He’s gone. Shojin’s gone. He said he’d take a watch and come morning he was just gone. And we were off on our search for him. I was probably putting too much pressure on Fayne to find him, but I didn’t care. I needed Shojin. I realized as soon as he was gone that I loved him, but not in that way. He keeps me even. He gives me balance. He makes me try to be a better… me. And Fayne says she can find him, but by the gods she is awful. We find a spot of blood just outside of camp and like the top notch tracker she apparently is she licks it. She licks it. What kind of idiot licks random blood on the ground? Well, moral of the story you shouldn’t do that. She started to feel weird and it only got worse as we tried to continue picking up Shojin’s trail.
In her somewhat addled state, Fayne was…let’s call it less than at her best. But she tried, more from my prodding than anything else. I couldn’t properly articulate why I needed to find him, only that I did. So even if her health seemed to be slipping, she led us off into nearby trees and on the trail she claimed was his. And then things got weird, even by our standards.
It wasn’t long before we stumbled upon a quartet of travelers on a mission of their own that was also steering them to Highbreeze. There was a dwarf who seemed to be a little touched with madness. I liked him even if he was an abrasive jerk. There was a goliath who may have suffered from some mental impairments. There was the one who like me enjoyed time in the shadows, but was honorable in his own way. Finally, there was this elven lady named Ezrella. She looked like a total bumpkin and the more I got to know her the more true that seemed. She also smelled faintly of graveyards and she could say some really dark stuff sometimes, but in all my travels and in all my life this was the first person I had ever met that truly wanted to help all those that she met. It was sweet in it’s own way. She was clearly going to need protection. She healed Fayne, but when she found out what had happened she said she wouldn’t do it if Fayne continued licking things on the ground.
Like most meetings our first almost came to blows and was stopped short because a greater threat presented itself. From the direction we were more or less travelling came the sounds of a fairly large war party. The group appeared to be comprised of orcs of a couple different sizes and these coal black things that weren’t exactly dragons and they weren’t exactly dogs but they were sort of dog sized dragons. After a short but difficult altercation with the bigger threat, we agreed to join forces for as long as our interests intersected. I used a new thing the lady taught me to show these new people what Shojin looked like, but kept having to tell people that he was taller. I found that every time I was using this power to slip into a new face I kept having to tell people that the face’s bearer was taller. But no matter, as I was showing this the dwarf got it out and set about attempting to pleasure himself in one of the dragon dog things death wounds. Fun fact, their innards were acidic. Our new friend Ezrella refused to heal him because he was an idiot. I was beginning to like the code she lived by and she was maybe less bumpkin than I realized.
After the dwarf got the burning in his loins under control, we set off in the direction the party had come from in the hopes that it would continue to bring us closer to Shojin, one step at a time. The badder guys than us left a path that was pretty easy to follow. They were clearly not trying to be subtle in the least. Eventually we crested a hill and expecting to find where the group had come from we saw… an empty valley. And then one of the new people tripped and fell down the hill and vanished out of sight. Like he was there and then he just wasn’t. Which was freaking weird. So we opted to just head down the hill at a more controlled pace in an attempt to find him. The whole thing stank of illusions. We had to be getting closer to him. This seemed like something he would do.
As we moved down the hill we passed through an invisible barrier. It didn’t feel like anything but some pressure in my chest and looking around, it seemed that others felt the same thing. As we moved down the hill, we saw a village inhabited by orcs. They all seemed to be pretty downtrodden. Misery was their only expression and it jumped out pretty quickly that there were no children playing or working with the adults. As we approached the camp the orcs quickly retreated into the hovels that were in various states of crumbling and ruin that comprised this village But as we got closer village was a much to generous term for what lay before us.
Not that it mattered as we didn’t get much time to look around. At the center of the village was an earthen dome that I imagined mirrored the illusion over this valley. It had a massive entrance on the side facing us. Way bigger than a person I was not enamored of whatever needed an entrance of that size. But joy of joys we almost immediately found out.
Now, quick aside Ezrella had done some travelling before she met with us and had encountered a couple of cultists early on. These encounters had affected her deeply or at least deeper than we could have known because she just starting yelling at the heavens at a volume louder than her size should have generated as a dark shadow of immense size came streaking from the opening that concerned me. It was a dragon. A dragon. Oh crap. I thought we were dead for certain and when the thing responded to Ezrella’s taunts, I was certain we wouldn’t be seeing Shojin, let alone anyone, ever again.
And the fight was on. I made the decision that this would be the battle that I made an entrance of some magnitude into. So I dropped the glamor that was concealing my nakedness beneath my cloak and rode into battle on Fayne’s bear as naked as the day I was born. I won’t be doing that again. I was going for this whole visual thing, but I think the performance of it all was lost on the great black beast.
We fought for what felt like hours and the dragon nearly took down a number of our newly grown travelling group. But this was not to be its day, for in the end we emerged something like victorious. We’d won. An no one died. It felt far too easy. And that terrified me, because anything worth doing was worth the challenge. This couldn’t possibly be the end of things. And there was still the matter of the orcs. And still no Shojin, but we were closer. We had to be. I needed us to be. I so badly needed us to be. I was barely holding it together at this point. It had to get easier from here.