One: Ordered by Gods
Berrona Eoselunday to Berrona Claireselunday
Cauldron at last!
Thalazzar figured that they could be best described as two pigs wrestling in a sack but in any case, they were certainly the largest breasts the wizard had ever seen. Seemingly unfazed by the brawl spreading from her establishment into the street beyond, Dastard, the half-ogress barkeep of the Uncle Ogre’s Monocle, knelt on the floor and vigorously scrubbed at the spilt ale on the floor with a cloth. From his undisturbed chair in the far corner, Thalazzar watched the ogress’ foot and a half of cleavage juggle about while he savoured his blue rush root pipeweed for the first time in nearly a week. He had had enough of the poor Dakare weed he had made do with although the pipeweed the T’kel had given him was not half bad. The wizard was glad that he had rented the inn’s presidential suite as he could retire in solitude once he had had his fill of the local colour. A group of large northerners had taken to abusing a mouthy halfling and now everyone was involved - but not quite everyone. A peasant had threatened to toss a goblet in Thalazzar’s direction, but one glare from the massive, six foot four wizard with a slightly ominous glow caused the man to reconsider his choice of target and leave him in peace. Thalazzar had observed the brawl unfold and recalled having gone over some things in his mind.
The companion’s last few days in the lands east of Lake Dakar had been less eventful than the days near the Devourer. The gnome had grown more irritating and had taken to quizzing Thalazzar on the nature of magic. He could only shake his head in amazement. What would the warlocks of the Khi’Ganad have thought of his sharing their magic with those whose flesh Kurtulmak fancies best? If Thalazzar were cruel, perhaps he could show Frankie how to conjure a gate to Rhodoxia in the Nine Hells? There were things less favourable to gnomes than toothed manglers beyond that portal. His silence was likely the nicest favour the wizard had ever shown the creature. She should be thankful that the only thing that reached out for her from beyond was a bad case of jungle rot.
The group had moved into the T’kel enclave only to find them gone. Kobolds of the Khi’Gujtuppto were the only thing they found. After failing to seduce their leaders with his enchantments, Thalazzar had joined his companions in slaughtering them. The wizard learned later that these kobolds were from a dark hole somewhere in southeastern Dakar province scavenging for whatever they could find. Their warlocks were weak and cowardly and the gremlins of Gnarrgyn had ripped them to pieces. Thalazzar broke one warrior under the might of Kalthanalas but was overcome by a strange sense of irony as the fighting subsided. Having found a new path himself as a result of the slaughter of kobolds, Thalazzar took pity on a pathetic, surviving Khi’Gujtuppto named Dragana whom he enchanted into subservience. It was a strange thought indeed that perhaps this small draconic creature, like himself, might have a larger role to play in this world.
Moving first by skiff and then by ship, the companions had moved south and then west across Lake Dakar towards Cindercone and ultimately to the city of Cauldron. This had given Thalazzar his first real opportunity to peruse the goblin’s necromantic tome he had recovered in the Devourer. Spending most of the six day journey deciphering its magic, Thalazzar felt confident he could wield several of the spells contained within. One of the more powerful necromantic spells for controlling undead remained outside his current comprehension, but with Arek alongside him, this was not really a cause for concern. Perhaps most useful was a relatively simple divination for uncovering the hidden purposes of magic trinkets. Thalazzar was glad to learn this basic spell and he was sure that his companions would appreciate its value given the pile of enchanted treasure they had shipped to Cauldron with them.
The voyage also gave Thalazzar an opportunity to study the hobgoblin log that they recovered from the dead brutes in the Devourer. While chicken scratch compared to the detailed journal of Besth, it had corroborated parts of the halfling’s tale. Taken in the context of recent events in Bithal province, it seemed that the companions had foiled only a small part of the Brutish plot against the Federation. Likely using a Harvester portal similar to that found in the Caves of Goesse, Sunfalls had fallen to the Brutes and the Federation was now imperiled even greater. According to legend there were five Harvesters; one, he assumed, near Sunfalls, one in Riot’s Gate, one in the Caves of Goesse, and two whose locations they did not yet know. It was obvious that the Brutes planned to use the other Harvesters to the same effect in other locations. Besth’s wealthy patron had hired her to locate and map the Devourer from the outside in using a winder-finder to link up with its mate held by the Brutes that entered via the portal. Presumably, this would have allowed the Brutes greater use of the site to advance their plot against the Federation. The “client” mentioned in Besth’s journal then seemed to be an architect of this plot although he or she could be anything – perhaps a brute, an elf, or even an illithid, a vile creature of the Underdark. The only clue they had to his or her identity was that given the client’s nature, the participation of a cleric of the god of slaughter “could provide a hedge”. This did not yet make any sense to Thalazzar but perhaps a second, more detailed look at Besth’s journal could provide more answers.
Perhaps the most important question, thought Thalazzar, was did the companions now possess the client’s completion sigil that his brutish captain had presented to Besth? Could the client still use the Harvester portals without the Devourer’s dark energy even if magic was functioning properly? Could he use them without this sigil? Thalazzar was becoming acutely aware that Domaldi’s quest into the heart of darkness had forced them to inadvertently choose sides in a war he had little desire to fight. Not only was he now an enemy of this client and his brutish legions, him and his companions could quite possibly be traveling about carrying the key to the defeat of the Federation and an object desired greatly by the enemy. If so, the client’s “special operatives” would surely be looking for them and it would be best to travel in as much secrecy as possible.
This brought Thalazzar’s thoughts back to their original quest: the Dream of Horrors, the Red Rider, and Tallim. They knew so little about Tallim and Woden. Sure she was Orindish royalty and, by most accounts, a more pleasant person than Maghnus Mor, but with Orindo under the expanding grasp of Gallantine would her existence make a difference politically? It made little sense to Thalazzar to worry about freeing Orindish slaves if Old Terranse was under the firm control of the God King. Assuming they found Tallim, would she have any more answers to the riddle behind the power of the Dream of Horrors than any of them did? Or would they simply be satisfying the paternal needs of an old court wizard who’s Federation was crumbling around him? Something was wrong with their quest. With the appearance of the Earth Weird and the threat against their lives should they not be more determined in their pursuit of Tallim, Thalazzar was growing uneasy with the whole situation. He disliked being a pawn.
Gallantine was one threat. The Brutes were another. There might even be a connection between the two, but the strangest was yet another threat - the Order. What role did the Order and its strange, ominous god play in all these plots? Was it connected to the other two threats or was it larger and greater than the politics of man? The Eye of Independence had ushered in a spiritual level to the struggle and negatively affected the plot of the Brutes by temporarily closing their magic portals. And yet, Sunfalls had fallen and the Brutes were even more dangerous than before. Monotheocratic agents had taken Tallim so perhaps they too had political designs knowing her lineage? The companions needed to know more.
Despite his growing doubts about the legitimacy of their quest, it was this third threat that had the greatest personal significance for Thalazzar. Oddly, the beggar’s spiritual transcendence in the Temple of Sss’rast had strange implications for the wizard. Arek had found a link to an individual named Thala Xevar on his first visit to the temple amongst the belongings of the Order’s agents. It seemed possible that this individual was likely one and the same as Thalazzar’s namesake. The beggar’s memory told of a demonic quasit minion channeling foul energy into a statue of Kurtulmak at the temple. Since Thalazzar had grown up worshipping Kurtulmak, this was too strange to be a coincidence. Perhaps there was some link to the sacrificial dagger used by the Last Martyr of the Seventeen mentioned in the Book of Persecution? Was Thalazzar’s namesake one of the Thala-Mourne, descended of the Seventeen and one of the ruling wizard-priest’s of the Order? Had Thala Xevar been searching for some ancient relic in the lair of the Khi’Ganad when he met his end? Were these new agents tracing Thala Xevar’s and now Thalazzar’s trail? To these questions answers were most important to Thalazzar and tracking down the Order’s agents in Telemar would remain a priority. The road, however, was growing more dangerous as their enemies multiplied.
Upon their arrival in Cindercone, the companions had been forced to adopt a low profile in order to make their way up the tram to the gates of Cauldron. Chaos had gripped large parts of the Federation in the wake of the collapse of Zulary and the defeat at Sunfalls, and Cauldron had not been immune. What remained of the Federation government had passed a national draft order due to take effect within days. Outside the city, refugees from the destruction in the north crowded around the gates making entrance difficult and lengthy. The party got separated in the lines, but Thalazzar gave his name as Beraddikus and stated that he was in town to re-supply before traveling north. Having cast transmutations to shape Dragana like a human youth with the magically-enhanced intelligence to keep quiet for a minute or two, Thalazzar introduced his temporarily-transformed kobold servant as his nephew Mublin. When questioned, Thalazzar told the guards that he was traveling to Riot’s Gate to see if any of his nephew’s family had survived the Eye of Independence.
The companions had agreed to rendezvous at the Uncle Ogre’s Monocle later on that day having had the inn recommended by crewmembers of their ship. It was a bit strange for the wizard to be on his own again after spending the last few weeks with his rag-tag little group, but he had quite the list of things he wanted to accomplish. The group had decided that they could only afford a day or two at most in Cauldron to re-supply as they had already delayed their quest for too long.
The capital of Dakar province was an interesting city. Built on the steep inner slopes of a dormant volcano on the shore of Lake Dakar, steam-trams similar to those in Riots’ Gate connected the rim-top entrances of the city to the land below. The companions had reached the rim by taking the tram from Cindercone, Cauldron’s port on Lake Dakar, as the winding road from the port and the eastern slope of the city was overflowing with refugees from the north. The buildings along the prestigious Rim Road were some of the most expensive and important in the city. Gleaming towers poked above the walls from the wealthiest of the mercantile compounds and the homes of Dakare political elite. Residence and businesses poured down the inside slopes of the city, sometimes so steep that the front yards of some residences were built on top of the homes a tier below. At the bottom lay coldwaterCauldron Pond. Floating above them all were zeppelins, most owned by the Federation but some in the hands of wealthy guild masters of the Nine. Cauldron was the host of the annual Dakare Bunta Kag air race but Thalazzar wondered if the event would even happen this year given the war with the Brutes.
With his magically-altered kobold “nephew” in tow, Thalazzar had hustled off on his errands. His first stop was the Tower of Nulzdindantilus, Magus of the Ebb. Thalazzar knew nothing of the magus or his Order really, except that this particular wizard traded in magical trinkets. The companions had a mule overburdened with magical goods which they hoped to sell so that they could re-supply. The magus lived in a white-stone tower in the Silver Stone Trade District, which required crossing a lengthy stone span to a platform in the middle of the structure where the tower split into two spindly spires that reached upwards into the sky. The tower did not require guards other than a single pillar adorned with the glowing arcane mark of the Magi of the Ebb but Thalazzar was sure that there were probably arcane wards scattered about to deter would-be thieves. Thalazzar knew little of either Order. He knew that those who released energy like evokers and sorcerers tended to be drawn to the Flow and those with more subtlety like abjurers or diviners tended towards the Ebb. The wizard had never been attracted to either as their style of magic tended to draw heavily on the health and strength of the caster which was far too chaotic for Thalazzar’s refined tastes.
Nulzdindantilus ended up being a charming businessman. He wore an expensive, Hankuan silk suit of deep green and wore his dark hair neat with a sharp, trimmed beard. Seated behind a gold inlaid desk imported from Zulary, he had calmly negotiated the purchase of their items of power, including Kalthanalas, Thalazzar’s druidic staff, for tens of thousands of gold pieces altogether. The magus knew with a war brewing he could sell these enchanted items at a premium. Sipping fine Trudorean wine and listening to an elvish concerto at the hands of unseen servants while discussing his arcane needs, Thalazzar had tried to guess what type of magic Nulzdindantilus specialized in. Ultimately he decided that this wizard’s specialty was business. The only real indication that he was a wizard at all was the stuffed manticore head that adorned his office wall - apparently a defeated foe from when he passed the Abderijian trials and entered the Magi ranks of the Ebb Order….or so he said. Thalazzar secured a hefty advance on their items and determined to return tomorrow once everything had been properly assessed. Before leaving, Thalazzar obtained some arcane scrolls, scribing materials, and other spell components that he needed before moving on. He had also thought to ask Nulzdindantilus if he knew anything about the wizard Woden.
With the most important stop taken care of, Thalazzar had secured the presidential suite at the Monocle and passed shares of the gold advance on to his companions. After which, he had made a stop at a cartographers shop looking for maps, purchased some fresh trail rations, and made some discreet inquiries about Maghnus Mor and the fate of the Orindish nobility as he got the chance. His second most important stop was a small little pipeweed specialty shop in Lower Cauldron owned by a hobbit named Bilpin. There Thalazzar had replenished his supply of Bluerush Root and a little bit of Sweet Weed favoured by Dakare elite. He had also bought a single pouch of Gold Leaf Wyrmwood, a rare pipeweed worth as much as Dream. It was expensive, but why quest for power if one could not savour the rewards thought Thalazzar? He even left an invisible arcane mark on the shop’s ceiling to help him remember the place in the future.
He had hoped for some rest at last, but instead, it had been a long night. A very long night.
After leaving Bilpin’s shop, Thalazzar had had much more he wished to accomplish but it had been a long day that was turning into a very long night and so he had returned to the Monocle.
It seemed that the brawl outside the inn had
dispersed and some type of city watch zeppelin had appeared above. Thalazzar
roused himself from his corner of the inn and walked outside into the street
with his companions. He was just in time to witness of the arrival of something
he dreaded more than the Gallantine,
the Order, or the denizens of the Federation
The Earth Wierd's Warning