Chapter 12:

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Session Number: 198
Date: Sunday 19 January 2014
Venue: Densial's
PCs & Players:

Ariel Sor13 (Fergus) (kills: none)
Calico Drd13 (Yeran) (kills: none)
Lionel Rgr6/Wiz1/ArcA6 (Ash) (kills: none)
Rowaine Pal13 (Craig) (kills: none)
Troll Wiz13 (Densial) (kills: none)
Violet Drd13 (DM) (kills: none)

XP Awarded: TBA

There are a number of floating islands; long odds of choosing the right one for Master Earth to work. Rowaine asks whether the note he found in one of his parents' books has any pertinence:

Hello, son,

If you are reading this you have made it through the ages safely. I am sorry that I could not have been there to guide your first steps, to see you grow into the man you are now. Our family has made a terrible mistake, a mistake that could cost the lives of millions of elves, and you are the salvation. The arachtria have been held back but they will awaken again in time. You have been sent forth to help stop them again. Your mother loves you, I love you.

Goodbye, Atrilon. I hope the elves of Oak's Forgiveness guide you well.

Your father

It doesn't seem to. Troll is not at all interested in following it up and instead suggests visiting Ashhope to look under the castle.

The party go to the Mithral Mug and from there to Ashhope's castle. Rowaine still has the communication device loaned to the party by King Garen's intelligence corps; she intends to give it back and use that as an opportunity to ask about the castle's underground levels.

A man thanks Rowaine for returning the device. She talks about the imprisoned creature they are seeking, their lead that the area resembles the castle's dungeons, and asks to speak to someone familiar with the castle's underground areas. They are introduced to a more gruff, bulkier man. Rowaine repeats her request. Troll shows the man the picture of his reverie. There are lots of caverns, more than the man is familiar with. Rowaine offers the party's services to investigate. The man will need a senior official's permission to allow it. Another person named Daniel walks past who happens to be said senior official. Calico whispers to Rowaine, "This man has magic on him and he reminds me of the person in the picture." He is a short, rather stout bald man. "How can I help you?" he says.

"Your name was Daniel?" Rowaine starts, paying close attention to the man's eyes. And his evil. "Sir, I hear you are the person that we need to persuade in order to access the dungeons beneath this keep."

"For what reason do you require access to the dungeons?"

"Perhaps some introductions are in order. Lady Rowaine Kharag, of the Silver Hand, paladin of Moradin."

"Moradin? You are a human."

"Yes. Raised and schooled as a dwarf in a monastery far from here. In Prince Arthur's lands as it happens."

"I see."

"You know of Lawmeron and his return?"

"Yes. Ah! Are you the Rowaine Kharag that was involved there?"

"I am."

"It is a pleasure to meet you. It has been amazing since he has been back."

"I take great joy in that. He is a man worth saving. We know of another that is worth saving as well who happens to be incarcerated. With the only lead that we have after many fruitless searches being that this creature may have some connection to the caverns beneath this castle. Hence our request. Now I understand that the caverns are vast and we do not expect or even ask for your men to do such an extensive search but if we may have a writ, some sort of permission from the king or his servants, we would very much appreciate the opportunity to check for ourselves."

"I know of humanoids, but not of … creatures. To what are you referring?"

"This is where the tale gets a little strange," Rowaine says. "The creature entrapped may now be taking the appearance of a humanoid, but it is not in essence. Are you familiar with such things as dryads?"

"I have heard tales of them."

"It is perhaps similar in appearance and origin. Associated with a tree. It is entirely possible that the king and his retinue have no idea that he is here."

"We have no record of a creature such as a dryad down there. Your vouch for Lawmeron and your name makes me think that you would be allowed to go down there. I believe you consulted then with Prince Dimaan?"

"We did. I am very happy to present myself to him again."

"If he vouches for you then you are welcome to investigate as you wish."

"Indeed." Rowaine notes that the man does not appear to be evil. His eyes have normal irises of brown. He has features that bring to mind sun elves, but Rowaine would describe him as human - perhaps with mixed ancestry. "Might one of you escort us to see the Prince?"

The party are led out of the main castle to a smaller dwelling: Prince Dimaan's residence. They are allowed to see the Prince, who provides a writ allowing the party to enter the castle's dungeons.

Daniel offers to escort the party back inside the castle and down to the dungeon entrance. As the party are walking down a corridor, Rowaine and Troll notice a figure very similar to Daniel. His outfit is different but their faces are very similar.

"Magic," Calico whispers.

"What sort?" Rowaine quietly asks.

"Transmutation and illusion."

"What about on Daniel?" Rowaine whispers.

"The same."

The party let the newcomer pass by. Ariel walks closer to the pair, having overheard some of their exchange. "What's going on?" Calico covertly tells Ariel what he has seen. Ariel stops and bends down, ostensibly to tie a shoelace. The others move on a few steps, after which she casts Dispel Magic on Daniel. Nothing happens. He appears to not notice. She casts Detect Magic, noticing auras of transmutation and illusion. She casts Dispel Magic again. No change.

Daniel notices the straggler. "You alright, miss?"

"It's this blasted shoelace!" Ariel mutters. "I can't untie it."

"We'll wait," Rowaine says, eyeing Ariel. Calico musters Ariel's attention and rolls his finger in an 'again' motion. Ariel tries another Dispel Magic. Daniel … simply disappears.

"Summoned!" Ariel says. "Well that was interesting."

"The result of a spell?" Rowaine says. "Troll, what can you tell us about the spell?"

Troll casts Detect Magic and inspects the area. "It looks like Project Image," he says, "but not exactly. A variant." He looks around. "Bigger. Much bigger."

Troll describes what a standard Project Image does. This spell creates a corporeal image that need not necessarily look like its target, has a longer range, the image can be programmed and requires less mental control, and does not blind the caster when viewing through the projection. Very powerful, indeed.

"We need to let the master of the house know, now," Rowaine says.

The party retrace their steps back to Prince Dimaan's residence, both Calico and Ariel actively Detecting Magic. The prince seems surprised to see them so soon. Rowaine nudges Calico to check the prince for magic. Calico shakes his head.

"May we speak privately?" Rowaine asks.

"I suppose so…" The prince leads the party upstairs.

"How well do you know this Daniel?" Rowaine asks.

"Not very. He is a senior in the castle but I couldn't tell you what he does."

"Do you know how long he has been employed?"

"No. I first met him, oh, a couple of years ago."

"He had more than a passing resemblance to the person in our picture," Rowaine explains. "He had an aura of magic about him."

"Many officials do," Dimaan says. "Auras of protection…"

"Illusion and transmutation?" Rowaine adds. "Put it this way: a Dispel Magic spell made him disappear. I don't imagine that would happen to many of your retainers."

"That sounds very strange to me."

"Do you know of any summoned creatures that are in your father's employ?"

"No. I believe Father has spells in reserve in case he ever needs them, but he doesn't have them active."

"We saw and Dispelled one such creature, and spotted another that had the same appearance and magical signature."

"We are concerned about a security infiltration," Ariel adds. "This is as serious as it gets."

"Just so you are aware," the prince says, "just because someone disappears doesn't mean they are a security threat. I have known officials to use impersonations of themselves to go about their business if they feel threatened."

"I fully understand," Ariel says. "However, if you or the appropriate people are not aware of your officials doing this, I am very alarmed."

"I think this is something you need to bring to someone higher up," Dimaan says. "I tend to keep away from court where possible, and busy myself in more social matters."

"Who should we speak to?" Rowaine asks. "The king?"

"I would think so. I can write something for you if you like."

"You cannot take us yourself?" Rowaine asks.

"I suppose I could…"

"My liege," Ariel says, "I am concerned about a particular subject and wonder if you might trust me on something. I know it is an odd request, but would you consider taking off any magical equipment that you might have for a moment? What I would like to do is cast Dispel Magic on you."

Prince Dimaan looks briefly shocked, then glances at Rowaine and the others. "I trust this group. Yes, I can do this." He removes several devices, then nods at Ariel. The sorceress senses no further magic about the prince. She casts Dispel Magic on him. "Thank you, my liege. Now, while the magical items are off, think about our concern again. Do you feel the same way?"

"No. I am not concerned quite as much. This is something that does happen in the kingdom. Very rarely, but it does happen."

"These would be people in high positions?" Rowaine asks.

"Usually yes, but anyone can do it."

"May we see the king now?"

The prince hesitates momentarily. "I think I don't want to take this to my father, but you are welcome to. I will write the writ. If you do find evidence of a clear security threat, do let me know."

"Of course," Rowaine says diplomatically. "Thank you for your time. By your leave?" The prince nods.

The party return to the castle. Rowaine presents Prince Dimaan's writ, and a chain of retainers of increasing importance leads them through the castle. On the way, they pass another bald, dark-cloaked figure. Calico and Ariel both confirm the figure's aura of illusory and transmutatory magic. Rowaine keeps her eyes firmly forward, indicating to the party to let the man pass.

The prince's writ expedites the party's request for an audience with King Garen. "I believe my son sent you here, concerning a security threat."

"Yes," Rowaine says. "Your highness, we have spoken to somebody in your employ by the name of Daniel - bald head, dark cloak, brown eyes. He was able to allow us access to the castle's dungeons. Our reason? We were looking for a person that appears to be holding a creature unjustly. Our quest for this captor led us here. This Daniel bore a similarity of appearance to the captor, which raised our attention. We detected illusion and transmutation magic upon him, became alarmed, then cast Dispel Magic upon him as a safety precaution - for ourselves, possibly for your staff. Daniel disappeared as a result."

Ariel continues. "We have seen several other people that look very similar in the castle's corridors, most recently on our way to see you. We are very concerned about your security. Are you aware of anything like this occurring in the castle?"

"No," the king says. "I would guess that this is something originating from the Mages' Guild."

"Is it sanctioned by you, this behaviour?"

"Yes, I allow magic in my castle."

"By anyone?"

"Yes. We have strict monitors on it but we allow it. We have had people making images of themselves before. This is not anything new. Is this the issue you bring to me?"

Ariel all but rolls her eyes. "Yes. Especially given that the person we are aware of that holds a good creature captive looks very much like this person. Do you recognise him?" Ariel shows the king the picture.

"No I don't. There are people that look similar but I don't recognise this particular person."

"Let me get this straight," Rowaine says. "You are not at all concerned that there could be enemies of your kingdom in your castle doing nefarious things with spells of immense power? That doesn't bother you at all? And you don't know?"

The king blinks. "That is a much better way of putting it, paladin. If there is a security breach, then I need to know. Facts, not just mere supposition. Unfortunately, I can't spare the group of people necessary to do this. I would need you to investigate further. You are welcome to go beneath the castle and confirm this. If anything comes of it, please be sure to let me know and I will follow it up."

"We will do what we can," Rowaine says. "Who do we report to?"

"In this case you can report to me. I trust this party."

"Keep your ears open, people," Rowaine urges her companions. Ariel casts See Invisibility on herself, then Protection from Evil on Troll. "We are looking for something with line of effect to the image," she adds.

The party take a circuitous route through the castle towards the dungeon entrance. Lionel and Troll see another Daniel approaching.

"Hey, Daniel," Lionel says. "Where'd you go?"

Rowaine Detects no evil, Calico confirms with a nod the same magical signature as before.

"Sorry? You have me mistaken. I know Daniel, I am not him."

"All you Daniels look the same to me," Troll says.

"Is this a joke about my hair? If so, that is uncalled for!"

Rowaine looks around for anyone in eyesight. Ariel does the same. Neither see anyone.

"Hello, I'm Ariel."

"Nice to meet you, Ariel. Are you perchance the Ariel of House Duchamps?"

"Yes!"

"It is indeed a pleasure to meet you, ma'am."

"You're very welcome. I have a question, If I may. You are not really here, and it is a very powerful spell that's allowing you to not be here. Who has done that for you?"

"I got a mage from the guild to do it. It is for security reasons."

"Which mage?"

"I don't know his name."

"To my eyes, you look very similar to a number of other people using the same spell."

"I'm sure a lot of people use the same spell."

"It must be confusing if you all look the same," Ariel points out.

"Similar in a number of different ways," Rowaine adds in a suspicious tone. "It's almost as if they were the same person."

"I don't know what to tell you, I'm sorry."

"Who arranged this for you?" Ariel asks.

"I just asked for an image at the Mages' Guild, and they helped me. I'm sorry, can I help you with something?"

"You may be able to. The reason I ask is that your visage looks like someone we're looking for. I'm interested in whether the mage who cast this spell looks a little like you do now."

Troll wanders past the figure, who follows his movement then turns back to Ariel. "Hey, Atrilon!" Troll says. The figure doesn't seem to respond.

Ariel shows the man the picture Saju created. "Have you met a mage that looks like this?"

"I guess I can see how you think that looks like this image," he says, "but it is quite different."

Ariel would argue with that, but she chooses not to.

"Why do you need an image?" Rowaine asks.

"I do not care to discuss that. It is for political reasons." Rowaine believes he is being honest. "If there is nothing else, I really must get on."

"There are other things," Rowaine says. "The security of this castle is in question and it leads back to you. I think we need to speak further."

"Do you have a writ?" Rowaine produces two.

"Oh."

"I am tired of talking to projected images," Rowaine says. "I wish to speak to you in person. If your story is true, that you are doing this for legitimate political reasons, then you have nothing to fear from me." The corollary of this statement hangs in the air.

"You may," says the man. "Come this way. We will be leaving the castle and going to my house."

"Very well."

The man leads the party to a nondescript house not too far away. The image opens the door and leads them in. A man is sitting at a desk. He has long black hair and is very slight of build. His clothes are more extravagant than that of his image.

"May I have your name?" Rowaine asks the seated figure.

"Kelly."

"In what way do you serve your king, Kelly?"

"I am secretary to the Treasurer."

"So tell me, why is it that you fear for your life?"

"Because I know details about the crown's accounts that are … sensitive. Can I see that King's writ again?" Ariel shows the documentation. "I know the debt that the kingdom is currently in."

"Why is that a threat to you?"

"I believe the kingdom might possibly be involved in some sort of war. In the future or currently, I don't know. If the treasurer and I were to die, people would not understand the accounts. We would stand to lose a lot of money."

"Who threatens you in the castle?"

"No one yet. It is purely a safety precaution in case one of the enemies of our kingdom ever does."

"Then this war must be imminent, if you are to undertake such security measures."

"I was asked by the Treasurer to do this, and I see the wisdom in it."

Ariel clears her throat. "Was the Treasurer the first to use this security measure that you are aware of?"

"Yes."

"How many others are there?"

"I have seen two or three similar images around. I don't know who they are for."

"What an odd situation," Rowaine ponders out loud. "A person of responsibility is just suddenly … replaced, for all anyone else knows. And this is accepted?"

"I wonder if the spell's creator is somehow harvesting all this information in some way," Ariel adds.

"You were told by your Treasurer to do this, and he recommended someone who could do it?" Rowaine asks.

"Yes. He recommended the Mages' Guild."

"Who was it at the Mages' Guild that did this for you?"

"I do not know his name. He just came in, asked me a few questions, then cast the spell."

"Does this happen every day?"

"No, it has only happened once."

"How long have you had it?"

"A few months."

"How long can it last?" Ariel asks.

"A set duration," Kelly answers. "This one was made to last five months."

"That's one hell of a powerful spell," Troll says.

"Does the mage that cast this on you look like your image?" Rowaine asks.

"A little bit. He is not as small or as wide."

Rowaine thinks, then eyes her party members. "I am inclined to believe him, but the whole thing is very suspicious. Kelly, would you please come with us to the Mages' Guild?"

"I feel unsafe going out."

"You will be surrounded by six heavily armed adventurers."

Kelly appraises his guests. "Alright." He directs his image to wait to one side and opens his front door. On the steps outside stands a tall, thin man wearing a dark cloak. He has jet black eyes…

"I believe you are looking for me. This way," he says, walking along the road away from the castle.

Rowaine launches herself through the door and tackles the man. He doesn't budge. It is like tackling a mountain.

"Calico, is he magical?" asks Ariel.

"Very."

"The same kind as the images?"

"No. I don't know what sort of magic this is, it doesn't look either arcane or divine, but it is almost blinding."

Rowaine stands up, trying to maintain some sense of dignity. Troll pauses, trying to decide which spell to use.

"Won't work," the figure says. "Let's walk. Etella? Let's go."

"Hello, I'm Ariel," the sorceress says, catching the figure up. "What's your name?"

"No."

Rowaine Detects Evil. She senses none. The figure eyes her, smiling. "Did you see any?"

"Should I?"

"I don't know."

"Where's Harkon?" Troll asks.

"I'll show you if you come with me."

"Sounds like a trap."

"Do you have any other choice?"

"Yes. Don't get trapped."

"OK. See ya." The figure continues walking away. Ariel continues by his side. "If you want Harkon," he says over his shoulder, "follow me."

"No."

"Celus?" Rowaine says. The figure turns and smiles. "Come on!"

"Let's go," Rowaine says to the others.

"What?" Troll gasps.

"It could be the only way to get the tree back."

"Or enslave the other one!"

"You stay."

"Etella will need to come," the figure adds.

"See?"

Ariel stops and lets the figure carry on ahead. He stops and turns. "Are you coming?"

"This feels like a trap," Troll replies. "You are too demanding and…"

"Go on, what am I?"

"You seem to be very sure of yourself, and uncommunicative."

"That's because no one else would understand."

"You are also quite assuming."

"Yes. We sun elves are."

"You specifically want Etella?" Rowaine asks.

"Particularly Etella. And you as well. The rest can come along if they want."

"Why?"

"We'll find out when we get there."

"We will not go until you answer my question."

"Because you want Harkon, and I have Harkon. I just want to talk!"

"That's what we're doing," Rowaine says.

"I want to talk in private."

"I know this nice pub, just up the road…" Troll says.

"The Mithral Mug? No, we won't go there. Alright, name your place. Large, open space. Somewhere where other people aren't. I don't care."

"OK," Troll says, "What about where the arcanites are?"

"Would you like to meet at the floating mountains?"

"We're going to have a conversation about it, and not be bullied into anything by some stupid elf. Especially a sun elf."

"Oh no, I'm not one. I'm a dwarf."

"I think we should go," Ariel says quietly.

"If you don't want Harkon back, we don't have to talk."

"I'd like to talk," Ariel says. The figure's eyes turn to Troll, who launches an orb of acid his way. The orb impacts and breaks. Acid drips to the ground and sizzles as it lands. The figure and his robes are undamaged. Both Troll and Ariel suspect some sort of protection - from acid, or from magic generally.

"I think we should talk," Ariel repeats.

"Where?" Lionel asks.

"How about I leave an image here," the figure says. "When you decide, tell the image where you want me. See ya!" He disappears. After a moment, a smaller, two-dimensional representation of him appears and waves.

"Let's go off to talk," Troll says. "You can stay here." This directed at the image.

The party walk to the Mithral Mug, then transport to Trina.

"This guy wants something," Ariel begins. "He has Harkon, so whatever he wants is at least in the same league."

"Perhaps he wants the whole set," Rowaine adds.

"Perhaps. He seems to need us to get that. I think if we go with him, we aren't going to be able to do anything to stop him."

"We have no offensive or defensive capability against this guy," Troll adds. "There's nothing we can do to protect ourselves, and by association, Harkon. Maybe Trina and the towers as well."

"I think he wants you, Troll, or the assets you possess. Perhaps he needs you to give them willingly. I don't think we can afford to follow him. It might be at the cost of Harkon's captivity, but if he wants something, I cannot but think that it is something even worse than that."

"Harkon, while a perfectly nice tree and all, hasn't been fighting the arachtria for the past five thousand years," Troll adds.

"We have no evidence that Harkon is suffering. I can't see a good enough reason to go with this guy."

"Well, I'll go," Rowaine says. "I'll see what I can find out. But we keep Troll away."

"He said he wanted Troll to be there," Calico points out.

"Another reason to think that this guy wants something that only Troll can give," Ariel says. "This guy is more powerful than I thought things could be."

"He is me from the future," Troll immediately says. Rowaine rolls her eyes, then looks at Troll. "He is acting a bit like you do…"

"No he's not, he's an arsehole! He's a over-the-top, can't get over himself, arsehole! Thinks he's Moradin's gift to the world!"

Rowaine just stares at Troll and lets his words condemn himself. After a pause, she says, "I am of a mind to go."

"Can I ask why?" Troll says.

"Because it could be the only way to free Harkon. He doesn't want us dead; that would have happened already."

"I'm not that keen on you putting yourself in danger."

"It's what I do."

"You have rights to the towers."

"Revoke them."

Troll considers this. "Wait here." He walks over to Abbey's tent for a few moments then returns. "Let's go, then. Hang on, one thing." He casts Rary's Telepathic Bond, networking Rowaine, Lionel, Violet, Ariel and himself.

The party return to where the image waits. "You have come to talk?"

"I will go with you," Rowaine says. "I will represent Etella."

"Excellent. Do you have a place in particular?"

"I will go where you initially wanted to meet."

"Excellent again. I assume Etella isn't coming?"

"You must understand why. But I am willing to hear what you want to say."

"I completely understand. Alright, let's go for a walk."

The image turns and starts walking off. Rowaine follows. Lionel accompanies her. The image twists its two-dimensional form around like a ribbon and looks behind. "The ranger? Interesting!"

Rowaine and Lionel are led out of the city, along a familiar path. They are heading towards a large building - the same one they previously entered to meet the imposter Lawmeron. Rowaine relays this information to Troll.

"Ladies first," the image says. "And rangers, I guess." The image then disappears. Rowaine enters, followed by Lionel. Inside, the building looks the same, essentially a large, single room. Inside is the figure in three dimensions.

"I'm surprised Troll didn't come with you. Etella. Whatever he chooses to call himself. Does he not know that you might be in mortal danger? Do you not know?" The last said more loudly, and not directly to Rowaine.

"Why would I be in mortal danger?"

"Oh, I don't know… Being alone with me? Well, technically alone. Does he not care?"

"He thinks the ranger doesn't count," Troll thinks. "I'll be right there."

"No!" Rowaine replies telepathically. "Before we take this further," Rowaine says aloud to the figure, "I would prefer to know the name of the person I am dealing with."

"I am known by many names," he replies. "You can call me Bob."

"May I shoot you, Bob?" Lionel asks.

"Sure," the figure says, his attention firmly on Rowaine. Before she can draw breath to argue, Lionel draws and fires an arrow in a fluid motion. The projectile smacks right into the figure's forehead… and shatters. The figure doesn't even blink in response. Rowaine tries not look startled as the figure's eyes never leave her face. "This is a transaction," she says. "We want something, you want something."

"What makes you think I want something?"

"You want Etella."

"I just want to get to know you."

"There are better ways. What is it you wish to talk about?"

"You! Troll! Your party, to some degree."

"Why the interest?"

"I just want to get to know you. My interests are my own. So, Troll left you alone here with a possibly dangerous being. Why would he do that?"

Ariel says telepathically, "Free Harkon, and we'll talk."

"Why don't you free Harkon as a gesture of goodwill?" Rowaine says.

"No… You wouldn't talk, if I free Harkon."

"Of course I would talk!" Rowaine replies, "You have piqued my curiosity now."

"But enough about Harkon! What…"

"All you have managed to do thus far is piss me off."

"Excellent. So, you and Troll, how long do you go back? You started in Kharag Monastery, didn't you?"

"It seems you know much of the story already. How about you tell me what you know?"

"Why do you travel with Troll?"

"Every moment you continue to talk to him, you are giving him what he wants," Ariel says in Rowaine's mind.

"I'll promise that I'll free Harkon when I'm satisfied with our talk."

"He seems to be reacting to what I just thought!" Ariel thinks in alarm. "He can hear us. Hello, Bob. How are you?"

"I'm good, thank you," Bob answers, speaking the words. He looks at Rowaine. "Why do you travel with Troll?"

"He is my brother."

"Why do you keep on talking to him?" Ariel thinks.

"So, you are a paladin to a brother, more so than to Moradin. Is this right?"

"What do you think?"

"This is why I ask. I want to learn about you."

"Stop answering questions," Troll warns telepathically.

"If you want to free Harkon," Ariel adds, "give him your word that you will answer some questions if he does."

"It seems like a creature as powerful as you could learn this stuff without actually talking to us," Rowaine says. "So why the pretense?"

"Humour me."

"Hang on," Troll thinks. "You can hear me. You had a question. We got a question. Answer. Go!"

"I want to know you."

"Why?"

"I do not have a reason to give. So, why are you with Rowaine?"

"We do not have a reason to give, strangely enough," Ariel answers.

"Oh yes you do, actually. I have Harkon. That is why you are here."

"And we have answers to your questions that apparently you want," Ariel thinks.

"How about I put it this way: if you don't answer my questions, you don't get Harkon."

"So it is a matter of timing, then," Rowaine says. "If you free Harkon, we will answer your questions."

"That is not how this is going to work."

"You don't believe me?"

"He just doesn't intend to give Harkon back," Ariel thinks. "He may as well have said those words."

"I don't believe Troll will continue to talk to me after I give you back Harkon."

"The only reason he doesn't want to answer the question is that he doesn't intend to give Harkon back," Ariel broadcasts. "He knows that you're good to your word, and he knows enough about us to know that Troll would go along with that bargain. Therefore if he doesn't want to free Harkon first, that is because he doesn't intend to free Harkon at all."

"I feel that in order to get the answers to my questions," Bob says, "there needs to be a certain … power dynamic between us. Which I am trying to develop now."

"With threats?" Rowaine replies.

"Yes."

"The only power we have is our indifference," Ariel thinks.

"She's smart," Bob answers.

Rowaine looks Bob in the eye and judges. "This meeting has ended." Troll breaks the party's mental link.

"Understandable."

Rowaine and Lionel leave. Bob makes no move to stop them. They rejoin the others at the Mithral Mug.

"Now we have to find out everything we can about this guy. If he's that powerful, someone knows about him."

"And we have to kill him," Troll adds. No one disagrees, not even Rowaine.

"First we have to stop him knowing what we are doing," Ariel says. "He knows a heck of a lot about you, and I don't know how."

"I originally thought it might be a future me," Troll says. "But his language didn't support that. He kept talking like a third party - 'the ranger'."

"If it is you," Rowaine says, "then you really changed. Kidnapping and ransoming, blackmail…"

"Could it be the dracolich?" Ariel asks.

The party travel to Saju to ask the tower's advice. There, they learn that Saju cannot see any memories of their interaction with Bob. It is as if they were asleep, from the time Kelly opened his door to the time they met back at the Mithral Mug. The party's memories are the same, and Abbey confirms that they did indeed get to the Mithral Mug by walking there; it seems that the events did occur, Saju just cannot see the memories of them. His only explanation is that something has tampered with their minds.

"What can do that beside you?" Rowaine asks. "The dracolich?"

"It could," Saju replies. "I cannot think of another."

"Are you aware of anything that could be done to protect ourselves from mind-altering magics?" Ariel asks.

"I can protect you. It is expensive if you are not here, however."

"Expensive in terms of imithrium?" Rowaine asks.

"Indeed. And by no means guaranteed. If I cannot see what is behind the blackness in your memories, I suspect I may not be able to block it."

"Are you aware of any other more powerful measures?" Ariel asks.

"I don't know what better to help you than myself."

Saju's effect is essentially the same as the Mind Blank spell. He can maintain the effect indefinitely on any number of targets in his presence at minimal cost, or "cast" the spell (at CL15) on an individual target that persists outside his presence. The latter costs a considerable amount of imithrium, however.

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