2 Sydenstar (Da’lesen/Saturday) 845 PD
The four of them start making their way back to the Gardener’s House on the Abundant Terrace, after what seems to be the Longest Day Ever. It’s mostly an evening of relaxing and making plans, looking over Rinn’s map of (Old) Vasselheim while he makes notes and changes on it from today’s observations and Fisch’s comments. Fisch also updates them as to the status of the various temples in the city (though they know the Raven Queen’s, having been there already). The Bear doesn’t know the actual names of the gods so he gives them descriptions, and Tāmarai and Stubby figure them out. (Rinn learns a bit as well, as worship of nearly half of the Prime Deities is outlawed in the Dendwalian Empire.)
They still do want to check out the Platinum Dragon Sanctuary (the source of the pillar of fire), and look in the others for those anti-scrying necklaces. The Trial Forge is brought up, but Rinn is just fine with putting that off until they deal with everything else.
They wrap things up for the night. Stubby takes the first watch, things pass uneventfully. Fisch takes the middle watch, with Rinn scheduled for the last watch. (His preference.)
As Rinn settles into sleep, however…
He’s first not sure if he’s sleeping or not. It’s dark, and he’s not used to total darkness. He can see in the dark, so not being able to see at all is odd and a bit disconcerting.
But then there’s a spotlight, and a figure in it. A figure that Rinn thought he had seen when Fisch boosted him up to the floor of the Take from the broken stairs beneath, that disappeared when he got a closer look. The figure turns, and it’s Rinn himself. Or at least some sort of version of Rinn. This version is wearing robes, as he’s seen other magic users wear. Fancy ones, in fact. And he’s carrying a staff as well.
This is a Rinn who went a different path, accepted and embraced his powers. This powerful, poncy version of Rinn smiles at himself-
And then melts, and reforms into a totally different figure. An orc, wearing monk’s robes. (Not the robes of the Cobalt Soul, the coloring is different.) The orc looks at Rinn, and finally speaks. “You’ve embraced some of your potential. Will you embrace the rest?”
Rinn doesn’t answer that, just shoots off a “Who the fuck are you?”
The orc gives a slight grin. “I am Skyseeker Oren. Skyseeker; Sky Summoner; Arm of the Thunderbolt. Who are you?”
Rinn’s jaw sets stubbornly. “Rinn Shrike.”
“Do you fear me?”
“Do I have reason to?”
Oren smirks. “You’re cautious. Good. Stop avoiding your path. Come to my crucible. I am waiting. “ The last echoes like the voice in his dream nearly two weeks ago. (Note: Session 11)
Rinn frowns, and starts walking closer. “Why? Why all of this?” He spreads his hands out angrily. “Why now, and why never before? Why not when I needed help?”
Oren just watches him approach. “You thought you were alone before?”
“You were never alone. You were always watched, helped, guided, to bring you here. Your strength is needed here. Their quest will not succeed without you. Had you not lived the life you led, you would not be strong enough. You, and you specifically, because you are Chosen.” Oren raises a hand, and lightning and thunder crackle and boom around them.
“He watches. But it’s the strength from our arms and hands that is needed. You need to claim your strength, master it. Or it will destroy you.” Oren smiles wryly, and steps back, the light growing dim. “I will wait for you. Before you leave this city, come for me.”
The spotlight goes out. There is more thunder and lightning, then darkness, absolute darkness-
And then Fisch shaking him awake for his watch. Rinn jolts awake, pulling out the dagger from under his pillow. There’s some quick calming breaths and reassurances on both sides, before Rinn grabs his things and goes to take his turn on watch. Fisch goes to get some sleep, leaving Rinn alone to think-
Which may not have been a good idea.
A New Day
A few hours later, and the sun slowly rises up. The land and plants are relatively untainted on the Abundant Terrace, so there are birds singing, and the day looks to be a nice once. Tāmarai, Stubby and Fisch slowly wake up, though it seems Fisch has a headache. Tāmarai uses a bit of magic to sooth it away, as Stubby yawns and discovers a piece of paper stuck to her cheek. It’s a note, in Rinn’s odd, spiky handwriting:
Got an invitation. Taking care of something. You sleep too soundly. RS
A quick look around confirms it. Rinn is gone, headed out somewhere in this dangerous city all by himself. Fisch can pick up his trail, and goes down on all fours, telling Tāmarai and Stubby to hop on- and then he tears off after Rinn.
Rinn did think some of this through. After coming to the decision to head to the Trial Forge by himself that morning, he did at least wait til it was starting to get light out, and things should be safe enough to leave the three sleeping by themselves. And, though he was not really used to the idea, he left a note so they wouldn’t worry. With any luck he would have things dealt with and done before too long, even though he had no idea what would be ‘dealt with’.
He had the map, and remembered Fisch’s advice about the dangers. Rinn slipped through the city, going with speed and stealth to avoid confrontation. There were a few odd noises from houses and buildings as he snuck past them, but he made it to the location of the Trial Forge and Kord’s Crucible without any problem-
Only to discover a huge pit where the map said they should be. Which wasn’t much of a surprise, considering the rest of the city. Rinn stood on the edge for a long moment, looking down into the depths- before realizing that he wasn’t alone. There was a rustle, and a deep croaking sound, as if coming from the world’s largest frog. Something was creeping around, and Rinn glances sideways to watch it. Something like a giant, red frog on two legs, with long, slashing claws. Not only do it’s actions already show it’s intentions aren’t the best, but then there’s a growling, smugly cruel voice in Rinn’s head. “All alone? heheheheh.”
The frog monster leaps at Rinn, slashing at him several times. Mostly missing, but does get one hit in on Rinn’s arm- doing some damage and something else. Rinn blasts it with Witch Bolt, but oddly it does not do as much damage as it should. The frog-thing seems to be somewhat immune to lightning!
It goes after him again. Rinn quickly tries out a new spell, crossing his arms in a blocking motion, bracelets on both wrists touching- and a stronger shield of ionized air and electricity surrounds him. (Shield) It keeps the creature from landing any attacks on him, and then Rinn casts Thunderwave. While it seems the frog-thing might be resistant to thunder damage as well, it still shoves it away-
And over the edge of the cliff.
It is not immune to the damage from falling from that great a height, as Rinn finds out. And down below at the bottom, looking at the splattered remains, is a familiar figure- Oren. He looks up at Rinn, and beckons. Rinn swears quietly, then sighs and starts looking for a way down as he pulls out a scrap of fabric and wraps up his (slightly swollen) arm.
Rinn doesn’t spot any way down, but before he decides to just jump and cast Feather Fall, he can hear something large approaching at high speed- its Fisch, with Tāmarai and Stubby clinging to his back! He manages to skid to a halt before reaching the cliff edge, with the other two tumbling off of him. The riders look only a little worse for wear, however Fisch is exhausted.
At the moment, they’re pleased that Rinn looks mostly alright, though Fisch asks what hurt him, as the bear is trying to identify it by the scent. Rinn gives a bit of a description, and that is enough for Tāmarai to make a (very lucky) identification: Slaad. A Red Slaad, and they have the ability to put eggs into wounds with their claws, so how did it hurt him? Rinn turns green, unwraps his arm quickly, and shows it to Tāmarai. That is exactly what happened, and she’s able to pop out the… egg thing from the wound nice and neatly.
Then Tāmarai and Rinn both lose what little they had for breakfast.
Stubby is examining the pit, and spots the splatted Slaad and Oren at the bottom. The orc monk gives Stubby an amused look, gestures at the flattened monster, and makes the comment of ‘He was basically a god,’, a reference to a story Stubby’s family has told her. She’s delighted, and hurries down the rough stairs that she managed to spot. (Rinn missed them earlier.) Rinn hurriedly re-wraps his arm again, and the rest of them make their way after her.
The stairs are cut for much taller people, and it’s awkward going, especially for Tāmarai. But they make their way down to the bottom of the pit. It’s pretty flat, with some stands from the Braving Grounds that fell their way down here as well, providing a place to sit. Oren is there waiting for them. His robes are black (slightly faded), with gold, and his eyes are oddly bright blue, like sparks of lightning. “You came, good.”
Rinn remembers some of his manners. He gives Oren a nod, and introduces the others. “Stubby, Tāmarai, and Fisch.”
“Lady Victoria. Tāmarai Shikomi.” And Oren gives a roar that is Fisch’s name in ‘bear’, which astonishes and pleases Fisch.
Oren waves a hand and offers the other three a seat on the remaining stands. Tāmarai asks what will be required of Rinn. “I challenge him.” He looks at Rinn.
“You’ve been blessed with strength. I challenge you to claim it.”
“How? Fighting you?”
Oren shrugs, spreading his hands out much like Rinn. “Strength isn’t the same as fighting. You saw-” And he motions over at the body of the Slaad. “He was resistant to what you could do, so you changed your tactics. You used your strengths, but you have yet to find all of them. Get ready, then come.” And he walks into the center of what remains of the Braving Grounds and waits.
Tāmarai asks if Rinn’s friends can help him. Yes, but only if he asks.
Rinn doesn’t ask for help, at least not in the time they’ve known him. Tāmarai asks him to, or to even tell them, order them to help him, if it makes him feel better to say it that way instead of asking. Rinn shakes his head quickly, and kneels down in front of her, putting his hands on the gnome’s slim shoulders. He could never order his friends. It takes him a long moment, but he finally asks Tāmarai, asks them both, to do ‘what they think is right’.
Tāmarai and Stubby take that as good enough. Stubby gets Aegea out and working, giving Rinn an extra bit of toughness. Tāmarai pulls out her lute and begins singing, Inspiring Rinn.
Rinn slips off his cloak, pack, and other miscellaneous gear, and heads over to the circle.
A Gathering Storm
Oren is waiting. Rinn enters, keeping his distance, and begins circling around the Orc. He’s done somewhat similar fighting before, so he grimly asks what the rules are. “To first blood? Or what?”
“Until one of us falls. But the point is not the fight, the point is to use your strength.” Oren beckons him. “Come.”
Rinn just smiles wryly, still circling and watching Oren carefully, flipping his daggers in his hands, not showing off, but from habit as he thinks and studies the other man. Insight check, nat 20! Oren is absolutely sincere. He doesn’t expect Rinn to really have a chance, but the point here is for Rinn to try, to learn, and to embrace what he can do.
Rinn quickly draws one of the flats of the daggers across one of his bracelets, the metals making a ‘shink’ sound, transfering some magical energy to the blade- and he tosses it at Oren, quickly followed by another (regular) one. (Booming Blade) The first misses, and a small boom of thunder explodes into the wall of the cliff. Oren catches the second blade between his fingers. “Well aimed”, Oren comments, tossing the dagger to the ground-
And then blasts a gust of wind at Rinn, knocking the air out of him, before motioning at him again. “Come.”
Rinn points out that Oren has three times his weight. Trying to fight him directly wouldn’t be the best idea. He picks up the dagger Oren tossed to the ground- and then lashes out with a Witch Bolt. Oren takes the jolt, hair on end. “Good.” Then he darts in at Rinn, striking at him a few times with his staff, but Rinn manages to keep out of the way.
Tāmarai keeps singing, working into her song a spell in an attempt to cast Faerie Fire on Oren, but he shrugs off the faint glow that would help make him a better target. Stubby directs Aegea to keep up shielding Rinn, nearly bouncing in her seat to try to keep on the stands and not go down to join in the circle.
Rinn keeps up the Witch Bolt for a few more moments, while Oren circles and keeps jabbing at him, occasionally getting one in. Finally he drops it, and moves in for a quick jab of his own with Shocking Grasp. Oren deflects, and then manages to give Rinn a taste of his own medicine, delivering a shocking blow with his staff. This is the first time Rinn’s been hit with any sort of lightning damage himself, and wow does it hurt!
At this point, Stubby cannot just sit back and keep watching. She darts into the circle, casting Sanctuary on Rinn, then attacks Oren on her own, slashing at him with the Raven Feather Dagger that she has improved with a Green Flame Blade effect. It works, as well as Tāmarai’s next spell on Oren: Hold Person. Though Rinn does not want to use such an advantage, taking the moment to catch his breath rather than attack. Oren does shake off the spell, though, and congratulates Tāmarai on it being well chosen.
This complement misses its mark, though. Tāmarai is getting… mad.
Stubby slaps a healing patch on Rinn, helping to fix some of the injuries he’s gotten, while Aegea keeps up with the shielding. Rinn also has an idea, and pushes Stubby out of the way, before taking a step back and trying a new spell- twirling his hands out before slashing them in front of him- causing a whirlwind to start howling and kicking up dust and sand, with the young sorcerer at the center. (Warding Wind.) His current plan? Keep the monk at a distance best he can, and do what damage he can that way. It’s possible that might work-
Tāmarai does a Sapping Sting on Oren, hoping for some damage as well. Oren goes down for a moment, then does a kip up to put himself back on his feet. He manages to maneuver through the whirlwind around Rinn, getting close enough that Rinn takes a few blows and has to dodge some others, though he manages to keep ahold of the Warding Wind spell- and then manages to toss in a Thunderwave as well. It shoves Oren back for a moment, but then he crouches and runs back, delivering a flurry of blows to Rinn, doing some serious damage even with the bit of healing Stubby had done and the shielding from Aegea. It’s more than Rinn can deal with, and one final blow goes to knock him out-
And even though Rinn is out, his spell is still going and the magic is still holding him up in the air. Oren delivers a final blow, one that should kill him, lightning blasting from the monk’s staff into the floating figure-
The Storm Breaks
Tāmarai and Stubby leap to Rinn’s defense, Tāmarai casting Immoveable Object on the staff before she and Stubby can go after Oren himself, but as she does so, they notice one important detail. They can see the lightning isn’t killing Rinn, but healing him. The Warding Wind stops, and Rinn drops (gracelessly) to the ground. Still looking rough and bloody, but breathing and in one piece. Oren gives Tāmarai and Stubby a bit of applause, then looks back at Rinn, voice echoing as he speaks not for himself, but for Someone Else.
“You have been blessed with gifts, and you have shown the will to use them. Your strength lies not in the muscles of your body, but the ability of your heart. Hear now: These are my commandments:
Bravery above all. There is no glory in cowardice.
Strength is the path for greatness, but greatness exists only in the responsible use of strength.
My glory is through your glory in the battlefields you face ahead. Will you follow?”
Rinn carefully gets up to his feet. “And if I choose not?”
“Then I will let you go. Your journey will continue, but without my blessing. You will find struggle. You will face many foes. I will still celebrate your glory, but it will not be shared with me. I do not force you; I offer.”
This is not easy for Rinn. He is still trying to process all those years of trying to hide and figure out his magic, and even though Oren said he wasn’t alone, it still felt like he had been, and somehow he had to go through all of that for this? But- and he glances over to Stubby, Tāmarai, and Fisch, if he is to help them deal with the Empress and Vasselheim, and who knows what all else- he needs this. He can’t do it all on his own, and any help he can get, he cannot turn down. He looks back to Oren- or rather, the Deity speaking through Oren- and nods.
Oren smiles, steps forwards, and with one fingertip touches Rinn’s forehead.
With that, the pressure of Old Vasselheim, the odd taint and magic that was constantly pushing and weighing on Rinn like an oncoming storm not yet seen but felt, is gone. Blocked by shielding around his mind.*
And now it is Oren, just Oren, who smiles wryly at Rinn. “Caution isn’t cowardly, but avoiding things just because they are hard is. You fear things, little one. But one day, and soon, your past and future will meet, and you will have to face what you fled. But remember, strength is not found alone. You will learn your strength, and be who you are meant to be.”
Oren steps back. “You’ve begun a quest. Already you have helped the Raven Queen-” and he grins over at Stubby, then looks back to him. “So I will tell you this. The one called Lydia Briarwood came here from Wildemont. Even when she is removed from power- and I believe that the group of you can do so- you will need to return home and face what she left behind. As her-” He tilts his head at Stubby. “Where the Briarwoods came from. After the Empress is defeated, that will be your next step.”
Rinn takes a deep breath, and nods slowly- and then offers Oren his hand. But instead of a handshake, the monk steps forwards and grabs Rinn into a hug. “I’m proud of you.” Rinn hears from him, before the two of them are joined by Fisch, Stubby, and Tāmarai as well. (The poor young half-elf getting crushed nearly to death by the group!)
Oren and Tāmarai do manage to slip out of the group, and Oren looks at the gnome. “For the pillar of flame, no mortal may pass the fire. But extinguish it, and you may find what you seek. A riddle: I eat, I live. I breathe, I live. I drink, I die.” Tāmarai listens, then nods with a smile. “Thank you.”
By now the congratulatory squishing of Rinn is ending, and he can breathe and everyone else can listen as Oren continues. “I know you’ve spoken to the young man who serves the Raven Queen.”
“My uncle!” Stubby grins. “Are you the one that beat up Grog?” “Yes and no.” “Scanlan?” Oren grins. “Yes.”
“Remember your history, and go and kick that toe, but the answers you seek will not be found there. The Empress’ power wanes as yours grows, and she cannot scry on you any time soon. As you succeed, your chances of defeating her. And, for a fight well fought, and skills well used, and realizing when to help and when to let things be,” Oren looks over the four of them. “You may ask one question and get an answer. Though he-” He motions at Rinn. “Is your spokesman for it.”
“… But what if we can’t think of anything at the moment?” Rinn finally asks, recalling the one question/answer they still have owed to them from Osysa, that they haven’t decided on yet, or at least haven’t come across a question they needed that sort of answer from just yet.
Another shrug from Oren, similar to Rinn’s own, and he reaches up and pulls off a medallion he had been wearing and passes it over to Rinn. Brass, etched with the symbol of Kord on it, hanging from a simple leather thong. “When you think of it, I will know.” Rinn nods slowly, and then slips the medallion on. (He had been looking for an excuse to give this to him anyways.)
There is more exuberant celebration from Stubby and Fisch, along with the realization that Rinn would really like to sit down and rest for a few moments. And when they look around again, Oren has slipped away.
*This was the cause of Fisch’s headache this morning. For people not protected by dunamancy (Stubby and Tāmarai), or by the blessing of a god (Rinn, at least now), each morning calls for a Wisdom Check to see how well the person is surviving against the insanity-inducing pressure of the magical taint of Old Vasselheim.