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Archive for the ‘Dear Father Mulcahy’ Category

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Eighty Six

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Boris the Bold is a warrior who prefers a two handed sword taller than he is. I think they call it a claymore, or as Sister Agnes said, penis compensation.

Unger the Younger was a thief and comedian. Everything was funny to him. In the first ten minutes he’d hit on both Johann and Rufus before asking me if his tool had any chance of getting inside my armor. I hope I didn’t hurt my eyes rolling them so hard. He had complained previously, so I did not have the heart to inform him that his daggers were not the only things that were dull.

Francis of Edge Cliff was a caster of some ilk but had neither spell books, nor physical components with which to channel the arcane powers he alone was privy to. Alas, we were to be sorely bereft of the greater of his mighty arsenal. Based on Rufus’s reaction, I’m guessing he was a lot less experienced than he claimed to be.

Lastly came Calladil, a warrior who claimed some modest renown. He, at least, looked like he knew his way around his gear. His scale mail was worn and his scabbard had been used so much that the bronze frame was worn shiny and the leather gleamed. He preferred a long sword that did not appear at all flashy, unlike the beast Boris wielded. Calladil also did not boast about his accomplishments. Instead he ate the offered food and drink while seeing to his gear.   That gave me a modicum of respect for his abilities. He had a gait that spoke of confidence and a little swagger. If I had my guess, I would say he was a seasoned veteran down on his luck. Why else would he be running with this lot. I wish we’d brought him back from stone first so I could’ve asked him a few things in confidence.

The one thing these miscreants had going for them was they were obviously friends. School boy chums, as Sister Edna called the townies that came to the temple on high holy days so they could ogle the topless virgins. None of the first three had an ounce of sense, or a hint of shame. If they lived to see Cassandra I’d be surprised.

Rufus would lead us to the dragon under the pretense that we were new recruits to bolster the brigands who were supposed to keep the valley free from marauding monsters. Of course, the brigands had been a little overwhelmed with the giants and then the orcs to really stop anyone from doing anything, but that was beside the point. Cassandra had a clear reckoning on the threat the giants posed. The orcs were beneath her contempt, according to Rufus who had spoken with her the day before.

She had made a cardinal error in that meeting, questioning Rufus’s integrity at the same time trying to blame him for her own weakness. Typical of those like her — powerful individuals with few(or no) scruples and a large ego — Cassandra had not been challenged successfully before. Rufus was like her, if I was being totally candid. But he was an ally while she was an obstacle.

Johann was known to Cassandra, so her accompanying Rufus would be a natural choice. I would be the only wild card. Cassandra had met me once before in person, and long before by reputation, and had demanded I bring her the head of Wizard Tim in exchange for Lilith’s release. I had failed in that exchange. Come to find out she didn’t really care too much, but Rufus hated Tim, so that was part of the price for opening the tower. Cassandra had never been able to get past the gates. Luckily Rufus had the only key.

This also meant Bob couldn’t get out unless I let him out. I just had to not die in the coming ambush. Oh, how the fickle fate of nefarious plans never, ever, survive contact with the large, scaly enemy.

Her chamber was huge. The ceiling was so high it rested in shadows even when all the torches and braziers were lit by Rufus when we entered the chamber. There were small piles of treasure strewn about, but the preponderance of loot surrounded a raised dais on which stood two broken thrones. Whomever had ruled this ancient city had once sat on that dais. I’m betting they were long gone before the dragon showed up. More information I would need to gather from Rufus and Johann.

Miracle of miracles, we made it just as Rufus had planned, with our forces slightly dispersed in a half circle facing the dragon. Rufus explained that he did not want the fact one eye was swollen shut to prevent her from getting a clear vision of each of her newest recruits.

Things were going well until she got to Boris the Bold. She’d smelled him before, which wrecked everything. Instincts are nothing to sneeze at, or in this case were exactly to be sneezed at. Cassandra sniffed each of them once and they stood stoically by waiting for Rufus’s signal. He assured us she would sniff each of us then lay down with her eyes closed while he ranted for a while about the rules and regulations governing this lair. It sounded like it would prove very dry and I’m glad we did not have to sit through that. Regardless, we never got that far. Cassandra sniffed Boris once, sneezed a great blob of dragon snot on him. She only blinked at him, twice when, in his righteous indignation, he swung his giant claymore at her, the preposterous phallus glancing harmlessly off her black scales.

Quick as a snake she lunged forward and bit him (snot and all), his head toward her gullet, and his groin just inside the edge of her teeth, with his arms and legs sticking out from her bite, spewing blood from the rents in his plate armor.

Remember kids, just because you can afford the gear, doesn’t mean you should pretend to be someone you are not. Unless it’s during a festival or such, then dressing up is totally acceptable. This wasn’t a festival.

The rest of the adventurers stood there in shock as Boris leaked all over for a moment. I ground my teeth and stepped forward, swinging my mace for all I was worth and clocking her in the jaw.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Eighty Five

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

This was all taking far too long, of course. I have no idea how long Liz, Tim and the rest would wait before invading the frog stronghold, but I just knew I was gonna miss it. Did Liz think the same thing? Is that why she seemed so angry with me? Or am I over thinking that as well? Man, dealing with other people is hard. I sort of miss the days when it was just me versus the swamp.

It felt like I was leaving a string of unfinished business and abandoned individuals in my wake. It was beginning to feel almost tawdry and definitely disconcerting. I had to finish something I started, by Semaunzilla (may she provide a clue from time to time).

I helped Johann to her feet and healed the bruise on her face. Then I turned to Rufus and stared at him, hands on my hips and let the anger back into my voice. “I’ll help you,” I told him, trying to impart the best disdain I could recall from Brother Durham. “But you will never strike Johann again without her consent.”

Consent was always preferable. Sometimes people liked a little spanking and such, but abuse was intolerable.

He watched me, amused and a little uncomfortable at the angle with which he had to crane his neck to see me.

“I get over excited,” he grumbled. “I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

Which, I must tell you, set off all sorts of alarms in my head. Remember that temple guard who was sleeping his way through the temple virgins? Oh, wait. I’m not sure you knew about that. Oh, anyway. He had a tendency to hit people. I think he fell down a flight of stairs. No, I’m sure he fell down a flight of stairs, or it’s possible he was pushed. I can neither confirm nor deny he was pushed off the top of the east tower, onto the stairs like what, a dozen stories below? He did land on the stairs there, though. That’s the same thing, right?

I leaned in to Rufus and grinned at him. “You may be a wizard, but I’ve dealt with Tim and you don’t scare me.”

That was perhaps both the right thing, and the wrong thing to say to old weasel gnome. Tim was a rival, as I suspected and they hated each other. Something about a purple hat and a girl who’s father ran a tavern. The egos on wizards, I tell you. Power corrupts. But at least Tim had to the decency to bathe. I’m not sure Rufus had been out of that weasel outfit in a decade.

He was getting up a head of steam, ready to unleash his mighty vocabulary on me, and maybe one of those arcane bolt things that Tim had used to splatter the gorgewings when we first met. Before he could truly launch into me, I cocked my head to the side and said, “nice suit, by the way.”

That stopped him cold. Like, full stammering halt and a puzzled moment of blinking before he croaked out a thanks. Then I told him I could mend it for him.

And that is how I became dubbed the wizard’s tailor. That is a long story, and not one I want to help perpetuate, but once he said it, Johann repeated it, and it became a thing. I suggested that I repair his weasel suit while he took a bath, which drew a skeptical cough from Johann, but when I said that women prefer a man who has bathed in the recent past, he thought for a moment and acquiesced.

Funny how a sideways act of kindness can diffuse a volatile situation and make an ally out of a curmudgeon who needed his tiny little arse kicked. By the time he got back I had used my best clerical powers to not only restore the ratty weasel suit to its original glory, but I had managed, through the skillful application of divine, to remove the horrid stench that permeated the outfit. The colors came out nice and bright, while the seams were taut and the ears perked right up. Rufus came in wearing a towel and burst into tears. That suit had been given to him by his mother when he left the village to go off to wizard school and he had begun to think it was a lost cause. My divine had even strengthened the worn parts, returning it to a like-new state.

Safe to say, I was Rufus’s best friend from that moment onward. I explained to him that I had mighty powers, some in line with his own, but that there were other ways to exhibit such powers, and that I hoped my gift to him would give him pause the next time he thought to use his power to bully others.

He didn’t answer me, but I could tell he was thinking about things. I’m not guessing he had the best life growing up. I mean, he is a grown wizard who runs around a dragon lair in footy pajamas. Not the most stable individual.

He was so thrilled that we immediately went to Alfred and returned him to his normal, cheerful and pliable self. Then we went to the secret rooms that Cassandra did not know about and found that one of them held an adventuring party that had attempted to kill Cassandra a year ago and Rufus had turned them to stone. He said we could have them as a gift in our attempt to kill the dragon.

The second secret room had a similar set of statues, but these were the kin of the brigands. That is how Cassandra had power over them. Rufus promised me, after we killed the dragon, he would free these people and the brigands would be released from any obligation.

The third secret room we did not enter, but Rufus told me it held artifacts he had recovered throughout the ruins. Again, once the dragon was gone, he’d show me the contents and we could discuss my theories about the ruins being part of a much older civilization, which would destroy some of the academics over in that school he had gone to.

Then, and you’ll like this. After all that, he’d let me have pick of the dragon’s treasure and the key to the tower where Bob was being held prisoner. I had the map in my brain, thanks to Beatrice, but I had no idea there was a key. That would prove useful. I agreed to the conditions and Rufus began turning my new allies back from stone.

It’s a good thing we did that one at a time, in the room where I’d slept, after Alfred had carried each of them in one at a time. They were not very happy about their state and one of them, a warrior by the name of Calladil, punched Alfred in the knee.

Then the caster of their group started complaining he had no spell components and the thief said his daggers were dull. By the time their second warrior was returned to normal, I was about ready to send them back to stone land and deal with the dragon myself.

It was the whining. So much whining. They’d only been stone for a year or so, why were they complaining? I’ve done worse.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Eight Four

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Hey, guess who is also crazy? Beatrice.

I woke up bound in ropes. Johann sat in one corner, rocking back and forth with her knees pulled up to her chest. The right side of her face sported a bruise the size of a gnome’s fist. That wasn’t a guess on my part, either, as weasel gnome stood before me in all his raging, manic glory. Beatrice had told him about my worship with Johann and how I had planned to sneak around without his permission, and how I had discovered his secret with Beatrice, whom he loved.   Basically the man had serious anger issues. I wanted to chalk it up to his being so short, but he had powers that I believe rivaled what I had seen from even Tim.

We were in the room where I had been pushed to sleep by Beatrice. Now that I was clearly awake, I could see the manipulation she had done. I had let my guard down, and learned, to my chagrin, that she was more of a wizard than even Johann knew. She just couldn’t cast any flashy spells without a mouth or hands, but there were tricks she’d learned over the last six years that were both annoying and impressive. I would need to speak with Tim about how to protect my mind in future.

That thought got me a rap on the skull with Rufus’s walking stick. Johann was awake, so I know it wasn’t Beatrice reading my mind and telling Rufus anything, so it had to be his own abilities. At that point I tried to remember all the recipes Cook had ever made me memorize, the order in which I had to clear chamber pots at the monastery, and the breathing rhythm Liz had taught me. That last one was a bit of a hiccup, but I pushed through it.

Weasel gnome paced back in forth in front of me, smacking his walking stick into his open palm. He was angry, scared and frustrated and wanted to know how I was going to wreck things for him. The fact he had picked up Tim’s name in my mind only made his agitation worse. Seems he had taken a mind reading potion, which he ranted about, annoyed that I had cost him a rare tool. As long as I didn’t think anything too murderous, I would outlast this temporary power.

Johann was crying, which fueled my anger. I loathe bullies, and him striking her was a classic example of a more powerful individual mistreating a less powerful one. I, on the other hand, was nearly twice as tall as Rufus, and I had a righteous anger brewing. Also, while they had bound me in ropes, it didn’t stop me from talking. And you know how I love to talk.

So I began in a low, soothing tone, explaining to Rufus how I was no threat to him and how he needed to calm down and have a rational conversation. I pulled the tiniest trickle of divine, but he did not seem to notice. When he didn’t immediately turn and do something to stop me, I pushed further, drawing more divine power and pressing down on his anger. I had the ability to calm him if I was careful about the words I chose. I explained how I came to be here, my purpose and how I was also a student of history, and was fascinated by the ruins. I had to tread lightly because he started barking at me, scoffing at some of my comments, and growing agitated when he thought I had come to steal his discoveries. Academics can be so touchy.

I talked for so long, my voice started to give out. I needed water. Luckily, by the time I got to that point, he’d calmed down. He sat with his back to the door, blocking it from opening, and watched me with blazing eyes. I could feel the intensity of the intelligence that burned in him. I told him I was a cleric with powers to heal and even remove curses if he wanted me to have a go at Beatrice.

This brought forth bitter laughter. He was a powerful wizard. Of course he know how to break a curse. But he had not been successful. I think the act of offering started to sway his opinion of me. We sat quietly together for a few minutes and even Johann’s crying had finally stopped. She watched me, listening to my words, contemplating. After a bit, I coughed a few times and asked for water. To my surprise, Rufus waved his walking stick and my ropes vanished. I was a little stunned that my powers of persuasion had been so successful. I drank from my water skin and sat up, moving slowly, with my back to the wall right where I had been lulled to sleep. Then I began talking again, mentioning the various creatures I had fought to make it this far, and began speculating on the political alliances I perceived in this region.

Politics, next to research, turns out to be a favorite topic of Rufus weasel gnome.

I ran down the litany of factions as I saw them: the Children of Sseth, the hobgoblins allied with the psyflayer, Cassandra and her kobold minions, and finally the frog people and the lizard folk. He nodded, adding in comments as I went on, reinforcing my observations, or scoffing at my missteps.

It proved to be a rather enjoyable conversation. If he didn’t have such a hair trigger and a raging temper, I may have been able to stand being in the same room with Rufus weasel gnome. But, as I said earlier, he was a bully.

We talked about the demon summoning that had occurred two years ago (or so) before I was trapped in the planar bubble at the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist. This intrigued him which brought us around to the planar rift that had allowed the ice giants through. Rufus actually wacked himself on the head with his walking stick.   In hindsight, he claims, he should’ve realized what had happened. And he knew how to close the opening, but it wouldn’t be easy, and he had no time to deal with it. On the other hand, the giants had nearly killed Cassandra, which is a feat he didn’t think feasible. It made him think of other options. He agreed to release Alfred if I agreed to help him finish off Cassandra, just like Beatrice suggested. He was quite reasonable in his plotting of cold blooded murder of the dragon. Of course, she was a dragon, and an evil one. But it seemed unsporting for him to betray her.

I wonder if, perhaps, I over think things?

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Eighty Three

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

“Take me with you,” Beatrice had said. The mole spoke in my mind. Apparently she could only be heard when Johann was sleeping. The power of her brain overwhelmed Beatrice in the state she was currently in. And yes, Beatrice had once been a full sized adult. She was indeed cursed by an ancient artifact and attached to Johann just to survive. I threw up a little in my mouth when I figured out that she was not only aware of everything Johann did and said, but could read simple thoughts of those around her. She had been the one to convince Johann to come here, as Rufus had promised to help break the curse. Beatrice assured me she was a young woman only hours older than Johann with a shock of red hair and legs that went all the way to her neck. An image flashed in my mind briefly which was too absurd to be viable, then a second image appeared, one projected by Beatrice and her legs were not her best asset, though they were pretty amazing. She was the whole package, Father. She and I shared a conversation in the amount of time it took me to breathe in a few times. This psychic link we now shared, due to the worship I’d done with Johann, was not only disconcerting, but made me think of the Psiflayer who was still out there, somewhere, biding his time until his next move.

I was dubious but cast a protection from evil on myself just to be sure, as that had protected me from the brain beast. Beatrice was in no way affected. She did ask that I be a little less judgmental of Johann and not abandon her. I was not happy she had gleaned that from my thoughts, but I wouldn’t lie to her. We chatted about the situation and I agreed, in light of charity and frankly needing a guide, that I would travel with her at least until we freed Bob, cured Alfred, got what we needed from Rufus the weasel gnome, and negotiated with Cassandra on the state of debt with the brigands. That was a tall order, but she assured me it was a viable solution.

She also told me that Rufus was actually a nice guy when he wasn’t feeling horribly overwhelmed. He and Beatrice still carried on regular conversations unbeknownst to Johann. With the battle going on between the orcs and the giants, and the way Cassandra had been so sorely wounded, things around the ruins have been rather in an uproar. Cassandra was hiding and grouchy therefore Rufus was on edge. She promised to vouch for me with the old weasel gnome and that he’d even return Alfred to his normal state as long as we could prove useful to him.

Not sure what that meant, but when dealing with wizards, never let your guard down, and protect your money pouch. For that matter, keep them away from your friends and family if you can. They have a tendency to make a mess of things.

Beatrice said I had a rather naïve vision of wizards, but that all the advice was sound. She said he was learning from Rufus and that when her curse was lifted he promised to show her how to cast the spells she had been learning since she met him. She also said she was enamored of the scruffy wizard. I had to double check we were talking about the same guy, and she assured me she was. There had been a passionate fling when he studied briefly at her university (which is like a temple, only for worship of book learning, similar to the monastery teaching, but with less knuckle wacking).

She also told me that the only reason Rufus was allied with Cassandra was because she kept the riff-raff out of the valley. Now, with both orcs and giants stomping around, he had just about decided that she was proving more of a liability than an asset. I asked Beatrice what she thought of Cassandra and she laughed. Basically no one liked the dragon, and I can’t say as I blame them. Scary, horrible, acid breathing, surly, churlish, wounded and petty. And those are her good points.

Beatrice offered that maybe, if I was up for the task, that I could team up with Rufus to slay dear Cassandra. That way, they could have the full run of the ruins and that her power over the lands would begin to fade, reducing the overall acidic taint and eventually returning things to the way they had once been, at least before she had arrived here several centuries ago.

I asked Beatrice if she believed the way Johann did, that the ancient kingdom and the Nine and Sixty were myth. She said she and Johann were of one mind, after all, but no, she no longer believed they were myth. She had seen proof in these ruins, and seen the thoughts that had bubbled to the surface of my mind when arguing with Johann. She was troubled, but wanted more time to consider. She also wanted to speak more with Rufus to get his take. Corroboration seemed a reasonable next step.

Again, this entire conversation was over in the time it took me to write the first word, but I said I would calm down about Johann and she thanked me. Then she said she’d keep watch and that I should get some sleep. It seemed like a reasonable idea, so I found a corner I could curl up in, tucked the mace against my chest and fell asleep. Beatrice sang to me in my mind as I drifted off. I don’t recall the words, but as she sang, a map of the ruins unfolded in my mind. Not the full extent, by any means, but enough for me to find my way to Bob, the dragon hall as well as three different secret rooms that the dragon knew nothing about.

I was feeling more assured and safe than I had in a long time.

That’s what I get for trusting another wizard.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Eighty Two

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

So, Johann snores, but in a cute way that makes it so you don’t want to poke her until she turns over. We had quite the exuberant afternoon.   Apparently her views of what constituted a line in the sand only included certain of the sacred rituals. Others were totally permissible. I worked within her parameters and we had a wonderful time. Things got a tad strange when the Cleaning Service showed up during one fervent moment, but it did what it always does and sat there purring. I had to make sure to move as far away as I could, and look the other way. That skull floating inside the goo kept looking at me.

By the time we woke from a much needed nap the water barrel was full once more. I would love to have this form of magic in the keep where the hobs were hanging out. Would make things simpler, that’s for sure. Which made me wonder how they were getting along. Which made me wonder how Liz was getting along. The whole thing spiraled into a morose bout of introspection that served no one. I was a man of action. I needed to stop dawdling and get to Bob.

But first, nourishment. We had sausages, cheese and bread to go with the water and I was sated in nearly all physical capacities. I discussed my predicament with Johann and she said she could lead me through the ruins and even run interference with Rufus if he got too cranky. She also said he had the power to reverse the spell on Alfred, as long as he didn’t get broken or anything. Then it would be ugly.

I filled my pack with food, and my water skin before we took off. Johann had her own pack which she loaded up. Then she took a big cut of meat about the size of my thigh and threw it out into the hall. She felt she owed it to the Cleaning Service for showing her the hidden chamber and keeping her safe. Seemed reasonable.

We hiked back the way I’d come in originally. Before we got to the main chamber, she opened a secret door on the right. It took us around the main entrance chamber with doors into various rooms. These were servant’s paths away from the eyes of their betters, which allowed them to fulfill their obligations unseen. Rufus had no interest in the lives of the ancient servants. He was into magical wards, seals, and glyphs and how the ancient civilization utilized them. This small twist of his ego allowed Johann to travel without being caught, which was good once she realized he had little use for her intellect. Of course, she had been trapped in the dormitory region for a few months and wasn’t sure if anything had changed in that time. So far, so good. She knew about three traps, which we avoided easily enough. She had cleared several rooms, finding bits of esoteric knowledge that kept her excited enough to remain here to study.

The thought of going back to a disgraced academic career held no appeal for her. And there was the matter of her family’s wealth which she had squandered. She needed to make some great discovery so she could return with dignity. A bit of treasure wouldn’t hurt, either. We made our way through twisty corridors for two hours and stopped to rest in the last room she had spent a lot of time in, researching the murals on the wall. They were fantasy, she assured me, depicting the mythology I had expounded about the ancient civilization she assured me never existed. There were samples of the writing we had in the monastery, in some of our oldest texts. I recognized the style, but not all the words. She tried to show me just how learned she was, but she mispronounced two words I knew from my studies, and misinterpreted another. I tried to explain to her the mistakes, and she laughed at me, asking me where my education had taken place. I didn’t want to give away the location of our monastery, so I talked about it in vague terms. She laughed even further and hugged me, patting me on my cheeks, making kissy faces. I was beginning to think that academia and Brother Durham would get along just fine. The condescension was very familiar.

I wrote down the phrases as I saw them, extrapolating this was once a district seat. I couldn’t gauge how far we were from the capital, however. One of the things I had not interpreted was the variation in measurements the ancients used. I had a strong understanding of rods, hands, spans, leagues, stones, etc. The ancients used things I interpret as qualo miters. I have no idea if that’s the correct translation, nor how far it is, but we are seven hundred of them from the capital. Sounds like a long way, regardless of measurement.

Johann said they were made up words and that there was no capital. She honestly believed this was the capital of this region, which is why Rufus wanted to study here, and why the dragon, Cassandra had moved in. We debated so long, we decided to rest here and eat. She wanted to explore one of the basic rituals and I told her we could, but only after I said my prayers. I can’t remember how long it has been since I said anything here about Kithri or Semaunzilla (may she show me the way to peace) but I pray to them every day. I just don’t always say something in this journal. Johann mentioned her belief that religion was for the weak minded, but I bit my tongue. I don’t think she’s ever met a true cleric before. Frankly, I’ve come to believe that Johann has lived a very sheltered life. She was a fast learner in some areas, but closed minded in others.

I know she did not intend to purposefully hurt my feelings, but the disdain was getting hard to take. I was the exception, of course, but everything she complained about seemed to match with my understanding of the world. Perhaps Rufus didn’t want her around because she was so judgy.

It even put me off my worship, if that makes any kind of sense. I’d thought to come back here and explore the ruins with her at some future date, after I had freed Bob, then the lizard folk. But now, I’m not sure I wanted to continue traveling with her. She would not stop trying to convince me how the things I believed in were childish and backward. You can imagine how nice that felt.

I was strongly debating just leaving her here. I went through the motions of the first ritual, which pleased her. She fell asleep soon after and I was gathering my things to go when a voice spoke in my head.

It was Beatrice, the mole, Johann’s cursed twin who resided above her left eyebrow.

Yes, she was really her own entity. Yes, I had been mistaken in my initial assessment. And I was utterly abashed by the things she told me.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Eighty One

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I found myself in front of the wall where the Cleaning Service had oozed out and started looking for secret levers, sliding panels or key holes. I was afraid to actually touch the wall for fear it was covered in acidic slime. That stuff burned (and probably scarred). I figured I had a handful of minutes before I had to go around for another pass when a hand came through the wall, grabbed me by the front of my cloak and pulled me into darkness.

Turns out Johann was not dead. Paul would be so happy, you know, if I hadn’t killed him. Johann was a tall woman with a mole above her left eyebrow the size of my thumb. I tried not to stare at it when she talked, but it looked more and more like a thumb out of the corner of my eye. Finally I had to stare, because I was positive it had a thumbnail. For the record, it did not. It was just a mole. A very large mole, that talked to Johann, but that’s for later.

Johann was also young, well, young for what I expected here. I think maybe thirty summers, with a figure like Sister Agnes. There were curves and dimples, and a shock of black hair that seemed to suck in the light. I offered to remove the mole, but she grew angry, saying it was her cursed twin who spoke to her and helped her when she got into trouble. Father Mulcahy, I’m no expert, but I was pretty sure it was just a mole and poor Johann was just nutty. I thought I’d keep an open mind, however and spent a lovely hour speaking with her and her twin.

See, unlike the sneak-thief wererat, Paul. Johann was a scholar of antiquities and had come here with Rufus to study the ruins. He had come to her in her dreams, well into her mole’s dreams apparently, which caused her to give up her career at the university in Skyfell, one of the closest surviving cities to the west. This is where Rufus had studied last and his eccentric ways had intrigued Johann. So, when he put out a mental call to the mole, she dropped her studies, sold her family jewels and made her way here. Turns out Rufus thought Johann was an idiot and after three days, shunted her here in this pseudo-dormitory region where he could find her and discuss findings, if he had a mind, but really he wanted to sleep with her. Just like Paul.

Johann did not want to sleep with weasel gnome, nor wererat Paul. She was a devout scholar who had no time for trysts. Besides, she informed me that as the older sibling, her mole had to be wed before she could even consider such a relationship. I’m thinking she’s going to die alone and unloved. Which would be totally fine if that’s what she wanted, but it turns out she wanted to understand the nature of the truly divine worship of our order. That in and of itself is a longer story.

Johann had discovered this secret store room some time ago and realized that the Cleaning Service only came into this area a short way before sitting idle for thirty minutes, then exiting the same way he came in. The doorway would be accessible for almost a full minute at that point, then become solid again. The trick, she informed me, was in having a highly accurate internal clock, while understanding the smell of the Cleaning Service, and the nature of the original purpose of this chamber.

To call this a storage room would be an understatement. There were six rooms off a central chamber, each chock full of crates and barrels of various and sundry supplies. Johann pointed out that the entire place was managed . Once an item was placed in the room appropriate for its contents, the item would remain fresh and whole, no matter how long it was there. She found a dozen casks of wine, as many with beer and one with water that had always remained full no matter how much she drank.

There was food stuff in another room, grain and cheese (oh, Father, the cheese), as well as eggs and meats that were as fresh as if they had been newly slaughtered. One could live here for the rest of their natural days without a want in the world.

You know, except for company, entertainment, liturgy, worship. Hiding here was a way to sustain her life, but it was no life to live. She and I discussed this as well. It was an eventful hour.

The Cleaning Crew showed up again, interrupting our conversation. It didn’t try to attack us. Instead is sat there, vibrating like a cat purring. Then, at the appointed time, it slithered out. It was just amazing. I mentioned the skull and femur and that Paul had assumed it was her. She laughed a grim laugh and said Paul was a cad. I let her know he was dead, and left out the fact I was the one to kill him. As a matter of fact, I went ahead and confessed that I had killed all the strange and undead creatures in this entire wing. I thought she may be angry about me hurting her friends, or upsetting the ecosystem, but she was just relieved.

The ghast’s moaning had nearly driven them all insane. I eyed her askance, not daring to discuss sanity.

We had a lovely meal together and I told her about my life. She was quite intrigued. As a scholar of antiquities I peppered her with questions about the ruins we resided in, and about the kingdom that had once ruled this region. It was a bit of a mixed bag, that conversation. On one hand, she laughed at me, explaining that the rumors of the Nine and Sixty Kingdoms was based on folk tales and that a great earth quake had struck this region in the last thousand years or so, which explains the ruins, etc. The swamp a matter of shifting water basin and this acidic region a direct correlation to the ruling dragon. She found my beliefs in an ancient kingdom to be quaint and backward. But she did not berate me for that. Just patted me on the thigh and scooted closer to me.

Then she asked me to explain about our order and more importantly, the manner of our worship. Let’s just say we used most of the water in an impromptu cleaning ritual and the afternoon went on from there.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Eighty

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

The denizens of that wing of the ruins were a motley lot, and the world will thank me for destroying them. The ghast thanked me as he expired. It was that pathetic. There were seven rooms with skeletons and zombies, two with spiders (rather small compared to the ones I’ve dealt with previously), neither of them the jumping, acid-spitting variety. One room was nothing but a black hole with screaming coming out of it. I cast a protection from evil there and closed the door. Finally, I took out eleven kobolds, one large snake and an animated chest thing with teeth. I had hopes for something cool when I killed that chest thing, but the only things inside it was more goo. Not a worthwhile foray. I was still fuming over the way Rufus had turned Alfred into stone, and would do everything I could to rectify that situation. But first I needed to find my way out of this area and find my way through to the tower where Bob resided.

Clearing this place room by room was somewhat satisfying, and insured that nothing would sneak up on me, but in the end it just made me tired and covered me in blood, ichor and bone dust. I really wanted a bath. Knowing that wasn’t in the cards anytime soon, I girded my loins and trundled after the path of the cubic ooze.

I must say the corridors were very clean. I’m not suggesting we get something like that for the monastery, but it sure beat scrubbing the floors with a brush. Turns out this entire area is one large dead end, one way in or out. The corridor ran in a large oval with rooms interspersed on either side and torches mounted with enough regularity to dissuade me from carrying one of them, but left enough shadows to keep me jumpy. The spiders really kept the anxiety on high alert, let me tell you.

So I followed the corridor for three full circuits and was near to giving up when I realized that I hadn’t seen the ooze thing. Either it had melted away (which I doubted) or it had managed to flow under a door somewhere that I’d missed. There was a moment of panic when I a drop of condensation dripped from overhead at the furthest point in the section and I thought the ooze had gone above me somehow. Turns out not to be the case, and I am glad no one saw my mad dive down the hall in an attempt to avoid having the great blob land on my head.

Of course, now I’ve told you, but it stings less in the writing. Well writing actually stings as I scraped my hands on the stone floor. I had my gauntlets off. My palms sometimes sweat when I’m nervous so I was airing them out. If you’d have seen me, there would be no end to the ribbing. Once I had recovered my dignity and discerned that this end of the long circular hall was probably under a lake of some sort, I trundled on my way. I made sure to put my gauntlets back on for a while, but the scrape was stinging from the sweat that built up. It’s a painful cycle of shame and irritation. I don’t know why I was so jumpy, I was not exactly quiet when I ransacked the place. I was quite surprised that nothing came out to assist when I cleared each room. It’s as if they were locked to their own personal domains and had no true interaction with the rest of the world. I did them a favor by destroying them all.

I could’ve gone back toward Alfred, but I didn’t want to risk running into the weasel gnome, jerk. I didn’t want to kill him because I needed something from him. He was the only one I knew who could free Alfred and close the rift to the plane of ice. Didn’t mean I had to like him. And I had thought he was funny.

I made my way back to the dead were-rat’s room and was considering where I could take a nap without being surprised when I saw the Cleaning Service oozing out of the wall a dozen paces further down the hall. I debated on staying in Paul’s room, but you know, dead wererat. That’s not a smell you’ll soon forget. And I wasn’t going to stay in any of the other rooms. Well, there was the one room with three skeletons who turned to dust when I turned them. That one was likely safe (ish). But based on the speed at which the Cleaning Service moved, I decided instead to walk the circuit in reverse.

The complete circuit took twenty minutes. I could’ve made it faster, but I kept expecting something to jump out at me, and I was also stopping and drawing out a map of the halls. I mean, I pretty much had this wing memorized by this point, but I thought Bob might be impressed with my mapping skills. The thought of seeing him again after all this time had my heart pounding and my stomach rolling like a storm at sea. What if he hated me now for abandoning them? What if he was disgusted by my crisis of faith? How had he come to be capable of channeling divine, or was I mistaken in that observation? I found myself starting to hyperventilate and stopped to practice some of the breathing exercises Liz had taught me.

I stumbled at this. When did Liz teach me breathing exercises? I had a distinct memory of sparring with her and Bob. Bob taught strengthening exercises and Liz taught stretching. I remember running with them and laughing. Always laughing. I smiled for a moment, then recalled the last look Liz had given me and how she turned away after dashing that woven cord to the ground at my feet.

I reached into my belt and pulled it out, counting the knots woven into it. There was a meaning here, a ritual of some sort that I had known at one time and had lost.

There was ritual there, deep meaning and something beyond my reasoning. Something vital which eluded my memory. Finally I realized I had stopped moving for so long, lost in thought, that the Cleaning Service was coming down the hall toward me. I trudged onward, stuffing the cord into my belt and thinking, thinking, thinking.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy Nine

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

You know how exhausting it is to be attacked all the time, I mean seriously. It’s like I do nothing but run from one combat scene to another, expanding the experience of my life with new and interesting things that want to kill me, many for no discernible reason. I did not know this were-creature and had no beef with him. I’m fairly sure that he was just as easily food to the giant cube of ooze in the hallway as I was.

I hit him with my shield and he stumbled back, dazed. I think he must’ve been asleep by the way he looked so befuddled. I whipped my mace up and held it high, ready to brain him.

“Stop it,” I said with a growl. And lo and behold he did.

The rat/man slathered and slobbered for a bit longer, all the while twitching on the floor, like he’d been covered in ants.   Then he was scooting out of my reach on his backside, his tail shrinking and his muzzle contracting to transform him back into a small man in a tattered night shirt with his boney knees up around his chin.

“Why did you wake me?” he groused, wiping spittle from his chin.

Fairly polite to have asked so calmly, I thought. I had him by six stones easily and a full two spans taller in my stocking feet. I could press my advantage, but it seemed improper.

“My apologies,” I said, giving a little bow. “I was running from a crazed weasel gnome who turned my friend to stone, then ran into a large cubic ooze that lashed out at me with acid. Your rooms here were the first available to duck into.”

He eyed me, listening with dawning comprehension.

“I thought the place abandoned,” I said, pointing to the broken furniture.

He shrugged. “Got a little too exuberant during my last game of dice with the others,” he waved his thin left arm, indicating a wide swath of the ruins beyond the walls of the room. Thinking on my bearings, that would indicate south. I should really try and map this place out or risk becoming hopelessly lost. If Bob were here, he could navigate with aplomb.

“Others like you?” I asked, calculating how many were-somethings I could kill before I was somehow tainted.

“You mean prisoners of that cow Cassandra, I presume?”
I blinked twice. Cow? He showed a catastrophic lack of respect for the power and sheer terror I had been privy to the first two times I had run across the dragon.

Turns out these halls were full of an assortment of individuals with rather unsavory backgrounds and states of being, beyond my wererat (confirmed) friend Paul. Three doors down was a ghast who did not like company, but moaned too much, keeping Paul awake some days. He and most of those here preferred prowling at night, though they had little opportunity to prowl.

Each had been lured here to this region by the rumor of a weak dragon and ample treasure. Turns out Rufus was the one who spread those rumors in order to fill in the ruins and protect Cassandra while she slept. She apparently sleeps poorly at the best of times, which is very counter to the natural state of dragons. Frankly anything that large consumed an immense amount of food just to walk around. Sleeping for centuries at a time was really the only way for them to remain viable.

Lucky for me, we were in a waking period.

Paul turned out to be a fairly greasy sneak-thief from one of the cities several days west of the swamp. There had been a string of bungled burglaries, some debt or other, and a thing about a girl and a baby. All of which sent Paul out of the city. But not before he was ambushed and bitten by another wererat. When he realized he wasn’t going to die, he ran for the swamp, thinking to buy a cure, and his freedom with the treasure that was just laying about for any clever thief to pick up.

For someone who hadn’t seen the working end of a bar of soap in far too long, Paul was rather glib and charismatic. Explains the girl and the baby, at least. He said I could stay in his room and keep him company for another hour or so, long enough for the Cleaning Service, which is what he called the cubic acidic ooze, to move on to other halls. I mentioned the skull and femur floating in the ooze, and he nodded sagely. “That was Johann. She grew tired of dicing with us, and with the moans of our erstwhile neighbor. Said she was going to either escape or kill herself. He shuddered then, as did I. Suicide by digestion did not seem like the quickest, most efficient death. I never got any specifics about Johann other than she was cranky when she lost and would not return poor Paul’s affections.

By the end I spent nearly two hours in Paul’s company, which was interesting and useful from an information point of view. He tried to offer me wine and bread, but I declined. His nails were longer than I was comfortable with and filthy to boot.

I guess he lost patience or something because just as I was about to take my leave of him, he attempted to stab me in the back. Did I mention he wasn’t a very good sneak thief?

Luckily for me, his thin blades, which would slide ever so cleanly between the plates of a suit of armor, and happened to be coated in poison, did not do well faced with penetrating plate mail proper. See, I turned to thank my host for an enjoyable conversation, fouling his stabbery and causing both his blades to snap as they glanced off my really awesome armor of love. Knowing his propensity to drooling and biting, I cut to the chase and brained him with the mace. Rather inauspicious way to end a conversation, but I was not in any mood to be killed.

To add insult to injury his bedroom was nothing more than a nest of bones and old clothes from his previous victims.  He never had bread or wine to offer. There wasn’t even a copper to be had in his affects and I left the room as I found it, disheveled and one corpse heavier than when I entered.

At least the Cleaning Service had moved on. Now I just had to decide if I wanted to clear out the rest of the vermin in this wing for good measure and insure I wasn’t accosted when I least expected it, or should I go on, following the cubic ooze to see what new and exciting things awaited me in the rest of the dragon’s lair.

I hiked up my small clothes, tightened my gauntlets and glanced one way, then the other. Which way should I go? Kithri knows that ghast wasn’t getting any fresher.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy Eight

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Obviously Cassandra had mentioned to Rufus that she had been accosted by giants when she ran home with her tail between her legs. Or, you know, Rufus, being as short as he is, really hated tall people. Either way, the instant we cleared the initial ruined room and into the first of the great intact halls, Rufus turned to us, mumbled something that made no logical sense, and shot Alfred in the face with a stream of ethereal magic. Alfred had just enough time to reach out and grab one of the supporting struts of Rufus’s trundle tower before he was solidified into stone.

Rufus turned Alfred to stone. Yes, total ambush. Here we were, on our best behavior and he pulls something like this. Wizards could very well be the lowest form of life.

Whether it was intentional or not, by grabbing the wizard’s magical contraption as he was being turned to stone, Alfred prevented the thing from moving any further. It jerked to a halt, tossing Rufus backward where he caught himself on the back rail. The impact against the rail was the one thing that kept me from suffering the same fate. Rufus couldn’t get the words out quick enough.

I ran.

I did not pay any attention to where I was going as long as it wasn’t directly into an open pit, or obvious animal nest. By the time I had ducked into the first hallway, Rufus had his wind back and was cursing me with some very colorful language. I don’t know where he went to school, but they did an excellent job on rounding out his vocabulary.

By the second turn, I could no longer hear the double-crossing, inhospitable, coward of a wizard. I took one more random turn and pressed myself against the wall, attempting to catch my breath and listen for pursuit. I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my own breathing so I figured I was safe for the moment.

After everything we’d been through together, I was shocked and appalled by Alfred being turned to stone. No one deserved that. Well, maybe a few people, like Brother Durham. I could totally see him being turned to stone and then placed in the central courtyard for the pigeons and ravens to visit.

The hallways here were lined with torches, telling me I was in a more inhabited portion of the ruins. Meant that whatever dwelt here needed light to see. Perhaps these were the halls Rufus himself strolled down. They were too small for the dragon, that’s for sure. What other servants did Cassandra maintain here? Goblins, likely. Kobolds for sure. Undead perhaps?

I waited until my breathing was calm and nothing had appeared before I pushed off from the wall and poked my head back around the corner. For a moment I thought there was a heat haze between me and the nearest torch. Everything was distorted and wobbly? I think that’s the clearest way to describe what I saw. There was a doorway just past the wall-mounted torch, and it looked as if it were under water.

Then I noticed a skull floating in mid air with a femur nearby. Just floating there as if suspended in… A whip-like appendage smashed into me, knocking me back around the corner of the hall.   There was something translucent in the hallway, allowing me to see through it, with some level of distortion. It wanted to kill me.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe it was driven by any higher intelligence. When I collected my thoughts later, I determined that it served a more symbiotic relationship with the ruins. It cleared the floors of any organic debris, leaving behind polished stone, bones and metal object. Everything else was dissolved in the monster’s acidic innards. It was roughly cube shaped, moved like a slug, and could exude whip like appendages to strike and preferably capture things to consume.

I was lucky in that the preponderance of the first strike splashed against the stone wall, only striking me with the very edge of the face-melting, acidic suckers.

Three drops of the ichor splashed against my face and I screamed and flailed while running in the opposite direction. Lucky for me there wasn’t another one down this all. If they worked in teams they could really make out. I held my hand to my face, feeling the goo burning my hand as well as my face, and burst through a doorway into a small chamber no more than seven strides square. I managed to slam the door shut behind me and called a light into existence on the front of my shield. It actually took me three tries to get the light to cast because of the pain. Once I saw the room only contained a broken table, two shattered chairs, and a door on the opposite wall, I fell back, using the door frame to hold me up and tried to heal myself.

Yikes, that was painful, let me tell you. The first healing did not actually counter act the acidic goo on my flesh, so the healing was immediately undone by further melting. Next I tried a couple of alternatives, such as remove evil (fail), remove poison (fail), remove disease (fail, and I was really counting on that one), and finally summon food and water. The water didn’t do anything, but I slapped a large chunk of generic bread on my face, and it absorbed the goo before melting on its own. It took three swipes with clean bread to get the good off my face and hands, then I could heal myself properly. It was quite exhausting.

I was just hoping that the oozing stomach acid beast couldn’t slide under doors when the back door burst open and something slathering launched at me, all fur and teeth. Next time remind me that no matter how civilized you are, it does not mean those you go to visit are of a like mind.

I may have strained my eyes rolling them at the absurdity of the situation before I swung my shield around to take the brunt of the first attack. It was a rat, and a man. A great rat/man, with daggers in each hand, a snout full of teeth, and pure hatred in its golden eyes.

Swell, lycanthrope of the vermin variety: Wererat? Weremouse? Wereferret? Weregerbil? And the drooling? Why must there be so much drool?

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Seventy Seven

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

A rambling, smoking, wheezing apparatus rolled out from ruin, as tall as Alfred with six spindly legs ending in wheels with a lattice work of supports and piping surrounding a central forge. Great gears and cogs spun, driving each wheel while steam erupted in sharp bursts from a valve of some sort near the rear of the contrivance. The total base was no longer than three strides across, giving the whole thing the sense that it could topple over at any moment. Somehow it did not, however. The magic involved in the sheer existence of this oddity cannot be understated.

Alfred guffawed as the anemic caricature of a siege tower came to a wobbly halt next to the bell, the top swaying precariously back and forth when it stopped. I was struck dumb. The sheer ridiculousness of the situation was further exacerbated by the creature that steered the craft. At the pinnacle, swinging a small wheel like those on a sailing ship, stood a creature to baffle the imagination. I had to study this being for a very long time to understand what I was seeing.   Try as I might, I could not shake the image that this individual, who would come to my waist if standing beside me, was a gnome dressed in the skin of a chartreuse and magenta weasel.

“A jester,” Alfred bellowed. “She sends out a clown to address two such as us?”

I looked closer. Was that a gnome in a weasel costume?

The weasel gnome pulled a large funnel around to his face and spoke into it. A similar funnel appeared from one of the compartments nearest us. He cleared his throat and we heard it echoed in the lower funnel, a sort of amplification device, both ingenious and disturbing.

“I am no jester,” the weasel gnome bellowed into the funnel. “I am Rufus.” He squinted down at us, expecting some sort of response, apparently because finding none, he straightened his weasel suit and stood up straighter. “Bumpkins, then,” he said with an air of disgust. “Do you not know of me?”

I shook my head, and Alfred did the same. Then it dawned on me. Just Jacob and the brigands had mentioned a sage by the name of Rufus. Since they’ve worked for the dragon for a while now, I’m not surprised they have run into this odd individual. “Well,” I said after a half a second. “I heard that if we wanted to close the rift to the plane of ice that we should consult you.”

Rufus eyed us with a squint and harrumphed. “So you have heard of me,” he said, smugly.

“I’ve never heard of you,” Alfred said. “Are you sure you’re not a jester?”

I grimaced. If Rufus was a wizard, being called a jester a second time would not improve his mood. And angry wizards were not good company. I have experience here. I kicked Alfred on his big toe, and he looked at me with curiosity, a grin spreading across his face.

“Foolish, giant,” Rufus answered, anger lacing his shrill voice. “I am the great wizard Ruffalo Androgen — Thunder Caller, Maker of the Word, High Wizard of the Court of Antiquities, Grand Master of Imperforate, Order of Nightshade First Class, Fourth Ring of Corpuscles, Emerald Servant of Mists.”

For a moment I was back in a ruined keep with Liz, listening to Wizard Tim run down his list of fanciful titles. Were all wizards so insecure as to need all of that? Okay, fine. I did create my own list, but those were based on actual achievements. This list was almost a rebuttal to Tim’s list. Which as I think on it, may have been exactly what was going on. I bet Rufus and Tim were not strangers. Is that why Cassandra wanted me to bring her the head of Tim?

“Emerald servant of what?” Alfred asked, his face breaking into a huge smile. “High Wizard of Imperfect Corpses?” He wiped tears from his eyes, choking back laughter.

The wizard waved his hand, the magenta right arm of his weasel outfit flopping as he gesticulated. “I am Rufus, and Rufus is I,” the weasel gnome said. And that right there, Father Mulcahy is enough to explain how the rest of our conversation went.

Yes, Rufus was a gnome. A very old, eccentric gnome wizard of some strange school of magic. And yes, he was dressed in the skins of a long dead weasel that had been dyed chartreuse and magenta. I totally understand Alfred’s initial confusion at the sight of Rufus, but the similarities only went to the clothing and no further. Rufus was eccentric and spoke in riddles more often than naught. But he had a sharp mind and was no one’s fool.

Of course, asking him a direct question never once led to a direct answer. That I could eventually work around, I mean, I dealt with other children in the monastery and the temple virgins always said something different than what they intended. It only took patience to fully understand what they truly meant.

They were also much more comely than dear Rufus. And bathed more frequently if my memory serves. On the other hand, Rufus was a font of useless knowledge about the ancient kingdom that had once covered this land. He could prove to be a huge boon to my quest. But first we needed to parley with the dragon on behalf of the brigands, rescue Bob, and close the portal before winter killed everything in this region. Thinking back on the jumping, acid-spitting spiders, maybe I’d hold off on that request until last. The more things that froze here the better. As long as they weren’t my friends and followers, that is.

Rufus had us follow him back into the ruins. His great ridiculous contraption  trundled along at its own pace, so we peppered him with questions, all of which he ignored.

That in and amongst itself would have been fine if not for what happened next. Did I mention I have a love/hate relationships with wizards?