Ruins of Adventure

The Rough Pack: Part 1
Aboard Valkur's Wake
Note: Some adjustments have been made for clarity of who is speaking and to unify timelines, but not for overall grammatical inconsistencies between contributors (i.e. past vs. present tense). Introduction of new characters will be preceded by bold headings with links to character sheets (where appropriate).

1 Kythorn, Year of the Helm

Mid-Ship

It has been a few days since you boarded Valkur’s Wake. You are glad that you got on at the last stops, and that the voyage should be short, as the old flat-bottomed, single-decked, single-masted cog was already filled with people when you boarded, and no one disembarked at your stop.

The stern of the eighty foot ship has been fenced off and converted into a stable, carrying a handful of horses, mules, and other livestock, with a small, raised deck above the taffrail where the captain or one of his three assistants man the rudder and sleep. At least the trip is free. The captain, an old, gray-bearded, dwarven merchant named Donal Stormhammer, informed you that as long as you disembark at New Phlan, the council will be paying him ten times his normal passenger fee, so you get a free ride as long as that’s your destination and you give a hand with the lines if a storm blows up.

The thirty-odd other passengers are a motley mix of treasure hunters, monster slayers, a few farmers brave enough to settle in a city known to be plagued by demons and dragons, and those exiles from distant lands with no where else to go. Everyone, at least everyone who’s talking, has their own story of why they are traveling, but they all have one common theme—the promise of free land, fame, and riches in the ancient city of Phlan. During the night, everyone spreads out communally on the well deck, sleeping together cheek-to-jowl. During the day there is a little more space, with people standing most of the time, or else sitting on one of the crates or barrels of stores cluttering the deck or perching on the gunwale.

It is a bright day and the ship makes good speed ahead of a brisk southerly wind. Tomorrow morning, Captain Donal has informed the passagers, you will reach the port of New Phlan. A pod of dolphins splashes alongside the cog.

Chatter on deck today is more lively than usual, with the promise of landfall tomorrow. Near the bow of the Wake, half a dozen people stand about listening to a surprisingly articulate kobold doing a dramatic recitation of some poetry, or perhaps a monologue from a play. Judging from the spectators’ dress, there is a direct correlation between the number and quality of weapons the passengers are carrying and their level of racial tolerance. Near the mast, a woman wearing the stark-white wig of a priestess of Beshaba stands talking to a quintet of teenagers in peasants’ garb, trying to convert them to the worship of the Maid of Misfortune—judging from their wide eyes you suspect that this is their first time away from the farm, though their makeshift-looking weapons set them apart from the actual farmers and settlers who are all huddled in the stern near the animals, playing a game of chance and avoiding looking at the strange creatures riding up front.

Slade and Beryl

Slade walks over to listen to the priestess—gods of misfortune often interest him. Tales and deities are an interesting topic to the Mulman.

The priestess seems to be holding the teenagers’ attention more by her shapely figure than her excited sermoning — though her deliberately disheveled white wig, garrish red robe, and sallow skin detract somewhat from her overall appearance. As you approach you hear her exclaiming: “…and that was only last week! Phlan is a veritable city of calamities. War! Fires! Riots! It’s been conquered by the Zhents! Overrun by Ogres! Devoured by BANE HIMSELF! And only fifty years ago, burned to the ground by a whole flight of dragons! They keep rebuilding, but I tell you kids…the place is DOOMED!”

“Interesting tell me about BANE,” Slade says, unable to hide his curiosity.

The priestess rounds on you, her eyes wide, “Bane?! Why even BANE HIMSELF fell to the forces of calamity! Divine truth that even the Divine themselves are not free from their share of bad luck. Bane toyed with fate and was cast down and slain. No one, god or mortal is free from misfortune!”

The group of teenagers use the distraction Slade has provided to back away towards their families in the rear of the ship.

Zyg Ax and Shilesque

Zyg had left town a while back. Things had gotten too “real” and now it was time to see if anything had stabilized in town. He looked to the kobold and witch and thought of his own past misdeeds. Shudder. He took the time to reapply some care to his armor and weapons, perhaps for the 13th time this trip. Munching on some sea biscuit in between whetstone strokes, he hoped he could start gathering a motley crew of his own soon so he could exact his revenge.

Shilesque sits atop a barrel back amongst the farmers, blending right in with his thick brown beard and ragged garb. Only the sword hilt sticking out of a cloth-wrapped bundle on his back sets him apart. His attention seems divided—his eyes watching the game, but his fingers snap in time to the kobold’s recitation. Every now and again, he seems to loose the beat, snapping two or three times in rapid succession. Each time, a coin silently vanishes from the farmers’ pot and a faint plop can be heard in the water behind him.

“Oi! Brown beard!” The strangely dark dwarf bellowed at Shilesque rather kindly despite his features and grim actions. He noticed the strange action with the coin and such. “You practice magics? May I pick at ye knowledge a bit?”

“Me?” Shilesque gestures at himself with a look of feigned confusion and innocence. He slips from his perch atop the barrel and walks over to the grim-looking dwarf. On his way to the dwarf, Shilesque passes by the elf and the priestess. “Yeah, yeah. Disaster and calamity. Y’can be sure that we’ve all accepted Beshaba as our personal savior. May she not cut our strings of fate prematurely, blah, blah, blah…” He grabs the elf’s elbow and guides him away from the fanatic. “Come on bub, we’re gonna go talk about magic with this nice dwarf fellow over here…”

Slade replied, “Sounds good.”

Shilesque slides to a seated position beside him. “Pick away blacky. What’d you want to know?”

“A few things really. But first. Name’s Zyg.” The dwarf stood and looked the man dead in the eye, the way the dwur did in polite greeting. “Zyg Ax the Cursed. Skin wasn’t always this tan ye catch me drift? Or me fingernails or me teeth or me tongue for that matter. So first I’ll ask ye if you know how ta break an archmage’s curse. But there’s other shit I need ta know ’bout the arcane as well. Ya savvy?”

Shilesque looks at the dwarf’s universally dark features and drops his eyes from the intense gaze. “Shit man. Sorry, but I don’t know anything about curses, let alone how to break ’em…my knowledge of magic mostly ends at legerdemain.” He produces a coin and rolls it across his knuckles before making it disappear, then shrugs and extends a hand, “You can call me Shill, by the way…”

“Feck. Ya know, I ask everyone just in case, ya know. So that renders mos’ my udder questions somewhat obsolete if ya catch me drift. I think I can muster one more though. I’m puttin’ together a team, so ta speak. I needs magics and strong friends fer me revenge. Gonna delve some ruins ’round Phlan and try to make some right in town. Ya game? Ya got sometin ta add to da table?”

“Sure. I’ve got an interest in the ruins around there as well. An old man back home told me that Phlan used to be part of the Noga Empire, waaaaaaaay back in the day, and that the old ruins are pretty much the only place I might be able to find out more about the specific magic I am interested in. Seems the ancients were trickier than we give ‘em credit for. But what’s this revenge business about? Just after the mage that made you all dusky-like?”

“Revenge.” Zyg seemed to savor the word, let it roll around the tongue a bit before continuing. “A bitch of a witch tricked me into slaying me own wife an kids. Used me tears to fuel a spell ta make her a lich. Never caught even caught the name o’ the bitch of a witch that turnt inta a lich if you catch me drift. Den she cursed me fer good measure ye know. From what I’ve learned, ta become a lich ye need to be a gran’ wizzo ta start. I need mighty magics an’ allies if I’m gonna ever make tings right again.”

“Snowbell”

Snowbell’s ears twitch at the sound of “revenge.” She regards the dwarf carefully. He looks like he can handle himself. His motivations are in the right place. Perhaps he could be a keen ally. Discretion might be more of an issue.

Shilesque listens to Zyg’s story in amazement. “So you went and got yourself cursed by a Lich-Bitch-Witch?!” He tries not to laugh at the last part. “Bloody Hells, man. I’m happy to tag along and help out along the way, but lemme tell you, if we actually run into the Libiwitch, I’m running the other way….”

Shilesque’s voice trails off as the talking fluffy white cat in a dress saunters up. While he’s been watching her for the past few days on the boat, an anthropomorphic cat is not something you get used to in a hurry, even on a boatload of misfits like this one. “Speaking of cursed…” he half-whispers to Zyg out of the side of his mouth, “any guess what her story is?” He instinctively takes a step back as she gets closer, then tries to pivot the motion into a clumsy half-bow. “Welcome my…umm…Lady? What can we do for you?”

“Lemme guess.” Zyg said to the cat-woman, “Daddy was a gnomish bard and mommy was a tabby? Jus’ kiddin’. Name’s Zyg. What can we do ya for?”

“Whispering isn’t proper, dear,” Snowbell replied. “Your ears must be terribly inept if you think I couldn’t hear that. I also couldn’t help but overhear this business about revenge. I always like to meet a man with… simple priorities. Always makes the next step rather predictable. So let us skip the pleasantries and get straight to the point. You have a big bad and his pet zombie to kill and I’ve got a list with nine lives on it. And each one is getting considerably more cowardly and well defended as the last is crossed off. So it’s simple, really. I go through a few inconveniences use my particular set of talents to position you for realizing your life’s single ambition and you show up to help, say, a half dozen times when my latest victim least expects it?”

“Yeah, well, that’s not creepy at all…” Shilesque mumbles.

“Creepy? Look oo yer talkin’ to. They tell kids stories ’bout me to scare the boogeymen ’way.” Zyg turned to Catwoman. “What’s yer profession? I ain’t takin’ no cobblers or crumpet bakers down inta some darks with me if ya get me meanin.”

Snowbell clicks her tongue, “Oh don’t worry, they are all evil as can be. Very bad people. Were I to divulge the details I’m sure we’d turn this boat around and kill them all right now.” She lets out a high-pitched laugh.

Shileque shrugs, “Alright then. Guess we’re off to kill the bad-guys…” he elbows the elf that he rescued from the priestess. “What about you bud? Up for some skulduggery and undead witch hunting?”

“Oh me revenge is a slow burn. It’s been 30 or so years since the shit went down. I’mma in fer the long haul. Priorities fer me is gainin’ power and influence, perhaps I can even find someone else to kill the hag fer me. I ain’t stupid ye see. Magics and connections, Shil. Ya gotta start somewhere.” He turns back to the catwoman, “If ye have enemies, must mean yer somebody then?”

“You could say that…” Snowbell pauses. “Unfortunately I’m supposed to be dead somebody and I would like it to stay that way. A girl that looks like me has certain difficulties remaining discreet. So it is imperative to my participation that my involvement in this stays a secret. People talk all the time about things they shouldn’t and I would really prefer not to…cover up my trail. Speaking of which, I think I’ve lingered long enough in your company. Let me know if you’re interested in my help.”

She saunters off towards the back of the ship, pauses, and returns. “By the way, hun, You dropped your coin purse and your dagger may stick a little bit when you try to draw it. And your shoe is untied.”

“Well that’s a cute story there, but I don’t keep coin ina purse, me boots pull on, an’ I don’t have no dagger. Jus’ me axes, wide blade and bolt thrower. But if ye wants ye can hang out.”

Snowbell turns and walks off in a huff.

Shilesque waves as the cat-girl walks off, and remarks, not-at-all quietly, “So our furry friend is a compulsive liar.” He waves a hand at the complete lack of lifeboats, leaky or otherwise. “Do you think her hit list is real? Or does she just really need someone to pet her?”

Zyg grins, shrugs and wonders what other strange shit he’s gonna see this week. “She’ll be back. I had a cat like that once. On da morrow, there’ll be a dead rodent at our feet as an offerin’ and some purrs expectin’ gratitude. I think we’ll keep her round if that’s the case.”

“Oi! That’s the first time I’ve smiled in ages, Cat Woman. Git over here and have a drink.” The dwur reached for his wineskin, took a swig and offered it to Shil, Slade, Snowbell. “I don’t think we caught yer name, either.”

Sasha Ethhald

Sasha pulls a lute from his pack, he’d left town with little more than the clothes on his back but wouldn’t give that up. He begins playing a tune and humming to pass the time.

“Oi! Bard!” Zyg yells in a gravelly tone. “Know anything more recent of Phlan? I’ve been gone 5 years or so and could use a catch up on recent ’appenin’s.”

Sasha sings a tale of woe on how Phlan had fallen on hard times and all the recent tragedies that have been endured…

“I’ll toss ya a silver if come over and tell us in plainspeak instead of lissenin’ to prose. You can sing it fer the elves later.”

Zyg turns back to Shilesque, “Hey, Shill, as crazy as this sounds, ya think tha crazy she preacher over there can heal wounds? We may wanna befriend or hire her if we cannae finda liason of the Gods, eh?”

Shilesque furrows his brow. “As a last resort maybe? All I really know about Beshaban theology is that it’s very DOOM DOOM DOOM, and all about bad-things happening because bad things are supposed to happen. Even if she has such powers, I doubt a Beshaban would be the most reliable healer-for-hire…”

“Jus’ sayin’ the hiring pool may be thin once we get there. Best keep all the options open, eh?”

Sasha starts a little ditty about karma and things going along to fate’s plan, and the absurdity of it…

Making sure Cat Girl wasn’t within sight, Zyg slipped a gold coin from his pack and palmed it to the bard. “Thank ye.”


Aft

Yass and Arny

As Snowbell walks away from Zyg and Shill, looking for a place to make herself scarce, she suddenly feels someone steps on her trailing tail and lets out a howl of pain. The deckhand who trod on her lets out a similar shout of alarm, and spins around. “Oh! I’m dreadfully sorry miss!”

Snowbell looked at him for a split second with a terrifyingly savage face of a pissed off cat, “HSSSSSS…scuse me. Oh. My goodness! I’m so sorry about spitting on you like that dear.” She wipes his face with a handkerchief, and pats down pockets. “How rude of me! I should have been watching where I was going.”

The deckhand, on closer inspection, is an oddly handsome hobgoblin―square jawed, aquiline nose, perfectly coiffured hair, only his gray-brown skin and side-ways sticking out ears mark him as goblinoid. He graciously allows you to wipe the spit from his face without comment, then makes a sweeping, genteel bow. “The fault was all mine, miss.” He turns back to the rope he dropped and begins tying it off.

Snowbell strolls slowly across the deck, looking for the boy the other day with the shiny silver axe. He looked rather slow and brutish when he weilded it. It might be fun to spar for a few rounds and she could use the exercise. She looks for a mop stored somewhere on deck to break and whittle into a dagger length dulled practice tanto.

Snowbell finds the young man back with the farmers, having just been dealt in to a game of tarockk. His silver-plated axe sits right behind him, in a loose pile along with his pack, helmet, and a large round shield. A broad, cocky grin is plastered across his face as he stares around the circle, though, over his shoulder she can see that his hand is complete shit…and that he’s holding his only trump upside down (a bad omen for any card player).

As she approaches, she does find a pair of mops, hanging from hooks on the inside of the gunwale, that would be appropriate for her needs.

Snowbell walks by the men, carelessly swiping one in the face with her poofy tail as she goes by. She wanders in a circle for a minute before lazily drifting towards the shield and then curls up into a ball and fits-she-sits in the slightly convex bowl and pretends to sleep

The young man reaches behind him and gives Snowbell a half-hearted shove off of his pile of stuff. “What kind of dumb wizard goes and makes a cat-person without giving it the intelligence of a man?” he grumbles to his compatriots.

“Ah, lay off and ante up, Anry. The dumb cat’s just taken a likin’ to ya,” another jibes. “Maybe the pussy will let you give it a good petting later…”

“Fuck off, Kray,” Anry replies. “Far as I know you’re the only one here who likes ’em fluffy…”

Snowbell absorbs the shove by rolling on her back and stretching out and pushing on the bag trying to get a general idea of its contents besides the axe over the course of an hour or so whenever something big and distracting happens in the game, resuming feigned sleep in a lopsided tummy up position. After Snowball figures out (or doesn’t) what is in the bag, she scent marks it and wanders around the boat looking for rat holes to put her baited snaptraps by.

The boat itself is in immaculate condition, despite hauling a mass of unwashed peasants, there is not a rat nor hole to be found.


Fore

Donovan

Hearing faint clapping from the half-dozen or so people near the prow of the ship, Shilesque figures the demonstration of kobold poetry has ended and that it’s safe to approach. While certainly wary of the kobold, and the freakshow around it, he figured they couldn’t be any weirder than the fluffy white cat creature. He makes a nonchalant pointing gesture where Zyg and the others can see, as if to say, ’I’ll be over there,’ then winds his way through the boxes the fourty-feet to the front of the ship.

The front of the Wake is much less crowded, by virtue of more than a third of the passengers being clustered in the back, actively avoiding their more inhuman ship-mates. The kobold himself is dressed in muted green doublet and pantaloons at least a size to large for him, and a floppy green velvet hat. His more devoted listeners include: a fair-skinned man in well-worn chainmail, his head and face shaved perfectly smooth; a surly looking halfing who, despite the drowning risk, has refused to take off his full plate armor all voyage; a hairy, seven-foot tall goblinoid with strange burn-scars and the scent of brimstone hanging about him; and a twitchy woman with a fish-like tail wearing a bikini top and a sarong. Two of the teenagers who had been beset by the priestess—girls, a redhead toting a smith’s hammer everywhere, and a brunette in a gingham dress with a pair of daggers prominently displayed on her belt—have moved up behind these four to listen as well.

As Shill approaches, the kobold is making a sweeping, hat-off, bow, with some polite, but unenthusiastic, clapping from the small crowd. “Thank you, thank you,” the kobold says in a droning tenor, displaying feigned gratitude with the aplomb of a true professional. “Now if you’ll direct your gaze to your left,” he gesticulates like a tour guide, “we should be coming within sight of the infamous Thorn Island soon. Once home to a cursed temple, Thorn Island was reclaimed by the forces of the Marquis de Kryptgarten early last year and has been converted into a quarantine and holding facility for refugees coming into Phlan…”

‘Wow, the kobold knows his shit,’ Shilesque thinks. He finds an unoccupied crate to sit on to watch the misfits and listen to what else the kobold might have to share. Shilesque steps over to the rail and looks in the direction that the kobold indicated, trying to make out the island.

Looking out, Shilesque can just make out the island on the horizon, some miles away. From this distance it looks like a black speck, though you can make out the shape of a tower and a faint intermittent flash—a lighthouse perhaps.

The kobold, meanwhile, continues. “In the year 1209, construction began on the Temple of Tyr on Thorn Island, though, sadly the temple and all who dwelt there were destroyed by a flight of dragons only sixteen years later. The accursed souls of the dead priests plagued the island for decades. Two years ago the Council posted a large bounty for any party or parties that might rid the island of the undead menace. According to official records, at least eight groups attempted to assail the island and died in the process. Finally, in the spring of last year, this very ship was forced to careen itself on the island to wait out a storm…”

Zyg was beginning to wonder at all the evil humanoids that were working the ship. For a fellow dwur. Who plied the seas. If it weren’t for land travel being so difficult and wild in the region he would’ve avoided a boat and open water himself. But a dwarf that had a half orcish first mate? He’d been thinking on it the better half of the journey, hoping he hadn’t fallen into a pirate ruse or slaveship. The fact that he didn’t need to pay irked him more and more by the hour. He was all for being more acceptin’ in these progressive times, ‘specially after having his own prejudices take a hand in the deaths of his wife and kids… but it was beginnin’ to feel a bit more awkward. He could see a money hungry fellow-dwur selling out some dirty poor humans. Especially the type to buddy with a grimy orc blood. If it was true, he might be able to counter bribe the captain to let him and a few friends off prior to port. But he’d need a few friends with so he didn’t get tossed in the brig instead.

Zyg wanders over to Shill with the intent of letting him in on his suspicions.

Shilesque nods along with Zyg’s whispered concerns. “Yeah, I’ve always heard that bugbears,” he head-gestures at the tall, shaggy goblinoid, “are pretty notorious for kidnapping and ransom rackets. But I think we might have to get used to them. Back on the mainland I heard that the walled part of Phlan is pretty nice, but very land-strapped, and most of the people have to slum it out in a shanty town that’s supposed to crawling with orcs, and goblins, and shit…and all the older sections of the city have supposedly been carved off by one warring gang or tribe or another.”

“Actually,” Shill remarks, “if we’re hiring help, this kobo seems pretty well informed. He was even handing out flyers when I got on board. I wonder if he’s tied to the boat, or if he’d maybe be willing to hire on as a guide?”

“Maybe we can convince the Cap’n to drop us off a lil outside of town, eh?” Zyg replied, “I have some cash stashed, and methinks it’d be safer than walkin’ into a possible trap. He seems the type that would accept a counter offer, especially if it filled his coffers a bit. Ya game? I ain’t against hiring a guide as long as he ain’t part of any slaver crap. I value freedom pretty heavy, that’s why I left Phlan before.”

“Worth a shot, but the Cap’n said he was getting ten times the normal cost of passage per head. That ain’t gonna be cheap.”

“An’ that’s what makes it suspect, eh? Ma used to say, ain’t no thing as a free brew. Let’s talk to yer kobo and then we get like three of us or more tagether an talk to the cap’n.”

Sasha wanders over. “I couldn’t help but overhear. I just got out of a situation where I was heading to the salt mines and I have no desire to return to that outcome…”

“Stick with us then, this free trip jus’ seems a lil too good ta be true,” Zyg said.

Shill gestures at the large Gnoll sniffing around the livestock, “Well, if the goal is to intimidate the Captain into letting us off early, how ’bout that one?”

“Sure. As long as it’s nah onna tha crew already. Let’s go have a talk. Ey bard and elf, come wit us ya hear?”


Mid-Ship:

Merra and Rhumur

Merra is looking around sniffing the salty air. Her stomach starts to growl “ooo animals.” She looks at one of the farmers, grunts to get attention and signals with her head towards what looks like some form of land forming in the distance. Waits for reply, Getting somewhat anxious to be on land and start what he came here for.

The farmer, who had been watching the gnoll suspiciously as he examined their livestock, suddenly jumps when the thing makes a noise. He watches, with a mix of fear and curiosity as the gnoll makes some sort of bobbing gesture with its head, his hand drifting towards a nearby hoe defensively. He clearly has no idea, what, if anything, you are trying to communicate.

Rhumur quietly walks around the deck, Smile on his face as he basks in the days sun. He walks around the deck, never staying in one place for too long. People watching mostly, but stopping and listening to conversations every once in a while, trying to pretend hes not listening, but is not very good at hiding his obviousness. Sensing a possible situation arising between the Gnoll and the farmer he’s passing by, he walks up to the Gnoll, putting his arm around its back. Standing next to it, Rhumur looks up at the Gnoll.

“It seems are hungry my friend, and perhaps I can help you with that. I may have something for you a little more sating than this poor farmer has to offer. Let us speak to the side about what Lathandar has to offer for your belly”, patting the Gnoll on it’s belly as he says it.

Merra growls and barks at the touch of another, stepping back to size up the one who touched her. She eyes him up a little more carefully giving a little snarl and reluctant nod of the head takes a step closer as to follow the small man on his offer.

As Rhumur guides the gnoll away from the make-shift paddock, he turns to find a motley band approaching from across the deck. “Excuse me,” Shilesque, a dark-bearded man in peasant’s slops says. “This good dwarf here has a bit of a proposition for your large, hairy friend…”

“We have a suspicion tha this free trip is too good ta be true. Kinda worried slavers may be involved on da mainland. I have some coin an’ was thinkin’ aboot talkin’ to tha Cap’n about leaving us ashore a lil past town, any of ye with me?”

Merra bares her teeth as if to smile at the small man’s proposal.

“Hmm…That never quite occurred to me,” Rhumur says, bringing his hand up to his chin as he starts to rub it. He stares at the dark bearded man then at the dwarf, as if sizing him up. “Perhaps you are correct, however, how are we to know,” gesturing to the Gnoll, “you’re not the slavers trying to lure us into an area away from the safety of many, many prying eyes so that you may over power and enslave us?” He pauses for a moment, realizing he may have been a little more brash than he intended. “Not that I’m insinuating you are, of course, just minding our own safety.”

Merra tilts her head back and barks out a few laughs for the insulting words “try”.

Zyg’s few encounters with city dwelling gnolls had been ones from Mulmaster and Hillsfar… not the nicest of places. But since he often lived in the poorer areas of town and frequented the types of bars that would serve a cursed evil-looking dwarf, he’d had a few encounters that didn’t end in bloodshed. And since this one hadn’t eaten anyone since the trip started, that was probably a good thing. “Oi, ya seem ta have trouble spittin’ out the words, but understan’ pretty well. So cannae ask yeh if yer game? I don’ think ye’d have fun hauling rock fer no hooman’s, right?” The dwarf held out a hand and arm to shake if there was agreement. “Or jus’ nod yer head up n down if yeh ain’t fer da shakin’.”

Slade walks over to the gnoll “Oi gnoll guy you from Mulmaster?”

“Oi. And another thing, mates.” Zyg adds, “No one eats any o’ the food or drinks any of the dranks the boat be handin’ out tonight ya hear? We needn’t be drugged up and dropped off anyways, ‘k? As long as Gnolly agrees, we’ll make to find the Cap’n and present an offer to be dropped off prior to the docks.”

Merra nods in agreement and thinks to herself “I pretty persuasive” tucking her head and letting out a few laughs.

“So that makes six of us getting off? How much bribe-fodder do you actually have Zyg?” Shilesque asks.

“Might be enough, might not. But we’ve gots some bodies now, right? There ain’t many o’ them either. I counts 4 with the Cap’n and Kobo included.”

Shilesque looks at the others, “So, do we want to confront El Capitan with our counter-offer now, or wait til morning? I’d vote for sooner rather than later, because it looks like we’ll be proper into the harbor if we wait til breakfast…” He gestures at the island, now in full few rather than a speck on the horizon.

“I’d say now, but where’d Slade go?” Zyg replies.

Shilesque points. “It looks like he’s fishing…” Slade waves at the people pointing at him.

“You reel ‘im in, an’ I’ll get kitty.” Zyg went over to talk to the catwoman.

Shilesque stares at the dwarf a moment, “We’re taking the cat?!” He sighs.

“Come on,” Shilesque says to Slade, Sasha, the Gnoll, and the priest. “Looks like its time for some good old-fashioned intimidation and bribery…”


Aft:

Zyg finds the cat curled up next to where the would-be settlers are playing cards. “Hey there. We have a feelin’ this trip migh’ nah be so free after all. Me an’ some of da others are gonna talk to the Cap’n aboot droppin’ us off slightly outside town if ya catch me drift. Wouldn’ think you’d fare well inna labor camp or such. Ya in?” Zyg held out his hand for a hand/paw shake

The card-players actively ignore Zyg, as they have done all voyage to anyone the least-bit out of the ordinary, until they hear him mention “labor camps”. “WHAT?!” becomes the general outcry from at least a dozen men, their game suddenly forgotten.

“Who else arranges fer people to be tranperted fer free for gold on the other side, eh? We ain’t in Shadowdale, we near Phlan, Mulmaster, an’ Hillsfar brothers. Ya do tha math. But, let’s nah get crazy. All I wants is ta get dropped off a lil south of town. We pay him fer the trip fairly and no one needs ta get all pissy, jus’ in case everythin’ is on the up & up. Savvy?”

Sasha says quietly to Shilesque, "Before anyone decides to get violent…I know some… let’s say tricks… that can help persuade people…

“Trick away.” Shilesque looks at the various monstrous creature on board, “I’m in no hurry to engage in fisticuffs…”

“I’ve got um some (air quotes) medicine we can use,” Slade adds.

“Is it the non-lethal kind?” Shill asks, “I’d rather avoid murder unless absolutely necessary.”

Slade winks, “Oh K,” and chuckles to himself. He takes a copper dabs it with a vial he pulls out “don’t touch this side my friend but make sure your intended does.”


Mid-Ship

With the farmers distracted by Zyg, Snowbell casts Invisibility on herself and attempts to swipe the Arny’s silver axe. No one notices the cat going invisible. Unfortunately, she reaches down to grab the axe just as it’s owner does. Their hands brush, briefly, startling the boy, but that just makes him grab the axe all the tighter — forcing Snowbell to abandon her larcenous plans.

Nat and Thion

Wandering off, Snowbell finds the two deckhands — a bald dwarf and the handsome hobgoblin — working together to tack the sails. “Boy, I canna wait to get back on land,” the dwarf says.

“Indeed,” replies the hobgoblin, “this latest haul is unusually unruly.” He nods towards where Zyg and company are stirring up the farmers, “Yonder dwarf is causing quite the ruckus.”

“Eh, as long as they dunna knock each other overboard, we’ll still get paid for delivery. A few more runs and I can afford to pay the cap’n to get off this stinkin’ heap.”

Thiondar exits from the small tent in which he’s hidden himself away since leaving land. You wonder how someone dressed so lavishly has escaped your notice thus far. Every bit of his attire screams opulence. It is not immediately clear if his clothing is lavish or simply gaudy fakes worn by a deranged man. He is quite handsome but his features are marred by a grimace and he is clearly agitated if not outright enraged and is making little effort to hide it. His embroidered robe bears the image of a gauntlet with an eye peering from the center of it, and the only apparent arms is a small shield engraved with a balancing scale.The man is wearing a fancy red cap and it looks like his hair might even be in a bonnet. If not for the pointed ears one might conclude that this tall figure was a slightly built human with very feminine facial features. A thin gold ring with a symbol to small to make out at this distance adorns his left hand.

Thiondar initially thought this group to chaotic to ally himself with but the mention of slavers has his blood boiling. His first instinct is to knock the nearest crew member overboard but remembering his failures when he pursued the priesthood he slightly regains his composure before he reaches the nearest crew member. Instead he pulls up just short and spins sharply to his right. He begins pacing the deck occasionally muttering to himself. Very perceptive observers might notice he seems to mouth the same phrase over and over.

Thiondar had journeyed to Hillsfar in search of a suitable horse. There were none in Phlan that met his exacting standards. Finding that the Red Plumes had commandeered all of the best in the city state of Hillsfar he instead went shopping for the best attire he could find. (I didn’t bother rolling starting gold as the kit granted plenty). The remainder was spent on lavish meals and he spent his last coin without saving for the return trip. Since leaving Hillsfar he has relied on bluffing his way home. It never occurred to him that his luck and quick tongue were not as good as he thought.

Seeing the strange tent open, Shilesque thinks, ‘Well, we roped all the farmers into this, guess we might as well get everyone ashore we can.’ He walks over to the effeminate, flamboyantly dressed man, who clearly seems a bit confused and/or angered—probably both. “Hey!” he says drawing close, but not too close, “Do you need help with something, er…miss…ter?”

As Shilesque approaches he overhears Thiondar mutter, ‘No, that won’t work either.’ Noticing the approach, Thiondar pauses and gazes intently into the eyes of Shilesque. After a stern initial look, his countenance changes into a warm disarming smile. There are at least six prominent bulges under Thiondar’s robes but he never gives a hint of reaching for one, leaving Shilesque unsure if they are the hilts of weapons or possibly large gems given the rest of the dandies clothing. Thiondar responds, ‘Whatever the plan I’m with you as I can’t seem to think of a good one myself.’

“Ummm…thanks?” Shilesque seems more than a little concerned that the richly dressed man is ‘with them’. “My name’s Shill,” he says, finally extending a hand. “Do you have one? A name that is.”

‘I am Thiondar, servant of Tyr.’ Thiondar glances at the offered hand, briefly considers its cleanliness, then remembering that he is wearing gloves, shakes it vigorously. He whispers conspiratorially, ‘Don’t allow appearances to deceive you, I might not like to get dirty but there is a reason I wear red…’ Lowering his voice further, ‘It hides the blood.’

While waiting to see if he will be informed of any plans, Thiondar tries to ascertain who is working on the ship, and if any of the passengers might be silent security (people with rope burns, missing fingers, very tanned or sunburned). After doing so, if the conversation allows, he makes his way back toward his tent where he can retrieve his long spear if a melee appears imminent.


Aft

Captain Donal

So as Zyg makes his way back to the group, angry commoners in tow, the odd cat lady pops in out of nowhere and whispers what she heard. It confirmed his fears. He made a beeline for the Captain after motioning for the malcontents he at this moment called friends to follow. “Oi, Cap’n. We have a matter ta discuss. But I’m sure ye mates ‘ave already gots yer ear. ’Ow much for the likes of us to get dropped out south o’ tha city all quiets like? We have some coin, an’ would like to pass gently inta da night if ye catch our drift, eh?”

The Captain sets a rope to hold the wheel steady and walks down from the small aft-deck to meet you halfway. “Why, certainly, cursed-one. We’d be happy to drop you off anywhere nearby. Of course, if Phlan is not your destination then any of you getting off elsewhere will need to pay the standard passage free of 5 gold a head, and I’ll warn you that there are bands of pirates and slavers, and worse things, that tend to roam the shores outside of town.” He lowers his voice, “We’d also be happy to drop you off after dark if you are in particular need of not being seen approaching the city — for a small extra hazard fee, of course. Say, 20 extra gold for a night drop?”

Under his breath, “Give me a flat price fer all of ’em. Night preferable.” The dwur gestured to the lot. “An’ I’ll see if it’s do-able.”

“All of ’em? You want to take all of my passengers?” The captain’s face grows stern, “I don’t see any good coming of that, cursed-one. Especially not for these simple folk. But if everyone wants off, I’ll not make anyone go somewhere they don’t wish…”

“Name tha price. I ain’t gonna see any of these blokes get caught on me conscience if I cannae help it.”

“Three hundred. Name the place. But I’ll want to hear it from each and every person’s own lips that they want off, and I don’t want to hear that you threatened or coerced any of these good people into following you gods-know-where…”

“300? 325 and it’s a good spot and there’s no ill blood twixt us. Means no bullshit if we run inta ya at the bar, savvy?”

“So long as I don’t hear of harm coming to any of my passengers at your hands, you need fear no ill from me.” The captain shakes his head, “325 it is,” he spits in his hand and extends it to you.

The dwarven deck-hand suddenly storms up. “THREE-TWENTY-FIVE!” he shouts, enraged. “WHAT THE FUCK, CAP’N! The council promised 50 gold a head for every settler we bring to town! How the fuck are we supposed to get paid if you let them off somewhere else?!”

Zyg spat in his hand and made to seal the deal. Quickly. But his left hand was itchin’ if it needed axin’. “Wut’s 50 gold? Slave shit? If ye wanna bring da noise, me bard is playin’ ye dirge, pissant.”

Sasha switches from a simple tune to a charm spell cast on the complaining deck hand…

“Slaves?” The captain and the deckhand both freeze, horrified looks crossing their faces. “Is that what you think this is about?!” The captain retracts his hand, “If you’ve been slandering my good name and blaspheming the reputation of this temple, I have no qualms tossing you overboard right bloody now…”

“Me Momma jus’ used ta say there’s no such thing as a free brew. An’ fer you getting 50 sovereigns a piece, it looks a lil odd, dern’t it? Jus’ let us off at land an’ we’ll get outta yer beard. 325 still stands.”

Shilesque overhears the outburst and looks quizzical, “Did he just say ‘temple’?” he asks the others gathered around.

Caerwyn Tyr

The rough shout of a deck hand broke Caerwyn from his trance and he roughly shook awake. He swiftly adjusted his mask, and lifting a heavy cloak peering out from under his dark cowl. A tense scene down the deck greeted him, the captain being confronted by a couple impatient dwarves. “Perfect,” he though, “a scrap is the last thing we need on a tub this small.”

“I don’t see how it’s odd at all,” the captain continues. “The Council of New Phlan promises all captains 50 gold crowns a head for every new settler brought to the city. The city has something of a reputation for shortening the lifespans of those that choose to take up residence there. The Council pays ten times the standard rate to ensure that all souls brave enough to attempt to settle in their accursed city aren’t impeded by the need to pay for their own passage…”

The captain glowers at Zyg, “I’ll happily let you and anyone else who wants off, but if I hear from anyone on this boat that you’ve been spreading false accusations that I would traffic with slavers, it won’t be land I’ll be letting you off to. The punishment for blaspheming a temple of the Lord of Waves is a quick dip, if you get my drift…”

“I jus’ worry a bit, eh? Wouldn’t you? ‘Ow boot this. I won’t rob ye of yer load if its on the up and up. But any one who wants to leave with me can. If less than half decide to leave, 125 gold. if it more than half makin’ shore I’ll toss ye 325. You make a decent coin, we all feel better. But when I get into the town, I’ll make sure the others got out safe too. I find out there’s ill shit we’ll both go from there, huh?”

Shilesque leans in towards Zyg and whispers, “Shit, Zyg. I think we might need to apologize. I just realized…the ship’s name…this really is some sort of floating temple to Valkur. I don’t know about you, but, I don’t know how to swim.”

“But if ye show me proof ye a holy man of Valkur…” Zyg continues, “I’ll apologize right now. I think ye can appreciate my love of freedom if ye are.”

The deckhand’s face has turned a deep red, “Cap’n! You can’t be letting people off! You can’t!!”

The hobgoblin walks up and cuffs him across the back of the head, “That’s not your place to say Nat. If these people want off, they get off. A sailor’s place is to take people where they wish to go, not to direct them where they do not wish. You’ll get your land-locked bar soon enough.” He shoves the dwarf to one side and steps up to Zyg, opening his shirt to show the shield and stormcloud symbol of Valkur tattooed on his chest.

The captain nods at the little speech, “As he said, Nat. One more voyage won’t hurt you.” He rolls up his sleeves to show matching holy symbols tattooed on each bicep.

“But cap’n!” The dwarf, Nat, is practically crying at this point.

“Oi.” Zyg says, “We’ll get out at the city. Ye can collect. An’ if we can find somewhere off to tha side I’ll be sure to leave you an’ yer boys a donation. Make sure hobby knows the drinks are on me in town, k?” Zyg drops 50 gold to the Captain off to the side, and apologizes again.

The captain bows, “Valkur thanks ye for the donation.” He scoops up the coins and dumps them overboard, as Nat screams out an anguished “Nooooooooooooooo!”

“Serry if I caused any strife, brother. Ye ever need anythin’ onna da mainland, I ain’t hard ta find… Unless I find somethin’ ta break this curse of course, then ya need ta find a red ’aired, green eyed grumpy feck of a dwur instead.”


Fore:

With the confrontation with the Captain relatively peacefully ended, Shilesque walks back to the front of the ship. It feels like everyone on the ship, from the youngest farm-boy to the creepy fish-lady are now staring at him and Zyg — some presumably quite angry over their misunderstanding, others just pleased to have a distraction from the monotony of the voyage. Shill tries not to meet any of their gazes as he makes the walk of shame back up front and plops down by where the kobold was performing and playing tour guide.

“Guess what folks,” he says to no one in particular, “the captain of this ship is entirely on the up and up. Who would’ve guessed that?” He sighs and addresses the kobold, “So, since we’re making landfall in Phlan by morning, what can you tell me about the city? Everything so far sounds pretty bleak…”

The kobold nods his agreement, “Bleak is definitely the right word for it. Heck, the last time I spent any significant amount of time ashore in Phlan I died…which is why I look like this.” He smiles, though on his canine face it looks more like a snarl, and takes a deep breath.

“I could spin volumes about the city, and, in fact, I’m writing a book about it, but I’ll try to be more brief, eh. Phlan can basically be broken up into three big chunks. There’s ‘Civilized Phlan’”, he makes quotes with his fingers as he says this, “which surrounds the harbor. About two years ago the Council, hoping to rebuild on the ruins of the past, made a beach-head at the docks with a big army of Red Plume mercenaries from Hillsfar and erected a palisade around an area about 250 hectares around there. The wall is heavily guarded and most ‘unsavory types’ — myself now included — are kept out. It’s relatively peaceful, as long as you stay indoors after dark, and is home to four good-sized temples, the Council Hall, a Council-subsidized Academy for training wizards and swordsmen, and most of the town’s ‘legitimate’ merchants…”

“Next you’ve got the slums. It’s basically a shanty-town that has grown up just outside the walls. After the Council put up their big wall, everyone that craved peace, but couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices for limited real estate, ended up there. It’s pretty much the only place where you’ll find affordable housing, but means you’ll be rubbing shoulders with all kinds. Gang wars between goblins, orcs, and other things often break out in the streets, and beggars and pan-handlers of all stripes are everywhere. On the plus side, you can find pretty much anything in the market there, since there aren’t really any laws governing what can or cannot be sold. The Council keeps promising the clean the place up and expand the wall, but they’ve made very little progress on that front…”

“Last you’ve got the Old Town. That place is basically rubble, but some people are trying to eke out a living there. It’s crawling with monsters—not just the kind like me, but the really scary kind: ghouls, trolls, basilisks, and even a demon or two have all been seen in there. The Old Town is huge and there are a lot of old collapsed mansions, towers, and temples from the city’s storied past out there. It’s the kind of place one goes when they value getting rich more than they value their life…”

“The Council has been paying out huge sums over the last few years to any adventurous types willing to put in the effort to clean up the Slums or purge sections of the Old Town of beasties, and there have been some successes—mostly by the Marquis of Kryptgarten before the Council found out that he was sacrificing people to devils to get the job done and ran him out of town…”

“Well, that definitely explains why the Council’s so eager to bring people in.” Shilesque replies. “I’ve also heard that Phlan has something of a reputation for being populated mostly by criminals. Is that true too, or just propaganda from the neighbors?”

The kobolds cackles, “No, that’s mostly true. The Council and the Temple of Tyr have refused all extradition treaties and offer universal amnesty to anyone willing to sign on to their service. They offer full political asylum, a promise from the clergy of Tyr to ignore all past misdeeds, and large cash rewards as well, to any individuals willing to take up the cause of beating back the monsters dwelling in the old city. They’ve recruited quite a few notorious criminals to the defense of the city in this way — even the son of Teldar, King of the Pirate Isles and Scourge of Cormyr.”

“Universal amnesty and no extraditions?” Shill looks equally surprised and impressed, “I assume they expect everyone to behave after receiving this amnesty, yes? Or is working for the council an unlimited get-out-of-jail free card?”

“Oh yeah, you still have to obey all of Phlan’s laws…though they’re pretty loose overall, only apply within the walled portion and the slums, and are only really enforced inside the walls. And really, ever since Elissa Bivant took a seat on the council, they might as well not have laws at all — she even made buggery legal…”

“Right, no stealing within the walls without a really good reason,” Shill nods. “So how does one get in on these glittery prizes and endless compromises from the Council?”

The kobold suddenly stands up, takes a deep breath, and belts out “ONE LIKES TO BELIEVE IN THE FREEDOM OF MUSIC!”

“Sorry. I mean, just present yourself at the Council chambers after you disembark. Biggest building in town, can’t miss it. There’s a bit of paperwork you’ll have to fill out, and they’ve implemented a rule where they only extend adventuring charters to groups of 3 or more…though if you appeal directly to a council member they sometimes make exceptions and issue special licenses for individuals outside of the normal process…”


Mid-Ship:

Zyg decides to lay low a bit, finds a barrel to prop has back against and sits quietly watching the rest of the crew and passengers. Zyg had been in kind of a depressed lull lately. But just considering the possibility of enslavement must have lit a fire that he’d thought dead. It wasn’t that he was concerned as much for himself. In his own way, he was slave to his curse, his past actions, and specifically the Witch Lich he’d unluckily crossed fates with. No, it was the idea that the free folk, the optimists, the young he was surrounded with could be chained like him. And that pissed him off.

Snowbell uses the mast a scratching post, then climbs it and takes a real nap on top.

Thiondar feeling a little confused and unsure of the truth will watch for an opportunity to speak to Nat alone. If it arises he will cast friends and attempt to ascertain why he is upset. If possible he will steer Nat toward an edge of the boat in case they really are headed to a slave port. If so he will attempt to knock Nat overboard before the effects of the spell wear off and Nat realizes he was influenced. If everything is on the up and up Thiondar will apologize and offer to put in a good word for him with the town clerk if he’s ever in need of a different line of work or at the Temple of Tyr should he find himself in need of a priest.

After the Captain tosses Zyg’s donation overboard, the dejected Nat heads back to where he was working the lines. In his emotionally disturbed state, the bald, beardless dwarf is easy pray for Thiondar’s spell. As he climbs up on the ship’s rail to tighten a shroud, he suddenly notices Thiondar. “Oh, hey,” he says in a friendly voice, “you mind grabbing that line right there while I tie this off?”

Thiondar nods and picks up the line, “Do you think the last sacrifice necessary seeing as we are so close to land? I will say, the weather has been good thus far so the skipper seems to know his stuff. Even so, I can’t wait to reach Phlan where I can enjoy a sumptuous meal with friends.”

Nat groans, “Necessary?! He’s always doing that. Nearly half of everything we earn for these trips either gets chucked in the sea or handed to other ships. ‘For repairs to keep other seamen safe’ he says…like we never need money repairs around here. If it weren’t for Cap’n Donals religious proclivities I’d’ve been back on land running me own bar ages ago…” He spits off the side of the boat, “I’d rather be rich and take me chances with The Bitch Queen, than scraping by on half wages on a calm sea.”

‘Have you considered another line of work? Sure transporting people for the council pays fairly well but a storm at sea is every bit as dangerous as group of orcs. Not to mention pirates’

“Aye, I’ve thought about it more’n once. Killin’ orcs for the council pays about as well as shipping people for ’em does.” He finishes tying off the line and hops down from the rail. “Maybe now’d be a good time for ‘at. I’m right sick of Cap’n Donal’s shit.” He nods to himself, “Yeah, when we put in to shore tomorrow I’m tellin’ the cap’n that I quit…and I’ll go find me some people to bash orcs wit…”

From what I’ve overheard on this journey so far you might be able to find some fellow orc bashers right on this boat. I initially questioned some of their morals but seeing how they stuck up for others when they jumped to the wrong conclusion about this being a slave ship I might go on a few forays into the slums along side them myself. Assuming that’s where they end up headed. Having grown up around here, I’ve heard many rumors not to mention the occasional slip of the tongue from Sasha on groups who have disappeared. There’s some areas I am flat out not venturing into just yet.

Nat’s face brightens. “Y’mean I can come wit’ you?”

Thiondar enthusiastically responds, ‘Absolutely I’d love the company, I am just not sure where I am going just yet.’ Dropping his head somewhat he continues in a somber tone, ’ I am going to tell you a story I have not shared with anyone, so I’d appreciate you keeping it secret for now, at least until I’ve proven myself to whoever we join up with. Although my mother was an elf I have little in common with them as she died in child birth. I’ll never know what possessed her to hook up with a human cleric of Tyr. I never felt comfortable asking my father growing up and now it is too late. Dad was never comfortable with strangers and he considered all adventures to be of ill repute. When we landed on Thorn Island we easily made way into the keep as the skeletons and zombies fled before the mighty power of Tyr channeled through his holy symbol. The orcs came out of nowhere and we were careless not expecting any living creature. He told me to run and he covered my escape smashing into the line of orc bowman. I dared a few glances back, the first couple times it looked like he was getting the best of them, smashing skulls to either side with his hammer. The last time I looked though dashed any hope for his survival. The orcs had gotten around behind him and once they did it was only a brief moment before they found a weak spot in his armor and cut him down. Shortly after I fled the island was cleared and Father Tim’s body was retrieved. It was already rotting so we made haste to bury him in Valhingen Graveyard. That experience, my cowardice in not going back to the island , and the issues within the Church of Tyr led to a breakdown. I am not even sure how many months I’ve been away as I spent the time in riotous living. I hope that my father’s friends on the council have preserved his estate but since I left immediately after the burial and told no one where I was going or if I was coming back, it quite possibly has been auctioned off. Regardless, I am out of money and cannot pay the taxes so despite my noble appearance, I am anything but at the moment.’ Becoming upbeat once again, ‘Opportunities are plentiful in New Phlan and I will restore my honor or embrace the sweet relief of death.’

Nat listens to Thiondar’s confessions with the patience of a true friend (or someone well and truly charmed, as the case may be), then walks over and pats the half-elf on the shoulder. “Sorry t’ hear ‘bout your da. Glad they got ’is body out o’ there. I actually hauled a couple crews over to the island meself, includin’ the ones that finally dealt with them orcs, though I dinna have a hand in the fightin’.”

‘I think dad only brought me along to chronicle his deeds and carry supplies. I don’t think I could have bested him with my spear even if he only used his open palm. A hell of a warrior priest he was. A bloody knight to boot and I use the bloody not just for effect but quite literally as well.’ (Does Thiondar think the spell has worn off yet? He’s waiting to see the reaction before he approaches any other passengers. If Nat seems to still be with him, he will leave Nat to his work letting him know he is going to inquire as to us joining up, and introduce himself to some other passengers and inquire as to their plans once they reach Phlan.

“Nat, I’m going to go see if we can find a group that wants to kill some orcs. Let me know if you need help with anything.” Thiondar will look for Shilesque and inquire as to their plans.


Fore:

Shilesque stands and thanks the kobold when he sees Thiondar coming over, then moves to meet the overly dressed man (who he still thinks must be a little on the crazy side). “Heya,” he says, giving a weird half-salute, as if tipping a non-existent hat. “What can I do ya for?”

‘The hairless dwarf over there," Thiondar says, pointing to Nat, "and I were wondering what your plans were when you reach Phlan? I am familiar with the area and have some contacts in the town. As I am sure you have noticed, I have expensive tastes. Recently it seems I may have overspent but beyond that I have a disdain for Orcs. If you plan to kill any, we’d like to tag along, expecting of course our share of the loot and any bounty paid by the council. I might even be able to negotiate some extra pay here and there on the parties behalf."

Shill shrugs, “Well, I for one would love to have a tour guide. I’m not really keen on killing things just because of what they look like, but if some orcs make a nuisance of themselves, we’ll have to see what happens. As to once we’re dockside, I’d be happy to have you two along. The more the merrier, eh? Especially in such a dangerous place.”

He turns and gestures towards Zyg, “The hyper-melanized dwarf over there is apparently looking for the witch that cursed him to be dark—wants some revenge, you see. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and is quick to stick up for folks, so I’ve agreed to follow along and help him out.”

He then waves a hand at the fluffy, white cat-person perched on the mast, “Kitty up there also has a bit of a hit list. She’s pretty cagey about it, but I also suspect revenge as a driving motive. She seems a bit loose, but the dwarf seems to want her along.”

He scans the rest of the crowd, pointing others out. “The gnoll and the robed guy seem to be together. They agreed to help us if the captain turned out rotten, but I don’t know that we’ve discussed what they’ll be doing when we reach Phlan.”

“I think the bard over there agreed to help Zyg with his revenge business, but he’s been oddly taciturn for a bard, more providing background music than actually saying anything, so I’m not actually sure.”

“Zyg and I tried to recruit that elf, but he seems to have some attention problems, which I guess is pretty normal for a full-blood, so I’m not really sure what he’s up to at all. He might be with us if we asked again though.”

“So that’d make nine of us, with you and the dwarf, and I suspect we could probably recruit at least one or two more if we need them. Personally I have an interest in exploring the ruins, either in the city or in the area north of there—the older the better. Beyond that I’m just looking for some fun, so I’m happy to help with whatever, and the contracts the council hands out sound pretty lucrative, in more ways than one.”

“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Thiondar says. "I am not a genocidal maniac, not yet anyway, but the orcs in old Phlan, like the other creatures, are a different breed. They are much more organized and often better equipped. We do best to proceed with caution. If civilization is to return to the area we must drive these vermin out. I’ll let Nat know that we are going with you.’ Thiondar turns around abruptly and walks back over to Nat. “Nat, good news, they’ll take us on, equal share of the loot. Do you think we will be on the water another night? If not, I better pack up my tent.”

Slade is trying to be patient but stuck on a boat this long with out anyone trying to murder him or him trying to murder anyone is uncharted territory for this gray elf.

To be continued…

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Rumors and Proclamations: Week 1
2 Kythorn, Year of the Helm

The following proclamations have been posted outside the Council Hall:

From the City Council of New Phlan to all brave and hearty adventurers:

Proclamation LIX
Be it known that the council is interested in reclaiming the remaining blocks of the city of New Phlan. To reclaim said blocks they must be first cleared of monsters, vermin, and other uncivilized inhabitants. To this end the council is offering a reward to any person or group who is responsible for clearing any block of the old city.

Proclamation LXIV
Be it known that the council is interested in acquiring information as to the disposition of various formerly-living entities rumored to be harassing honest citizens in the vicinity of Valhigen Graveyard. A reward is offered to any person who shall travel to said graveyard and return an eye-witness account.

Proclamation CXXVI
Be it known that the council is offering a reward for all books and tomes containing information about the fall of Phlan of Old. The amount of said reward to be dependent upon the value of the information provided.

Proclamation CXXXlV
Be it known that the council has declared these individuals who have taken up residence in the mansion of the former Koval family to be traitors and thieves. Be it further known that a reward has been offered for the elimination of these outlaws. A commission to rid the city of this blight may be obtained from the council clerk.


The following advertisments have been posted outside the Training Hall:

Wanted:
Chartered adventuring party to perform reconnaissance. A unique magic item of original design, free tutoring in the magical arts, plus a percentage of any booty found. Inquire with Aumry of Umber, Associate Professor of Arcane Arts, at Denlor’s Tower in the Slums District.

For Immediate Hire:
We have an immediate opening for night watchmen to stand guard over the newly consecrated Temple of Sune in Civilized Phlan. Candidates must be stout-hearted, alert, and able to perform moderate physical activity. The starting salary is 3gp per night. We also offer hazard pay and an excellent health-care package. Interested parties should apply at the Temple of Sune. Ask for Priestess Joy of Sune.

Open Positions:
The Council of New Phlan has immediate openings for instructors in the arts of Mysticism, Shadow Walking, and Genie Binding at the Public Training Hall of New Phlan. Only fully-credentialed, trained educators with extensive field experience need apply. These are full-time positions and may include some administrative and student advisement work. Starting pay is 100gp per week (commensurate with experience). Candidates should present themselves to the clerk of the Council of New Phlan.

A crudely scrawled note:
Teh boogbarez liveen in teh see-cliphz west of town r cawseen problemz for teh fisheen an impeedeen trad wit teh zvartz. Free fishez for life. Ax for Delbar at teh fish market.

By request of Hasan Abdalbane and the Free Merchants of Phlan,
To the adventurer’s of New Phlan:
Be it known that certain monstrous creatures have been spotted in the vicinity of the Twilight Swamp, attacking caravans on the Phlan Road, slaughtering travelers, and endangering Phlan’s trade with its eastern neighbors.Unless these monsters are defeated, all trade with the east could be halted. The Watchers of Helm request the aid of brave and hearty adventurers to help slay these fell threats. Interested parties should meet with Sir Justin Melenikus of Iniarv’s Tower.
Rewards for slain monsters shall be authorized by Sir Justin, Gold shall be paid by the Free Merchant’s Guild upon presentation of a stamped writ from the Watchers of Helm.

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Phlan Public Training Hall Faculty (Updated)

Name: Taleah Loughgren
Professions Taught: Clerics, Druids, Mages, Diviners, Runecasters, Bards
Average Training Time: 5 weeks
Weapons Taught: Dagger, Quarterstaff
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Administration, Artistic Ability (painting), Crowd Working, Gaming, Gem Cutting, Grooming, Haggling, Local History (Phlan), Musical Instrument (harp), Reading/Writing (Espruar), Religion, Singing
Runes Taught: Blinding Light, Coyote, Fox, Healing, Love, Wisdom
Magical Paths Taught: Bard’s Road, Enchanter’s Path, Servant’s Path, Stormy Path, Veiled Path

  • Despite rumors that she is actually a were-fox, Taleah is an accepted member of the clergy of Sune in Phlan and serves as a teacher and administrator at the Public Training Hall, where she teaches classes for Bards, Clerics, Diviners, Mages, and Runecasters (thanks to her highly diverse skillset). While beautiful, she tends to be rather haughty and arrogant, and students complain that her written examinations are the most grueling of all the faculty. She has a particularly spiteful relationship with Hammond, who runs the fighter’s school.

Name: Aumry of Umber
Professions Taught: All manner of wizardly spellcasters
Average Training Time: 2 weeks
Weapons Taught: Two-handed Weapon Style, Quarterstaff
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Agriculture, Chaos Shaping, Direction Sense, Display Weapon Prowess, Planar Sense, Planar Survival, Reading/Writing (Common), Spellcraft
Magical Paths Taught: Aberrant Path, Apprentice’s Road, Archmage’s Road, Black Road, Path of Doors, Path of Staves, Path of the Beholder, Road of Pentacles, Silver Road

  • This portly wizard claims to be from the Dales, though his outrageous accent places him as coming from somewhere much farther afield. His primary interest is in planar studies, and many of the students suspect that he is not of this world. While a good and efficient teacher, he seems to have little patience for slower students and often complains that his job is taking him away from doing real research. In recent months he has become quite the outspoken critic of the Training Hall, arguing that the ‘old apprenticeship system’ is a far superior way for a young mage to learn their art. Unlike the rest of the faculty, he lives outside the walls of New Phlan, in a renovated tower in the Slum’s district.

Name: Manabu of the Burning Mind
Professions Taught: All manner of wizardly spellcasters
Average Training Time: 4 weeks
Weapons Taught: All Blades
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Alertness, Ancient History (tribes of Thar), Arctic Survival, Etiquette, Information Gathering, Languages (Ogre, Orc, Goblin), Spellcraft
Magical Paths Taught: Aberrant Path, Firesight Path, Giant’s Path, Jeweler’s Road, Path of the Bandit, Path of Counterspells, Path of the Mind, Path of Swords, Path of Smoke, Road of Seals and Wardings, Road of True Names

  • One of the first teachers to work at the academy, Manabu comes to Phlan by way of Glister in the land of Thar, and is very well connected with the Council. Manabu looks very old, in the way that only a wizard can be, and is very versatile as an instructor—even teaching some basic swordplay classes. In addition to his interest in history and politics, he is also very well versed on the cultures of the monsters occupying Old Phlan, and teaches a variety of monstrous languages.

Name: Gerrin Wheelbarger
Professions Taught: Rangers, Fighters
Average Training Time: 2 weeks
Weapons Taught: Two-handed Swords, Axes, Two-handed Style, Avalanche Style
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Animal Rending, Astrology, Leatherworking, Hunting, Psionic Detection, Survival, Tracking

  • Exiled by the Yuan-ti rulers of his home city of Hlondath, the Council of Phlan has offered Gerrin political asylum in exchange for his help in training the adventurers and soldiers that protect the town from its many monstrous neighbors. Gerrin has a distinct dislike of all reptilian and snakelike creatures, but yuan-ti and lizardmen especially. Regardless of his contract, he refuses to offer training to any reptilian races.

Name: Hammond of Hillsfar
Professions Taught: Warriors (all varieties)
Average Training Time: 8 weeks
Weapons Taught: All Blades, All Crushing and Cleaving weapons, All Crossbows, Weapon and Shield Style
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Ancient History (Military History), Armor Optimization, Land-based Riding
Special Classes: Hammond offers a special 1-month course that will teach anyone proficiency with the Broadsword. This grants a bonus proficiency to members of any class (doesn’t take a slot, but priest characters are still limited to those weapons allowed by their faith). This is included in the cost of tuition.

  • Hammond is a captain of Hillsfar’s Red Plume mercenary company, on loan to the Council of New Phlan to train their troops. Like many Hillsfarran’s, he has little love of those from neighboring cities, and a strong dislike of spellcasters and non-humans. On top of his prejudices, Hammond iis actually a very poor leader and a horrible teacher, but the Council will put up with him until they can find someone better. While his contract prevents him from outright refusing to teach non-humans, his dislike of the students increases the training time by 1 week for characters with spellcasting ability or 2 weeks for non-humans (these stack).

Name: Shanal
Professions Taught: Runecasters
Average Training Time: 2 weeks
Weapons Taught: Two-weapon Style, Dagger
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Dwarven Runes, Close-Quarters Fighting, Herbalism, Mining, Poison Use, Toxicology, Venom Handling
Special Classes: While such practices are frowned upon by the Council, Shanal offers courses in the creation, identification, and use of poisons. He can teach the Poison Use, Toxicology, and Venom Handling proficiencies, but these are only taught in one-on-one tutoring sessions, costing 500gp per class, and are not included in the normal tuition to train a level. Likewise, the Disease rune must be learned in this way as well.
Runes Taught: Accuracy, Berserk, Binding, Death, Disease, Dream, Hawk, Triumph

  • This dwarf is the newest faculty member at Phlan’s Public Training Hall, teaching classes on herbology, underground survival skills, and rune-based magics. While his morals are questionable, and the Council dislikes some of the subjects he offers on the side, he is a very effective teacher and well-liked by those students who have taken his courses.

Name: Francis Urslingen
Professions Taught: Clerics, Monks, Fighters, Swashbucklers
Average Training Time: 2 weeks
Weapons Taught: Fencing Blades, Clubbing Weapons, Slings, Single Weapon Style, Fencing Style, Punching
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Ancient History (religious history), Blind-Fighting, Calligraphy, Dancing, Dark Lore, Folklore, Healing, Heraldry, Law, Style Analysis, Tumbling

  • “Brother Francis” is an oddity among Tyrran monks, the second son of Lord Urslingen, he chose to study fencing rather than other martial arts. While has certainly stands out from his brethren, Francis is an excellent teacher, both of arms and of doctrine, and has been teaching at the Phlan Public Training Hall since it was founded. Unlike many of the other instructors, Francis prefers a “hands on” approach to teaching martial skills, and often leads forays into the uncivilized portions of town. His students tend to be extremely loyal and are always impressed by his great strength and skill with a blade. Despite (or perhaps because of) his vows to the contrary, he is well-liked by the ladies.

Name: Swindon Lype (“Swipe” to his students)
Professions Taught: Thieves, Spies, Psionicists
Average Training Time: 3 weeks
Weapons Taught: Bows, Scimitar, Knife, Single-Weapon Style
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Animal Handling, Animal Lore, Animal Training, Appraising, Bureaucracy, Cerebral Blind, Direction Sense, Hunting, Land-based Riding, Languages (Elvish, Orcish), Lock Smithing, Rejuvenation
Special Classes: Swipe can teach up to Mastery level skill with a knife (for those characters able to achieve such). He will perform Psychic Surgery to unlock psionic wild talents, for a flat fee of 100gp, but takes no responsibility for any negative side-effects.

  • This ‘crazy old gypsy’ from the Dalelands teaches courses in safe-cracking, trapfinding, advanced techniques for putting a knife in an enemy’s back, and other skills useful for ‘professional treasure hunters’. He also teaches students to unlock the potential of their minds—either in the form of psionics or just critical thinking skills, and offers classes in animal husbandry for those settlers who are new to raising livestock. Some merchants have complained that his courses in thievery are a little to ‘practical’, but he has thus far escaped any significant retribution.

Name: Sarush Sevenspears
Professions Taught: Crusaders, Clerics, Fighters
Average Training Time: 9 weeks
Weapons Taught: Pole Weapons
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Agriculture, Animal Lore, Battle Command, Direction Sense, Land-based Riding, Orienteering, Prayer, Religion, Storytelling

  • A devout soldier in the service of Tempus, god of war, and a superb leader, Sarush quickly became a local hero in his hometown of Scardale after he helped overthrow the tyrant Lashan. When the locals of Scardale asked him to take leadership of their community, Sarush fled north, unwilling to take on such civic responsibilities. He traveled to Phlan, where has has helped establish a strong following for Tempus, mostly among the soldier he teaches at the Public Training Hall. Despite his leadership skills, he has turned down several offers from the Council of Phlan to command their troops, preferring to teach.

Name: Ankbunkra Arpengast
Professions Taught: Tinkers
Average Training Time: 2 weeks
Weapons Taught: Crushing and Cleaving Weapons, Crossbows, Arquebus
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Artistic Ability (sculpture), Blacksmithing, Carpentry, Cartography, Clockwork Creation, Charioteering, Debate, Engineering, Gem Cutting, Glassblowing, Haggling, Lens Crafting, Languages (Gnomish, Dwarvish, Halfling, Goblin, Kobold, Elvish, Jermlaine), Metalworking, Musical Instrument (harpsicord), Numeracy, Pottery, Research, Smelting, Survival (all terrains), Weaponsmithing

  • A wandering crafts-gnome from Neverwinter, Ankbunkra has taken up residence in the city of New Phlan, where she teaches all manner of crafts and trades, as well as linguistics and critical thinking skills, at the Public Training Hall in exchange for the Council funding her research (mostly in the field of advanced optics)…so far she hasn’t invented anything too dangerous. Ankbunkra is quite attractive, even by non-gnomish standards.

Name: Professor Aiderns
Professions Taught: Wild Mages, Runecasters, Wizards of all kinds
Average Training Time: 2 weeks
Weapons Taught: Wrestling, Pole Weapons, Weapon and Shield Style
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Law, Administration, Bureaucracy, Heraldry, Etiquette, Humanoid Grooming, Netherworld Knowledge, Spellcraft, Magical Energy Conservation, Dwarven Runes
Runes Taught: Healing, Iron Can’t Bite, Shield, Triumph, Imprisonment, Sanctuary, Owl, Binding, Dream, Help
Magical Paths Taught: Wild Road, Artificer’s Path, Scribe’s Path, Timekeeper’s Road, Silver Road, Road of Cups, Path of Counterspells, Shocking Path, Sheltered Road

  • A visiting professor from Hillsfar’s Gothmagog University, Aiderns suffers from very poor health, and thus is often absent from his classes for days at a time. He leaves most of the day-to-day instruction to his more experienced students, showing up infrequently and often without notice to inspect his students work and demonstrate more advanced techniques. Although not overtly religious, his knowledge and mastery of the Law puts even the Tyrran Bishop to shame. Like many recent settlers, he has set up his home outside of the city proper, on the lands near Kryptgarten Keep.

Name: Breckenridge Puffington
Professions Taught: Fighters, Rangers, Barbarians, Berserkers, Thieves, Spies, Lone Wolves, Shadow Walkers
Average Training Time: 7 weeks
Weapons Taught: Clubbing Weapons, Short Blades, Shortbows
Non-weapon Proficiencies Taught: Weapon Improvisation, Shield Smite, Lucid Buffer, Mental Resistance, Psionic Detection, Spellcraft, Awareness, Alertness, Athletics
Magical Paths Taught: Breaker’s Path, Cursed Path, Deadbuilder’s Path, Enchanter’s Path, Giant’s Path, King’s Road

  • The newest member of the faculty, Breckenridge hails from distant Procampur and was brought in by the Council to teach a variety of esoteric disciplines — from spellcasting rogues, to the wild bear-sarks, to resisting mental control and domination. Everyone who has spent any significant time with him agrees that he must be a vampire (despite being regularly seen out of doors in daylight), citing his fanged teeth, self-mobile shadow, supernaturally silent movements, and ability to assume the form of a wolf (among other things). None can deny that he is an effective teacher, though all of his students are scared of him. He claims to have a sister working in the Temple of Xvim on the far side of the river, a connection which some in the Council have been trying to leverage to pacify that section of the Old City.
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The Council of New Phlan (updated)

Current Councilmembers

  • Bishop Braccio of Tyr: The head of the church of Tyr in the Moonsea region and leader of the religious community in Phlan, Bishop Baccio is an ex-officio member of the Council, advising the council on legal matters and voting only in the case of a tie among the sitting council members (a rare occurrence since the creation of the seventh council seat for Marquis Grimnir). As head of the Tyrran church, he also acts as judge for all legal proceedings within the ‘civilized’ sections of New Phlan. In addition to the political clout afforded by his station, he has become quite rich off of the parochial holdings of the Phlan bishopric, and stands to become even wealthier if the old temple and its associated lands are restored.
  • Elissa Bivant: The current Council Chair, this shrewd young girl of only 15 is heir to the last extant noble house of old Phlan. She commands considerable wealth from her family’s gem mines in Damara and Vaasa, and puts up quite a bit of it to personally bankroll for the bounties posted by the Council. She was married to Junior Councilman, Markos Mondaviak last year, in a ceremony overseen by the Marquis Grimnir, her closest ally on the Council.
  • Ulrich Eberhard: An ancient-looking man, and former head of the council. He is mean-spirited and hard, not likely to win friends. He handles most money negotiations and is a very hard bargainer. Eberhard’s wealth is largely tied up in selling arms manufactured in Melvaunt and Thentia to the more militant city-states to the south. He hopes to reclaim the old Eberhard Mansion in the wealthy district.
  • Werner von Urslingen: A middle-aged man, is a retired captain of the Hillsfarran Red Plumes and represents their interests in the city. He shares many of the prejudices stereotypical of Hillsfarrans (disliking both non-humans and wizards of all kinds). If contacted away from the council chambers, he can offer advice on the actual planning and fighting aspects of a mission. His son, Francis, is a Tyrran monastic who teaches at the Public Training Hall, and is known to be one of Marquis Grimnir’s lovers.
  • Markos Mondaviak: A boy of only twelve years, Markos is the youngest of the sitting council members, having taken over the seat following the death of his father, Karistos Mondaviak, and the abdication of his estranged elder brother Rudolfo. The Mondaviak family once owned considerable lands along the Stojanow, but most of Markos’s wealth derives from his vineyards in Elmwood and northern Harrow Dale. Markos is married to Councilwoman Bivant, and rumored to be lovers with his brother-in-law Aldron Folbre. Markos has a reputation as an excellent card-player, and is just as stone-faced in council meetings, and is said to have architected both his wife’s rise to power and the legalization of same-sex relationships.
  • Aldron Folbre: The Folbres, headed by the young and very handsome Aldron Folbre, have been in the Moonsea region for a mere 20 years and are still considered newcomers in some quarters, but they are very rich. Aldron is a serious and ambitious businessman, a combination that has brought him considerable profits since he took over the family business on his father’s death. Though some say his wealth is coming too easily, he is a very likeable person and is on friendly terms with members of both the Mondaviak and Cadorna families. He recently married Karistina Mondaviak, sister of Councilman Markos Mondaviak, further cementing the alliance of wealth and power of the youngest councilmembers. The two young councilmen are often seen together hunting, hawking, or engaging in any of the other activities that amuse rich fops.
  • Porphyrys Cadorna: The dilletante son of one of the old families of Phlan, he is the least influential member of the council. Most of his family’s wealth was tied up in deeds to lands and factories in Old Phlan. While he still holds the deeds, they are basically worthless until the old city is reclaimed—and he thus has a much higher stake in the city’s success than some of the other councilmen. Having been raised in Zhentil Keep, he tends to come across as spiteful and unpleasant (as do most people from that most-evil of cities).
  • Marquis Grimnir, Squire of Kryptgarten: The newest member of the Council, ‘The Marquis’, as he is commonly known, is also the most controversial. Until last year, Marquis Grimnir was just one among the many adventurers to pass through Phlan. After reclaiming the old castle of Kryptgarten, just outside of Phlan, and aiding in the rise of Elissa Bivant, he was granted a lifetime seat on the council alongside Phlan’s oldest noble families. Despite his standing, he is never seen within the walls of Phlan. The official word is that this derives from a feud with Bishop Braccio and the Tyrrans, but rumors in Civilized Phlan abound that ‘The Marquis’ traffics with devils, has an army of undead at his beck and call, and boils his enemies to render them into soap. Regardless of the rumors, most of the younger members of the council pay regular visits to Kryptgarten Keep, and shipments of food from the keep’s surrounding (and thriving) farmlands help keep the city functioning.
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A Cold Spring for Crows: Part 1

1st of Ches, 1362 D.R.

GM

Rain. It seems as though it will never stop. The road has become a river of mud, making it almost useless as a path, but the rough rugged hills around you offer you even worse footing. Visibility is very poor, with cold, early spring winds tearing sheets of rain across your field of vision. The sound of the storm is tremendous, making it hard for you to hear your companions unless they shout.

It was the first of Ches. Nearly four months ago you accepted an invitation to visit the Mount Launt holdfast of Clan Griff, the childhood home of Hektor and Korë, in the far western reaches of the Dragonspine Mountains. What was supposed to be a brief visit, to attend some special dwarven ceremony honoring Hektor, had turned into a winter-long stay thanks to early and heavy snows.

The dwarven caves were particularly confining for your larger friends, and their irritability was only amplified by the preponderance of lead in the walls, water, and even food of the dwarf clan. Worse still, the special ceremony you had expected to bear witness to turned out to be a private, family affair behind closed doors, with not even the larger clan allowed to be present. While Hektor and Korë muttered something about the firbolg “coming of age”, they were unusually tight-lipped about the details afterwords.

So it was, with the coming spring, that you were all eager to get back on the road and back to Phlan, where most of you had first met and where there was the ever-present promise of glory and riches.

Of course, it turns out that spring in the mountains was little better than winter. The ground, already saturated with melting snow, was now bombarded by weeks of steady rainfall. While the dwarves of Clan Griff left your packs well filled with provisions, the going has been incredibly slow. Ten days out, you have covered perhaps half the distance to Phlan, or so you estimate.

Just when it seems that you can go no further, and the wetness and fatigue have driven you to distraction (and nearly to blows), and night begins to fall, bringing with it even colder winds off the mountains and no respite from the rain, you see a wan light ahead. Hurrying your steps you draw closer until you can make out a structure through the rain.

The building, the first you’ve seen in nearly a week, is two stories of mud-chinked stone, with a wooden roof and two chimneys leaning precariously out away from the structure. A welcoming light comes from two windows on the western side, the shutters left open in mockery of the cold, wet evening.

HyunA

HyunA, the slim elven bladesinger, is having a difficult time, her normally sure footsteps being fouled by the mud and miserable conditions. “May I make a suggestion?” she says, her voice nearly swallowed by the wind. “I say we quickly make for yon house.” She gathers her cloak closer to her, which does precious little to remedy her frozen, sodden limbs.

Hektor

The homecoming, and sequential ceremony was very special to Hektor. Though he had been accepted into Clan Griff, and, not without some odd moments, got along with his smaller, but no less fearsome, adopted kin, it was the last few days of celebration and sharing stories that truly made him feel like part of the Clan.

A sharp crack of distant thunder, brought the giant-kin back to the present.

He, his sister and fellow companions, were struggling to trod on this miserable day. Because of his size and strength, Hektor wasn’t as burdened as the rest, though his weight drove his huge, booted feet deeper into the muck, causing him to walk abroad of the group, less they fall into the sucking holes left by his prints.

His thumb still ached from the time he tried to hoist his sister onto his broad back, and was rewarded with a bite to his thumb and scolded for thinking her weak and needy.

He wasn’t hurt by the berating. Hek loved his older sister and she him. She was just so nit picky about such things.

Wiping away the small waterfall cascading down in front of his one, good eye, Hektor gave his sis a fond smile before coming to a halt.

Before them, shadowed by the deluge, was a two story building. Light coming through the windows and door frame, suggested it was occupied.

He looked down at his sister, waiting for her summarization.

Korë

Korë pushes her sodden hair back from her eyes and idly flicks at the small yellow stone that is orbiting her head setting it to spinning wildly. She says a silent prayer of thanks, for perhaps the millionth time this week, that the Patient One had seen fit to bestow her with the gift of not sinking into mud…and that she had let that merchant in the Slums Market talk her into paying extra to have her boots waterproofed, if only I had let him talk me into buying that parasol, she thinks. Seeing the light ahead, she stops in her tracks and takes a moment to shift the weight of her large, frame-pack.

“I’m not going to argue with you Hun,” she says sniffling. “Even if its bandits waiting to slit our throats, I’ll take a violent death in a warm house over a slow, cold, wet one.” Just to be safe though, she pulls out a wooden bowl and tips a vial of goblin blood into, chanting a quiet prayer as she plods closer to the house.

Feeling no immediate threat or hostility, Korë allows herself to speed up a bit more, as much as her short legs would allow, eager for a dry place to sleep. “Come on,” she says to the others, raising her voice to be heard over the wind, “Looks perfectly safe to me…”

Fionn

Fionn, like his compatriots, was slogging through the mud in the harsh spring rains. Slogging through the mud was somewhat of a new experience for Fionn as he’d lost both his destrier and this plate mail in the particularly unfortunate altercation with the hobgoblins last fall, they weren’t that big, but there were a lot of them. Unfortunately, none of the horses of this part of the world were particularly suited to his massive frame and weight. So, he was forced, to slog through the mud, his boots sinking deeply in the mud of what seemed to pass for a road. Yep, walking was not something he enjoyed, and the mud just confirmed it. “Give me a horse any day of the week and I’d be set” he thought to himself.

Fionn brought up the rear of the party, just to ensure that if something came upon them from the rear, some of the smaller members of the group would have some additional protection. Whether marching at the rear made any difference for the ground, or for the protection, he wasn’t sure. The nice thing about the leather armor he was wearing as opposed to the plate mail he was used to, was it wouldn’t rust. His least favorite thing about metal armor especially with all this rain, was the rust.

The sword he kept was hard enough to keep sharp and rust free as it was.

A new mount would present itself at an appropriate time. In the interim, there was mud. Fionn wondered if it would ever end. But, hark, what light through yonder window breaks? Somewhat suspicious by nature, he watches while his companions try to assess what might be ahead of them. While somewhat inferior to the minotaur people, they were competent enough as he had come to find out over the last year and more.

Open windows and pouring rain. It smelled like a trap to him. “Go cautiously, my friends.” Fionn looses his sword in its sheath…

Bixby

Bixby has been lost in thought, for quite some time, contemplating ways to create and imbue a “Chromatic Orb” as a thrown weapon and muttering under her breath…
“…Huh, are we slowing down? Maybe there’s somewhere we can stay for the…oooo! Oooo! I’ve got it! …wait,no, that won’t work….”

Yobob

Yobob tugged on the mule’s lead as he tried his best to keep ahead of Fionn. The mule’s saddlebags were loaded with hundreds of lead bullets, and strapped to its back were a pair of strange looking contraptions, also made primarily of lead. Yobob hadn’t intended to be so loaded down for the return trip to Phlan, but he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experiment with the resources of Clan Griff.

While the beginning of the journey had been spent mulling over ways to outfit the mule for battle (The armor plating would be easy enough, but where would I mount the turret?), Yobob’s thoughts now turned to ways to stay dry. An umbrella might work, but only if I could figure out a way to get it to hover over my head as I walk.

The house was indeed a welcome sight. As he and his companions began moving toward it, Yobob nudged Bixby and, with a laugh, shouted above the sound of the rain, “Nothing like knocking on someone’s door and asking them to house a party of seven including a minotaur and a firbolg. These poor folks aren’t even going to notice the two of us!”

Hektor

Hek gave Kore a wide grin. He wanted to wink at her, like she playfully did so with him, but having only one serviceable eye, it always remained a blink.

After his sister finished with her casting, a site Hektor would never grow tired of, he helped everyone when needed and stood above the doorway, giving just enough room for Kore to knock, yet, block much of the downpour.

He was always very mindful of his surroundings, lest he step on one of his smaller companions. Save all but the minotaur, Fionn. Hek enjoyed the minotaur’s company and admired his stature.

Picking up on the Paladin’s thoughts, Hektor grinned and nodded his way, saying in his customary, low, gravelly tone…

“Betcha glad you ain’t got that tin can on huh Fionn?”

Like most, if not all of his species, Hek didn’t wear armor. And wasted no opportunity to tease his horned friend about it.

GM

As you approach the door, two signs catch your eye. The first, affixed to a post a few yards in front of the building, declares in Common the “Towne of Deþwillon, Population: Tire”, though you see no other structures, nor even the remains of structures anywhere around. The second, painted on the door in white lettering, next to a wooden cup that has been nailed in place, declares the place to be “Blahom Mandrivnyka” (The Traveler’s Boon). Through the open windows you can see a large room with a few tables, bracketed at either end by two large fireplaces. The place looks empty save for a pair of bored-looking teenage boys, the younger nervously drumming on a table as the second feeds a couple of logs into the fire. Anything they might be saying is completely drowned out by the sounds of the rain.

Korë

Korë pays no attention to the signs, she can’t read silly human letters anyways, as the steps past her brother to knock on the door, pounding had to make sure she is heard over the rain. A chorus sudden plaintive growls from behind them causes her to pivot quickly away from the door, her attention called to the three hungry, sopping bears trailing after the party. “Oh Mo̱ró, Mi̱téra, Bampás, I’m sorry!” she runs back and gives each of the bears a loving scratch behind the ears, her own voice modulating to a series of ursine growls as she explains that they had probably better wait outside, and that she would ask if there were any nearby caves or other shelter they might use.

Hektor

Hektor gave a throaty chuckle as he watched Kore tend to her grumpy trio.

For a reward, his own black bear, Hooch, nipped his backside, causing the big fellow to blurt out a yelp, before catching himself.

Looking back, while discreetly massaging his “love bite” as he had fondly named them, he gave Hooch his best ‘mock’ intimidating grimace.

Hooch, who like Hektor, was missing one eye from an attack by wolves, early in his life, not impressed, only snorted and moved closer to the building, hoping to get out of the rain.

Korë

Once the bears are settled, as much as they are going to be in the dark and the rain, knowing that their two-legged friends would be getting to go inside the nice, warm inn, Korë turns back to the door and knocks again, more loudly in case the two boys are too distracted to have heard the first time.

As she waits for the door to be answered, she looks around at her friends, making sure everyone has kept up through the storm. She notes Blixa and Yobob with their strange contraptions and cantankerous mule, Fionn, looking just as awkward as ever on his own hooves rather than a horse’s, Hun, looking downright miserable, her dear brother, keeping the rain off, but where was the bard? Normally she would expect him to be doing the knocking and the introductions. Ever since they had met in the market at Phlan, Frolik had been the party’s mouthpiece when dealing with locals who might be less open-minded about their unusually large friends. Of course, he was by far the most illness-prone of their party. She hoped his latest cold hadn’t gotten to the point where he’d had fallen into a ditch and drowned without anyone noticing…

She turned back to the others, “Anyone seen Frolik in the last mile or two?”

GM

With the second round of banging on the door you can see the two boys startle through the window. They look in the direction of the door then one disappears from view, though you can clearly hear him yelling, “Dyadya! Hosti!” Less than a minute later, the door swings open and a slight, willowy looking man with a hairlip squints out into the rain and darkness at you. Taking in the massive shadow of Hektor standing by the door, he stumbles back a step and says shakily, “Welcome,” standing aside to let you in.

The lintel of the door is painfully low for Hektor and Fionn, forcing them both to crawl to get through, and the wooden ceiling within is not much better.

The inside is rustic, yet cozy. The bare-earth floor can be seen through well-packed straw, the last of the winter stores likely having been used up a month ago, the walls are well-chinked with mud, and the fires burn merrily in the open hearths. A single wooden staircase rises along the back wall of the single, large room that is the first floor, up to a hole in the ceiling, down which an equally scrawny-looking woman in a dark-coloured dress is descending, pulling on a bonnet as she does.

The man, woman, and boys all stare dumbfounded as your strange party troops into the small inn.

HyunA

“Rhaich!” spits HyunA as she enters.

It was the closest thing the elves of Faerûn had to an expletive, though the bulk of that race considered such utterances unseemly.

“You’ll have to excuse them. They’re not from around her,” says HyunA, enjoying the obvious irony. She shakes her long, dark, locks to shed them of the excess rain, and removes her wet cloak. She moves closer to the fire to dry off. Her mood visibly improves now that she’s out of the miserable weather, and a small smile crosses her face. “We’re largely weatherproof, but there is a limit.” she explains.

Hektor

Waiting until the others made their way inside, Hektor gave a dubious look at the lintels dimensions as Fionn, although large in his own right, was still having a rough time squeezing through.

Before Hektor could think of an excuse to remain outside, Kore coaxed him in. He had to remove his huge backpack and halbred, before he could squeeze through.

Still, the height of the room caused him to remain crouched, until HyunA let loose an elven equivalent of a curse word, which Hektor had heard on other stressful occasions, which made him hit his head on the ceiling and uttering a dwarven curse word of his own.

Being absorbed in his own hardships, Hektor blushed when he finally realized that he and his companions were being scrutinized by the wide-eyed staff.

Uncomfortable and embarrassed, the gentle giant could only muster a nervous, toothy grin.

Yobob

As much as Yobob wanted to get out of the rain, he couldn’t help but glance around for the tire mentioned on the first sign as he tied up his mule. A good steel-belted radial is so hard to come by these days.

Giving up, he joined the party just in time to see Hektor bang his head on the ceiling, a site Yobob never tired of. Fighting the temptation to taunt his larger companions for their inability to safely complete such a simple task as entering a room, he instead turned his attention to the structure surrounding him. Yobob liked to fix things, and if there was a leaky roof, a creaky staircase, or a rusty hinge he wanted to find it. 

Korë

Korë wipes her hands on the, relatively, dry inside of her bear-hide cloak before offering it to the hairlipped innkeep, greeting him in the local tongue. “Blahoslovennya na vashomu budynku, tovarysh. Ya Kori Arkouda klanu Griff, tse moyi braty: Hektor i Finn, vony velyki, ale vony ne mayutʹ na uvazi niyakoyi shkody,” she says gestures to the two largest members of the party, and bowing.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” she continues, switching to the Common tongue. Something in her voice implies that the seven companions would be imposing on that hospitality whether it was actually offered or not. “Our other companions of HyunA,” she gestures to the elf who has already made her way to the fire, “Blixa, and Yobob,” she points a thumb over her shoulder at the gnomes, and “Frolik,” she looks around for the human one more time, then shrugs figuring she can look for him when she goes to take care of the bears.

Think of that, she presses on, “Do you have stables? Or, better yet, is there a cave nearby? We have animals outside, some of which might be startling to livestock…”

GM

The little man seems to regain his composure as the dwarf addresses him. “I’m afraid we don’t have any beds, but you’re all welcome to the fire and you can sleep in the common room of you need a place to rest.”

The woman turns to the boys, «Thumor, Ommis, go upstairs and fetch the big pot.» The two slowly make their way up the stairs, craning their necks to look alternately at the elven woman, the giant, and the minotaur, before disappearing upstairs. She scurried over to one of the hearths, using a log to swing the spit-hook out of the flames before tossing the wood in. “You all look chilled to the bone, we’ll put some soup on…”

“There’s a stable out back, and nothing in there to bother but the milk cow,” the man says, trying very not to look at the minotaur as he mentions the cow. “There’s also the old Number Two mine on the other side of Durham’s Hill, about a quarter mile that-a-way.” He points. “‘Course, there’ve been strange folk poking around the mine lately, so it’s maybe not the best place to spend the night.”

Korë

“A quarter mile that way?” Korë looks out the window to confirm the direction the innkeep had indicated. “That’s not too far. What kind of ‘strange folk’?” Not that I care, she thinks, the bears and I can handle ourselves. But these village types always love an opportunity to gossip, and a little chit-chat might make them more comfortable with us. She smiles unconsciously as she thinks of the tall tales the boys will have to tell their friends when her little party has left.

Frolik

Frolik has had the worst week ever. Period. Of course he caught a cold. No, he caught THE COLD. Surely, nothing short of a deity could cure him of it. It was catastrophic. First, the rain made it impossible to play the lute. It would be soaked in a minute! Then…he lost his voice. It was divine punishment. It was a good thing that he didn’t pay much attention to gods or else he would feel cursed. Without his voice he was nobody. He needed to speak more than breathing (it was basically the same for him) and right now only some coarse whispers was all he could manage. Thankfully they found a place with a roof and what looks like fire! Just to think of the possibility of being warm and dry lifted his spirit. But he was too weak yet to call attention to himself. It would be wiser to wait a little until he felt better and then make a nice introduction. For now his friends are making a great job at being the center of attention. He accepts the food, two servings actually, and some mulled wine.

GM

When the wet, sniffling, hoarse-voiced man starts asking for mulled wine, your hostess looks mortified. “Oh, you poor dear. We haven’t had a proper spice merchant up here in years, and Old Draeb’s vines were like nothing last year. I can’t even offer you wine, let alone properly spiced.” She seems close to tears at her social faux-pas, “but I can warm you a mug of milk with honey, which should fix you right up…”

The innkeep, does, in fact look relieved by Korë’s politely inquisitive manner. “A bunch of brothers,” he replies. “You know, the religious kind, showed up here the day before yesterday. They’ve been nosing around a lot. They don’t talk at all—can’t get ’em to say a word. And Thumor saw ’em squatting in the old mine, which would be a proper place for a beast to sleep, but no right place for a man.”

“Up to no good no doubt!” the lady chimes in.

“No doubt. But then, what do I know of such things,” the innkeep finishes.

Hektor

As everyone was getting comfortable, not an easy task, this room and it’s assortment of beings. The one thing they were like-minded about, is that they were wet, road weary and hungry.

As if on cue, Hektors stomach reminds EVERYONE that a good meal is past due.

At this rate, Hek’s cheeks would stay rosey-red for a fortnight.

“Pardon me.” He offers up to anyone paying attention.

Hek listened to the Inn keep’s tale about the road ahead with ernest. It had been a while since he got to let loose upon vile villains and monsters.

Tired of bumping his head and other appendages, Hektor uses his innate ability, diminution, which in a slight, blur to the eye, he now stands just under 8ft, weight and body are adjusted as well.

Much better. he thought to himself as he stretched his sore limbs and back.

GM

Coming downstairs holding either side of the large pot, the two boys laugh as the much-smaller giant stretches and still manages to bump his head on the ceiling.

Your hostess hangs the large pot over the fire, sends the boys to fetch water, and, roughly an hour later serves up a thick, starchy, sour-tasting green broth, topping each bowl with soured cream and slices of boiled egg.

Frolik

Frolik says to the hostess “Thank you my lady. You remind me of my granny. She would fix me up with warm honeyed milk and some cake. I’ll be delighted to have some.”

After drinking it and getting some food he stretches and flexes his body, warms his hands in the fire and thinks: “_ I can’t sing yet, but I sure feel like playing the lute _”.

He opens the case carefully and retrieves his instrument. It will take a while to tune it and warm it up, so he keeps his ears and eyes open, checking on the boys to see if they are curious about the lute.

Korë

As the lady of the house puts the soup on, Korë, heads for the door, stopping just long enough to whisper to her brother, “Hektor, jeg har tænkt mig at tage vores små søskende ud til hulen og få dem bosatte sig i. Jeg skulle være tilbage i tiden til suppe. Se mine ting?” She then throws her bear-hide cloak about her shoulders and heads out into the rain, leaving her heavy backpack propped against the wall in a corner.

Once outside, she takes her bearings, then goes and playfully hugs each of the bears. With a roll of her shoulders, she stretches her arms wide and begins to grow. As her body grows, her bear-hide garments fuse with her skin and expand as well, until she is covered in fur from snout to paws. Her body triples in size in every dimension, her fingers shrink, to be replaced by opposable claws, the stub of a tail appears. As the transformation completes, a conveniently timed flash of lightning illuminates the form of a fully grown kodiak sow, easily a hundred stone in weight and nearly as tall as her full-grown giant of a brother.

With a low growl she greets her brothers and sister. Then the troupe of bears pound off over the hill, towards the old, abandoned mine that the innkeep told them about.

Fionn

Fionn, after smacking his head and horns on the low door lintel and the ceiling inside, finds a nice corner to try to dry out and extract the mud from his hooves. At least from where he is sitting he isn’t getting any feelings of evil intent from anyone. That determined, clearing the mud continues. When the soup is ready, Fionn carefully takes the offered bowl from the innkeeper’s wife and thanks here politely.

Yobob

The innkeeper’s mention of a mine piqued Yobob’s interest enough to pull him away from his structural analysis. He partook of the offered victuals and enjoyed the music for a bit, but he just wasn’t satisfied with the innkeeper’s story. He’s left out all the important stuff!

Yobob decided to probe a little further about the details that mattered most to him. “Excuse me, sir,” he gestured to the innkeeper. “Can you tell us a little more about the Number Two mine? What kind of ore did it produce? Has it been shut down for long? Was it just a human operation, or were there some dwarves or gnomes involved?” If we’re dealing with a human mine, the best I can hope for is a mine cart with some rusted wheels, but if there were dwarves or gnomes involved, there’s no limit to what kind of equipment might be laying down there just waiting to be recycled. 

GM

The boys don’t seem particularly interested in the bard’s lute, though, once he begins to play, one does start drumming on a table, and is only slightly off-beat.

As the music plays and food is distributed, the innkeep sits down at one of the tables, all too happy to enlighten the gnome about the local mining. “Not much to tell about the old number two. It was the second mine that was opened when we first moved into Deþwillon.” He pronounces the name of the place such that it sounds like ‘Death Villain’. “We mostly mine argentite and galena. Number Two wasn’t a particularly good producer, especially compared to the Number Three, so it got abandoned after only a couple of years and never went particularly deep. Hasn’t been touched in a good thirty years. The Number One mine was here when we moved in, leftover from the dwarves, and goes the deepest. The Two and Three we carved out ourselves…”

He goes on for some time, talking about problems they had with properly shoring up the hillsides and tunnels, slippages and mudslides from the high rainfall, lost time from the mines flooding after the spring thaws, and other complaints. Even with their problems, it sounds like the mines pull out just enough silver and lead for the twenty or so families in Deþwillon (mostly on the far side of the hill, closer to the mines but away from the main trails) to make a living, with most of their ore being sold in Zhentil Keep or Teshwave.

Hektor

Growing up with dwarves was in itself, a trial of one’s wits. Everyday life was a challenge , but rewarding.

Even the dwarven language was, at first, an obstacle. Hektor’s alien mouth and tongue made even his best dwarf speak rough.

Korë had left him instructions in dwarvish, a fact that Hek did not miss. His big sister was much wiser when it came to dealing with the outside world.

Hek managed to keep any suspicious looks well hidden, but remained vigilant.

At first he wasn’t pleased about his sis going out on her own. But those uneasy thoughts soon faded and even brought a smirk to the giants lips.

Woe be on any who intend ill-will on that dwarf. Not to mention her trio of companions.

Hektor welcomed the hot meal as he listened to the story about the mines. Hek did not miss out on the point why he was not invited to inspect the mines either. The close quarters and low, unstable confines of a mine were no place for one of his stature.

Still, he could not help but worry. His free hand unconsciously inside his beard, lightly moving over his sister’s gift.


Outside

Korë

As the bears lope towards the cave, Korë thinks of how this shape feels so much more right than the one she’d been born with.

Since turning to the service of Lord Meriadar she had heard much about how hate was not a natural reaction. Humans could get along with anything. Even goblins, evil as they were, could get along with their cousins—orcs, hobgoblins, even ogres. Dwarves were different. ‘Children must be taught to hate’ was the common adage of the faith, but she knew that, for her people, that was absolutely wrong. The natural tendency of all dwarves, even those as kind-hearted and cosmopolitan as her father, was to hate that which was different. Even dwarves separated at birth from their clans learned at a very young age to hate and kill goblins, giants, and their ilk. Put a dwarven infant in a crib with a baby goblin and one of them would die. It was just the way of things.

Learning to love her brother had been hard. Learning to love her allies not of her clan had been harder. Learning to love even those that were possibly enemies had been an almost impossible task. After her brother, though, her first love had been the bears. Her clanmates had been terrified when Hektor brought the first one home, but she saw them for what they were. Stout, strong, and gruff, they might as well have been dwarves. She loved their thick, warm fur and the feel of their muscles beneath it. When she had learned to become one, she was ecstatic.

The more time she spent in this form, the more she knew that she was not trapped by her heritage. If she did not have to look like a dwarf, she did not have to think like a dwarf…did not have to hate like a dwarf. Not that she disliked her heritage, but her gut told her to lead with a crossbow bolt and never stop to ask questions. Since she had learned to be a bear, she had learned that, just as she could change her exterior, she could look past the exteriors of others. It had taken decades, but she had learned to embrace other races—even the minotaur and the elf that traveled with her—as brothers and sisters just as her father had made her embrace Hektor when he first brought the giant baby home.

Despite the cold, and the damp, and the dark, Korë let out a happy roar to be back in her proper skin. The cry was echoed by her furry siblings. Not long after, she spotted the darker patch of night marking the opening of a hole in the hillside. She veered slightly to head towards it and slowed her pace to approach with some semblance of caution…

GM

As the bears near the old mine, Korë can just make out the flickering light of a small campfire inside. Watching for a moment, she sees a figure stand up and cross in front of the fire, briefly obscuring it, then return to a seated position beside the light. Between the rain and her ursine nearsightedness, she cannot make out any details.

Korë

Korë growls, telling the other bears to spread out behind her and wait while she goes forward to check out the creatures in the cave. She pads forward slowly, trying to avoid making unnecessary noises and using the darkness and rain to cover her approach, her goal being to get close enough to see and smell the creatures (her vision as a bear being comparable to a human’s at close range). 

GM

Korë creeps up to the opening of the old mine and looks in to see a pair of creatures sitting by the fire, clearly humanoid in nature but wearing long voluminous brown robes that mask their features. The two creatures sit in complete silence, making no conversation or other noises. The cave smells strongly of guano and wet feathers, like a poorly ventilated chicken coop.

Korë

Korë briefly considers resuming her dwarven form so that she can use magic to assess the threat posed by these creatures, then decides that all she really cares about is if they will be a threat to her ursine siblings. Taking a deep breath, she slowly plods into the cave, acting as if the creatures and their fire aren’t even there. She stops right inside the opening, shakes vigorously to dry off, then walks towards the back of the cave, keep your distance, but don’t look like you’re trying to keep your distance, she thinks.

GM

The two creatures jump a little when the large bear comes in, they make no noise, but one turns its head fast enough that its cowl slips, revealing a misshapen human-like face with a parrot-like beak in place of its nose and mouth. Its left eye is large and bulging, and a smattering of drab brown feathers wreathes its chin like a beard. It quickly reaches up to pull the cowl back into place, revealing a twisted five-fingered hand with bird-like talons.

When the bear begins to shake off, they turn and cover themselves. The fire crackles and hisses from the shower of droplets, and one ducks to interpose himself between the bear and the fire. When the barrage of rain stops the two creatures eye the bear warily but make no further move, though the smell of fear from them is strong. They seem to relax slightly when the bear starts to walk around them without any show of aggression. They move slowly around to keep the fire between them and the bear…

Korë

Seeing that the poor, twisted creatures are not overtly hostile, Korë makes a slow circuit of the fire, walking all the way around it, but slow enough that they can keep their distance from the bear. As she does, she sniffs the ground and looks at the creatures in a way intended to convey simple animal wariness and curiosity, trying not to let on that she is probably smarter than they are.

As her circuit brings her back to the opening, she lets out a growl, telling the other bears that it is safe to come inside, but that they should head to the back of the cave, leaving the men by the fire alone. She then finishes on the far side of the fire from the door and walks towards the back, stopping just at the edge of the fire’s light, and lays down.

The other bears shuffle in, one at a time, shaking off then walking strait to the back, staying near the left wall, away from the bird-things. They each lay down next to Korë, curling up in a giant ball of fur and close their eyes.

Korë stays for several minutes watching the bears go to sleep and watching the birds to make sure they are not showing any aggression towards the sleeping bears. She then growls, telling Mo̱ró, Mi̱téra, Bampás that she will be back for them at first light, and that they should leave the poor bird-monks alone as long as they did likewise. She rises and heads for the exit.

Once out of the light of the fire, she reverts to her dwarven form and sneaks back to where she can see the bird things, casting know alignment, know faction, and detect magic just to be sure before leaving her siblings sleeping near these things.

GM

The creatures are clearly frightened by the family of bears taking up residence in the old mine with them. They give the animals wide berth and continue to try to keep the fire between them and the bears. They watch curiously as Korë leaves, but still make no threatening moves towards her or the bears. Still in complete silence.

By the time Korë circles back to divine their intent, the creatures have settled back to quietly sitting by the fire, apparently convinced that the sleeping animals are no immediate threat. Her spells do not tell her much. The creatures have a faint aura of transmutation magic lingering over them, but nothing currently active. They appear to be completely neutral in alignment, they are clearly sapient and not without alignment in the way that animals are, but have no strong leanings. Her attempt to read their affiliations reveals nothing. An absence. Either the spell failed, or these creatures have no social ties of any kind.

Korë

Antisocial but mostly harmless, she thinks. The bears will be fine.

Korë shivers a little, wishing that she had not relinquished the warm bulk of her bear form and slips back into the rain and darkness, focusing her infravision to pick out the tell-tale warm spot of the inn’s chimneys through the otherwise uniformly cold background. She hasn’t gone more than a dozen steps when she also regets the loss of her longer bear legs. She pulls out her yellow ioun stone and sets it to spinning around her head. Stupid dwarf-body, she thinks as she plods slowly through the rain, at least my feet will stay dry.

She walks back into the inn a little more than an hour after she’d left and helps herself to a bowl of soup.


Back at the Inn

Korë

Once the bard begins playing and everyone else starts eating, Korë wanders over to the corner and sits down by the minotaur. For the year that they’d known each other, Fionn had been the party’s moral compass, at least for those situations that might call for an application of force. "Fionn, fandt jeg nogle af de “brødre”, at innkeep talte om. De var mærkeligt. De lignede mænd med tilfældige fugl bits limet på – fjer, næb, kløer. Som en slags vanvittige guiden eksperiment. Tror du, det er værd os kigge ind på?"

Hektor

Hektor was grateful and relieved when Korë walked back into the Inn.

He had prepared a meal for her. Taking that and one of his blankets, he sat near Korë and Fionn.

Hek offered the meal and blanket to his sister as he listened to what she had found out. 

Frolik

fter playing some tunes and feeling much better for it, Frolik sees Korë rerturning. He packs his lute thinking that maybe in a day or two he might be singing again, and grabbing some honeyed milk he walks towards Korë, Fionn, and Hektor.

“Anything interesting?” He says clearing his throat and with a coarse voice.

Korë

As everyone starts assembling around her, Korë tucks into her bowl of soup and tries to act as inconspicuous as possible, trying not to alarm the locals with what she found. “Thank you, this is delicious,” she says to the lady of the house, then reverts to dwarvish to commune with her companions. "Da jeg fortalte Fionn, fandt jeg nogle af de “brødre”, der innkeep talt om. De lignede mænd med tilfældig fugl bits limet på – fjer, næb, kløer – og ønskede ikke oprette en enkelt lyd. De syntes harmløs og gider ikke mig eller bjørne, som vi gik ind i hulen, men jeg kan se, hvorfor de lokale ville blive paagaeldende. Da vi er her, måske skulle vi tjekke det ud i morgen, og måske se, om der er en butik, hvor vi kan genpåfyldning til turen tilbage til Phlan."

GM

As the last of the pot of soup empties, the man of the house yawns. “Well folks, I need to get some sleep, you’re welcome to sleep here tonight. Spread out wherever you like. We can settle accounts in the morning.” He walks over and drops a bar across the front door, then shoos the lady and boys up the stairs. They hurry up, taking the large pot and a few other loose items up with them, leaving nothing but the tables, stools, and dying fire behind. As they vanish you hear the thump of trap being closed and a screech as something heavy is dragged across the floor and set on top of it.

Korë

Once the proprietor and his family disappear upstairs and lock themselves in, Korë relaxes and explains again in the common traders tongue, despite its limited ability to convey complex ideas, for any of her party who have yet to master dethek. "As I told Fionn. I found some of “brothers” who hospitality worker talked about. They looked like men with bird bits glued on – feathers, hard mouth parts, claws – and did not create single sound. They seemed not dangerous and did not bother me or bears, as we went in cave. I can see why locals would be afraid. Since we’re here, we should check it out tomorrow. See if there is shop where we can restock for trip back to Phlan."

What a useless language, she thinks, it doesn’t even have articles. She shoves a stool out of the way to make room to spread out her bedroll.


2nd of Ches

Korë

The next morning, Korë wakes up early, when the Inn is still quiet. Shivering against the chill morning air, she crawls over and begins building up the fire in the hearth, adding wood and stirring up the coals until she has a small blaze going.

She unbars the door and steps outside, filling her own small cauldron at the rain barrel, then returns to hang it over the fire. As the water comes to a boil, she tosses a cube of incense into the fire, filling the room with a lovely (if slightly narcotic) scent, and then tosses a number of rune-carved stones into the water. She then sits, staring the ripples in the water from the stones and the steam wafting out of the cauldron, meditating over whether it would be advisable for the party to investigate these bird-monks further.

GM

The runestones slowly float to the surface of the water, one by one, only to submerge again to be replaced by others. The message goes on far longer than any Korë has previously witnessed. Hurriedly, her mind reeling from the psychotropic haze of her incense, Korë translates the surfacing stones:

Vigils. Full moon at apex.
Copse of trees on stony hilltop.
Singing. Shadows flicker before flames.
Matins. No moon upon the sky.
Feathers clutter beneath canopy.
Breathing. Silver bound by murder.
Sext. Clouds gather to plead their case.
Groaning. Wind and branches joins cause.
None. To purify herald rings.
Wailing. Heaven sheds starry tears.
Vespers. Waiting without Waning.
It Comes.

Ommos

Kore’s reverie is broken by the sound of the trap door to the upper floor being opened. The elder of the two boys slips down, closing it as quietly as he can behind him and walks over to where the dwarf woman is sitting by the fire. “Jeg taler Dethek du kender.”

He pulls one of the stools over and sits down. “Du er en klog kvinde?” he asks, looking at the cauldron and the stones. “I heard what you were saying…about the bird men. If you and your friends are going to be investigating I’d like to help. I doubt many of the people around here would be willing to open up to your friends…” he casts a glance at the snoring giant and minotaur, “no offense.”

He sticks out his hand, “I’m Ommos.”

Korë

Korë gives the boy an arm cross, “Du laver en god pointe, velkommen ombord.” She walks over the nudges Hektor with her foot, “Wake up, time to go check on the boys and make sure they didn’t maul any monks in their sleep…”

She turns back to the boy, “Så Ommos er Dethek almindeligt kendt her omkring?”

Ommos

“Nej, ikke som sådan, men at arbejde her jeg har haft lejlighed til at tale med et par af dine folk. Bare rolig, jeg er sikker mine onkler taler ikke din tunge.”

Ommos looks around, “Your friends are sound sleepers, eh?” He walks to the second hearth and starts stoking the fire up, putting a great over it once its going. “Oh, Uncle Tal usually charges four coppers a head for dinner and room to spread out…he’ll probably forget to mention it and then mam will get angry with him again, so make sure to settle up before we leave.”

Korë

Korë does a quick head count as she is drying and re-packing her divinatory tools. “Thanks for the heads up,” she says, neatly piling four stacks of ten copper coins each on one of the tables. Never hurts to tip, she thinks, especially with big appetites in the party.

She kicks the sleeping Hektor and Fionn one more time, then heads out the door. “Come on guys, get the lead out…”

Frolik

Frolik wakes up feeling much better and with renewed strength.
“Well, shall we wake the others and get a head start on our trip? Those bird-men sound like fun.”
He adds a couple of coppers to one table and packs his stuff.
While he is at it, he sings a song to warm up his voice.

“Rise and shine, rise and shine
there are things to be done
so wake up and get ready
and lets just be far gone
but first wash and clean yourselves
because my hellish cold is over
and i can smell you from beyond”

Ommos

Ommos laughs loudly at the song, “That was some nice playing last night. I’m glad that you are feeling better.” He ducks out the door after the dwarf. “So where did you want to look first?”

Korë

“That way,” Korë points in the direction of the cave. “I have some friends I need to check in on before we do much else, and they were, insterestingly, sharing a cave with a couple of your visitors last night…” She sets off at her fastest speed, which is barely a walk for all of her larger companions. She sighs again at the limitations of her dwarven body, at least it’s always easy for the lazy-heads to catch up, she thinks.

GM

Outside, the rain from the past several days continues unabated, a steady, cold drizzle giving a deep green luster to the grasses covering the hill. With the morning light you can now make out a small village, perhaps a score of buildings including two or three large enough to be a store or meeting house, on the far side as you cross over the ridge. The rain obscures your vision, but you can make out the motion of a few people out and about. As you near the abandoned there is an ominous rumble of thunder and you see a pair of humanoid figures, presumably the bird-monks from the night before, skulking away down the hill and into the light woods that border the town.

Hektor

Hektor, as large and strong as he was, was pooped. The last few days journey through the foul weather not only sapped his strength but dampened his usually unshakable spirit. He longed for the sun and chorus of so many types of birds singing different songs, yet somehow still stayed miraculously in harmony. He loved birds almost as much as he loved bears. Truthfully, and already well known, Hek loved all the natural animals of the lands. His dwarven father often joked that the gentle-giant should’ve been a
“flippin ranger” or even “like ’is big sis.”

Suffice to say, Hektor slept like a baby…mammoth. If anyone else did, due to his rusty saw-blade snoring, it was nothing short of a miracle.

He was having the most delightful dream about a symphony of multi-typed birds, that oddly all sounded like a lute, when a gigantic, dwarven boot stomped the lot of them and kicked Hektor in the rump as well.

With a snort that shook the rafters, Hek’s saucer-sized eye popped wide open.

“Huh… whu….my birdies!?” he exclaimed loudly, still in the fog of the evaporating dream.

Blinking the sleep away, his single, huge orb stopped on Köre.

In a mumbled, half-hoarse voice he said…
“Geez sis…maybe try a gentle touch next time.” rubbing an imaginary hurt on his bottom.

He received in turn, the usual “hrrmuph!” and eye-roll.

In the end it was Köre’s incense that finally woke up the grumpy bear… so-to-speak.

Although his belly rumbled in protest, the thought of going to see his “baby-boy”, Hooch, got the big guy rolling.

As he started for the doorway, he looked back and chided Fionn about the mud left from the minotaur’s hooves…

Awake, yet still not alert, Hek totally forgot that his enchantment he cast the previous night had worn off, restoring him to his full 12 foot height. The end result was a lump on his forehead and an irregular half-globed hole above the door.

Red-faced, Hektor made quick apologies and promises of repair to the mistress before squeezing out into the drizzle.

Easily catching up to his sister, Hektor once again offered a ride, having notice several choice dwarvish curses. 

Korë

Korë spares only a moment to glance angrily at her brother, then stops and points into the gloom. “There,” she says quietly, “heading towards the woods.” She turns to the elf trailing them, “Hun, you’ve got the best eyes. Try to keep them in sight. We’ll check on the bears quickly, then go see what our dark-robed skulkers are up to…”

Frolik

Frolik prepares his crossbow just in case. “Maybe they are running from something or someone?” Then he enters into the woods in the opposite direction the bird-people are going.

Ommos

Ommos stops and gives Korë a look that is simultaneously quizzical and terrified. “Did you say bears?!”

He steps away from the cave and turns towards the woods, trying to make out the two figures ducking into the trees. “It doesn’t look like they are moving fast enough to be running from anything Mr…” he stops when he sees Frolik heading in the opposite direction. “Hey!” he calls in a coarse whisper-shout, “Where are you going?” He jogs to catch up with the bard, “Shouldn’t we be following them?”

GM

As if aware that you are talking about them, the three sleepy-looking bears come plodding out of the cave. Hooch, the biggest of the three, stops by Hektor and shakes vigorously to shed water-droplets from his fur, then looks up at the giant grumpily, clearly objecting to the weather, but otherwise hale and hearty.

The two bird-men, meanwhile vanish into the woods at the bottom of the hill, the trees and rain covering their passage.

Korë

Korë rubs the bears heads affectionately, then looks down the hill. “Should we chase them? Or go explore elsewhere?” Then, to Ommos, “Hey, your uncle didn’t say how many of the ‘brothers’ he saw in town, but it sounded like several. Was it just the two of them, or are there likely more skulking around?”

Hektor

Hektor took his big sister’s scowl as if it were affection. He grinned.

He did however give her a flat look at the “best eyeS” comment.
Nevertheless he kept a serious vigil.

The robed “bird-men” looked throughly spooked.

Without looking down, Hek reached out and gave Hooch an affectionate, reassuring squeeze on the great bean’s back of the neck.

Still watching the rapidly departing duo, he spoke with authority.
“Someone should double check the cave..”

Bending to Hooch’s ear, the Hound Master whispered for a moment, the bear’s ears going alert.

With a low acknowledging growl, Hooch set off towards the fleeing people.

Korë

Korë nods approval of her brother’s statement, “Yeah, I’ve lost sight of them anyways…”

She motions the bears over to her and makes a deep growling noise, asking if they can pick up the birds scent, since it was so recent.

As her furry friends start tracking down the bird-men, Korë turns back to the cave and motions for the others to follow, “Let’s check out the mine and see if there is anything of significance. It could be that they were just looking for a dry place to sleep, but maybe they left behind something that would explain what they are doing here.”

GM

The cave, only slightly easier to see in the gloomy daylight, is just tall enough for a man to stand upright and just wide enough for four men to walk abreast, and runs strait back into the hillside for quite a ways, well past the range of Korë’s infravision. The walls are fairly smooth, clearly worked rather than natural, and faint grooves running down the middle of the floor show where a track may have once been.

About five yards into the mine, just enough to be out of range for wind-blown raindrops, you find the still smoldering remains of the bird-men’s fire. Two bundles of fire-blackened leaves, filled with small bones sit nearby, but there are no other obvious signs of their presence.

Hektor

Hek begins to follow Hooch as the great bear tracks the bird-men.

He feels secure with the knowledge that Köre has her two bears and party members nearby.

Hektor’s long stride brings him to the forests edge in short order. Using his advantage of height, he takes a good look in the direction of the two odd fellows before entering the thick. 

GM

The bird-men’s trail takes you down the hill, towards the village, then over a small mill-stream and into the woods bordering the town. The rain and the stream make following the scent-trail more difficult, but you saw where they entered the woods so Hooch is eventually able to pick it back up. Their path sticks close to the edge of the woods, cutting around the north and west of the village.

While the creatures were not running from anything to start with, a giant and a grizzly bear following along the exact same path that they took are not easy things to conceal. Spotting the hulking shapes coming behind them, the two bird-men break the cover of the trees, sprinting towards the sanctuary of an old church in the south-west corner of the village. Somehow, even in a state of panicked flight, the creatures make no sound.

Hektor

Hektor followed Hooch who was tracking the bird-men. Over a few of the smaller trees he could make out the village and the path that his quarry were taking.
Whistling for Hooch to return, he gave the commands necessary for the bear to understand and relay to his sister and the other party members.
Hooch was to go back and find Köre (his symbol to indicate his sister was touching the totem attached to his beard that she had made and given to him)
and bring all of them back to where Hektor’s scent followed.

Once Hooch was away, moving swiftly for a creature of his size, Hektor set out for the church. Once in the open, all pretence of cover was gone and he used his long strides to move quickly to the perimeter of the building. Although the two bird-men had yet to show any aggression, Hek’s, movement was patient and cautious as was taught by his father and Köre. He chose to go to the rear of the church to make certain that the two had not gone out the back door if one was present. 

Korë

Korë makes a circuit of the campsite, pushing aside the ashes of the fire with a stick, examining the bones in the leaves, and looking for any other signs left behind by the bird-creatures. After a few minutes she is confident that there is nothing else of interest and slightly disappointed in their choice of baked rats for their evening meal. She cinches up her pack and heads out of the mine. She stops by the exit, looking around for any signs of where her friends might have gone, then easily spots Hektor’s massive footprints heading down the hill. Guess I’d better catch up.

She runs down the hill as fast as her short legs and the slippery, muddy terrain will allow.

Frolik

Frolik takes a look in the cave, walks a little bit into it and after seeing nothing of interest, heads back outside and follows Korë and Hek.

Ommos

Ommos falls in behind Korë and Frolik, slowing his pace to match the dwarf. As they break the cover of the woods and he spots Hektor near the church, the young man’s eyebrows knit into a glower. “That’s my church,” he growls. “What would the strangers want in there?” He draws a red-bladed sickle from his belt and hurries up beside the giant…

GM

The old church is small, stone building, only slightly larger than the houses that comprise the village of Deþwillon, with a steeply pitched roof to protect against the harsh winter snows. As Hektor nears the building, he sees the two bird-creatures duck into a small postern on the corner closest to the woods. A quick survey reveals no windows on the building, but three possible entrances: the nearby postern door, another small door on the eastern side leading out into a small graveyard, and a set of large double doors facing due north towards the village proper. With his greater height, Hektor can also see what appears to be a large hatch on the south-face of the roof, presently closed. Two old maple trees grow up near the north-eastern corner of the church, close enough that even small children could likely climb onto the roof from them.

Hektor

With his one good eye, Hek spared a quick glance over his shoulder. Köre, Flolik and to his surprise, one of the human younglings from the inn. Although puzzled by the boys presence, he pushed the thought aside for the time being. Still, the protective part of him couldn’t help but keep the boy from harms way should things get…complicated.

Using a warbling whistle, Hek gave Hooch the command to watch the back of the church. The quarry might try to escape unnoticed.

Knowing that his long time companions would understand his use of the great bear, he had no doubt that they would automatically find their part in this hunt. Nevertheless, Hektor waited until they caught up in case they might have information.
He kept a strong vigil on his surroundings and tried to listen to tell-tale noises within the church. 

Korë

Korë tells the two bears to wait in the woods and jogs to catch up with the boy and her brother. Reaching the old church, she pats Hooch on the head, then turns to the others, whispering. “Three doors? Plus the roof? Shall we try all four at once and attempt to surround them?” Hardly waiting for an answer, she begins slipping around towards the trees on the far side, gesturing to Hektor to indicate that she’ll take the roof-hatch.

As she slips along the side of the church, she also looks around for other nearby buildings, in case the strange, furtive bird-men may have allies hidden nearby.

Looking up at the angle of the roof and thinking about her strange augury from earlier in the morning, Korë suddenly stops and creeps back. “Ommos,” she says in a harsh whisper, “does your church have any special celebrations for the Full Moon? There is supposed to be one soon, tonight? Tomorrow maybe? That hatch looks like it’s at just the right angle for a good viewing, if the rain would ever let up…”

Frolik

As Korë takes the roof Frolik goes to the eastern entrance, the one with the graveyard. He has his crossbow ready but since he doesn’t want to appear dangerous, he keeps it behind him. Just in case, he also keeps a spell (grease) in the tip of his tongue.

Watching the church he tries to remember if he knows anything about it or the bird-men.

Hektor

Comforted by the fact his companions were nearby, Hek slowly moves around the building, alert for any movement or sound.

As per his races innate ability, Hektor enacts detect magic, hoping that the spell like ability will give aid in the search. 

Ommos

Ommos nods warily, “Yes…we do celebrate the full moon…why?”

GM

Listening at the doors, Hektor hears…nothing. The same eerie silence that surrounded the bird-men as he was chasing them appears to have been maintained. Aside from the rain pattering on roofs, and leaves, and gravestones, the surrounding area is quiet as well. Hektor does detect a lingering aura of magic over the entire structure, old but strong.

The north side of the church is separated from the rest of the town by a wide, muddy dirt track, but one building flanks the church to the east, just the other side of the two maples. It is a large thatch-roofed building with a weather-worn sign on the front bearing a crude flour-sack logo, possibly what passes for a general store for the small village. As Korë heads for the trees to get up onto the roof, she notices that waxed parchment over one of the windows of the store has been ripped open, letting the rain in and a faint moaning sound out.

Examining the church, Frolik recognizes the tell-tale trappings of the local folk religion: the south-facing roof-hatch in particular, but also small, crescent moon shapes lightly etched into each stone of the walls, and the sharp, metallic smell of blood near the main doors, from monthly offerings poured out on the threshold. The locals in this section of the Dragonspine Mountains are often referred to as ‘Mooneyes’ by southerners, and are known for being unusually chummy with the goblins and kobolds, almost to the point of considering their villages to be part of the goblin tribes. The religion is a primitive form of matriarchal moon worship and sympathetic magic, considered ‘witchcraft’ by the establishment back in Phlan. On the plus side, the churches up here are famous for the distillation of excellent spirits (which sometimes make their way south with the autumn caravans), with a particular flair for creativity in their brewing.

Hektor

The rain splatter dashed any hope of hearing their quarry, though even so, it was a bit too quiet despite the rain. It sent a visible shudder down Hektor’s spine.

While he could not discern the sphere of magic that encompassed the old church, he could at least relay his findings.

Not bothering to attempt being quiet, something the big guy wasn’t very successful at anyway, Hek spoke in dwarvish…

“Jeg hører ikke fra vores stenbrud. Være det kendt denne struktur har en gammel magi over det.”

Hektor remained vigilant, though had he noticed the moon etchings that adorned the church, he would be seeing red.

Korë

“I think something is going down tonight, at moon-rise…can’t say exactly what though, and will culminate around sundown tomorrow, probably involving these bird-men and probably ending with someone being killed…and maybe a meteor shower.” Korë shakes her head, “Sorry, even with all the right tools, divination is not a precise science.”

She turns and heads back towards the trees, planning to get up on the roof, then stops when she notices the busted-out window. “Ligner nogen brød ind her, og jeg kan høre nogle stønnen. Jeg har tænkt mig i at tjekke det ud. Hold mig dækket, hva lillebror?” She breaks away from the church and circles the shop, looking for other signs of forced entry before heading to check the front door.

Frolik

“Just as I like it. Goblins and spirits!” Frolik reaches the eastern door and tries to listen inside.

Ommos

Ommos watches the dwarf, the giant, and the bard, impressed by their professionalism with their careful investigations and covering all the exits and wonders where he can really help. Finally he shrugs, not going down until tonight, huh?, and heads for the front doors, figuring that this is his church and there really is nothing unusual in him just walking in on the morning before a major ceremony. He knocks loudly, so as to not surprise anyone, then shoves one of the two large doors open and peers inside, trying to be as casual about it as possible. “Lady Azrael? Father Dosol?” he calls into the silence, checking to see if either of the leading priests were present. Only then does he realize that he is still clutching his ceremonial sickle tightly in his hand, and quickly fumbles it into his belt strap.

Hektor

Hektor nods and positions himself in an optimal place to go where he was needed.

He gave a series of whistles and clicks that sent Hooch around to the front of the church where he would stand guard over the boy. 

GM

Korë circles the shop, but finds no other busted windows, nor other signs of damage to the building, though the sounds of quiet moaning remain readily audible. She tries the front door, but finds it locked, nothing elaborate, just a single slide bolt at about eye-level to a man, judging by the tension.

Ommos opens the door into the nave of the old church. Having no windows, and the moon-door closed, the room is almost completely black, save for the faint gray, rainy-day light leaking in through the door. The room is completely silent, save for the sounds of rain pattering against the roof and the steady plink of water dripping down from the imperfectly sealed moon-door. Even after letting his eyes adjust to the dimness, Ommos can see very little. He notes the shapes of the tall candelabras lining the walls, the slickness of the damp cobbled floor, and, perhaps, something moving in the darkness of the south end of the building.

Korë

Korë lets out a low, ursine growl and puts her shoulder to the door. The force, applied a couple feet lower than the bolt, easily pops the nails holding the bolt to the door’s frame. She grumbles a low, “Sorry,” in the local dialect, then steps into the shop, scanning the room for possible assailants before proceeding towards the source of the moaning.

Ommos

Though a little spooked by the dark, the quiet, and the vague sensation of motion, Ommos was at least comfortable with the old church. He made a low “pssssst” sound, trying to get the attention of the dwarf or one of her other dark-acclimated allies. When it becomes clear that she is otherwise distracted, he heads over to the nearest candelabra, takes a candle (being careful to take the central one, so as to not upset its symmetry and thus offend the gods), and strikes a light with his flint before proceeding carefully towards the southern apse of the church. Knowing that surprise is not on his side, he hazards another call, “Father Dosol? Are you here?”

GM

Korë enters the shop to find clear signs of a struggle and looting — a broken stool, several wall pegs and shelves emptied, and one shelf knocked sideways, leaning against a second and much of its contents spilled on the floor. Behind the fallen shelf she finds the source of the moaning — a man well past his prime, still dressed in his night robe lying on the ground. There is a large cut and several bruises on his balding head, and his hands and feet are bound. The mans eyes are still heavily lidded, but he appears to be regaining consciousness.

Meanwhile, in the church, the sudden sparking of Ommos’s light startles the other inhabitants. At the far end of the church, two robed shapes, still vague in the dimness of the single candle, rise jerkily, but without so much as a sharp intake of breath, let alone any cry, from kneeling positions and rush for the south-eastern door (the one that would lead out into the graveyard). The lead one lowers his shoulder the plows into the door, knocking it open right into Frolik…

Ommos

Ommos is startled by the sudden movement and the continued strange silence. Seeing Frolik in danger, Ommos quickly incants the words to a spell, “Dayte volyu prominʹ Ondovir!” and points a finger at the lead runner. A thin beam of brilliant yellow-white light leaps from his finger, arcing toward the bird-man who opened the door, briefly shattering the dimness of the church and leaving spots dancing before Ommos’ eyes.

Frolik

Frolik tries to stop the bird-man, but without hurting it.

GM

The door slams hard into Frolik’s cheek, sending him sprawling sideways away from the door. There is a brief wash of light and the runner then suddenly stops, drops to his knees and folds his hands as if in prayer, causing the second runner to tumble headfirst over him, then stands, stumbles over his friend and barrels shoulder-first into the nearest headstone in the small cemetery. There is an unpleasant cracking sound as he makes contact, but again, no sound from the robed man, though a twisted hand emerges from a sleeve to cradle his injured shoulder.

Frolik

“Ouch!”Says Frolik caressing his bruised cheek and picking himself up from the floor. Then he walks towards the bird-men while casually dusting off his clothes and says “Hi, I reckon we had a tough introduction, but could you please stay calm so we can all avoid further injuries?”

Korë

Korë kneels down by the man, saws through his bonds with the pewter knife from her mess kit, then lays a hand on his injured head and bows her head in a silent prayer for healing.

GM

As Korë touches the man’s head, his eyes snap open suddenly. “Thieves!” he shouts. His eyes look right at Korë, but seem unfocused, as if he is looking right through her. “They took my tools! They were sneaky, but I heard them in here. Oh, but there were too many of them. Horrible, ugly men—bashed me across the head! It was terrible…uh…who’re…” His tirade comes to a spluttering stop as his eyes focus and he finally recognizes the person kneeling over him to be a stranger.

Outside, as Frolik walks towards the stunned bird-man, he notices a small scrap of paper floating in nearby puddle, apparently having fallen from the man’s robe when he collided with the headstone, and quickly becoming soaked through.

Frolik

Frolik quickly snatches the paper from the puddle and tries to read it. He uses his handkerchief to absorb some of the muddy water.

“And what about you two?” He says to the bird-men. “Are you sneaky thieves then?”
Frolik bends down to check on the bird-man that crashed headlong into the gravestone. Then in a whisper “Did you find any good spirits?”

GM

The paper scrap reads, in the local tongue, “Плетені вікарій. Духи дистильована. Наступна Повний місяць. Велика Вечірка. наш Блискучий. Віконт теж два.”

«Wicker vicar. Spirits distilled. Next full moon. Great party. Our shiny. Viscount Too Two.»

Hektor

Hearing the commotion and cry of “Ouch!”, Hektor arrives on the scene quickly with his long strides.

He didn’t like the idea that the group was now split, Köre being inside the nearby store, but he had faith in his older sister and he could be at her aid in no time.

Looking down at the sight before him, Hek let some of the tension he was experiencing fade. The two bird-men looked less of a threat and more like they needed saving.

Hektor moved his only good eye over to Frolik who was in possession of a sodden piece of parchment. He looked a tad rattled, but otherwise ok.

Kneeling to one knee which sank into the mud, Hektor gently reaches out to assist the injured man up as he addresses Frolik.

“You been roughin’ these fellows up my friend?” he says with a grin. 

Frolik

“On the contrary my friend! They seem to be able to rough themselves up without any help from me!” Says Frolik to Hektor in a fake wounded tone. “I think they could use a hand…or two. Why don’t we take them inside and out of this rain?” 

Korë

Realizing how terrifying it could be to wake up from a head injury to find your house broken into and a strange bear-skin clad dwarf leaning over you, Korë decides to expedite calming the man down by casting charm person or mammal on him. “Calm down,” she says gently, “it’s me Korë, you remember…everything will be fine…”

GM

As the giant reaches for the man, he jerks away and leaps to his feet, turning to run but getting tangled in his robes and falling in the mud again. The second, still near the door, gathers himself up, revealing one booted foot and one eagle-like talon, and sprints back toward the woods.

Meanwhile, inside the shop, the man blinks confusedly. “A Ko-ree! Blessed Moon am I glad to see you!” He sits up, perhaps a little too quickly, judging by the look of nausea that comes over him, then looks a the door. “Gah, the bastards! That bolt cost me five silver staters. Bad enough that they tore the windows coming in, why’d they have to break my door going out!” He shakes a fist angrily before looking back at the dwarf, “I’ll be fine Ko-ree. You’d best go tell Mayor Granforth that there’re thieves about…”

Ommos

Ommos makes his way through the church, lighting a few more candles as he goes to brighten the place up, then stops by the open door. Guess we’ll have to catch that one, he thinks. He clicks together the heels of his boots of jogging and takes off after the bird-man at a dead sprint, sure that his magic boots will let him overtake the thing by endurance, if not by actual speed.

Frolik

“Hey, what kind of manners are those? Are you just leaving your friend like that???” Says Frolik to the running man as he casts a spell aimed in front of his running path, creating a pool of slippery grease.

Hektor

The defensive motion by the robed man was expected. The bird-like claw on the fleeing fellow was entirely not.

With a shrill whistle that knifes thru the rain and commotion, Hektor gives Hooch the signal to “fetch”.

There were quite a few different signals learned and shared between he and his beloved companion Hooch. The great bear, although now in full pursuit, would not harm the running man…if said prey remained civil.

Calmly, gently but very firmly, Hek places a huge, wet hand on the injured man’s shoulders and back.

“You jus sit back and relax good sir. Aid will arrive’n short order.”

Outwardly stoic, the big guy was inwardly worried sick about his big sister. 

He did find a fond chuckle for his small friend Frolik who had just made Hooch’s job a bit easier. 

GM

The fleeing man hits the grease, but instead of falling, slides across and keeps running, his one talon-like foot digging into the mud for traction. However, even running flat-out, his gate is awkward with the one bird-like foot, and Ommos and the bear overtake him before he can even reach the tree-line.

The remaining man, clearly overmatched with the huge hand resting on his shoulder, pulls his hands back into his sleeves and bows his head as if in meditation, making no sound.

Ommos

As he nears the fleeing bird-footed man, Ommos sees the bear running up behind him. Ommos lets out a panicked yell and dives to the side, forgetting his quarry in his eagerness to get out of the way of a fourty-stone pile of teeth and claws barreling after him at thirty miles an hour.

Hektor

Hooch loves fetch. He also loves Hektor’s friends in a terrifying kind of way.

Smelling the grease far before he sees it, Hooch moves to the side of it right after Ommos did the same and leaps over the freaked out fellow, landing heavily, leaving great gouges of earth in the wake of the great bear’s claws.

Swinging around in front of the running man, Hooch rears up on his back legs, towering over the smaller prey and ROARS!

Hektor smirks, knowing the growl for what it was. Had Hooch meant harm to his prey, this little song would pale by comparison.

However, Hek did not take his eye off the man before him and did not like the man putting his hands out of sight.

Nothing visibly changes on the half-giant, but the tone of his voice leaves no doubt of his words.

“Slowly show me yer hands, palms down…. Now.”

Korë

Korë helps the man to his feet, then goes about setting the shelving upright again. “Do you know what was taken?” she asks. “Perhaps the items stolen might give ‘the mayor’ a clue to what these thieves are about…” She continues to scurry about the shop, putting things back on the shelves and also taking a mental inventory of the sort of items the place carries.

She then heads over to the torn window, looking for the muddy footprints that must be there in such weather if anyone came in, particularly looking for any telltale talon marks that might indicate whether the perpetrators of the robbery were the same bird-men she had seen in the cave.

GM

With the bear suddenly in front of him, the talon-footed man tries to pivot, but skids out, landing in the mud. He remains there, remaining as silent as before, and lying as still as he can, as if trying to ‘play dead’ to avoid attracting the bear’s ire.

His companion, meanwhile, remains sitting beside the gravestones with his hands folded in his sleeves. He makes no motion in response to Hektor’s words. No reaction at all in fact, as if he were deaf as well as mute.

Inside the shop, the owner thanks Korë for helping him up and righting the shelves, then looks around the place, busily putting things in the right places (including re-shelving some things that Korë misplaced). “Rope.” he finally says. “All the rope is gone, and all the parchment, and the candles, even the vigils I stock for the church, and the extra wicking…” He finishes putting the last of the items on their proper shelves and hooks, “Also took my biggest mirror, a couple shovels, bunch of gunny sacks…”

As the man finishes his inventory, Korë notices several muddy footprints trailing all over the dirt floor of the shop, mostly wet boot prints, but also a pair of large, webbed, three-toed markings in the muddy patch where the rain had been coming in the window, almost like giant duck footprints. The wall immediately below the window is also streaked with mud from where something climbed out.

Korë

“Rope and candles? Odd choices of things to steal, unless they were going spelunking,” Korë muses. She looks at the tracks then heads for the door, stopping to hand a gold coin to the shopkeeper, “This should cover getting your door and window fixed. I’ll see what I can do about finding the men who robbed you.” With that she heads back out into the rain.

Seeing Hektor and Frolik standing over the downed, robed man, she heads over to her brother. “What have we here?” she asks, leaning ever-so-slightly down to look under the man’s hood.

“Someone broke into the shop next door, clubbed the proprietor, and made off with a bunch of rope, candles, sacks, paper, mirrors, and other mundane stuff.” She casually nudges the edge of the man’s robe aside to get a good look at his feet. “Someone with duck feet,” she explains to her friends.

Frolik

“Well, this one hasn’t “quacked” yet." Says Frolik to Korë and then to the bird-man “Do you mind if I take a look at your stuff?” and without waiting for an answer he starts picking among his stuff and robes.

Ommos

Ommos flinches and curls into a ball at the bear’s mighty roar. When, after a moment, it becomes clear that the bear is somehow deliberately acting with the intent to frighten, rather than hurt anyone, he crawls over to the prone bird-man. “Hey!” he croaks harshly, unable to overcome the primal fear invoked by the massive bear, “If we stay low and crawl slowly, I don’t think it will attack…” Even though he is confident that the idea that the bear would attack was a bluff, he could not keep the fear from his voice. He tugs hard on the bird-man’s robe and begins inching back towards the church, hoping to get him to where the giant and the dwarf can deal with him. “COME ON!” he urges, “We’ll be safe in the church…”

Hektor

Plopping back down to all fours, Hooch sniffs the air as he begins ‘urging’ the man, and subsequently, Ommos who had suggested the very same idea, towards the church.

Ommos, although uncomfortable and untrained with the subtleties of body language with the great bear, does remember (should terror not interfere) that unless Hooch’s hackles are up, he is in a ‘passive-aggressive’ state of mind.

Hektor, noticing the man’s non-compliance, hesitated to reaffirm his commands as memories of his youthful days training with his adopted, bearded kin, that ‘rashness is oft foolish’. Becoming somewhat uncomfortable in his temporary position of a guard, Hek was very relieved when Köre finally emerged from the nearby shop.

Both her and Flolik’s input, presence and observations were most welcome.

In Dwarvish, he spoke to his sister…
“Denne ene er skadet og har endnu til at tale eller anerkende os.”

Chancing a glimpse up, he noted with pride, Hooch ushering the other man back with poor Ommos doing his best to not run screaming away.

Again to Köre in Dwarvish…
" Hvad vil du gøre med disse to?"

Köre

Seeing Hooch urging the bird-man back in their direction, Köre makes a series of growling and snorting noises. Moments later, two, much smaller, black bears come trotting out of the woods to flank Hooch’s prisoner on either side, snarling menacingly and making sure he cannot flee anywhere but back towards the church.

Seeing that the man with them has two strange, X-shaped, parrot-like feet, she relaxes a bit. She snaps her fingers near where she would expect his ears to be. Getting no reaction, she leans back in close and does so again, right in front of his eyes. When he flinches, she nods. “Han kan ikke høre bror,” she says, then switches back to trade speech to make it easier for Frolik, who she knew was only familiar with dwarven from chants, which had rather different grammar from spoken dwarvish.

“I don’t think these two are thieves from shop. Their feet do not match tracks I saw, and they shared cave with our furry friends last night. Their garments and posture make me think they are priests or pilgrims of some kind. I think they were just scared when they saw you and Hooch coming and ran to where they expected to find sanctuary… But,” she continues, “there are definitely other bird-man-strosities around, and definitely up to no good.”

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Solo's Quest - Part 1

Solo had never been described as beautiful, nor was she ugly, she was a plain girl and that was how she liked it. To hear men tell stories, women are rare creatures, few and far between, and those that do appear are either breathtakingly beautiful or else horrible old hags. In truth, the preponderance of flesh in the world was female. Men just choose not to see it. Plainness was a gift. To be a plain girl was to be invisible. Men would walk by her without a second glance, their eyes sliding off of her like water from a tin roof. A plain girl could walk freely, anywhere, and only the most desperate or depraved of men would pay her any mind.

Solo’s plainness had served her well throughout her career, as a thief, a mercenary, and a scout for armies. Later when she swore her vows to the church of Shar, Mistress of the Night and Lady of Loss, she was just as ignored, save by her sisters, who knew the usefulness of her talents for vanishing. The near-magical blindspot that men had for a plain woman enabled her to walk into their midst and do what needed to be done, with barely any suspicion on their part.

It thus came as no surprise, that now, years later, sitting in a seedy tavern in the small city of Phlan, fully armed and bearing all the trappings of the necromancer’s craft, no one, or at least no one male, gave her so much as a second glance. Solo almost sighed, almost laughed. All her years of training in stealth, subterfuge, disguises—all of it was basically pointless where men were concerned. All she had to do was sit there and trust in her plainness to hide her.

A serving girl, much less plain than Solo, as evidenced by the number of times she had been fondled while making her rounds, deposited a pint of beer next Solo’s elbow. Solo picked up the glass and took a sip. It was horrible stuff, pale, yellow, and flavorless. She would have much preferred a dark stout or a fine brandy, but good drinks drew attention. Asking for “a beer” was about as much a tool of not being seen as of quenching one’s thirst.

Solo had been in town for two days and had yet to find a job to her liking, so, she sat, alone, at a table, in a cheap bar, perking her ears for anything interesting. She had picked the table as carefully as she chose her innocuous drink. A booth in the shadows meant you had something to hide. A seat at the bar was asking for a conversation. A table, near the middle of the room, with only one chair, and a single, pale, piss-water beer sitting on it, meant you were just there to drink, and were thus no one special.

Then, her ears pricked. She turned to see a group of young would-be-heroes peering at a notice board and talking excitedly. She only looked up for a second, then quickly returned her gaze to her glass, hoping no one had noticed the vague resemblance of her profile to the wanted poster hanging there, and thanking Shar that, once again, the artist, probably a man, had been compelled to add distinguishing features that weren’t there. This one, at least, was quite flattering, with high cheekbones and long eyelashes, and therefore looked nothing like her, really.

As if sensing her brief agitation, the backpack stuffed under her chair shivered and a couple of skeletal fingers poked out through the flap. Solo gave it a subtle kick and whispered soft nothings under her breath, reminding the bagfull of claws that they were supposed to stay hidden. She then downed the remains of her drink in one swallow, grabbed the bag, and headed for the door, tossing a couple coins on the table.

Once out of the tavern, she adjusted the straps of her belt to swing her sword and axe out where they would be visible. Even inside the city walls, New Phlan was not a place to be seen unarmed. Phlan was a rough place, populated mostly by adventurers and would-be adventurers. Someone walking alone without a weapon drew as much attention here as walking down the street with a loaded crossbow would in any of the more civilized cities to the south. So, she put her blades where they could be seen and steered herself towards the center of town.

Solo had avoided the centers of power in New Phlan since she had arrived. With prices on her head from Waterdeep to Cormyr, she usually avoided any place where enforcers of the law were in close proximity. However, tonight, with dusk falling, and the watch on the outer walls being redoubled, she might just let herself have a peek at the famed Council Hall, or, more importantly, at the notices from the Council which promised riches and pardons to anyone who completed one of the many dangerous missions they regularly posted. Besides, she thought, the poor likeness of the wanted poster and the bad beer had given her a little more courage than usual.

Sure enough, the square was mostly empty. She hurried over to the Council Hall and glanced at the wall, quickly passing over the notices for missions that were too vague (find the source of the river’s pollution?), too dangerous (armies of nomads?), or insufficiently lucrative (kobolds?). Finally, her eyes settled on one with an impressively large payout, and right up her alley — investigating an undead-infested graveyard. She patted her bag. “Alright boys,” she said aloud, “looks like you’re going to get some playmates.”

Solo stifled a yawn, listened to her stomach growling, and looked up at the sky. She hadn’t slept well that afternoon, and that piss they had tried to pass for beer had been a poor breakfast. Still, it was a clear, cold night, and the moon, just then cresting the horizon, was black and new, a good omen. She glanced around to make sure there were not too many spectators, then raised her hands in praise of the Night’s Dark Lady. Even if the stories of several stouthearted adventurers disappearing in the graveyard were true, the undead held no fear for her…

But first, she needed some food. With the sun going down, the goblin market in the Slums would be just getting started, and she had heard many good things about the cheese made by the local goblin tribes. She headed for the gates, but found that they had been closed and barred for the night — typical behavior for sun-loving heathen. Numerous guards were posted on the walls, but their lanterns were all focused outwards, more worried about the numerous, obvious threats from without than any from within. She dunked her hands into a pouch of chalk on her belt and started to climb, easily finding purchase on the rough-hewn timbers of the wall. In a moment she was outside.

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Chapter 3: An Old Lady in Melvaunt: Part 8
Interlude: The Squatters in Onyx: Part 5

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit watches the Tyrran exorcism with many a fascinated “Ooh!” and “What?!” and “No, not that way!” and “You forgot the rice!” and “It’s better with butter!” When Winona starts to swing her massive flail to smash the altar, Yamtwit, who is of course leaning in very close to watch, is forced to dive face-first to get out of the way, covering his head with both arms, and luckily avoiding most of the impending bone shrapnel. When the roaring and the shaking stop, he finally stands, brushing himself off, and walks over to the two priestesses. “Next time,” he says, “use butter! It tends to appease the evil spirits’ hunger better than water and keeps them from doing that creeping howling rage thing when they leave…”

Frantiska crawls over to look at the shattered opal. Seeing Hrud’s awkward stance she mutters, “Jangan khawatir Hrud, Anda jelas tidak memukul cukup keras telah rusak sendiri,” before turning back to her examinations. “The tie between a dragon and its wealth goes far beyond mere human greed or dwarven avarice,” she says, turning to Lyra. “If their wealth is stolen, most ancient dragons will haunt their former lairs until they manage to accumulate enough treasure to depart and rest in peace. More so for the heart gems. You guess may be correct, if the kobolds found the heart gem, they could certainly have used it to bind the dragon’s ghost to prevent it from returning to its lair or passing on. Of course, breaking that binding does not mean that the ghost is gone. If its lair, wherever that may be, was looted, then it will likely plague the region for some time. Of course, even if it is loosed now, dragon ghosts never stir from their lairs. They are less belligerent than their living kin, but more obsessive, thinking of nothing but their treasure.”

She lifts a bit of the glowing dust and lets it run through her gloved fingers. «I’m afraid I will miss our lecherous friend. I don’t know why this is glowing or what enchantments it may contain. His insight into the arcane would be quite valuable now.» She brushes the remaining dust off her gloves, careful to keep it all contained in the hollow where the gem once rested.

Winona

Winona takes her glasses off and wipes them with the inside hem of her robe to clear the dust. “I will take your suggestion under advisement Mr. Yamtwit…” she says formally, though her face clearly reflects the laughter she is suppressing. She puts her glasses back on and looks around at the others, well this is perplexing, she thinks, who is in charge now? Donovan had clearly set himself up as the leader of this ragtag group. Someone needs to make a decision. She looks pointedly at everyone in the room, classifying them quickly: idiot barbarian, fiendish hussy, halflings, dwarf. Well, clearly it must be Lady Frantiska, Lady Lyra, or myself…

“Lyra,” she finally says, “we’ve killed at least fourty kobolds here, including their priest, lost one of our own, bypassed their traps, defaced their shrine, emptied their living quarters. Justice for the villagers seems to have been served. What is our next course of action?” Her face showing an weird kind of probing resolve, as if clearly expecting the young lady to have an answer. “Are we done here? Should we gather Mr. Donovan’s body and be away? Or should we search for other possible places where they might be keeping the tribute sent by the villagers?”

Lyra

Lyra briefly looks a bit taken aback that the older priestess would defer to her judgement. “If we can recover any supplies taken from the village, they will be better prepared for this coming winter. We should search for likely storage areas, then recover Mr. Donovan and withdraw back to the village. I haven’t really seen any sign of the supplies they would need to support this kind of population, let alone what they would have claimed from others.”

Lyra looks at the dwarf and halfling. “If you were conscious when you were brought in, do you have any ideas regarding where your belongings may have been taken? If we find that, they may be storing the tributes nearby.”

Skaegedde

Skaegedde stands watching Winona ceremony with barely contained disgust and doesn’t so much as blink as the cloud of bone dust sprays over her. “Ao bevare mig fra disse mennesker og deres overtroisk tyr lort!” she says quietly. When the goblin begins speaking of the benefits of butter over holy water she lets out a deep audible groan and slaps her forehead with one hand. “Er jeg omringet af børn?! At de ville tro løgne det skabte i stedet for sandheden om Skaberen?!” She shoulders, not to roughly, her way over to the crumbled gem and begins scooping the glowing gem-dust into a pocket, shaking her head all the while.

When Lyra asks about her belongings, she shrugs. “Most of my things were in the witchdoctor’s room, and those I recovered. I was conscious when they brought me in, and honestly surprised that they took me captive rather than killing me on the road. I figured they were going to sacrifice me to one of their phony, wanna-be gods, and this place certainly makes that seem likely. We came in through the rear-entrance…not a lot of side passages off that one, until just before the big stomach room, where we headed up. From there it was pretty confusing, I have no idea where they had taken my stuff, since I was deprived of my gear before being led in. From their talking though, I got the impression that all the good stuff was being shipped off to some bigger kobold king on the other side of the swamp.”

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit gives another half-hearted shove on the capstan, then turns to the exit. “If they’re shipping off the loot, then it seems like we’re done here…”

“Or,” Frantiska interjects, “if there is another, larger and allied settlement to the west, then it is possible that they may seek retaliation for our invasion today.”

Miero

Miero shakes his head, “Skae’s got the right of it. I was conscious and armed when I came in, then got jumped by a bunch of them and clubbed like a baby seal. When I woke up I was tied to a wall and no longer armed. This kobos in this place are just vassals to some king called Greshlyyr, mooks. They have a chief, but he was just as much a mook. I figure the backstabbing, dog-faced, little mother-fucker probably fled as soon as you killed the first kobo guard.” He smiles, “but I do know where his room was, and I doubt he could have carried all of the loot himself…”

Winona/Ryesha

As Frantiska and Miero talk about larger kobold tribes and retaliation, Ryesha’s eyes go wide and she lets out a worried squeak. Winona, atypically, notices the look on her subordinate’s face and speaks up, “Don’t worry Bunny, we’re in no position to go hunting more kobolds, especially not if we’re talking about a whole kingdom rather than just one tribe. Miss Lyra is right, we should wrap up whatever business there might be here, then get back to the village, and get that Amara girl to her grandmother before her family is worried sick…and see if the authorities in Melvaunt are able to send militia to help defend the villagers if the kobolds come back…”

Hrud

Standing around somewhat uncertainly, Hrud looks at the destroyed opal and has a rare thought. “Aku pengin kanggo ndeleng yen awak saka siji lawas wis mbledhos.” he says, before wondering back to check on the shaman’s body.

Hrud makes the long, arduous crawl back to the witch doctor’s room to find it just as it was, except that the old kobold’s body is no where to be seen.

Confused (which is to say, about the same as any other time), Hrud looks around the room for clues as to what happened to the body.

GM

Judging from the scuff marks on the floor and the ensuing footprints, Hrud’s tracking skills tell him that the old kobold just stood up and walked out of the room. Outside the room he turned left, towards the other lung with the trapped door going down into the weasel-caverns below.

Hrud

Hrud comes out of the chamber and turns down the passage from which he came, “Ing siji lawas wis musna!” Then, concerned about undead dog-faces wondering around, follows the trail.

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit stepping out into the hallway, suddenly hears Hrud shouting and slaps his forehead with his palm. “Guys…our barbarian friend would like it to be known that the old kobold’s body is gone…”

“Sounds like the time for speculation and planning is over,” Frantiska says, crawling out the passage and down the slope.

Lyra

Lyra lets out an exasperated sigh. “Gone, and if those candles have burned down, in possession of their benefits.”

Miero/Winona

Miero grins evilly, “Oi! Save one for me, eh?”, and goes running down the corridor towards Hrud’s voice.

Winona sighs, “Lyra, do you have sufficient power to save us from crawling all that way again?”

Skaegedde

Skaegedde hefts the club she acquired and goes running after Miero. As she runs, she thinks a silent prayer to herself, Velsignet Ao, skal du ikke lade dørstoppere komme væk, før jeg kan bash et par hoved, secure in the knowledge that her god (unlike all of the other false gods) does not need to hear words spoken to know the desires of his faithful. As her steadily pumping feet bring her back to the witch-doctor’s chambers, all of her muscles tense and she looks around intently for something to hit.

GM

Miero and Skaegedde reach the intersection by the witchdoctor’s room to see Hrud, silhouetted by the light of his hammer, crawling laboriously through the narrow tunnel away from them, his face low to the ground. The old kobold’s trail leads past the bodies of two other dead kobolds, then ends at the ladder leading up into the spinal column, a few bloody kobold footprints on the lowest rungs indicating that he went up.

Miero

Miero looks a the barbarian, unperturbed by the loincloth, “Yo, pacangan-jaran, sampeyan ora bakal pas, bakal sampeyan? Arep kula kanggo pindhah disegerne-metu, sethitik asu-ngadhepi, telek-kepala?” Without waiting for an answer, he draws his knives and starts climbing the ladder.

As Miero reaches the top of the ladder, he finds the spinal passage empty. Even his heat-sensitive vision reveals no signs of recent passage.

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit catches up with Miero and the dwarf-lady, blinking at the sudden light from the barbarian’s hammer. “Hang cara durung Dèkné arep lunga?”

Frantiska nods at Winona’s comment and taps Lyra on the shoulder to get her attention. “The Good Sister is right. I hate to rely to often on your gifts Lyrathwen, but if the candles have gone out, the old kobold may be a significant threat. It would be better if we could get there in something of a hurry…”

Lyra

Looking down the narrow corridor, Lyra nods. “I should still have enough power to get us out quickly if necessary.” Lyra concentrates, the air next to her suddenly the same view as the doorway exiting the witchdoctor’s room.

Miero/Winona

Miero drops back down looking rather upset, “Taek! Ana ora tandha saka asu-pasuryan. Iya ora mbukak arah. Mungkin dheke dipigunakaké Piandel kanggo ndhelikake dalan cilik kang.” He looks sideways into the room over the lungs, surveying the many exploded kobold corpses. “Telek Suci, kowé sing paling apik!”

“Thanks Lyra,” Winona straps her weapons out of the way and crawls out into the hall. She looks back at the door to the witchdoctor’s room, “I can’t see in there to confirm if the candles are still burning. You’ll need to come through and shut your door…”

Skaegedde

Skaegedde walks up beside Hrud, looks around the base of the ladder, and shrugs. “Looks like he went uuu…” she says, then sees Miero skuttling down. “Not up there?” She shrugs again and heads to the right, not caring about the kobold body parts splattered across the walls. “Guess he went down then…” She grabs one of the ropes supporting the boulder-cum-trap-door and swings down, looking for other possible signs of the old kobold’s passage.

Hrud

Hrud follows the others, using the light from his hammer to try and pick up the trail, not sure what the plan is, but interested in seeing what happens at any rate.

GM

Skaegedde swings down into a small room, with strange spongy, honeycombed walls. Arrows litter the floor and fresh blood and kobold viscera have pooled beneath the opening she dropped through. A pile of weasel furs and woolen blankets makes a massive bed off to one side, and a trio of lizard-man skulls hang on the walls as crude trophies. To her right a small, metal door stands open, revealing stairs leading down. Wet footprints, mostly the larger boots of her new companions, lead from the door to the opposite wall, where a curtain has been pushed aside to reveal another small room with sleeping furs and more arrows scattered around a burned-out cookfire.

Miero/Ryesha

Miero slides down the rope, glaces around briefly, then points to the stairs. “Apa sing cara, jaran-wong?”, he asks, looking up at Hrud.

Ryesha slides down beside him, but addresses the dwarf, “The stairs go down to the weasel pits…and a back door. The other way is the main passage to the stomach or out the mouth if you turn right…”

“So either way it would be easy for him to get away if he came this way,” Miero finishes. “Sounds like we need to check out both exits.” He starts walking down the stairs, “I’ll take the back…”

“No wait!” Ryesha calls, just as the trapped staircase turns into a slide and Miero goes careening down it.

GM

Miero slides to the stairs to land with an uncomfortable bump in the shallow pool of oil that has collected there. A small, burned, wooden door is just in front of him, opening into a small chamber, half-filled with water, with side passages running in every direction. He can hear the slapping of small, wet feet scurrying up the passage immediately across from the door.

Lyra

One of the few benefits, Lyra thinks, of being inside a dragon, is that the walls tend to curve. Retaining her concentration until everyone is through the door, she leans back to peer into the back side of the portal to see if the candles are still burning, and that the turtles seem to be ok. Poor turtles.

Once everyone is through, she follows and lets the portal shut behind her.

GM

Lyra looks through and sees that the turtles appear to be alive and well, though their shells are covered with thick coatings of melted wax. One turtle is casually munching on a bit of wax that has run down it’s shell and hardened onto the top of its head. The candles have all gone out.

Skaegedde

“Miero!” Skaegedde exclaims, as her halfling cell-mate disappears down the slide. She walks over to the top of the stairs and calls down, “Are you alright?!” When it becomes clear that he is not severely damaged, she looks at the halfling girl and says “Coming?” before carefully setting one foot on the slippery ramp, then the other. She keeps weight on her back foot and her hands on either wall to try to control her decent.

Yamtwit

Seeing the dwarf and halflings going down the trapped staircase, Yamtwit stops and yells back the way they came, “Looks like he went downstairs! Lyra, you still got a bomb ready?”

Skaegedde

Skaegedde skids to a stop at the bottom, still standing, and just faintly hears Yamtwit shouting above. “Bombs?” she mutters. She offers a hand to help Miero to his feet, then pulls out her morningstar. “Which way?”

Miero

Miero takes the dwarf’s hand and climbs to his feet. “I heard something running up that way,” he points to the up-sloping passage opposite the small door. He pulls out the pair of stilettos and runs, determined to stab at least one kobold to death before leaving this place.

Lyra

Lyra lets out a frustrated sigh. “If we think he is heading for the exit down there, I can get us there faster. That will also let us make sure nothing untoward has happened to the horses while we have been in here.”

GM

Miero and Skaegedde run into the opposing passage, struggling to maintain their balance against a stream of water running past their feet, just in time to see two small figures, silhouetted by sunlight, disappearing out of the open end of the passage to the outside.

Skaegedde

Two? Skaegedde slows slightly, re-thinking their tactics. If there are two, there could be more. If there are more, they could be waiting outside. And we haven’t done anything to disguise our intentions. “Alle ser Ao bevare mig,” she mutters, then hefts her weapon. “Let’s kick their asses…” she says aloud to her halfling companion.

She charges up the passage, slipping on the wet floor halfway up, sprawling face-first.

Miero

Two kobolds, two knives. Miero cocks his arms back and tosses a stiletto at each kobold’s back.

Lyra

Lyra concentrates, opening a portal out onto the hillside near the concealed exit. “If they haven’t made it out, we should be able to cut off their retreat. If they have, we might be able to pick up the trail.”

Winona/Ryesha

Winona breathes a sigh of relief on seeing open sky through the dimensional portal. “Thank you!” she says to Lyra, then crawls through the portal and stands up to look around, pulling out her flail. Ryesha steps through after her, looking for kobolds or other threats.

Frantiska/Yamtwit

Frantiska peers through the door before proceeding, then crawls after Ryesha. Looking down at the kobolds, she takes a knee, pulls her bow out, and knocks an arrow.

Not really trusting the oil-slicked trap-staircase, Yamtwit doubles back just in time to see Lyra open the door. He squints as he peers through but does not look like he’s in any hurry to go through, “…bright out there…” he mutters.

Lyra

“You’ll want to head through before you have to take the long way around, Mr. Yamtwit.” Not waiting for a response, Lyra heads through the portal, stretching and taking a deep breath after the close confines of the kobold tunnels.

Yamtwit

At Lyra’s urging, Yamtwit squints his eyes and leaps through the portal.

GM

Winona and Ryesha step through onto the hillside directly above the concealed exit. The stone has been rolled aside and two kobolds can be seen running out, their small feet splashing in the water that has pooled just outside the door, making just enough noise to cover the faint, telltale hum of the dimension door and the creaking of Winona’s armor as she stands up. Other running, shouting, and splashing noises can be heard coming from the passage behind them, though you cannot see what from this angle.

Looking down at the two kobolds, Frantiska can see that one is clearly the old witchdoctor whom she had seen dead on the floor just over an hour ago, just as pierced, tattooed, and withered as ever. The second kobold looks much younger, unarmed, and wearing what is clearly Donovan’s brightly coloured vest, with the bard’s spectacles perched on its dog-like snout.

Frantiska

Despite the younger kobold’s looting of Donovan’s possessions, Frantiska draws a bead on the older kobold, who is a known threat, and lets fly, chanting the words to a fire arrow spell as she does so.

GM

The elderly kobold takes a knife in the back, then, turning to face his attacker, a flaming arrow in the shoulder. With a howl of rage, it extends his right hand towards Miero and screams, “Seni küçük solucan! Neden senin Zhent ustaları bu söyleme?!” With a sickening cracking sound, and a torrent of blood, the halfling’s chest bursts open and his heart flies into the kobold’s waiting hand. He then points his left hand at Lyra as she exits the dimension door, unleashing a gout of emerald green flames, which are turned aside by the armor of force surrounding her.

Meiro’s second knife passes over the shoulder of the spectacle-wearing kobold, who looks up in completely surprise. His eyes follow the line of green flame and widen when they see Lyra. «Lyra?! I thought you had died?!» he squeaks, the elvish words seeming strange coming from his dog-like lips.

Lyra

Lyra flinches back from the green flames, and pales at the gore below. «I’m fine, for now at least. Is that you, Mr. Donovan? I’m fairly certain you DID die, when the scaffolding collapsed. You appear to have been reincarnated. You should … probably go check on the horses. Quickly.»

Donovan

The kobold clears his throat squeakily, «YES! Thank goodness you recognized me. I thought I was going to get shot!» He spreads his arms wide and shrugs, «Not sure I can check on the horses at the moment, it would be very disappointing for you guys to kill my friend here, after he brought me back from death and all. We both may run along through, there is a very angry-looking halfling man and dwarven lady in yonder cave?» He points towards the passage from which Miero’s heart just came flying. «Did Hrud make it? I see everyone but him?»

«Oh, well, we appear to have dealt with the halfling, but that dwarf lady looks pissed!»

Skaegedde

Seeing Miero’s chest spontaneously burst open and his heart go flying through the air, Skæggede, still lying face-down on the ground, decides that she wants nothing more to do with this old kobold. She looks down the tunnel to see if any of their new friends had followed to back them up. Seeing none, she turns and runs back down the passage. Ao forgive me, but if they are going to leave us to face something like that… She splashes into the central intersection and looks around frantically. They said something about a front door through the mouth, and a ladder leading down here. She picks a passage and random and runs, eventually reaching the bottom of one of the three pits, then high-tales it out through the front door. They’ll be alright, won’t they?

As she runs out through the mouth and then stops to catch her breath, Skæggede looks down at her waist curses under her breath, realizing that her sashling must have come undone when she slipped back in the cave. “Rend! Nå, ingen vej tilbage til det nu!” she growls, then takes off running again.

Hrud

Hrud steps through Lyra’s magic opening through space & time just in time to see the old kobold, very much alive, raining death and destruction back into the warren. This decrepit old dog-face is more of a danger than he realized – truly a worthy foe. Hefting the twin broadswords, he leaps upon the unsuspecting shaman with a roar.

GM

In a flash, Hrud lands on the old kobold, one knee taking the small figure under the chin and bearing him to the ground. There is the sound of cracking bone as Hrud’s full weight, easily five times that of the decrepit kobold, comes down on his chest. The blades follow, one on either side of the neck, scissors-like, the magical green-metal blades biting through dried flesh and brittle bones, cleanly severing the old witchdoctor’s head. Next to Hrud, the withered claw of the old kobold limply clutches Miero’s still-beating heart.

Lyra

Lyra carefully climbs down the hillside. «Mr. Donovan, your … er … friend … just ripped someone’s heart out. You don’t find that concerning?»

Donovan

The kobold stares slack-jawed at Hrud and the corpse for a long moment, then gestures lamely, «My other friends have cut people to ribbons on more than one occasion. Ripping out an assailant’s heart does not seem that different.» He shrugs again, and clutches at his pantaloons, which are large enough to serve as a tent and quickly sliding down, despite being gathered weirdly with a series of belts. «Life is…weirder and more violent than even I would have thought. I guess I have become used to it a bit over the last weeks.» He picks up the older kobold’s head, balancing it on one hand and turning it so he can look into the dead eyes.

«Alas, poor Mide Açar! I knew him, Lyra: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. It seems he hath borne me on his back a thousand times. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft…well just the once really. And now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Where be your gibes now Mide? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the weasels to a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chop-fallen? Prithee, Lyra, tell me one thing. Dost thou think General Valjevo looked o’ this fashion i’ the earth? And smelt so? Pah! To what base uses we may return, Lyra! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Valjevo till he find it stopping a bung-hole?»

He tosses the head aside. Then says, in high, yapping common, “Let’s get the fuck out of here before I die again…”

Hrud

Seeing yet another kobold, Hrud draws back to strike …

Lyra

Lyra rushes between Hrud and the pantaloon-clad kobold. “That is Donovan!” she gestures at the kobold. “Mr. Yamtwit, how do you say ‘Donovan was transformed by magic’ in Eraka?”

Winona/Ryesha

Winona watches the death of the old kobold and the strange actions of the younger one with deep interest. It almost looks as if Lyra and the kobold-in-Don’s-clothing are having a conversation, and not in the kobold tongue. When the kobold breaks into the common speech, and starts talking about dying again, she is even more confused. Can the kobolds spontaneously reanimate? Is that how the witchdoctor was dead and yet escaped this way? Maybe something when we destroyed their altar? She ponders the possibilities, content to let Hrud dispose of the dirty little creature, when Lyra suddenly shouts that the kobold is Donovan. Reincarnation?! Brilliant? I shall have to ask Mr. Donovan about his experiences… Only then does the fact that he’s about to be chopped to pieces register.

“Bunny!” She starts sliding down the embankment, only to see that Ryesha is already there.

“Oh, Mr. Donovan! Your beautiful pantaloons! They don’t fit…they’re ripped…they clash with your fur…” Ryesha looks completely distraught. “You have to let me fix them for you…”

Hrud

“Da fuq?” Hrud’s brow furrowing more deeply than usual. He pulls the blades back from where they were hovering a scant few inches from the young woman.

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit jumps down the hill, yelling for Hrud, “Teman Hruď! Lyra crita yen asu-pasuryan Donovan ngagem celonone kang, iku bener Donovan piyambak. Roh suci kepepet ing awak asu-pasuryan.” He runs over and looks at the kobold closely. “You look good this way,” he says to Donovan.

Frantiska puts her bow back on her shoulder, shakes her head slowly, and sits down on the hillside, just happy to be in the open air. «Your soliloquy was a bit overdone…so you must be Master Donovan.» Holy Selune save me, she thinks, why am I happy to see this lecherous old shyster again?! She steadies her mouth to keep it a firm line, but cannot suppress the smile in her eyes.

Lyra

Lyra gathers her skirt in one hand and steps over to the old kobold, wincing at the still-beating heart. “Sisters, what are the proper … ah … rites for such circumstances?”

Winona/Ryesha

Winona looks at the kobold corpse and the halfling’s still-beating heart and shrugs, “Burial customs are not an area I’ve studied much, particularly where primitive kobold dead-dragon-spirit worshipers are involved. If I were to guess, I’d say the proper way within the context of his faith would be to add him to the stack of corpses in that shrine back in the heart…or, you know, burning it so that the body can’t come back as some sort of blood-sucking monstrosity is always good too.”

Ryesha heads into the cave and walks down the passage to where Miero’s body is. She kneels down, rolling him onto his back and checks to see if the fact that his heart is still beating might mean that he is alive. Seeing the dwarf’s sash lying in the water, she picks it up and drapes it over her shoulder, in hopes of returning it.

Donovan

“So…” Donovan looks sheepishly at the others as he tugs up his slouching, over-sized pantaloons, “did anyone grab my gear? It wasn’t with my body…”

Lyra

Lyra hands Donovan his belt pouch first, which will hopefully help with the pants issue. Then she shrugs his backpack off of her shoulder, and hands it to him, as well as his crossbows. “We tried to keep safe what we could, but unfortunately it wasn’t feasible to bring your body with us while clearing out the warrens.”

Donovan

Donovan cinches the belt around his waist, then takes the proffered backpack. Donovan, who was relatively weak even before becoming a kobold, collapses under the weight of the pack full of spellbooks and crossbows as he tries to shrug into the straps, falling flat on his back. “Help…” he squeaks.

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit rushes to the kobold’s aid and begins trying to pry him off the ground using his club as a lever. “I think you need to downsize and simplify your life a bit, Mr. Donovan. To match the downsizing of your frame…”

Frantiska, meanwhile, walks over to the deceased and decapitated witchdoctor. “Fire you say?” She rummages through her pack and pours a couple pints of lamp oil over the body, then pours out a vial of quicklime on the kobold’s chest, then refills it with water from the pool. She carefully pours the water over the quicklime and then steps back as the quicklime reacts with the water, rapidly generating sufficient heat to set the oil-soaked body ablaze. “How’s that?” she asks, pulling out her pouch of tobacco and rolling a cigarette for herself. “Let’s get out of here…” she says, lighting in cigarette with the flames from the body, then turning to walk back towards the horses.

Lyra

Lyra looks down the tunnel, in no small part to get further away from the smell of burning fur. “I don’t see the dwarven woman. Do you think she’ll be able to make it back to the village on her own?”

Donovan

Donovan heaves himself to his feet with Yamtwit’s help. “Thanks,” he says, then to Lyra, “What dwarven lady?”

Lyra

“There were two prisoners that we came across after you … " Lyra clears her throat, her eyes starting to tear up. “There was a dwarven woman and a halfling that were being held. I didn’t catch what her name was, she mostly spoke in Dwarven to Hrud.” She gestures in the direction of Miero’s corpse.

Donovan/Frantiska/Ryesha

Donovan sighs, “You know, I really should prepare comprehend languages more often…”

Winona smiles at Frantiska’s corpse-disposal tactics. “Dwarves,” she muses out loud, “seem to need an awful lot of rescuing and to do an awful lot of slipping off unannounced. I had always heard that dwarves were supposed to be possessed of an excess of loyalty and a strong sense of obligation.”

“Yes,” says Donovan. “Based on our admittedly small sample size of two, it would seem that dwarven stereotypes are quite backwards. Or maybe we’ve only met backwards dwarves.”

As Lyra approaches the tunnel, Ryesha appears, dragging Miero’s heartless corpse. “I would have run too if I was standing beside this when it happened…” she mutters quietly.

Frantiska/Yamtwit

Frantiska circumnavigates the dragon-cum-hill, keeping a wary eye out for kobolds or traps. Seeing none, she heads over to the horses, breathing a sigh of relief to see that they have not been eaten, and mounts up.

Yamtwit circles back to the dragon’s mouth and calls out, warily, “Ale nan pare nouyo, sou kèk. Rast!”

The warg comes padding out and growls a reply, “Aleli kitem ‘se konsa, chen-fè fasa yonpat’akm’wèsepatefèli, desa lontanpapa kouri tinena.”

Yamtwit mounts up and rides over to Lyra, “Rast says that a dwarf came running out the mouth not long ago. Headed that way,” he points.

Lyra

Lyra nods and prepares to mount up. “Did we want to try and use the remaining runes to collapse the hill? However, I’m not sure kobolds would actually be discouraged by a bit of extra digging.”

Donovan/Winona/Ryesha

Winona and Donovan both manage to blurt out “Yes!” at the same time to Lyra’s question. Donovan then rapidly interjects, “The kobolds may not be bothered by having to re-dig their warrens, but the time and effort involved, not to mention the symbolic loss of their home should serve as a significant deterrent to them launching further attacks on the villages…”

Winona nods sagely, “Even if we only manage to weaken or destabilize the existing construction, the repairs should keep them busy for several weeks beyond the time it takes them to move back in.”

Ryesha, meanwhile, is busy digging a halfling-sized hole in the soggy earth of the swamp. Seeing her little acolyte laboring away, Winona steps over and picks up Miero’s body, loading it onto her horse. “Let’s take him back to the village and bury him somewhere where we will have ready access to spades and where he is less likely to just float back the the surface and be eaten in a few days…”

Yamtwit

Hrud asks Yamtwit about the oversized weasels still inside.

Yamtwit’s eyes go wide, “Oh ya! Sing kulit banget ana regane.” He and Rast dash into the dragon’s mouth, slinding along the narrow ledge around the first pit, and head for second. “Kita bakal ngasilake kanthi cepet…” He reaches the opening of the pit and stops. «Shit Rast. They’re bigger than us, how’re we going to get them out of there?»

The wolf lets out a low growl, «Ask the horse-lover.»

Yamtwit runs back to the opening of the cave. “Hrud, sampeyan bisa bantuan kula nindakake mau?”

Frantiska

Frantiska listens to the goblin and rolls her eyes. “It appears that the goblin wants to go back and get the giant weasel hides,” she says quietly to the others by the horses. “From the looks of things, I doubt he can be dissuaded. Should we help, just to speed him along?”

Lyra

Lyra nods. “Some of the runes should probably be placed inside the tunnels underneath, as well.”

Donovan/Ryesha

Donovan’s small dog-like head nods vigorously, “Yeah, those pelts are worth a fortune. As for the runes, I think we should put all of the runes in the intersection below. It seems fairly centered in the structure, and the numerous side passages and standing water should make it the weakest part of the hill. If we set off all the runes right there, I think it should cause the hill to collapse in on that point…”

Ryesha turns and looks at him quizzically. “How do you know so much about blowing things up?”

Donovan shrugs, “Logical guess really…”

Hrud

“Nggunakake jaran kanggo narik mau metu.” Hrud shrugs leading his pony over to the entrance. The barbarian starts rummaging for rope and possibly some sturdy branches or saplings to use in crafting a travois.

GM

With Hrud’s hastily constructed travois and a little extra rope to lift the bodies, you quickly haul the four man-sized weasels out of the pit. As you drag the last of them back to the horses, you find Teldicia, who has been following slowly, slumped against a tree, apparently unconcerned about the mud covering her to the waist, clutching her head in her hands and sobbing quietly. Her forearms, shoulders, and the front of her dress appear to be spattered with fresh blood, not unlike the rest of you given the recent decaptitations, exploding chests, and other violence. As you get closer she lets out a piercing scream and rubs at her eyes with her hands, leaving gory handprints across her face, as you can now see that all of the blood covering her is clearly her own, coming from her eyes, nose, and ears.

Donovan/Winona/Ryesha

Donovan, trying to stay out of the way of his larger friends as they collect the weasels, noticed Teldicia’s condition with considerable distress. «Lyra…Frantiska…I think we’re in trouble…» he squeaks, his high-pitched voice still alien to his own ears. He walks towards the green-haired girl and gently lays a small hand on a corner of her shoulder that is not too covered in blood. “Teldicia,” he whispers, “are you okay?”

Winona, carrying the other end of the stretcher opposite Hrud, stops dead in her tracks. Trying to indicate with pointed nods and wide eyes that Hrud, who is walking backwards at this point, should do likewise.

Ryesha, walking just behind her, begins backing away. “Is her head going to explode?!” the halfing girl chirps.

Hrud

Seeing Teldecia, Hrud’s eyes go wide, “Frantiska! Menehi dheweke lambé!”

Lyra

“The scroll of Impregnable Mind might alleviate the problem, but only for a time. If we had a few hours, I might be able to get her to Melvaunt and find a healer.” Lyra exhales sharply in frustration and shakes her head.

Frantiska

Frantiska does not understand Hrud’s words, but his intent is clear enough. Tears run down her face as she looks at Teldicia. “It won’t work…” she whispers. She looks back and forth between the barbarian and the girl and her other companions, trying to fight back the urge to really cry, but unable to stop the tears. Selune, she think impotently, what can I do? I have already exhausted those gifts you’ve given me. Too many people have died already. There must be some way to save this girl. Please? Show me how… Unable to think of anything else, she stumbles forward and kneels beside Teldicia and grips her bloodied hands tightly, praying.

«Selune! Lady of Silver! Queen of the Night Sky!
You who watch faithfully over all maidens.
The forces of darkness spread and one of your own lies afflicted.
Your servant has squandered your gifts and failed in her charge.
I have killed in anger, consorted with lechers, and failed to uphold the light.
Still, hear me, not for my sake, but another’s.
Elah! Star of the North! You who always point true!
You have preserved my life time and again.
You have lead me here for a purpose.
Let that purpose not be to witness yet another death.
Bright Nydra! Purity Incarnate! Unblemished one!
If it pleases you, remove the taint from this girl.
Purge her of her afflictions. Free her spirit.
Let not the filth of this world despoil her mind.
Heal her…PLEASE

Lyra

Lyra’s eyes shiny with unshed tears, whispers to the goblin. “Mr. Yamtwit, do you have any more of the Soma Juice? It’s supposed to suspend the ravages of disease, is it not? That might be worth trying.”

GM

As Frantiska prays the sky grows steadily darker. Your eyes are drawn upwards to where the sun is slowly darkening. Behind you, Frantiska’s whispered elvish prayer continues, droning over Teldicia’s continued pained sobbing. Within minutes all you can see is the black disk of the moon, the sun’s corona visible as a wreath of flames around it, bathing the world in blood-red light. You stare at the strange event for some time, shielding your eyes but unable to look away. Finally the moon begins to move again, revealing a sliver, and then more, of the sun. Only then do you realize that all sounds have stopped. You look back to see Teldicia, bright-eyed and alert, sitting up with her arms tight around Frantiska’s neck.

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit tears his eyes away from the eclipse and looks at Lyra, “Yeah, I’ve got a bottle of juice left…” His sentence cuts off in slack-jawed surprise when he spots Teldicia. “Still want it?” he asks hesitantly.

Frantiska, for her part, continues to cry silently for some time, letting the strange faux-elf woman hug her without complains, quite overwhelmed that her prayers had been answered so fully, immediately, and miraculously. Compared to the strains put on her faith by the events of the past few days, such an elaborate sign of her goddesses favor is a little more than she can bear.

Donovan

Donovan, still standing beside Teldicia is torn between relief at seeing her healed and certain impure thoughts related to the overly prolonged hug between her and Frantiska. The sight of their cleavage pressed together not at all marred by the fact that they were both covered from head-to-toe in blood and mud. Fran’s methods of healing really are the best thing ever, he thinks. He stands that way for some time, trying to figure out if there is some way he could console Frantiska without getting punched.

Finally he tears himself away from the spectacle and wanders over to the horse he rode in on. He stares up at the now very, very large creature, wondering how he is supposed to mount it, and also why it smells so delicious…

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit finishes helping Hrud and Winona tie the remaining weasel carcasses onto Bobbers’ back, then climbs up on Rast. “Come on,” he calls to the others, turning the wolf and donkey back towards the village, “we need to get these somewhere where we can process the hides before they get too stiff…”

Frantiska finally looks up, wipes the tears from her face, and help Teldicia stand. “Yes,” she says simply. She walks over to Thistledown and begins checking the horse’s harness when she notices Donovan staring at his horse plaintively. Sighing, she walks over and casually lifts the kobold up onto the beast’s back, stoically ignoring his attempts to look down her shirt as she does so. “Teldicia, perhaps you should ride with Mr. Leitch. I doubt he can control his horse in his current state…”

Donovan

Donovan struggles to find comfortable purchase on the saddle that is much too big for him. As Teldicia mounts up behind him and reaches for the reins, he finally just leans back, propping his feet up on the saddle’s pommel and resting his head back against Teldicia’s pillowy bosoms, perfectly happy despite the layer of blood and muck covering her front. He tucks his tail to one side and sighs contentedly, pointedly meeting Frantiska’s disapproving gaze. “Thanks!” he chirps as they start riding back towards the village. Now if only this horse didn’t smell so damned delicious, he thinks.

Winona climbs onto her own horse and pulls Ryesha up behind her. “Okay Lyra, let’s blow this joint and go home!”

Lyra

With the weasels removed, Lyra finishes placing the remaining glyphed boards in the kobold tunnels and returns to her companions down the hill. She mounts up, and then detonates the remaining glyphs.

GM

As the party rides away, there is a muffled bang from deep in the hill, followed by a deep rumbling noise. Within moments the ground begins to shake, as the heavily honeycombed hills implodes, and the massive, petrified dragon settles into the new sinkhole that opens up beneath it.

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The Amazons: Session 8

It was a lovely wedding, up until the point where my sisters kicked in the door, beat up the guards, and “abducted” me, which was totally sweet. Oh? Right…introductions. I guess I’ll back up a bit.

My name is Imogen Jedea, daughter of Kassur Jedea, the Crown Duke of Threskul. A little over a year ago I ran away from home and joined a group of totally kick-ass adventurers known as the Amazons. A few months ago I got magically transported back home, where I immediately got forced-engaged to this sniveling weasel of a middle-aged count. Luckily I had my scroll of communication, so I could keep in touch with my girls. Needless to say, they came and saved me.

During the winter, the girls had found a magical forge in an enchanted forest protected by a dragon. Cool huh? Long story short, the dragon killed our friend Worthy and I wasn’t even there to help. Some new girls whom I had not met helped kill the dragon, then helped turn Worthy into a totally awesome talking sword.

Since my scheduled wedding was still several months out (for all that my dad is pushy he likes to do things “right” and do it with style, so he was planning a big one), Hot Flanks, who is totally hot by the way, convinced the girls to stick around for several weeks to customize some other gear. We’d been working for a while to track down an evil minor nobleman cum undead warlord cum demon worshiper (or some such) and had gotten our asses kicked a few times, so it made sense to prepare as much as possible. I told them as much in writing if you don’t believe me.

So, they hung out in the woods until late Mirtul, mixing and matching things we had on hand to make some totally sweet magic items, with the occasional trip back and forth to Phlan for supplies (but that’s boring). There were a couple of minor skirmishes with bandits, faeries, undead, and wolves on the road and around the forge while they worked, but nothing too serious. Just enough to be good practice and keep them on their toes without killing anyone.

Then they headed back to Phlan to talk to our patroness, the totally awesome and not-at-all-evil, Councilwoman Elissa Bivant-Mondaviak. It’s amazing how people who don’t work for Lady Elissa get the wrong idea about her sometimes. Probably because they are jealous of a girl being better at politics than them.

With Elissa’s help, the girls chartered a ship to take them down to Messemprar, where the wedding would be happening. Elissa told the girls that she was really concerned about the events of the last few months: the evil squire’s escape, the giant army of undead we saw in the mountains, some colossal giant god-thing waking up and causing earthquakes in the mountains, the government in Hillsfar (which had always been a close ally of Phlan) being overthrown by a coup…things were not going well for Phlan. Elissa understood that the girls had personal business—saving me—and agreed that we should all be present and ready for the coming battle. She even covered the entire cost of the round-trip passage, and included a wedding present of sorts, a big stack of books for us to study on the way back.

The wedding ceremony was scheduled to take place on Shieldmeet (because, hey, leap years are awesome). The ship was fully stocked and they sailed out on the first of Kythorn. The trip to Messemprar took more than two weeks, which the girls spent reading and hanging out, broken up with a small skirmish with some buccaneers from the Pirate Isles, just off the coast of Altumbel. Again, quick, easy, and none of the girls got seriously hurt—though the same could not be said of the pirates after Don’t Fail and Hot Flanks both fireballed their ship. Apparently the book-learning really helped.

The ship docked in Messemprar the day before the wedding. I invited the girls to stand in as my maids of honor (it was a political marriage, I figured I might as well go through with it, so long as I could escape before I had to consummate the damned thing). Unfortunately, my prick of a father refused to even let them into the palace, despite them having a hand-written invitation from yours truly. It’s like the old meany didn’t trust my sisters-in-arms or something…

Luckily the wedding was open to the peasantry (nice thing about big royal functions, you have to let the rabble watch or else you risk an uprising), so the girls were able to sneak in close as the thing started. Like I said, it was a lovely affair. Everything was festooned with flowers. All of my father’s knights showed in in full polished plate (though that made things harder later). I got to wear the most gorgeous gown of my life, white with a silver-mesh veil and my crown, and just enough of a bustle to hide the Handsome Prince (that’s my sword, not a literal prince) underneath. If only my husband-to-be wasn’t such an old, bearded, codger (though he did look pretty good in his armor).

excalibur.jpg

We processed, and danced, and said our vows and our “I dos”. Then the old priest of Tchazzar said the whole, “you may kiss the bride” thing (which was the official precursor to the public bedding—yuck!) the girls kicked in the door. Literally.

Dragon Bait raged out and blew the big doors off their hinges.

Don’t Fail and Hot Flanks burst into the ball room, cowing the less militant spectators with a few well-placed (above their heads so as to not kill everyone) fireballs. , Doesn’t Shake, Finds Them, and Battle Cry charged forward, clearing a path to the dais with a mixture of spells, gunshots (Finds Them apparently packs a really loud toy she calls a “arquebus”), and deliberately extra-creepy illusory monsters.

I did my part, acting just-scared-enough to get my new husband to step in front to protect me, then kicked the armor-laden windbag down the stairs face first, before drawing Handsome Prince and shadow-stepping down to join the other girls. I thought it would be all shock-and-awe and an easy run for the boat from there, but, like I said, my dad had all of his knights standing in for the procession, and fully geared up. So, we fought.

It was tough, mostly because we were trying to NOT kill everyone. It’s amazing how hard that is really. Especially for Dragon Bait apparently. When she goes into fighting mode, she turns into some kind of spike-covered raging demon thing. If she hadn’t had Worthy (our paladin turned awesome sword) in her hands, shouting at her to calm down and pulling her blows a bit, she probably would have killed every last one of my dad’s knights. Instead we just maimed them a bit.

I aimed for a lot of hamstrings and tendons. Handsome Prince helped as usual, turning even tiny cuts into wickedly bleeding messes (it’s awesome how quickly you can convince someone to retreat from a fight when you knick an artery). Battle Cry did her usual grab their arms and break it routine. Don’t Fail froze them in their tracks with her spells. Doesn’t Shake kept them off balance and swinging wildly at her illusions. Hot Flanks blasted them into submission with her mind powers. And Finds Them deafened them with her boom stick.

All told, there were some thirty-odd fully armored, well trained knights. And we totally kicked all of their asses.

Just for giggles I tagged my new husband with a potion of ugliness on the way out, turning him into a toad (temporarily). Adding insult to injury like that was probably not the best move. I’m sure I left my dad with a national crisis and potential war on his hands, but, that was not really my problem. I have no intention of going back there (baring another blast from that wand of cruel banishment).

Once out of the palace, we ran like hell. The general hue and cry ran out before us, both yelling and trumpets calling the castle guards, city watch, and every other man at my father’s disposal to come out and catch us. We bull-rushed our way to the ship, beating guardsmen like baby seals. Our hired crew had been given the word that morning to be ready to sail at a moment’s notice, and so they were.

Then, with a pop, Mahāna, my dad’s court wizard, appeared in our path, along with a solid iron wall. It was a tall wall and he was a tough wizard, but I’m a shadow walker, and I laugh at walls. Literally, walls are funny, especially when you can step right through them. I never liked Mahāna anyways, and we were so close, so I stepped out of the wall right behind him and planted Handsome Prince between his shoulder blades (yeah, that one is really going to piss daddy off).

We hauled ass onto the ship and cast off.

As we pulled away, I pointed out my dad’s fastest naval vessels in the harbor and we nuked their sails with fireballs…not enough to ruin the ships for good, but enough to keep them from following us (again my dad is probably going to kill me, hard, if he ever catches me).

The winds were against us going north so it was a long ride back to Phlan. I caught up on my reading on the way back. It turned out the wedding gift that Elissa had sent along was a Manual of Stealthy Pilfering, sweetness.

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The Amazons: Session 7

Hammer 19

Seeing the undead hordes, the girls turned and ran back down the far side of the mountain, past the giant’s cave, down the cliffs, and back to the village of Varawa as fast as they could through the snow, rubble, and gathering dark, the earth trembling all the while.

“Hoar’s bloody coin!” Hot Flanks exclaimed when the got back to the small village. “Did you see the size of that force?”

“It would appear that the Squire is out of our league,” Don’t Fail agreed. “Raising and commanding an undead army of that magnitude would require magic of godlike proportions.”

“So what, we just quit?!” Battle Cry sounded angry and incredulous.

“No,” Don’t Fail said. “We return to Phlan as quickly as possible and inform Councilwoman Bivant of what has occurred. An army like that can only mean that the Squire has declared war on all the good peoples of the north. This is no longer a personal matter, tens of thousands of lives are at stake.”

“Gods,” Had Enough groaned, “there were more undead there than the entire population of Hillsfar, Phlan, Melvaunt, and Thentia combined. There is no way the Council could raise an army large enough to oppose that…”

“All the more reason to warn them as quickly as possible,” Worthy of Armor said. “The Council may be able to send to Cormyr, Sembia, or Glister for reinforcements. If not they’ll need time to evacuate.”

“I’ll come with you,” Hira remarked. “They were heading north into the Ride. That army will have to swing out past Lake Longreach, and then probably follow Toranth’s March rather than the pass, so Varawa should be safe. If we hurry down the river, we should beat them to Phlan by a matter of weeks.”

Don’t Fail nodded, “It’s decided then. We leave immediately.”

They borrowed what food and mounts they could, sturdy ponies from the steppes north of the mountains, and rode out in a hurry.

Only an hour out they ran right into the teeth of a powerful snowstorm. Luckily Hira knew the area well and was able to use the guidance of her goddess to avoid getting lost. They rode through the night and well into the next day before making camp in a sheltered glen near the riverbank. They took only a short rest to feed and magically rejuvenate the horses before mounting and continuing on. The snow did not let up for three days and each day their progress became slower.

Hammer 23

On the fourth day, even with Hira’s magic protecting them, the cold and fatigue was starting to get to the girls again. They neared Lake Kuto and Hot Flanks reminded them of the forge they had found in the woods and suggested that they take advantage of the warmth and try to get some serious rest. There was some mumbling about the urgency of their journey, but the cold won and they all agreed to stop by the forge for the night.

They rode into the glade where the forge lay in the early afternoon. The snow had stopped, but the ground around the magically heated forge was a muddy mess. Battle Cry, in the lead, muttered a loud “Woh!” as everyone approached, calling for them to stop and pointing to large, sinuous furrows in the mud, as if a gigantic snake had repeatedly circled the site. Curses were muttered, weapons were drawn, and the girls fanned out to make sure the area around the forge was secure.

As they started looking around, there was a rush of air, a slight roaring noise, and a cloud of intensely cold ice particles suddenly filled the clearing around the forge. The cold of the ice cloud tore through their clothing, shattered the protections laid on them by Hira, and chilled them to the bone.

Hot Flanks spun into the face of the wind and spotted a massive beast, like a huge pearly-white snake nearly forty feet long, with a covering of downy fur, two scrawny fore-claws, and a large crocodilian head, crawling from the it’s mouth open wide to exhale its icy attack. She looked disdainfully at the creature, despite her shivering and shouted, “There it is girls. Kill it with fire!” She glanced to make sure none of the others or their horses were near the creature, leveled her club at it, and, true-to-form, unleashed a fireball at the wyrm.

The flames rolled over the beast and it laughed, a deep and pleasant, “Oh, kill it with fire? How original. How very droll…I believe I shall enjoy this.” The huge creature coiled itself, ready to spring at Hot Flanks.

“Oh, it’s on!” Battle Cry said thrusting a hand into the sky and summoning forth a shimmering hawk-shaped construct of magic force which whirled up into the air, ready to dive at the giant snake-thing. Hira began casting a spell to restore the party’s protection against cold. Had Enough shot the thing with her crossbow, then tossed the weapon aside and drew her sword.

Worthy of Armor sighed, pulled out her katana, and charged, shouting a powerful “Kiai!” She jumped at the last minute, reversing the blade and putting her full weight behind the strike, plunging the full two and a half feet of steel into the creature’s bulk. Then wrenched the sword free in a spray of blue-white ichor.

“Ummm…dragon…” Don’t Fail managed to say before the thing’s tail whipped around, sending her sailing through the air to slam into a tree, unconscious. The creature’s jaws then descended on Worthy of Armor, biting her clean in half, swallowing her head and torso without even bothering to chew.

The girls stared at the monster in stunned silence.

There was a sudden shout of “Gotcha!” and a strange wild-eyed, metallic-skinned, spike-covered woman burst from the trees, sprang on the dragon’s back, wrapping her arms and legs around its neck. At the same time, Battle Cry’s magical hawk dove, gouging at the dragon’s eyes with its nearly invisible talons. Then the metal girl drew a long, bloody smile across its neck, right beneath its jaws, with a short-handled spear. The dragon reared back, opening its jaws as if to roar or unleash its breath, but neither sound nor its frigid winds came forth. “Yeah, suck it! No breathing for you Nanabolele!”

The dragon slumped to the ground, dead. The girls stared at the monster, the new one that had just assassinated a dragon, in stunned silence…

The metal girl continued to cling to the dragon’s neck for a few moments, her form changing to that of a lovely dark-skinned girl with neat corn-rows and a flowing blue cloak. “Thanks girls! I’ve been hunting that bastard for weeks,” she said, finally letting go and casually stepping over Worthy of Armor’s still twitching legs to walk over to them. “The name’s Thákane,” she said extending a hand to Hot Flanks, “but you can call me Dragon Bait.”

Thakane.JPG

The tension broken Had Enough finally stammered, “D-d-d-did anyone notice that that thing just BIT WORTHY IN HALF?!”

Thákane looked back at the dragon, “Ouch, yeah…sorry about your friend…”

Battle Cry walked up to the dragon and knelt beside what was left of Worthy of Armor. She said a prayer dedicating Thákane’s slaying of the beast that killed Worthy to Hoar’s vengeance, then turned back to the others. “Do we have the funds to raise her?”

“Not at all,” Don’t Fail said. “It took every last centime we had to bring Princess back after the Squire’s pet killed her.”

AND,” Had Enough interjected, “someone here insisted that we had to hunt down the Squire for free after that. So we’re not getting paid any time soon.”

The girls decided to give Worthy of Armor a funeral. Thákane helped them vivisect the dragon, extracting the remains of her torso, wrapped her arms around her daisho, and carefully carried her torso and legs and placed them both into the forge, stacking all of her possessions save her magical scimitar and bokken with the body. Battle Cry then said a few words sending her spirit on to her god as Hot Flanks stoked up the forge (with an extra fireball for effect), reducing it all to a pool of molten metal and a whiff of carbon.

Meanwhile, Had Enough found a small, haphazard pile of coins, gems, and weapons (though still not half enough to have repaired and raised their friend) half-buried in a snowbank near where the dragon had appeared from, and Thákane in cutting up the dragon, found a pair of magical rings on the beast’s scrawny arms.

They checked one more time to make sure the dragon did not have friends, then settled down to pitch their camp and get some rest. Thákane treated them to some surprisingly not-very-filling dragon steaks, over which they got to know the strange dragon-slayer. The Amazons then explained their situation. Thákane seemed inappropriately excited by the thought of fighting an army of a hundred thousand undead, as well as Phlan’s other troubles, and agreed to accompany them to the city.

The rest of the trip back to Phlan was uneventful, but slow. It snowed intermittently, but the blizzard of the previous week had piled up drifts as high as five to seven feet, forcing them to take long detours and walk most of the way, beating or digging paths for the ponies they had brought with them from Varawa.

Midwinter Day

They reached Phlan eight days later, shortly after dawn on Midwinter Day. Thákane, mounted on Worthy of Armor’s horse, Mfara, and Hira seemed simultaneously horrified by the squalor of the humans living in the slums to the west, and fascinated by the battle lines drawn along the riverbank between the New Phlan in the south and the monster-held older city on the north bank. Given the urgency of their mission, and the delays they had already suffered, the girls did not allow much time for sight-seeing. They headed strait to the Council Hall and demanded an audience with Councilwoman Bivant and any other council members that would listen.

The Council was not in session, but the guards sent for Lady Bivant, who joined them less than an hour later in the Council’s chambers. Elissa listened patiently as they described their encounter at Kryptgarten, their trip north, the earthquake, Princess’s banishment, the Squire’s legion of undead, and Worthy of Armor’s death at the hands of the dragon.

Elissa seemed deeply saddened by the loss of their sisters and concerned by their tale of the Squire. She said she would summon the Council immediately, and that they should rest, recuperate, and take as much time as needed to train and prepare themselves for the coming battle against the Squire’s armies. She dismissed the girls with letters for the administrators of the Training Hall and the Bitter Blade Inn, informing them to charge all of the Amazon’s expenses directly to Lady Bivant. “You have done us a great service in bringing this news, anything you need to prepare for the coming battle will be provided.”

As the girls walked out, Had Enough stopped them. “Hey…I’ve had enough of this…”

“Pun intended…” Hot Flanks quipped.

“I’m serious. Cold. Starvation. Weeks of walking through snowstorms. Undead armies. Dragons the bite people in half. Getting knocked halfway across the kingdom by every monster we meet. I was expecting to be on highly paid guard duty, not fighting giant monsters for pennies.” Had Enough shook her head, “I’m out. I’m done. I’m taking my share of the cash we found at the forge and I’ll be on the next boat south…”

“You’re sure about this?” Don’t Fail asked.

“But what about Ven…”

“Don’t even.” Had Enough said, cutting Battle Cry off. “Your weird religion is also not my problem.”

“Have a nice life then.” Hot Flanks said, giving Had Enough a tentative hug.

“Alright,” Don’t Fail sighed. “Let’s see if we can sell those gems so you’re at least getting your fair share…”

They walked down to the docks and found a money changer, then said their good-byes as Had Enough went to book passage out of town. After she left, they headed to the Bitter Blade, took out rooms, signed up for classes at the Training Hall, and settled in to start preparing for war.

10 Alturiak

The next tenday was quiet. There were flurries, but none of the great snowstorms of the previous month. No travelers came to Phlan, no refugees, and no other signs that the largest undead horde the world had ever seen was marching across the northlands—maybe the snows had stalled them as well. The girls dedicated themselves to their training, and steadily grew more comfortable with Dragon Bait’s company.

By the 10th of Alturiak, the snows had stopped and the sun once again shone upon the northern Moonsea. Hira informed the girls that she needed to get back to Varawa, and make certain that the undead had not attacked her people. She bid them fairwell, loaded up the five ponies with all the goods they could carry—having stocked up on provisions to bring back to her village—and headed out.

When the girls returned to the Bitter Blade after wishing another friend farewell, Don’t Fail remembered that she had the other half of Princess’s scroll of communication. They wrote to find out that Princess was, as expected, in her father’s palace in Threskul, apparently betrothed to a not-entirely-objectionable nobleman from Soorenar and kept under close guard by her father’s men. When they told her about the Squire’s army and what happened to Worthy of Armor, she promised to try to speak with her father and see if he could raise some forces to send to Phlan’s aid, and to try to escape to join them, though she said it would probably have to wait until after the wedding—she suspected that if she played the dutiful daughter and fiance until then, her new husband’s security would likely be more lax than her father’s.

1 Ches

As spring came on, rumors began to trickle down from the north of a massive army of the undead being spotted north and east of the Quivering Forest. Settlers fleeing to the safety of Phlan’s walls told of rank upon rank of marching skeletons tearing through the forest. Despite the girl’s repeated warnings, the Council seemed to be moving slowly in mustering it’s defenses.

The girls sought out all new visitors coming into the city for any news. Varawa, it seemed, was safe, and no undead had been seen in the vicinity of Dragonden Pass. The army also seemed to be giving farms and homesteads wide berth, and, other than a wide path cut through the fey forest towards the river, there was no reports of burning, pillaging, or conflict. The undead needed no supplies and seemed content to simply intimidate settlers with their numbers and let them flee before them.

Then, word of the horde simply stopped. Settlers reported that they had seen the undead to the west of the forest, near Sorcerer’s Island…then, nothing. Settlers merchants continued to come in. Eraka merchants rode down Toranth’s March and reported no sign of the army. It was as if the entire force, all of the hundreds of thousands, had simply…vanished.

The girls, for their part, continued training, not trusting that the army could have simply ceased to exist and sure that the Squire was planning some kind of surprise attack. Phlan also continued on its way: new homes were built, walls were raised, the north shore of the river was pacified, and repairs began on the recently reclaimed Cathedral of Tyr.

During the weeks of training, Dragon Bait spent some time working the forge at the Training Hall. When the girls saw that she was rather handy, Don’t Fail explained her theories regarding the magical forge they had found in the Quivering Forest. Dragon Bait, who was less in need of organized training than the others, said that she’d like to try the forge—and also hinted that a trip to the forge would give them a chance to scout on the undead army for themselves, since it was last seen not far from there. Don’t Fail, having finished most of her training with Professor Manabu, agreed to accompany Dragon Bait on the combination scouting and research mission.

The two of them rode out, Dragon Bait on Mfara, who had taken a shine to the new girl, and Don’t Fail on a horse purchased from Ernst’s Livery, who she named Hope for Success. They took the hammer taken from the giant they had fought in the Valley of Thorns, as well as many of the party’s extraneous magical swords, including an annoying talking one they had found with the dragon, hoping to construct something powerful enough to stand against the Squire’s apparently god-like power over the undead.

The ride to the glen in the woods was surprisingly peaceful. They found some signs of the undead army’s passage, a few downed trees, muddy tracks beaten into the formerly snow-covered ground, but no actual undead to oppose their passage. They stopped on the shores of Lake Kuto. Here they found real signs of the army, including hundreds of corpses—both ancient humans and strange lizard-like and fish-like creatures—and signs of others having recently been dragged into the water. They spent a day searching the shores and the nearby woods, but the army, it seemed, was gone, maybe even destroyed by whatever had been in the lake. Stranger still, the waters of Lake Kuto, that had only very recently been black and toxic, looked almost clean.

Rather than continue on, they turned and rode back to Phlan with what they had discovered.

7 Ches

On the seventh of Ches, Lady Bivant invited the Amazons to a party hosted by her husband on the newly opened patio space on the rooftop of the Bitter Blade. Many people were in attendance, including a strange halfling epicure who her husband had taken a shine to.

Elissa introduced the girls to a couple of recent arrivals in town, whom she said might make useful additions in their continued hunt for the Squire. The first introduced herself as “Finds Them and Kills Them”, was from the island nation of Lantan. The second, called Abyssinia, was from a neighboring island called Nimbral. Both had arrived on the same ship and seemed both capable and eager to help.

The girls agreed to take on Finds Them and Abyssinia as new members, and chatted amiably for several hours, learning about their new companions skills and interests. Finds Them and Battle Cry in particular hit it off. There was some considerable discussion about what to call Abyssinia, which finally settled, with some reluctance on her part, on the phrase with which she had first introduced herself: “I don’t shake hands” or “Doesn’t Shake” for short.

Once the party was in full swing, and all the introductions had been made, Elissa called the girls together again, along with Faelana, the assistant clerk of the council, and presented them with a new adventuring charter. The new documents, specially drawn up for them, identified the Amazons as official agents of the Council, reporting directly to Councilwoman Bivant, and gave them full and open access to the Council Chambers, free to come and go whenever they chose, so as to provide Councilwoman Bivant with intelligence in as timely a manner as possible.

Late in the afternoon, the strange halfling, one Monsieur La Bouche, called everyone over to the edge of the roof nearest the river, and directed their attention to a huge white-capped wave that was suddenly rushing downstream. Ahead of the wave the river was as black and polluted as ever, but behind it, the waters were clean and fresh. When the wave had passed, all of the pollution that had choked the river had been pushed out into the bay, where it quickly began to disperse into the sea.

There was a mixture of cheering and stunned silence from the people crowded on the roof watching the river. When the wave had passed and it was clear that the river was, in fact, clean, Elissa’s husband, Markos Mondaviak made his way over to La Bouche to congratulate him and offered to personally escort the halfling back to the Council Hall to see to his payment. Elissa and the assistant clerk excused themselves, having to attend to Council business, leaving the girls to look down and marvel at the river.

8 Ches

With still no reports of undead hordes marching on Phlan, Don’t Fail called the girls together the next morning and once again proposed making a trip out to the forge in the woods. This time describing a new theory. The forge, she said, clearly had the power to take the powers of multiple magical devices and fuse them into one. It also had the power to unmake magical intelligences, she said, effectively beating the brains out of sentient items.

Don’t Fail hypothesized that by combining all of their talents, the girls might be able to make the forge do the opposite, imbuing a sentient soul into a new item. More specifically, she suggested that since they had cremated Worthy of Armor on the magical forge, along with her ceremonial weapons and armor, some fragment of spirit might still be tied to the metal. By combining Hoar’s, and therefor Battle Cry’s, ability to create revenant spirits, Hot Flank’s ability to tap into other beings’ minds and emotions, and her own research with the power of the forge, she suggested that they might be able to bring Worthy of Armor (or some fragment of her personality) back in the form of a sentient weapon—thereby allowing her to continue her work in this world.

The girls, especially the two worshipers of the Vengeful God, were all for that, and so they gathered up what they thought they would need (as well as provisions for several weeks of work) and rode out to the forge. The newest Amazons, Finds Them and Doesn’t Shake, while not knowing Worthy of Armor, accompanied them out of curiosity—offering their own magical talents to the experiment.

With the weather finally in their favor and the way clear of undead menaces, they reached the forge late that evening and immediately began setting up for the ritual Don’t Fail proscribed. Dragon Bait collected the still molten mass of metal from Worthy of Armor’s swords and armor from where they still rested on the forge, along with the pair of sentient blades they had collected: Weasel and Corthalis and began the process of smelting them together (to the accompaniment of much complaining from the two swords), heating them in the magical forge, beating them with the frost giant’s hammer, and cooling them in the still icy blood of the months-dead linnorm.

7 Tarsakh

Late on the night of the 7th of Tarsakh, after weeks of work, under the bight, clear, first full moon of Spring, they finished. Finds Them and Kills Them sang prayers to Mielikki, goddess of Forests and Maidens, for guidance in a place of her power and work done by her daughters. Dragon Bait hammered out the final edge of the new sword she had forged. Hot Flanks scribed runes of rage and triumph, victory and vengeance into the blade. Don’t Fail and Doesn’t Shake worked spells of hardening and binding over the forge. And Battle Cry called out to Hoar-Assuran, decrying the evils of foes left unvanquished and work left uncompleted, and invoked Ishtar-Inanna, Worthy of Armor’s goddess of love and warfare, pleading for them to release her soul to continue to do their work in the world.

Suddenly, the girls voices were silenced and all other sounds ceased. A wind rushed down into the clearing and the fires of the forge flared brighter than ever before. Then it subsided and the new sword that sat resting on Dragon Bait’s anvil, forged in the likeness of Worthy’s own blade, glowed a brilliant red and spoke, introducing itself as Worthy of Vengeance.

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Those Left Behind: Session 3

19 Hammer

After returning from their first trip to Poppof’s house, everyone was awake and ready to go by mid-afternoon the next day. There was some grumbling about the poor haul of the previous day and the lack of portable wealth in the necromancer’s house, but given that their primary concern was the furniture anyways, they decided to go back. There was some discussion of whether Yury’s teleportation abilities could be used to transport the desired goods, but he insisted that he was not really capable of bringing significant amounts of non-living matter with him.

Zander performed an augury to confirm, with relative certainty, that there was a path through the city’s underground from their hideout beneath Kuto’s well and the door they had found in Poppof’s house. So, loaded up with spells that would allow them to home in on the lock of Isti’s hair that she had left in Poppof’s cellar, they set out into Phlan’s ancient sewers.

While technically connected to the sewer system, the catacombs under Kuto’s Well had been sealed off from the rest of the network several years earlier by Noriss the Grey, in order to make his hide-out more secure and harder to find. Isti cast the first locating spell and led the group to the a south-westerly corner of the catacombs, near to the rooms previously kept by Noriss’s mother. She used stone shape to open the wall, leading out into a much damper and dirtier passage. Once everyone had passed through, she closed the wall again, shaping the surface on this side into a crude carving of a faceless mask, similar to the one worn by Grinkle.

The locating spell led them through many winding and criss-crossing passageways. At each intersection, Tamn pulled out his chalk and marked arrows, always on the wall opposite the way back to their base, and always pointing the way opposite the way the spell pointed them in.

After about an hour of twisting through the constructed sewers of ages past, with their elevated side walkways and channels down the center, they came to a place where an underground stream had carved a natural chasm across their path. The runoff of water and mud that flowed through the sewers poured over the edge and into the small river below. In spring, after the snow-melt, it would have been a torrent, but now it was just a trickle. The spell, of course, told them to turn right.

The drop was a little under twenty feet, and the sides of the chasm were pitted from uneven erosion, so it was easy getting down and they had little concern about getting back up (except maybe with a table, but that was a problem to consider later). Once everyone was down, ankle deep in the dirty stream, Tamn had Zander and Grinkle hoist him up on the other side so he could leave his backwards mark where the chalk was less likely to be worn away by the moisture (at least not for a while).

Roughly a hundred of Grinkle’s paces down the stream, they came to an area where the stream cut into a deeper channel in the center, leaving the banks slightly higher, drier, and walkable without get mud in their boots. Overhead they could see another washed-out passage from the sewer system, this one with a fairly new-looking rope bridge strung across. Just beneath the bridge was a small pile of litter—bones, broken boards, old weapons, and even a few coins—presumably dropped by those passing above.

Yury strode up to grab the coins, because, hey, free coins. Suddenly, a human skull on the ground near him sprang upward, as if a geyser or volcanic eruption were impelling it explosively in a ballistic arc at Yury’s startled face. The skull slammed into his nose, knocking his head backwards with an eruption of blood. Then he found that the skull was attached to a hook-clawed apparition of deadly muscle and sinew, its three hooked claws tearing into his flesh.

Isti chucked her axe at the thing, hitting the skull right between the eyes and knocking it backwards off of Yury. Grinkle caught Yury as he fell backwards and immediately said a prayer over him, willing his wounds closed. The skull-creature bounded forward, the jaws distending impossibly wide and snapping down to bite hard into Yury’s raised forarm.

Zander charged in, slamming the creature backwards with his shield, then crushing the skull with his flail. The creature slumped, the skull splitting open to reveal a tiny, leathery head, using the skull like a shell. He bashed it a few more times for good measure, just to make sure it was dead, then scooped up the coins, which only amounted to a small handful of copper.

They continued downstream, pausing briefly for Isti to cast a second locating spell. A short ways on the spell indicated another passage above them. The walls here were steeper and smoother, the passage above being one-way, instead of crossing the stream as before, and nearly 25 feet off of the floor.

Isti, the best climber, scrambled up, hammering a piton in the top and tying off a rope. Tamn marked the opposing wall before climbing up last, grumbling that there was no way they’d get that mahogany table home this way.

They walked a short ways, then rounded a corner to another drop, this one about six feet down to a large confluence where three crossing sewer passages met at a large cesspit. Faint light and globs of muddy snow dropped through grates from the street above. Next to the opening where they were standing was an old metal ladder bolted to the wall, going up to one of the street-level grates. Isti pointed to the third passage on their right

Zander climbed down first, the party’s strongest fighter having finally agreed to take point, followed by the others. He circled to the right, trying to stay away from the cesspit, and chanting a litany of repentance against the stench and the grime of the sewers. He had just crossed the second passage when something burst out of the passage, slamming into his side and knocking him impiously close to the edge of the cesspool. A dozen other hunched humanoids poured out of the surrounding passages, blades in their hands and tails whipping behind them.

wererat.jpgThree more of the creatures grabbed the already over-balanced Zander and all four of them pitched him headlong into the cesspit. His head broke the bubbling surface of the fouled water briefly, gasping, then sank out of sight again as his limbs thrashed wildly. Zander couldn’t swim, especially not in his full chainmail.

Three more came out of the passage closest to Grinkle, stabbing with their filthy swords. The first caught him off guard, digging into his side. He swung his sword wildly, deflecting the second thrust, then fell backwards away from the third. When he recovered his wits and footing, he noticed that his assailants has elongated noses with long whiskers and large ears, like mice or rats. He hazarded a glance down at his bleeding side, his mind wandering to what Professor Aiderns had told him about rats and the plague…

Yury spotted five more coming from the passage on the far side of the room, across the cesspit. A wave of his giant arm sent streams of webbing flying towards them, entangling four of the creatures and holding them fast. Two more stepped out of the passage near Grinkle and came at Yury from behind, leaping on him and bearing him to the ground.

Tamn’s hands went for his swords, until he saw Zander’s helpless thrashing. With a mighty leap, for a halfling, he dove headfirst into the disgusting water, his form perfect and his lungs filled to capacity before he disappeared beneath the churning sludge.

The last rat-creature from the other side of the cesspit, dove ahead of the webs and sprang into the air, passing right over Tamn’s head as he went into the water. It landed right next to Isti, grazing her arm with its blade. Isti’s shout of alarm was also the last word of the spell she’d been muttering though, and suddenly the rat found himself surrounded by a half-dozen identical copies of the kobold.

A moment later, Tamn came back to the surface, the surprisingly strong halfling easily dragging his larger friend. As their heads come up though, they find four ratmen waiting for them. Tamn yelled at Zander to kick, and the tall man’s legs shoved against the wall throwing the two of them further out into the middle of the cesspool, but not before they had each taken small cuts from the ratmen’s blades.

The ratman facing the squadron of Isti’s looked around frantically, then let out a scream of rage, swinging his sword in a broad sideways ark. Isti leaped backwards, but the blade passed through two of the images, causing them to wink out. The four remaining Isti’s drew identical hooked bronze swords and lunged at the ratman from every direction at once. He tried to dodge, but the one solid blade hit him squarely in the back, cutting a deep gouge and eliciting a second scream.

Grinkle backed away from the three facing him, circling until he was in the wan light from one of the street-grates above. The rats pressed in, looking for openings. Grinkle hazarded a brief glance up and saw a faint slash of sunlight falling on the grate, just enough. He raised his pumice-stone holy symbol up towards the light, causing a beam of the light to bend, amplify and flash directly into the face of one of the rats with flesh-scorching brightness. The rat reeled back, clawing at his burned face and pitched into the cesspool. Its companion, however, took the opening Grinkle presented and plunged its sword into his armpit.

Yury, pinned beneath a pair of ratmen, tried to roll, flailing with his gigantic arm and prehensile tail. While not particularly strong, neither were the rats, and the shear bulk of his huge limb was sufficient to brush them aside. As he rolled away and stood up, his form began to waver, shift, into an insubstantial blur.

Tamn took a deep breath, calling up reserves of strength from his days of hard labor as a slave, dove, hitched his hands under Zander’s rear, and practically threw the big man out of the water. Zander crashed into the feet of the waiting ratmen, forcing them to hop back several steps to avoid being knocked down.

The blurry Yury tossed a fistful of daggers at the ratmen nearest him. All three blades struck home, but the wounds closed as soon as they were made. They were at least enough to put the two ratmen off balance, making it all that much harder to strike Yury’s unfocused form. Grinkle, watching from one side, growled out some obscenities about lycanthropes, and continued to fence with the two assailing him, though none of the three landed a blow.

The were-rat assailing Isti swung like crazy, causing another of her images to vanish. The three remaining Isti’s though, danced around, keeping him guessing as to which was the real one. The real Isti, meanwhile, waited until his back was to her before swinging, one again plunging her hooked sword deep into the ratman’s back. The dodging, weaving kobold images had edged the ratman just close enough to where Zander had just come out of the foul-smelling water.

Zander rolled, hit the stone floor with his shield, and came to his feet with his flail gripped backwards. He brought the silver pommel-spike up under the jaw of the ratman that was attacking Isti, dropping it. He then whipped the head around, planting the spikes deep in the chest of a second were-rat, and leaving a trail of glowing motes hanging in the air behind it. Two of the remaining rats came in right behind, stabbing him repeatedly.

Unable to harm them with his weapons, Yury focused his concentration on one of the two were-rats still threatening him and telekinetically lifted it off the ground, hurling the startled ratman into his companion and pitching both of them into the pool. Tamn, seeing them fall in, dove, then came up right underneath of them, disembowling both with his silver shortsword. As Tamn’s head came up through the sheen of floating blood and viscera, Yury scooped the halfling out with his tail.

Halfway around the pool now, and almost to the webs, Grinkle continued to fend off his two assailants. He took a small cut above the eye from one of them, but they continued to fend off his own blows.

The three rats facing Zander lunged together, all three blades scoring hits, one just missing his kidney. Seeing him wounded, the trio of Isti’s rushed between him and the were-rats, swinging their swords and trying to distract the rats away from the injured man. Zander took the opening provided by their distraction and whipped his flail over the kobold’s heads, taking off the top of one were-rat’s head and smashing into the snout of a second with the follow-through. The wounded rat and his companion broke and run, disappearing into one of the many side passages (luckily not the one that Isti had told the party they needed.

Across the way, one of Grinkle’s assailants landed a solid blow. Grinkle stepped back and layed a hand over the wound. Frothing bubbles roiled up from his hands, cleaning and closing the gash. Unfortunately, his momentary distraction from casting the healing spell was just enough for the second rat to stab him in the shoulder.

Yury turned to see Grinkle be hit, twice, and telekinetically hurled Tamn across the breach. The halfling-missile took the head clean off of one of the rats with his silver sword, then barreled into Grinkle, knocking him backwards. Tamn rolled to his feet, planted firmly between the rat and his prey. Isti and Zander came running and quickly dispatched the last, frightened, surrounded were-rat.

As the rest of the party patched themselves up, Isti lit a torch and walked around to the other web-encased were-rats. Her pet rat, Sıçan, climbed up on her shoulder and began translating her speech into rat. She threatened the were-rats, giving them the choice to either burn to death, or join the party’s “gang”. All of the others expressed their displeasure at this offer, saying they were better off just killing the ratmen who had ambushed them. Zander, having had some understandably bad experiences with rats back in Hillsfar, was the most insistent. Isti agreed with them and tossed the torch into the webs. None of the wererats were killed by the fire, but they were sufficiently injured that they scurried away as fast as they could.

Tamn suggested that, given the multiple changes in elevation, running sewer water, and the fact that they’d been jumped twice already, that maybe hauling Poppof’s furniture back to their hideout through the sewer was not a great idea.

The others agreed, but Isti pointed out that one way or another, she needed to retrieve the lock of hair that she had left, since the necromancer would likely be able to use such a token to track them back to their home. So they pressed on.

To be continued…

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