from Sidridel's Diary

Cal 2, 1327A

The baroness Gaelax has a strong heart -- as strong as her well-muscled arms. Her desert elven heritage, perhaps, or simply having Sadic as a mate, has made her impervious to the dread of night. She kept all of us from going insane while the shadows themselves seemed to come alive. There was nothing specific we could see or point to -- nothing baron Sadic could see through the eyes of his familiar, Nightmare. The huge horned owl was impervious to the things in the night, as well. Like the baroness, he seems to have no fear.

As soon as we had light at dawn, I convinced the baroness to send Gridaxe to Kashin. The dwarven fighter had mentioned before to master Jandor that he had contacts in Mount Lavanor, and we decided to put his contacts to use. Armed with gold instead of his battle axe, Gridaxe left with the sailors for Kashin, to either hire dwarven crusaders of Galgiran, or to hire whatever mercenaries he could find.

I continued my research, barricaded inside of master Jandor's laboratory. Many of master Jandor's notes are illegible, but thanks to some foresight, this problem was easily overcome. One of his spells allows me to put together his wild strokes and flairs of ink, pieced together as though from a puzzle. Two days passed -- and two nights. Whatever it was that haunted us, left us alone in body, but it refused to leave us alone in spirit.

Gridaxe -- Agincoth bless his blonde beard -- returned with close to seventy mercenaries. They are a diverse and motley bunch, made up primarily of dwarves. Fully half of them are affiliated with the Rakanus Clan in some way, and Gridaxe told me that one among them was a crusader from the Granite Clan. Apparently, once this crusader -- Deftralon Richvein -- learned of Gridaxe's task, he organized the mercenaries with oratory and charismatic style. In the ten years since the War of the Undead, many mercenaries have made their living hunting down the undead. The gold Gridaxe had, and the more he promised, made recruiting easier than I would have thought. Deftralon installed his mercenaries in one of the huge towers of baron Sadic's fortress.

The baroness and I were in a quandry. Though Deftralon and his men might protect the castle from another orc attack, and even settle the nightmares in the darkness, whatever they are, we were still worried about master Jandor and baron Sadic, as well as Kozak, Sarah, Mae, and two of the three tomanths -- Lidik and Sirik.

The third tomanth, Trikit, quickly got into a scuffle with Deftralon and his mercenaries. His blood red scales in the dark of the night, coupled with the tomanth's night time habits, had him ambushed by the crusader and his men close to midnight. The fact that Trikit could take so much damage clearly convinced Deftralon that he was undead in the heat of the moment. Luckily, the baroness ended the scuffle rather quickly. Deftralon's prayers to Galgiran to heal his men were granted, and no one was lost.

Trikit quickly lamented the fact that our respective masters were not there. The baroness and I conceived then of a plan. Though we did not know where master Jandor and baron Sadic were, we did know where they were going. After retrieving Hetzil from the orcs, their party would undoubtably head straight for the Griktale Escarpment -- and the Legacy Project. Though they lacked a dwarf, they might find one amongst the orcs. According to Deftralon, many dwarves, elves, and even humans were captured by the orcs during their attempted invasion nearly fifteen years ago. The hardier dwarves would undoubtable survive enslavement conditions -- as they did in Kur Maeth -- and were probably unwillingly aiding the Ogre Nations in their war against the centaur ants.

The plan was simple: I would go alone to the Griktale Escarpment. Rather than simply go unarmed or unescorted, I would go first to Mount Rilan, and visit the Baron and the Bishop Dwarfendale. I was sure I could get his aid, in some form or fashion. The Legacy Project had eluded his grasp since the Storm Wars, because he lacked a gnome, or even a basic understanding of the gnomish language. Hetzil may be a gnome, but I think he is somewhat crazy. He has his periods of rationality -- but they do not last.

Some four days later, armed with spells of protection and scrolls for Mae and Sarah and master Jandor, I was galloping across the Choranil Desert towards Tent City. After sailing to Loregard, I bought a camel, and found out that there was a trading city out in the desert sands -- Rakore traded with the Ogre Nations! Albeit none of the supplies were weapons or armor, but many luxury goods and old relics or artifacts came from the orcs, and Rakore traded them healing salves and masonry goods. I felt the trade was a subterfuge for diplomacy or spying, but kept such to myself.

I had never ridden a camel before. I intend never to ride one again. Especially not during the Freeze. The dark red days as Maroth eclipses the sun makes me miserable -- though it does make desert travel easier. I just wish I had dressed more warmly. Expecting the heat of the desert, I nearly froze to death. My normally ebon skin was blacker than the shadows in the red light of Maroth.

Also of news in Loregard, was a strange occurrence in the desert five days before. Some enormous ball of fire had lit up the desert's night sky, visible even from the city, and it was in the general direction of Tent City and a bit south. I knew that could only be master Jandor!

And as luck would have it, master Jandor and baron Sadic were waiting for me, as I rode into Tent City in the first rays of light from the rising sun, on the first of Cal. The rising sun after forty-eight marks of darkness and the red light of Maroth, coupled with master Jandor and baron Sadic standing there, waiting for me... It was the happiest morning of my life.

When Nightmare landed on baron Sadic's shoulder, I understood immediately how they knew to wait for me. The huge horned owl had followed me from the fortress, staying out of sight. I had not even known I was being watched.

Less than a mark later, we were inside the Legacy Project.

That will forever be a strange day in my memory. Not just for that glorious morning sight, but for all that happened in that one day. The project itself is deep in the desert. On the maps, it is near a river -- but I have since learned that the river is just a dry stream bed but for the occasional flash flood. The Griktale Escarpment is nearly one hundred miles long, and at least a mile high for all of that length. It runs in a generally southeast direction, with its south and west facing cliff side near vertical.

Appearing on a tiny ledge half-way up that cliff side was frightening in itself. Worse yet, we could hear the flying centaur ants swarming over the edge of the Escarpment, some half a mile above us. They were as little more than dust motes to us from so far away, and luckily, we were invisible to them. I was deathly afraid, in the morning darkness of that cliff side, that Rig would give us away.

Rig. He is the first orc I have ever met. I see now why their race is so feared. Rig assures me that he is average for his race, even in his attitude, and this frightens me even more. He is massive, as wide of shoulder as I am tall, and towering over me by nearly a foot. Though nowhere near as tall as baron Sadic, he weighs as much, and it is sheer muscle. The large canines of his lower jaw portrude up nearly to his small, porcine nose, and his vividly purple eyes are overshadowed by massive brows. His black hair is swept back in with a clasp, and though he has no facial hair, he is covered with hair like that on the humans' forearms, making his dark green skin even darker in appearance. What is truly frightening is his attitude and his aptitudes.

Rigirodox fears the centaur ants, but it is a fear born of respect, and well disciplined. So far as I can gather, he fears nothing else -- not even master Jandor's wild surges. He exudes a sort of calm power that I could never have imagined existed, and his eyes watch all of us, and everything. I trust him with my life, now, but when I met him, I made sure to keep baron Sadic or master Jandor between him and myself at all times. Rig has been fighting the centaur ants for close to eight years, and has been a subject of ogremai for all of his thirty-six years. A veteran of the Rakoran wars fifteen years ago, and a slave-driver to Kur Maeth, he has done much and seen much.

He cares only to survive, but there is a spark of honor in his eyes that I have only seen before in the eyes of the tomanths. It is as though his eyes convey the truth, in everything. Once I learned to watch his eyes, I came to read him as one reads a book, and I have come to respect this orc. Though prone to violence in combat, he is otherwise calm and collected. I gather that he was a cruel slave-driver, but something happened... And he refuses to elaborate on what.

Despite this recent addition to our party, we all felt overwhelmed. Had the centaur ants flying overhead chosen to look more closely at the cliff side, we would likely all have had a bad day. Only in retrospect do I realize that we were actually within the war zone between the centaur ants and the orcs.

We hurried inside of the near-hidden cavern within the escarpment. Carved out of solid rock, it is a massive cave sixteen-hundred feet tall, square, with each side of the square being twenty-four miles on a side. Around the edge of the square runs a narrow, seven foot ledge, eight-hundred feet from the bottom, and eight-hundred feet from the top. In each corner are sliding blocks that, with the touch of a rune, go up and down from the floor to the ledge.

It took us some time to realize the size and extent of the project. Master Jandor's notes detail a good bit about the contents of the Legacy Project, but I do not think he grasped the size or scale of the project. Basically, the gnomes constructed a massive representation of the planets that we orbit the sun with. I learned much of astronomy from one of Brin's other students, an Amaran man named Delithiree. The Legacy Project is supposed to be the sum total of the gnomes experience and knowledge, and also points the direction they went when escaping Gaeleth.

When the then antipaladin Simon Luminar wiped them out, it was assumed that he wiped out all the gnomes on Gaeleth. A few escaped, but the majority actually escaped to another world. This prospect intriques me and frightens me, for the power to travel so far -- if my calculations are correct -- would be considerable. The Towers such as the one on Maddog Island (and why is it pronounced Mad Dog, and spelled Maddog?) lack the power to do so, so far as I can determine. Baron Sadic once mentioned a Gate of some sort, down in Nabrol, but I have not yet asked him about it.

The whole inside of the massive cavern spins like a big wheel, showing that the last planet is where the gnomes escaped to. The project only works when sunlight strikes the globe representing the sun, though. As we travelled towards the pedestal of the great planetary wheel, a tiny shaft of sunlight struck the miniature sun. We had been travelling all day! Without the sun as a reference guide, I had not realized how long we had been walking.

The one camel we had left carried Lidik and Sirik, because their short legs cannot move so swiftly as our long ones. The other camel had fallen off of one of the sliding blocks in the corners, but luckily neither tomanth was on it.

After a few glorious moments when the disk was lit up like an enormous spider's web, the sun dipped below the western entrance to the project, and the disk went dark -- as did the cave. The cave, incidently, is perfectly flat, and not curved with the curvature of the world. It was very eerie to see the whole of the cave, and yet it was so enormous that I could not have seen a giant had he been standing on the other side.

We found the workstations that prior Firestorm members had set up, around the remains of the one gnome. Master Jandor and baron Sadic, along with the strange Kozak, and the priestess of Whalin Sarah, had opted to go the Legacy Project even without Hetzil. They felt that they would never find him in the Ogre Nations, or be able to wade through so many orcs. And Rig assured them that it would be difficult at best to even track the gnome once he was in the hands of the ogremai.

Instead of a futile chase, they had decided to head directly to the Griktale Escarpment, by buying camels at Tent City and riding northeast at a hard ride. How they intended to evade both patrolling orcs and the ravenous centaur ants is beyond me, but luckily I presented them with another option. The Baron and the Bishop had sent along two scrolls of a special prayer to Galgiran that would punch through space and time much like the Towers, and let us travel virtually anywhere.

So, using one of the few remaining eagle's eyes he had, master Jandor cast a spell of scrying into Mae's small mirror. Surprising all of us, indeed, was Hetzil's image -- right atop us! The ogremai had apparently set up a small base right atop the escarpment, but so woven it with illusions and shields that the centaur ants could not see it or smell it or feel it.

Rig has been a font of knowledge on fighting the centaur ants -- or the 'Srik' as he calls them. He says they not only use their eyes, but can smell and feel prey with equal precision. Not only does the experienced Rig know this, but so too did the ogremai above us.

Though there only appeared to be two dozen or so, Rig assured us that they were probably next to unassaultable. The ogremai were as much veterans of the Srik Wars as was Rig, and their magics were considerable.

I am rather fond of master Jandor, but his exclamation of, "The pants are full," rankles with both myself and Mae, I'm sure. So after this minor setback, we prayed. Both my master and I prayed to Agincoth. When I learned of gods and deities, I had learned that Agincoth died during the Storm Wars -- the goddess of magic and knowledge was dead. But Hetzil changed that. For master Jandor, who had followed Lul all his life, Agincoth was an answer to an unvoiced prayer.

So we asked for an answer to a voiced prayer. For aid.

The shadows themselves -- the darkness surrounding our puny lights -- came alive. A living shadow monster with armor and weapons made of darkness, threw into our midst a drow'ari -- a drow with bat like, leathery wings. She rolled out of the throw, and seemed to know master Jandor, Mae, and baron Sadic -- as well as Lidik.

The shadow monster said -- and I will never forget it, "Here is your drow. Now all you lack is a dwarf."

Master Jandor asked, "Why do we need Storm, when we have Sid?"

"You need a real drow."

Master Jandor and I shared a strange glance, and then the dark monster stared intently at baron Sadic. "Do you know someone named Sandrimos?" And then it laughed very evilly.

The monster faded back into the shadows, his violet pin-prick eyes gleefully evil. "You need a real drow," he had said. Never had my eleation been cut so short, so quickly, so hard. Master Jandor's look upon me truly broke my heart. I wondered, then, just what I really was.

Baron Sadic welcomed the drow'ari named Storm -- a priestess of Brigain, it turned out. Sarah nearly attacked the drow'ari, thinking she was a demoness. For, indeed, Storm looks like one, with ebon black skin, bat-like wings, and heavy leather armor. Storm used the same style as Sarah gave, to fend off her attacks long enough for Kozak to bring order.

And then Storm identified the shadow monster as the dread knight Xemitar. Undead. The priestess of Brigain says that he is bound by Brigain's will, and sometimes by hers. But Kozak says he will destroy the dread knight, no matter what god controls him.

Kozak is a lean and fierce elf, wearing a white set of loose robes over tight leather armor of the deepest knight. He broods as much as Rig, and the undead, from what I gather, are responsible for the deaths of his parents. I fear he will attack the dread knight, and die. Storm says Xemitar will return for her, once her task with us is done.

So then we prepared for war.

Armed as I was with parchment and quills, my special ink was put to use in making spells. Though master Jandor is the essential sorceror among us, the baron Sadic knows some as well, simply through long association with master Jandor. As well, Storm, Sarah and Mae are priests, and can record prayers to Whalin and Olorin, respectively.

Armed with those scrolls, after some considerable work, we assaulted an entire encampment of ogremai. Only myself, master Jandor, baron Sadic, and Kozak went, with the others remaining ready in a separate strike force. Master Jandor and baron Sadic cast several spells upon us that would allow all of us to fly, and then cast an arsenal of defensive spells upon me.

Since Hetzil knew all of the others so well, it was likely that he had told his ogremai captors everything. The gnome and I had known one another for only a small time, and of all of us, the cards were literally in my favor.

Some time ago, during my first lessons under master Jandor, he had shown me a powerful magical item. It is a deck of ivory cards, with different depictions on the cards -- some of the time. The cards remain blank, until someone draws a set number. As soon as the cards are drawn, an image appears in the ivory, determining the fates of whomever actually draws the cards. No one else can draw from the deck until all of the fates come true, and the deck recesses itself as blank a moment later.

Master Jandor's lessons in chaos theory, number theory, and probability, were very instructive. He mentioned in his spell notes that only through his abilities as a wild mage and a scholar of probability, was he able to keep the deck of enchanted cards from randomly disappearing completely. Apparently, the deck is supposed to teleport itself somewhere else once the fates are completed. A powerful agent of chaos, the deck was actually constructed by a strong wild mage during the Storm Wars -- a mage named Drizzelios.

I had not told master Jandor until that moment, but I had snuck two cards from the deck -- and I had used my own pale imitations of his art to keep the fates from occurring until then. The two cards I had drawn -- an image of a wizened man alikened to Al Fahimic descent, and an image of three women with scizzors around a tapestry, had powerful connotations. Those two cards, of all the cards in the deck, would grant me extraordinarily powerful defensive magics.

Armed with those two cards, and the magics of two sorcerors and two priests, I would be virtually invulnerable. Or so I hoped.

The four of flew straight up the side of the escarpment in a matter of minutes. We stopped just below the edge, and I peeked over. As far as I could see, in the hot summer sun, was the shimmering of desert heat. Rig says that few creatures -- orc or srik -- are out in the hottest part of the day. Apparently, that included ogremai.

I stepped through the illusion the ogremai had erected, and entered their tiny camp. Ensorcelled to invisibility, I simply walked into the largest tent, where master Jandor had scried Hetzil.

The gnome was bound and beaten, but alive. Around him were several ogremai, though only two were awake. Awesomely huge at nearly eleven feet tall, I realized that I could not fathom a giant. I recall it all so very clearly -- sweat pouring off my skin, both from heat and nervousness. My eyes teared up from the blinding light of day. The smell of disease and filth in the tent.

My sweat gave me away. One of the two ogremai, playing a game with pieces of bone, spied my sweat as it drizzled off of me.

He roared, but I cut it off in mid-stride, leveling a spell of magical missiles at him. The spell disrupted the invisibilities around me, and I then threw the cards at the two ogremai. I didn't stop to find out what happened next, as I sped forward and grapped the bound Hetzil. I am not a strong elf -- not nearly so strong as Kozak or baron Sadic -- but when I had to lift and carry the gnome, I did.

I ran out of the tent with ogremai pouring out of tents behind me, and I leapt over the side of the cliff as the surge-mine I had cast erupted into a fury of fire and destruction. I fell, unable to hold Hetzil aloft, and myself, as the wave of orange destruction surged overhead. Kozak quickly rescued me, taking the burden of the gnome from my weakening arms. Then we all fell -- flying straight down, as quickly as possible.

Behind us, out of the fire, flew half a dozen ogremai. Swooping down from above us, they attempted to catch up to us, but we had the lead. It was an amazing spectacle, I'm sure -- spells volleying back and forth, and all of us flying straight down towards the entrance.

Kozak zipped over the ledge that signified the Legacy Project, and then through the entrance. Master Jandor unleashed a ball of fire to rise up above us, and into the ogremai, as we all slipped through into the vast interior of the project.

Firestorm had known about the Legacy Project for ten years. In all that time, they had ensorcelled and enspelled the entrance a thousand times over, to protect the project from being discovered by evil. Though the centaur ants -- the srik -- could enter the vast cavern, for they were barely more than animals, the ogremai could not. Luckily, the entrance had never been keyed against anything other than pure evil -- else Rig would be dead.

Kozak fired volleys of arrows into the ogremai, as did Sadic -- and master Jandor filled them with quarrels. Enraged, they tried to fly into the project. As had others before them, the ogremai exploded into a thousand thousand pieces, his blood vaporized by the lightning bolts, balls of fire, and shards of ice.

Inside the project, we rested, safe, with Hetzil. Sarah and Mae assured us that he would recover, and the mentally unstable gnome was shaken into sanity.

I never felt such praise and belonging in all my life. Then, I knew, I would never leave master Jandor's side. Though a lowly apprentice, he told me to my face that I had great potential -- for I had just proven it. That was, indeed, a momentous day.

Together, we then walked the long distance back to the Firestorm office that had been set up, around the body of the skeletal gnome. Hetzil tried to speak with the skeleton for some time, before Mae and Sarah gently moved him away. The poor gnome seems at times amazingly sharp, and at others amazingly lost. But he could still read the gnomish language, and proved invaluable in translating some of the old texts.

Hetzil had a moment of sanity, as he pointed to each and said aloud: Human, elf, drow, orc, gnome, tomanth... dwarf." There was no dwarf to point to, and there we were stymied. We needed one of each race, willingly, to open the Legacy Project. Where would we find a dwarf?

The question became moot. The Baron and the Bishop was our only answer. Through Sarah, his prayer of travel to Galgiran had opened a portal to the Legacy Project, though many days travel away. Sarah had one more prayer left, written in the Baron and the Bishop's hard, small handwriting.

After arriving at Lok Giran -- the fortress on Mount Rilan that is home to the Baron and the Bishop -- we asked the dwarf for additional scrolls, and a dwarf to unlock the project. The Baron and the Bishop complied, and we were astounded. The gnomic locks merely unlocked a golem of stone, calling himself Key. Key answers only to the commands of those seven people that first unlocked him. He alone can unlock the Legacy Project -- located in the Heavensbane Mountains. Key assures us that he will take us straight-away there, acting as compass and key. But he is still a golem, limited in his intelligence.

Appearing as though armored in full plate, only dimly glowing red eyes indicate he is more than a statue, though a statue that moves. The Baron and the Bishop had Key and Hetzil stay under his protection at Lok Giran, while we all cleaned up. For so long has the Baron and the Bishop been searching for the gnomes -- and the secrets they might bring to Rakore -- that he is taking no chances. Once cleaned up and ready, we will sail straight-away for the Heavensbanes aboard a shipe known as the Skate, and whose captain and crew master Jandor and baron Sadic already know.

Interestingly, the mere act of cleaning up gave us considerable insight into the Ogre Nations. They worship the goddess Mazripos, a ogrish-appearing goddess of filth, contagion, and disease. The orcs and ogres that worship her expose themselves to as many diseases as possible; those that die, have displeased the goddess. Her priests exist only to spread pestilence through violence and mayhem. As such, nearly all orcs and ogres are filthy, disease-ridden creatures with warts and infections that make them appear quite hideous.

The Baron and the Bishop's baths are supplied with soaps that cure diseases, thanks to prayers to Galgiran. When we were through with Rig, we hardly recognized him. Though his tusks and green skin dead give-aways to his orcish heritage, he appeared much more... human. The transformation of the women was equally startling, as they took the opportunity to dress up.

The orc that master Jandor had transformed into a drow... She was exquisitely beautiful. With my heart softening somewhat towards the Ogre Nations, it did not quite repulse me so to think that she had once been an orc. Master Jandor and baron Sadic decided to name her Genea, after the Duchess Genea at the Blue Tyven, there at Mount Rilan.

With Genea trailing me wherever I went, for some reason, I followed master Jandor and baron Sadic discreetly. The Baron and Bishop had promised to resolve the nagging question. If I was not drow, what was I?

The answer was frightening, and saddening. I was a squirrel. Long ago, master Jandor, along with a flesh-golem known as Atsu, and a monk of Rahne called William -- had battled a necromantic brigand known as Sandrimos. To battle the hordes of minions Sandrimos sent against them -- living, to hide his weapon of power over the undead -- master Jandor used many wild surges of his magic. The Baron and the Bishop showed them in a pool of water that I had been a ground squirrel, when one of master Jandor's transformations had transformed me, into a drow.

I did not know what to think. I was devestated. As Genea slid one arm around mine, and looked into my eyes, I realized that she was in the same position -- though the transformation that had changed me, was occurring much faster in her. Whatever orc was left in her was fast fading. I realized that she and I were now inseperable. And so now, were the three of us bound to master Jandor.

Our next stop would be Lok Magius, still under construction. There was still a mission to perform. The Legacy Project.

And though some spells could undo both myself and Genea, the rest vowed to turn considerable attention to making our transformations permanent -- that we both might become true drow.

I write all of these past few days with an empty heart. I fear that this diary may become all that's left of me, should I revert to my... younger days. I know now why I have no past. I fear that this diary will define my future.

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