The trek out of the realm of the Aboleth and his servants the fish-men was easier than the trip downward. For one, the Aboleth did not exercise its perfidious mental hold over the denizens of that dark place. The drow alchemist had departed as soon as his master was dead; the fish-men, who had suffered greatly from the party’s predations, neither harassed nor attacked the departing surface-dwellers. Thirteen former slaves of the Aboleth came with them, slowing their travel and putting Shepherd to additional work conjuring food and water for the expanded group. But the adventurers from White Moon Cove had begun their travels rescuing slaves, and this was no exception.
The party crossed the lake of leeches and the chasm, emerging back into the realms of the gnomes. They met and tarried with them for a day, resting and replenishing their food supplies. It was here that Simon, who bore COELUM and who by mutual agreement had stayed no less than ten feet from Jarlebank (whos till bore RUAT), performed the second of many attempts to use COELUM to see the next part of the Rod. Below ground as they still were, it naturally (and gratefully) pointed upward; it also pointed north-by-northwest.
The party also took advantage of the gnomes’ artifice to replace the dressings on Peaches’ leg, and to provide her with new crutches, made to her height and weight. Peaches, who had been stoic since her loss, was grateful. The gnomish work was an enormous improvement over the hardscrabble materials she had suffered with for days.
A day later they entered the realm of the sun again, and from the smiles of the faces of the former slaves one could tell that all were happy to have exited that accursed hole. Shepherd continued feeding the caravan, and they travelled along the same paths they’d used to come to the Underdark. The path back to the boat – now christened “Mandible” – would be at least three weeks, but the warnings they’d received concerning the presence of the Scarlet Brotherhood, especially in Hokar, prompted them to retrace their steps despite the additional days on the road.
Strange occurrences, of course, began shortly after the party had left the caves. At each dawn, and then again at dusk, a whirwind would appear at one of the cardinal points. Dark in the morning but brighter at sunset, the whirlwind would remain in place for a few minutes, then disappear as mysteriously as it had come.
The thick grasslands were otherwise empty, both of people and animals, and as they approached the place of the Totems, where they had encountered immense scorpions and their gnoll keepers, the party redoubled their guard at night. Simon conjured protective walls of grass and thorns that shielded them from sight, and they eschewed fires to avoid the eyes of any creature that might still revere the bleached skulls that decorated the tall wooden beams set in the ground.
In the three days it took to traverse the Totem hills, and during that course, Simon used the high ground to use COELUM and seek the third piece. Still north, still west, but more northward this time, and Simon speculated that, unlike COELUM itself while it was within the Aboleth, this portion of the Rod might be moving north. Jarlebank, exercising great care that the two parts came no closer to each other than ten feet, frist conducted a ritualized version of Identify, which proved fruitless. Following the less sophisticated methods that proved successful with RUAT (and taking into the account their suspicion that the whirlwind was some creature of the Rod, watching over them), Jarlebank was able to throw himself into the air as if he’d cast Fly. Unaccountably nervous, Jarlebank landed swiftly, and returned COELUM to Simon’s care.
The next morning, Simon scouted the region around their hidden camp, and discovered tracks of an unusual mature. About 75 yards from their hidden copse, the tracks moved to the north, parallel to the camp, and at first seemed to be those of spiders, or possibly of the scorpions that have bedeviled them before. Simon dismissed this idea, as the track were smaller and strangely shaped, with claws on six of the feet, but humanoid-like hands on the forward pair. No creatures could be seen, though.
Simon was intrigued by the whirlwind spirit, and contrived with Aladar to use magic to get close the creature when it next materialized. The next morning before dawn, their last in the Totems, Aladar cast Dimension Door and transported both himself and Simon as near the creature as he could. They approached to about 90 feet away, and were immediately struck by the silence of the creature – no sound emanated from it, although the breezes and small winds stirred the dust around them. It was silver in color up close, although the dust it kicked into the air gave it a brownish tinge. They approached, but somehow they drew the attention of the whirlwind, which vanished with a gout of wind that went away from it in all directions, throwing Simon and Aladar to the ground (Thrax’s bulk kept it on it’s feet, but only just) and jostling those yet at the camp. The creature did not appear that evening at dusk, nor at dawn the next morning as the group prepared to move out of the Totems and toward the crossroads where they would take up the path toward Port Toli.
It was easier travel via the Hokar Road, and they speedily passed the familiar manors and plantations that dotted this area. Jarlebank and Shepherd approached some of them, using the strangely minted coins from the Aboleth’s brackish hoard to pay the farmers for fresh food and better clothing for the freed slaves. The weather was fair, the days passed quickly, and soon the familiar sails of the Mandible hove into view. After a quick stop at Port Toli to take on supplies and fresh water, ale and wine, they made the week’s sail to White Moon Cove in a jovial mood and with good winds behind them.
Back home at White Moon Cove, the Aboleth’s former slaves joined the others that the party had freed – those from the mineworks, those released from the slavelords, those brought back from the ancient monastery, those from the bowels of Blood Bay – and each given 20 gold nobles to begin their new lives. The transition would not be easy, for these men’s former homes were far away and they did not know the ways of the sea. The twenty nobles would aid them immensely.
The plan was to stay at White Moon Cove for a few days, rest and dine among friends and kin, then sail the Mandible southeast to the the great city of Sternhaven, capital of the principality of Ravenwind. White Moon Cove was within the principality and as such paid Prince Stern homage, but it was a week’s distance by sea and thrice that by land, so the influence that Sternhaven law had over White Moon Cove was light. The nearest Prince’s Justice could be found in Wolverton, but that was only twice a year and rarely dealt with anything from the Cove. The fishermen and folk of White Moon Cove lived largely as they had for generations, pulling their livelihoods from the sea without interference. Taxes were assiduously paid, invariably on time, in barrels of salt-cod, crates of sun-dried mackerel, and of late ingots of local silver.
Jarlebank used COELUM to fly to Wolverton, if only to test the power granted by it and see if any any more thaumaturgy could be raised from the the rod-portion. Peaches accompanied Jarlebank via the road below despite her lost leg, largely to assuage her boredom and equally to avoid the pitying eyes of the townsfolk, who stared at the mesh-covered stump of her left leg, and her alien, gnomish crutches, with ill-concealed fear. Fear of what had caused Peaches such hideous damage, certainly… but also the fear that, by the fortunes of Osprem, such ill-luck had avoided them. Avoided them so far.
As it turned out, Jarlebank’s and Peaches’ visit to Wolverton was short-lived. The library there, owned by Jarlebanke’s mentor and teacher in the arts, contained nothing of the Rod – nary a mention could be found in any of the histories that Jarlebank’s teacher had collected. Jarlebank did learn something though, two things really: for one, that the arcane path upon which he and his friends had found themselves far exceeded the knowledge contained in the penninsula. The plan to go to Sternhaven was not so much an idea as a necessity now – the great libraries of the college at Colleton were the destination. For two, the tension in the air between Jarlebank and his mentor was palpable. Jarlebank’s power had grown, likely beyond what arcane dominions his mentor controlled. Jarlebank’s mentor felt it as well, and was standoffish and curt. jarlebank thought it likely, as he and Peaches began their trek north back to the Cove, that this would be the last time he visited his old teacher – perhaps, he mused, the last time he saw the lower towers and costermongers of Wolverton.
Back in White Moon Cove, Simon had found that his house, at the interior border of the village and a hundred paces from the nearest croft, had a visitor: a large wolfhound, with intelligent eyes and a dark, shaggy coat. According to Simon’s nearest neighbor, it had come out of the forest a fortnight previously, begging food from various townsfolk and generally being amiable. It had taken up residence on Simon’s doorstep each night to rest, and with Simon gone adventuring no one thought to chase it off. Simon was intrigued by this creature’s diligent presence, and in light of all the strange events that had happened recently felt that it’s business here might be far more than that of a stray hound. Simon was school in the languages of animals, and with some hedge magic he found the dog’s voice and spoke with it.
“Ave, hound. Why dost thou tarry here, upon my abode?” asked Simon.
“‘Tis no great secret, nor a conundrum that requireth a scholar’s disquisition,” the hound replied. “I have need of sustenance, and thy fellows were kind to me, with fish and flesh and the rooted bounty of the earth. That is the entire.”
Simon raised one eyebrow. “Thou kindles within me a suspicion, but I shall defer; why dost thou decamp here in particular?”
The hound turned it’s soulful eyes toward the ranger. “Here? ‘Tis quiet, and pleasant, warm and fragrant to my tastes. The scent of the dale wafts well here, untainted by the salt-savour of thy sea yet with the hint of it ‘pon the edges. None of thy kinsfolk approacheth to interrupt my repose, when I doth tarry here. Is that not enough, in thine opinion?”
“Whither come you here? Thou are unknown to me, and I have known these lands in entire.”
“I have trod this coast lo these many seasons,” the hound said nonchalantly. “Perhaps thy knowledge is not as comprehensive as thou believeth, with the burdens your travels require.”
Simon thought a moment, then a wry smile creased his face. “Perchance thou are correct, hound,” he said. “Art thou named?”
The dog shook his head in ugga-wugga fashion. “Alas, no.”
“Dost the name ‘Cerberus’ appeal? I would name thee thus, were thou amenable. It is a famous name in our histories, the appellative of the thrice-headed beast of substantive size and a guardian of note.”
“‘Thrice-headed?’ I think not,” said the hound, a dubious frown crossing his muzzle.
Simon was agreeable. “Consider it discarded,” he averred. He then looked thoughtful. “Wouldst thou accompany me on a hunt? I have sought the flavour of venison for long days, and thought I might never feel the richness of it again ‘pon my tongue.”
“Fortune smileth ‘pon thee, then,” said the hound, his tail thumping the floorboards of Simon’s porch. “For I have scented several odocoileus in the timber beyond. Betwixt my nose and thy bow, it’s a fair wager we have game for the supper-pot this night.”
Simon nodded once in agreement and the pair walked silently into the forest, disappearing swiftly between the dark pines.
Thirty-six hours later, the Mandible was ready for the week’s sail to Sternhaven. Goodbyes had been said, doors had been locked, packs had been loaded, weapons had been strapped. From the Mandible, one could see the crossroads where, by informal agreement, the party agreed to meet the next morning after the fishing fleet had gone into the sea. From there they would board and cast off for the capital.
As the party converged on the crossroad, the wolfhound that had been hanging out at Simon’s came running across the street. It’s growls were low and foreboding, and every eye on the street turned to look as the dog charged down the street toward a point on the opposite side of the crossroad itself. as if in response, a Gate opened. Beyond the Gate was a strange sight: a land all of white, with alabaster spires in the distance, bone-white trees nearby, and a sky the color of a fish belly. Coming through were a quartet of creatures – spiderlike (but definitely not spiders), with vulpine heads and human-like hands on fore-palps. “Tanar’ri!” yelled Jarlebank as the creature crossed into the Prime, his eyes widening as the creatures turned their wolfish gaze toward the mage. “Creatures of chaos!”
The tanar’ri entered White Moon Cover and began to spread out, but the first was immediately attacked by the hound, who leaped onto it, knocking it to the ground and rolling about with it, snapping and yelping. Another Teleported next to Jarlebank but, despite it’s fearsome appearance, did not attack him physically (as he expected, frankly) but instead Telekinese’d him. Jarlebank began to rise into the air, making him even more vulnerable to attack. But Jarlebank was not helpless – drawing one of his many wands from his vest, he sent a multicolored beam at the nearby offending tanar’ri and changing him into a fish. The fish flopped abjectly, as if it understood it’s fate.
The party rushed to engage the invaders, not only because they were obviously seeking out the party personally, but to keep the otherworldly creatures away from the defenseless townsfolk that hadn’t gone off in the morning’s fleet. Jarlebank carefully targeting a Fireball to avoid damaging his friends, throwing the spell behind the tanar’ri but even then the heat fell upon Thrax and Simon’s faces, making them turn away. The creatures seemed immune to fire, despite their frost-covered homeland visible through the gate. Simon fought one and delivered significant damage, and even then the creatures continued to rely on spells rather than physical attacks. The tanar’ri used their Teleport ability to bounce around the crossroads, attacking here and there but not dealing much damage. Jarlebank tried to dispel the Gate itself, but failed – the arcane power behind was too strong.
Having dispatched his opponent, the hound retreated down the streets from which he had emerged, howling and barking and drawing the team to the west, Atop Sonja’s house, one of the tanar’ri had Teleported and begun to throw spells at the approaching party members. Jarlebank moves toward the Gate, to try and gather any information about the source of the tanar’ri, but to no avail. The last tanar’ri escaped by flying through the gate, which closed behind it.
The water below the keel of the Mandible was dark as wine, but it slid against the ship’s pinewood as if oiled. The ship sailed south, into waters only slightly warmer but filled with ships the closer they got the Sternhaven. They heard the gigantic docks there before they saw them: the cries of the stevedores, the shouts of the sailors, the lap of wave against hull multiplied by a hundred. The sun flashed white off the caps of the waves, and bathed the dock with a crystalline light. The crew of the Mandible bent to their work, their eyes seeking the spires of the city, while the party offloaded their gear onto the salt-bleached wood of the pier.
“Are you from White Moon Cove, to the north?”
The voice came from the shoreline where stood a man’s in monk’s robes, pale as bone. “You there! Does that ship hail from White Moon Cove?”
“Aye, it does,” said Simon. “Who wishes to know?”
The monk brought himself to attention. “I am Lolfar, a priest of Lendor, from town of Colleton to the south,” he said formally. “The leader of my order has asked me to come and bring you to him.”
Shepherd had heard of Lendor, an old Suel diety whose domains were strange to northern priests: “He is the god of Time, Tedium, Patience, and Study. His holy symbol is a crescent moon superimposed upon a full moon surrounded by stars, the number of which is usually fourteen. He has the ability to banish or undo the magic of any kind.”
“And how does your leader come to know who we are and the moment we arrived?” asked Simon.
“Only he can tell you that,” Lolfar said simply. “But he asked me to invite you to speak with him at Colleton, two days from here along the Viscum Road.”
“We’ve only just arrived,” said Jarlebank amiably. “What is it that we can do for your master, that we should travel another two days when our business is here in the capital?”
“It is not what you can do for my master,” Lolfar explained. “My master says that he has been bidden to do something for you.”
The party stayed in the Rave Inn that night in Sternhaven, as it was mid-afternoon by the time they’d arrived and the prospect of acquiring a cart, transshipping their equipment and gaining Middlesex by dusk was remote. The Rave Inn exceeded their expectations, and they passed their first night in Sternhaven in peace and comfort. That evening, Peaches and Shepherd sought out that which was one of the reasons they’d come to Sternhaven: the regeneration of Peaches’ leg. The bones of the platinum statue of Lloth, now rendered into a stack of bright ingots in a chest, were to be the proffered payment. They met with several prelates of the local churches – of Osprem, of Hieronymous – but it was at the temple of Pelor that they found amenable ears. They would heal Peaches’ leg, but the donation would be more than the drowish platinum on the chest – another 700 gold nobles, paid in aboleth’s gold. But the Pelorians were as good as their word, and the next morning at the rising of the sun, they performed the ritual and Peaches’ leg returned. It was pale and hairless as new piglet, but when Peaches tossed aside her gnome-made crutches and timorously stood atop her new foot, it held. When she and Shepherd rejoined the party before setting out for Colleton, Peaches walked across Sternhaven’s cobbled streets without aid.
The road to Colleton is straight, well paved with white stone, and well travelled. With Lolfar of Lendor, they left the following morning headed south and made excellent time, reaching Middlesex by late afternoon and spending the night at the traveler’s inn there. By noon the next day they’d reached Colleton, and got their first look at the great college there. The two scholars among the party, Jarlebank and Shepherd, gawked at the scope of it: students everywhere rushing from place to place, towers emitting the sounds of discourse, and in the middle of it all, the grand library – easily the greatest of the places of Colleton, crowded with students, gravid with knowledge. In the distance the great forest of Viscum stood, and elvish outriders could be seen lining the road that entered the forest. They had orders from the lords of Viscum that had stood for decades: allow none but elves to use the Viscum Road past the treeline without leave, else they earn the ire of the Viscumi lords and consider their lives forfeit.
They proceeded to the Lendorian temple and, after waiting a few minutes, were guided into a chamber designed to emulate a verdant grotto – a pool burbled, and the air within smelled rich with loam. Reclining near the pool was an elvish sage, ancient even considering the longevity of that race. Lolfar introduced him:
“This is my master, Dahlen, high priest of the Temple of Lendor, and a professor at the Colleton College,” Lolfar said, gesturing to the elf who had turned to face the party. He nodded. “Master,” said Lolfar,”… these are the travellers from White Moon Cove, as you’d asked.”
“I am glad you have come,” said Dahlen. “I imagine you are confused, but I will speak plainly: Lendor the wise the merciful has bid me make myself and my knowledge known to you and at your disposal. To that end, I must ask: on what great errand have you found yourselves, that the old gods of the Suel order their servants to aid you?”
Over the next hour, the party explained the path that had led them here: first, to free and avenge their kinsmen, then to the isles of the slavelords to destroy them. They told of hunting the last remaining slavelords and the one that eluded them; finding RUAT then following it’s lead into the bowels of the oerth to find it’s sibling COELUM. They told of the creature that dogged them on the plains of the Sea Prince’s Hold, then again among the houses of White Moon Cove. And finally, their desire to continue the hunt for the remaining pieces of the Rod, and their need for knowledge as to how to join them, and what foes they will face in so doing.
Dahlen was quiet for a moment, then nodded. “I have kenned Lendor’s will in this,” he said. “Aid me now to get to my feet, for we must go into the Library. The knowledge you require is there, and I know where it is.”
In the college, they gathered around a long table and pored over an old, unnamed journal. The book was written in Flan by an anonymous author, a follower of Pholtus, and it contained the ancient rhyme that they’d heard before from the couatl:
“That which was sundered on Pesh’s plain, holds back chaos reign. Yet the vaati’s deed shall remain undone, until the seven again become one.”
The book itself was a chronicle of a man’s (one assumed the author himself) attempt to recreate the Rod, an attempt which ended in failure after the rejoining of the first three (RUAT, COELUM and the third, named FIAT). Between the Journal and related scrolls found by Dahlen in the college archives, they learned much:
Assembling the Rod is a highly complex and often frustrating process. The Journal author says that he failed to join two segments on at least one occasions.
The chaos inherent in Mishka’s blod is what causes the parts to scatter; the piece that the journal author describes as being lost teleported approximately 75 miles from the source location.
Special magical glyphs are required to perform the joining ritual but, of those are drawwn properly, any wizard or cleric of 7th level or above can perform the magic and enact the joining. The spell itself is not overly difficult, just time-consuming and sensitive.
Special materials needed to draw the glyphs included:
a brush, made from the feathers and hair of two rare and powerful (but unnamed) creatures – one of Good, one of Evil – of at least six hit dice.
Pigments made of diamond, iron, lead and other rare substances of at lest 300 gp value.
Seven hours to perform the ritual itself.
The chance for success is then calculated:
per caster level: +1%
caster crafts the brush themselves: +%5
caster has skill in calligraphy: +5%
If the glyph fails, the latest piece of the Rod teleports away.
It takes about 20 minutes of fiddling to join two pieces of the Rod, and they can only be joined in sequential order
The journal describes the pieces and their powers:
RUAT: the power to heal
COELUM: the power to fly at will
FIAT: the power to Haste the holder for 23 rounds, and others for half that, but the others will suffer aging effects.
As the pieces of the Rod are joined, the powers of the sum become increasingly greater than those of the parts. But the side effect is that the bearer of the Rod becomes more lawful, an effect that also strengthens as more sections of the Rod are joined.
the journal authors was also attacked by creatures he referred to as “wolf-spiders,” the description of which matched the tanar’ri that attacked them through the Gate in White Moon Cove. It’s likely they were drawn by the activation of (in this case) COELUM’s primary power.
The knowledge that Dahlen had provided them was invaluable, and by way of recompense Jarlebank gave the old elf a book of drowish magic that he’d acquired during the party’s travels in the underdark. It was a good gift, and Dahlen was pleased.
They party stayed the night in Colleton, but left early the next morning to head back to Sternhaven.
selling the pigments: 3 sets x (4000 gp x .8) = 9600 gp | seven shares = 1371.43 gp