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Ariel and I have decided to celebrate our birthdays on the same day.  Of course I don't really have a birthday that I'm sure of, but with a great friend like Ariel, it just makes sense that we share the day.  Our parents thought it was fine, too.

We also both wanted to go visit the city again, to find out more about "the queen's justice" and just what was going on there.  I went to Mom for permission, and she thought it was a great idea.  She made sure we had enough pennies, and gave me a few coins that looked like dimes but were silver all the way through.  I'd say we each had at least seven or eight dollars in dimes and pennies.  We promised to stay in the boat except at the star shrine and the city, to be careful, and to avoid back ally ways.  We also promised to avoid strange shrines -- we don't want to end up needing special chairs like the one eyed king uses.

The beginning was pretty calm.  We walked through the shadows to StarStrands and found the boat where we had left it tied up.  Lots of dust in that corner of StarStrands.  Not even any mice or berries left.

We kept close to shore, avoiding void sharks, and then we saw what looked like a cloud of color.  It was a float (that is what they call a group) of parachute spiders.  d3 for each characteristic except fixed INT of 1, bite for d2-d2, poison of POT=CON+d3.  They spin webs that they float with and when they spot a meal, they sling the web around it and eat what they catch.  They pretty much drift as the wind takes them.  Around the edges of the float were two three foot long dragonflies.  They breathed out clusters of sparks (d3+1 damage, d3+1 clusters per discharge, each discharge costs 1 fatigue point and one magic point, all characteristics, except SIZ and INT are d3+2, bite for d3, claw for d2).  As a spark cluster would strike and kill a spider, they would swoop in and grab it and escape before any of the other spiders could net them.

When we got to the shrine we saw some shrivelled up bodies of spider people.  The same ones who had ambushed us in the town had attempted to break into the shrine and had experienced the magical defenses that were still active.  From the dust and the decay, it had been awhile and no one had come back for the bodies.  May not have been anyone to come back, as the boat they had come in was still there.  We carried the bodies to the boat and set it adrift to be buried in the void.

The next morning we came to the dock and paid our docking fee.  We were careful to keep to the broad ways and found the town center and market.  It was alive with activity and we bought breakfast for a copper penny.  It seems that a copper penny is about what a man earns in a day.  Seems far below minimum wage.

We bought a hot breakfast and Ariel shopped for threads and cords to add to her rope, and even bought some lightweight silk rope -- a hundred yards of it only weighed a couple pounds and she coiled it over her shoulder.  After we were finished shopping we looked around to see if we could find the city guard.

We spotted the captain of the guard talking with a sorcerer, and waited until they were through.

"We wanted to learn more and my mom suggested that if we bought you lunch, you might be willing to tell us more about the queen's justice and the city."

The captain smiled at us.  We kept our faces pretty neutral.  "She told us not to flirt with you, and to count on buying the best lunch the town has to offer."  That got his attention and before we knew it we were in a place that was as fancy as any I've ever seen (not that I've seen a lot).  They were polite, but I could tell they wondered if we could pay.  It was subtle, but they were kind of hinting enough that I got it and asked the maitre he if could be kind enough to change some silver into copper for us.  He sighed and shook his head until I handed him two dollars worth of silver (twenty pennies) and he suddenly relaxed and the hints stopped.

The Captain ordered fifty cents worth of food, and when we didn't flinch, ordered dessert too.  With tip and a light meal for Ariel and I, it would eventually come to about a dollar (more on the tip later).

The city has three princesses, Ruby, Sapphire and Opal.  No one knows who is which.  Ruby is the one who should be queen, but they got confused at birth.

There is a red haired princess who is harsh and mean. A white haired princess with red highlights who is very kind, but some think she is weak.  A black haired princess with red highlights who is contrary.  The three of them rule the city together, but they rarely agree, especially with the contrary one.

The sorcerers guild thought that would work out just fine, but before long they decided it wasn't the way things should go.  Right now, there wasn't really a queen's justice, just what the guard enforced, as any appeal took you to the three sisters and just did not go well.

"The city is recovering so well, especially since the city of glass incident."  About that time I paid the bill and tipped twenty percent.

"Isn't that a large tip" (I guess it was, about twenty five days worth of labor in a single tip, but it was 20%).  "My mother was very firm about how much I was supposed to tip" and then Ariel chimed in that my mom was really not someone to disobey.

The Captain hid a chuckle.

We then asked him about the City of Glass.

"Well, after we asked the Lightwalker who was our queen and he offered to tell us who was the queen we deserved (and that ended anyone thinking to try and get him involved, who is pure enough for his judgments?), someone mentioned that the Crossroads, the center trade city, had gone over to vampirism.  It was strangling trade.  The Rukh told her leman to talk with us and she would be right back."

"You can tell that they didn't approach her the right way because where the city used to be is a large patch, melted into glass -- so we now call it "the city of glass" and ..."

At that point Ariel gave me a look and said something about "sheesh, your mom really does settle things when she gets upset" -- at which point the Captain gave us a startled look.

"Did I hear that right?  Are you the Rukh's daughter?"

I briefly faded through my phoenix shape and told him yes, but that to please not tell anyone, people act so strangely if they find out.  Then I prodded him to tell us how they were settling the issue of the princesses.

"Well, we are having a contest.  Each princess has a champion, or will have one, and they will compete.  The winner will be crowned."  "I am the red haired sister's champion, the city needs strength, and ..."  "Anyway, if the other sisters can't find champions, magic will pick ones for them."

Then the sorcerer entered, strode up to our table and cast something that looked like dice towards Ariel and I.  I got the black one and she got the white one, which we promptly swapped while the Sorcerer tried to get our complete attention."

The long and the short of it was that he was informing us that we were selected champions, for a battle -- at which point the Captain interrupted him.  Stormclouds flashed, so to speak, until he heard what the Captain was saying.  My cat was right behind them, so I could hear it.

Seems like they were planning something more on the lines of a battle to the death, which is why no one was willing to fight the captain, though he had been objecting to it.  He made the point that while he didn't want anyone thinking he was afraid of anything or anyone, especially not a little girl, they did need to consider if they wanted this city to be known as "the other city of glass."  The sorcerer cast some sort of magic sight spell and got a little pale when he was finished.

He told us to rest well, as they needed to conference about an appropriate contest to be conducted and that it would begin the next morning.  Ariel enjoyed dessert a great deal, though my appetite was off.

The next day they informed us that the contest would be a race to the top of the mountain north of town (and no, StarStrands doesn't have normal mountains, but there was one loose in the void, as the result of some sort of magic, and it had been caught in the web).  The oread at the top had the City's crown.  They had planned to originally have the winner get the crown, but on retrospection, given the dangers, decided that we would have a race.

The first part was in the sports and theatre arena.  Fun stuff.  The Captain was an initiate of the Wild Hunter and could wind walk (and wind run).  He got a lead in the race by taking off when they dropped the flag.  I was waiting for "ready, set, go" but when I saw him running through the air, I caught on and burst into flame.  I started to catch up with him about mid-way across the arena when Ariel exploded.  Two lightning blasts and she was at the exit, I was second and the Captain came to earth behind us.  Short, but we made quite a show for the people in the city.  The jugglers followed us, but we were on our way (walking at a brisk pace) towards the mountain.

It was harder going and longer than we expected.  With the conferencing and all the announcements, we had gotten a late start and when we got there, it was close to dark, and the mist was growing thicker.

We talked a lot as we walked.

Seems like everyone starts out infatuated with the contrary sister.  With her dark black hair, bright red highlights and incredibly good looks, she is by far the prettiest.  The Captain admitted that when he was a new recruit he dreamed of spending time with her.  He said you could tell when people were ready for promotion.  That was when they learned to respect the nice sister.

She was sweet, her light colored hair, almost white, with red highlights and her clear blue eyes, were striking.  He worried though, like everyone did who made sargent, about her having the will to be tough enough.

I could relate.  My mom is always giving me advice about how to deal with conflict.  How to deal with terrorists.  How an army needs to act, what a king needs to do, and how people can forgive, but rulers need to be firm enough that there are not traitors.  She even gave me a book, When Christ and All the Saints Slept, about a country called England that had a king that did not have enough "starch" (as she puts it).

Ariel just rolled her eyes when I got to talking about how things should be handled and how tough a ruler needs to be.

The Captain had it nailed.  He would have made a good king, or even a good magistrate, if he had been allowed to make the decisions.

Anyway, we talked a lot.  You could tell he was still sweet on the nice sister, even if he believed that the city needed the one he thought of as tough.

We got nearer the mountain and into the mists that circle the base of it.

The Captain was nervous.  Apparently there are mist wraiths that come out in the dark and attack travelers and he couldn't see us getting through in time.

Mist Wraith
Fixed Int 7
POW = Magic Points = Hit Points = Armor Points = DEX
POW v POW attack, if they succeed, they drain d3 magic points from the target.  When magic gone, drain fatigue.  When fatigue gone, tap CON.
The take, each MR, d6+1 points of damage from strong fire or daylight

Ariel had her ward with her and we invited him to sleep within the wards.  I think he expected us to make him take his risks and test his luck.  The wards kept them out.

At the edge of the mist there was a lot of bracken, and we encountered some bracken trolls.

They look like dried up, driftwoodish tree limbs and bracken, but they burned nicely.

Next we came to the forest of light.  

It was filled with light, and home to some lightwalkers, who bid us pass upon answering three riddles and giving three. We passed them by, though I hate riddles.  They took it easy on us, and seemed to be laughing at us, or with us, as they asked their riddles and answered ours.  I suspect that this could have been a lot harder.

That left a rather steep rock face, almost a a cliff, before us as we looked to climb to the oread and ask for the crown.

First, though, we took a moment to look around.

It was an interesting bit of mountain.  I found myself wondering which peak we should climb, and wondering how the light was so bright here, almost as if there was a sun.  We could see light streaming, but couldn't tell just quite where it was coming from.

The path clearly took us to the cliffs blocking the way to the shorter, but larger peak.  As we got closer, I couldn't hear any birds or other animals.  Ariel's icefalcon went airborne, though far away from the cliffs, and got a good look to see if there was something wrong.

There was.  Cliff toads.


Not only that, but every time the falcon got close to the cliffs, the light would start to solidify about it and you could tell something bad was about to happen.  We both looked at the Captain, figuring he might know something.  He had been about to windwalk, and as we turned to look at him, he dropped to earth, shaking his head.  Guess he planned on making a dash for the top while we scoped things out.  The light was pretty solid, and heavy, on him, but it faded off as he came to earth.

We weren't going to fly or wind walk or levitate up that cliff.

What to do next?  Well, we decided to climb.  The captain unstrung his bow and took some shots at the toads that were closest to our path.  The light just collapsed on them and the fell down.  It kind of did the same thing to the spell I sent after one of the toads.

(Cliff) Spider-Toads

The entire area was pretty free of spiders and spider-like creatures but the toads looked spiderish -- eight legs instead of four.  Which meant that they were probably infested or tainted with chaos as well.  That made Ariel brighten up.  She likes fighting chaos tainted things, while they give me the creeps.

The cliff was really steep.

But, before I could say, "I don't think so" Ariel had borrowed one of the Captain's boot knives and in a flash was about two hundred feet up the cliff, falcon on her shoulder.  Guess the light didn't affect lightning flash teleportation along the surface of the cliff.

She drove the knife into a crack in the cliff face and then tied her hundred yards of silk rope to the knife handle and then around a small tree, and dropped it down to us to make the climb easier.

It was then that a toad struck at her.  Unlike the others, it was mottled green instead of gray, and it had just an "ugly" look to it.  She blocked with the staff that seemed to appear from nowhere and its tongue shattered into a blaze of white light. The shock made it let loose of the cliff face and we watched it fall, light solidifying around it. We jumped aside. When it hit bottom, just a few feet from where we had been standing, it broke into pieces.  As the light faded, it got really gross and I lost my breakfast.  The Captain looked a little green.

Ariel called down "are you alright down there?"  We nodded and began to climb, while she kept a look out for any other toads that might get ideas while her falcon watched her back.

We were a third of the way up and this was looking easier than I had expected, though harder work too.  It was nice having the rope for a safety line, and that falcon could see things we couldn't.  I'd have sworn that the spider-toads were just invisible or something, the way that they blended into the cliff face.  Fighting them off was easier if they couldn't surprise you, and a little bit of fire seemed to discourage them.  Their tongues would flick out, I'd start to burst into flames and the tongues would zip back before they reached me.

Things were going pretty good until we reached the top of the cliff.

There we saw a giant spider-toad troll.

Ick.  Double ick.

Imagine a giant spider-toad walking on two legs with two arms holding a club, two arms holding a shield and two arms each holding "daggers" (d12 sized blades) and you have our troll.  Green-gray with knobby skin and a chain mail coat.  Knee high boots of thick, uncured rotting leather (smell, POT 3+d3 v. Con or gag).

SIZ +20
STR +30
POW 13
INT 6(free, not fixed)
Giant Club 95% for 3d10+6 plus size/str damage bonus
three points of healing, three points of bludgeon, also three points of padding bound into armor.
6 point skin armor, 12 points of chain mail, shield with 35 points of armor
Boots 8 points of armor.
Move 5
Regenerate 6 points per MR per hit point location, cost of 1 fatigue per 6 points regenerated

It was sitting about fifty yards away, eating a deer, when we came over the top of the cliff.  Not good.

The Captain was brave, I'll give him that.  He yelled at us to run, he would stand it off, and he placed his sword in the ground and drew out his bow.

Ariel nudged me in the ribs and asked me to cast a glamor on the air behind us to make it look like more meadow.  I did that while getting ready to take flight away from the troll.  She teleported to the mid point, about 25 yards from us and cast a wall of light behind her, right where the Captain was standing.  I'm not sure he noticed.  I did and yanked him behind it.  It was only about two and a half meters tall, so it wasn't like it hid much, but I got him to run along the cliff edge and kept him from going back for his sword, which sat there, in plain sight, right in front of the wall.

Ariel yelled at the troll and immediately took off running towards the wall she had cast.

The troll just laughed and taunted her that he wasn't afraid of light, he was immune to bright lights.  He spit at her with a chaos web (hmm, he must have had chaos powers of immune to light, spit acid webs).  The web dissolved and he sped up trying to catch her.  You could tell that as he lurched into a sprint, he would probably get her just as she got past the wall.

Which was fine because she went through the wall and teleported to join us as the troll sprinted past and right on to the meadow I had created.  It was a pretty illusion, but the glamour wasn't near strong enough to support his weight.  He was still swinging that club, expecting to turn and squash her flat, as he dropped out of sight.  The sound he made when he hit bottom was scary.  Ariel looked.  He was broken into bits.  I sent some fire down and started blasted the bits, one by one so that we didn't have him growing back together and climbing up that cliff after us.  I didn't need to worry.  The cliff toads swarmed all over the mess and ate it clean.  Triple ick.

I let go of the Captain and he walked back to get his sword.  He started to shake a little.  He had expected to die there, and was going to sacrifice himself for us so we could escape.  We both liked him all the more.  He was strong, knew what a ruler should do (my Mom would approve of that), but noble.  In fact, he would make a good king.

We broke for a meal.  We had the last climb to where the oread was, but we needed the break.

He talked a little more about the sisters.  He still loved the nice one, you could tell.  I was getting ideas.

So was Ariel.  We talked some while we were all taking turns "resting" in private.  The Captain also checked out the troll's lair and found a huge penny.  Ariel and I burned the cave out after the Captain was finished.  It was a pretty hideous place.

All that was left was the climb up to the oread.  Ariel was looking forward to this, she likes oreads.  I was one, kind of, for a while, but I wasn't sure about it.

We got to the top and there she was, waiting for us, next to a shrine that was filled with light and fire and reflected in a larger fire in the clouds above us.  That was the light that illuminated the mountain.  I had no desire to play games or touch it -- I remembered Mom's warning that the One Eyed King's shrine was somewhere around, and as I started to warn Ariel she was warning the Captain.  He looked like he was choking down a laugh.  I guess farting fire is funny at the right moment.

From her guard of several scorpiods, I knew that was the shrine.  I was really glad I had been warned, especially when she invited us to partake of her home and hearth and shrine.  We were ready and politely declined in a good way.

But it was time to talk about the crown, which appeared to be resting on a rock.  I suspected that there was more to this than just picking it up, not to mention that seemed rather rude and those scorpiods were rather big.  Not to mention, I suspected that the oread was ancient and powerful, even if she was polite.

Everything seemed a little sleepy and slow too, as if I'm half asleep or daydreaming.  We all seem a little in slow motion, just as Mom and Ariel have both described the dream world where it meets reality.  I suspect the oread mixes them here in her place of power.

Anyway, while I'm thinking and casing things out, Ariel is greeting her and the two of them are exchanging greetings and messages for Ariel's friend. I missed a lot of what they said.  The Captain is eyeing everything, and trying not to make a bad move.  He looks like he is daydreaming a bit too.  Only Ariel seems immune to whatever is making everyone else sleepy.

Then, Ariel grabs the crown and places it on his head.  That's my girl!  I grab him as well and we declare him king.

The oread breaks into a smile and says he is a rightful hero and grants him her blessing.  That is what Ariel had been talking about while we were trapped in a dream state.

We figure we have a winner, and have pretty much taken care of the real contest issue, how to get back safely without the Captain getting any ideas and trying to take off with the crown.

He is stunned.  I'm not sure he understood that this outcome was implicit in the rules of the contest.  I know he hadn't thought of it.  But, especially with a true dream in place, reality can be changed and things made part of what is.

Now all we had to do was get back and ...

Convince the Captain it was ok.

Convince the sorcerors it was ok.

Convince the princesses it is ok.

Convince the people it is ok.

Hmm.  "all."

It seemed like such a good idea.

Well, Ariel, the oread and I agree on it.  Bet my Mom would too.

Copyright 2001-2003 Stephen R. Marsh and Heather N. Marsh
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