On time; all participants get +0.1 HP; factually complete, prose to be finalized
- Jean-Pierre du Vayrir de la Grand Contumace Saint-Emilion (Cleric (Forge) 6)
- Archer Steele (Bard (Valour) 3)
- [Night’s Mistress + Others] (Monk (Shadow) 6)
- Virgil White (Paladin 1)
- Aythe von Dusthafen (Bard (Glamour) 4)
- 1082 XP per participant if updated on time.
- 491 GP per participant with donating to the LMF.
- All party members got +1 HP from JP’s Perfect Croissants.
- [Night] gained + 1 Corruption but Resistance to Necrotic from overcoming a Wraithseed. She also can stack subsequent Stun DCs by continually Stun-locking one opponent after a masterful Kata in the Mausoleum of the Forgotten.
- Jean-Pierre gave up the Phoenix-Heart, was taught Hard Wisdom (+ 1 WIS, got party tossed out of Oracle’s Gauntlet), but reaffirmed that Peace is his Happiness (+ 1 Resolve on expeditions after he kills no intelligent non-Extraplanar creatures.)
- Aythe learned advanced Funerary Rites (+ 1 Resolve next expedition after she consumes memory from a creature of CR 2 or more over her Character Level.
- Virgil White levels to 2, loses -3 Max HP from ripping his own heart out in the Oracle’s Hall of Judgment, but is a Bearheart (Componentless Warding Bond 1/Expedition.)
- PoI Gold – Giant Ape’s Nest (175gp) 175 175 PoI
- Giant Ape’s Dollhouse Silverware (85gp, claimed by Aythe)
- Steady Squeeze, The Hit Warden Game of Cunning Advancement (150gp, claimed by Linna)
- *Secrets of Old Empire Food Branding * (100gp, claimed by JP)
- *Long-Lost Sourdough Sample (extra sour) (100gp, claimed by JP)
- Empowered Phoenix Feather (1500gp, claimed by Night for Tabby potion)
- *Metal Golem Ear (100gp, claimed by JP, LMF can loan w. permission)
- *Fela Crafting SIlk (Armor-Grade (1000gp)
We began on a clear morning, intending to visit a zone of mysterious exhausting mists in the Dark Forest Canopy (that had already claimed the lives of several Stalkers) and then ask the Oracle about how we might bypass the Purple Worm en route to the Lurkers’ stronghold under the Forest.
Our party consisted of myself, Ms. Steele (Sovan’s apprentice), [Night’s Mistress] (who received a few bits of advice from [Bugle] as he ‘stopped by coincidentally’ as happens so often when she is on Expedition) and young Master Virgil White, a newly minted dragonborn Paladin. Ms. von Dusthafen was to join us outside the Wall from a sojourn in the Garden of the Heart.
When I made his crossbow magical through the light and life of the tree [+ 1 from Forge Cleric] and complimented him on his preparedness, he had a quite….elaborate monologue about how ‘of course I found it remarkable that a White-spawned dragonborn could be a good or prepared person’ which I attempted to answer while not denying his right to feel hurt.
This sort of…very intense self-expression was a theme for the rest of the expedition, so I shall not detail each instance of our explaining as patiently as we could to Mr. White that his rights were not being violated by various Guild routines.
Regardless, we headed out and picked up Ms. Aythe (our second Bard! How jolly!) from the Jungle Portal. She seemed wary and tense after 5 weeks with the Keeper. I can hardly blame her. Pure ‘Goodness’ can be a harsh medicine.
I moved in front. The Bards surrounded VIrgil in the middle. [Night] took the back.
As we moved, Aythe and Archer discussed their bardic philosophies. Periodically a small…being….erupted…from Aythe’s neck. And talked. In Celestial.
It is a wonder that this Guild does not have higher rates of alcoholism than it does.
On our way to the Forest, a black mist erupted to our right as we traversed the plains. Virgil’s Divine Sense felt strong Undeath from within, but no specifics. When I approached it, alone, it swirled to avoid my Phoenixheart aura of Protection from Evil. I ‘upped the ante’ with Spirit Guardians and the mist resisted the impact [Caster Check 20] before giving way with a brief glimpse of withered arms and near-skeletal spectral hands recoiling.
As I looked into the now-clear space, a Wraith appeared from underground and assailed Archer, reducing her vitality immensely [-16 Max HP]. A range of readied attacks hit it, all but Virgil’s Cold damage striking true, the Cold being resisted.
Simultaneously, the mist turned into a cloud cover to block the Wraith from sunlight – 8 beings that resembled ghouls stood revealed where the mist had been. 2 groups of 2 flanked us and charged the back line, while 4 stood in a loose row in front of me, just outside of Guardians range. The 4 (2*2) chargers were battered by the Guardians; 1 died, none reached our junior members.
[Night], seeing Archer’s plight, exploded in a precise and deadly Flurry of Blows and managed with repeated strikes to Stun the Wraith with her ghost-punching fists.
Aythe joined her, causing us to run safely out of combat with her Mantle of Majesty. Most left the Wraith’s orbit, while I charged it – but saw my Guardians hit a bubble of protection surrounding it and did not try to force it through lest I leave us, standing in _Guardians_’ aura, exposed should the spell collapse. Aythe also filled Archer with thoughts of her own Heroism, boosting her vitality. The neck-parasite – named ‘Liebling’ – emerged and….waited to help.
Virgil missed the Wraith with his Forge-magic crossbow; Archer literally climbed up his body and Shattered the Wraith.
[Night] managed to renew her Stun of the Wraith. Meanwhile, the Ghoul we destroyed began melting like ooze into the ground. I derived [Religion 21] that it had actually been some kind of Spectre. Aythe threw a Chromatic Orb at the Wraith and inspired [Night] to keep her efforts going.
At this juncture, my 3rd-Level Guiding Bolt exploded the Wraith where it stood. The rest of the ghoul/spectres melted away into the earth, beyond Virgil’s Divine Sense range. After a pregnant pause, we advanced, [Night] readying actions to riposte with the time her enhanced speed allowed her while keeping up.
An hour later, with no more attacks, I touched Archer accidentally while pointing out a landmark and my Protection aura flared. Analyzing her aura (Religion 25), the Wraith, when it sucked out her life essence, implanted a seed of itself that let its ghoul/wraith servants track her. If she died, I realized, a new Wraith would spawn from her corpse.
This I kept to myself for the moment. Her panic and suffering would help nothing.
I moved, instead, to help her. Casting an Aythe-inspired Protection From Evil on Archer, she resisted (Disadvantaged WIS Save; Resolve = 22) and the black necrotic energy left her briefly but then re-entered her body. I saw a way to possibly transfer the energy – before I even had time to speak, [Night] saw my look around the group and volunteered on the spot.
Such a brave woman.
I pressed the two into close proximity and again Protected Archer. Her resistance easier this time (Flat WIS save = 23), she expelled the Wraithseed and [Night] wrapped it in Water-Formed Ki to enclose and absorb the dark. Her skill (WIS check 25) allowed her to near-effortlessly transfer the dark energy into her own Ki well.
Knowing that this Wraithseed would fade with a night’s rest if at all, we considered our options, deciding to bunk down in a moderately secure spot in the sun. We found one (Survival 22) but Archer was unable to get to sleep as birds swarmed overhead and a Crested Skull scout tried (and badly failed) to stare down [Night], so we entered the Dark Forest to solicit aid.
We went to No-Spider-Den, where the redoutable Vliblin heard of Tabitha’s plight and lost his proverbial mind. “Wait – so her hands, twice as big as mine – are now, like, TINY hands?”
After 30 or 40 of these comparisons, Aythe was kind enough to let me share a zone of Silence she created. Virgil joined us in the ‘Peace and Quiet Bubble’ and we all felt a renewal of our kindred spirit status – we are Good, or so we like to think, but not always Extroverted Good.
Vliblin eventually ran out of ways to explain his desire to see Tabitha and be, for once, ‘The Bigger Bud’ – a process assisted by [Night] helpfully reciting an elaborate list of rules Ms. Flora had publicized regarding her conditions for transferring temporary custody of Tabitha’s person.
Later still, Archer ran out of Inspiration after assisting an aged Fala in destroying Vliblin at a game of Fala Handball. Taking that as a sign, we left, leaving Archer out of range, with the intention to bait and exterminate the ghoul/specters in the hidden Secret Room further south near the abandoned Library.
As we headed there, we found the corpse of a badly mangled giant elk. [Night] scouted and found no hostiles. Our investigation (Medicine 13) found that the likely cause of death was the giant being’s decapitation and clawing. [Night] and I, looking around, found only one giant footprint – a Sasquatch of incredible size – leading nowhere. We thought about the Roc itself fleeing from such a beast in one far-off duel we overheard; we thought of a statue beneath the ground, a vast Sasquatch idol worshipped by Lurkers, and we shivered…and moved on.
We arrived at the refuge. After 2 uneventful watches ([Night] + Aythe, Virgil + Liebling + Myself) we belatedly found out that Archer had fought off the Wraithseed (22 WIS with Advantage) found but that [Night] had failed to expel the remainder she had taken in [15 CON] and she was temporarily slightly drained [Max HP -5].
Knowing that the ghoul/spectres could thus likely still track [Night], I stay up (my Paragon powers halving my sleep requirement) with the tireless Liebling to watch [Night] until morning.
We failed in our watch – [Night] was ambushed through the floor by a flurry of 5 spectre-blows (42 damage, -16 Max HP) from ambush. The other 2 (of 7) surrounded Aythe and she was injured less badly (10 damage, no HP loss).
First to react, [Night] flung open the shelter door and Teleported out, running as far as she could while quaffing a Greater Healing potion. 4 of the 7 beings – now entirely spectres – followed her. Virgil, next to her, finally woke up.
The still-surrounded Aythe gave herself a Sanctuary and used Dissonant Whispers to drive one spectre away, while Liebling attacked another. The last flew out, leaving a clump near [Night]. I used the power of Dawn to incinerate 1 and gravely injure the other 6.
[Night] kept teleporting, retreating near us in a defensive position while grabbing her spear. Virgil joined her with his battleaxe. Aythe sent [Phantasmal Force] into one’s mind, and it began to die from the inside as the 6 surviving undead retreated en masse.
Seeing the folly of sleeping near enough ground to allow an immaterial approach, we traveled to a nearby Well of Transformation site – a canopy-suspended platform on which to lie while contemplating Infinity. From there, we imagine, we will be able to perhaps see incoming attackers. On the way, I Sent to my trusted Stalker mentor Mirrionath, who responds simply that “Help is coming.” Arriving, [Night] flies up to the tree cover and sets up rope for us to climb up with relative ease.
As we finished setting up camp, 6 of my fellows from the Well arrived – young Seekers After Truth In Change like myself, led by Elizara, a dear friend and comrade with an almost-[Bugle]-like plethora of throwing knives strapped to her chest from a Rogue-ward transformation. They informed me that Mirrionath had found an Elder from the Well of Fate nearby and was bringing her to us in 6 hours.
I was finally able to sleep and restore my stock of spells as the Transformation Stalkers ( I heard when I arose) used their keen senses and fine markmanship to drive off an exploratory assault by the spectres.
I awoke in time to help drive off a second abortive spectre attack – and to watch as 3 Phase Spiders winked into existence nearby, saw our assembled forces, and left back into the Ethereal. [Night], waking some time after I did, had regained her vitality [Max HP restored] but not banished the Wraithseed.
Luckily, at that time an Elder from the Well of Fate arrived with a powerful magic gauntlet. I thanked Fate for bringing her here, which she very graciously acknowledged and reaffirmed.
The Elder offered, equally kindly, to help Night if she could – as our destruction of the Wraith had been a great good for the region – but warned that if the attempt failed, her Well would consider [Night]‘s possession to be Fated and withdraw all Stalker aid, encouraging Transformation to follow her example. Our Well is independently-minded, but I knew that not even Mirrionath could disregard an Elder’s urgings lightly. Nor could I, come to that.
Luckily, as Aythe inspired [Night] and the Elder with a tale of a long night where the Moon burnt so bright that the lack of Sun was no detriment to those who loved and lived beneath it, they came together, touching the Elder’s gauntlet to [Night]‘s chest, and with her heroic effort (WIS save 22) the Wraithseed burnt away into the night air. [Night] gained a tiny fraction of the Wraith’s powers – Resisting Necrotic energy, but gaining 1 Corruption.
In my overjoyed enthusiasm, I had the temerity to offer the Elder a biscotti, which she seemed to enjoy. (It was perhaps, I reflected later, a trifle dry. Next batch will incorporate more lipids.)
[Night], newly liberated from her burden, asked the Elder what her Fated status might be. The Elder answered only: “You will not fall to these undead, likely not to any others. We are glad this evil will not rise again. It, unchecked, would have been a wave of darkness, covering the plains.”
With this sobering pronouncement of thankfully unseen possible futures, the Elder left. The other Stalkers soon followed, with our heartfelt gratitude. We swung by No-Spider-Den, picked up Archer, and headed to the exhausting mists that were our first objective.
As we arrived, the mists loomed ahead of us, silvery and sinister. [Night], under Pass WIthout Trace, moved 60’ through the mists, taking 2 levels of Exhaustion to do so. She found a vast Ape nest inside the 200’ diameter clearing revealed inside the 60’ mist wall. This nest was woven of the canopy, surrounded by swarming Homunculi. A huge hole for waste carved open the bottom; two entrances (one Giant Ape-sized, one for the Homunculi) broke up its exterior. It is a Point of Significant Interest.
[Night], on Sending consultation, decided to explore further. The Ape-sized entrance revealed vast sleeping quarters and a Homunculi-focused area in several large rooms – immense collections of various objects scattered throughout.
Deciding that it was too exposed to safely infiltrate even with Shadow Teleportation, [Night] moved on to the Homunculi entrance and found a 20’ hallway with frond-shaped doors on the right side and at the hallway’s end. She moved in to explore.
Opening the side door first, [Night] found an area of many rooms and low ceilings sized for the small Homunculi, and collected bits of metal scattered throughout. She took one, which the wizards later identified as a part of the apparatus used to make more Homunculi.
Continuing to the frond-door at the hallway’s end, [Night] found a collection of humanoid scaled rooms. The First was a comfortable living quarters with fine table and chairs, with one of everything – clearly designed for a sole occupant, albeit with stepladders and small entryways to facilitate service by a Homunculi staff. [Night] found what turned out to be very fine silverware (85gp) set up at the table and took it all; Aythe bought it, then very kindly gifted me some of the dessert forks later.
Moving on, [Night] found more doors leading further in – straight or to the right. Hearing nothing with listening at the doors, she went right into what appeared to be a great Dollhouse scaled for an immense being. Exposed rooms with furniture, fixtures, and architecture all opened on one face to the living area of the Giant Ape who seems to play with this vast plaything it has created – only a thin barrier of fronds in its way, that it could doubtless sweep aside to move things around in its Dollhouse.
I recalled prior discussion with one of the Homunculi of the ‘Brides’ of this being and shuddered internally. Slavery by any name still smells as rank.
Returning to the dining room and taking the other door, [Night] finds a games room with multiple cultures’ collected amusements and an array of tables. One was a first-edition deluxe copy of Steady Squeeze, a game of cruelty, political intrigue and betrayal popular among the Wardens. Why, I certainly cannot imagine. It would likely be worth 150gp – Linna bought it instantly on our return to the Wall.
A further door out of the games room led to a small library where a LUA officer in fine clothing looked up from a book.
“TAKE ME OUT OF HERE” he stage-whispered.
[Night] waved cheerily and teleported out.
To take an expression from my dear love Sovan’s phrasebook: “FUCK the LUA.”
Regrouping, we headed South and made our way to the Oracle. Archer, knowing that we needed a refuge in which to sleep, began to sing a song about a “Song That Gets On Everybody’s Nerves” until I – not ONLY to stop her making that sound – found a very secure new Secret Door left over from the Old Empire (Survival 35). We slept there uneventfully.
Arriving at the Oracle’s, we found ourselves in luck – the ticket was available for us immediately on a printed sheet of fine vellum. Ascending the ramp past the mummy doorkeepers, we found the Couatl Secretary waiting for us under the always-diverting display of the Celestial Sharks in their floating tan. I made it through the formalities with dispatch (Bureaucracy 25) and we entered the Gauntlet.
The first room the Test of Might, consisted of a bare space guarded by a huge construct with a huge hammer. A vast bell decorated with scenes of war and conflict rested beside it. Two doors leading onward were securely locked.
Aythe’s deceptively thorough poking around (Investigate 26) found a hidden inscription advising us to take the construct’s left ear after defeating it.
Challenging it to single combat, I bested it without much difficulty, claimed the ear – good for “One Rephrasing of an Oracular Query or One Free Bypass of an Oracular Test” – and we advanced through the right door and into a large bakery.
And what a bakery.
The mastercraft fixtures! The unknown foodstuffs! The great lists of suppliers and wholesalers that I can use to answer long-simmering – to pardon my jest! – controversies in the field of Food History (records worth 100gp)! Here was a vast and fascinating hidden discipline of culinary science written! Here were titans of the fields of baking, roasting, saucing brought to the pinnacle of their arts! MULTIPLE SAMPLES of ENTIRELY UNKNOWN VARIETALS OF SOURDOUGH STARTER were present – with careful effort (Cooking 26) I managed to harvest 4 individual tiny amounts of magestic, extra-sour, sweet-tinge, and shining sour. Lee-Jean had long had contemplated the rumours of majestic-grade sourdough, and our ongoing correspondence -
[ADDENDUM: EXTRACTED FOR REASONS OF TEDIUM AND TACTICAL IRRELEVANCE.]
- so we shall SEE what she has to say about THOSE apples. (AGAIN with the food puns! I am a giddy schoolboy!)
There were also 1320gp worth of gear here
’[ to be stolen – but only the worst of vandals or lunatics would in any way deprive such an unbelievably beautiful kitchen of one iota of its stock that is not self-replenishing. Anyone with any claim to moral -
- I mean -
We left the goods.
It became clear that a baking task was part of proceeding. Aided by the others, I stuck to the classics – a 3-day full preparation of white-flour croissants. It went marvelously – Archer and Aythe inspiring us as Night’s dextrous fingers, Virgil’s cooling of our dough and supplies, and my best efforts at supervision made what I can confidently say are the best croissants of which I am possibly capable. (Cooking 32).
On the fifth morning beyond the wall, preparation, chilling and baking was done.
Eating the croissants, we all had a shared moment of perfection as the buttery flaked texture settled across our tongues. We felt inspired and enlivened, our constitutions permanently strengthened (+1 Max HP) as we suddenly wavered and vanished from the bakery.
We found ourselves in a new and dimly lit room that we knew, in that mysterious way that Oracular rooms announce themselves, as the Mausoleum of the Forgotten. All around us brickwork walls, curving in a ring to our left and right, were lined with epitaphs, each with recesses beneath containing skeletal remains.
Despite a very good effort (History 29) I could at most bring the historical reputations of the named deceased we saw to the tip of my tongue. A very disagreeable feeling!
You see? Pride. Pride and resentment of fallibility.
Meanwhile [Night] attempted to circle the room and found only an infinite loop with no further progress possible – either a strong illusion or a spatial warping magic. No doors were visible.
Searching what we could access, we each found a recessed gravesite that seemed to speak to us personally. With a careful survey we found signs of the faiths and backgrounds of the fallen, if not their personal deeds.
I honoured a Tree-Sister of times past with our inspiring ritual song “To Celebrate The Dead Is More For Us Than For Them Since They Likely Do Not Know Or Care That We Do So, But It Is Socially Constructive To Memorialize Past Heroes And Inspirations, So Continue To Do So.” It went well (Religion 31).
Archer sang a ballad (a very loud ballad; a very loud ballad) to one who seemed from their gravestone to be a great folksinger and troubador of a bygone era. She did not seem to find favour with the spirits. Somehow (Perform 11).
Aythe found the secret signs of the Fallen Aasimar and performed for their forebear. Her music, limpid and slightly, ethereally morbid, echoed and hummed through the stone. (Perform 24).
Virgil performed funeral rites for a prior White Dragonborn but was unfortunately interrupted by several loud stated caveats to the room at large, detailing the many ways in which his observances were his own choice and not forced upon him, and that White Dragonborn were more complicated than our prior misconceptions of same, so he did not quite ever get finished. (Religion 9).
[Night] found the tomb of a martial master and performed a near-flawless kata (Attack Roll 28).
As we all neared our efforts’ close, we heard a creak – investigating, we were suddenly able to see a section of corridor in which an obvious door had opened up.
Leaving, Aythe realized that her funerary rights had applications for her consumption of ashes (+ 1 Resolve next Expedition after consuming Creature of CR [Level + 2] or higher). I reaffirmed the peace and non-violence that, were this world not in such desperate jeopardy, I would embrace with all my heart. (+ 1 Resolve next Expedition after no killing blows on intelligent non-Outsiders).
Would I? I had my chance -
kata, and her recent success in managing to stun the hateful and powerful Wraith, suggested to her a way to chain her blows and thereby see her capacity to stun foes with injections of her ki much improved (cumulative + 1 to Stun DC for each subsequent round of stunning).
We left the mausoleum into a familiar sight – a corridor of flame, a fire giant in paladin’s armor at its center. The Great Scales.
She greeted me – “Phoenixheart” – and offered to wave us through, trusting in our goodness. Virgil immediately bristled, furiously asking why she assumed he was not good enough to bother testing. As she attempted to convey her actual meaning, his anger seemed to only grow until he demanded, enraged, to be tested, because he was “just as good as anyone else, and not about to be judged by the colour of [his] scales.”
I accompanied Virgil to the testing room. in his haste to be judged, he reached into his own chest when the fire giant magically opened it and tore out his heart, flinging it at her in a fury and almost causing her to drop it on the ground.
WIth some asperity, she placed his heart on the scales, where Virgil’s very personal moral code (Neutral Good) and his….contentious nature caused his scale to spin wildly when a typical Lawful Good feather was placed upon it. Consulting a large tome, the giant was pleased to see her error and adjusted – putting a wolf claw on the scale (Virgil’s heart was lighter) and then a bear claw (balanced immediately).
Our new Bearheart received his blessing, though it was taxing upon him as his slightly dented heart was sewed back into his chest. (-3 Max HP; cast Warding Bond without components 1/Expedition.) Only one of us was able to be Weighed that day – the system being much strained by Virgil.
Knowing that Tabitha needed a special potion reagent – perhaps a phoenix feather – to be restored to adulthood, I rather delicately asked if we might take the one against which my own heart once balanced. The fire giant paladin thought hard about our request, acknowledging that it was selfless, and that Tabitha sounded worthy as few are of such an honour, but that to meet our request and donate the phoenix feather would destroy her apparatus. We hesitated, unsure of what was right to do.
As if anyone is ever truly, confidently sure beyond a doubt?
A thought occurred to the giant and she retreated to a back room, returning with a filthy, bedraggled phoenix feather gingerly resting atop one hand. She explained that it was an old one that she had worn out, but that might still work, which she could certainly give to us. We took it (400gp value at that time)
Looking at me, she suggested that were I to pour my Phoenixheart blessing back in, the feather might be restored to full power. I demurred; the power was one that had saved lives before and might again.
I should have instantly -
I should not have hesitated -
I ought never to have -
At that time I did nothing but tuck the feather into my armor’s secured inner pouch. The giant matched my pensive silence, then – looking over one shoulder – advised us that the next room would test us as none have before.
I wanted to learn from what was in there, perhaps to grow through the purgation of the test -
Or I was nosy and selfish. A matter of perspective.
We did not skip it with my construct’s ear. We entered, and found a granite grotto, the center holding a fizzing structure that we knew to be the Fountain of Wild Potential.
We all fell enforcedly silent, and all knew that the first to claim a blessing after 30 seconds’ silence would be given a permanent physical boost.
I thought about it – I imagined a great penalty would fall upon the one who took the proffered poison fruit. i thought of my turning wheel of abilities, of the Transformation Stalkers transforming themselves into ever-different, ever-growing iterations of themselves. I thought of the Sundered Apple – the corruption. The Power.
I spoke instantly when the time had elapsed. My divine powers strengthened (+ 1 WIS). We were instantly in the waiting room, in front of the secretary. As she condescendingly reassured us that many fail on that room and then asked us to leave, I was…suddenly certain that this act, at least, had been a selfish one.
“This, Liebling, is why I warn you not to be a Greedy-Guts” Aythe whispered, a little too loudly, to her parasite.
I felt perhaps an inch tall.
Our trip out proved uneventful until we reached Fela territory. A deputation led by Decider-of-Beverages Amei (Third-Draught Fela Chosen, chooser of who received Fela Draughts and the accompanying Chosen Promotions) came to ask us for advice, defaulting to addressing me as leader.
As I rather glumly opined that I trusted my judgment a little less today, the Phoenixheart within me flickered – its bonus radiant damage suppressed.
Not when I did the selfish thing I did – but when I admitted and felt shame for that thing.
What does that say about the morality of the Phoenix Flame?
Moving on, I covered my dismay (but also my giddy realization of what I had to do) and went to speak to Chosen Amei in private.
She discussed a recent population boom since Silverleaf’s Plant Growth in their fields. Discussed the flood of new children – even after, as we had heard rumoured before, those named for the “False Prophet Jean-Lee” were summarily executed.
I restrained, with effort (WIS save 22) an impulse to being shouting or perhaps express more physically my severe disagreement with that policy.
Chosen Amei continued, dubiously, regarding the efforts of new Chosen Valerian and Hadley to educate 12 lower-caste Fela children into Chosen candidates. In her opinion, these childrens’ aptitude and prospects were, from their blood to their skills, inadequate and doomed to failure. She asked me to convince Hadley and Valerian to stop “wasting their time” with these…I suppose the best translation for her words is “peasants”.
I thought back to my time in the monastery, of how hard we all worked to advance ourselves; of how grateful we were for the chance to live a better life than our parents had. [Bugle] once complimented me for my capacity to, as he put it, “GET THROUGH CONVERSATIONS WITH THESE PEOPLE WITHOUT PUNCHING THEM IN THE FACE.”
Gripping my hammer-handle under the table, I understood as never before how such restraint might be found legitimately praiseworthy.
I spoke haltingly, burying anger under slightly stiff politeness, of my faith in the judgment of Hadley and Valerian’s ability to gauge talent – one the finest archer in our Guild -
[ADDENDUM: THIS IS FLATLY UNTRUE AND DISPLAYS A WORRYING IGNORANCE OF THE NATURE OF MARKSMANSHIP. A PRACTICAL DEMONSTRATION WILL BE INBOUND SHORTLY.]
- and the other a strong contender for our deadliest rogue.
[ADDENDUM: ALSO FALSE. VALERIAN IS A FINE KILLER BUT LT. LINNA IS THE FINEST STEALTH OPERATIVE I HAVE EVER HAD THE PLEASURE TO COMMAND.]
My clearly tense demeanour seemed to leak through my politesse and Chosen Amei was clearly unconvinced, but acceded to a compromise – at the end of October, I will come to observe Hadley and Valerian’s charges put through their paces in a formal test for Chosen Advancement rights. If they do badly and did not show promise – according to my independent assessment, I took pains to clarify – I would make a strong attempt to convince Hadley and Valerian to cede to their superiors’ wishes.
[ADDENDUM: I might hate to admit it, but such is to some degree fair – while my heart goes out to the children, and I cannot believe that Hadley and Valerian are both such poor judges of character as to mislead children into seeking to do more than they were capable of, the Fela are our allies and a local government – we should not lightly attempt to flout their authority in an important matter such as this.
I still believe that I will see what Hadley and Valerian see and so not have to speak against the young Fela. So I hope, and I pray, that the point is moot.]
In gratitude for my promise, which was obviously sincere, Chosen Amei provided us with 1000gp of Armor-Grade Fela Crafting Silks. On that topic, Chosen Amei suggested that we could very well resume Fela convoys soon; I offered to Send to her later to confirm our readiness, at which she gently corrected me – on matters of convoys, I ought to speak to 2nd-Draught Chosen Speaker-for-the-Lords Rekk.
How embarrassing! My bureaucracy is far better than that most days.
This accomplished, we left. Right outside of Fela territory, I retrieved the bedraggled feather from Beausoleil and – heart pounding with sudden certainty – I poured the Phoenixheart Aura into it with a wild abandon.
As my protection faded and melted into lines of fire down one arm, the feather restored itself to splendor and glory and heat; the light danced down its pinion edge, refracting in prisms that sparked like the heart of an inferno. A Full-Power Phoenix Feather (1500gp) sat in my hand.
We made it home safely.
[ADDENDUM: It was beautiful, giving that up.
I remain, in the eyes of many here, a boy – likely beardless if not dwarven. Perhaps judgmental, preachy, precious; perhaps inflexible, smug, thoughtless in my newfound power and reputation.
For some time, I believe, they were likely right.
I came here with nothing but a wild and misplaced sense of destiny, barely able to speak Common, proselytizing instead of conversing, preaching instead of listening. My pacifism, paper-thin, exploded into a flame-power, a war-power; I accompanied the Guild on great battles and only once took anything resembling a serious wound. I grew, and grew, and concentrated and focused my power, my divine fixation – and ultimately I became a shining point of certainty and purity and Light.
That boy was found to be a Phoenixheart.
That boy never took a Corrupted Apple. Never walked into a Well and came out a different person. Never loved someone capable of terrible things as he is of wonderful things, and never saw that the capacity for the former – and to transcend that former – made the latter all the more precious, beautiful, powerful, real.
That boy didn’t understand what he had gained in his capacity to befriend the quietly protective Druids for whom the Guild was like a garden to be cherished if corrected as necessary. Burnished a shining reputation til he all but drove off a reluctant Paladin performance artists of pain who became a dear friend and a public foil. He judged and dismissed the helplessly homicidal Kenku warrior and suspected the worst of the cheerfully doomed Necromancer who, at their most tempted, put us first.
That boy didn’t realize the extent to which goodness with one’s body and mind and effort and learning is, in his heart, more precious and meaningful to him than some grand sign of cosmic favour displayed from on high.
The Phoenixheart is built for someone pure. Someone strong. Someone Good, capital proudly thrust like a burning brand down the throat of Evil.
I hate Evil no less; I consider Good no less vital and powerful and beautiful and warm and compassionate; but I am perhaps realizing that I am at least for now more fit to be compassion’s object than its bestower. I will change, and I will grow through change; I will do my part, as the Tree sees fit to allow me, through the strain of my body and the focus of my heart and mind, and if one day I feel in my heart of hearts that a Phoenix rests within my heart I might in all humility ask to be weighed again.
Until then, my heart is my own responsibility. I am a Dwarfheart; I am a Forgeheart; I am a Guildheart.
I am very happy and relieved, and very worried that I will be eaten by vampires.
But I walked up to the baby Tabitha, and I saw the light of the restored Phoenix Feather flash and refract from her wide and beautiful eyes, and I was completely certain that I had acted as I should – that I had, perhaps, only ever been a courier.
There will soon be a full-grown Phoenixheart in the Guild once more, and it will not be me.
I am going to go home to Sovan, the Eagleheart who gave his own Heart’s powers away to fix a broken girl without a second’s hesitation, and I ask that all my mail be held for me at least a week.
[ADDENDUM: ANY DISTURBING THE CONSORT IN THE COURSE OF HIS DUTIES WILL BE MET WITH THE SWIFT APPLICATION OF KENKU JUSTICE.]
Yours – all of you in the Guild – entirely, happily, yours until death –
Jean-Pierre du Vayrir de la Grand Contumace Saint-Emilion.