Serpent's Skull

My Travels with the Slayer Volume 6 – The Deep Jungles Entry 15

Things got off to a very rough start with our journey but in the end we chose to go with the Mantis Assassins as they offered the most reward for our help. After fleeing the city was it was seemingly engulfed in civil war which Kalypso assured us was the actions of our employers we headed south a bit to meet up with a seer who was to join our group. When we found the man I was not surprised he was as crazy as everyone else we have met, he sent us on several tasks that were very easily solved and then demanded that Azura take his life. I was shocked with the Slayer agreed that this is what had to be done, but then why should I be? He seeks his own death in combat so why should he not wish to help another have the same?

In the end it appears that this is all part of some great destiny that Azura is being led to by his father and makes me wonder if he is indeed some sort of demi-god himself. I tried not to dwell on that disturbing thought for long and we set off once more when we discovered that in our path was an old mining town abandoned nearly fifteen years ago to mysterious happenings. We learned from our employers that the mine apparently lead under the mountain that we would have to travel around, with a quick look at some maps Snorri and Kev both announced that we could shave off at last two days by taking the mine and both assured the group it would be more than wide enough to take the wagons. We also learned that our contact would be a dwarf which didn’t sit well with the Slayer, but then meeting his own people never does with him. I have seen that it runs to either great relief in seeing a Slayer or great disgusts and never anything in between or mild, but then as I have heard before Dwarfs never do anything in half measures. As we set off the next morning we encounter a band of Slavers heading for the city and I knew there would be trouble, and Kev along with Von started it. In the end the Slayer threw into the fight only because they threatened his wagon full of ale he has insisted upon hauling with us.

I have learned in my time with the Slayer that there are two things he is good at, drinking and fighting and not always in that order. When he wasn’t doing the one he was engaged in the other. But then perhaps both are simply forms of forgetting for him; what little I know of Slayers in general , and Snorri in particular, suggests that whatever shame forced him to assume the orange crest and tattoos of the Slayer-cult was no minor point of personal pride as it was for some such as Leatherbeard but had to be something of great criminal offence. Over the last five years I managed to get small things from him and that night as we camped I was to get a bit more of his history. As he put away mug after mug of ale he paused to lean into close to the fire we shared and in a loud whisper told me a story about one of his ancestors. The mine were two be entering on the marrow was a salt mine and all the people who worked there one night simply vanished. Well something similar happened long, long ago to ancestor of his apparently. The story went that a clanless miner had found a massive deposit of salt and in a drunken moment shared it with a member of Snorri’s clan. The dwarf convinced the miner to show him where it was and when he did, greed over took the man and he killed the miner hiding his body deep in the salt deposit. He figured that no one would look to deep into the death as he had no clan and he could simply claim he and his own mining crew found the salt load themselves. But things didn’t work out so well, when the claim was announced and a group of some twenty miners sent to work the area they all vanished in a single night. Others who were sent to investigate vanished as well, when the King himself ordered it looked into a large band of armed warriors and priests traveled to the mine. There they ran afoul of Salt Wraiths, these undead could drain the very moisture from living being in moments withering their body and dooming them to rise as one of them.

In a fierce battle which saw the creature’s destroyed and the bodies of the slain found the clerics used magic to speak with the dead. That is how they learned of the crime his ancestor had committed in an act of utter greed. And so it was that Snorri’s ancestor swore the oaths and took the crest himself, he vanished into the deep depths where it was later confirmed by the High Priest of Kol’s that he found a worthy doom. As he finished his tale he became more melancholy and I knew from experience he would say no more that night. The next day found us reaching the village which was empty and the mine itself which as we approached the Slayer pointed to it and said “Manling work for sure. You can see how the main beams sag and only after two decades. Had it been dwari work it would stand as if new for another four thousand years at least and then only if the engineer had been sloppy. “ Water had long began to pull in the entrance and as we tried to make our way though it some strange clear ooze like creatures attached us, the battle was quickly ended and the Slayer spit on one of the bodies. “Foul scavenger’s of the deeper darks they are, a nuisance but little more manling.” With that we set off inside and as we walked the Slayer started to chant something, a song of sorts, his voice was rich and deep and as he sang I could feel the greatness of his people and the sad decline they have since entered in the last few centuries.

Beneath a lonely mountain hold

There lay a wealth worth more than gold

In a land with no joy nor mirth

Far from welcome of the hearth

In the dark beneath the world

A place never before beheld

The wealth of kings awaited there

Only found by those that dared

Deep we dug and far we dove

Diggings silver by the drove

No light of start, no light of sun

Hard we toiled, sparing none

But came upon us, green-skinned foes

Our joys were ended, came our woes

No axe nor hammer turned them back

Their blood-stained lake and turned it black

King and thanes, a war we spoke

Upon our fists, their broke

But from the deep, a fear unspoken

Our fighting had now loudly woken

Up from the darkness, our coming fall

A terror beneath us, killing all

With heavy hearts we left our dead

Our hope now broken, turned to dread

Driven from our halls and homes

Force upon the hills to roam

Forever gone, a loss so dear

Left in the dark of fell Crag Mere

As the song came to end I felt as if I could feel what the dwarven people must have felt that endured what the song sang of. When I asked the slayer what it was about he looked deep into the darkness ahead of us. “Folly manling, and proof that even we dwari make grave mistakes and suffer from poor choices. Crag Mere wasn’t the only place lost is such ways, there been many, many more. Even my own home once boasted hundreds of thousands of dwari but now we number but in the tens of thousands and miles upon miles of our home lie empty or held by dark things.”

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My Travels with the Slayer Volume 6 – The Deep Jungles
My Travels with the Slayer Volume 6 – The Deep Jungles

After sometime and searching we quickly found that our only way out of this dark temple was from the same way we came into it. We sat for several hours debating the best way to go about this without drowning everyone in the place because we were fairly certain that once those doors opened the place would flood with sea water and would do so very quickly. In the end Kev decided she would force the doors open and would use the Slayers magical rope to help keep her from slamming into the various pillars in the room, the rest of us moved to the bridge the Slayer grumbling the whole way. As we stood and watched Kev try force the doors open she had some trouble at first which prompted a snort from my small companion who announced at he knew she would need his help. Which I think was more driven from his annoyance at not being the one risking his own life than any belief that Kev had failed in some way. Just as he turned way the doors flew open with enough force that Kev was fired backwards into the room as if from a dwarf hurling ballista with a wall of water right behind her. Amazingly enough she rode the wave as if she was part of it and with several massive gulps of air she vanished under it and made for the door with the rest of us leaping into follow her. The swim was not overly hard and in moments found us back on land debating how to get off the island once more and us noticed for the first time that the water was calm and no longer raging or glowing green, the curse had truly been broken.

Snorri decided he would return and finish work on the lighthouse in hopes that ships seeing it would be drawn towards it to investigate why it would suddenly appear on the supposable deserted island. Most of us went with him while others split off to search for other options, I ended up helping out as best I could but none of us were stone masons. After nearly four days of hard work we all stepped back beaming at our success save for the Slayer who announced it wasn’t bad but he wouldn’t stamp his rune to it. We lit it that very night and two nights after the others returned and were as empty handed as us as not a single ship had been seen. So we put our heads together once more and it was decided that we would construct our own boat to escape. The Slayer leaped as the chance to do just this and quickly began rattling off a list of supplies we would need and people scattered to obtain them and the next week was exhausting work for us. Vaughn was in charge of hauling dead wood back to the camp while Jast and I were sent to gather vines and others resin or set to boiling lizard hides and other tasks. In the end we had something that looked nothing like a boat in my mind but the Slayer assured us would float. The next day saw us lowering it into the water and us as well; the large flat area didn’t afford any privacy or much moving room. Using oars we had fashioned along with our salvaged sails from the Jenniver we sailed away from our small island prison and by the second day we all were wondering just how smart that was. We lost sight of all land and all we could see was flat still ocean as far as the eye could see, what was worst was the few times we would see a massive fin or tentacle break the water’s surface and then something would bump us around like a bobbing apple.

It was the third day when we spotted land in the far distance and Kalypso hazard it would be at least another two days to reach it. However fate decided that wouldn’t be for us, it was Asura who announced that a storm was coming thanks to his father the great god. I wanted to punch him in right in the face for cursing us but I knew it was not his fault; things had just been going too easy for us. The storm was upon us faster than we could prepare, the rain lashed over us and the waves began to rise and fall sweeping the deck of our ship clear of anything not holding on for dear life. Lightning was lashing down and in one massive blinding bolt we all saw the water rise up under us carrying our ship up and then throwing as if it was a child through with an old toy. I felt weightless for a moment as we sailed through the air and then we struck the water like a hammers blow, what air I had in me was blasted out and I sank below the tossing waves. I saw some of the others nearby sinking down or kicking to reach the surface, I spotted Elani nearby struggling and swam to hear. Wrapping my arms around her I kicked with all my might for the surface and we both broke it right into the lashing rain, she began to chant something and without warning she shot out of my arms and stood albeit shakily on the water’s surface as if it were land. Reaching down she touched me and I felt her magic envelope my body and shoot me up as well, we quickly found the others and she touched each in turn. Now we were on the water’s surface being tossed about like corks and when I saw the ship looming out of darkness I was never more grateful in my life.

We quickly boarded the ship and thanked our rescuers who allowed us to billet with as they headed back to land and to the largest city in Sargava. The trip was quick and when we docked and set foot upon solid land again I was ready to kiss it. The city spread out ahead of us and was a welcome sight indeed, after being accosted by the city guard and in so small terms being told our kind was not welcome the Slayer and I set off for temple street to wrap up the mission that had brought us this far. When we arrived the Slayer related the events of our story with me filling in the many large blanks he left out of his rather terse recitation. I was not sure what he hoped they would say but what they did say was not what he wanted to hear, the demon lord bound into this body was trapped there. Only three options were given the Slayer as how to free himself from this curse and when the priest was done the Slayer spun around “Some manling I have been dry for too long and it is far past time I got piss drunk.” He announced and set off with me in tow and a priest of Imodene following us. He headed straight to the docks where we grabbed a table at a place called the “Swaying Spirit.” It was not the most elegant place we have drunk at, it smelled of the salt air, fish and the sweat of men. The Slayer flagged down a serving girl and tossed a amulet of gold we had taken from the island onto her platter. “Bring ale and food and keep it coming till either you are empty or I am unable to raise either to my lips.” He announced and she obliged quickly returning with a pair of large mugs holding local ale of some sort. They had barely touched the table before the Slayer had downed both of them in long steady gulps, he wiped his mouth and looked at her once more “Well keep im coming lass.” And so she did with the Slayer polishing off four more mugs before slowing on the fifth to put away enough stew for two people.

As we sat nursing our drinks and dinner crowd filled in around us he stared off at nothing for a while before speaking. “I have failed manling. I failed my family, my clan, my regiment and my king and now I shall fail my oaths as a Slayer. We have faced undead wizards, a blood god and demonic snake woman and none of them could kill me. If they can’t what will? The ax must fall, for a Slayer to be complete he must die and now I can’t even do that without bringing more shame to my ancestors.” He lapsed into a deep silence and filled it with his mug of ale while I shat stunned; he rarely ever spoke so much as he did now. “I am between the hammer and the anvil manling and the only place I can go is into the fire. I can keep my oath to Kol’s and die and then set this thing free upon the world and destroy all I worked to fix. I can have it bound to me bones for all time and in doing so break my oath to the beast as ill convened as it was. Or I can take the cowards way out and let another take the burden of my own foolishness on, I don’t like any of these options manling not a one.” The deep sadness and shame I saw on that rugged face of his was more than I could take “Then we just have to come up with a fourth option.” And that is what we did. We spent the rest of the night coming up with increasingly more farfetched solutions as more and more ale arrived at our table. We started off with finding a wizard to cast a spell that would bind the creature in some fashion upon the slayers dead, to finding some ancient Azlanti magic and rolled onto heading to Orision to break into a Pasha’s treasure trove and stealing his magic lamp to use one the Genie’s three wishes. But why stop there? We would just go into the wild capture our own Genie to use or better yet would entice a demon to house the things soul in itself so the slayer could then fight it and die in glorious combat.

I don’t recall much of what occurred after that and when I woke the next morning in a shabby bed in a small room I wondered how I got there. Though that didn’t last long as in moments my head began like a gnomish marching band was playing the Cheliax national anthem with extra drums in my head, I should have recalled this is what happens every time I drink with the Slayer. A week light was filtering in through the cracked shutter and carried with it the scent of salt, sea and fish so I knew were still on the docks somewhere. It was then I noticed that not so unlovely female companion who lay sleeping next to me and wondered where we had met and if my coin purse was great deal lighter for it. I let myself flop back down and closed my eyes willing the pounding to cease as I pondered our future. I had no idea where we were bound for next or what steps the Slayer would take to rid himself of this creature. I found my thoughts drifting to the fates of our one time fellow castaways and what paths they would travel. Oh don’t get me wrong I was not likely to miss any of them overly much but I didn’t wish any ill harm to them either. It would be nice to not be ordered around like a servant by his majesty and to not have to stand up to the penetrating stare of Elani anymore would be a huge relief. Well as the old saying goes in my homeland “May they always have coin in their purse and even more to hand whatever venture they take.”

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My Travels with the Slayer Volume 5 - Shipwrecked Entry 13
So many times over the years we have run headlong into danger that I felt for certain we would never escape that when the Slayer did pull off some miraculous move or action I just started taking it for granted. So when we moved through the temple and the floor gave out from underneath him all thought he was gone for sure but then with agility that made them all gape he threw himself backwards onto the solid ground. He nodded as if he knew the trap was there all along and when a few moments later when Kalypso fell into it he couldn’t hide the smirk on his face. With quick thinking we got her out of the deep pit and disable the trigger to this one and one other trap we found, it was not till we got into a room with a pool of blood and massive pillars did we spring the last one. The doors sealed us in and the most ingenious trap I have seen sprung on us sending a scything blade dropping from the roof to slash at us. What made it so ingenious was each time the blade pulled back into the roof it would reset to drop from a different angel at us so we could never know where was safe. The others scrambled to try and find a way to get out of the room and the whole time the Slayer stood calmly by studying each aspect of the room and rolling the thought over in his head trying to find a solution. Cutting his hand and allowing the blood to flow into the pool of blood while a valid thought was not the right one and it turned out the action was more mechanical and a hidden button saw the trap defused and allowed us into the main temple. What we saw took my break away, the long hall was lined with carved pillars and walls, along with a tall statue of some unknown god standing over a strange alter that was fountain large quantities of blood into a rushing river of the stuff. As we spread out a bit to investigate the place the blood began to swell like a massive bubble was rising up but rather than popping the thing paused and then hundreds of eyes and mouths opened up over its surface, another formed not far from the first.

The Slayer rushed to aid Vaughn and Elani to fight one while the rest of us took on the second beast, I watched as the Slayer drove his ax into the beast tearing a massive wound in its side. The thing let out a blast of gibbering noise which sent several of us reeling and clutching our heads, the Slayer was one of them. Thus distracted the beast opened one gaping maw and swallowed him whole. I was shocked at the sight and stood stunned for a moment as the thing moved to the same to the others near it. After a moment the thing trembled simply ran like melted wax leaving a thoroughly angry and gore covered slayer in its place. With a roar he rushed the other abomination which had been joined by several skeletons from deeper into the temple. The other seeing them coming sprayed out a gout of bile aiming for Elani, the Slayer without missing a beat threw one meaty elbow into her side sending her crashing to the ground and leaving him in her place. The vile stuff washed over him and he I watched as he shoved a meaty paw into his eyes trying to rub it free. Then with great caution he took another step forward and swung three times at one of the skeletons only striking it once, than he fell back with hand touching the wall rubbing his eyes. The Slayer was I realized quickly was blinded by the things bile, without sight he couldn’t fight at full strength without fear of hurting one of us. As we battled on Vaughn noticed that the snake demon we hunted, at least I assume it was her appeared at the altar. He sent several arrows at her and she retaliated with magic. Snorri called out for direction and Elani told him of this new threat and moving on memory alone he charged across the temple to reach her with his ax raised. That is when the worst thing to happen did, she dodged back from his fist clumsily swing and uttered a spell of darkness and slapped a scaly hand over the slayers face. His entire body went slack then she pointed a finger at Elani and hissed out for the Slayer to kill her. To my greatest fear he turned and charged back down the stairs towards us Kragadul ready to leave us all bleeding. She had somehow taken control of him and if not stopped he would kill us all. I watched as he ran his face filled with rage and when his body seemingly wanted to cleave one of us down he would pull short or his move was so jarringly off it missed. He was fighting it! He was pushing against her but his will was not strong enough, that is when Kalypso bound him with an enchantment of slumber and sent his body crashing to the floor. A moment two later Vaughn took the snake down and the rest of her minions fell with her.

When the Slayer woke he snapped the control the woman had over him with a monumental effort and spit “This why I hate wizards manling!” he roared out “Not a damn one is not a coward of the worst kind. Save for fancy birches here.” He said thrusting a finger out at Azura “Ye have more spine then any I have ever seen. Ye stand toe to toe with yer foes casting your magic into their faces and daring them to strike ye down. That is a true man! And braver than most humans I have known.” With those words he spun around and rushed the large altar and took his axe to the thing with a roar like an enraged bear smashing it open like a rotten egg. The blood sputtered and arched one last time into the air before ceasing to flow and a wave of energy washed over us with almost physical force, the curse on this island was broken I was sure. The Slayer stood behind the down statue snorting like a maddened bull and without warning he stamped off into one of the side rooms, likely to clean up some and cool off his anger. I let myself slide to the floor in a heap and hung my head the fear and tension gone my body could no longer hold me up. As I sat there I thought of something interesting, we had just broken a gods knows how old curse on this place thanks to the Slayer. By seeking their own deaths I have found that Slayers can touch the lives of thousands of people, people who will never even know what the actions of a single doomed man did for them. I found myself wishing Jast was there at that moment to share this knowledge with for he on some level seemed to understand. Oh I could have talked to the others present but I am not sure I wanted to, the few times I tried to speak with Vaughn I couldn’t help but feel as if he was starting at me as one would a worm, the way he would cock his head slightly to the side gives me the shivers. And don’t get me started on Elani, I have little care for death priest’s in general but when I talk with her she always has a look on her face as if she is trying to decide if I am some half undead thing that needs putting down. Which I am sure in no small part is due to Kalypso going on constantly about how I sprung from the mind of Snorri which is nonsense and also explains my lack of interest in speaking with her. She is madder than a loon and I would have a more productive conversation with her lizard than her! Which leaves me with either Azura or Kev and I get enough dwarven stoicism from the Slayer as is to contemplate speaking with her and well each time I have approached our resident wizard he has either demanded I sweep his chambers clean or wants to know why dinner was prepared with enough salt.

Oh what I wouldn’t give to be off this island and back in a city or town where I can get a mug of cool ale, a hot meal of something other than monkey or goat, a soft feathery bed filled with even softer company as well. Oh gods and a bath, how I long for a nice hot bath and a stone to scrub myself clean of all this dirt and grime. As the Slayers says though the world is not a wish making machine and if you want them to come true you need to take charge and make it happen yourself. So that is what we will do, we will find a way free of this island and back to a place where inns exist and food has Variety.

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My Travels with the Slayer Volume 5 - Shipwrecked Entry 12

My Travels with the Slayer Volume 5 – Shipwrecked

We set off early the next day in hopes of finding our foe or at least making headway on catching up to them, we climbed the volcano only to find it long dormant. We also found a most gruesome sight, for we found a are the locals have used for generations as a place of worship and sacrifice to this Blood God we heard so much about. The bodies of countless people lay piled up where the thing had drained the blood from them, but of it we saw nothing. So we set off once more back down the mountain to where we found a set of Azlanti pillars and a pyramid, our more magically inclined folks quickly determined this is where the ritual was to be done that we learned of in the temple. We did not get long to investigate before the Infamous Blood God made its appearance, the thing was a winged humanoid lizard of some type and refused to land to fight fair as the Slayer put it. He was able to wound the thing with his throwing ax but it still kept out of reach so Kalypso cast a spell on him that sent him shooting up into the air but still the beast refused to fight him. In the end it made a fatal mistake and tried to grapple with Asura and drain his blood, the Slayer dropped on it like a rock nearly splitting it in half, as it lay bleeding he nodded. “As I thought, as much a god as that lobster was.” With that he turned away to solve the new mystery we were presented with. It didn’t take Kalypso long to solve it and caused the water in the bay to retreat in a rush revealing a set of massive stone doors.

“Ill omen here Manling, people often bury things like that, which should best be left alone.” I tend to agree but we know our demon friend went there so we had to follow. After a bizarre encounter with strange water creature that was quiet mad, is everyone on this island such? We found our way into another massive temple of the Azlanti. We discovered that sometime eons ago they attacked the place and slew the original worshippers who followed the Headless God and supplanted him with their own, something that I found organized religions do all the time still. The place was empty of all life and we found ourselves trying to track our foe by following old dusty paths and empty rooms. Only in one we found them not so empty and faced a pair of skeletal guardians which we dispatched with ease. It was here we chose to rest before pushing on and once more Jast approached me to discuss my past with the Slayer, this time asking how we met.

I chuckled because that brought back some memories, it happened in Durma almost five years ago one night when I had way too much to drink and let my mouth get the better of me. My father is a very well do to merchant in the city and he forced both my brother and I through school to follow in his steps. I of course rebelled and instead fancied myself a poet and playwright which angered him to no end and on that day my father gave me an ultimatum. I was to give up my frivolous nature and take my place beside my brother in the company or I was cut off completely. I of course was angry myself so I made my way to the taverns to drink and complain with other well to do wastrels who were my so called friends. The government had just passed a new law imposing a ten pence tax on windows, depending on how large a window you had or didn’t have would see you taxed and the people were up in arms over it. So along with everyone else in the tavern who had drank too much and let a few incite them we took to the streets protesting. Mobs of people were heading for the seat of power to show our displeasure, well the ruling guilds did like that so they dispatched the Knights of the Coin to quell this so called rebellion. At first it was mainly small beatings but then someone in the crowd threw a brick and things go out of control, the knights started to ride down the populace with their lances. I found myself on a side street with a small crowd of people when a group of six knights found us and without warning they lowered their lances and charged. Even in my drunken state I had sense enough to try and get out of the way but others didn’t so I did my best to shove and cajole them out of the path of our foes.

I was not so quick myself and the captains lance barely caught by arm enough to send me spinning to the ground. Wheeling his horse around the Captain charged me once more and I thought I was a dead man for sure, that is when he appeared as if from nowhere. He whirled that massive axe around and let out a bellow that forced the horse up short and threw its rider into the dirt and grime. The Slayer was larger than life and he thrust out one meaty finger at the downed man. “There is no honor if running down a unarmed person, take yer soldiers and leave.” But shame and pride drove the man to order his men to run the Slayer down and that is when I saw him fight for the first time. He rushed the knights as they started their charge and ducked under their lances. With a speed I thought impossible he brought the head of his axe thumping into the lead horse’s chest dropping it, whirling around he launch another attack that saw another rider dumped. Dropping his axe he drew and flung both hand axes which caught a pair of riders in the chest and unseated them both. The final rider pulled his horse up short and climbed down drawing his sword as his friends got to their feet. Spinning around the Slayer leveled a finger at the Captain once more “Leave while ye only suffer bruised bums and hurt egos.” But pride once more drove the man to make a bad choice and he ordered his men to attack. As they rushed in I was caught up in the fight and I don’t know how I lived to be honest. I flailed around with my sword trying to deflect the many attacks coming at me and I found myself back to back with the crazy dwarf.

Things became a blur to me but I know the Slayer put each man down many with broken arms, legs or cracked skulls. The massive crown who surrounded us cheered with each blow and in the end they carried us both into a tavern to celebrate local heroes of the riot who stood up to the guilds. More and more drink flowed and I vaguely recall the Slayer telling a bit of his story to me and how he needed someone to chronicle his doom. Well in my drunken state I announced I was a great poet and I would do just what he needed and in a great poem of great epic nature. So Oaths were sworn and at the time it sounded like a great idea and it may even have been for the first week of travel but after the first attempt to find his doom I was pulled into I quickly rethought the whole idea and reconsidered my father’s offer. However as I said and Oath was made and if there is anything a dwarf or the Slayer takes more seriously in life it is an oath. More than once I tried to find a way out of the oath without breaking it because I knew to do that would likely see the Slayer break me. But as the weeks turned into months and rolled into years I found that I didn’t want to break that oath and leave him. I found that I now needed to be there at the end, I needed to see how his story ended. And thus being stranded on this island was simply one more miserable step along that path, why couldn’t I have pledged myself to a Slayer who wanted to find death in some comfortable city or at least civilized lands?

At the tales end Jast nodded his head and stood up and smiled “It sounds like he is not as alone as I once thought as long as you are by his side the Slayer has at least one friend.” With that he walked away and left me wondering just what I was to the Slayer.

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My Travels with the Slayer Volume 5 - Shipwrecked Entry 11

My Travels with the Slayer Volume 5 – Shipwrecked

More searching in the underground place led us to an encounter with the undead once more; we found them in a large room all sitting as if waiting to be commanded to move. They were ghouls according to Elani at which point we heard the dry rustling of ancient leather or as we learned flesh dragging over the rough stone. We encountered a long dead and I do mean long, priestess of something called the Headless God. She preached on about she would allow us to join her children and pointed to a ghoul who we realized was once the captain of our ship. The Slayer was quick to urge us to leave the area as quickly as we can, not out of cowardice or anything of the sort he just hates fighting ghouls. Their uncanny ability to paralyze a man’s body has always unversed him, and I agree it is not a fitting way to die. But Elani was determined to fight or die here and Snorri has never left a companion to fight alone. Axe raised high he rushed into the battle drawing the majority of the beats at him and as he feared found their foulness coursing through his veins and he was unable to move leaving the rest of us to fight our way through the undead. The battle was not easily won without his might axe but we did prevail and in the end Snorri stalked up the dead priestess and grabbed a golden medallion around her neck and with a savage jerk that snapped her head off he made his claim of treasure from the battle.

He also walked to the captains body and with a noise like two boulders grinding together he spit a chunk of saliva and phlegm on the body “Another name removed from me book.” He said and then proceeded to lead us from the place. Armed with the knowledge the demon that was responsible for us being here was nearly a week ahead of us and likely was already releasing mischief somewhere. So we set off for the massive volcano and found another amazing surprise as we found a bridge built by the ancient Azlanti and still almost as new as the day the first stone was laid. Snorri ran his hands over the ancient stone as if it was a baby to be cherished “Me people learned all we know from them, I can die easy now manling having seen this.” I was shocked for the Slayer has never given any race credit for their stone work ever.

That night as we took to our camps I was surprised when Jask ended up taking a seat across from me at the fire. He stared into the dancing flames for a bit before asking me the strangest question. “What is this book Snorri speaks of?” I leaned back and laced my fingers behind my head as I thought of the best way to explain that. The Book of Grudges is an ancient tradition that has its roots from back before the dwarfs pushed their way to the surface. Whenever anyone be it a person or a whole race wronged a dwarf clan they would scribe their name and action into the Book of Grudges. A massive book or so Snorri tells that was kept by the King. It was the job of any dwarf in the clan to wipe these names out when they could even if it meant their lives, the tradition I am told fell out of use with many clans some centuries after they reached the surface. Some still use it and the Slayers clan is one such group, an in fact the Slayer’s clan itself has a large book of grudges. The most telling is that of the one they hold with a band of humans who live in their frozen lands. Apparently the humans upon first encountering the dwarfs there attacked them and captured their leader. The humans a joke shaved his beard and sent his back to tell the dwarfs to settle elsewhere, that was a huge mistake and lead to many long years of warfare and fighting among the two. The dwarfs dubbed it the war of the beard and I would not joke about that if you value your teeth.

When I finished the tale Jast looked thoughtful and then looked at the others in the group as they moved about the camp doing their work. “A shame the others don’t take the time to understand him.” He said “I feel for the loneliness he must feel, being among so many but seeking only to die.” I was shocked by his words for very few ever make such revelations when it comes to the Slayer. They were correct though and I thought about this myself and wondered about our various companions on the island. Of them all it is the quiet man Ishirou who I felt would have found the most common ground with the Slayer. For here is a man that to me looks like he has lost the path of his life, he knows not where to travel or why he even does so anymore. Death I think he would a welcome friend, such a man I thought would be a natural for the Slayer but the two have spoken not a word to each other. It is strange how the universe pulls together such folks and yet keeps them apart.

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My Travels with the Slayer Volume 5 - Shipwrecked Entry 10

Upon entering the village we made many gruesome discoveries the foremost being that goats apparently don’t lie and there really are cannibals on the island. We also discovered the remains of one of our previous companions who chose not to travel with us, which I think has convinced the rest they had best stay close. Deciding to rest up and let our wounds heal we took over the common long house and I was shocked to see that the Slayer was not his usual glowering self. Instead he was clapping Von on the shoulder and retelling the battle and even Kevlar joined in contradicting him on several points which he fired back response to about whose axe took who down. It was how he is normally around other Slayers and it was a nice change, at one point I heard him make a comment about how the fight reminded him of old times when his Hilldie was beside him, but she wouldn’t be as blind as a cave mole and know where her axe landed. I started to question who his person was, the way he spoke of her and the look in his eye this person was surely not some old friend or a solider he may have fought beside. It is possible this person was his lover or wife? When I asked I got the typical response from him and he claimed up tighter than a money lenders purse in Durma when he sees the local unwashed.

With nothing more to discuss we fell into a deep sleep which was interrupted by an attack, apparently we missed someone that someone being the Witch Doctor of the tribe. The fight was fast and quickly ended but it left Snorri feeling superior to the others “That is why you check the area fully” he shot at them for when he tried before he received a great deal of push back. Maybe not so much in the future I wonder, both way we had discovered our lighthouse and my guess is the place was an early Cheliax outpost that fell some time ago. The lighthouse itself was not completed and the Slayer confirmed it was human work, and if had his crew with him it would take them at least a week to finish it off. Again another mystery added to his past, what crew was he referring to? Maybe something to do with his extensive knowledge of engineering would be my guess, but it would not serve our purpose for as Von pointed out Lighthouses warn ships away don’t call them in. From there we journeyed underground, deep underground and made our second major discovery so far. We found an ancient temple to a long lost race of serpent people, we also discovered that one of our fellow passengers on the ship was a demon and had forced the Captain here to this very island. It appears her intent is to reenact some ritual that these creatures created long ago. That ritual will take place on this very island and I am sure we saw the start of it when lightning struck the volcano not far from us. Snorri had that look come into his eye I have learned to fear and he smiled stating he had a chance to remove a name from his book of grudges by killing the captain who we believe is down here with us in some form and this new demon woman.

I almost laughed aloud when Azura asked him if there was anyone who he didn’t have an axe to grind with and the slayer responded with “Only those who have not crossed me wizard” a warning if ever I have heard one. With this knew found knowledge I know there will be no stopping him from setting off to the volcano and to try would be to try and drink the sea dry.

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My Travels with the Slayer Volume 5 - Shipwrecked entry 9

There is a saying they have in Durma where was I raised about the dwarfs of the Five Kings Mountains that resided near to us. “To come between a Dwarf and his gold is a nearly fatal mistake. To come between a dwarf and his beer is a fatal mistake.” My countrymen used this to mock dwarfs because they felt beer was more important than gold which everyone knows is second only to godhood. I must confess in those days I never knew a single dwarf, oh I had seen them of course coming and going from my father’s warehouses but I never had much desire to speak to them so I never really understood the truth behind those words. Now that I have traveled with a dwarf for the past five years I have learned a great deal of truth behind those very words, I recall once when traveling with a small scouting force for some baron or another Snorri had brought along a keg of some stout dwarven brew. When one of the troopers decided to nip some for himself well he ended up with a broken nose, arm and a cracked skull for his efforts with Snorri explaining the next time he would kill the man who tried. Dwarfs almost seem obsessed with the need to have either gold or good beer on hand and here on this hellish island the Slayer had taken to gold.

I have watched him since we landed and began find small amounts of treasure here and there, each time he was right there at the end of the day appraising and weighing each item we found and ensuring a equal split of all it all. Much of what he obtained I found he melted down using an old kettle and large amounts of heat, this liquid gold he poured in some crude molds he crafted from materials on the island. Once hardened once more he set about bending the strips of gold and silver into armbands which he clamped around his meaty forearms. “Never leave yer gold where slick fingers can find it Manling.” Was something he told me once and now I see the truth of it, the slayer doesn’t keep coins but rather these ands of gold and wealth. He knows the exact worth of each one and I am sure if we found a tavern somewhere on the island he could pay down to the copper pence exactly on anything he ordered using his bands. And that means he is confident we are going to off this island and he wants to be ready for it, and I pity the first tavern we find for if Kev’s thirst is as strong as the Slayers they will very soon find themselves dryer than a crypt in a Pharasmian temple.

But enough of that, we set off quickly for the Lighthouse we found in the distance and the going was very easy thanks to the roads that the natives have carved. We ended up finding the most amazing place on the island, a magical glade where dryad lived. I have only ever heard of these magical fey and here I was standing and conversing with one, she was the most pleasant of creatures. Despite the fact that Snorri complained her place was to peaceful and there wasn’t enough danger. After the others had fallen off to sleep I spent many hours reciting some tales of my travels to her and she was quite amazed. She warned me again of an ancient evil that lies somewhere under the island, when the Slayer heard this I thought he would start to salivate but he simply grunted and stomped off. The next morning we made for our destination with some guidance from our new friend, the first person we met here who didn’t want to kill us, eat us or was not insane which is a nice change of pace. The local natives apparently have taken an interest in us and a group tried to ambush us on the way to the light house but they stood no chance at all and we pushed on. We found a rather crude pin built around the place which Calypso claimed held more of the lizards we fought before. She is a strange one and I have been hard pressed to decide if she is unstable or just pretends to be. Either way the Slayer didn’t wait long and kicked the door in and was attacked by the creatures. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Kev the pair began to hew them down.

That is when I noticed the swarm of natives rushing through the pen towards us, there had to be two dozen or more armed with crude weapons and frothing at the mouth. The Slayer let out a roar and held his ground in moments I lost sight of Kev and him as they were surrounded. The only clue I had of their continued survival was the sound of axes striking flesh and his mad laughter ringing around it all. The rest of were hard pressed as well as those who couldn’t reach the dwarfs rushed the rest of us. Azura ended up taking on three of them by himself a feat I have never seen a wizard attempt. Yet he showed not a single moment of concern or fear he simply threw sheets of cracking lighting into their bodies sending them jolting and jumping about. Even when the Slayer burst from the remains of natives who foolishly tried to kill him rushed in and cut down the remaining two warriors menacing him he simply waved a hand and remarked “Ah that is a good man servant.” With a spit and snarl the Slayer was rushing back to the front of the fray to challenge the natives’ massive leader. The man must have stood twice the height of the dwarfs and was broader in the chest and carried more scared muscle than even the slayer. Despite all that the man fell to a single blow from Kev’s axe which I must say stopped the slayer in his tracks and had him staring at her with a new form of respect. With the battle done we were all badly hurt for Von could barely stand without having taken a sword thrust to his side. Ilianna was barely holding onto life after trying to help stem the tide of human flesh that flowed around her. The Slayer…well he was as always covered in enough blood and gore to make him look like some demon from my worst nightmares and I was sure not all of it was his foes. I just hope that no one else is living here else we will be in serious trouble.

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Elani's Journal - Day Three
(Session 8: The Silent Island)

We approached the grey island cautiously—which is to say, without Snorri. We left him among the bulk of the survivors on the other side of a shallow tidal causeway, after spending a few moments convincing him that it was his idea to do so.

The small isle’s grey color was evidently due to an aggressive infestation of a dull, pale fungus. The reeking mass was ubiquitous, coating everything in sight. Every tree, every bush, every rock—all covered in unrelenting grey mold. Unwholesome, unwelcome…unholy.

We made our way to the green-sailed ship we’d seen earlier and found it lifeless in the water, liberally infested with mold. Thick strands of grey fungus tethered the boat to the ‘land’; though due to the way the fungus spread across the surface of the ocean, it was nearly impossible to tell where the solid ground ended and the water began.

By this point, we had learned that there were hostile creatures about. A pair of greenish-grey fungal creatures burst out of hiding and attacked us while we were en-route to the ship. Individually, and in the open, they posed almost no threat, though we fretted about what might happen if we encountered them in greater numbers, aboard the confines of the derelict ship.

We chose to press on nevertheless. The others climbed the fungal strands with ease, reaching the ship’s deck in a matter of moments. But their weight weakened the connections, and I, bringing up the rear, tore through the strands and fell into the side of the ship. The weakened wood disintegrated under my weight, and I found myself inside the moss-covered ship.

Surrounded by more than a dozen fungus men.

I offered surrender, and it was accepted (to my surprise, in fact, since they appeared barely sentient). I was tied and led to the rotten remains of the ship’s mess hall, where the twisted monstrosities attempted to feed me an abominable grey broth that I can only assume was comprised of their own flesh and secretions. One of them jabbed me painfully in the side with its spear when I refused to eat.

It was not long before my allies came to my rescue, though it felt like forever. I could hear them banging around on the decks above me, kicking down doors and shouting back and forth to one another. The fungoids took no notice of the ruckus, focused entirely on forcing me to sip their suspicious soup.

The ensuing battle left me sorely frustrated, as I was tied to a chair and unable to offer even a shred of support. Fortunately, my allies had me freed within minutes, and I was able to use Pharasma’s gifts to heal the wounds they had received.

With the fungal creatures dispatched, we made a quick search of the vessel’s lower levels. The former crew’s bodies were found arrayed in a quasi-religious fashion on the lowest deck. From what we could determined, these odd monsters infect a human body as a spore, grow inside it to maturity, and then burst out, killing the weakened host. After their emergence, the creatures treat their host corpses with a mysterious reverence, carving out a small niche for the discarded shells and leaving offerings of treasure behind.

Could it be that they retain some dim memory of their host’s life? In attempting to ‘feed’ me, were they acting on half-forgotten thoughts and impulses? I will never know. Nor, in fact, do I particularly care to. I am happy to put that grim and traumatic experience behind me. More such incidents, and I, too, will choose to live inside a crab’s shell and reject all visitors!

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Elani's Journal - Day Two
(Session 7: The Not-So-Deserted Island)

Kev Larr and Areis went hunting early this morning, while I was still concentrating on my devotions. They brought back a lean goat, which was quickly skinned and fried up alongside a handful of eggs gathered by Von. The meal was filling, if odd-tasting, and the group seemed in high spirits.

I took a few moments to speak about my purpose on the island, my divine vision granted by Pharasma, and the soul-guiding obol she has entrusted me with. They took it in stride. Those not already dancing on the edge of madness are yet clinging to the hope of escape; a hope I must call foolish. They will never find a craft strong enough to carry them out of these cursed waters.

As the morning drew on, we made our way deeper into the jungle, following well-worn hunting paths. The villagers had left a handful of net traps scattered here and there along their trails, but we found them simple to spot and avoid.

The trail meandered, turning back on itself and and around in a wide curve, one end terminating in a peaceful grotto overlooking the sea. Here, a small group of men stood idle, calm, seemingly enjoying the peaceful view. Snorri decided to approach them, reasoning them peaceful, if odd.

He was nearly fatally wrong.

The men suddenly and savagely attacked him, beating him to within a inch of his life. We leapt to the fray, fighting them off. They were not undead—as I know them—but corpses animated by plants. Plants which were themselves controlled by a large flower-like monstrosity, which we found nearby and sensibly burnt to cinders.

From there, we made our way down to a soft and sandy beach within the island’s inner bay. The bay struck me as slightly more peaceful than the fringes of the island had been, though the water was still harsh and choppy.

A few hours thereafter, we found the remains of a campsite, too old for us to decipher much about who had stayed there. But in the tree above, we found evidence of more campers, these who left behind nests lined mysteriously with broken sword fragments.

We left the camp troubled. Who had stayed there, and what had become of them? Von reckoned that the nests might belong to Tengu, but that seemed to me to be an unlikely. Tengu are uncommon in this part of the world.

I was wrong about this, as we would soon discover.

Further down the beach, a massive crab blocked our path. We were ready for conflict, but while the creature did wave it’s claw menacingly, it did not approach us. It did not, in fact, move from its position.

We weren’t fooled for long. The Crab was hollow, a mere deception, operated from within by cunning apparatus designed by the mad Tengu Pezock. Yes, against all likelihood, another Tengu! As far from his accustomed place in the world as Von was from his. But while Von has reacted to his situation with stoic calm, Pezock has lost almost all semblance of sanity.

Piecing together anything coherent from Pezock’s rambling was highly difficult, but Kalypso in particular appeared very determined to have answers, and spent much effort in questioning the poor soul. She determined that Pezock was part of a crew of several Tengu, led by a human captain (we agreed it was likely their camp we had earlier seen). It appears the aggressive villagers of this island attacked and killed Pezock’s crewmates. The assault left Pezock traumatized, and it withdrew into living inside the crab in order to cope. In time, he came to believe that he is the crab, in some strange way.

By this time, it had grown late, and we agreed it was time to rest for the night. Pezock was severely agitated at the thought of us camping too close to his ‘home’, so we headed further up the beach to draw camp.

At the end of the bay, we could make out a long, grey, virtually featureless lump. On the far side of it, a large, green-masted ship. We plan to make it our destination for the morrow. Could there be answers there? Something that sheds light on the strangeness of this island?

Or, as I fear, will there be only more questions?

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My Travels with the Slayer Volume 5 - Shipwrecked Entry 8

I am not sure how the others talked him into it but they did and so when they set off down the beach for the gray island Snorri and I stayed behind with the others to guard them from attack. Don’t get me wrong here I was more than happy to for once allow someone else the pleasure of throwing their lives on the line while I was allowed to sit on a sandy beach and listen to the waves and not fear for my life. Well at least as long as it lasted that is, for if there is one thing I have learned is that the Slayer is not one to stay in the same spot for long unless there is large amounts of ale present that is. So enjoying it for what I knew was to be a short stay I watch him stalk back and forth across the beach arguing with whatever is now sharing his body and glaring at his axe one more as it if were venomous snake. I had a chance to talk with the others in the camp and get to know them a bit more as well, it was right around high sun when the Slayer stopped his stalking and glared towards the island. “Come Manling.” He said and started off signaling an end to my rest and start of fearing for my life. We followed the beach for a ways the Slayer using his keen eyes to track the others. We found they had actually gone onto the gray island and it appeared they would have had to swim to reach for there was no clear dry way to reach it. With a grunt the Slayer slung his axe and plunged into the surf making short work of the swim, the island itself was covered in some sort of soft gray fungus; I noticed it had crept up the beach and into the trees as well like a gangrenous wound. It didn’t take long to find the others who quickly relayed what they had found, the ship had been carrying some sort of seed which sprouted and apparently did all this. They ended up killing several plant creatures as well that had grown from the crew who were affected by the things spores. We set off to find this thing and put a stop to it because why not? It was dangerous, likely to see us all infected and turned into mini plant monsters and we would see no thank you, job well done from anyone on the island so of course we would hunt it down.

Finding it was not hard; a spire at the end of the island had long fungal creepers climbing down it to burrow into the island itself. Using these we climb up to find a small nature cave overrun by the thing and before we go too far in more of what I assume were the strange plant creatures rose up to bar our way. They put up a good fight but in the end they were nothing more than shattered bodies leaking a thick sappy fluid into the ground. From there we found the main plant, tucked away in the back of the cave and discovered it had grown from the body of the ship’s captain. His desiccated body could just be made out and at the site of it Snorri grunted “Burn it.” Was all he said before he offered up some oil which Azura used magic to carry across and douse the plant. At the first touch though the thing moved and uprooted itself and began to advance like a living thing. The Slayer and Kev stood to face off with the thing and Kev used magic to set her axe ablaze which she promptly used to light the plant on fire. Again the battle was over quickly and we carried the captain’s body back to his ship where we laid him out and lit the whole thing on fire to cleanse the taint and free his soul. With this behind us we scouted another small marooned ship and fought more of the foul sea scorpions which were bigger and a bit smarter than their smaller cousins. At one point in the fight the Slayer actually abandoned his ax to grab one of the creatures striking tail and with a herculean show of might turned and flipped the thing over his shoulder so it slammed into the rotted deck with enough force to shatter and drive the rotten planks into it shelled body. We didn’t find much on the ship and decided it was time to get to higher ground so we trudged up a steep incline that found us at the top of a waterfall. We found a manmade delta where the natives were apparently harvesting pearls from a massive oyster bed. After several frustrating moments of searching them for pearls the Slayer gave up and stated it was easier to take them from the living. From here we got a good view of the island and found someone had built a Light House not far from us and where there was a light house there had to be some form of civilities or escape.

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