Monthly Archives: November 2015

Raven’s Keep: Praying for Keeps

From the Journal of Elx

27 Blotmoan 57323

We stayed in the village for a few days recovering. Yesterday, Trella said that we need to go to return to the Devil’s House to learn about magic and understand the dreams Nyssa and I have been having.

Skull spearWe headed back to the Devil’s House arriving in the late afternoon. The spear with many human skulls greeted us as before. Nyssa blew the horn to herald our arrival. A long, lonely note sounded echoing through the vale.

The water slowly lowered to reveal a slippery, narrow, wet passage to the imposing edifice. As before the keep kept its lonely vigil on the rocky peninsula that juts out over a misty outcropping causing it to seem almost to float in the mist. The sight is at once, both grand and eerily peculiar given the epic wonder of the fortification’s construction, especially given the wide spread of wasteland that we have had to cross to reach it. For leagues around the Devil’s House the land was barren, completely unpeopled and bare. Even when we came across  the occasional cottage it was in ruins.

After Nyssa blows the horn, the air falls silent. We gaze briefly at the waters of the Lake of Tears. As we make our way across the narrow passage I am struck by the warning offered by the people of Rydalka. They had cautioned that any who dared drink the water would die and any who dared the lake’s cold embrace would surely vanish never to be seen again. A shudder ran through me as we reached the other side and I once again felt a measure of safety, for the moment.

On the other side of the bridge we meet the master of the house. “Hark!” he calls to us sharply. The sound of his voice causes us to unconsciously hold our breaths for a moment, but after a brief strained silence we regain enough of our composure to offer a response. But, even as we move to speak, our effort is interrupted by a harsh wailing noise from beyond the main gate followed by the appearance of a large black dog of dubious appearance and another hoarse howl. It bounds through the gate and then responding to its master’s stern rejection, the large beast seats itself at his side and both take on an ominous aspect as they wait for us.

“Good day to you, sir!” calls out Nyssa.

High Priest T'yog“I am T’yog!” offers the old man. “I am he who lives here in this ancient house, surrounded by this large, and unfortunately, unkempt garden, and I am afraid my home is in no better repair.”

“Before you cross, I would warn you, the peasants, who inhabit the wilderness beyond, say that I am mad. That is because I will have nothing to do with them. I live here alone with my sister, Ophelia, who is also my housekeeper. We keep no servants–I hate them, and I have only one friend, my dog. Honestly, I would sooner have old Pepper than the rest of Creation all-together. He, at least, understands me–and has sense enough to leave me alone when I am in my darker moods.”

“But you need not fear me, those others who still follow the Yellow King typically wear heavy veils, but as you plainly see I do not, for unlike those others, I have nothing to hide, and you should no think, not for a second, that you can hide anything from me. I know who you are and I know why you have come, and I truthfully, I know the truth of these things better than you do yourselves.”

“As you say, since you know why we have come, we need not say it, but say it we will. We have come here seeking knowledge, Things we cannot learn elsewhere, do that you acknowledge?” asked Elx.

T’yog nodded and the group made a move to cross, but again we were interrupted as the bag carried by Sayberion began to shake and moan. Concern written upon his face, he quickly opened the bag and out flew the boy’s severed head; as it emerted it intoned:

Open the door,
And listen!
Below the wind’s muffled roar,
And the glisten
Of tears shed below;
Deep, there fancy the tread
Of vanishing shoon,
Down in the dark; with the Dead.

“Hush! And hark
To their sorrowful cry,
To whispers in the dark;
Hush and hark, without murmur or sigh,
To shoon that tread the lost servants:
To they that would bid you to die.
Hush and hark! Hush and Hark!”

For a moment T’yog stands with his jaw agape, clearly stunned, then as he recovers he fixes his gaze on each of us in turn, staring at us for several seconds before shifting away and cocking his head as if he is listening to a voice that he alone can hear, then centered once more he offers, “I will help you, not because you ask, but because it pleases me to do so, but for now you should rest. Before you can achieve your goals you will have to speak to my sister, Ophelia, and she is not available now, perhaps on the morrow…we shall see. I will provide you what assistance I can now, but eventually you must convince my sister to help you, and at that time you must do so at your own risk.”

“For the nonce, I welcome you and all that you bring with you; you will all be tested soon enough, and if by chance you see a small white-fanged furry thing, no larger than a good-sized rat, stay away from it, and take care for it has an annoying habit of nuzzling people curiously in the black hours just before dawn. You will know it by its long, dirty, matted hair and generally unhealthy appearance, and like I have already said its shape, which is that of a sharp-toothed rat, only its bearded face is evilly human, and its paws are more akin to tiny human hands than a typical rat’s claws. And, at times it gives voice to any number of blasphemies, always in a loathsome titter. Good night.”

We asked him his opinion of Rol’s head before he left us and he warned us that we should not become playthings of the Elder Gods. And when pressed if he meant that we should destroy the head replied that he didn’t think that we could even if we wanted to.

So saying he left to spend the night in his tower and left us to spend the night in the keep saying that he would come for is in the morning to take us to his sister and for our testing.

As he had warned us, the keep was a mess. The place was covered with dust, cobwebs, and was infested with giant feral rats and even an infernal snake, though we found out later that the snake was actually a guard left by T’yog for when he slept in the keep. We spend the better part of an hour wandering the keep looking for a place where we felt comfortable sleeping for the night; eventually, after disposing of the snake and the rodents of unusual size, we found some rooms that weren’t too badly infested and we set a guard and slept fairly soundly.

We woke to a breakfast of grilled snake and rats that Ankoma thought was very reasonable, but some of the rest of us were a bit dubious about. T’yog offered us food from the keep to supplement the food that we had procured during the evening’s hunt and a more balance meal was enjoyed by all.

During breakfast, T’yog gave Nyssa a book on magic and how it worked in this world. He explained that while she might have a bit of understanding from her experience elsewhere, the Elder Gods and their influence on the nature of reality here changed how magic would function and so she would need to have a different understanding of how magic functioned to make it work for her. Thanking him, she devoured the book almost as greedily as Ankoma did the meaty breakfast.

When we were finished, T’yog encouraged us to meet his sister on the upper floors saying that she would be waiting for us and that he could show us the way. Heading to the great hall he went to the lock that bound the chain sealing the door to the chamber. Before opening it he asked, “Are you sure that you want to go through with this? It isn’t too late to turn back.”

Sayberion asked, “Turn back? What do you mean?”

T’yog explained, “if you visit my sister you will be changed. The touch of magic is not a simple thing. There is always a cost to be paid. You will be transformed and will be like you are no longer. You can however leave now and go back to your simple lives.”

Elx answered, “No, we will see her.”

Nyssa agreed, “Yes, open the door.”

The others nodded and murmured assent.

T’yog unlocked and unchained the doors and ushered us into the chamber. T’yog spoke to Sayberion who had not answered yet, “Are you reconsidering your choice?”

Sayberion replied, “I would never leave a friend in need.”

T’yog nodded and said, “Good. Then I wish you well as I am going to seal you all inside.” And with that he shut the doors and we heard him sealing the chain behind us.

Great HallDust and cobwebs filled the large chamber. Long feasting tables completed with chairs that had been pushed up to the left wall of the chamber and at the far end of the room was a raised dais with another table atop it. Shadows wreathed the high, web-shrouded ceiling and the floor was littered with numerous small bones of animals.

We headed for the stairs intent on ascending, but before we got to them a huge green and white spider bigger than a horse lept from the shadows appearing in our midst and sinking its fangs into Ankoma. He growled as the poison from the bite clearly irritated him and as he was about to slash at the creature with his axe it disappeared and reappeared in the rafters above us. I reached out with my mind and channeled psionic energy into the beast’s tiny brain causing it pain. While it was distracted by the pain both Sayberion and Nyssa jumped into the rafters to attack it. Sayberion climbed into a table and tried to jump from there with little success. Nyssa however, activated jets in her armor and easily found herself next to the phase spider and using her blade sliced a large gash across its thorax. She and I continued across the room towards the stairs as we thought that we saw something like a pale bluish flame. The creature disappeared after the hit from Nyssa and appeared moments later next to Bran. On the ground the others attacked it successfully, but then it again disappeared into the rafters. Ankoma climbed into the rafters in pursuit and soon delivered a final killing blow.

After a short flight of winding stairs, Nyssa and I came to a landing and further rooms. As we ascended the stairs I felt a sensation akin to that of a dead cold hand meeting my own left hand and it felt as if it was firmly grasping me, drawing me forcibly forwards. The torch-lit landing had statues that animated once we passed them and directed us to one of the chambers from which we heard a deep, hollow groan resound.

Lady OpheliaThe chamber was a softly candle-lit bedroom where we found on the bed the stiff form of a woman dressed from head to toe in black lace, including a heavy veil. Ominously, the bones rose up and transformed into a beautiful woman. The way the flesh grew out from the bones and flesh appeared did nothing to lesson the disturbing scene and both of us were filled with dread that the woman’s beauty only enhanced with its out of place contrast. From some unknown location a bell tolls, as the lady glides off her bed and as she stretches out towards us. We ran from the room intent on returning to our companions.

When we got to them they were searching the rafters for the remains of former victims of the phase spider and had found some magical potions and some gold. If I wasn’t unnerved enough by the apparition, now I had to deal with that dreaded metal! As our companions asked us why we were so pale and looked as if we had seen a ghost, we almost laughed, but the words choked in our throats as Ophelia came down from her chambers and her awesome presence filled the chamber and the rest of my companions with dread as well.

Bran had just a moment to speak some words of encouragement to us, “Take heart, my friends, fear not,” that fell on deaf ears around us, but that allowed me to collect my wits before she fully descended the stairs and so as she approached, instead of running this time, I spoke respectfully to her, “Lady Ophelia, we have come here seeking knowledge that we could not find elsewhere. This we acknowledge. We do not wish to linger, but understand you are the wisdom bringer.”

She reached out her hand and I responded in kind. She lifted her veil and kissed me. Collapsing, I fell to the floor like a puppet with my stings cut.

Thunder filled the room and darkness filled the air.

As we recovered, it is as if we have been in a trance. We still find ourselves within the Great Hall, but now we are surrounded by the revelries of some sheltered nobility, survivors of Bastion seated upon their velvet-lined seats amidst a sumptuous looking banquet. Given its previous appearance we hand not imagined that the Great Hall might ever have been so magnificent, but here in the glow of innumerable tapers, each ensconced in holders of pure crystal it is as spectacular as we could imagine.

The extravagance of the feast is displayed upon tables situated in the centre of the hall, the table attired to represent a green lawn, dressed with large peacocks’ feathers and green branches tied in place with violets and other sweet-smelling flowers adding to the illusion, and in the middle of the faux lawn lies a fortress covered with silver, but hollow, forming a sort of cage, in which several live birds are contained, their tufts and feet being gilt and on its tower, three banners are on display. Set upon the table a first course consists of a civet of hare, a quarter of stag which rested in salt, a stuffed chicken, and a loin of veal. Another large dish is filled with a sweet looking sauce, with gilt sugar-plums, mulberries and pomegranate seeds. And at each end of the table, beyond the green lawn, waits an enormous pie, surmounted with smaller pies, all of which together form a crown. The crust of the large pies are silvered all round and gilt at the top. Each pie contains a whole roe-deer, a gosling, three capons, six chickens, ten pigeons, one young rabbit, and, no doubt to serve as seasoning or stuffing, a minced loin of veal, at least two pounds of fat, and twenty-six hard-boiled eggs, covered with saffron flavored with cloves.

The doors of the Great Hall stand open, seemingly an allowance for the soft music which drifts in from somewhere beyond the chamber. Among those in attendance, our hostess, the lady Ophelia, is of incomparable beauty, still decked in her black attire, only now she is attended by a troop of beautiful, androgynous beings, who place garlands of laurel upon our heads, take each of us in turn gently by the hand and lead us out of the Hall in pursuit of the Lady.

“We are in the Plane of Silence, you are all now witnesses to a time before, shadows here, but so too it was of the Other Gods in attendance; you have but to go out into the world to see them, but know this, they will see you too and in accepting them you will change yourself; no more will you be free to live or die as you would. No more, will you be free to serve yourself, allowing only the world to serve you. If you truly would chose to become one of theirs, you shall live as they would have you live in service to ‘their’ purpose, and you will put yourself into conflict with the powers that are and will continue to be. So you should go sure in the knowledge that you will be enslaving yourselves to a higher power, and forever you will be changed by the experience, but you can take solace in the fact that freedom itself an illusion. We are the instruments of barbarous institutions, and so must put up, I suppose, with the never-ending procession of fools others than us—of fools ad infinitum. Civilization flaunts it in the glare of day; aye, and I detest folly; I detest still more (if I must be frank) mere cleverness. Mankind has simply become a tailless host of non-instinctive animals. You should never have taken to Evolution; ‘Natural Selection!’—Little gods and fishes—the deaf for the dumb! You might be better without your vaulted brains and intellectual pride; the ecclesiastics agree. And by brains I mean—what do I mean?—I mean, my dear child” and she lays her gloved hand once more upon Elx. “I mean courage. Consider it, Elx. I understand that the scientific world is once more beginning to consider the existence of and to be afraid of spiritual agencies, spiritual agencies that tap and knock, bless their hearts!”

 “… I wish I could have just one more of those mulberries—“

 “And men talk about ‘blind Love,”

She runs on inconsequently on as she keeps her eyes fixed on the dish, “but why blind? I think, do you know, from the weeping, and despair beyond the mockery of time. Oh and how fleeting you are? There is something someone had said to me once; we had been talking about a subject that for me ‘is’ full of fascination, the subject was old religions, of forsaken gods. The truth (for all religions lay claim to some of it), the wisdom, the beauty, of the religions of this place, or to places of which you may have heard, or not, for I now many more than you; regardless, they all have some appealed for me, whether in their tyranny or in their intolerance, and moreover for, the abject servitude that they claim from mere belief; but when a dynasty has been dethroned in heaven and goes forgotten and is suddenly outcast even among men, when no one’s eyes are any longer dazzled by its power; it is then I find something very wistful in the faces of those fallen gods supplications to be remembered. It is something almost tearfully beautiful, like a long warm summer twilight fading gently away after some day memorable in the story of earthly wars. The loss of blind faith, rather than blind love if you will … Between what Zeus, for instance, has once been once and the half-remembered tale he is today there lays a space so great that there is no change of fortune known to man whereby we may measure the height down which he has fallen. And he is not alone, the same is true of many even lesser gods, those who from the ages once trembled, and that now are treated as old wives’ tales or less. The fortitude that such a fall demands is surely more than human, don’t you think?”

“Come, my loves, you must take leave of these cynics; it is the choice you must face, your own choice of evils. I have already opened the door.”  

And then she sweeps out her arms with a flourish as if in a torrent of unintelligible indignation.

plane-of-silenceThe Plane of Silence:

As we struggle to understand all that which Ophelia has been saying we begin to float into the air, and soon we pass through the walls of the Devil’s House and outside so that we can once again see the mountains. Rising above the house, we see the house is now circled by a rift, which terminates in a deep, awesome pit, where we knew the Lake of Tears to be. Then, the course of our journey alters, and we begin to move along the base of the mountains, until, all at once, we see on either side of us, huge, scarped walls of rocklike substance rising sheer, and far overhead, we discerned a thin ribbon of red, set high among as of yet inaccessible peaks where we find ourselves. We huddle together within, a deep gloom; in somber, chilly silence continuing to rise upward steadily, and then, at last, we see, ahead, in the deep, the red glow, that we are near upon the opening above the gorge. Still above us in the sky, we once more catch glimpse of the light which has grown in to a gigantic ring burning with a dull-red flame, the outer edge of which projects huge, writhing flames, darted and jagged while the interior, the heart of the thing is black, black as the gloom of the outer night. We comprehend, at once, that it is from an extraordinary sun, the source from which this place derives its doleful light.

Time passes incoherently, as we exit of the chasm, staring out upon the enormous amphitheater formed of the mountains. We begin to comprehend the terrible grandeur of the place, more than a little confounded by the amazement of that which we now behold, and then at a distance of several miles where it occupies the center of the arena, we spy a stupendous structure built apparently out of green-black jade. Yet, in itself, it was not the discovery of the building that astonished us, but the fact, which becomes immediately apparent, that save in color and its enormous size, this edifice is somehow the same lonely structure from whence we have just come.

arena-of-the-godsFor a while, we continue to stare, fixedly, as our minds struggle to understand. So much so, that hitherto, we were so engrossed in our scrutiny of the House, that for a time we failed to give even a cursory glance ’round, but now, as we look, we realize something more of the nature of a place to which we have come. The mountains fully takes on the aspect of an arena, being a perfect circle of about four or five leagues in diameter with the House standing in the center. The surface of the place, had taken on a misty appearance, but somehow we know that too that it is not mist.

Giving our rapid survey, a glance that passes quickly upward along the slopes of the circling mountains, we can not fail but notice how silent they are, and even in their stillness, they seem somehow abominable, more so than anything we might have imagined, looking up, at the great crags, towering so loftily in the impalpable redness that gives a blurred appearance to everything.

And then, as we continue to peer, we realize a new curiosity, another terror among the dim peak to our right; a vast shape of blackness, giant like, growing upon our sight. It has an enormous equine head, with gigantic ears, and seems to peer steadfastly down into the arena in our direction. There is something about its pose that gives us the impression of an eternal watchfulness—of having warded some dismal place, through unknown eternities. Slowly, the monster becomes plainer to us; and then, suddenly, our gaze springs from it to something further off and higher among the crags. For a long minute, we gaze, fearfully, strangely conscious of something not altogether unfamiliar—as though something stirred in the back, primal part of our minds. The thing is black, and it has four grotesque arms, but its features are indistinct, ’round the neck, we make out several light-colored objects. Slowly, the details come to us, and we realize, coldly, that the lighter specks are skulls. Further down the body there is another circling belt, showing less dark against the black trunk. Then, even as we puzzle to know what the thing is, a memory slides into our minds, and all of us, straightway, somehow know that we are looking at a monstrous representation of Kali, the goddess of death. Other remembrances begin to drift into our thoughts. They drift back upon the huge beast-headed Thing. Simultaneously, we recognized it as the ancient god Set, the Destroyer of Souls. With the knowledge, there comes a great wash of questioning—an inescapable interview; things beyond our imagination peered into our frightened petty minds. Our gaze falters, with our sense of self, as a shadow passes above us.

A figure of a Raven flies from the crags and pierces me with its gaze as it lands on another peak. As it does so I am filled with a vision.

Seven RealmsAnd as we are wrapped in this new impalpable, lightless gloom, and we feel somehow that we have come through this darkness, once before, but also we know that a great deal of time has passed—ages during which people have died, many people, billions of people, as the world is shattered into seven separate parts, and a single section breaks through the darkness. It is the first, our world, leaving the others behind, while offering new inspiration within us; a seed that grows unsolicited until it fills our being with purpose and splendor up until then unknown to us; it fills us like the countless stars fill the night sky. We comprehend the seven realms spinning separately in the cosmos, and we envision ourselves as a catalyst, an engine that might inexorably bring them back together. We open our eyes, and stare deeply at the sun, a clot of flame, darkened at the core, but around it, we make out presently the individual realms each trapped out of time and place in their own desperate rotations, each remote and different to the one we are resting upon, and beyond these—the planets of the Solar system beyond, earning to pull them back together. We close our eyes to the ugly reality, and in the peace of the moment, and turn our inner eye once again upon the Earth as a whole, blue and unbelievably minute amidst the majesty of the universe, even while in our minds it begins to grow larger, more distinct, and more defined.

swinethingAnother long space of time comes and goes, and then we remember the shadow that had entered our world—plunging us headlong into the dim and holy earth of night. Overhead our thoughts wander to the location of the old familiar constellations of the sky, and our lost crescent moons. Then, as we are almost again at earth’s surface, a dim awareness sweeps over us and we find that we have indeed sunk deep into the black mist, and for a while, we know nothing, unconsciousness.

The shadow spreads great wings, flapping them furiously, creating a great wind that casts us irresistibly back down, passed the red gloom, until the jade house once again looms below us, but this time there is something new, a thing coming out of the mountains, far off, descending from one of the ledges. It is a livid mass, irregular and ghoulish, it seems at first without form, save for an unclean, half-animal face, wholly vile, but with it we see others—hundreds of them, seeming to grow out of the shadows, the mountains are full of strange things—other-gods, opposing the new horror, and thing so atrocious and bestial that decency denies us any of our attempts to describe it. We are filled with a sense of overwhelming horror, of fear and repugnance, and yet, there is something in the old worship of these things, something born of the deification of men, animals, and elements …. The thought grips us—And if this is true then what part should we play

The question repeats itself within our broadening consciousness, a state of life-beyond-death—a something that might be more, greater than any us have ever imagined or understood; life beyond mere existence, or our previous deathless trance—a condition in which it was possible to imagine their continuing, eternally. ‘Immortal!’ the word rises in your thoughts unbidden; and, straightway, we realize there is something beyond what we have known, the immortality of the gods.

And then, in the midst of our wondering, something happens. Again, we find ourselves within the arena. Presently, we have reached a point more than halfway nearer to the House and the gorge. All around us we sense again the stark loneliness of the place, and the unbroken silence. Steadily as we arrive at the great building, it again catches our eyes, the thing in the mountains, it comes around one the huge buttresses of the House, and clearly into full view. It is a gigantic thing that moves with a curious lope, going almost upright, after the manner of a man. It is quite unclothed, and it has a remarkable luminous appearance, but again it is the thing’s face that attracts and frightens us the most. It was the face of a swine.

Silently, intently, we watch this horrible creature, and for a moment we forgot any fear, as our curiosity comes to the forefront; it makes its way, cumbrously ’round the building, stopping as it comes to each window in turn and attempting to peer within, shaking at the bars, for each of the lower windows, as in the real house—are protected; and whenever it comes to a door, it tests that too, fingering the fastening stealthily. Evidently, searching for some ingress into the House, and then lifting its snort in the air, it catches our scent and as it begins to turn in our direction, quickly we sink back through roof and we see the creature no more.

Then silence is broken by a deep booming note, it sends a thrill of apprehension racing through our bodies, with it a sense that something is coming for us. Swiftly, silently, we wake from our rest, struggling with the covers, sweating and filled with dread, and unmitigated horror. Just short of screaming each of us realize that somehow we are alone within of the rooms of the Devil’s House.

I ran from my room an nearly tripped Ankoma who was panting as he exited his room as well.

“Was it a dream?” the gnoll asked.

“If it was, would we all have shared it?” I offered, “Would we all know that we have had this unnerving, cathartic experience?”

Ankoma looked at the bruises from the fight with the phase spider, “These bruises also attest too the reality of the dream!”

Hearing a noise from the courtyard we went to investigate. The others met us as we went.

We all jumped back when the noise changed from “something in the courtyard” to a smashing of the door. Something was trying to get into the keep. Looking out of the windows we saw four of the swinethings from our dreamvision and we caught a glimpse of a creature that looked to be an amalgam of fur and feathers with the head of an owl and the body of a bear before it disappeared back into the mists that had surrounded the keep.

swine-thingTwo of the swinethings took their turn at the door and managed to break their way in, but Saybarion and Bran were ready for them and taking advantage of the creatures surprise at meeting us immediately upon entry into the building, we were able to significantly wound them, though their cries of pain were pitiful to behold.

I stepped out from the armory with a club in my hand, having asked Raven to bless the weapon. Striding forward, I sent my mind out to disrupt the thoughts of the feebleminded creature in front of Sayberion causing it to grunt in pain.

Ankoma hewed his axe at the creature causing it to squeal as the blood flew from a well-placed blow.

The swinething clawed at Sayberion and it looked as if it were going to take off his head, but luckily it didn’t and it was just a tiny scrape. But the attack did distract Sayberion enough to let the other swingthing successfully claw Sayberion.

Sayberion swung back at the creature with his energy blade and as the creature’s blood fell to the ground, the creature crumpled and instead of lying dead at our feet, the creature simply disappeared as if it had never been there.

Nyssa blasted the second swinething with a burst of arcane lightning and then backed off as Ankoma charged it. I also ravaged its mind with a psychic attack as I ran past into the courtyard where the Owlbear was.

owlbearBran ran past me and dhow an arrow into the owlbear. Ankoma growled and panted in the darkness. Locking eyes with the great beast, we knew not who would make the first move.

Nyssa ran outside and speaking arcane words, a bolt of fire came from her finger and burned the creature’s feathers causing it to flap and caw in pain. As she did so, she found herself cloaked in a shield of invisibility. The creature charged Bran, slashing him and knocking him unconscious. I spoke a word of elemental power and a gust of wind picked up on of the loose rocks in the courtyard and hurled it into the beast, smashing him and distracting him from his current prey. Ankoma took advantage of the creature’s surprise and ran forward and with a feral growl hacked it with his magical axe dropping it at his feet.

Sayberion ran back to the keep to defend us from the two remaining swinethings who had circled back inside the building. As he did, Nyssa blasted one with a flaming bolt. I rushed over to Bran and placed my medicine bag on his wounds causing them to close with magical quickness. Ankoma hacked at the burning swinething. Sayberion swung at the swinething as it attacked Ankoma, but that opened himself to an attack from the creature.

Bran stood up and shot his bow killing one with an arrow through the eye. Sayberion slashed one nearly cutting off its arm. Nyssa blasted the next one with another fire bolt, oddly finding herself surrounded by butterflies as she did so. I attacked it with a blast of mental energy and Ankoma had a glancing blow with his axe. The creature was the last of its companions and was fighting with a tenacious ferocity that was unnerving.

It managed to get on final attack in against Sayberion before Bran brought it down with an arrow to the gut.

Seeing to our wounds, we continued the discussion of the reality of the dream. The presence of magic both from Nyssa and myself as well as the shared memories and experiences however convinced us all that it was more than just a dream.

Returning to the main hall, we ascended the stairs. We took a break to rest and eat realizing that it must have been hours since we had last eaten. While we did I practiced a ritual to determine if there was still magic in the room and we discovered, in addition to the general sense of magic, a dagger that had been concealed under the conference table. Giving it to Bran we prepared for our continued journey.



Raven’s Keep: Nyssa’s Dreams

Nyssa woke with a start. She had the same dream again.

She was walking down a hallway with a single shaft of golden light that was showing her the way to go. There was a bell ringing somewhere in the distance.

She comes to a door and there is a sign on it that says, “Back in 15 minutes.” So she sits and waits, but it seems that she is waiting for eternity. She falls asleep waiting and the next day dawns and she realizes that no one is coming so she rages against the door trying to get through.

This goes on for endless days. Each day as she is trying to break through the door she hears the bell ringing. Eventually she realizes that the sound is slightly different each time and that there is a secret harmony in the tone.

Once she realizes this a fire wells up inside her and erupts from her hands burning down the door.

On the other side there are daffodils with butterflies in an afternoon sunlight field.

Stepping through the door she encounters a strange creature, though the creature changes each time she has the dream. One time it was a gorilla being chased by penguins. The next time it was a lion teaching maths to a lamb. Once it was a blue flamingo who wandered into an igloo and disappeared. Then a jester with a hammer looking through the daffodils for something that he had lost. A man with a teapot on his head walk past her once and asked if she liked her tea hot. One time it started to rain and the rain drops turned to tiny bolts of lightning and she put up an umbrella to protect herself. And so forth.

Then she wakes up.

Elx had been having dreams lately as well. Not the same dream again and again, like Nyssa had had. But a few dreams with a similar theme. Each had had a raven in them.

The first dream was nothing remarkable and at first Elx had thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until he had had the others that the first seemed remarkable.

In the first dream, he had been walking in the snow recently escaped from Blern. Somehow he had gotten separated from the rest of his companions, but he didn’t think that they were too far away. Looking up he saw a raven sitting in a tree branch and below the bird was a cast off feather. Elx picked up the feather and put in a pouch at his side. He then rejoined his companions and couldn’t remember the rest of the dream.

In the second dream, Elx was back in Raven’s Keep and he was shaving which was strange as he didn’t need to do so. But perhaps he was doing so as part of a persona he was maintaining. In any case, he took the hair clippings and put them in a bag at his side. He did the same with his nail clippings. Then he in the center of the community and he noticed that there was a heart-shaped rock in the center of the community park. Touching it a piece of it fell off and he picked it up and placed it in the pouch at his side.

He looked up as he heard a cawing noise and saw a large black bird, again a raven. Swearing, he wiped the poop from his shoulder where the bird had defecated on him. But he decided to put it in the bag. When he did so, he turned into a raven himself and followed after the other raven and flew into a forest. In the forest there was a dead creature, the raven picked at the bones and skin holding them out. Elx put the bones and skin into the bag. Then he used the bag as a pillow and went to sleep. In the sleep within the sleep he noticed that he had a cone-shaped body, four strange appendages two of which end in claws, one with a trumpet and one with three eyes and four ears. His cone-shaped self was talking to his normal self saying, “The world is thinner in some places. Nafluh’e n’ghft ‘bthnk. So say we all.”

In the third dream, Elx was in a library studying and he heard a rapping at a window. Going to investigate he found a raven at the sill. The raven hopped over to a small book and pecked at it. Elx picked it up and placed it in the bag at his side. Looking at the bird again, Elx was surprised to see it smoking a pipe. The bird indicated that Elx should join him. Elx took a puff of the pipe and coughed. The bird laughed and flew away. Elx put the pipe into his bag.


Raven’s Keep: Seeing Raven

It is a dark figure, so large that it fills the sky eclipsing the sun, turning day into night, with a sarcastic tone it laconically issues an audible sigh, as it says:

Once upon a time, all the hope in the world was swallowed-up, hoarded by an unspeakably evil old chief who was not disposed to share it. RAVEN, bored of fluttering around in the hopelessly dark world declared that things should not be this way, and so once again, as was in days of old, he turned himself into a leaf and sneakily fluttered unnoticed into the evil one’s dwelling. There, the evil one’s squaw was sipping some tea and RAVEN fluttered into the cup just as she raised it to her lips. Swallowing him down, she immediately became pregnant and gave birth to chaos and confusion in the form of a mortal baby with the blackest, raven eyes, eyes that glowed, and he was very temperamental. Whenever he grows bored he shrieks, so much so that the unspeakable old one, thinking he is the father, says: “Give the baby what it wants”. So mother gives the baby a bag fancied toys and shining jewels, and for a time he plays merrily with these until one day he becomes bored again.

In a fit, the baby tossed them out scattered all the toys around and cries even louder. Oh dear. The baby is bored again. He is bawling. He wants something new. He drives his parents crazy with his distress, and so to pacify the babe they take your toys and go outside and play and they give him the key to the world.

For a time it works, the boy is happy, he makes a few friends, but outside it is still too dark to go very far and without hope the boy finds the world to be a sad place, and in a short time he becomes very disappointed and bored again so he goes home and you’ll never guess what happens next … Bored, he yells even louder and he makes a bigger mess than before, becoming really disruptive!

His Unspeakable father becomes so upset he begins tearing out his own beard from his face in his fury until the whole of village begins muttering that he’s gone crazy. Frantic, he searches for something, anything, to keep the baby quiet, but the baby rejects everything that is offered until mother pulls out a final bag. “Uh-oh” he thinks we can’t give it to the baby … It contains all the hope in the world — and that leaks like nobody’s business.”

Now you think you know what’s going to happen, but you don’t; what happens next is that the baby turns back into RAVEN, cries “Ka very much” as he snatched the bag with his beak and it flies back out through the door with he had cleverly left open. And, having stolen hope, he spread it throughout the world, bringing the UNSPEAKABLE OLD ONE’S scheme can come to an end making him very disgruntled, and such is his way that his comments will be of very strongest, foulest of languages, so bad that it should never to be spoken out loud.


Raven’s Keep: Chameleons

The group huddled close together and had a cold breakfast. Bran had warned that they not build a fire to warm their food else it might alert their pursuers from the day before to their location. The cleft in the mountain had provided limited shelter through the night, but the group would need to find better shelter soon, or they would not survive long.

“We should break camp and get moving quickly,” said Bran. The group quickly and without wasting energy talking followed his lead. He and Ankoma took the lead breaking a trail for the others to follow.

As the group traveled through the snowy mountains, they discussed the attack from the day before and their options for survival now that they were without the bulk of the equipment that they had been sent out from Raven’s Keep with, and without the skills that they loaded into their memories. In fact, were it not for the slight training that Bran and Ankoma had received at the hand of Clifton Raven they would be completely helpless.

“We are fortunate for your father’s foresight, Bran,” said Elx, “Your skills in these mountain passes have proved invaluable. We would surely be lost and frozen by now were it not for your and Ankoma’s abilities.” The other murmured agreement. They all paused to take a short break to eat some rations. “I feel that I should tell you all about some abilities that I have that may eventually be of use. They won’t be of assistance now while we are wandering through these mountains, but once we are among people again they will hopefully serve us.” So saying the features of his face started to blur and transform and then Elx was a different person. A moment later and his face blurred again and he was again a different person. He did this a few more times, “I am a shapeshifter able to assume the likeness of other people. I felt that informing you of this would help us to be more successful when we do reach civilization again.” Elx switched to using telepathy and continued, “As you were made aware, I’m am an accomplished linguist, but I also am able to speak directly to the minds of others using telepathy bypassing language should the need arise. This too may be a skill that will be of use once we find others.”

It took the others a moment to absorb the information that Elx had revealed, Sayberion was the first to respond, “Those are fascinating and to be sure useful abilities, Elx, thank you for sharing. Hopefully, we’ll run into people soon where we can put those skills to use.”

Bran started somewhat hesitantly, “My father spoke to me of a race of people called Chameleons. They were able to change their shape as you seem to be able to do. Are you a…are you related…” He seemed a bit unsure how to broach the subject as if it were something that might be taboo.

Elx seemed nonplused, “Yes, we are sometimes called that. Amongst ourselves we typically refer to ourselves as We Who Become, but to others we are often called Chameleons.”

Bran put his hand to his sword and took a defensive stance and continued, “My father also said that Chameleons are servants of Blern.”

Elx put his hand up in defense, “I believe you misquote your father. We are the creation of Blern. And as his creation, many of my brothers and sisters do serve him, but just as you and your hirsute companion have free will, so do all of my created family. I ask you to recall our recent incident from but a day ago, I was under just as much threat as you all and fought just as vehemently against Blern’s forces as you all. However, to be honest, when I was first created I did follow Blern and his teachings. I found, however, that he was inconsistent in his own teachings and that to be true to his espoused philosophy I must oppose him. To do otherwise would not be the noble thing to do. Does this answer your concern?”

Bran’s hand relaxed and he replied, “Yes, that does thank you.” He started to pack their meager lunch and pick up the dropped crumbs to prevent leaving a trail. “We need to break camp and get moving. However as we are traveling, and I hope you don’t consider this to be prying I’m just trying to gather useful information on our enemies, since you seem to know something about Blern what can you tell us about him and his use of Chameleons? Do you know the extent of Blern’s forces? His agenda? Anything that might assist us in fending off another attack of like kind to what we have already suffered against him or his lackeys? It seems likely that he would still have Chameleons in his service, correct, what can you tell us about them that could help us?”

Elx replied, “I’ll tell you what I know, but realize that Blern has been exiled from Raven’s Keep for many years and I was privy to his council only while he was still within Raven’s Keep. But, perhaps what I do know will be of assistance. We will talk while we move forward.” So saying they continued their trek into the frozen mountains.