From the Journal of Tang Zhen

Session 14

November 4, 5086, Alapon Farm

Kawg has set us a new task: We are to retrieve a map of the underground gnomish lands to the northwest of Dinas Mawr. The map must bear the seal of a Road Scholar of Tinandel. Kawg intends to trade the map to an unspecified being in exchange for the right to do business in that being's demesne.

The seal of a Road Scholar of the god of travel is a certificate of both authenticity and accuracy. Tam has not reached that rank within the priesthood, yet he represents our best chance to achieve the goal. Our prospects for success are uncertain, as illustrated by a passage that Tam recited directly from "The Geography of Central Faerluria" by Siorus Llygedyn:

"The Gnomes who live west of Tyr Delyth are friendly, hospitable, and always happy to share information. As a consequence, we have very many highly detailed maps of their homeland, every one of which contradicts the rest in almost every detail. Even the name of their homeland is inconsistent between tellings, and the humans refer to it simply as Cartref Coblyn ('Gnome Home'). In light of this, any further information we can give will probably be wrong."

Tinandel has no temples, but his shrines can be found on the outskirts of every major town. On our way, we searched the log book in the shrine north of Corstref, to no avail. Our luck will likely improve once we are on the correct side of the two intervening mountain ranges.

November 8, 5086, Dinas Felin

We had an astonishing encounter after leaving Tre Glyn. An enormous dragon sailed toward us from the northeast, each of its upper scales blazing with the reflected light of the sun. As it neared a point almost directly above us, it slowed and transformed into a humanoid figure which descended with quiet majesty to the ground. We discerned a woman of imperious bearing and an aura of holiness that could have been no greater had it been accompanied by an angelic chorus.

Delyra spoke first. "Are you that Gödel person I keep hearing about?"

"I am Argentiadna, beloved of the goddess Shaan." There was no hint of boasting in her voice.

"That's really nice armor," Delyra understated. The armor gleamed, its otherwise reflective surface covered with etched and brushed whorls, spirals and circles seemingly composed from rotating crescents.

"Yes," Argentiadna agreed, then resumed her business. "I know your master's games. He is exerting authority among the nearby human, dwarf and kobold populations, and has exacted tribute from them. Let him know that I am watching him, so he had better watch himself."

"You're not the only one who has a problem with him," Delyra told her.

"Then you understand." Argentiadna cut short any imminent conversation by transforming back into a silver dragon, launching herself into the air, and departing.

Nothing that followed was worth recording.

November 9, 5086, Metro Gnome Inn

Fate has perhaps smiled upon us. The log book in the nearby shrine to Tinandel shows that our goal, while confusing, is within reach. Transcribed herein are the six most relevant entries we have found, though my best efforts at deciphering the handwriting may not have been sufficient to represent the cities' names.

15 months ago:
"Polena, priest. Intend to map cities of Cartref Coblyn."
14 months ago:
"Polena, priest. Explored Gnomish cities. Visited three cities south of tunnel entrance: Fume, Tsukora, Wakoso; and four cities north of entrance: Mura, Shiwa, Nuwaneni, and Okiyurun. There are more cities (verified by imported goods produced by none of the above cities), most likely beyond Tsukora and Nuwaneni, which have districts (and likely tunnels) open only to natives. Could not find Varenia, which, according to Siorus Llygedyn, is the nearest city."
8.5 months ago:
"Rodkim, priest. Intend to chart Cartref Coblyn tunnels."
8 months ago:
"Rodkim, priest. Tried to map winding tunnels between gnomish cities. Very difficult. Some tunnels closed. Directional divination seemed inconsistent. Could not find Varenia nor cities mentioned by Polena. Bought worthless Gnomish map, to no avail."
3 months ago:
"Sertai, Road Scholar. Intend to explore and chart Cartref Coblyn, and to ensure veracity of city names."
Just over 1 month ago:
"Ialma, acolyte. Following the Prenwy into Cartref Coblyn."

Jasper noted that, until very recently, nobody had stayed there longer than one month.

November 10, 5086, Mothhaven

The chiropractor's office just outside the gaping entrance to the Gnomish kingdom also lends native guides for fifteen copper per day. Arla, our guide, has yet to bring us good news.

The right fork of the tunnel's first major branch is barricaded. A sign posted there explains that Arustown is under quarantine due to a plague of ear worms. Though we want no part of such a plague, we followed the left tunnel into Mothhaven with misgivings, for we suspect that Sertai's three month absence is due to this quarantine. Strangely, a written message outside the tunnel to Arustown pleads for information on the missing band "Buffered Analgesic," which was due to play there two days ago.

Halfway to Mothhaven, a conspicuous sign, "Warning: Heffalumps!" hung above a side tunnel. Armed guards were stationed between heavy gates. They explained, in answer to N-Guuk's query, that the gate behind them was to protect them from the heffalumps. They could not describe the creatures, though one insisted that his brother had seen one. Continuing on our way, Dunbarton speculated about besting the guards and the gates to see one for himself. Arla informed him that the guards are goons of the Lollipop Guild, an organization which one does not cross if one values one's skin.

November 11, 5086, Mothhaven

Among our group, only Delyra and Arla speak Gnomish. Luckily, Delyra charmed a waitress into admitting that Simone Gala, the bassist for Buffered Analgesic, sometimes takes dinner at her pub, but always in disguise. The waitress has agreed to point her out, on condition of our discrete behavior. I do not see how exactly this pertains to our mission, but we must do what we can.

We questioned Arla about the local cities, to construct our own map. The other tunnel out of Mothhaven forks: Leftward is the city of Emerald Falls, which features a bright green waterfall along one towering, cavernous wall. ("That sounds beautiful," said Delyra.) Rightward is the city of Cream Pie, where people go to throw rocks at each other. The tunnel through Arustown (presumably named for the god Arus) leads on to Rockport, then to the city of Pickle. "Pickle," Arla informed us, "was named after its resident genius Jonathan Pickle, who liked pickles. He liked pickling them, that is. Jonathan Pickle discovered that it is much easier and faster to pickle pickles than to pickle cucumbers, and thus revolutionized the industry." Next along that line is Old Rockport. "It was named after Rockport, but since it was founded first, they called it Old Rockport."

November 12, 5086, Mothhaven

For two nights now, Simone Gala has not turned up. While waiting, we questioned Arla about ear worms.

"They're horrible," she said. "Once they get in you, for the first couple of days you don't really mind. But it keeps getting worse, and eventually you're bashing your head against a wall just trying to get them out. And they're highly contagious. An infected person can spread them just by passing people on the street." N-Guuk accidentally changed the subject before Arla could precisely describe ear worms. This was perhaps for the best.

November 13, 5086, Mothhaven

This evening, Delyra convinced a reluctant Simone Gala to speak with us. We met at her hostel room, to avoid public scrutiny. Once we convinced her that we were competent to help (which was easier than convincing ourselves), she told her story.

"My band has been in hiding since our lead singer disappeared. We suspect she was taken out by the Lollipop Guild, on behalf of Foldable Puppy. Foldable Puppy was the only band, other than ours, that was good enough to cure the ear worms that are currently going around. With us out of the way, they're charging a mint for each performance."

Pheldran interrupted. "Wait. What are ear worms exactly?"

"Oh, an ear worm is a song that gets stuck in your head." My comrades groaned as if mortally stricken. "Usually, any good music can banish it. But this plague is like no other. Only a very powerful bard, such as Roberta Smythe (our lead singer and guitarist) can counteract it. Even the most powerful arcane and divine magics are useless against it. Once you have it, you can't stop humming it, and even humming it is enough to pass it on to others."

Tam sighed. "So we need to find Roberta Smythe. Any idea where she could be?"

"Maybe." Simone paused. "Everything after this is speculation. Foldable Puppy wouldn't have dared take her out themselves; the repercussions would have been devastating. The next best thing for them would be to ask their connections in the Lollipop Guild to take care of it, and cut them in on the profits in exchange. They can pay well, now that they have a monopoly on curing people."

"So what makes you think she's still alive?" asked Dunbarton.

"For the last two hundred years, we have had a very strong cultural taboo against harming musicians. Killing them is right out. Ever since the horrible tragedy," she sniffed, "the Battle... of the Bands."

"Oy," N-Guuk grunted. "So where would they be keeping her?"

"If it really was the Lollipop Guild, she'd probably be stuck at their compound. It's most of the way up the tunnel to Cream Pie, on the left. You can't miss it, but you would need help getting in: It's as tight as a fortress. Let me talk to my manager; he might have some ideas."

November 14, 5086, Mothhaven

Our unsubtle inquiries about the Lollipop Guild have yielded scant fruit. They appear to control trade between cities, partly by force and partly by efficiency. A rug merchant told us that the Guild moves goods impossibly quickly, especially between such distant cities as Emerald Falls and Old Rockport. Tam suggested that they have secret passages.

November 15, 5086, Mothhaven

We met with Buffered Analgesic this evening. Simone made introductions. The drummer, Jasey Copper, kept to himself.

The manager had the plan: "The head of the Lollipop Guild is holding a birthday party for his daughter in four days. He contracted a mariachi band to play there, which is how my contact found this out. Said contact owes me a favor or two, so I can get him to send word to this band — "Las Culebras" — that the gig is canceled. That leaves us four days to outfit you guys like a mariachi band. Don't worry, they're from the surface, so I doubt anyone down here knows what they look like."

Consensus was that the plan was insane. So we got measured for costumes.

"One more thing," said the manager. "The band's image is known to be... Effeminate. Flaming. You get the point." He looked at N-Guuk. "You'll have to be the road manager. And you four," he said, indicating Tam, Jasper, Dunbarton and me, but leaving out Pheldran, "will need makeup." He suggested that Delyra stay behind, but she pointed out that she can accompany us invisibly.

We await both our costumes and the party with trepidation.

November 19, 5086, Mothhaven

It went surprisingly well. We headed to the compound early, "to set up" so that we could rescue Roberta before being called upon to play. On the way, we passed more gated side tunnels, warning us of "woozles," "yinks," "tortigidupians" and "pygmy dragons". Once inside, we easily spotted Roberta: She had been turned to stone, and was on display as a statue on the mossy lawn. The only obstacle was a clown entertaining children right next to her.

Most of us left the compound "to retrieve some equipment from our cart," while Tam stayed behind. When the clown took a particularly funny fall, Tam slipped a bag of holding over the statue, and used his dimension door ability to join us. We hastily executed Plan B. We ran long and hard, but were stopped by six armed gnomes blocking our path.

Their leader took a step forward and menacingly said, "We represent the Lollipop Guild. You have something of ours."

Half a minute later, Tam healed Dunbarton back to consciousness as we stepped over the bodies of the Guild thugs to continue our escape.

We are now back at the hostel in Mothhaven. The rest of the band is jubilant and very grateful. Their manager has left to find a wizard who can restore Roberta. Tam believes that the Guild's ability to head us off in the tunnels is evidence of their secret use of the side tunnels.

As I wrote this entry, Pheldran remarked that the stone gnome made a particularly good lawn ornament, and that he intended to mention this to the Elven Landscapers' Guild: It might start a trend.