Chapter 5 - "What are you going to do if we are attacked in the night by more of those giant turkeys? Wave your beard at them?"

After a long day of hiking through dense jungle and fighting predatory dinosaurs, the party of adventurers was pretty exhausted. Everyone was eager to turn in for the night in the relatively safe, if disconcerting, proximity to the Aranea enclave. That is why everyone was a little surprised when Ornrik brought up what was likely to be a topic of great contention…

“Viselys, now that we have the time, I’d like to take a look at that journal of Lavinia’s.”

Viselys was surprised, “What? Why??”

“There are several reasons,” the dwarf began, “not least of which is that there is the possibility that it contains more information than the obvious – hidden, secret or magical script that only a magic user could transcribe.”

“Which would seem to make it clear that it’s not meant to be read,” Viselys argued. “Ornrik, this is her personal diary. It would not be right for any of us to read it.”

Skald was settling into a comfortable position for what he knew would be a long debate. “I’ll never understand why a person would keep a diary. The very idea of writing down private things you don’t want anyone else knowing seems antithetical to privacy.”

Diamondback felt a duty to feminine camaraderie to speak up, “I’ll tell you exactly why. Sometimes people, as I suspect it’s not just women, have things they want to share, but can’t do so directly.”

“So what you’re saying is that when someone keeps a diary, they really want it to be read?” Skald inquired, not sarcastically.

Diamondback blushed, though only Skald was likely to notice due to his proximity and low-light vision, “Well, I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but I guess you could say it that way. Sometimes a woman has feelings she wants to share but can’t, either for social reasons or out of fear of rejection. Still, the desire to communicate those thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming, and they need an outlet. Writing in a diary provides that outlet, while also providing the vicarious possibility that it will be read, relieving the subject of the burden of keeping the secret.” Most everybody in the camp who was paying any attention to the conversation was keenly aware that, while she had been answering Skald’s question, she was directing her words directly to Viselys.

“Yes, well,” Viselys fumbled a bit, “That may well be, but without a tacit statement to the contrary, I have to assume that Lavinia intends her diary be regarded as private.”

“Why?” Ornrik challenged. “You found the diary on her bed in plain view. You know that the last entry was written AFTER the Nixie crashed, so you know it was left there intentionally. The most obvious reason was to let us know she was alive and what she was planning.”

“Fair enough,” Viselys conceded, “And we have that information. We need not read any further.”

“So,” Ornrik continued as though Viselys had not spoken, “why leave the whole diary? Why not just leave a single page with just that note?”

“Why, indeed?” Viselys prompted, not following Ornrik’s logic.

“Didn’t you say that there were a number of pages torn from the diary?” Ornrik asked by way of reply.

“Yes…” Viselys was still not catching on.

“Essentially the time between our first meeting with Lavinia and the present?”

“Yes. So?”

“So, that seems to me like her tacit approval.” The dwarf stepped forward with his hand extend as though that irrefutably resolved the matter.

Viselys took a step back, though, “How do you figure?”

“Lavinia clearly removed the pages she was not ready to share. However, why leave anything at all unless she meant for us to read it?”

“Why do you presume she meant for you to read it, then?”

The dwarf stepped back, seeing he still had more verbal sparring to do, “Fair enough. Why indeed. For that matter, why you? Why do you get to decide who may and may not read the book?”

“Seems I’ve heard this argument before,” Skald mumbled aloud.

Ornrik, however, picked up on what Skald was saying, “Indeed, if I were Lavinia, and I was betting on which of us would find the book first, I would be hard pressed to lay greater odds to you or to Adameus. Still and all, nothing says that I wouldn’t have been first on the scene – such a thought must have occurred to her as well.”

“But,” Viselys countered, “she knows me to be the leader of this group, so she may have trusted that, no matter who found it first, I would intervene and keep it safe.”

“Which brings us back to why you get to make that choice for all the rest of us,” Ornrik reiterated.

“You know,” Saris chimed in, “I didn’t really care before, but now I’m getting curious. I’d kind of like to read that diary now, too.”

“I really don’t care,” Urol said, mostly to Saris, “but I can understand Ornrik’s curiosity, and yours to a lesser extent.” Then Urol directed himself towards Viselys, “Skald also brings up a valid point: That Ornrik’s question regarding your authoritarian policies has been voiced previously and, logically, unless answered directly, shall do so again.”

Ornrik decided to use a little ‘authoritarian policy’ of his own, “Give me the diary,” he demanded.

“Fine,” Viselys replied, stoically, “Give me your spell book.”

This caused the dwarf some pause, “Wh-what?!”

“You have been the most secretive among us,” Viselys explained. “If you want to invade Lavinia’s privacy this way, then you aught to allow us to do the same. Let me read your spell book.”

Ornrik considered this a moment. Then he returned to his back and bed roll. Viselys thought that he had won the argument until the dwarf returned, holding out his tome, “Here. I doubt you will be able to make any sense of it, but I will leave it with you as a deposit for the diary because I trust you – a sentiment that is clearly not mutual.”

“That sounds familiar, too,” Skald again mumbled aloud.

Saris reacted before Viselys did, “WHAT? Are you nuts? You need that book to cast your spells. What are you going to do if we are attacked in the night by more of those giant turkeys? Wave your beard at them?!”

This elicited a chuckle form Urol.

“I won’t need my spellbook until morning,” Ornrik replied.

This put the ball squarely in Viselys’ court. His bluff had been called. “Well, I’m sorry. The diary stays with me until we can return it to Lavinia. Then she can share it with whomever she chooses.”

Ornrik seemed as though he was letting the matter drop, and nobody else wanted to fan the flame. When it was clear that the argument was not going to continue, Avner, who had been surprisingly silent, spoke up, “Good, can we get some sleep now?”

Likewise, nobody was keen to start something with Avner, so nobody responded to him. Instead, Viselys instructed that three watches be planned for that night. Saris and Urol volunteered for the first. Surprisingly, these two seemed to be forming something of a camaraderie.

The chittering sounds of the large and giant spiders, most of whom were likely Aranea, could occasionally be heard just out of visual range in the darkness and, while disconcerting, was not really a cause for alarm. Saris and Urol fell into a pleasant conversation about sailing, and some of the exotic places both had seen in their travels. Focused as they were on their conversation, and their watch of the perimeter for potential attack from without, neither noticed activity from within the camp.

Ornrik had waited until he was relatively certain that all but the two on watch were asleep. Then he made his move. With his eye trained on Skald and Urol, he slipped out of his bunk and placed his pack beneath his blanket. Casting a Prestidigitation on the pack, he caused it to undulate in a regular fashion which to a casual observer would appear to be himself breathing. Then he cast Invisibility on himself. He scanned the camp to make sure that his whispers had not roused anyone, and then cast his final spell; a very localized Silence spell focused on himself and constrained not to extend more than five feet from himself (It wouldn’t, after all, do for the guys on watch to suddenly not be able to hear each other or the snapping of the fire). With no concern of making a noise, or of being seen, he went to where Viselys slept. He reached into the Bag of Holding and extracted Lavinia’s Diary. Closing the bag, he replaced everything exactly as he had found them and returned to his bunk.

The night passed uneventfully with the exception that Viselys and Skald both slept somewhat fitfully, having both suffered from disturbing dreams. In the morning, Skald was quick to relate his dream, owing to the fact that his dreams had proven prophetic in the past.

“It wasn’t very clear,” he explained to the group, “but the sense of danger was not in doubt. There was a creature … maybe more than one … with the continence of stone. It was like being attacked by a statue. Ironically, in the dream, I was defending myself from attacks from above. The enemy … or enemies … was or were very intelligent, more so than the velociraptors. I don’t think we have faced a combat as challenging as what I dreamt since the Fire Trolls.”

This really concerned everyone, but Skald had no more details to share. He either couldn’t remember, or the dream had not been clear enough.

So, they broke camp and set off towards the cave that Lithira had told them about. Indeed, when they drew near, they discovered what they had been warned of: A velociraptor nesting ground. There was no way to get safely get the party past the predators. However, they had surprise on their side this time and time to strategize. After scouting out the nesting ground, they knew that they had four mothers and one “guard” to deal with. Rather than charge in for hand-to-hand, which would be tantamount to suicide, Ornrik cast Enlarge on Viselys and then Levitate. Then Viselys lifted Ornrik and Urol so the two diminutive men could unleash their heavy firepower magic at the beasts from a distance. Urol used several iterations of Call Lighting, while Ornrik used Flame Sphere. The Velociraptors were sent into a frenzy. They had no idea where the attack was coming from, nor even that it was an attack as opposed to some natural catastrophe. The largest of the mothers, as the focus of the attack, had little choice but to flee, specifically from the Flame Sphere.
Urol was not surprised by their speed, and he got very few direct hits with his lightning bolts, but he was doing damage. By the time he and Ornrik had exhausted their big spells, the terrified predators were looking quite softened.

“Nothing to do now but charge,” Saris said, breaking into a run. The others closed the distance, too, but it took a while because they had remained at such a safe distance. Luckily, the creatures had no way of knowing that the next wave was about to hit them.

Unfortunately for Saris, he was the first to engage. That made him, initially, the only target for the full rage of the injured mothers and their single guardian. By the time Skald had reached an appropriate vantage point from which to target the beats with arrows, Saris was bleeding badly. “A little help, here!” he called out.
“You got it, boss,” Skald called back as he fired an arrow. Unfortunately, his hand slipped and the arrow went awry. Very awry. The arrow slipped from it’s cocking point and, when he released the string, it fired directly down – into his foot. Had he been aiming for his foot, it would have been an excellent hit, but he wasn’t and he was hurt bad. “OW!” he screamed.

“Shoot THEM, not YOU, you goof!!” Saris called back.

“Thanks for the instruction,” Skald replied weakly, “I wasn’t clear on the plan.”

But the battle didn’t last long after that. Between the velociraptors’ weakened state, Viselys’ enlarged size, and enthusiastic attacks from all the other members of the team (including some well-placed Magic Missiles form Ornrik), it was tantamount to a slaughter. Ornrik had Saris and Skald back to full heath in no time.
“What should we do about the eggs?” Avner asked, nudging one with his foot. “Should we just smash them all?”

The answer didn’t come as quickly and easily as one might have expected. Urol spoke up. “There’s really only two choices. If we just leave the eggs, their contents will be dead at nightfall, either being eaten by scavengers or by the drop in temperature. If we take them with us, they are worth about 500 gold pieces each on the black market, but that would mean, first, that you are willing to trade in such a dubious fashion and, second, that you keep the egg viable by keeping it warm.”

“We already declared ourselves enemies of those that trade in these kinds of creatures when we liberated the Nixie,” Viselys pointed out, “And I’d rather see these pre-borns killed swiftly and painlessly than the alternative.”

“May I keep one for study?” Urol requested.

“Sure, but it will be your responsibility,” Viselys acquiesced.

“Done!” Avner said, crushing one under his heel.

“Hey, check this out!” Saris called from the larger of the four nests. Inside were the remains of two meals. The more recent was one of Lithira’s people and the cloak he or she had worn was still intact, albeit very dirty.

Ornrik took a close look at the cloak with his manacle, “It’s magical. A Cloak of Charisma.” He cast a minor cantrip that caused the dirt and grim to be repelled and the cloak was clean.

The second meal had been there some time longer. It appeared to have once been human and Saris prodded the corpse’s garments for a clue to its former gender and, possibly, identity. Sewn into the lining of his pants was a name. “Duncan Stark,” Saris read, “I’ve heard that name before. There were stories I heard back in Sasserine about an adventurer named Duncan Stark. It was said he slew a manticore single-handedly. What a shame.”

Duncan Stark had no other possessions save an ordinary iron crowbar hanging form his belt, “We don’t need that,” Diamondback stated. “I have one made of adamantine.”

“I’m going to take it, anyway,” Saris said. “It belonged to the legendary Duncan Stark.”

With that, they started looking for the entrance to the passage under the mountain.

Continue to Chapter 6...

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