Author Topic: Palace of the Silver Princess  (Read 1341 times)

Offline Vix

  • Mmmm ... Spider Slushies!
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1112
Palace of the Silver Princess
« on: March 03, 2009, 03:18:35 PM »
I found a couple journal entries I had Vix "write" for a multi-part DM run event. Sharess was the DM, and was the best NWN DM I have ever played with (as a player and co-DM). Her stuff was just awesome.
-----------------------

Palace of the Silver Princess
Chapter One

Great Auntie Esther's Tale:

An old woman, stout of body, gray of hair, and with a kindly smile, which puts you in the mind of someone's doting grandmother, sits at the Fairview Farms campfire. She is dressed in well worn traveling clothes and her keen eyes peer intently out at the gathering crowd. This is none other than the Great Auntie Esther, archeologist extraordinaire. She has come this time with a story of a faraway land, and a mystery to be solved.

This is the tale she spun ...

Let Auntie tell you of a tale I heard long ago in my youth.

*smiles, but with an air of dark mystery*

As a young girl, my own Auntie used to tell me this story she called, "The Palace of the Silver Princess"

*leans forward and tell the tale, looking each adventurer in the eye*

Ancient legends speak of a beautiful young princess named Argenta who lived in a wonderful palace made of every type of marble known. Her palace was at the heart of a rich, fertile valley called Korrigal, filled with gentle creatures that could do no harm. Exotic flowers and plant life grew everywhere, and the water was so clear and warm, that the rocks within the rivers often glistened like diamonds and jewels.

One day, according to legend, a ruby the size of an apple was found. A perfect ruby. Dwarves cut the ruby carefully so that the size would not be diminished. Elves polished the ruby until it shone so that it was almost impossible to gaze upon. They presented it to the princess, calling it "My Lady’s Heart."

So pleased was the princess that she decided to honor her friends, the elves and the dwarves, with a grand masquerade ball. Everyone was invited to come. The princess was proud of the Ruby and wanted everyone to see "My Lady’s Heart", and on the evening of the ball, people arrived from all over the land to see it.

She should have not been so eager to show the ruby, as one guest was interested in more than its beauty alone. He had come to steal it. His eyes roamed freely to the princess, and he gazed upon her as much as he gazed upon the brilliant gem. Princess Argenta saw this, and in her innocence smiled back at him. Two dwarves and an elf saw this, and when they challenged him after the party, they were never seen or heard from again.

Many weeks after, a red dragon was seen in the skies of the valley. The dragon burned the land of Korrigal with its fiery breath and terrorized the gentle people of the valley. The land was left scorched and barren. Those fortunate enough to have survived swore that they saw a man in silver and blue armor riding on the dragon’s back.

To this day, only ruins and rumors remain of the once lovely kingdom. No one knows exactly what happened to the princess. Some believe that the man on the dragon carried her away. Others think that he killed her and stole all the treasure he could find. But all stories say that the ruby, "My Lady’s Heart" is still hidden within the ruins in the palace.

*leans back*

That is the story I have known since childhood. But recently in my travels I have come upon what I believe is the fairway to the land of Korrigal. A gated cavern, reaching too far back for my eyes to see. I normally would not think much of this cavern, but there seems to be age-old ashes that occasionally blow out through the gate’s bars, ashes that I have known only to come from the fiery breath of a dragon.

As an archeologist, I cannot deny my intrigue when it comes to the fabled ruby named, "Our Lady’s Heart", and I was wondering if the lot of you would like to help me find it.

*smiles, her eyes glistening and her cheeks becoming rosy with happiness*

It will be quite a mission. I will show you to the entrance I found at this time if you like. Shall we?



An Excerpt from Vix's Journal:

Amon Cys'varilo contacted me as I was exiting the crypts. My mood was foul from an annoying encounter with a hard headed monk, yet I stopped to hear the elf out anyhow. He told me of a woman called Great Auntie Esther and her need for aid on some sort of archeological dig. I had heard of this woman and her 'adventures', so I decided to see just what the rumblings of her were about.

Amon led me to the Heartwood Tavern, where a group had already gathered and were in the process of laying in supplies and getting ready for the journey. The old woman was there overseeing the preparations. It looked like it would be a long trip.

Also in attendance were: Amon Cys'varilo, sometime ally of mine and father of Valoria; Brendan Osirion, mostly unknown to me; T'rissnar, another drow, enigmatic, mute; Jera, a priestess of Tyr; Illona Terin'sha, drow priestess of the Dark Goddess; Misty, a young woman and cleric of some small skill;  Noman, yet another unknown but whose presence seemed ubiquitous of late; Bens Klar, even more unknown to me than the rest; and Ne'riaska Terin'sha, Illona's kin and practitioner of arcane arts.

Eventually, all the organizing, packing, and planning were completed. I sent a message of to Razgril that I would be gone a few days. And the strange party left, following after the old woman.

I know not what each held to be the reason of their inclusion, but I had my own. First, to make what I could of this Great Auntie Esther, second to learn more of the peoples who were traveling with her. And, if some small treasure fell into my pouches along the way, I would not complain.

The journey was swift and ended at a cavern in some northern land I had yet to visit. The old woman gave the excuse she could not enter the gate, nor see very far into the gloom beyond, which was where we came in. Typical. Use others to do your dirty work and claim the glory for yourself. Not that I find such tactics distasteful. Much of my own power base was created thus. But, it does rankle one to be a witting pawn, even so.

We spent a few moments deciding the hierarchy of our little band of explorer/pawns. Jera was named 'leader' after some small debate. All final decisions and any contact with others were to be done through her. It mattered little to me as it provided an excellent opportunity to judge her abilities. Ne'riaska volunteered and was accepted as our scribe. I find this male to be a very intelligent being, and one to watch and be wary of. Again, it was an opportune time to study him. Lastly, I was voted, without consultation, to be the group's scout.

Now, I am very well suited for such tasks, of course, but the flippant ease with which they all wished to place me at the forefront of unknown dangers gave me pause. Was it my skills they sought and admired, or a way to remove a possible threat to whatever plots and plans each was hatching? Either way, I almost declined, surprising myself with the most compelling reason being the safety of my unborn dalharils. Yet, the lure of possible treasure to slip into my greedy pouches was too strong, and I acquiesced.

The portcullis gave us pause and much time was wasted in argument over how to get past it. Locked, heavy, and forbidding, you would have thought it an enemy to be defeated rather than an obstacle to be bypassed the way everyone bickered over what to do. Eventually, the group put aside differences and joined together to raise the ponderous gate, while I slipped inside and quickly located a switch to lock into place.

Always have an escape route. And making sure this one was open and available to us put my mind at ease. The old woman, surprisingly, decided to stay behind. I could have sworn I saw her take a few nips from a hip flask as we labored with the portcullis. Ah well, it was less share of any treasure we found.

Two other passages led away. One to the south, the other eastward. More heavy gates blocked them both. A quick check showed nothing untoward was guarding the gates, magical or otherwise. The eastern passage smelled damp and moisture could be seen dripping from the walls. The southern was drier and carried and warmer breeze from it.

If we were in search of the marble castle of Korrigal, it would lay above us. The dampness in the east passage indicated to me a downward journey, so I cast my 'vote' for the southern. Drier, warmer, and the most likely to lead up. I was either persuasive with my one word 'vote', or others had similar ideas, and we went south.

The portcullis here was sturdy, but opened easily to the thick muscles of the males. We entered cautiously.

It was dark and the breeze carried a smell of burnt things and a dryness that seemed to leech the moisture from our throats. Chains were hung from the wall, rusted and useless. Cracked, jagged bones littered the floor and fought with the dirt for prominence of the room. Animal bones, they looked like. Perhaps a pen of some sort, long abandoned, the animals left to their fate. The druid, Brendan viewed the bones with a sad countenance, but said nothing. I gathered whatever animals these were starved to death. Such is fate, at times.

We continued on into a room which set my nerves on edge. It was small and rectangular, just big enough for all of us to stand in comfortably. A long flight of stone stairs wound up into more darkness. But what made me as nervous as a spectacle vendor at a beholder convention was the stream of reddish sand flowing out of a small hole in the eastern wall and across the floor to a small drain. I did not like this one bit.

Ashes could be seen in the flowing sand, and curious small, smooth stones were littered about the floor. I smelled trap, but could not detect anything. Each member moved to investigate various things or stood debating the reason for the room and where they sand came from. I prowled about, marking well my distance to the stairs, and searched for whatever was sending warnings up my spine.

My attention turned towards the wall the sand poured from. The hissing sound of the sand drew my attention downward, to the aperture it was flowing from. As I knelt, my hand pressed against the wall .. and it seemed to give slightly. It did not seem to be a trap, in and of itself, but I feared it may be dangerous for all that. I gave warning to my erstwhile companions to be careful, the wall was thinner than it appeared.

Against my better judgment, I was drawn into a minor debate over what the sand was, and why there was ash in it. Several theories were put forth, but we never decided on which was more likely as the wall I had so recently commented on rumbled alarmingly.

I wasted no time and sprang towards the stairs. I mostly desired to save myself, and my dalharen, but I also knew that if at least one of us survived whatever calamity befell us, the others would have a better chance of escaping it, as well. Surprisingly, all escaped the bursting wall and smothering sand and made it onto the relative safety of the stairs.

Quickly we took stock. Despite our careful attention to leave the gates behind us open for quick escapes, the sand effectively blocked us. We had no choice but to move forward. Resigned and relieved, we trudged up the long stair ...


Offline Vix

  • Mmmm ... Spider Slushies!
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1112
Re: Palace of the Silver Princess
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2009, 03:20:20 PM »
The climb was long and arduous, and the sight which greeted us did little assuage our trepidation. Laid out before us was a large, black wasteland. The surrounding buildings were little more than stones stacked hazardously upon another. The only sound was the wind moaning it's mournful tune over the ruined town. No birds cried from hidden nests or flew overhead. No scuttling of insects, nor chittering and scampering of rats could be heard. overgrown weeds and scraggly bramble dotted the blasted land like festering sores upon a blackened corpse.

It was a dead land.

A short distance away, the only structure which could reasonably pass for even somewhat intact loomed. It was obviously once a large castle or keep. The walls were mostly standing, yet the mottled appearance of them seemed to only lend to the picture of a diseased and ravaged land.

This had to be the castle we searched for. If the old woman was not having us on, her fairy tale story suddenly seemed quite true.

It was then Jera, our 'leader', suddenly vanished. At first I thought it was some magical attack, and I slipped into the pervasive gloom. But, Amon seemed to be talking to thin air. He nodded once and informed the group she had pressing business and had been summoned back to Engliton via a spell. I was, of course, dubious, but returned to the main group warily.

The void left by Jera's departure needed to be filled. Again, several put my name forward .. this time to lead them. A perfect place for one who relies on shadows, misdirection, and stealth, the spotlight. Ha! I vehemently declined. I suspected my constant shadow walking was unnerving some, or they mistrusted me. It is so much easier to keep one's eyes on another if they need be plainly in view.

Another short debate ended with Ne'riaska emerging as the new 'leader' of our bizarre band. Mages are quite often those placed in charge of a group. I suppose it is due to the required intelligence to master the arcane arts they gain such status. I believe intuition, cunning, and wisdom also have their place in leader's repertoire. I'd see if this drow wizard possessed any other of these.

The mage wasted no time in issuing orders ... once again consisting of my scouting ahead. At least he was polite in his request. I felt nothing amiss other than the general eeriness that pervaded the bleak and barren wasteland, so I moved towards the castle.

My initial foray was uneventful, as I had suspected it would be. I reported dutifully to the group that all was quiet. The castle appeared as dead as the lands it presided over. the only obvious entrance was a ruined front entrance of twisted metal and stone. I had not searched thoroughly, and there may have been other ingress points I had yet to see.

Ne'riaska put forth the idea that the land was likely inhabited by magical entities or undead. It had merit, but I felt he was over-thinking things at this point. My attitude towards him was not mollified by his next instruction. The mage ordered the warriors to the front, the clerics second rank, and the mages to the rear.

No mention of the scout. I could only assume he wished me to stay in the extreme front to uncover any dangers while his meat-shields and healers had time to prepare. And, of course, he was safe in the back. I wondered how safe he'd be were his guessed at enemies to flank us. This thought cheered me greatly, and I went forward with renewed zeal.

I led them all to the gate. It quickly became evident it was mangled and twisted beyond use. As we drew nearer, we could see the metal had been melted in spots, fusing to the striated marble. Ne'riaska then contemplated sending me in both directions to scout more. I asked him how, unless he had a way to clone me. Several other argued for staying together. Illona expressing fear for my well being. I still feel it was more due to a fear of my uncovering, and acquiring, something of value before the others knew about it. However, and this struck me oddly, Illona seemed sincere. Interesting.

We located a badly deteriorated wooden door partially hidden a fall of rubble and brambles. A cursory search was all I needed to know any trap was long since fallen to disrepair. The door seemed able to be opened, and not wishing to await the expected debate over who goes first, what preparations to make, and the like, I gently pushed the door open.

A horrible screech as the rusted metal hinges ground open wailed through the quiet air. Well, my haste had just alerted anything in the general vicinity as to our location. I turned a chagrined look upon my companions. There were a few glares, but most seemed unconcerned. Noman entered first.

The door lead into a kitchen, of sorts. The doorway we had entered must have been a servant's entrance. This told me the land was peaceful before the calamity which destroyed it. Else the door had been warded magically in the centuries past and the dweomer had faded. And, with all the experience I have had with surfacers, it was entirely likely the castle inhabitants were just plain stupid.

Several items of note were in the room: a tub of a noxious green fungus, a pile of crusty, black rags, and a middling sized keg of what looked to be beans. What drew my attention the most was the northern exit from the kitchen. Always have an escape route.

Another debate over what to do broke out. Ne'riaska ordered me to search the rags. Brendan had already started moving towards the fouls craps of cloth, but stopped at the mage's command. The druid executed a small bow and motioned grandly to the rancid pile, grinning like a fool. I shot Ne'riaska a black look and withdrew my rapiers to poke through the mass of cloth in front of me.

There was nothing to be found save a desiccated snake. It looked to have been a cobra.

Brendan had moved towards the tub of fungus, wrinkling his nose. The mage nodded, citing the druid was best equipped to deal with anything plant or fungus related due to his training. I think it was because he had moved to the rag pile before being ordered to. The smell from the fungus was rank, even from several feet away. I found myself hoping the fungus was nothing more than odoriferous lichen for Brendan's sake.

The druid found a small, silvery ring buried in the muck and fungus, but not without the cost of becoming saturated with the stench himself. Despite his offensive odor, the others pressed close. I held my hand before my nose and moved to examine the northern door. An escape route is only worthwhile if you do not 'escape' into something worse than which you flee.

They debated on the initials etched inside the silver ring as I quickly checked the door for dangers. L A K ... Lady Argenta Korrigal. It is possible it was the ancient princess' ring, but why was it in a common washtub? Was it left there on purpose, a clue to those who would seek to unravel the mystery of Korrigal? I suppose I'd never know, and I assumed the old woman would claim it as her own once we found our way back to her .. wherever she was.

The mage ordered me to again scout ahead. Imagine that. There was a short stretch of corridor, with a single, rotted door leading off it to the side and another at the end of the hall. The room was filled with musty cots and rotted bedding. A half dozen sturdy looking footlockers leaned against a wall. visible marks of shields and weapons which once hung on the wall gave further evidence that this room was once used as a barracks. Dust was thick everywhere.

I worked quickly, doing a fast, yet thorough search for anything which may pose an immediate threat, then turned to the foot lockers. The first opened quickly to my fingers, empty except for some rotted cloth. I moved to second, when the group came in. I am unsure if any knew what I had been doing, none made the typical accusations I heard on and off to this point. I quickly assured them no dangers lurked about and the usual flurry of searching and activity ensued.

At least by this point, everyone had fallen into a routine of sorts. The bickering was kept to a minimum. Some old halberds and helmets were located, but the lockers held more things of interest.

Three coins, golden and octagon shaped. Most agreed they were not common currency, though there was no proof to the contrary. Noman suggested the old woman would be interested in them. I was ... upset. I had ventured first into every dark crevice, every unknown room, faced darkness knows what, and the first tangible loot we find is to be given to the fakir archeologist? I argued my point a few moments, then decided to drop the issue. I would acquire one later. Let the fools think Brendan, named "keeper of the coins" by the mage, lost one.

Ne'riaska set us moving to the other door in the hall, and we soon found ourselves in a small, outdoor courtyard in the middle of the castle, by my best guess. Dead plants of all types were in abundance. Stone benches, fallen and broken choked lay next to massive tiered planters. West lay an obstructed glass wall. Centuries of filth had covered the panes, which stood miraculously whole. A small trapdoor leading down was on the East side of the dead garden, and the northern wall held yet another door, presumable leading back into the castle.

Quick searches showed nothing of interest lay in the garden. T'rissnar moved from the main group to scratch at the grime encrusted glass, pressing her face close to attempt seeing something on the other side. Illona slid near invisibly towards the cellar door.

T'rissnar turned back to the group, her mane of white hair rolling in waves as she shook her negatively. Illona returned from the cellar, with news that it appeared to be some sort of sitting room. I wondered at that. Why would a sitting room be placed within a cellar? Was Illona hiding something, or merely mistaken? She had not been on the surface as long as I, and the slight glimpse I gained of the cellar appeared to be more of a small shrine, or chapel, than a sitting room. However, in drow culture homes are so decorated with items of religious tones, even a sitting room would appear a chapel to a surfacer. Still ...

The mage interrupted my thoughts by stating we move forward, back into the castle. The minor mystery of what truly lay in the cellar would have to wait. Perhaps I could make my way back and see for myself at some point.

The room we next moved into was spacious. It was an elongated hexagon with walls of broken and illegible mosaics. The marble floor was shattered in places, with flashes of red showing through the black and white. Moldy, scarlet towels were strewn on the floor, and ancient soap was dried in broken containers. The room was commanded from the center by a small, pink marble pedestal, perhaps the size of a dwarf. Something glittered gold from the top of it.

The place seemed to be some sort of communal bath. A similar place is located within the Hamptonshire University of Knowledge, though without the mosaics .. or the obviously trapped pedestal.

I moved carefully towards the pedestal, eyes searching for pressure plates around it, hidden dart traps, gas vents in the floor .. what I missed was one of the plentiful rotten towels. I stumbled, barely missing toppling into the pedestal. My face flushed in humiliation, but the trip was a blessing in disguise, as the clerics are wont to say.

For as I righted myself, I noticed the pedestal was indeed trapped. A weight sensitive plate lay under the pendant and key, which was now glowing with a soft light. My attempt to disarm it was unsuccessful, but I learned enough to see the item on top could only be removed by instantly replacing it with another object of the same, or extremely similar, weight.

Misty studied the pendant and key, surmising the weight. We all rummaged through our packs and pouches to find something of similar weight. Eventually, we located several items that should work ... assuming the cleric was correct.

Brendon carefully placed the objects on the pedestal as he removed the pendant and it's key. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. With utmost concentration, he exchanged the items. He was successful, I assume, as nothing occurred except the key began to glow more brightly.

The light seemed to pulse, and when it faded a bit, I could see the room as if through a transparent haze. It was no longer the crumbling, ruined mess it was, but as it once may have been in ancient times. The mosaics were whole again, glistening brightly, and the scenes seemed to almost be alive:

One of a red dragon mounted by a man in silver and blue armor giving chase to a young maiden wearing a silver gown with a ruby placed in the center ...  Her gown is being blown by the wind ... Another scene depicted the maiden playing in the woods with some elves while a red dragon watches them from his hiding place behind two tall pines, about to set them on fire with his breath ... There is also a beautiful picture of the maiden using her hands to dig in the earth, planting a fresh-looking sapling, ready for a new life ... On another wall is a picture of a blue lake with a shimmering silver object in the center, floating on a lily pad, and several mermaids swimming and splashing each other near it ... The design on the floor showed the maiden, man, and dragon stretched out reaching for  a shining red octagon.

The white light from the key pulsed yet again, and a shimmering portal appeared in the West wall. The old woman stood inside it, beckoning us to come to her. The lands beyond appeared to be Engliton.

With a final look around, I stepped through the portal. We made our way back to the Heartwood Tavern, where the key and coins were given over to the old woman. I let them go ungrudging, as the mystery of the castle had now caught my interest in full. The old woman clucked like a hen over the finds, informing us the key would be able to return us to the mosaic room, but she wished to study the objects further and would call for us when she was to set out again for the Land of Korrigal and the Palace of the Silver Princess.

Before I left, however, the old woman plucked at my sleeve, pressing a small, but heavy ouch into my hand as I turned towards her. She whispered she was sorry I had found nothing, and hoped this would be sufficient recompense for my time ... and to by the twins something from their Great Auntie Esther. And then she winked, chuckled softly, and moved to speak to another of our rapidly departing group.

I eyed the old woman with new appreciation. She was most definitely much more than she let on. I grinned despite myself, and bouncing the pouch of coins jauntily in one hand, exited the Heartwood to find a gift worthy of Auntie Esther for the dalharin

Offline Vix

  • Mmmm ... Spider Slushies!
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1112
Re: Palace of the Silver Princess
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2009, 03:21:45 PM »
Part 3 happened several days later ...

Razgril and I had gone to Engliton to meet with an agent of the University regarding details of our impending wedding to take place in their Main Hall. After a short discussion with the thin human male, Razgril handed over a rather heavy pouch of coin to secure the location for the ceremony. We decided on a quiet stroll around Fairview Farms to talk and just enjoy one another's company. We made our way out of the city to the pastoral lands of the Farms.

Our first stop was the circle of chairs surrounding a small bonfire, commonly called "the Fire" by most. Many were seated about the warm flames this night, but one individual caught my attention. I pointed out Great Auntie Esther to Razgril, as he had yet to meet her.

The old woman was in the middle of her fabulous, and possibly true, tale of The Palace of the Silver Princess. My intended and I whispered softly to one another, remarking on several others who were gathered to hear her tale. The old woman's eyes briefly met my own as she gazed around the fire, weaving her story for all, and claiming she was in possession of a way to quickly return to the castle for further exploration. She seemed to be inviting me once again to accompany her back to the marble castle.

A quick conversation with Razgril had us both entering the Heartwood to await the old woman and join her on her magical journey back. Several others were also drawn into Auntie Esther's web of curiosity, several of which I had accompanied on my original jaunt with the old woman.

Blake Rottingham: scoundrel, pirate, warrior ...
Talia Amorell: Priestess of Sune, and not one of my most fervent admirers ...
Mystix Luckfoot: mage and prominent Mystaran, one I respected ...
Misty: a young woman with clerical ability, pleasant enough but there is aught about her ...
Noman: sturdy warrior, stout heart, still much unknown of him to me ...
Brendan Osiron: Druid, tiefling, and grown in power since last I saw him ...
And, of course, Razgril and myself ...

The group prepared for the journey, though not as intensely as the previous one. The old woman promised to reopen the magical portal my previous group had used to return to Engliton last trip. As the old woman fortified her resolve with a "drinkey-poo", I quickly related a few interesting facts of the my last trip to the marble castle to the others. There was also one other thing I told the group, or a poem found by another excursion. I related it in hopes the more who heard it, the more minds to help decipher it's meaning:

"I came and what did my eyes behold?
A Maiden Fair with locks that flow like the sea.
Her face aglow, by which flame finds shame.
Her innocence, light and gentle like the breeze.
For her heart I would traverse to the ends of ..."

It was incomplete, and coupled with an inscription reputedly located nearby, could be keys to unlocking the mystery of the Princess Argenta and her giant ruby. The inscription was simple, yet again in the form of a riddle:

"The secret treasure of one's heart can be found through wisdom."

As I finished reciting these, Esther informed us the time had come to depart. She closed her eyes and stood very still. After a moment, I feared she had fallen asleep. Then her eyes snapped open, a warm breeze wafted about the Tavern's common room, and a glowing portal appeared next to her. With a jaunty 'Away we go', the sprightly old woman jumped in. I grabbed Razgril's cloak and tugged him through the portal, the others were also leaping through.

We appeared back inside the royal bath, the magic fading and taking the view of how it looked in the past with it. I noticed the others quickly scanning the room, taking in the past images before they faded completely.

A brief discussion of who would lead placed the pirate in charge. He was used to leading, being the captain of his band of cutthroats, and it left me free of the rigors of command to do what I do best. Rottingham quickly got us organized, the warriors up front, the clerics and mage towards the rear ... and of course, myself as point. Though I felt no malice in Rottingham's placement of me.

We entered the western door and found ourselves in a cramped, curving corridor which seemed to lead South. Empty wooden shelves lined the walls, pressing close. It was wide enough for only two of us to enter at a time. I looked to the pirate captain, and he nodded for me to go ahead.

I moved carefully into the corridor, away from the group, fully knowing such a small passage was prime opportunity for attack or lethal traps. I ran my eyes over the walls, the floor, the shelves, and peered forward into the gloom. The floor creaked beneath my slight weight and I stopped.

Gently I knelt and probed the floor, discovering it was part of an old pit trap. It was possibly used to deter others from using the passage while the royalty was bathing. The mechanism was weak with rust and age, the flooring no better. For now it held my weight, but those in armor would surely crash through. I slowly, carefully, moved back.

There was no way for me to disarm the decayed trap, but perhaps I could stabilize it. I worked quickly, as I could feel the flooring begin to give way under me. But, I was too slow. The wood disintegrated under me and I tumbled head first into the black pit below.

I dearly hoped there were no spikes or other implements of death at the bottom, and twisted my body to be feet first. I landed heavily, and dropped into a crouch. Wood fragments showered down about me, but I was unharmed, and relieved nothing had skewered me. I looked up to the rectangle of light above me, marred only by the several head and shoulder shapes peering down at me.

The pit was only a little over ten feet deep, but the walls slanted inward, like an inverted funnel, which would make climbing very difficult. Several options were discussed, the lack of a rope was lamented by Rottingham, but the situation was resolved by Brendan transforming into an Air Elemental form and carrying me back to the group.

I was safe, but now we were effectively blocked from further progress. The gap was too wide to jump, due to the ceiling height, and the tight confines of the corridor. Brendan offered to transform to a golem form and carry us across, but it was decided he would likely wedge himself in with the bulky shape.

Noman advised using the shelves to create a makeshift bridge across the gap. Rottingham, seeming aggravated at the debate and seeing a simple solution posed by the warrior, ordered the nearby shelves to be removed and placed across the hole. We quickly dismantled several shelves and Rottingham again turned to me to find the best placement. I was worried the heavy armor of Razgril would crash through, but several informed me the rosewood shelves were quite sturdy, and I supposed I could create a network of support to help.

I set to laying the makeshift bridge and moved out over the gaping hole, pulling more shelves down and creating a longer bridge until I reached the far side. Everyone crossed without incident, though the boards creaked and shifted under more than one heavy tread.

We ended up in a sitting room.  A door to the West was cracked open. Several chairs, rotten and dust caked, were about. Four statues of young women in varying poses dominated the room. A large, grim covered window was on the East wall. It had to be the sitting room that looked into the atrium/garden. The room another group of explorers had mentioned seeing a milky white shape in.

Before I could tell the group of the supposed phantasm, my eyes fell upon a small bench situated between two of the statues, and the small book laying open upon it. I knelt down carefully, to make sure the book was not bait in some trap. Suddenly a humanoid shape appeared next to me and hurled a dagger at Misty, crying "You shall not get her!"

I rolled to the side, grabbing the book as I went. The others took defensive actions; raising shields, casting defensive spells, or just dodging as I did. The image dissolved as soon as it had cried it's warning, but the dagger still flew at the young woman's breast. Misty raised her arms in an attempt to shield herself, but the dagger struck her in the heart and vanished.

She appeared unhurt, but her eyes grew wide, her face pale, and she fled out the Western door. Noman screamed his fear for Misty and raced after her.

The phantom appeared again, another dagger in hand, and hurled this one at Brendan, again with the same cry. Our weapons passed harmlessly through the thing, and a spell of holding cast by Talia failed against it. Brendan turned as the dagger sped towards him, his hand plucking the blade from the air itself. The manifestation seemed to cry out soundlessly and vanished again.

Noman returned with a visibly shaken Misty, who oddly was going on about her hair. Rottingham and the druid examined the blade, exclaiming it was icy to the touch. Then once again the phantom manifested. This time, Mystix was ready for it and a bright burst of light, golden as the sun, sprang from her hands and struck the phantom, causing it to vanish once again.

Rottingham quickly moved us out of the room through the West door and into a once elegant dining hall. Sounds of violent crashes, as of furniture and books, came from the sitting room. We quickly closed the door and the sounds ceased. We waited cautiously, but not further attacks occurred.

The pirate ordered a short rest to compose ourselves and check on Misty. The party sat carefully in the chairs or on the floors and chatted quietly. Talia and Mystix examined the young woman for any lingering effects. I set about reading the book I had taken with me from the room, Razgril looking over my shoulder.

The book bore the signature of Lady Argenta of Korrigal. It appeared to be a diary of some sort. I skimmed the book quickly, noting it indeed seemed an account of the royal days of the princess. But it was the final entry I was looking for. I found it, and it was most interesting to read.

"Dearest Trusted Diary,

I have met the most wonderful man. His eyes and smooth, black hair are the color of night itself, he seems to entrance my very being. He wears the most striking suit of silver and blue armor. With every one of his words, I swoon and feel as if I have known this man forever.

Last night, he came to my room after the ball as I brushed my hair by the mirror. He professed his love to me right then and there. I have to admit, I did notice him glancing my direction during the festivities and I could not avert my eyes from his handsome face.

We spent hours laughing, gazing into each others eyes by the fireplace, and speaking of the glory of fate. He has proposed marriage to me, and although it seems sudden, I believe I am going to accept!

After the man left I retrieved "My Lady's Heart" from it's beautiful holding case, almost burning my index finger ... My mind was quite distracted with thoughts of my fine silver knight! (I understood reason for the lock to be so complex to open, but I do so wish it was simpler ... I fear someday I will lose my ring and will not be able to open it ...) I held the Great Ruby in my hand, and watched as the sun rose, sending dozens of dazzling red flecks all about my bedchamber to greet the wonderful new morn.

What a wonderful and strange thing life is, dearest diary. It has been but hours since I first set eyes upon the man I am about to marry, but ... I still do not know his name ..."