Ruins of Adventure

Desolate: Act 1, Scene 4

22 Flamerule, Year of the Helm, 1362 DR

The sailors aboard the Escapade and Valkur’s Wake work through the night, rigging the smaller ship to be towed. By the time dawn rolls around, the two ships are well underway. The morning wind is brisk and Escapade is forced to travel at half-sail to avoid straining the smaller vessel.

As the two ships swing around the long stretch of Thorn Island and into Phlan Harbor, you get your first view of the city. The harbor is surprisingly quiet, the gulls, jaegers, and dolphins that had been following the ship abandon it as it passes into the sound side of the island, and dead fish can be seen floating on the water’s surface. Wisps of smoke drift up from various parts of the city, whether from forge, or chimney, or arson is impossible to distinguish. The skyline is dominated by a massive castle of white stone, a few spires lean precariously in places, but the whole is still gleaming in the early morning light. Around the castle, the once-great city sprawls broadly, split down the middle by a wide river, cloaked by morning mist. The buildings that you can see are in various states of disrepair—with a number of large, ancient, crumbling mansions visible on the north-east side of the river.

As the ships pass the river’s mouth, you see, dead ahead, a small section of the city near to the water’s edge, not more than a four or five blocks across, has been walled off. A high, wooden palisade wall, reinforced in areas by the remnants of much older looking stone towers, has been erected around three sides, with the fourth being the docks. Several large buildings are visible, and, judging from the scaffolding surrounding most of them, a significant amount of construction is still ongoing. The wall appears heavily guarded, with men stationed in twos and threes every thirty or fourty feet along its top. The docks, which you now approach, look like they comprise at least half of this section of the city, with buildings built almost haphazardly on the piers and pilings extending out into the bay. Even now you see signs of construction happening on the outer edges of the docks, leaving only one or two moorings available—not a problem since you see only a small handful of fishing craft, and no ships other than your own.

To the west, just past the palisade, you see that a massive shanty-town, easily ten times the size of the walled section, has grown up, filling what look like some of the oldest and most run-down sections of the town and spilling out of the ruined walls of the old city and along the shore.

From his perch (which is certainly getting old, and causing cramps in his muscles), Durell scans as far as his sight will allow. In particular, he looks to see how the docks and the palisades section are situated in relation to anything that might be potential farmland. He will then shinny down the sail-less mast and will search out the remaining Featherdale settlers to query them as to their plans for “next steps”. He will also look to find someone in that group who might be a reasonable “leader” for this group.

Durell finds one of the Featherdalesmen, a balding, rail-thin farmer, who seems to be directing the others in gathering a sorting their belongings. “Next steps?” the man repeats with an air of confusion. “Well, if what the kobo said when we got on is true, we gotta present ourselves to the city councilors and put our mark on a paper to claim city-zen-ship, or somesuch, then the council’s supposed to give us a parcel o’ land to call our own…”

Embry is overwhelmed by the new home. “I’m finally here, as a free man on my own accord,” he says out loud, to no one in particular.

Sven, who had been circumspect the whole evening, finally allows himself a little relief with an audible exhale. He takes in all of the construction going on and almost musters a smirk (almost). He hears Embry’s proclamation and just has to ask “what does that mean?”

Embry: I point to the tattoos on my cheeks and the scraggly mess of a partial beard. “I’ve not always been a free man, my friend. I was marked as property, and stripped of my proud beard as punishment for one failing. I didn’t learn the skills I have by choice. I was an unwilling puppet in someone else’s wars, a tool, a weapon to be unleashed then chained back up.” My expression changes from dour to a hint of a smile. “Yes, this will be the place I can become myself, finally.”

Sven: I look Embry up and down curiously, resisting the urge to ask for more details, ultimately deciding to leave it alone.

Thrall: “Seems to me that you have been a free of will and free minded dwarf since you got on this vessel. Not only here but also among the passengers and crew. I guess nobody called you names or kicked you just because of your tattoos.”

Embry, “I have indeed been a free man upon the ship. But a ship isn’t a home. Not for me.”

Thrall, “By the look of the remnants of our destination a lot has happened here. I do not think that is what I would call home. To me `home` is in a large forest, but that is everybody’s own vision. Father Aram, who is still sleeping and snoring, is trying to put together a expedition north of Phlann. He asked me and several others to join him, but we got interrupted by those bloody pirates. Maybe he can tell us some more about his plans?”

Hearing his name, Aram, who while sleeping loudly was not sleeping particularly soundly on the hard deck of the ship, snorts awake. He blinks his eyes several times to focus and yawns. “Eh? What’s that?” he ask blearily. He pulls himself slowly to his feet, then stretches with many a popping sound from his back. “Someone call?” he finally asks, as he picks up his crown and adjust it on his bald pate.

Once fully awake, Aram walks over to Thrall and the others. “Ah yes,” he says after catching up on the conversation. “I am hoping to mount an expedition to the Dragonspine Mountains. The mountains were the heart of the Noga Empire, during the Founding Time which predates Netheril. My lord, The Blessed Afflictor, hails from Nog. I hope to mount an archaeological expedition to find and unearth the ancient Nogese capital of Deckon Thar and whatever artifacts or relics as might be found there.”

The old man flashes a mostly-toothless smile. “Thrall has signed on, as has Osakh,” he points at the ogre, “and master Pin,” he gestures at a dwarf among the passengers. “I’d be most happy to have you join us.” He says this last part looking at both Embry and Sven.

“There are some logistical issues to work out first, of course — provisions, and tools for digging and climbing, and pack animals, and porters. An expedition of this magnitude won’t be cheap. So I plan to do some work for Phlan’s council first, as I hear they pay very well for any groups willing to help reclaim and rebuild the older sections of the city. Which you’d be welcome to join me in as well.

Embry, “I’d be willing to join up in such a crew. I’m not a historian or anything like that, but I’m eager to help.”

Lothar walks over from the railing where he had been watching the city approach and says to Aram (but also adressing the group as a whole): “Since I’m here with the intent of digging up some history of my own, perhaps we can work together? I’ve go grand expedition planned or such, but I feel our goals align and we may be of value to each other. What do you say?”

The old man smiles and offers a hand to Lothar, “Aye. The more the merrier!”

“Excellent! I look forward to our joint adventures.” Lothar says with a smile. After shaking Aram’s hand, and those of his new associates he turns back towards the railing saying: “I’d like to get a good look at our new hometown before we’re in the middle of things…”

A bright-faced boy of maybe fourteen years, dressed in a slightly over-sized, but very well made coat of brigandine and with a broadsword slung at his waist comes over. “Don’t forget me!” he says excitedly, looking at Aram and Thrall. He extends a hand to Lothar, “Name’s Eddie!”

Lothar: I shake his hand heartily, a broad smile on my face: ""Hello Eddie, well met!" I look at him for a moment, and then at the civilians as my face takes on a (slightly exaggerated) serious, thoughtful expression and ask him: “But with all the seasoned adventurers leaving, who will protect the settlers?” I hold his eyes, neutral of expression but very attentively. How does the boy respond to this question, can I glimmer his thoughts and feelings from his face?

The boy laughs, “It’s a big city, with guards and everything!” He points to the rather heavily defended wall. “I’m sure my aunt and the others will be fine!” His voice as he says this betrays not even a hint of doubt or irony, though the youthful upswing of his voice makes the end sound more like a question than a statement.

Sven’s attention seemed to be divided between the conversations going on between the men surrounding him, the surroundings, and his own thoughts…until he filtered out the young man speaking to Lothar. He whips around and when he sees Eddie, Sven turns pale as the blood rushes from his face…

Seeing the apparent distress of the others, Aram steps up to the boy. “Aye, Eddie, but one skirmish and a magic sword does not make you a warrior overnight. You’ll need to learn the trade before you’re ready to go rushing off to face whatever horrors wait for us in the Ruins. Trust an old codger who’s been stabbed more than his share of times, that you’ll be wanting some training.”

Aram smiles and puts a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It just so happens though, that Phlan is a great place for that. I hear there is a publicly funded training hall where all manner of soldiers of fortune can learn their craft. A few months under a proper master swordsman and I’m sure you’ll be ready to join us in no time…”

Aram looks to the rigging and raises his voice to be heard by the boy’s favorite hero. “Wouldn’t you agree, Master Durell?”

“I would indeed. Not to mention that while the “new city” may have guards, if our fellow settlers are given plots outside the walls, they will need guards of their own – perhaps even ones with magical swords and over sized armor." Durell grins at Eddie, knowing this wasn’t what the lad was hoping to hear. "If nothing else, Eddie, you can oversee our fellow Featherdalemen as they apply for citizenship. You might want to talk to him (pointing to the balding thin farmer) and offer your services as a bodyguard, or whatever he thinks he needs.

If Durell noticed the reaction from Sven, upon seeing Eddie, he will non-chalantly make his way to Sven’s side and ask “You seem like an able sailor, but you also look a bit peckish at the moment. Anything bothering you in particular? My name is Durell. Pleased to meet you”.

Sven watches Eddie as he goes about until he is able to turn his attention to Durell: “What? No…the boy, he…he reminded me of someone.” He looks to the top of the mast: “Shame on me for not looking up.” Looks back to Durell: “Sven Dagdresson. Pleasure. I’m, uh, no sailor, but it’s good to know I have the look if I decide to give it a go. You’re with them?” nodding in the general direction of Aram and company

Thrall: After seeing dead fish in the water, I take a sample of the water( it is a lake, right?) And scoop up a dead fish to examine both. Thrall tastes the water. Disgusted, he spits it out. " This water is foul. It tastes of death and decay!!" Cuts the fish, a stench of something long dead fills everyone’s noses. He trows the fish quickly back in the water. “If the water and the air is like this, I really want to know what the land and soil is like. We should go on land and we for ourselves.”

As the two ships sail towards the docks, a series of trumpet calls ring out from the Escapade, signalling their arrival and situation. Similar calls answer back. At the same time, you all spot a lone arrow flying in your direction from the crumbling buildings on the eastern side of the river. You are too far to see any signs of the archer, and the arrow lands in the water with a plop almost a hundred yards short of the ships — a rather pro-forma greeting.

As the Escapade glides up to the pier, several small boats begin rowing out towards Valkur’s Wake behind it. The two deckhands wave them in and remove a section of the gunwale. A stretcher is constructed from the make-shift sails Nat was sewing, and the captain is offloaded onto the first boat. Soon a half-dozen more wait below. The settlers begin passing them the crates filled with their belongings, building supplies, and trade goods over the rail to be ferried ashore.

As the settlers begin crowding towards the boats, Nat raises his voice to stop them. “No pushing! No pushing! We’ll be takin’ cargo ashore first. Passenger manifest was lost when the cap’n went over, so we’ll need a careful accounting of heads as ye disembark. Harbormaster should be out in a minute, so just hold yer horses…or llamas…or whatever…”

Not wanting to be rude, Durell holds up a single finger to Sven and exits their conversation in a hurry, moving toward Nat and the off-loaders.

“No, I think not. Let me go ashore before you offload too much of the cargo. With us on board and our belongings on shore, there is nothing to stop the belongings from “mysteriously walking away”. This “new town” is supposedly notorious for harboring the less than scrupulous. I would rather defend our things on shore, than watch them be stolen standing on deck."

Durell will force his way through and either find his way down to the ferry, or, if necessary, will leave all but his quarterstaff with Eddie and will dive into the befouled waters and swim to the docks.

“Nope, nope, nope,” the dwarf insists, stepping in front of Durell and putting a hand on his weapons. “Ship don’t get paid unless we get an exact accounting of the passengers leaving the ship, and that don’t happen ’til the harbormaster comes aboard. Anyone wanting to leave before that owes us 50 gold per head…”

Sven – who’s wearing half of what he owns while keeping the other half at his hip at all times – goes to quickly find Lothar, Embry, and any crew still aboard from the Escapade: “Gather your stuff -ALL of it – and let’s stick close together – we’re part of the Escapade and shouldn’t be counted among the Wake’s number. I plan On walking off this boat with what little I have.” I turn to the signal officer and ask quietly “what is the protocol here?” As in: “will we be able to walk off this ship unimpeded?”

Sven finds the signal officer working alongside the dwarf and the shoremen unloading the ship’s cargo. He finshes passing a crate over the rail, then turns when addressed. “Protocol in Phlan is strait-forward. All cargo is to be offloaded before passengers so that it can be inspected for contraband without interference. Once the cargo has been certified by the customs officials, the harbormaster will come aboard to make an accounting of passengers so that the captain and crew can be paid by the Council for bringing them here. Anyone stepping on shore without the harbormaster’s approval are arrested and punished in accordance with Phlannian law…”

He lowers his voice to a near-whisper and leans in a bit, “…which, I understand, means being stripped of all your worldly possessions, down to your smallclothes, and tossed over yonder wall into the monster-infested ruins at night to be eaten alive. They don’t really brook any failure to play by the rules around these parts.”

He raises his voice back to a normal speaking level, “Once ashore, all new arrivals, passengers and crew alike, are required to report to the Council chambers to have their case reviewed and the appropriate writs of passage for traveling and doing business in town issued. An armed escort is already waiting on to escort us there once we’ve disembarked.”

Sven, “What if one pays the 50 gold?”

Hearing Sven, Nat shrugs, "Ye’re not technically one of me passengers, so I guess you’re free to get off. Though if ye wait and get off with the passengers, we’d greatly appreciate the extra gil we’d get from the Council. It’d go a long way to repairing the ship. Passenger or no, though, you’ll still have to deal with the city’s security. Council’s a bit paranoid, and by “a bit”, I mean if they find ye in the street without the right papers they assume you’re an Xvimlar spy and will banish you right quick."

“Well Nat, I didn’t plan on breaking the law as my first act upon arriving” Sven says with the slightest hit of a smirk. “Your ship could use the extra attention…I’ll go with out with the everyone else, but I’m no less concerned about my belongings being ‘misplaced’. Perhaps your men could time the unloading of our belongings to coincide with our own departure – as well as those that valiantly fought off the pirates – so that it may put our minds a bit more at ease?”

“Well, it seems ‘welcome with open arms’ means something different in Phlan than it does back home…” Lothar says glumly. He keeps a close, distrustful eye on the cargo moving to shore. I also make sure all my personal gear is stowed and ON me (armor and other gear in backpack, weapons in sheaths on my belt, spear in hand.) His whole attitude has hardened and he projects a clear martial bearing. He doesn’t like being treated as part of the trade goods.

Aram walks over to Durell before he jumps overboard. “Hold friend! None of us, neither you, nor me, nor any of the settlers you have vowed to protect paid to make this voyage. This ship and it’s crew have been through considerable duress, and their only compensation comes from the Council upon our safe delivery. Are you really so concerned to see your goods inspected by the local authorities that you would violate the hospitality of of this ship and deny them their lawful recompense for your passage?”

Alan Knicely "*Inspection* doesn’t bother me at all. It’s “unobserved confiscation” that bothers me. The should be able to inspect our goods with us standing RIGHT THERE watching. As for the “hospitality” of the ship, one would think that our assistance in DEFENDING the ship from being completely skuttled and robbed by pirates would “make us even”. But if all of you are convinced that staying aboard is the best option, I’ll wait. But I’ll wait *prepared*" With that, Durell will knock and arrow and stand at the siderails of the ship, arrow pointed at the “inspection team”, prepared to “let fly” if he sees anything being taken from his shipmates belongings.

With that, the crew finishes offloading the crates, barrels, and chests into the waiting boats, which promptly row back to the docks at the front of the Escapade, out of your view.

Thrall to anyone who is within hearing range, “I got a sneaky suspicion that we are not going to see that cargo again…..”

“That would lead to the SEVENTH time this city gets depopulated, if that’s the case…” Sven replies in a low grumble.

Aram looks back and forth between Durell, Thrall, and Sven. “Are you three always this paranoid, or do the governments where you come from just not have customs duties?”

“I guess they do, but that they also have dockworkers or officials of dubious ethics…” Lothar states, smiling at Aram. His face goes serious: “I don’t mind the inspection, but the fact that it’s engineered to be outside of the presence of the cargo’s owners does bother me.”

After several interminable minutes of waiting, the boats return, sans cargo, bearing a particularly portly halfling sporting a goatee and a red and blue slashed waistcoat. The dwarven deckhand helps him aboard with a whispered word, and the halfling laughs like the two are old friends. They exchange a few more quiet words, then Nat leads the halfling over to Aram.

“You’re sure this is the man?” The halfling asks, more loudly, as they approach.

“Aye. Twas his mark on t’ box.”

The halfling gives Aram an imperious stare—quite the feat for one who only comes up to your waist. “Might I inquire, sir, why you have a crate filled with human remains?”

Aram gives a good-natured laugh of his own. “Why, they are my porters my fine hobbit. Were you to count, you should find three complete skeletons within the box. I assure you, I have no distasteful use intended for the things, and was not intending to animate them until such time as I had exited your fine city. If the Council has any legal issue with them, feel free to dispose of them in a manner you find appropriate—I am sure new ones will be most easily acquired in yonder ruins.”

The halfling stares rather wide-eyed at Aram’s frankness. “Well,” he says with a cough, “the practice of necromancy is not itself illegal in the city, but undead of all kinds are strictly forbidden within New Phlan city limits. Would you be amenable to having the crate transported to and stored outside of the city walls to be collected on your departure?”

His eyes narrow a bit. “Also, the crate’s label identifies it as hailing from Hillsfar. I understand that the practice of necromancy IS illegal there. You’ll need to consult the Council Clerk if you are intending to apply for the Council’s offer of universal amnesty and non-extradition?”

“Aye, picking up my box outside the city walls is quite acceptable. Do you have a specific storage location for such things? I had planned on staying the the city, and may not need to retrieve my belongings until some days have passed.”

“As to the amnesty, I have no need of it.” Aram says, flashing his most disarming smile. “I can assure you that I have never, to my knowledge, broken any of our great Maalthir’s laws. In fact, the city’s prohibition against Necromancy is really something of a misnomer, in that the city defines Necromancy as Any practice of arcane magics — meaning that the animation of the dead by invocation of the gods is a perfectly legal and fairly common practice.”

“Ah…well…I didn’t know that…” the halfling stammers, clearly surprised. The tiny official quickly regains his composure. “We have a warehouse in the slums district, near the old hempers guildhall for the storage of questionable merchandise. Your crate will be sent there. I will leave a note that it is to be remanded to your custody when you come to claim it.” With that he quickly turns away and strides back to the boats.

“Alright!” Nat yells across the general hubub of the crowd on deck. “Ye may begin boardin’ fer transport t’ land! One at a time! An’ make sure ye’re counted as ye get off! Ye’re goods’ll be waiting fer ye on shore! If’n anythings missin’, take it up with this fellow!” He nods towards the halfling.

Thrall to Aram: “With all respect, father Aram, I know that we have some major ethic differences, but do you have more surprises for us besides a crate of human bones?”

Aram grabs his pack, but looks in no hurry to disembark, standing back to allow the settlers and sailors to get off first. “Why? What sort of surprises did you have in mind, master Thrall? Doesn’t everyone of means travel with servants?”

Thrall: “We all travel how we like but most of us do not use skeletons to travel with. What I meant was, is there something more what you did not tell us, but would be nice to know upfront. Things about your expedition for instance?”

Embry, “This seems to be a fair question. But then, I am a bit wary of magical arts to begin with.”

Aram nods and sighs, “Very well then. My order is dedicated to holding back the primordial chaos that threatens to engulf the cosmos. It is, shall we say, futile, as all things eventually fall to ruin, but still we fight it by ANY MEANS NECESSARY. The walking dead, while often unpleasant, are one of the greatest tools available in that fight. They are the embodiment of perfect order, freed from the bounds of entropy—they do not age or decay; they follow orders exactly and without question; and they can stand guard for aeons without sleeping. Those that think are vast pools of ancient wisdom, preserving knowledge even after the finest books have crumbled to dust and ash. If anything can hold back the eventual dissolution of all things, it is the armies of the dead. Thus my Order makes rather liberal use of the undead, but we would never do so in violation of local ordinances, as such rulebreaking would only welcome a further collapse into chaos.”

Seeing the crowd beginning to thin, he moves, slowly towards the boats. “Long ago, the Kings of Nog found one of the elder gods that preceded creation buried beneath the highest peak of the Dragonspines. Duvan’Ku they called him, and worked their magics in an attempt to awaken him and quicken the destruction of all things. My lord, The Blessed Afflictor, was among those who stood against them, but was betrayed and trapped in the temple of Duvan’Ku for many millennia. He was freed by explorers a year ago, and came to Hillsfar where he founded our Order before going off to continue his battle against the forces of entropy elsewhere. The true aim of my expedition is to seek out the Unholy Mountain of Duvan’Ku and plunder the ruins of of the Nogese lords in hopes of uncovering some secret that my order could use to further delay the awakening of the Ender of All Things. If we can uncover the means by which the Nogese sought to awaken him, perhaps we could reverse the process.”

Despite the serious talk of undeath and the eventual end of the universe, the old man keeps his cheerful demeanor and ever-present smile throughout the discussion.

“Phlan itself represents something of a microcosm of our struggle. Again and again during the thousand-years since its founding, the forces of chaos have brought this city low, killing or routing the people that live here. Always the forces of civilization return, attempting to gain a foothold and fight back against the chaos — raising walls, tilling the soil, enacting laws. Forever struggling against the overwhelming march of entropy and barbarism. There is much to be respected the Phlannian people and the Council’s dedication to rebuilding their city again and again and again.”

Sven leans towards Thrall and whispers: “Aren’t you the least bit curious whose skeletons they are? And how he “came by them?” Stands back up, looking at Embry knowingly (with a hint of self bemusement): “Careful lad, you look like you’ve got some strong bones to you.”

Embry, "If you try to make me into one of them skeleton creatures, I’ll refuse the afterlife and haunt you and your kin forever. "

Lothar listens intently. “You are a man of seeming paradoxes Aram. You say you fight primordial chaos, and this seems to include entropy in all its forms. But what about the entropy that is a natural part of life? Things must end and decay for new things to develop and grow in their place? I appreciate the need to thwart any being called the Ender of All Things, but what after? The elimination of all uncertainty, all randomness? Such a reality would become stagnant, crystalline and dead… I believe we should strive to protect a wholesome balance, safeguard against excesses of either order or chaos, protect what is wholesome and good. I believe I shall have many things to ask and debate with you… But that is for another time, for now I will simply ask you this: Should I perish while in your company, do not use my remains. Such a thing is abhorrent to me and my beliefs.” He fixes Aram with a long look, before nodding as on a matter decided and turning his attention elsewhere.

Aram chuckles, “Growth is a luxury for the young, and randomness and uncertainty seldom bring happiness, at least in my experience. If you could bring about a state of peace to the world, and then freeze it in place, are you truly saying you would not choose to?” He smiles, “I respect the desire for balance, though, really, in a world that is constantly accelerating towards disaster, working for balance between order and chaos should put us, for now, very much on the same side. The dam is ever at risk of breaking, my order only hopes to stave off the flood for one more day, and then one more day after that. And, rest assured friend, should you fall before I do, I will see your remains dealt with in accordance with the custom of your homeland…to do anything else would be uncivilized.”

Durell shakes his head as he continues to herd the last of the Featherdale settlers (and Eddie) into the boats to ferry them to shore. “Law, Chaos, stasis, growth. Who cares? Just do the RIGHT THING. Don’t let a child go hungry. Don’t let someone steal another’s belongings. Step up and defend the defenseless. Pretty cut and dried, no? Do the Right Thing.” With that, he too boards a boat to step into New Phlan for the first time.

Seeing the last of the settlers from Feathersdale are away, Aram goes and finds Osakh and the four captured pirates and makes sure he boards they are all in the same boat.

“You make an excellent summary, Durell!” Lothar says, with a mix of respect and amusement in his expression. “In practice that is what it does boil down to, doing the right thing.”

Thrall doesn’t say much during the discussion. When Aram leaves, Thrall and the rest will probably share the same boat.

Thrall: “Where he got his skeletons, I honestly do not know. Since we agreed to join him on his expedition, we will follow him, I guess. As long as he keeps his skeletons to him self and doesn’t bother me with them, I do not care much, on the outside, that is. Our expedition will lead us through a large forest, which is supposedly haunted and there he will need me.
Let’s stock up on potions and food in New Phlann and we will see were we end up”

Sven slaps his hand on Embry’s shoulder: “A necromancer, a Druid helping him, an Orge, and someone who spent the entire night and morning pointing arrows at people preaching about doing the right thing. Embry, take notes because you’re going to want to remember this tale.” He gives a surprised look to where he placed his hand on Em’s shoulder: “seriously though, keep an eye on your skeleton.” He proceeds to board one on the boats.

Embry shakes his head in response and mumbles something under his breath about “Weird mixed up crews” “skeletons” and “still better than Thay” before following Sven onto one of the boats.

Thrall: “To me he said he was a priest. No mention of necromancer thou….”

Embry, “I get the feeling thats not the last ‘secret’ thats going to accidentally come up”

Sven To Thrall: “I’m sure. Eh, no worries – nothing negative could come from someone wearing a bone crown, yea?” Looks to the land and construction going on around us “She has potential, you think?”

Embry, “As long as I’m not left alone with the creepy one i could get used to this place.”

The Docks

As the small boats pull up to the docks, you see a platoon of spear-armed guards in mail, wearing red cloaks and visored, red-plumed helms standing watch along the wharf. The goods that had been offloaded from the ship are stacked neatly to one side. Durell notes that everything appears to be present (or at least the containers are), save for one large crate bearing Aram’s mark, which is rolling towards the gates on a wagon.

The passengers who arrived ahead of you are being arranged into lines by the guards. The kobold from the ship, who appears to have changed out his traveling garb for a cape bearing the same blue and red slash as the harbormaster’s waistcoat, walks along the line of would-be settlers, stopping to chat with each of them in turn.

Aram, the ogre, and the captured pirates have been sequestered off to one side by a separate squad of guardsmen.

“I assume we’ll be joining the second group, don’t you think?” Lothar says to no-one in particular. As soon as the boat is secured to the dock he immediately jumps on land, looking around for someone in charge to address. The moment he spots someone seemingly dressed/acting in a commanding capacity he moves up to them.

Scanning the locals, Lothar sees four possible authorities: the halfling harbormaster, who disembarks from the last boat alongside the Wake’s crew; the kobold, who appears to be wearing similar livery; a tall, broad-shouldered, thickly bearded man, also into the Council’s red and blue livery, who appears to be in charge of the cargo; and a soldier at the head of the line who’s plume appears to be half-again as tall as that of the others.

Lothar: The harbormaster seems the most likely candidate, as the other three appear to have more defined areas of responsibility. “Good morrow, sir harbormaster! Could you direct us to where we are to present ourselves for registration?” In a lower voice, still clear and cordial, but not intended to carry beyond the harbormaster and any of my new associates standing beside me:" I also wish to inform you that those four (I indicate them with subtle gestures, clearly excluding Aram and the ogre.) are members of a pirate crew that employs a fireball-casting mage to prey on shipping to New Phlan." I wait for his response.

“Of course, Sir,” the halfling responds. “In just a moment these fine gentlemen,” he gestures at the waiting guardsmen, “will be escorting everyone to the office of the Clerk of the Council. The Clerk will hear your cases for applications for citizenship, or, I should guess by your martial attire, licensure for adventuring work, and issue the appropriate identification and writs of transit.”

At the mention of pirates his face darkens, “Ah yes. The elderly gentleman with the Ogre already informed us when they came ashore. They’ve apparently sued for amnesty under the law governing adventuring work, but their case will need to be heard by a judge to determine whether their crimes occurred within the city’s sovereign waters. Did you have any additional information or evidence to present?”

“I can’t say if it occured within Phlan sovereign waters, as I’m uncertain how far out these extend, but I’m certain the captain of the Escapade can inform you where we found the other ship adrift. What I can say, judging by my comrades information, is that the pirates were evidently deliberately targeting ships heading towards Phlan. It seems to me that would be of interest of the council to intervene. Especially as their excessive force, as evidenced by the mage, might dissuade future settlers from travelling here? Speaking of captains; how will the captain of the Wake be cared for, and I assume the captain of the Escapade will be curious as to any compensation for salvaging the Wake and it’s cargo and passengers? He had been most generous is his aid and assistance, I’d be remiss in not mentioning this. Could you attend to this? Thank you.” Lothar waits to see if the harbormaster has anything more to say. If not, he will give his regards and join Aram, the ogre and others. At approaching the pirates his expression turns hard and cold: “You must be glad we got here so soon, I would have liked to have a chat with you.”, he growls. His expression and stance give no doubt how pleasant this “chat” would have been…

At the mention of compensation, the harbormaster harrumphs, “As we have no ships of our own, Phlan claims no responsibility for the safety of ships, passengers, or cargoes in any waters outside of Thorn Island Sound. I am sure the captain of the Wake will be most grateful to your captain for his assistance, but they will have to decide upon compensation for services rendered among themselves. As to the pirates, I will inform the Council about the attack, and I would expect a bill calling for the pirate’s heads to be posted within a fortnight. Should you have a personal interest in these pirates, I am sure the Council would compensate you generously for their disposal, once a bill has been ratified and posted.”

Thrall steps forward and into the conversation. “Eherm, Harbourmaster? I was on board of the Valkur’s Wake. Maybe I can be of some assistance? Thrall Demonsweat is the name.”

The harbormaster starts to chuckle, then turns it into a not-so-polite cough, “Demonsweat? How’d ye get a surname like that, then?” He coughs again, “If you have evidence to present in the case, you can talk to the Bailiff at the Council chambers.”

There is a sudden silence and the sound of feet, and you turn to see the column of soldiers and settlers heading off down the street. “Well, off you go then…” the halfling quips.

Thrall: “The name was my father’s, as was his father’s and his father. I gladly call myself just Thrall, if that makes everybody a little less jumpy” ( grumbles)

The column of guardsmen ushers everyone along, with the group escorting the pirates taking up the rear. They march you along a broad thoroughfare running from the docks to the wall. After a block of walking past the expected — fish markets, warehouses, tenements, and taverns — the column hangs a left and you suddenly find yourselves facing several large, impressive stone buildings. The stone all appears to have been salvaged from older edifices, but the buildings themselves appear relatively new and well-constructed.

You march past a large temple, much less ornate than those you’re accustomed to in the South, with plain white-washed stone walls. The only ornamentation being the silver scales-of-justice mounted above the entry. Acolytes in plain gray robes scurry about in a small adjacent garden.

Next you pass a courthouse, so similar in design as to appear simply to be an extension of the temple. Here the contingent of guards surrounding the pirates peel off, ushering their charges through the front doors.

Lastly, the company stops in front of the largest structure, of the same recycled-stone construction, but much more ornate than the other two, with clear attention paid to the carving of pediments and entablature in the Doric fashion. Large double-doors stand open, flanked by long ropes forming a queue which the guardsmen usher everyone in to.

Several officious looking scrolls have been mounted on the wall immediately to the right of the entrance.

As the pirates are lead away, Aram catches up with Thrall, Lothar, and the others. “Hail friends, how goes the waiting in line? I’ve been told that all witness-testimonies in regards to our pirates must be presented in writing to the Clerk of the Council, rather than in person before the magistrate, so I guess I’m off to queue.” As he lines up behind the farmers, he stops to take a look at the board. “Information as to the disposition of various formerly-living entities,” he reads aloud to himself. “I daresay I might be rather uniquely qualified to open such negotiations.”

“If said entities are willing or even able to negotiate, that is.” Lothar responds doubtfully. “The reclamation of city blocks sounds interesting as well, but quite the undertaking. Perhaps there are some more straightforward tasks we can tackle first, get to know the lay of the land.”

Sven to his immediate company: “Mmm. What of accommodations? I personally was considering acquiring some land – seeing as they’ve parcels to spare. I may not be able to afford it alone, however. If the acreage is sufficient, I’d be willing to go in on it if anyone here had similar interest. Land to build, to grow, to heard? Perhaps some of the families on the Wake lost what they had – they’re skills would come in handy as well – and they may need the boost.” Looks towards the boy (Eddie): “Good people should be given the chance to succeed.”

Thrall: “First sort out the permits and the act of piracy. After that we will see were we will be staying. I would not mind staying somewhere on the outskirts, looking to the forest, but I cannot spend a lot.”

Embry, “My past has not left me with much in the way of funds” gestures to the crude hide armor he is wearing, “But if we do come across any sort of wealth in our working together, I would be happy to share a parcel of land with you. I don’t require much, just a small home for myself and a bit of land to work, you can have the lion’s share.”

Lothar looks somewhat embarassed: “What funds I had, I’ve expended on the trail. Let’s see what the council has to say, perhaps there are lodgings for adventurers? If not, I would gladly share lodgings or land with you?”

(Sven, somewhat upbeat) “Well,then! We’ve found common ground! We all have nothing! Yes, let’s see what the council says, but, we’re all able bodied individuals…(catches a very quick glimpse of Aram from the corner of his eye)…mostly. We’ll make a go of it in no time; if we work together.”

He gets a serious look and moves to within inches of Aram: “You, however……..we could probably get serious coin for that “silver tongue” of yours.” He stares intensely at Aram for long seconds – until he can no longer contain his laughter. “Haaahahahah! Let’s find out a bit more about your “work” before we shake on that one, yea? But, you’ve given no cause to be denied a chance!”

You wait for well over an hour as the various new arrivals lined up ahead of you are processed. After some time, a dark-haired slip of a girl, with perhaps a bit of elven blood judging by her ears, wearing the Council’s red and blue livery and holding a very large stack of paperwork, comes up to you in line.

“Greetings,” she says, with a curtsy made rather awkward by the hefty bundle in her hands. “Due to the number of applicants, the Chief Clerk has requested that we collect some information ahead of formal hearings. If you could please summarize your reasons for visiting Phlan today, I will try to match you with the correct forms…”

Aram looks at the pile of papers the girl holds. “Thank you, my dear,” he says with a sympathetic smile. “As a group, we will be needing a charter or licensure for adventuring work, writs of transit to pass into the uncivilized portions of the city, and permission to engage in commerce, if any such are necessary. My friends here,” he gestures to Sven, Embry, and Lothar, “also seem interested in more permanent settlement and the possible purchase of a plot of land, likely outside the walls. I will also be needing to fill out a legal affidavit providing testimony for a recent piracy case…”

Thrall looks around him, makes sure that the settlers standing together, the survivors of the Wake and the guys from the Escapede.

Durell wends his way between the FeatherDale contingent until he is behind the apparent leader and prods him to speak. Concerned that the “leader” may not command the attention of the elven administrator, Durell speaks up: “Ma’am, when you have time, this group desires citizenship, farmland and homesteads. Whatever paperwork applies we would gladly work to fill out.”

After scanning the postings, he also turns back to the Featherdale leader and opines: “You know, if that ‘bugbear offering’ is valid, free fish for life could be ’free fertilizer for the fields” for life!?! What say you about that? These new acquaintances we have made aboard ship might well be convinced to help with completing that task, if you think the reward is of value. Do you?"

The Featherdalesmen roll there eyes at Durell’s interjection. “Bulwark,” one woman says, “you’re efforts to protect us are much appreciated as always, but we’re not infants. We can fill out our own bloody paperwork…” She waves the stack already in her hands at him.

Chastized appropriately, Durell bows his head, stares at the ground and agrees. “Yes Ma’am. Just trying to help us all stay together. I’ll just sign my own papers as well. Again, my apologies”.

The thin farmer who was directing the loading earlier goes ashen at Durell’s suggestion. “Ye want us t’ fight bugbears? Ain’t no reward worth our lives…”

The woman laughs. “Why would we all stay together? We’re on land now, in the big city, and off to start our new lives. If I ever see this old codger again,” the gestures with the papers at the thin farmer, “it’ll be too soon.”

Durell turns to the thin farmer: “Of course not. But you will need fertilizer, right? If I can convince some of the brawnier passengers that just helped us survive the pirate attack that this ’bugbear task” could easily be accomplished, MY share of “fish for life” might well help with getting YOUR crops established. No?"

“Oh!” The thin man nods, “Aye, if’n ye want to go stickin’ ye’re head in a monster’s lair, I’ll happily take the fish.”

Thrall tries to get his own stack of papers to fill in. “Ehrm, Madam, can I get some forms to fill in for adventuring and staying in the nice city of Phlann?”

The girl curtsies to Aram and Thrall in turn and shuffles through her stack of papers. “How many in your group?” she asks looking at Thrall.

Aram counts up, turning the beads on his wrist as he does, “Myself, Thrall, Embry, Sven, Lothar, Durell, and Osakh makes seven,” he says quietly to himself, “plus room for Eddie after he gets himself trained.”

“Eight, I believe,” he says to the girl.

The girl sifts through her stack and starts handing papers to Aram. “Very well, Sir. Here are your applications for citizenship, which will need to be filled out for each individual…Militia enlistment will be waved since you are seeking an adventuring charter.” She moves some papers to the bottom of her stack, then hands him another, “Here is the application for your adventuring charter. Please note that all active participants names will need to be included on the official copy kept at the Clerks office in order for militia wavers, universal amnesty, and freedom of transit to apply, and for bounties to be paid appropriately. Should you have a change in membership, you will need to update your documentation at the Council Hall.” She pulls out another small stack of papers, “And here are the applications for settler status for your friends. Once your application has been processed you will be free to claim any unoccupied lands or buildings outside the walls that you are able to occupy and hold as a place of residence. Once you have occupied and tended a piece of land for six months, a deed will be drawn up and remanded to you and your posterity.”

She curtsies again, “I’m afraid I do not have forms for issuing witness testimony for criminal acts. You’ll have to discuss that with the Chief Clerk. Was there anything else I could help you with?”

Durell asks: “Since the posted proclamations and all but one of the ‘wanted’ items seem official, is it appropriate to assume that New Phlan is not ‘officially sponsoring’ the last item citing help for bugbears?”

The girl walks over and pulls that one off the wall and crumbles it up. “No,” she says matter-of-factly. Then, grumbling mostly to herself, “How many times do we have to tell Delbar not to vandalize the official notice board…”

“Ummm, who is DELBAR? And where might he be found, if someone were so inclined? Thank you for your help.”

“I would steer clear of that one if I were you. The council has already dispatched several agents to put a stop to his illegal trade with the Xvarts. He’s just one strike away from getting himself thrown off the wall…”

Aram nods to the girl in thanks, then looks down at the papers, “Oh, Dear. Might I trouble you for a pen?” He begins reading over the documents and inspecting what pieces of information they require, going ahead and filling out his own before asking the others for the necessary information to fill theirs out.

The herald curtsies yet again, and moves on to assist the sailors from the Escapade who are lining up behind you.

The citizenship papers are fairly strait-forward, asking for name, gender, physical description, age, date of birth, astrological sign, alignment of the planets at your time of conception, species, ethnicity, country of origin, town of origin, liege lord, religion, disposition of soul, profession, next of kin, family members in residence, marital status, declaration of existing property, declaration of slaves…

Actually, the forms may be the most ridiculous thing Aram has ever read.

“Thank you,” Aram says as Lothar hands him the quill and ink. Then, looking at the papers, “I think I may have stepped into some kind of nightmare…” He diligently begins trying to fill out his own, then realizes that using a dip-pen is practically impossible while standing in line. He hands the writing kit back to Lothar, “Perhaps we’ll just wait and discuss the paperwork with the Clerk. Surely they don’t expect even the peasants ahead of us to be able to supply such information in writing…”

As soon as Thrall’s paperwork comes up, he will give the right information, including date of birth (3rd full moon of the year….exactly 37 years ago, the name of his parents, Joshua Demonsweat and Isabella D’Argenteau, no brothers or sisters, no siblings and the name of his high druid, father Emain Macha of Procambur.

Later, when the young lady is answering questions about the posts, Sven follows up. “You know this Delbar, then? Fishery doesn’t seem to be much of a crime. Who or what are the Xvarts?” Should she toss the crumpled “want ad” aside, I’ll discreetly grab it and toss it to Durell.

“No, Sir,” she responds. “Fishing is not his crime so much as NOT fishing. Xvarts are nasty little creatures, a bit like a goblin, but blue, or so the guards say. Delbar has been trading with them against Council orders, bringing in far more fish than any of the proper merchants in the fish market,” she puts particular emphasis on the word ‘proper’, “and undercutting their prices. He has driven a great many honest merchants out of business already. The Council moved to put a stop to it a while ago, but now he keeps trying to post his ads to hire people to find a way to bypass the Council’s orders…”

“I see. Thank you for that clarification. You’ve been very helpful…perhaps you would be able to suggest a decent place where fellows such as ourselves might be able to rest for a night or two? Until we get our bearings.”

Sven will thank her again for her response (whatever it my be) and then wait out the bureaucratic nightmare)

The Council Clerk

After slightly more than an hour of waiting, you find yourselves in the office of the Chief Clerk of the Council of New Phlan (or so the plaque on the door says). It is a tiny space, divided in two by a solid wood desk as wide as the room. Atop the desk are three neat stacks of documents, an inkwell, a cup of silver fountain pens, a black-velour desk-pad, and an ornate wooden blotter. Behind the desk are two tall cabinets, a door (presumably to allow entry without jumping the desk), and a single chair in which sits a stern-faced elven woman, very similar in visage to the girl you met outside.

Your side of the desk is devoid of furniture, and fairly cramped with the six of you, plus the ogre standing there.

“Names?” The woman asks in an officious monotone, pulling a sheet of parchment off of one of the stacks and placing it in front of her.

Aram gives the lady a respectful nod. “Father Aram Carnithrax Decidimus, of the Second Free Prelature of the Opus Dei of Our Blessed Afflictor, at your service madam,” he says, “and our large companion is Osakh Oni-son of the Kur-Tharsu.”

He lays the stack of papers on her desk. “I’m afraid there was no appropriate space upon which to fill these out outside. Might I borrow one of your pens for a few moments?” Assuming she does not object, he takes one of the fountain pens and quickly begins filling out the forms to the best of his knowledge.

“Master Embry,” he asks, “Where did you say you are from again?” He politely peppers each party member with questions in order to fill in the forms appropriately.

“Very well,” the elven woman says in the same monotone voice, gesturing to the pens, “but be quick about it. In the meantime, can you explain the nature of your visit?”

The ogre takes one of the proffered pens and begins filling out his own forms, rather than answering Aram’s probing questions. Sven sees the Ogre filling out his forms and begins to fill out his own paperwork as well.

“That’s a rather complicated question, miss, though, I can see that you are a very busy woman, so I will try to keep it brief.” Aram says. “We’re here to offer our services in dealing with Phlan’s monstrous woes.”

He hands over the first few finished documents. “My friends also seek rights of settlement to establish a farm or the like outside your gates.”

“Also, there is a case before your courts regarding some pirates who attacked us on our way here, and I would like to submit my testimony for the judge to review.”

“Madam,” Aram says, looking up from the documents. “Many of the questions on your citizenship form are quite esoteric, to the point of being beyond some of my companions ability to answer. Are all of the fields mandatory?”

“No,” the woman says. “Only your name, age, sex, species, place of origin, and a physical description are required.”

“Thank you,” Aram says, and proceeds to fill the rest out as fast as he can.

“Lothar Dravion, of House Dravion, sixth of that name. Son of Ezekyle Dravion, the Lord of House Dravion and Lady Hekaterina Dravion, born of House Istobal” I state.

“Sven Dagdresson.” I’ll wait for a moment when the clerk is not in deep concentration before asking: “who do we see if we’re interested in one of the postings (bounties)?”

“If you have a bounty to turn in, you would do so here,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Thank you. So, ah, besides Xvarts, are there other groups that should be avoided?”

Thrall to Aram: “The paperwork is for sure not for free, I guess?”

The woman behind the desk glances over the paperwork as Aram hands it to her. “Everything seems to be in order,” she says flatly, pulling out a seal and a pad of ink and stamping everything. She takes the documents and sets them aside, then pulls another off of the shortest of the three stacks beside her.

“Your charter for engaging in bounties on behalf of the Council,” she says indicating the paper. “Does your group have a collective designation?”

“Ahmmm,” Aram muses, then turns to the others. “Do any of you have thoughts for a name for our little band?”

Embry, “That would be a leadership decision, friend. I am a lot of things, but a leader ain’t one of em.”

Aram laughs, "I wasn’t any kind of leader either until last night. “How does ‘Fraternity of the Crown’ sound to you?” Aram muses. “I must admit that it’s not particularly creative, given what I wear, but should be readily memorable for that same reason. And I should think, given the lack of monarchies in this part of the world, should not offend politically. Also it lends itself easily to establishing some collective heraldry, should we have the funds and desire later.”

“How about ‘The Seekers’?” Lothar suggests. “Seeing how we all came here looking for something? While ‘Fraternity of the Crown’ does have a nice ring, it does risk people misinterpreting the name as implying some sort of fealty, and I suspect some of us to be of a distinctly egalitarian bent, or otherwise opposed to any implication of submission… No offence intended, Aram.” He stated with an apologetic smile. “The Fraternity of Seekers’, perhaps?”

Sven, “Durell. Embry. Sven. Ogre (name starts with “O”). Lothar. Aram. Thrall. Eddie. Equals DESOLATE.”

“Oooh, I like that!” Aram says. “Very witty.”

“Well,” Aram says, “I appreciate Master Sven’s wit.” He turns to the Clerk, “You may refer to us as DESOLATE.” Then, to the others, “It’ll certainly be memorable…”

“Very well,” the woman says, still in the same officious monotone. She writes out the word ‘DESOLATE’ at the top of the page, stamps it, then quickly rolls it up and slides a silk band with a prefixed wax seal bearing the same insignia as the stamp around it.

“Here,” she says handing it to Aram. “You are free to leave the city at your leisure. Should you need to re-enter, show that to the guards at the gates. You will also need to show that paper in order to purchase rooms at any of our city’s fine inns. Your individual applications for citizenship and settlers rights will be reviewed by the Council tomorrow, and, if approved, individual papers can be picked up here on the eighth or ninth ride, between the Third and Ninth hours. A herald makes the round to all inns at the Orthros of Nons-Ride, and if you have not retrieved them by the week’s end, they will be trashed. Should you have any additional questions, please direct them to any of the Council heralds.”

She gestures to the door, raises her voice and says, “NEXT PLEASE!”

Aram accepts the charter with a bow, turns, and marches out the door. “Where to now lads?”

Sven, “Well, I want my belongings. Then I’ll want somewhere to put my belongings and lay my head for the night. And, since we are now grouped together by this document, we should probably have a drink – get to know one another a bit, yea? And, for my own benefit, it would serve me well to observe the locals. Things are…very different here as opposed to my homeland.”

“I would love to share a pint with you,” Aram says as they walk out.

Suddenly he looks across the street and stops in his tracks. He seems to be staring at a short, red-robed man with a badly burned face. “SIL!” he exclaims and walks strait across the street and gives the man a hearty slap on the back. “Well met! I didn’t know you were in Phlan?”

Silren the Burnt: “Aram.” Silren rasped. “You know it was a matter of time before I came here to investigate the Nogian Empire. Hillsfar is so… restricting. It’s been a pleasant vacation here in Phlan, so much that I…” The wizard spit a greenish loogie onto the cobbles. “…have decided to stay.”

“Stay? You’re not planning to go back to grocering are you?” The old man laughs. “Oh, where are my manners. Allow me to introduce my new friends. The heavily armored fellow is Sven Dagdresson, and these are Thrall Demonsweat, Lothar Dravion, Embry, and Durell Farnhed.” He gestures to each of them in turn. “And this large fellow is Osakh Oni-son,” he indicates the ogre.

“Everyone, this is Silren. I used to frequent his family’s grocery in Hillsfar, before young Silren took up his books.” He turns back to Silren, “We were just discussing find a place to share a pint. I don’t suppose you could recommend a good pub nearby?”

“Ah. A slave to Demonsweat. Is that a new drug?” He then looks to Embry. “A dwarven slave too?” The ugly mage scratched his head. “Porters and warriors for some expedition, old man? You have a map this time? Oh, a bar? Well do you have papers yet? Otherwise you have to drink a little further from here. If you have papers, the Laughing Goblin is right there.”

Aram laughs again, “No more map than when the First Prelature dug up that mound of yours, but there’s plenty of heresay that the old city is still there on the mountain. I hope to find more information here in the city.” He waves the scroll, “I believe we’re all set for papers, for now at least, so long as we stick together.”

Aram turns to the others, “Shall we go have a drink then? Any chance I can convince you to join us Silren? For both drinks and my new expedition? It’s nice to see a familiar face, even if it’s as ugly a mug as yours.”

The wizard thought. "You did tell them what happened to your last expedition, correct? I believe the Explorer’s Guild in Hillsfar refers to it as a “calamity” and a “mistake one hopes never gets repeated”. Mutiny and cannibalism may have come up too. I might just join out of pity, Buy me a drink and show me you actually have a plan and I’ll consider it."

Aram lets out an embarrassed laugh, “So I forgot to bring enough provisions. It happens. We needed more room for the shovels anyways. And how was I supposed to know that that burial mound was ACTUALLY cursed? Sure the cartouche said ‘All who enter here shall be eternally damned’, but they all say that…”

“It would have helped if you hadn’t planned to excavate in winter as well…” Mumbled the mage. Shaking his head slightly, he turned to the rest of the party. “I’m not much for socialization, I’m afraid. Here is the Goblin.” He then shuffled off to the entrance.

Thrall: “Come on, Silren was it? Join us for a drink. I’ll buy you a glass of mead.”

While it may have been hard to tell exactly where Silren had been looking (since the scarring was quite heavy and it seemed like one of mage’s eyes may have been lazy), the new companions were sure of one thing… That the odd, rude bitter thing before them had studied them quickly and thoroughly in the span on their short conversation. “I do not drink for pleasure, Thrall. Only when the water is foul do I drink watered wine or ale. It clouds the mind, the drink. And you never know what prey’s upon a weak spirit.”

Thrall: “Water, milk, juice? Anything?”

“The water here is foul. I’ll accept an offer of watered wine or ale, but because of my thirst. Think of it this way. Would you feel safe if a man who can call primal, fiery magics from the ether lost his inhibitions? Come. I wish to sit near the hearth.”

Thrall: “Watered ale it is. Now let’s see if we can all fit around a table near the hearth in this place.”

The Laughing Goblin

The Laughing Goblin is perhaps the quietest dockside tavern any of you have ever seen, even at this early hour.

The lower floor appears well-made, of solid-wood construction, and a good bit older than most of the buildings around it. The second story looks much more slap-dash, four hastily built shacks perch on the slightly sloped roof, each reachable by its own staircase. A testament to the space limitations in the walled section of Phlan.

Inside the place is mostly empty and you easily spot an open table by the hearth. What clientele you can see mostly appear to be fishermen and locals of the poorer sort. The room is well-lit from multiple oil-lanterns, but you somewhat wish that it wasn’t — as the walls are festooned with taxidermied goblins, all dressed in hand-sewn motley.

As the last of you enter, a big bruiser of a bouncer, easily six-and-a-half feet tall and broad-shouldered, but not visibly armed, steps in front of Osakh. “Hold it! We don’t serve his kind here…” he says, clearly un-intimidated by the ogres greater bulk.

“You don’t serve much of anything to anyone it seems.” Remarked the wizard, as he gestured to the room.

“Lunch isn’t served ’til Sexte…” the bouncer replies.

“You get paid coin only when this place is busy, eh? Kicking out a group this size is unwise, think of how much he eats. We all have papers and your bosses could use the coin, eh?”

“Nope, I get paid to keep riff-raff like him out, not to let them in.” Osakh simply nods and takes a step back. “It’s no bother,” the ogre says politely. “I have people of my own that I should meet with now that I am in the city. I can find you after you’ve had your drinks…”

Silren visibly gets angry and doesn’t look like he might be able to contain it. He never liked bullies, he’d had his share growing up. Shaking visibly, his better eye twitched. The mage managed a breath through a sneer and managed to grumble to the ogre-kin. “If it’s… no… skin off your… back… we’ll see you later.” He really felt like burning this place to the ground. But he stopped. For now.

“Thank you, Osakh. We’ll meet you outside the Council Hall in an hour,” Aram suggests, then walks past the bouncer and takes a seat.

“It was so much easier in Hillsfar,” he says to Silren, “back home I’d just have to show a leash and they’d have let me take him anywhere without a word. Is the supposed freedom Osakh and his like have in Phlan really worth such rudeness?”

“Back home that bouncer’d be long dead from the arena.” Smiled Silren slyly.

“Hmmmm, It seems Phlan is a city of opportunities, but not only in the positive sense…” Lothar frowns. “I will see you later Osakh.” I give the bouncer a cold stare as I walk past him. As I seat myself at the table, I mutter to those closest to me: There must be other establishments to be found in this city, I don’t particularly care for the decor, or the attitude…"

Durell remains largely quiet, and finds a seat. Leaning forward on his own staff, planted between his feet, he mutters: “throw too many different ‘types’ in one small space, there are bound to be some ‘ill-rubbed elbows’. If civility is the ONLY loss in New Phlan, we will be lucky. That can be regained, or rebuilt by better behavior by those settling the area.” He looks over at Silren, nods, and lets only three words slip through his lips at the scarred newcomer: “Easily upset, eh?”

“Justifiably upset. Coin is coin. I get ill treatment for my face. Before that, ill treatment for my height. Yet people get mad when you turn it back to them.”

Aram looks around the table, “I’ll buy the first round,” he says. “Watered beer for Silren. Does a pitcher work for everyone else?”

“That depends on what is in it..” quips Lothar. “Mead or a light ale would be fine for me.” He adds.

Silren, in fluent Nogese: “So Aram, what new dirt do you have on the Nogian ruins?” Silren knew exactly where they were supposed to be. He would hope the misguided explorer was still misguided… some things were meant to lie sleeping and undisturbed. It did not matter that Aram was set on protecting it. His order would cause more problems if it was unearthed and some fool meddled in the affairs of dead gods.

Aram stands and walks to the bar to order the drinks, calling back over his shoulder to Silren in Nogese, sure that very few others in the world would know the language. He speaks more slowly than the younger man, still unused to the spoken form of the ancient tongue. “Nothing new, but we’re bound for the good ones. When our Blessed Afflictor’s made his appearance in Hillsfar, he declared that the city of Deckon Thar lay atop the highest peak in the Dragonspines, at the headwaters of Stojano. You couldn’t ask for better and more authoritative directions than that.”

Aram shifts back to the Common tongue, “It’s just a matter of getting there…I’m not sure these old bones are meant for too many more climbs like that. I’d certainly be glad to have a young strapping lad like yourself along, not to mention someone with your proficiency in the language.” He stops at the bar and looks at the selections, hoping the tacky place actually has mead and not just the home-made swill that so many taverns did.

Silren, in Tharian: “The biggest issue I would think would be the orcish tribes that call that area home.” Fuck. He knew the general whereabouts… and that meant more of his meddling ilk knew too. “Best to gain some strength and allies here first, eh?”

“No doubt,” Aram replies over his shoulder. “Also, since you mentioned it, I’ll need to raise the funds to make sure we have food this time too. The boys and I were just talking about taking up on one of the official postings at the Council Hall…something about investigating the status of some formerly living persons in the old graveyard…”

“That sounds like you’re thinking ahead for once.”

The bar of the Laughing Goblin, unlike the rest of the place, is really quite impressive. Four shelves run the length of the wall, stopping only where the door lets into the kitchen, lined with bottles of liquor — all glass (a rare luxury) and carefully arranged by color and size to create a rather amazing rainbow of booze. Unfortunately that one nod towards aesthetics makes it almost impossible for Aram’s old eyes to tell what exactly they have to drink.

Atop the bar at one end, sit three large kegs of the house-brewed beer, along with a sign reading, in Common, “Lunch Special: Pork and Cabbage Stew”.

The man behind the counter looks to be at least as old as Aram, fat, and hairless, save for his drooping mustache. He already has a tray ready and is loading it with clay pint-mugs and an empty pitcher when Aram approaches. “Wha shoul I fill ye up wit?” he asks.

Aram turns back from his across-the-room conversation and stares at the liquor collections for some time, transfixed. “What? Oh, yes, I need a pitcher of whatever you have tapped, a pint of the same, but watered,” he pauses and stares again at the wealth of liquors, “…and a bottle of mead, Bochet or Metheglin if you have any, but nothing short.”

Silren asks the rest of the table, “What do we know of the graveyard and the inhabitants within, living and dead? I might be able to get some limited information from magic, but it always tends to be vague at best. Is there someone who feels comfortable talking to the watch? Another who feels comfortable asking the various churches? Anyone stocked on religious paraphenalia, icons and the like? We should get an idea of the layout during the day as well and only explore during the evening if we cannot find out anything during the day. Perhaps the training hall has someone working there who knows more of the local history and undead?”

“At this point, al we know is what was stated on the posting. We were intending to get a drink to consider and co-ordinate our next steps. And here we are…” states Lothar. “If the surrounding houses are inhabited, we could also get some information from them I guess, and they’d be more like to talk to us if we knocked on their doors during the day, instead of in the dead of night. So a scouting tour during the day seems like a good plan. How much of local history is still available? It’d be good to know at least something about who or what we may encounter. I don’t know how it is with the formerly living, but the living tend to be more co-operative if you at least know a bit about them…”

“Well then, Lothar, would you feel comfortable going door-to-door? I will commune tonight, and talk to those at the Training Hall who might have a more scholarly bent. Who here is comfortable speaking to the clergy?”

Aram returns to the table laden with drinks. “You are speaking to the clergy…” he jibes as he takes a seat, handing Silren his watered-down drink.

“Ha! Maybe you’d be better off, assuming they don’t hang you first.” Silren laughed. “You know, because of the bone raising.”

Sven to the table: “Where are we staying? Is there anywhere “safe” that we can ALL stay? Meaning the Orge, too?” Mumbles to himself “damn Orge had better poise than most humans I’ve met…”

When Aram returns with the beverages: “Hold on – don’t drink yet…” He gets up and goes to the bar: “Bartender! Another pitcher of ale, and a pitcher of water. Do you have any food ready?” While waiting for pitchers and answer on the food: “Why so quiet in here? You’ve got a nice selection here – you’re right by the clerks office…”

The barkeep shrugs, “Mos’ o’ our customers are t’ employed kin’. Mos’ o’ t’ ‘venturin’ types ten’ t’ pick places closer to t’ wall. Come back afte vespers and we’ll be packed as usual.”
He grabs another pitcher and fills it with a dark lager from the tap, then goes in the back and comes back with a pitcher of cloudy, gray-coloured water. “Stews boilin’ in back for t’ lunch crowd, I can fetch y’ a bowl if y’ wan…”

“I’ll take a few bowls for table, if you can spare it.” Sven will square up with the bartender and then bus the items over to the table. Once everything is accounted for, he gathers all of the pitchers and bowls to close proximity of one another and begins to murmur, ending with a loud “…so that I may live to fight another day!”

“Alright, men…” he says as he picks up the pitcher filled with the grey water: “It may look like shit…” takes a swig “But it’s safe.” He pours a full mug of mead for himself and sits back down. “Cheers. Now where are we gonna stay?”

“Sure, I’ll have a chat with the locals. May I?” Lothar asks Aram as he reaches for the mead. He pours a measured amount (mead if Aram allows, ale if otherwise) giving the drink a dubious sniff before taking a sip. (OOC: Is it any good, or is it the swill Lothar fears seen the establishment and colour of the water?) “I’ve little experience with hauntings or the unliving, are there any precautions we can take to prevent harm to ourselves, should we encounter, erm, resistance?”

Aram pours himself a mug of beer and another of mead. “Say what you will about the decor or manners in this place, but they know their booze. Proper northern drink and none of that piss-light southern fare.” The old man smiles wistfully and stares into the distance as he takes a deep draught of each in turn, as if pondering fond memories.

After a moment he returns to the business at hand. “I doubt we need to waste much time interviewing the locals,” he says. “In my experience, people tend to be unnecessarily frightened of and rude to the living dead. No sense wasting our time asking what the superstitious locals think when we can get better information by going right to the source. Though I believe you’re right that approaching in daylight may be the best course, these old eyes don’t handle the dark too well…”

Silren, “I disagree, Aram. This is exactly why we don’t trust you to lead. You’re too impulsive. As a scholar, I insist on us doing some research before haphazardly plunging into a nest of undeath! Right guys? I mean it’s only smart to take a day or two to get a feel for the place.” He cracked a really creepy grin that was supposed to be sincere, but with the burns it was hard to tell what the actual message was.

Embry, “I tend to agree that if we’re goin to look at spirits, we may need some idea of what we are lookin at. If they are the nasty type, my spear won’t do us no good. If you’d like, I’ll accompany anyone goin to do research.”

Silren, “Then you can accompany me to the Training Hall, perhaps even after we finish our drinks here.”

“That sounds a fair deal to me”

Sven, “We can’t afford to go into this half-arsed. Silvertongue (referring to Aram) proclaimed he was “uniquely suited” for such an adventure which, if my guess is correct, we’ll need a very solid “plan B” for when things go to Hel. My vote is for Lothar to speak to the local clergy – his sunny disposition is pretty non-threatening.”

Lothar chokes on his mead at the “sunny disposition and non-threatening” remark… but quickly recovers. Wiping a drip of spilt mead from his chin he replies: “Sure, I’ll try. There’s bound to be a temple near the graveyard I assume? Silren, you’ve been here a while, do you know where the temples are that are most likely to have usefull information?”

“Hmm, off the top of my head, Temples of Tyr, Gond, Sune, Tempus and a shrine to Mielikki in Vahlegen Park. All of them are located near here, north of the building – if I have my bearings right. There may be other hidden priesthoods I am not privy to, but honestly, it is not my forte,” Silren says.

Sven, “What say you, Durell? You seem to have a talent for observing what others do not.”

“Are all of the temples you mentioned inside the walls, Silren?” Aram asks as he brushes foam away from his mustache. “Given that the old graveyard is beyond the civilized portion of the city, I would expect any temple near it to be similarly uncivilized…more likely to belong to some demon-cult or other unsavory nonsense than be a proper temple.”

“All of those places of misguided worship are within the walls and close enough to walk to.”

Responding to Sven’s inquiry, Durell answers: “Being too new to these environs, I don’t know that I have observed enough to contribute. But, that said, it has always been my experience that to underestimate the value of the points of view of the locals is to partially blind oneself to what could otherwise be plainly seen. Personally, I would be happy to accompany Lothar on his trip to the temples, but I will query the locals living in the shadows of the houses of religion, and nearest to the graveyard. Does that suit everyone else?”

Durell’s comment makes Sven slap the table with delight “See now, you can’t teach that kind of insight!”

Silren, “I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that the old graveyard is outside of the city proper. All of these Temples are relatively close – being walking distance from where we currently sit and drink. Take your pick, although if I had to make a choice, I’d prefer a comely honey of Sune over a grumpy crusader any day.”

Silrens comment nearly sends mead through Sven’s nose and he tries to stifle a chuckle “Heh, lads’ got a point – I can go to Tempus. Lothar; Sune sounds like a good one for you.”

Up until now, Thrall hasn’t said anything, just listening and looking around. The wall with the mounted heads is not very comforting. The part of the conversation between Aram and Silren in a strange language was close to outrageous. When the greyish water arrives, he tastes it, and if it’s drinkable, he will get an extra bowl for Temur. If no one else is at the bar at that moment he will ask: “Barkeep, where would I find a person who is very knowledgeable about the woods north of town?”

At Thrall’s mention of the forest, the barkeeps spits on the floor and makes a warding gesture. “Ain’ no sane soul goes there…” he says.

“And any INsane soul? I was asking for someone who knows more of the forest?”

The barkeep shrugs, “Ye coul’ ax a’ t’ Blade maybe, or one o’ them Slums dives where t’ crazy folk han’ ou’.”

“Good enough, the Blade, is it in that direction (points to the right)? I am quite new to the city of Phlann.” Thrall gives him 1 silver coin.

“I’s Righ’ by t’ Parkside Gate. Can’ miss i’.”

“Thrall, I room at The Blade,” Silren remarks. “The food is questionable at best. We can walk you there before I go to the Hall if you wish.”

Thrall: “That is not a bad idea, not bad at all.”

Well, Aram’s start was correct. Short, horribly burned, human, some what lazy blue eye, ugly. Black hair (actually decently groomed), start of a wizard’s beard. Wears deep black and red embroidered robes – the red is in the shape of two hands reaching for the sky. He carries a black staff openly and a dagger at his belt. He wears soft dark boots and has a couple pouches. You might catch a wiggle under his robes close to the heart – there’s a bulge that betrays a small animal, perhaps? He smells of elderberry, myrrh & cloves. There’s a throng around his neck but the jewelry is not showing. He might be in his 30s but with the scarring, who knows. There is a definite Hillsfarran accent to his voice and he tends to accentuate the esses a little. As in snake, sarcastic, slippery and sin. If you have a lute, you can compose a ditty and sing it yourself, because he isn’t musically inclined.

Thrall thanks the man and goes back to the table to get a glass of mead. “I will visit a place called The Blade. I need to ask some questions over there. By the way: isn’t it usefull besides drinking and talking, That we get to know each other?”

Thrall continues: “I am a druid, you might have guessed that. I am knowledgeable about everything around and within the forest, but I also have my contacts in the somewhat shadier pubs and such. And with knowledgeable I mean that I know my plants, trees and animals for good or bad use.”

Sven tops off Thrall’s mug with mead and says to him: “So….does that mean you can interrogate the squirrels of the goings on?” he says with a slight smirk. He turns to Aram: “If you’re planning on filling out a report on those pirates, while you’re there, you might want to see if the records keepers have a map of the cemetery. It’d probably be outdated if they did, but, it may help.”

To no one in particular he motions to the food on the table: “This may be the only uncontaminated food we see today. Eat. Drink.” He takes a big gulp of mead from his mug before continuing: “the barkeep seems to be pretty knowledgeable. We should probably start with him.”

Sven looks to Aram: “You said this “ghost” thing is right up your alley. What makes that so? If we do indeed encounter some sort of un-life, what do you know or what do you have that will give us an advantage?”

Aram pours himself another measure of mead. “Our Blessed Afflictor has a long and amiable relationship with the undead, and grants to his faithful the ability to speak with them, to resist any harm they might cause, if necessary, to command them, and even to take the aspect of the disembodied dead.” He takes a drink, “I have made extensive study of the nature of the undead, various burial customs, and other related ceremonial matters. I have often worked with such creatures in the past, and, you might recall, brought a few of my own over on the ship. The Council’s decree only spoke of the inhabitants of the graveyard harassing the citizenry, not harming them, so I am sure we can come to some peaceful arrangement.”

“Whatever – as long as that arrangement isn’t made over our corpses. That said,” Sven continues, “the posting called for a “first hand account” – it didn’t say anything about eliminating or engaging the threat directly.” He looks at Aram as he takes another swig from his mug: “I’m going to be very upset if I find out you’re only 20 years old, but had several bad encounters with ghosts.”

“Nay,” Aram says, “only one bad encounter with a ghost.”

“I’ll tell you how it’ll pan out though,” Silren adds, “Aram will try to negotiate peace with the dead, only to see a shiny old trinket, lose his calm, get all excited and piss them all off as he tries to abscond with said artifact. He does know his burial customs well though, I can vouch for that. I was brought on by his group to translate Nognese artifacts on occasion in Hillsfar, the stipend helped pay for some of the books I needed to pursue my studies.”

Sven rolls his eyes at the “one bad encounter” and “shiny object” remarks muttering: “outstanding.”

Silren, “He isn’t all that bad. I just have a penchant for sarcasm. What is your training, Sven? Outside of the obvious martial note?”

Sven wipes the mead from his mouth: “How did you put it? I’m a “grumpy Crusader”, serving under Tempus. But don’t look to me to turn away any boogie-men unless it involves hacking or smashing. I have some ability to enhance or protect myself or another from supernatural evils, but not enough to overcome an overwhelming situation.” Looks to the others at the table “If any of you have abilities or items that will assist, it’s better we know now rather than later.”

Thrall: “When it comes to undead, I am as good as any priest but nothing special.”

Sven, “Don’t sell yourself short, Demonsbreath.”

“Perhaps while Silren, Durell, and Lothar are interrogating the locals, Thrall, Sven, and I should find quiet spaces where we might pray to our gods and prepare to meet the dead,” Aram says. “Silren, you said there is a Temple to Tempos here? And a park with a shrine to the sylvan gods?”

“And someone get us some damn rooms somewhere. I’m not sleeping in an alley tonight.” Sven chugs the rest of his mead: “We’ll need supplies and provisions too. And let’s not forget the bar keep. He looks like he’s been here awhile. He’s probably a trove of information, or at least rumors.”

“I don’t plan on interrogating the locals, Aram. I’m going to check out the Training Hall and see if any other fellow mages have any information on the graveyard and such. Yes, they (the places of worship) are easy enough to find.” Silren relays the information based on the map of New Phlan. “I’m sure Thrall can look up room & board for the rest of you at the Bitter Blade if there are rooms available. The price is 50 gold a month and that includes meals. The food isn’t that good there, but the rooms are private.”

“So, what’s the plan? Do we start researching the mission today, or do we spend this day to get our bearings and find lodgings so we can start fresh tomorrow? That whole administrative affair took a fair few hours, and I’d rather not spend my first night in Phlan sat in a graveyard…” Lothar says. “What say all you?”

“I’m just about finished here with my drink. One of you can probably secure rooms, I can go to the hall and the rest of you can canvass or visit the temples. We can all meet back at the Blade for dinner.”

Silren, “I would put one of you up for the night, but I need to commune in solitude prior to that. Perhaps an hour of my time before you were to bunk.”

Sven goes to bar: “Our complements to the brew master – and to the chef as well. I was wondering if may be able to offer up one more thing, in the way of information.” He pulls out a silver piece and begins to roll it between his fingers. “Is there anything you can tell me about the Valhigen Graveyard, and the purported hauntings that are occurring in that area? Do you know of anyone who may have ventured up there previously?”

“T’ graveyar’?” The barkeep looks up from the mug he’s polishing. “Dunno why ye’d wanna go thar. People been talkin’ abou’ skeletons — the walkin’ kin’ min’ ye — ‘roun’ thar. Course th’ain’t gonna bother anyone in t’ walls, jus’ t’ skum what live in t’ slums. I hear’d t’ las’ ‘venturers who wen’ near thar dinna come ou’ well. Th’all gave up…one got hisself tunt into a kobo…couple quit an’ ‘came heralds for t’ Council…an’ a paladin lady got herself crippled. Nice girl, pretty that’n, sits in t’ park mos’ days I hear…”

“Yer tab? I’s twelve gil for t’ mead, and nine-pence for t’ res’.”

Aram walks up beside Sven and lays 14 gold pieces on the counter. “I said this round was on me, did I not friend?” He nods to the barkeep, “Thank you for the information, we’ll seek out this paladin to see what she knows.”

Sven nods appreciatively to Aram.

Thrall: “Let us go to the Blade and get some rooms, I will share the place with anyone who is not snoring. Oh and by the way, if anyone keeps forgetting my name, I might forget to heal properly, the next time it is necessary.” Said that, he picks up the bowl from the floor and puts it on the table. He turns and goes straight to the door.

“Thank you, Thrall, I’ll take you up on that offer. Recent events have left my finances somewhat…depleted.” Lothar says, with embarrasment clear on his face. He nods, almost lightly bows, his thanks to Thrall and walks along with him. “Tell me about your home forest, what was it like?”

It was and still is a great place. As a druid, you have to work hard and for several years, before you can have your own sacred grove. I discovered an ancient grove within it, comprised of 13 ancient oak trees of at least 900 years old. Then some large scale lumberjacks came, wanting to axe down everything. I gave them several warnings but they didn’t listen. In the end, they didn’t leave the forest and I was asked by my high druid to leave and go north. By the laws of the land I am to be punnished but not to the laws of my God Sylvanus." Almost impossible to hear he says : “Nobody pisses me off, nobody”

“I am sorry to hear that. I remember the forests of my fathers estate fondly, I spent a fair bit of time in them in my youth. Several were semi-cultivated, used for timber, coppicing, or set aside for hunting or foraging. But one forest was always left completely wild. Legend has it there was a sacred grove inside that as well. It was a beautiful place. I hope you can find a new grove to call your home.” Lothar says as they step outside. He looks around him once in the street: “Having spent so long on the road and sleeping in the wild, I find I need to adjust to the rythm and rigours of life in a city again.”He nods a greeting to Thrall and any other party members already outside. "See you at the Blade tonight. Now, to find that temple of Sune… "

Sven, “I wish to seek out the paladin. Maybe see if we can find that kobold as well. I’m off to the park, if anyone else is interested.”

Silren, “Embry, let us escort Thrall to the Bitter Blade and then check out the Training Hall.”

Embry gathers up what gear he has and agrees to go with them to the Bitter Blade.

“Very well, we shall all meet at the Bitter Blade for dinner.” Aram says, then falls into step beside Sven. “A stroll in the park, and a beautiful Paladiness sounds quite pleasant. May I join you?”

“I was hoping you would.”

Embry, “I apologize for any odd behavior in the next few days, I’m not used to being out and about somewhere so large without someone breathing down my neck with a whip.”

“I could fix that if you wish. I’m just not handy with a scourge or a cat o’ nine tails.” Silren remarked. It was really hard to tell if it was a joke.

“I’d certainly prefer you didn’t " he scowls, unsure if it was a joke. “I’m just being honest, like my ma told me to be. I haven’t worked with anyone by choice in ages, and the idea of a friend… well I’ve only had one since I was a child.” Embry gets a slightly sullen look at that statement. “Maybe someday, if one of you gentlemen are up to the task”

Sven, at Em’s comment: “pfft. What are you talking about. You’re already MY oldest friend." He continues to Embry: “I’ll be at the park. If something’s not sitting right with you – come get me.”

“I was kidding.” Silren hadn’t been kidding. “I like your suspicion. Are you sure you aren’t from Hillfar? Come on, the inn is this way. I take since you’re an ex-slave that you are light on coin. You may room with me as the others are more likely to afford their own bed. I just ask that you keep guard over me as repayment. You may stash any of your belongings that wish there while we visit the Hall.”

Embry, “I think that would be a fair arrangement until I can come across some coin of my own. And Sven, I appreciate the offer, perhaps I will meet with you to discuss my discomforts later on.”

Dwarves didn’t take up much room. Silren liked room. [In fluent dwarvish] “It is no skin off my back.” It was hard to tell if Silren meant it as a whip joke.

Durell will follow the group going to the park. His intention would be to focus less on the expected paladin, but to query the “common folk” there for any information, though expecting only RUMORS. But in most rumors, there is a modicum of truth, if we can sort it out.

The party thus disperses. Aram and Sven walk across the street to the Council Chambers, where they find Osakh waiting, leaning against the wall. Lothar turns to the left towards Traitors Gate Road and the Temple of Sune. Silren, Embry, and Thrall turn to the right towards the Parkside Gate, and the Bitter Blade.

Valhingen Park

Aram waves at Osakh and heads across the street. “Were you able to find your people?” he asks. “If you are interested, Sven and I are off in search of a paladin who may have had some experience with the undead in or around Valhingen Graveyard. We hope to investigate the graveyard on the morrow in order to claim the Council’s bounty. Or, if you have further business of your own, we are planning to dine at The Bitter Blade this evening — which I understand is a more cosmopolitan establishment than this one.”

“Thank you, but, if you’re not doing anything until morning,” the ogre says, “I shall meet you then. My kin are forced to live in the slums, so I will be joining them there. I understand there is a market, I will look for you there, by the well in the morning.” He gives a dismissive, salute-like gesture and walks off towards the city gates.

Aram nods his head, “Very well, friend. We will look for you by the well in the Slums Market tomorrow morning. I think I will have to pass by that way to retrieve my belongings from the Council warehouse anyways.”
He turns to Sven, “Onward to parks and paladins?”

A tall hedge-row, nestled between the temples or Tyr and Tempus marks the limits of Valhingen Park, and you soon find yourselves circling all the way around to the main side facing the road before you find an entrance.

Past the hedge, you find a tiny grove of newly-planted trees, not more than a year or two old; four raised beds of roses — though they are not currently blooming; and a trio of smooth, stone benches, all surrounding a tiny, roofed well. Not much of a park, really, by southern standards.

The four sides of the squared, stone well-head are carved with depictions of the gods of nature and the seasons. The Unicorn of Meilikki, goddess of the forests and autumn, faces you as you enter from the east. The Rose of Chauntea, goddess of summer and agriculture, is carved into the south face. The Sunburst of Lathander, god of healing and the spring, surmounts the western side. And the Diamond and Snowflake of Auril, goddess of winter and cold, adorn the north face of the well.

Seated on the northern of the three benches is a beautiful elven woman dressed in fox furs—pale of skin, but dark of both hair and countenance. She stares at the well, puffing on a cigarette, and pays you no mind as you enter. A pair of crutches lean against a nearby tree, and you can see that her right leg appears to have been amputated just above the knee.

Sven let’s out a sign at the sight before him – he can’t help but feel that, to her, this must feel like a fate worse than death. He composes himself and makes sure he is in order and as presentable as possible. He tucks his helmet under his left arm before turning to Aram: “Just so you’re aware – I was suspect of you the moment I saw your boney headwear. Because of this, I found your mannerisms and words disingenuous – and you may find that she may also.” He looks back towards the woman on the bench: “I’m still not convinced that I’m incorrect on that assessment, but, if it makes you feel better; your friend Silren out-creeps you by a considerable measure.”

When we both look ready, Sven will give Aram a nod and make his way over to the woman, approaching her as respectfully as possible: “Milady.” he says as he crosses his right arm across his crest and bows his head in respect “Begging your pardon. My name is Sven Dagdresson, and this is my ally, Aram. We’ve come to seek your council on a matter that we understand you may have knowledge.”

The woman takes a long drag on her cigarette, holding the smoke in for a long time before blowing out through her nose. She shifts her seat, turning her back to you, though you suspect its more to hide the stump. “Knowledge?” she sighs, pausing to take another smaller puff. “What of?”

Aram smiles broadly and laughs at Sven’s comments as they enter. “You never should judge by appearances friend,” he says, “but I’ll hope to win your trust by actions if not by my choice of attire.”

After Sven’s introductions, the old man doffs his crown of bone and makes a sweeping bow to the lady. “Knowledge that may be painful to recall, fair one, but which we sorely need. Rumor has it that you’ve witnessed the…supposed unpleasantness in or around Valhingen Graveyard first hand?”

There is a long silence as the girl continues to drag on her cigarette. Finally she speaks. “Brave to even ask,” she says. “Most steer clear of it. My friends and I only went near, but that was enough.” She stops to smoke again, then continues. “Have you ever seen a head that you’ve just severed start talking to you?” she asks.

Seeing that the “park” was MUCH smaller than he anticipated, Durell will keep an ear open to the discussion with the paladin, but will casually wander back and forth between the trees and the hedgerow. Should anyone else be headed into the park, he will greet them kindly and ask if they might help a new arrival to Phlan with some directions. He will also periodically step back outside the park just to get a feel for the foot traffic in this part of town.

With her back turned, she wouldn’t see the “wtf” wince that inadvertently and briefly appears on Sven’s face regarding the comment about the head. (Provided she doesn’t continue talking unprompted) – He then gives Aram a look that says “this-is-your-department”.

Looking out the one gap in the hedgerow that surrounds the park, Durell can see that there is rather a lot of traffic, though none that seems interested in the tiny green space. The park lies on one of the two main thoroughfares through New Phlan. To the left, about a block and a half away, he can see the “Parkside Gate” out of the city, and beside it the very busy Bitter Blade inn. To the right, about two blocks away, he sees the docks where the battered remains of Valkur’s Wake are now parked. Immediately flanking the park are Phlan’s three largest temples: Tempus to the left, Tyr to the right, and the Temple of Gond directly across the street.

Aram jumps a little, on noticing Durell behind him. ‘Rangers,’ he thinks, ‘always so sneaky.’
Though he knows the woman’s question to likely be rhetorical, Aram cannot help but respond. “I can’t say that I’ve had that particular experience, having not severed a great many heads personally, but I have spoken to more than one head that was already sans a body…”

Sven interjects “That is to say: Aram, here, has had some dealings with the supernatural”
(He’ll say it faster if it looks like one of us is about to get the burning end of a cigarette to the eye)

The woman snuffs the butt of the cigarette out on the stone bench and tosses it into the well. “Well,” she says, “it’s not what one might call fun. My friends and I did not even enter the graveyard, just passed near it. A corpse walked up to us, out of a copse of trees and began talking to us…”

She pauses to pull a dry leaf and a pinch of dried herbs from a pouch at her waist, and does not begin talking again until after she has rolled the herbs into the leaf, lit it from a live coal kept in a small tin, and taken a long drag of the smoke.

“Ahhh,” she lets out a relieved breath and continues. “For the pain,” she says gesturing with the burning leaf to her missing leg. “Anyways, our guide, an Eraka, panicked and took a swing at it. It retaliated, and it all really went downhill from there. I took off its head, but it kept talking, then the head exploded on us, spattering us with bits of rotting gray matter…” she shudders and takes another long drag on the cigarette.

“…and before we you knew it, everyone was going insane. It’s all really a blur after that. My clothes melted. The herald started hallucinating. I started hearing what he was thinking…nasty things, mind you. The bard got displaced from time, and made me violate my vow of celibacy…mind you, she was pretty cute. The priests of Tyr started summoning devils. The herald got turned into a kobold. My leg got crushed.” She shakes her head and cradles it with her free hand, sighing again.

“Sorry, I’m rambling. Short version is I’m sure it all started with that talking corpse spraying its brains on us. We, all of us, went quite mad for a time, and none of us walked away un-maimed…”

Sven…scratches his head: “Um, what was the…talking corpse…saying? Do you think things would have played out differently if it hadn’t been attacked?” He looks at Aram and shrugs his shoulders as he has no idea if those are valid questions.

Durell quietly saunters over and whispers to Sven: “Did you understand that she heard what the undead corpse was thinking, or what the herald was thinking before becoming a kobold? If the former, knowing what the undead thoughts were – no matter how nasty – might be important information. What the pre-kobold thoughts were does not interest me. His transformation may be penance for his thoughts!”

Aram strokes his whiskers thoughtfully, “That sounds like quite the ordeal, miss. But the nomad struck first? Do you recall what the creature said before it was assaulted? Our goal is to resolve this peacefully, and if they were trying to talk, that might be possible. Without the preemptive strike, of course…”

Sven nods at Durell. He shall ask her for clarification (and details) if it was indeed the thoughts of the undead she was “hearing”.

The woman takes another puff and blows it out through her nose. “I really don’t recall what it said. Nor do I care to.” She finally turns and looks at the three of you for the first time. “You’re really planning on going in there?”

“Absolutely. If we’re to call New Phlan our home, the least we can do is attempt to help with those tasks the city deems necessary. That said, we want to do them carefully, and with the least risk to anyone. Your help, in any way, only furthers our chances of doing so.”

As you talk, someone else enters the gardens behind you. Glancing over your shoulder, you see a dark-haired girl of elven descent, wearing the red and blue livery of the council. On a second glance, you realize it is the same girl who was handing out forms outside the Council Hall earlier. “Fran,” she says as she walks in, “it’s time for lunch…”

The woman on the bench smiles warmly at the girl, snuffs her cigarette, and reaches for her crutches. She pulls something from beneath the crutches—an old shortsword, the blade dull and blunted—and hands it to Durell. “In that case,” she says, “take this. I can’t say it helped me much, but you might get better use from it…”

“What’s this about?” The girl asks as she helps the woman, Fran, to a standing position.

“Ah, miss,” Aram says, bowing slightly. “Thank you again for your help this morning. My companions and I are looking in to the disturbances around Valhingen Graveyard and were told that your friend here might have some information of use to our investigations…”

The girl shudders and frowns. “You’re done then?”

“No need to be rude, Lyra.” The one-legged woman says. She shifts the crutches under her arms and hops slightly. “Someone needs to deal with it, and these men volunteered.” She starts to move towards the exit, then pauses, “Lyra, do you still have the…” her words trail off.

“The what?” the girl asks, then “Ooooh.” She opens a satchel at her waist and pulls out an plain, cloth-bound book. “I haven’t read it,” she says looking at Fran, then turns to the three of you and hands it over. “Here,” she says. “It belonged to one of our companions, I don’t know what he wrote in it, but he wrote frequently during our time together. Maybe there is something that can help you…”

“Many thanks, Milady. Maiden,” says Sven as he once again salutes as the ladies go on their way. “I hope we’ll meet again soon.”

“Indeed, you have our eternal gratitude,” Aram says, bowing and taking the proffered book. He waits until they have moved on, then looks down and flips through the book.

Aram flips through the journal, not really understanding the magic, but fascinated with the authors musings and art-work. “Silren might be able to make more use of this,” he says out loud. As he flips his eyes suddenly go wide, lingering on a page, which he holds out for his friends to see. “Better perhaps that they didn’t read it…”

“Aha!” Aram says, flipping back a few pages. “Here,” he says pointing to a passage and reading it out loud: "Perhaps it was the somewhat prophetic nature of a proclamation made by the zombie after I had decapitated it, “We are for you. We will be back…” More credence to my previous thoughts that our meeting was not the result of random happenstance.”

“Not much to go on,” he muses, “and he failed to record what was said BEFORE they cut it’s head off, only after. She’s right though, this certainly reads like the writings of someone going mad…”

Aram continues to flip through the book, reading as quickly as he can, his face looking grim. “So it seems the undead of the graveyard, or some of them, at least, are carriers for a kind of psionic plague, which appears to grant those infected ever-more powerful mental abilities, but at the expense of devastating headaches and eventual death by their brains exploding. And, if the author is correct, can be spread either by contact with infected brain matter, or mind-to-mind by psionic contact, without needing any physical touch at all. Though the normal magical means seem capable of curing it, so it should not pose too much danger…”

Aram looks up from the book long enough for his eyes to linger on the dull, old sword that the woman gave for Durell. “And, what have you got there?” he asks.

“Lyra? The girl we just met has such abilities?” He quietly begins to contemplate the enormous tactical advantages such powers would offer, until Aram points out the “plague” portion of the journal. “You don’t suppose they are still in danger? Is there a chance that this Donovan fellow did not warn them of his findings?”

Aram flips back to the more risqué sections of the journal. “It appears that the woman, Fran, was able to cure diseases by the laying on of…umm…lips. If the journal is to be believed. So I would imagine that they are fine…” He grins, “It would seem that witnessing her curing Lyra is what brought on the authors sudden interest in…umm…creative portraiture.”

Sven, “Alright, old man. Pride aside…do you feel this is something we can accomplish? Is this in your area of “expertise”?

Aram nods, “I do. The undead seemed inclined to talk to them, which means we have a possibility of success by taking the diplomatic route. If that fails, we now know more of the risks, and can prepare accordingly, and have some magical weapons at our disposal, which can be helpful against many such creatures.”

He turns for the exit, “Come, we should share what we’ve learned with the others, and give this book to Silren to study in more detail.”

Durell literally jumps at Aram’s encouragement to leave the park. He has seemed almost unable to do anything but stare at this weapon a stranger, no, a PALADIN, has bestowed upon him. While not truly in a trance, he seemed to have missed all the discussion around him until now.

Vigorously shaking his head, blonde hair swinging back and forth as he attempts to clear the cobwebs from his mind, Durell directs himself at the departing women. “Truly, I thank you. I am sure that this weapon has a pre-ordained purpose, and I will use it to the best of my ability to protect the people of New Phlan from whatever caused you such pain, and haunts our new city. I cannot thank you enough, and I am honored by your gift.”

To Sven and Aram: “Yes, let’s go. There’s a quest to be completed, and we are the ones to do it. Let’s find the others and settle the issue of the graveyard! Onward!”

With another shake of his head, Durell gets a strange look on his face – almost as if he can’t believe the change in his tone, and his sense of urgency to follow this task to swift completion.

Sven, “Off we go, then.”

The old man tucks the book under his arm and heads out into the street. He looks left and right and back. “It’s no-where near dinner time yet, and they said they were headed for the Bitter Blade first. Shall we look for them there?”

“Between that book and the Paladin, we’ve gathered a wealth of information on the graveyard already. We should consolidate and document what we have thus far and give it to someone we can trust. That way, in the event none of us are able to report it first hand, someone will at least be able to hand it over to the council. Perhaps the boy, Eddie?”

Durell, "I am sure Eddie would be happy to be included, and would secure and protect the book. But caution would still be worth executing – can we ensure that the book cannot be opened by a curious youth desiring to be part of the “adventuring party”?"

Aram laughs loudly, “Wouldn’t that be a shock for his aunt!”

Sven, “To be clear…I meant that we should transcribe the information about the graveyard onto a separate parchment.”

“Aye,” Aram agrees. “Let’s find the others and see what they’ve learned, then we can compile a dossier to give to Eddie in case this doesn’t end well…” Aram starts walking towards the Bitter Blade, keeping an eye out for the others.

Durell follows Aram, but instead of his normal “hyper-awareness” stance and attitude, he continues to turn the “blunt blade” given to him over and over in his hands, examining it from every angle. His focus is so intense that periodically he stumbles over a raised cobblestone, or almost barrels into anyone stopping in front of him without verbal warning.

The Bitter Blade

You quickly walk the three blocks to the Bitter Blade. Sitting right next to the river, the three-story tall, stone building leans noticeably out towards the water. On closer inspection, you can see that none of the stones match in shape or size, and include everything from smooth, rounded pieces of granite harvested from the river, to crumbling chunks of marble salvaged from the old castle. You’re actually rather surprised it is able to stand at all.

The doors of the Bitter Blade are saloon-style, and a wooden sign over the door declare’s the Inn’s name in large, block lettering. Immediately to the left of the door is the beginning of a rickety wooden staircase that winds its way up the side of the building, with landings at open doorways leading into the second and third floors, before finally giving access to the roof. A large crowd appears to be gathering for lunch, and you can see several people milling about on the roof, and hear sounds of conversation echoing from both above and within.

Broken arrows and arrow-heads litter the ground around the Inn, and even more stick out of chinks in its stone walls — all coming from the opposite side of the river judging by the angles. As you approach another lazily flies over the river and clatters to the cobbles not far from you.

Just to the left of the building stand the Parkside Gates leading out of the city, which now stand open, allowing a steady stream of settlers and adventurers into and out of the city. A dozen red-cloaked guards systematically stop everyone entering, demanding to see either proof of citizenship, or an adventuring charter.

Just to the right of the Blade is the beginning of a wide, ancient-looking stone bridge across the river. The near side of the bridge has been blocked off by piled stones, leaving only a narrow gap manned by another dozen red-cloaked soldiers. Through the gap you can see a few humanoid corpses littering the bridge.

Silren, “Watch out for arrows. The orcs like to shoot from the Old City. They usually miss. Welcome to the Blade.”

“Sounds pleasant… let’s get our business done and get into shelter from random arrows.” Embry is cautious about the building- being a dwarf, shoddy stonework scares him.

Silren, “I’ll show you to the room and then we can make haste to the Hall. This place unnerves me as well, I just don’t have 200 gold a month to stay at the Crown, Embry.”

“Understandable. I’ll just have to close my eyes when I see the exterior.” Embry laughs.

Silren leads Embry up to his room on the third floor. The landing from the stairs opens into a hallway so narrow that when you see a man walking out, you have to turn almost completely sideways to let him walk past you. The passage seems to run the entire depth of the building, from the front to the river-side, with windowless wooden doors every eight feet on each side.

Silren’s room is the third on the right. The door opens inward into a long, narrow room with a single bed, a dresser with a wash basin, and a window that would look out towards the bridge, save that it has been boarded up and reinforced save for a tiny slit at about eye-level — and probably good that it was, since it is riddled with holes and a broad-headed arrow is currently poking through.

Embry, “Comforting.”

“Free arrows. One benefit at least.”

“You have an interesting outlook on things,” Embry says, smirking.

Thrall follows Silren and Embry upstairs, looking around and saying nothing. When the door opens, he looks inside. “Do you think there’s a room left here to rent, Silren? Judging to the crowd, that might be somewhat difficult.”

“If there isn’t, perhaps the owners know of a place to stay. Or maybe you can find some “friends” (air quotes with his fingers) downstairs that would know of a place to stay, “legally” (air quotes) or “illegally” (air quotes and a nudge, nudge, wink, wink)."

Thrall goes down to the bar and asks for a room with two beds, to be rented with meals for two persons, for two weeks. He will pay upfront if necessary.

The girl behind the bar stares at Thrall wide-eyed for a minute before responding, “Sorry, love, but we ain’t got no rooms with two beds. They all got just the one, but we’ve got a few open. A crown per night per room, breakfast’s included, but lunch or supper’s on you due to the crowds…”

Thrall: “Two single bedrooms, next to each other, for two weeks with breakfast it is then.”

Thrall finds himself a table and a chair and makes sure that he positions himself so, that he can see whoever enters the door. Temur lies down under the table.

The taproom of the Blade is, in fact, packed. At least a hundred patrons crowd the small room. The tables quickly fill and others are left standing should-to-shoulder at he bar. Others come in, yell orders at the barkeep over the general hubub, and then exit, turning towards the stairs to the roof.

Even in a place like the Bitter Blade, though, the presence of a large wolf under the table is sufficient deterrent that Thrall keeps the table to himself — though it is soon looted of unused chairs. Temur also appears to be sufficient deterrent to the wait staff.

The two tables nearest to Thrall contain, respectively: an extremely well-dressed boy of maybe twelve or thirteen wearing an eyepatch who is playing what appears to be a rather high-stakes card game (judging by the pile of coins mounded between them) with a pair of young ladies in the plain white robes of Tyrran novices; and a quartet of plain-clothed gentlemen, fishermen judging by the smell, who have clustered their chairs on the side of the table farthest from Thrall and keep casting wary glances at Temur as they hastily eat the soup they’ve been brought.

Thrall to the fishermen, gesturing to Temur: “My wolf under the table is quite tame and does not bite or growl unless severely provoked, don’t worry!” The cardplaying youth Is completely ignored. Thrall is completely free of “small sins” like gambling or heavy drinking. He knows that gambling MIGHT increase his monetary wealth but also knows that there is a lot of luck involved.

As Thrall is explaining about the wolf, one of the fishermen suddenly drops his spoon, splashing soup all over himself, and raises his hands in front of his face, staring at them with a wide-eyed, open-mouthed panicked look on his face. Thrall can see that his hands are taking on a stoney, gray pallour, as are patches of his face where the soup splashed him. “What have you du—” he begins to say, but his words choke off. A passing waitress glances at him only briefly and says “No refunds, love.” before sweeping past to deal with another customer.

“Embry? What’s the hold up?” Silren looked to the sky for arrows in case he needed to dodge.

Embry, “Um, something is really strange here. Get back in here a moment.”

Sil spins around, right ‘round and sees a fisherman choking and turning grey… "Ah. Cockatrice stew for lunch. Again. Poor fellow must’ve gotten the beak. This is why I eat at different establishments for my meals. Rooms are still cheap." The mage turned around. “Not much we can do for him, I don’t have magics to reverse the osmosis.” But he did. No fisherman was getting his cure all elixir, no way.

His robes squeaked. “No Torgo, not worth it. Your penchant for altruism needs to be stifled, my friend.”

Embry, “Wait, that’s normal? I’m sticking to my hard tack and jam.”

“That’s the spirit my dwarven friend. Freedom is no safer than bondage at times.” Silren tapped his staff impatiently then made way towards the Hall.

Thrall: “Co,co,cocatrice stew? That’s nasty! I would help if I would know how… poor chap.”
Thrall gets up and moves towards Silren and Embry.

Embry, “Let’s get out of here, I’m suddenly eager to be anywhere else.”

You watch as the man slowly turns to stone. His friends finish their soup, then grab him and haul him outside, setting him up beside the door like a statue, all the while grumbling about “Shouldn’t’ve ordered the mystery meat…” A few of the other patrons look up and roll their eyes, but otherwise seem unconcerned.

We, that is Thrall, Temur, Silren and Embry, make sure that we stay outside the Blade, out of reach of any arrows.

It’s a two-block walk to the west to reach the New Phlan Public Training Hall (as it is called by the large sign over the door). It’s a long, two-story building, windowless, and made of the same recycled stone as the other major structures in New Phlan. The large barn doors stand closed. A small sign hangs from a nail, reading: “Warning, class in session.”

“Depending on what class is in session, I do not care to get blasted in the face with magics or my pouches picked. Perhaps there is another entrance to this large building that may hold administrative workers or the like. Let us walk around the building and if one isn’t found, we can knock or peek in.” Silren whispers something to his robes, squeaks respond.

A bat flies out of Silren’s robes to the roof, only to come back shaking in fear. It lands on Sil’s staff. Some squeaks occur. Silren nods solemnly and itches the poor creature on the head. You hear some promises of fruit, as well as a heartfelt apology from the wizard to familiar. “There be wards of fear. Their author may be aware of us. Let us carry on.” Silren shuffled to examine for other entrances.

Embry, "If there are magical wards, perhaps sending me first would be wise. I have a bit of an advantage in overcoming such things "

“No need. We shouldn’t need access to the roof. I was merely curious. Poor Torgo was instructed to merely fly above and not land, I am relieved he did not decide to disobey me. It is a good thing to know that there are wardings about, for this building will not be the only city owned structure with them.”

Thrall: “Your bat eats fruit? I only know the insect eating kind? Where do you find fresh fruit here in this place, we should go there to stock up on eatable goods not petrifiing goods….”
“When we have the time that is”

“He eats bugs too, mostly mosquitos and the like. Fruit is a luxury… and since he risked his bat hide, I will try to make due with his request.”

Temple of Sune

After passing the Council Hall and turning onto Traitor’s Gate Road, Lothar quickly comes upon another large, ornate building. The old stones are covered with new bas-relief carvings of nymphs at play and prostitutes at work, and numerous fountains flank the steps, which are strewn with flower-petals.

As he approaches, Lothar hears singing from within, “…that can’t be saved. Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time. It’s easy. All you need is love…”

“Oh, right, THAT Sune…” Lothar thinks “Should have cleaned myself up a bit from my travels.” He smiles to himself: “No wonder the rest were so amused to send me here! Oh well, nothing for it, let’s get this done.” He brushes himself off, adjusts his clothing and gear to be a bit more presentable and heads towards the doors.

The doors of Sune’s Temple stand open, and the scents of perfume and incense waft out. Stepping in, Lothar finds himself in a large circular room with curtained doorways leading off in all cardinal and intercardinal directions. Artworks of all kinds cover the exposed walls between the doors, or stand on pedestals around the room. Potted flowering shrubs are interspersed among the works of art in a seemingly random, but not unattractive way.

In the center of the room stands a large, circular wooden stage, upon which five women dressed in fancifully cut red silk dresses slowly cavort and gyrate. Below them a score of plain-clothed supplicants continue their singing:
“…love is all you need.
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…”

I assume this is what passes for a service around here. So I calmly wait for it to conclude as calmly I look around the room. (If I have to wait, I might as well enjoy the view…and the works of art.) Should someone official looking approach me directly to inquire as to my presence, I’ll adress them. I may already look boorish to them, best not act it too.

As Lothar tours the works of art, a dwarf, shirtless, completely hairless save for a short, neatly trimmed beard, and with his exposed skin looking like it has been deliberately oiled comes out of one of the many curtained side chambers. Spotting Lothar, he trundles over and makes a very deep, sweeping bow, his out-turned hand hovering only an inch above the floor. “Good daaaay,” the dwarf says in a slow, smarmy drawl. “You look lost. How might I help?”

“Ah, good day sir.” Lothar responds while giving a formal bow of his own. “I seek information, if you have it. About the local graveyard. My friends and I understand it has been giving the local people some trouble and I would request of you if you have any information about the goings on there, or perhaps know someone who had witnessed the disturbances first hand?”

The dwarf’s face scrunches and a shudder runs through him, “Graveyards? Ewwwww. No.” He makes a limp-wristed, dismissive gesture.

“Ah, I understand, and I agree, a dreadful business. But sadly I must enquire. Do you perhaps know of someone else I can speak to?”

“Well,” the dwarf says, “high-priestess Joy might know something about the old graveyard.” He points out a tall, shapely woman dancing on the stage, with hair as red as the dress she is wearing.

“Thank you, kind sir!” Lothar responds “I shall trouble you no longer.” I bow to him as a goodbye and move towards the stage. I don’t want to interrupt what I assume to be a religious rite. I approach close enough to be noticed by the high-priestess and attempt to meet her eyes. If she returns the gaze, I give a respectful nod and step back into the background.

Lothar watches for half an hour before the noon mass comes to an end. Finally the supplicants around the stage disperse, most leaving to go back to their work else, though a few retire in pairs to the curtained antechambers. The high priestess steps down off the stage, and heads directly towards Lothar. “Sune’s blessing on you, child,” she says as she nears. She lays a finger on her lips and looks him up and down carefully. “That cloak does nothing for your complexion,” she finally says, critically, “some brighter colors would do you good, and we must do something about those fly-away hairs…”

“Thank you, and greetings, Mylady” Lothar offers a (hopefully) graceful bow. “And I thank you for your advice, due to my travels and endeavours I have had to compromise between pleasant appearance and the necessity of practicality. I would indeed do well to tend to my grooming and dress. But sadly I must discuss more, ahem, disagreeable matters at this point; My companions and I are investigating the trouble at the old graveyard. I would like to request if you or your temple have gathered any information or lore about the old graveyard, or perhaps if you know of someone who has had an encounter there themselves?”

The lady scrunches up her face in distaste, it’s really quite cute. “Ewww,” she says. “I’m sorry, but our faith is fairly new for Phlan, also we keep our own mausoleum beneath the temple, most graveyards are just far too ugly to properly house the saints. None of our priests have every been there.” She pauses, as if considering something, then continues. “…But,” she takes Lothar by the elbow and starts guiding him towards the far side of the room, “we do have this lovely tapestry that was recently donated by some adventurers which is believed to depict the old graveyard.”

40139467_1953189994720441_5830653193649913856_n.jpgShe stops in front of a cloth wall-hanging depicting headstones and a crumbling stone wall in various shades of gray. “It….doesn’t really fit the decor though. If you think it might aid in your investigation, you are welcome to it…”

“Thank you for your aid. Might I borrow this from you, perhaps it may yield some clues if my companions study it?” “Hopefully by solving this, ahem, issue, we can aid in making the lives of the people in New Phlan more pleasant.” I say with a charming smile. If she permits it, I will take the tapestry with me. Of course I won’t be so crass to yank the tapestry off the wall then and there, but coordinate with the High Priestess to have it gently removed and safely packaged. “Even if the subject is less pleasant, it is still art and should be treasured” If this involves some waiting, I will make some pleasant chit-chat, perhaps ask some sartorial advice? Should the time arrive to depart I will greet her with a deep bow “Thank you again for your aid, but moreso for your time and the pleasure of your company. You have brightened my day. Hopefully with this (pats the parcel) we may make the lives of others brighter, in our own way. I greet you, gratefully and respectfully, Mylady.” (Those etiquette lectures and training in courtly manners in my youth were boring as can be, but God’s am I glad to have had them now… Lothar thinks to himself)

The high priestess claps her hands and a pair of girls in similar attire glide up and, quickly and carefully, roll and pack the tapestry.

The Training Hall

Following on their trail through the city, Aram, Durell, and Sven spot Silren, Embry, and Thrall circling the Public Training Hall in search of an alternative entrance, and rush to catch up.

Finally, Silren spots a small, unmarked wooden door at the far end of the Training Hall, just across from the Temple of Sune — out of which Lothar walks, bearing a long wooden tube.

Aram waves at Silren when he spots them on the street and quickens his pace slightly, though his breathing becomes labored far more than would be expected for the moderate increase in speed. Finally catching up he stares up at the roof, trying to figure out what they are looking at and asks, “What news from the the Training Hall?”

“Class is in session, we were looking for a different entrance to avoid getting in the way. We found this.” Sil gestured to the door. He raps on it 3 times with his fist and awaits an answer. “And what of the paladin?” Slightly sneered the spellslinger.

“Her story was sad, but helpful,” Aram offers Silren the book. “And her girlfriend gave us a rather interesting spellbook…”

“…careful about page 8 though. It’s not really appropriate for public display.”

“Ah Aram. Excellent! I will peruse this later. Very exciting indeed. I take it you have skimmed the contents? A lady paladin with a lady friend? That paints quite the picture, eh?” The wizard’s eyes glimmered with excitement. He was always excited at the prospect of new magicks.

“Aram, did you know the author of this journal? Names are so… important in my field.”

“Neither the Paladin nor her friend spoke the owner’s name,” Aram replies solemnly. “They seemed rather distraught, as if they believe him to be deceased. However, the author did sign his work. It appears his full name was Donovan Phillips Leitch…”

Durell, “Wasn’t Donovan the name of the kobold on the Wake? Played a hurdy gurdy there too, if I remember correctly? Do we know where he went after we disembarked?”

“He appeared to be attached to the ship as part of the crew somehow,” Aram says, “so presumably he would be wherever they are. Making arrangements for repairs most likely. Though, from the girls’ story, and what I’ve read of the journal, the Donovan in the journal appears to have been the one most troubled by the psionic sickness they suffered. The journal makes it pretty clear that he was going mad — obsession bordering on paranoia. The others also appear to have been healed before he was, and we know he died somehow. If the disease had progressed to the point that his brain was destroyed…or exploded…then it’s possible, likely even, that his memory would not have returned to the new body intact. If the kobold even is the same individual from the journal…”

Thrall: “The kobold on board was called Donovan, I am sure of that.”

Sven, “That kobold changed into a harbormaster – or was it guardsman? – jacket once he stepped off the ship. I only remember because I was keeping an eye on him…”

Thrall: “That’s right!!! Question is why he did that. What is the last entry date in the journal? I also think that Donovan is the kobold, changed somehow, some kind of polymorph spell.”

Silren, “There are ways… When one is dead… Too affix the recently deceased’s spirit into another body. They call it, reincarnation, my Thrall.”

Thrall, “I know they do, but only as a natural state of spirit exchange, that is what I believe, but it is a discussion not well suited here.”

“Shoulda left him dead.” Sven grumbles. Upon seeing Lothar, he calls out – loudly and effortlessly- “LOTHAR! HO! YOU’VE FINISHED YOUR “BUSINESS” AT THE SUNE’S ALREADY?!?” (Sven’s “outside voice” has been forged in the heat of battle, generally shouting over dozens, perhaps hundreds of screaming warriors as he directed the use of huge siege weapons to smash fortifications into dust. It’s…not subtle.)

“Ho, friends!” Lothar says as he approaches. “While pleasant, the temple of Sune didn’t have much concrete information, they did loan us to his tapestry. Perhaps some clues can be gleaned from it? How did you fare?”

Thrall sighs: “Just a wave would have been sufficient, Even, Lothar probably had seen us already….Maybe we should continue our talk about our findings somewhere inside, so we don’t have to raise out voices.”

Aram looks at Silren, “Are you sure this is actually a way into the Training Hall, and not just some storage closet?” He knocks again.

“I’m a magician, not a groundskeeper. Fuck if I know, Aram.” The wizard stuck out his tongue and waggled his fingers with his thumb touching his nose at the grave priest.

Lothar sighs inwardly at the sight of what should be the eldest and the most learned within the party squabbling like children…

Silren, “Thrall, you said you have some resistance to wards? Would you be so kind to try the door?”

Aram tries the doorknob (or latch, or whatever it has).

While we wait, Sven just starts talking about what needs to be done. It’s probably as much for his own benefit as anything. Unlike his boisterous tone, his “calm” (or normal) speaking voice comes from decades of chant and prayer and is somewhat soothing, in its own way.
His comments: “I’ll need to pray for today’s blessings, and then again tomorrow morning before the adventure. Today’s “blessings” would be used, in part, to secure provisions for the next day or two. As in; we should buy rations for travel (dried, smoked, can items, etc) and maybe obtain a barrel of water (or whatever passes for “drinkable”) and purify them. Store them in one of our rooms and that way we know we’ll have safe food and drink for a day or so. We should also buy equipment that we may need. Everyone have their holy symbols? Holy water? 10’ pole or two? Sacks and blankets. They may come in handy if we have to keep a head from exploding all over us. The blankets could be used to shield us from splattering matter. Rope. Pick axe. Coordinate our spells…”

The door opens easily at Aram’s push, revealing a stone staircase leading downwards. A series of marks have been scratched into the top step: an inverted y, a horizontal crescent with a vertical line through the right-hand side, and pyramid of five circles.

Silren, “Let’s just check the front door again. Just give me a second to commit these runes to memory.”

Aram stares at the strange marks, “Does anyone know what these mean?”

Thrall: “It is a message for thieves and the like. Be aware though, most of the people inside are not of the honest kind.”

Durell asks: “For the information we seek, is there any REASON that we would be headed to a basement? Shouldn’t we just enter from the FRONT door and ask our questions? We have no need to skulk around, do we?”

“You do not mind to skulk around a haunted graveyard at night, but entering a basement in broad daylight is a problem? Silren proposed to try the back door, and since it is open, we might just as well enter. " Thrall replies. He steps through the door and down the stairs.

Silren, “I just don’t wish to piss off any trainers we may need in the future, but if you’re going down, I will follow.”

Aram, really quite curious, falls into step behind Thrall. As they descend the stairs, he pulls a knife from his belt, which begins to glow with a torch-like radiance.


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