient myself and we were on the south side of the harbour, between the harbour and the palace walls. To our west, the walls of the palace extended out to the harbour and the military docks where Nulius had anchored.

We followed the cart a short walk west before it turned down to the harbour and a long stone pier. The sailor instructed us to take everything to the riverboat at the end of the pier. When they spoke, I could tell they were not from Arland. We managed to get all the chests aboard in two rounds. Two soldiers from the west were standing at the gangplank, but only gestured vaguely when Nuur-Karif asked where to put the chests. In the middle of a ship was a large hatch covered by a wooden grate that presumable led down to the storage room. I got Wolfram to help me get it off and considered using a crane that was hanging there, but decided it would be easier if Wolfram and Grogg went down and we handed them the chests. Grogg jumped down and from the sound, I was afraid they had fallen through to the deck below. However, the deck was was solidly built and held. After the last chest was handed down, I jumped down and told the others to follow.

Nulius' agent was standing in the shadows below, eating an apple and commented that we met again. They suggested that we keep a low profile and stay on the ship until we were ready to leave, but Nuur-Karif said they had to do something and ran off without saying anything. I suspect they were off to pray. They prefer to do it on solid ground.

Wolfram was curious about the chests and opened one. Inside were various supplies and the agent explained that they thought we would need them. I agreed and asked what we should call them if we were going to spend the next days together. They commented that Nuur-Karif had not told us, and said we could call them Ninos. This was allegedly their real name, but nobody else in Arland would recognize it. I asked if it would be possible to get hold of a surgeon and opened the chest with Nillet. They agreed that a surgeon was needed, but they could not guarantee anything. They would do their best though.

I wanted to study Korro's aura so I went over to them. They looked like they were on the verge of a hysterical breakdown with Nuur-Karif gone, but they agreed to sit still for long enough. The main impression I got from their aura, was that something was very wrong and unnatural about it. I would have to study it further to say any more, but I wanted to take a look at Nillet's aura first and compare.

After twising the threads and capturing what should have been an image of Nillet's aura, I saw nothing. I checked that they were still alive and while they were very pale and still, they were still breathing. After calling Wolfram over, I tried to see their aura again. This time, I was able to catch a faint glimmer from their body, but only the minimum I would expect from a living body. From the needle, however, I got a clear image of a twisted aura similar to Korro's. Faint traces of their aura still surrounded the body, following the threads of my first spell. Somehow, I must have loosened their spirit from the body and transferred it to the needle.

I told Wolfram and Grogg that the spirit was now in the needle, but left out the part where I had caused it as it would only complicate matters. Grogg wanted to rip out the needle immediately, but Wolfram and I stopped them. It sounded like a terrible idea if we wanted to get the spirit back in the body and Wolfram agreed. We discussed what we should do and Wolfram thought the needle was very susceptible to absorbing energies. I have seen Grogg rip The Slurping Toad out of the star cube, so that theory sounds plausible. Wolfram was unsure if this was intentional, or simply a side effect of the methods used to create the needle though. They also wondered if it was possible that the needle always bound the spirits while it was in use. I have never looked at the aura of anyone sleeping with the needle, so it is possible, but I doubt it. Most spirits are more firmly attached than Nillet's I believe. It is a disturbing thought though.

Nuur-Karif appeared again and asked what was going on. I quickly recounted what had happened and asked if they could see spirits now. They confirmed that they had seen the spirits back in the street and I asked for the spirit ring. It was in one of the chests with all of Nuur-Karif's other things. While I was digging through their things, Grogg asked Kra to fetch the needle. Before I could do anything, I could hear the raven take off, land on Nillet, and start cawing frantically before flying off. Normally, Kra flies to Grogg when they are upset, but this time, they flew up to one of the beams in the corner and sat there shrieking manically.

I finally found the ring, but Nillet and the needle looked perfectly normal. Kra, on the other hand, did not. I had not seen them through the ring in a long time and they had become as large as a vulture, just as Grogg and Nuur-Karif had said. They did not look healthy though, but it was hard to say if it was something "physical" or mentally wrong with them.

Nuur-Karif said it had looked like a strange power had seized Kra and tossed them away from the needle. I wonder if the spirit did not want the needle to be removed, or just lashed out. Grogg were standing under Kra, trying to calm them down, while the rest of us gathered around Nillet. Wolfram said they could try to send the spirit down to the underworld, but they were unsure if it would work. Their incantations works best on free spirits, but this one was attached to the needle and may not be susceptible, so it would have to wait until Amna was up. Another downside was that Nillet would die and we would not get to learn what they knew.

Grogg eventually managed to get Kra to calm down and the raven flew with great speed into Grogg and disappeared. Ninos emerged from a room in the direction of the stern and said they were ready to find a surgeon. They were dressed as a wealthy merchant, but we were unsure what to do. Nuur-Karif wondered what would happened if one of us tried to touch the needle. Grogg insisted that I should do it and I agreed. If the spirit tried to enter someone, hysterical apeoids would be less able to resist it. Touching the needle, I got a very unpleasant feeling and reflexively withdrew my hand. Touching Nillet themselves, I felt nothing out of the ordinary, except they were cooler than most apeoids.

After a bit of discussion, we decided to try to get the surgeon. It might be easier to reattach the spirit to the body if it was not dying and it would probably be impossible if the body did die. Ninos took off and I convinced Wolfram to prepare a circle on the ground in case something happened. It seemed like it would be a long night, so I suggested we get some sleep. Grogg and Hylda agreed to take the watch and I gave Grogg the ring before finding a hammock in the bow.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 02-10-2022 at 09:27 AM.
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Old 03-08-2022, 11:38 AM   #127
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

From my hammock up under the roof, I could here Wolfram rummaging around in the hold. They were preparing to cast another ritual and it sounded like the alarm spell. After Wolfram's chanting had stopped, Hylda said ashes were emerging from Wolfram. I jumped down from the hammock and heard Wolfram insisting that it was just dirt they had been coughing up. However, Grogg agreed with Hylda saying it smelled like ashes and shouted for me.

Wolfram was standing next to their totem and looked like normal, but they had stains on their hands. They claimed they had been coughing up some dirt, which would be alarming in its own right, so I told them to cough again. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, so I decided to study their aura. In a moment of inspiration, I realized that I could channel energy through Grogg and Hylda. It would require them to make the correct moves at the correct time though, so I was a bit anxious.

I showed them what they would have to do and Hylda grasped the moves intuitively, as dancing is part of their profession. Grogg struggled a bit more initially, but with Hylda's eager instructions, they managed passably well. Forming a circle around Wolfram with Grogg and Hylda, we whirled around while I gathered up the energies in the air and directed them around Wolfram in a closer and closer circle until their aura appeared. Somewhat anticlimactically, their aura did not appear to have changed and I could not detect any changes in the auras lurking behind them either. However, I realized I was not at all drained from the spell casting. Grogg and Hylda had not seen anything, but they were happy to help.

Wolfram wanted me to look at the star bear as well. The demon bear would probably be more interesting, but they were reluctant to take that shape. While Wolfram turned, Grogg, Hylda and I set up our circle again and started to dance. It was a bit more complicated this time due to all the spikes on the bear, but we managed and I got a view of their aura. It was not like something I had seen before and did not look like Wolfram's aura at all. I did not see any obvious traces of Jori either, but I was quite sure I would have been able to tell that it was Wolfram.

When the casting was finished, the bear lumbered over to Nillet and studied the needle intently. I wondered what they saw, so I tied the star threads so I could see energies. While the needle was clearly magical, it looked as expected and I wondered what the bear was staring at. It only responded with a grunt and turned back into Wolfram.

Apparently satisfied with the needle, they wanted to find an hour glass to measure the time of their alarm spell. I thought they should notice themself if it dissipated, but they insisted, so I left them to rummage through the galley and went back to my hammock.

Wolfram eventually quieted down, but the calm only lasted half an hour before a strange humming sound came from the hold. I immediately jumped down from the hammock while Wolfram began shouting about us being under attack. When I reached the hold, Nuur-Karif came running from the bow while Wolfram was praying loudly to Tiri. Above us, someone had heard the alarm and were running around. Nuur-Karif ran to the chest with their knives while Grogg handed the ring to Hylda and got hold of their club.

I intercepted Nuur-Karif and asked if they saw anything. They did not, but one of the soldiers on deck looked down at us from above with a confused expression on their face echoed by Yana who peeked out from their cabin. Asking Wolfram what was happening was pointless, as they only kept on chanting. The soldier above shouted something in a language I did not understand, but it sounded like Litin. It was answered by Ninos from the direction of the docks.

Wolfram's chanting reached a crescendo and they threw out their arms. A faint aura appeared around everyone. Wolfram had used their aura ritual, presumably to see any spirits, but I was not going to let the chance pass. While the auras produced by Wolfram's ritual are faint and hard to read, they have the advantage of lasting as long as the target remains near the totem. Yana's aura looked unremarkable, but I did not have a chance to study it for long before Nuur-Karif almost shoved them back into their cabin. Nuur-Karif's aura still looked like like a normal apeoid with no traces of Ashtar's influence, so it was almost certainly fake.

Hylda had not seen Wolfram's ritual before and assumed the lights surrounding everyone was the attacker's doing. They started shrieking, which again caused a stir above deck with soldiers running everywhere. This went on for a couple of minutes before Ninos appeared above us looking down. Their aura also looked like a normal apeoid.

The droning sound of the alarm had gotten increasingly annoying, especially combined with Hylda's shrieking, so it was a relief when Wolfram finally shut it down. Grogg managed to calm down Hylda as well and the hold began to settle down with no signs of an actual attack. Ninos complained that Wolfram had scared their soldiers and had not noticed anything out of the ordinary.

In the meantime, I had had the chance to see everybody's auras. None of them appeared to have changed appreciably, but mine really stood out from the others. For one, the echoes of Sebak where completely missing from the other auras, but mine also formed a pleasing and calm shapes, as opposed to the jagged and chaotic apeoid auras.

Nillet's aura was still gone and the needle still had its offputting aura, so it appeared nothing had changed there. If nobody had arrived from the outside and Nillet was unchanged, that left only Korro. There were no sounds from their cabin, so I carefully opened the door. They were curled up in their bunk, clutching their blanket in a vice-like grip and did not react. Walking closer, I saw that their face was pale and gleamed with sweat. While their condition appeared to have deteriorated, I could not see any obvious reason and their aura looked the same as before.

Back in the hold, I heard Ninos enter together with a new apeoid. I peeked out and saw an older male apeoid. Both their auras appeared to be unremarkable. Wolfram were discussing with Grogg whether the alarm would trigger on mages, which Wolfram said it should not. I got eye contact with Nuur-Karif and motioned them to come. They came over and we approached Korro. When Korro saw Nuur-Karif, they started rambling, saying that they remembered everything and had to remember. I told them to tell us what they remembered, but they only kept ranting that they remembered everything and Nuur-Karif motioned for me to withdraw.

This calmed Korro a little, but when Nuur-Karif asked them if they wanted to tell us anything, they only muttered to themselves about how dangerous something was and that "you/I/they/we" did not know how dangerous it was. I suggested that we could give them some crow's toes. I imagine the hallucinations could get quite intense, but the long term effects is supposed to make apeoids more resistant to hysteria and could be exactly what Korro needed. However, Nuur-Karif thought it would be too dangerous and would rather use river thistle to put Korro to sleep. They got Yana to fetch their medicines and I asked Yana to fetch my clothes.

Outside, someone was carrying something heavy down from the deck. Ninos was talking to someone in their language, but soon switched over and established that the older apeoid spoke the Arland language. Wolfram tried to get an explanation for why the alarm had gone off, but Ninos was unconcerned and the other apeoid appeared to not understand the question. Instead, Wolfram was asked to move a chest and Ninos bragged about how the surgeon they had gotten hold of had never lost any amputation patients. An amputation is when an apeoid's limbs are so damaged that they have to be removed. From my understanding, the patients usually die or are left crippled for life.

The surgeon asked to see the patient and Grogg told them not to touch the needle. Apparently, the surgeon were familiar with magic, but not with trolls, because they asked if trolls could see magic.

Yana arrived with Nuur-Karif's medicine bag and left to fetch my clothes. Korro was writhing in their bunk while Nuur-Karif prepared their injection needle with river thistle tincture. When they approached and Korro realized what was happening, they started screaming and their whole body tensed. Despite Korro's resistance, Nuur-Karif stabbed them in the neck with the needle and injected the whole dose. This caused Korro's screaming to intensify and their body became so rigid I wondered if they would hurt themselves.

This went on for several minutes before Yana returned. When Wolfram was drugged, the river thistle appeared to take effect almost immediately, but so
far, it did not seem to have any effect at all on Korro. I quickly put my clothes on and Yana agreed to stay and keep an eye on the patient.
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Old 03-08-2022, 11:51 AM   #128
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

In the hold, the surgeon was standing over a large chest and was in the process of opening it. The lock on the chest appeared to be quite complex, but not as intricate as Krago's chest. While I did not get to observe the whole process, I am sure I would be able to open it if necessary. After the final knob was turned, the lid popped open and revealed the contents. There were shelves for papers, a mirror, knives of various sizes and a wash basin.

Turning away from their chest, the surgeon asked which patient they should start with and Grogg pointed at Nillet. They then asked for a table and eventually decided on the table in the galley. It had to be cleaned three times, first with salt water, then soap, then salt water again. It was a bit surprising to meet an apeoid that cared about cleanliness. While they must have realized that I was not an apeoid, they did not visibly react.

Before we could move Nillet to the galley, they said they needed water. Ninos said there was water both in a barrel and a number of waterskins and we brought them to the galley. The barrel was rejected as too dirty, but the waterskins were accepted. In the meantime, Nuur-Karif had volunteered as an assistant and they were busy stowing away everything but the table in the galley.

Korro was screaming the whole time while we were cleaning the galley. Initially, the screams had been more or less constant, but after a while they were increasingly interspersed with periods of silence. Primarily due to exhaustion I believe. After handing over the waterskins, I walked into their cabin and checked their pulse. They were still cold and sweating, but their pulse was very high due to the screaming. The physical contact appeared to renew their energy and the screaming intensified for a few minutes.

Returning to the galley, the surgeon gave strict instructions that nobody but Nuur-Karif were allowed to enter. I considered pointing out that I was not an unclean apeoid, but the table was easily visibly from the passageway, so I did not say anything. While the surgeon washed the table, They told Nuur-Karif about their master called Vanus. Presumably not the Vanus Nuur-Karif murdered in Hosei. Nuur-Karif made up some story about studying medicine in Sam. The surgeon was rightfully suspicious that a slum like Sam could produce anyone with medical skills, but did not press the issue.

After washing the table three times with various solutions, the surgeon declared the room to be clean and asked Grogg and Hylda to fetch their chest while Ninos and Wolfram were tasked with carrying Nillet. Nobody were allowed to enter the galley, so they were told to leave their burdens at the entrance. With Nuur-Karif's help, the surgeon moved Nillet to a mat on the table and proceeded to cut off their clothes and bandages. All the clothing that were removed were tossed through a hatch and ended in the water outside. Nillet was then washed and the scrubs and sponges followed the textiles through the hatch. Grogg shouted that if anyone tossed the needle out the window, they would follow.

After they had prepared Nillet, Nuur-Karif were instructed to wash themselves thoroughly. In the meantime, the surgeon found a small pot and poured in a bit of a clear liquid. They then set it on fire and it burned for about half a minute, which was supposed to clean the pot.

While staring at the flames, they asked Nuur-Karif if they should start with the big or the small spike, meaning the crossbow bolt or the needle. Nuur-Karif explained that they could not remove the needle. The surgeon said the needle had to be removed, but agreed to start with the bolt.

They began by listening to Nillet's chest and concluded that they had to empty the lungs. Presumably, they had been punctured by the bolt and were filling with blood. Nillet was lying on their side and the surgeon instructed Nuur-Karif to hold on to the bolt. The surgeon then started carefully cutting with the knife around the bolt. They were very careful and were cutting along the tissue when possible, causing as little damage and bleeding as possible.

Each cut took several minutes, but after about 20 minutes, the surgeon instructed Nuur-Karif to get a good hold of the bolt and pull when they instructed. After a few more cuts, Nuur-Karif pulled the bolt partially out and the surgeon rushed in to stop the bleeding. After a few more minutes the bolt was removed and the surgeon started filling the wound with a fatty mixture before sewing it shut. When they were done, they declared the operation had been a success. However, Nillet would not wake before the needle was removed as well.

While they were closing up the wound, Nuur-Karif tried to get more information from the surgeon. Their name was Ælios Vanus, as their tradition was to take the name of their teacher. Nuur-Karif claimed they had their name from the Karif family in Sam. Ælios thought Nuur-Karif looked like they came from Arani areas and wondered if their family came from the south. Nuur-Karif did not comment, but Nuur-Karif looks more like the apeoids closer to The Homeland than the apeoids in Arland.

After about 15 minutes, Ælios said they were done for the time being. After staring at the needle for a few minutes, they said it would not be any point in exposing Nuur-Karif to magical dangers. I asked if they knew how to do anything about it. Before they could answer, Wolfram almost accused them of necromancy, but was again interrupted by Ninos. Ninos and Ælios had a heated exchange in their language, which ended with Ælios looking disappointed and said they could not help with the needle. When they had joined the expedition east, they had promised to not get involved in certain sensitive matters and this included the needle. To practice medicine where they came from, they had sworn to help as many as possible and they believed they could help more by not being sent away. They looked very unhappy about it though.

Wolfram was not satisfied and again brought up necromancy. Ælios explained that it was common for surgeons to know some magic and alchemy. This is not the case for the apeoids in Arland and especially not in The Cities of the Prince, even though it makes perfect sense. Wolfram then told Ælios about the spirit stuck in the needle. Ælios said it was good to know, because they did not know if they could do anything to cure it. Perhaps they would do as much harm as healing if they tried.

Korro's shrieks had finally stopped and Wolfram went on to tell Ælios about the damage on Korro's spirit. Ælios wanted to see and we showed them to Korro's cabin. Ælios said it was good that Tivito had nothing to do with it, else they could not help. Wolfram did not understand and began to contradict them, but I carefully explained that we did not know how it had happened and Korro had been unable to tell us. It was important that Ælios investigate, in case this was a contagious disease that had to be stopped. All the while, Ninos was standing in the door and looked increasingly irritated.

We were all sent out and Ælios closed the door. I ran and fetched the spirit ring, while Ninos demanded that we not do anything that could be detected outside the boat. They had not appreciated the alarm. Wolfram began to explain why the alarm had gone off, but mentioned Nulius' name and was sharply told to not use any names.

This lead to a discussion of Mir and Ninos said Mir had been raised in the west. When they were young, they had been sickly and would probably have died if Ælios had not treated them. However, sending the young to be raised in the west is forbidden according to the law, so it had to be kept secret. Apparently, it was not a problem that Mir had been in the west as an adult. As usual, the laws make little sense, but the nobles are perhaps worried that the young will be influenced by the westerners while they are easily mouldable. Ninos had no idea why the alarm had gone off, but assured us that the guards were absolutely loyal.
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Old 03-21-2022, 02:22 PM   #129
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

Ninos indicated that they were done with the discussion and moved to the passageway outside Korro's cabin. Nuur-Karif followed, but continued on to the galley. I followed as well in case I could hear something from Korro's cabin, but noticed that Nuur-Karif took an interest in Ælios' chest. To distract Ninos, I asked them if Ælios had any experience handling spirits. Despite everything Wolfram had said about spirits and Tivito, they looked surprised and sneaked over to Korro's door to listen. There were no discernible sounds coming from the cabin, so Ninos returned to their post after a few minutes.

In the meantime, Nuur-Karif had opened Ælios chest, looked over the contents, and moved on to the cupboards. Earlier, they had mentioned looking for whatever triggered Wolfram's alarm, so I assumed that was what they were looking for. I studied Ninos aura intently. It is hard to read much from the auras Wolfram produce, but I was certain there were no demonic influence in Ninos' aura and said as much. They looked questioningly at me for a few seconds before nodding, not sure what to do with that information, but glad that they were not possessed.

Nuur-Karif finished with the galley and moved on to Ninos' cabin. Ninos' asked if it was really necessary, but did not protest when Nuur-Karif answered yes. Just as they were about to enter, Korro started screaming. I bolted to their door and tried to open it, but it was barred from the inside. Nuur-karif came running and Ælios shouted from the inside that they were coming. I rapidly cast the spell so I could see magical energies and waited with bated breath.

It took maybe half a minute before Ælios opened the door partially and looked out. In the meantime, Wolfram had come running as well and we were all crowding the doorway. Inside, I could see two stools next to Korro's bed. On one of them was a pouch made from some expensive fabric and it was obvious to me that either the pouch or the contents were magical. Ælios asked if Nuur-karif would come in and help them. Wofram said they also wanted to come in, sounding suspicious, but were told they had to wait. Nuur-Karif could tell them everything they had seen afterwards. Before they closed the door, Ælios once again reassured Ninos that nothing magical would happen.

The shrieks continued, but were getting weaker. I suspect Korro was getting exhausted. As the noises were dying down, it became possible to hear voices inside, so I put my ear to the door.

Ælios was asking if Nuur-Karif knew anything about Korro's condition. They said Korro's spirit had been tortured and terrible things would happen if they died. Nuur-Karif also claimed that Korro had agreed to be killed if they got out of the city. Nuur-Karif would probably enjoy that, but Ælios warned that it would not be so easy. They wondered how we could know about these things and thought it was strange that Korro was not a mage. Apparently, they thought that mages was more vulnerable to conditions like Korro's.

After a brief pause, Ælios suggested they could take the patients, meaning Korro and Nillet. Nuur-Karif asked what they had done with Korro's arm, but Ælios did not answer and said they had to get back to their office. Nuur-Karif said something about a bandage and a quiet conversation followed. When they spoke up again, Ælios said that Ninos would have to fetch something from Ælios' office and Nuur-Karif emerged from the cabin.

Ninos sounded surprised when they were told they were allowed into Ælios' office. This was clearly something they had wanted to do for a long time. They gathered their things and wondered if there was anything we needed. Wolfram asked for the knives they had ordered from Krago. I asked if it would still be possible to get a set of warm clothing. Ninos said getting the materials would not be an issue, but finding a discrete seamster would be more of a challenge. Yana said they were busy with another project, but Grogg said they had experience with fur and wool and could make something, so we asked Ninos to procure the materials.

Ælios shouted for Nuur-Karif to fetch a note, which they handed over to Ninos. I noticed that Ninos folded it in a very particular pattern and I suspect that the folding was a kind of identification or certification. Ninos tucked the note away and were off.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 03-21-2022 at 02:40 PM.
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Old 03-21-2022, 02:38 PM   #130
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 213 since leaving The Homeland

Ælios sat in Korro's cabin and did not appear to be doing much. When we looked in, they said it was about time to empty Nillet's lungs. However, they wanted to air out the cabin first and opened a hatch, getting a good look at the harbour in the process. They then asked us to join them somewhere we would not be overheard and Nuur-Karif offered their cabin. Everyone filed in, making it a bit cramped, but we managed.

The surgeon wanted to know how we could know so much about Korro and Nillet. We did not really know anything, but if we pieced together what we had been told by others and witnessed, everything pointed to the Tivito's rituals involving a great deal of torture. The treatment of the old female at Gritt's crypt had been brutal. I said that in earlier cases we had seen, the spirits had been completely ripped from their bodies and been used as energy sources. Nuur-Karif mentioned that Korro had talked about their spirit had been coloured which reminded me of Korro's aura. It had looked as if something had been added to it, smearing all of it with a dirty colour.

Ælios thought this sounded like madness or desperation. Only someone who did not care at all about the suffering of others could do something like this. While I agree that Tivito's behaviour is deranged, Ælios must have somehow been sheltered from other apeoids. They seemed like they were completely unaware of the petty cruelty that is the their hallmark. Wolfram was the one that had to explain that Tivito appears to be crazed for power and does not care how much suffering they cause. Ælios insisted that apeoids from the west were less barbaric, but I have my doubts. They also mentioned the lands to the south, but did not appear to have much more information when I asked. Their advice was for us to leave Arland, but Wolfram said we had to fight the wild mages.

According to Ælios, Korro and Nillet had some kind of connection and wondered if they were siblings or a breeding couple. If Grogg's nose was correct, Nillet had been in The Cities of the Prince while Korro had another mate and offspring in Arland, so this seemed unlikely. Korro had acted very protective after Nillet was wounded, but that could just be fear of the consequences if Nillet died. Either way, Ælios thought they should not be separated.

In order to to extract Nillet's spirit from the needle, Ælios needed something else to contain it in. I told them about the clay tokens we recovered after the skirmish in Hosei. They were very interested and I ran to fetch the jars. Nuur-Karif were sent to fetch a folder from Ælios' chest and they returned right after me. Ælios produced several thick mats from the folder and placed them on one of the beds while urging the rest of us to keep our distance. Nuur-Karif took the opportunity to leave with Yana.

Ælios put on white gloves and covered the mats with a soft fabric before placing the jars very carefully on top. For several minutes, they just stood there looking intently on the jars. While they did not appear to use any spells, they seem to be able to detect magical energies and might have been studying the energies around the jars.

After staring at each jar for several minutes, they picked one up and studied it more closely for a while and then repeated with the other. Satisfied they had gleaned everything they could from the jars, they produced a set of tweezers and placed one of the tokens on a cloth and carefully cleaned it with a brush. They then put a finger on it and cast a spell.

When they were done, they turned to us and asked if we knew how valuable the tokens were. If we gave them the tokens, they would owe us slaves and gold if we ever visited them in the west. Wolfram was not interested in either, but wanted to know if they could be used to contain the spirits. Ælios thought the token could hold many things, but at the moment, it contained something else. Wolfram wondered if it could hold a demon, but that would be too much.

According to Ælios, no such tokens had been produced since the realm in the south disappeared. We have heard mention of the realm south of the swamp before and that it has become the land of the dead. It is unclear how long ago that was though. Sometime before the last cataclysm and possibly during some earlier cycle.

I wonder how long the Kabal temple at The Evening Fort has been sealed. There were piles of these tokens and I doubt that the Aldera's have kept it closed since the last cataclysm. Combined with Tivito's willingness to use the tokens, I believe they are still being produced in Arland, or at least were not that long ago.

If we gave Ælios the tokens, they would do everything in their power to get Nillet's spirit out of the needle and they would try to give the patients a natural death. Wolfram was reluctant, but I had no major objections. None of us would leave the ship anytime soon either way though.

I asked Ælios if they knew anything about the stars, but they claimed ignorance. However, they mentioned that the equivalent of Azura in the west was called Salla and still had male priests.

The talk of stars made Ælios think of something and asked me to get Nuur-Karif and Yana. They said they had an important question. Nuur-Karif and Yana were in the hold and I told them Ælios had something to say. They joined us and Ælios said they were going to ask us something personal. They would rather we did not answer at all than lie, giving Nuur-Karif a stern look. After we all agreed, they asked if anyone had read a prophecy over us.

I said that we had not gotten access to the prophecy, but that someone had said we were the ones to release everything, but did not mention Isa by name. None of the others remembered Isa's words it seemed, and Wolfram claimed we had heard the prophecy, mistaking the Azura priest's prediction for a prophecy concerning us. Ælios thought it was strange that nobody had read our stars and said it happened for everyone in the west. An individual star reading for everyone would be a logistical challenge, so I suspect that they really mean the nobility when they say everyone.

According to Ælios, Mir had talked about us and Nulius was keeping a close eye on us. If Mir, like Isa, believed that we were an important part of some old prophecy, that would make perfect sense. Ælios went on to say that in times of turmoil, special individuals often appeared from less civilized areas that had special abilities they did not understand themselves. That we had brought the tokens and did not seem to grasp their significance was a sign that we were such individuals. Other signs that we were special were that Grogg was a troll with a familiar, which was unheard of, and Nuur-Karif's apparently direct connection with their god.

The Homeland is by far the most civilized realm I have seen so far, but otherwise their theory sounds plausible. I have never heard of any People my size that can read the stars like I can. In hindsight, I wish I knew what Toltecatl read in the stars when they chose me as assistant.

Returning to the tokens, Wolfram was suspicious and thought they should be destroyed since they could capture spirits. Ælios said that it might be possible, but it would be dangerous and if anyone should do it, it should be them. Wolfram brought up demons again and Ælios said they had some things they wanted to say before Ninos returned. First, they wanted to know what we knew about them. We said they appeared to be former apeoids that had somehow been transformed into powerful entities. At least some of them seemed to represent aspects of apeoid hysteria. Ælios said that one of the seven was said to be an elf and was connected with the stars dancing in the west. That sounded like Albor.

I asked if the colouring on Korro's aura could have been caused by a demonic influence. Ælios said it was speculative, but agreed that it was possible. I imagine Tivito might have used a small fragment of a demon similar to what happened to Wolfram's bear. A small part of Jori seems to have attached itself thoroughly to the spirit bear. Their spirit appears to still be firmly attached though.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 03-22-2022 at 12:29 PM.
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