From the Journal of Tang Zhen

Session 9

September 13, 5086, Apris (late morning)

The local residents were expecting us, without their hands near their weapons this time. I feared that our inquiries into a likely "Dopey" would lead to nothing more than an opportunity for the townsfolk to insult each other. I am pleased to admit that I was mistaken. We were unanimously directed to the shack of Jasker Ewell, the village idiot, just outside of town. There we found him, rolling gaily about the hillside. He never seems to mind when he cracks his head on a jutting rock. He is incapable of communication, as far as we can tell.

The town square is nothing more than a large patch of bare dirt, muddied by recent rains. We are splitting up to monitor Jasker and the town square.

September 13, 5086, Apris (midafternoon)

I am still unused to thinking of Dunbarton as a ranger. Thus, I excuse myself from not having thought of this earlier. I asked him just now whether he could cast Speak with Animals. He can, and did. I had him ask Chen Lung what he had "seen" during the chase in Pettigwyn. Chen Lung described this scene: A human-sized figure carried another human-sized figure into the town square. It dumped the body, then became something of the shape and size of a large rat, and left in that form. He could not explain how it had passed through the wall. (Or perhaps Dunbarton could not convey it to me.)

Our enemy is likely a shapeshifter, or has access to spells or potions to mimic the effect.

I have carefully devised a set of locations for Alarm spells that will let me know when anything, visible or not, enters the town square, and will give me a good idea of where the intruder is, depending upon which Alarms get triggered.

September 13, 5086, Apris (night)

Finally, we fought a pitched battle against Erwyn. He is far more powerful than we had anticipated; he nearly killed us, then made his escape when things started to turn against him.

But let me start from the beginning. Earlier this night, one of my silent Alarm spells was tripped. I sent Chen Lung over to investigate, but he found nothing in the area. I listened as carefully as I could, and heard nothing. Perhaps twenty or thirty minutes later, another Alarm activated. I caught on this time; Chen Lung and I put our ears to the mud, and heard something softly scrabbling within the earth. I sent up a Flare spell to quietly signal the others. We pinpointed where the sound was coming from, and as it neared the surface, Dunbarton's dire rat companion dug down to meet it. We uncleverly failed to anticipate that whatever was burrowing would hear the dire rat and flee.

When the dire rat broke through to the small tunnel with nothing inside, I sent Chen Lung down the tunnel. The tunnel widened, and he emerged from its entrance a block away. We stayed back, and Delyra had Nightshade sniff around the tunnel to get Erwyn's scent. We then followed Nightshade on a fast hunt through the streets, into a warehouse, and to a high window. Chen Lung darted outside through the window, and shortly noticed something flying away. He gave chase.

I followed. They seemed to be taking an arc toward the shack that the others had been guarding, so I ran straight there to intercept them. Delyra and Nightshade kept up with me; we left the others slightly behind, except for N-Guuk, who was still at the shack. (My Wind Walking technique has been succeeding lately; I find myself moving naturally faster, when I wish to.)

Erwyn and Chen Lung flew into the shack. Delyra and I burst in just as Erwyn (visible and in human form) began to fight with N-Guuk. Delyra cast spells from a corner, and I carefully tumbled past the combat and over a thickly cluttered floor to a clear spot atop a coffee table. I drew my war fan, and was surprised to succeed in bluffing Erwyn momentarily into thinking that it was not a weapon. I doubt that I could have scored that hit on him otherwise. I could hear Pheldran and Tam casting spells from the window to enhance our fighting abilities, and Dunbarton leading Jasker away to safety.

Erwyn quickly evened the sides by casting two beads to the floor. They erupted into the forms of two monstrous elemental creatures, one of earth and one of air. A moment later, he vanished. As we fought the elementals, a shout came from outside. I tried as best I could to hold off both elementals, so that N-Guuk could leave to kill Erwyn. They gave me a beating I shall not soon forget. The air elemental finally got me in its grasp, lifting and spinning me; I must have smashed against the rafters at a rate of up to five times a second. Through a haze of dizziness and pain, I heard Gelfor: "Hey, that looks like fun! Spin me next! Spin me!"

While I was being pulverized, Erwyn had materialized behind the village idiot, felling him in one blow. Dunbarton fought him alone, but was quickly joined by most of the others. Erwyn, surrounded, took wounds that should have killed him. He vanished again. The two elementals similarly vanished, dropping me to the ground. I hobbled outsize, barely able to stand. The others told me that Erwyn had just escaped. I suggested sending all of the animals out to search. Then I fell on my face in the grass, and remained there until Tam applied some healing spells.

Tam is still distributing healing to those of us who need it. The idiot is dead. A paper snowflake with another encrypted message lays beside him. I ache too much to do more than write in my journal while we wait long minutes for the animals to report in.

September 13, 5086, Apris (late night)

It is with glad heart that I revise my declaration of Erwyn's escape. He has after all succumbed to his wounds. Nescarel, Pheldran's feline familiar, found his body a mile away from the shack. We found some items of minor arcane power on the corpse, but some (such as the necklace from which he removed those elemental beads, and rings that have left impressions on his fingers) are missing. He may have secreted them somewhere nearby, but we cannot find the stash. His luck had run out at the worst possible moment; he died with a potion of healing still stoppered in his hand. Our only guess is that he had retrieved it from somewhere, for he would have used it immediately had it been on his person when he fled.

Erwyn left a note of a new variety on the body. It is composed entirely of six digit numbers:

292575 318750 998750 700569 649572 774198 818505 620379 956250 306423 339625 982206

831060 545670 439587 600300 422577 508113 768690 260145 487625 289170 355266 422577

470934 422577 107325 338247 487458 276750 592434 383775 809375 243225 384375 042245

879903 653310 309386 525366 487458 292575 053669 925101 685746 050904 867267 236964

677970 524718 632043 440625 685746 000215 674082 490770 616734 636363 858600 292575

140250 302022 360375 531468 602154 944298 428409 016830 298566 700569 400221 867510

782217 341320 554778

I cannot even begin to decipher this tonight. The alphabet cipher he left by Jasker's body, however, translates to: "forget it he'll never figure it out". Tam and Delyra fetched the town guard, who declared that some potions of intelligence are missing. They must have been taken earlier.

Meanwhile, we have foiled Erwyn's plans at the least convenient time possible: We have not prevented a single one of the seven murders, and we killed him before ever discovering his final goal. I shall content myself with the thought that we have at least prevented a deranged, maniacal and powerful wizard from fulfilling his nefarious plan, whatever that might have been.

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