Ruins of Adventure

Desolate: Act 1, Scene 5

22 Flamerule, Year of the Helm, 1362 DR

New Phlan Public Training Hall — Basement

The stairs lead down into a long corridor, the walls carved into the clay-earth and reinforced with timbers. Judging by the marks of shovel and trowel on the walls, the passage could not be more than a few months old. After about ten paces, the walls show brickwork at the bottom, which slowly grows as you proceed, until the walls to either side are completely bricked.

After perhaps twenty paces more, the passage ends at another wooden door, this one latched with an iron ring and a large padlock. Like the top step above, three symbols are scratched into the door: a large rectangle with the bottom line missing; an oval canted slightly to the right; and a circle with a line projecting at an angle, down and left, from the bottom.

Aram leans in, holding the glowing knife out, and staring at the markings. “Fascinating…” he mutters, “is this some kind of pictographic language?”

Well, as everybody seems to have marched into the tunnel, Lothar will follow. He is not very happy about this whole furtively sneaking into some side door and the mention of thieves marks, but if his companions are going into (potential) trouble, he will not stay behind! I will look towards the rear, to prevent sneak attacks and to check if the way back remains clear.

Sven, “This isn’t passing the sniff test.”

Thrall, “Let’s go left. Through the door. Don’t ask.”

Silren will follow, curious if this is just a thieve’s training grounds, a boarded up access to Under-Phlan, or something entirely different.

“Left you say?” Aram turns to the left and pushes against the brick wall.

The wall slides open, revealing a large room, filled with what looks like an obstacle course. You can see nearly a dozen men and women climbing and swinging from ropes, leaping and vaulting over freestanding walls, and running across balance beams.

The old man stares around the room, then looks back at Thrall. “Those marks told you this was here? Any chance you can teach me how to interpret them?”

Silren, “Good job, Thrall. I believe you’ve earned the right to introducing us.”

A old, balding man with a halo of white hair around his temples, sunken cheeks, and piercing gray eyes winds his way through the tumbling students and casts a wry smile in your direction. “Welcome,” he says loudly, causing all of the students to cast startled looks your way, “it’s been a while since we’ve had anyone audacious enough to try the back doors in broad daylight…”

He looks each of you up and down, “You don’t seem like our usual clientele…” He chuckles, “I assume from the look of you that you’ll be wanting to take most of your classes upstairs, but, since you found your way down here, I’ll take you on for free should you be interested.” He sticks out his hand, “Swindon Lype, at your service, though my students just call me ‘Professor Swipe’.”

Aram takes the man’s hand and gives it a hearty shake, “Thank you, friend. Father Aram Carnithrax Decidimus, of the Second Free Prelature of the Opus Dei of Our Blessed Afflictor, at your service.” He releases the hand and steps back, “While I would love to take you up on some lessons, particularly with regards to locating and avoid traps, we were really hoping to find someone who might have information about the history of Phlan, particularly the old Valhingen Cemetery.”

“That’s quite the long title,” the professor quips. “One doesn’t see too many chaps our age out worrying about traps. Good show.” He steps back after greeting the others. “I don’t know much about the cemetery myself, but, since you worship the Servant of the Iron-Faced God, I might know some folks that can help you. If you head out into the old city, you’ll find a well in the courtyard of the old textiles district, not too far from the cemetery. There is a temple of the Second Servant there, where I expect one of your order might be able to find some information and assistance…”

“Servant of the Iron-Faced God? There’s an appellation one doesn’t hear often,” Aram muses aloud. He pauses, pondering. “The Second Servant?” he asks rhetorically, then “Ah. Well, any port in a storm as they say. If the followers of Mask can aid us I will reach out to them.” He inclines his head politely, “Thank you for the information, Professor.”

Thrall, “I let them in….Thrall is my name.” He accepts the hand of the “professor”.

Silren, “We were actually curious if you knew anything of the old graveyard. Well, any instructor really. Could you help us out?”

“Professor Manabu is the one most likely to have information about the old city. His class should be in session in the main courtyard right now…though I’d wait until they were well finished to seek him out, unless you’re up for dodging stray fireballs,” Swipe says.

“Excellent. Does the Hall hire linguists as well? If so, who should I talk to?”

“If you’re looking for a position as faculty or staff, you should speak with Taleah at the front desk first…then you’ll have to deal with Faelana at the Clerk’s office…” the professor shudders as he mentions the second.

“Understood. One needs income however. I can’t be eating mystery meat at the Blade the rest of my stay here in Phlan. Otherwise it’d be a short stay as a mortal and permanent one in the dirt, eh? Thank you, professor.” And with that Sil made to exit and wait for the courtyard class to finish.

Sven, “Faelana is the stern elven woman?”

“Aye, that’d be her.”

Durell remains toward the rear of the party, and while attempting to remain respectfully quiet during the introductions ahead of him, he cannot help but mutter (mostly to himself, but it wouldn’t be impossible for those nearest to him to hear). “Who said graveyard AT NIGHT? Logic says to check it during daylight. The Paladin wasn’t attacked at night, as I recall. Taking unnecessary risks put you in the middle of a thieves’ den, outnumbered and with only one exit. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you Durell.”

Sven, “You’re the instructor that offers to “unlock” certain potentials of the mind, eh?”

Durell leans in to whisper to Sven again: "I must be missing something… Do you know that this “unlocking” is done by an instructor here, or is this a hunch? Do we know that surgery has performed? Or is it possible that someone has been “harvesting” these undead brains for experimentation on the living? It would seem to me that there are quite a few suppositions going on, and honestly, I am unclear as to which are facts and which are not. I’m in with this group, but I hope we narrow down our view of what we are getting into."

Hearing Sven’s musing, Aram mutters an, “Ah yes,” and addresses the professor more directly. “As part of our investigation, we’ve learned of some previous students of the academy, who, in their adventures became afflicted with a sort of psychic plague. Rumor has it that someone on the faculty here is familiar with psionic chirurgery. Would you know who? We’d like to pick their brain, pun intended, about possible causes, and prevention, of such maladies…”

Lothar stays quiet throughout most of the exchange. This isn’t exactly his area of expertise. He does greet master Swipe politely and shakes his hand when offered. He marvels at the agility and skill of the trainees though and will take time during the exchange to observe their movements and footwork, wondering how they could be applied to an armoured warrior.

Hearing Sven, Durell, and Aram’s line of questioning, the old thief grins, “Ah, ye’ve come to the right class then…” He turns and yells at the students. “Good enough for today! Class dismissed!”

As the students jump to the floor and file towards the far exit, Swipe walks to a wall to your right and shoves on a brick, opening yet another secret door. Behind him you can see a small room, let by shelves of candles, with large red and purple cushions on the floor and a big brass censer in the center. He gestures for you to follow, “Come into my office and we can see what we might.”

Aram follows Professor Swipe into the meditation chamber, takes a seat, and starts to explain. “The adventurer’s we’re concerned with are a Paladin named Frantiska, a young bard named Lyra, a mage named Donovan, and others…an Eraka nomad, a woman named Teldicia. I’m not sure how long ago this was, but we read of their adventures and they mentioned a plague, spread mind-to-mind, that granted them psionic powers but at the expense of driving them mad with headaches. Apparently the undead from the graveyard were the original source of the plague, or believed to be, so we’d like to be as prepared as possible before we investigate in person…”

Thrall follows with the rest, quite astonished…He also wants to know more and be prepared as possible.

If there is room in the office, Lothar will join the meeting, after the pleasant, but uninformative, visit to the temple of Sune he is hungry for information!

Durell chooses to stand, leaning back slightly against a wall, with his quarterstaff planted in front of him, hands resting on it to make a potentially long stand easier. He will listen attentively to what is said.

Thrall, as soon as he us seated: “Is there something, one of us can teach to others? Is there need of something”?

“Yeah, I know those guys” Swipe says when Aram finishes. “The girl, Lyra, and the nomad, Hrud, were both gifted. Hrud was actually a walking headache when they first came to me, constantly broadcasting static without even know it. That virus they contracted was fascinating…really quite useful. It granted the Gift to all of them, not just the ones you mentioned, but three other of their companions too, and was relatively easy to cure. By the time they came to me, two of them, Fran and Lyra, were already cured. For the others it was a strait-forward surgery to remove the infection.”

The professor lounges against a cushion. “If you’re looking to inoculate yourselves I can make only one suggestion. The virus seemed to be most debilitating to those whose minds were not already awakened. When they came to me, Hrud and Lyra were mostly fine, but the others were overwhelmed by their new-found senses and, as you said, going mad. A preemptive surgery won’t prevent infection, I think, but could potentially awaken your latent psionic potential and give you time to acclimate your mind before the onset of the virus, should you encounter it…”

He turns to Thrall, “Like I told your wizard-friend before he left, I don’t really have any say on hiring practices, though the school is definitely under-staffed. If you think you’re up for teaching, you should talk to Taleah in the front office.”

Aram coughs, “Well, I guess it’s never too late to teach this old dog some new tricks. So you think a preemptive psychic surgery to ‘open our minds’ as it were could help? Is that something you can do? And what would it cost? I assume that’s not part of the standard curriculum for the students around here…”

Professor Swipe nods, “No, it’s definitely not on the curriculum. A bit of a side job as it were. I usually charge one hundred gold per session, but since I told you I’d take you on for free, how ’bout we float that offer from the classes to this. Easier to keep things that are already under the board, under the board. It takes about ten minutes. No guarantees of course…you might not have the gift there to unlock, and it does occasionally have side effects. I claim no responsibility if you wiggle to much and get yourself lobotomized…”

Aram strokes his whiskers, “That’s a lot of caveats, but given that the alternative is possibly having my head explode, it seems worth it to me. Is this something we can do right now?”

Thrall announces to visit Taleah: “for me no poking around in my brain for now. I will see Taleah first.”

“What kind of side effects are we talking about?” Lothar asks, somewhat apprehensively. “Headaches, a stutter, personality quirks or more serious things like simplemindedness or homicidal rages?” Lothar is none to keen about letting someone root around in his brain or mind, but the concept intrigues him. “Another question, you said the infection is easy to cure. Is there a way to stabilise or minimise the damage and discomfort once infected? And should no gift be unlocked, will the surgery still provide protection?”

“Side effects are very rare, but I’ve seen them include simple-mindedness, poor impulse control, and general ill health. No one has ever died from the procedure.” Swipe smiles reassuringly, “As to the disease, I have only had the opportunity to examine it after it has run its course for some weeks, so I’ll admit I have limited knowledge about the possible onset of symptoms, save that it was quite clear that those already in possession of psionic talents suffered much less discomfort.”

“Presumably, though, you will not be spending weeks in the graveyard. Should you become infected, I will not charge you for a cure. In fact, I’d be willing to pay you to allow me to observe the progression for a few days should that occur…”

He places a small cube of incense in the brazier, and turns to Aram, “If you are sure about doing this now, just lie down there and try to relax…”

Aram sets his pack in the corner, removes his armor and crown, and returns to lie down on pile of cushions. “Watch my things won’t you,” he says to Durell before closing his eyes. He takes a few deep breaths, “Ready when you are, professor.”

Lothar mumbles a quiet prayer to Helm to watch over Aram and protect him from harm. He watches the proceedings with baited breath.

Sven has many reservations about…ALL of this…but if the old man is going to go ahead with it, he will pay close attention. After all, if he has an idea of how these things work, it will make it easier to dismantle…if need be.

The professor takes a deep breath of the smoke from the burning incense and kneels down by Aram’s head, lightly resting his fingers on Aram’s forehead. For a long while, all is silent.

After about twenty minutes, the pillow on which Aram’s head is resting suddenly blackens and rots away. Aram sits bolt upright, eyes wide and babbles incoherently for a moment. “Well,” Swipe says, “it looks like it worked…”

“Worked?!? He’s always talked out of his arse, but you’ve turned him into a blithering idiot!”

Aram sets a hand on the floor to steady himself, and the stones begin to crumble beneath it, “No, no, friend. I’m quite alright…”

“………..what the Hell did you do to him?” Sven goes to help steady the old man, but after taking a second look at the floor where Aram placed his, steps back. “Is he gonna disintegrate everyone he bloody touches??”

“I awakened his mind,” Swipe replies matter-of-factly. “I have no control over what form a person’s potential may take. It is, what we would generally refer to as a ‘Wild Talent’. In this particular case, it would appear that Master Aram has gained the capacity to accelerate the decay of nonliving materials. When a wild talent is first awakened, they tend to manifest spontaneously and can be quite difficult to control. This is, in many ways, similar to what Lyra and company reported when infected with the disease…sudden, spontaneous, and uncontrolled reading of each others’ minds, inversion of senses, and destruction of their environment drove them mad. In this case, we are forcing that initial manifestation under controlled circumstances. I am, presently, linked to your friend telepathically and helping him learn to control his new capabilities. Once he has learned what having these powers feels like and how to control their use, he should be thus inoculated to the most traumatic of the effects of infection, should that occur…”

“Does that mean you (Swipe) can read minds?” Sven turns to Durell, “you’d better hold onto Aram’s things a bit longer – our paperwork is in there somewhere.”

“It’s really quite a fascinating sensation,” Aram says, rising to his feet, “you should try it…”

Lothar is simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by the proceedings. Keeping his possessions well away from Aram he asks him: “H-how did it feel? Have you noticed any side effects yet?”

Durell shakes his head at Aram’s potential recklessness, but stands guard over his possessions, realizing that if Aram were to touch just about ANY of them, they would just crumble to dust. “No thanks. I’ll leave my brain the way the gods intended it to be”.

“Very well,” the professor replies. “My alternative offer still stands, should you find yourselves coming in contact with the disease, just come back here and I will heal you…or pay you to suffer a bit longer so that I might study it properly, and then heal you, if that is acceptable.”

As crazy as this all is, Sven is just not one to dismiss anything that may offer a opportunity against a foe. He asks Swipe: “Provided one is not twitchy, what are the risks here?”

Lothar, “Another question, if I may, professor Swipe? Your powers, do they allow you to divine, if that is the right word, information from images?”

“Some with the gift are able to read psychic impressions from objects, but I’m afraid that is outside of my area of expertise.” The old professor grins, “But perhaps one of you might have the gift…”

Aram stares into space for a long while, trying to pay attention to the professor’s telepathic instruction. Finally he shakes himself, bends down, and picks up another pillow. He passes it back and forth between his hands a few times with no apparent ill effects. “Excellent,” he says. He turns to the professor and ask, “May I?” then the pillow rots and crumbles to dust. “It’s like I can make things as old and useless as I am,” he says with a laugh.

Still unconvinced, Durell pushes the pile of Aram’s things toward him with the long end of his quarterstaff, still not willing to make contact with the “Hands of Disintegration”. “There you are sir, your things. Are we done here now?”

Sven, “Alright, Swipe – let’s go ahead with this…”

“Very well, lie here,” the professor says. He follows the same procedure, throwing another block of incense into the brazier, kneeling beside Sven, and lightly touching him on the forehead. After about ten minutes he speaks, “Sven? Can you hear me? It is finished…”

It takes a few seconds, but Sven slowly opens his eyes. He lies still – his fingers intertwined and hands still resting just below his chest (he preemptively removed his steel gauntlets just in case HIS touch started to dissolve things). He looks around, seemingly awaiting some sort of reaction, but it doesn’t come. He turns his head towards team Desolate, then towards Swipe with a look of disapproval in his eyes before finally sitting up. “So…what then? I don’t have the ‘gift?’” He says irately.

He grabs his gauntlets and slaps them under his right arm; “Or maybe YOU decide who it is that receives such abilities, eh?” Grabs his helmet in his left hand and stands before continuing; “I think we’ve wasted enough time here. Damn stinky candles.” He goes to take a step out, spewing “This is bull……”

His sentence is cut short and his foot doesn’t even hit the floor before he blinks out of existence right in front of everyone’s eyes! Almost immediately, you hear him again – from behind you in the training room: “SSSHHHIII………!!!!”

Again, he’s cut short – if you’re able to turn quickly enough, you see why: he appears out of thin air several feet above one of the balance beams in the training hall before crashing down hard onto it with a thunderous CLANG and spilling to the floor in an unmajestic heap while his helmet rolls along the floor like an empty pot.

He scurries to the closest solid fixture and clutches it dearly – eyes as big as dinner plates.
“HAHhah Ha!” His laugh is equal parts excitement, confusion, and terror. “By Tempuses favorite pauldron! Did you see that?!?”

Aram claps enthusiastically as Sven does his disappearing, reappearing trick. “My word, man. That was fabulous!”

Durell shakes his head. “And for your next uncontrollable trick, you will reappear INSIDE a dragon’s belly?”

Still exhilarated and breathless: “Heh heh – one thing…at a time, Durell. Undead….first… THEN dragon slaying! Actually…ROOM stops spinning first…then Undead, then dragons…”

“Well,” Aram says to his reluctant friends, “at least Sven and I have been inoculated. Should things go poorly, hopefully we can extract the rest of you to seek healing.” He bows to the professor, “Thank you, you’re aid is very much appreciated. Should we encounter this disease, we will certainly return.”

He turns and heads for the exit. “Come friends, let’s see where Silren and Thrall got off to.”

Lothar is relieved to be gone, though what Swipe had done to his companions still has him unsettlingly fascinated. He is quiet and thoughtful as he follows the rest along.

New Phlan Public Training Hall — Outside

Thrall goes back the way he came, circumventing the building. Goes back in via the main entrance. He is looking for the front office and the woman called Taleah. Another familiar face like Silren’s would also be nice.

You reach the front gates to find that they are still shut, with the same “Warning: Class in Session” sign hanging on it.

Silren will loiter wizardly until class lets out. In fact, he’ll start reading the journal.

While waiting, Thrall looks around at the plants and weeds around and near the building. He specifically looks for the more poisonous varieties. If he finds them, he will collect some.

In the streets Thrall is able to find very little except for some small, sun-withered examples of lolium and agrostemma. The large hedgerow around the small park however, appears to be an unusually dense, narrow-leafed species of kalmia, which, though the florets are small, appears to be attracting quite a large number of bees…

Thrall is looking for digitalis or wolfsbane. He will remember were he could find the herbs and take nothing for now. He was also not planning to squeeze a lot of bees for their venom

Unfortunately, Thrall can see that the soil in this part of the city is much too hard-packed for digitalis or aconite, both of which need loose, well-drained earth. Judging by the terrain he has seen, Thrall’s best guess for finding Digitalis would be the shaded side of the sea cliffs west of the city. Aconite he would expect to find in higher elevations, perhaps closer to the mountains north of the city.

Thrall collects some of the agrostemma, puts the seeds in the vial which used to contain his healing potion and a handful of leaves of the Kalmia in to his trousers pockets. If he can find some piece of discarded cloth, he will also take it with him. (Given time and some molten candle wax, he will fashion some waxed cloth pouches from it, so he will have a means to store his herbal finds).

Aram walks up the stairs and around to the front. Seeing Silren perusing the journal, he strolls, up. “Have you learned anything else of use?” he asks as he approaches. Without really waiting for a response he continues, “Also, are you familiar with Psionics? Apparently the professor has the ability to unlock the talent in others…”

“Mental abilities? Hmmm. I know to be aware of them. Is he still offering to do so?” Silren thought greedily. “The journal is full of whimsy, with some brief nodes of focus. His desire to form his own Path is nonsensical. The Path itself is not important. Power is. Since we’re still waiting would you mind bringing me back to Mr. Swipe? I would be interested in these abilities if this is true.” The wizard began a half step back towards the thieves den.

The Basement

Aram leads the way back down the stairs and through the secret door. “Professor?” he calls out, “If you are still willing, another of our companions is interested in inoculation before we head out…”

“Aye,” the old man replies, “bring him in.”

“Apparently the others knew of your abilities. I am more than happy to be immune to brain zombie disease and possibly benefit mentally as well.” Silren paused for a second. “Assuming I come out of this in one piece, I would like to talk to you a bit about what you know of possession. Rogue spirits and the like.”

When Thrall circumvents the building another time, he doesn’t see Silren anymore. He walks on towards the back door, just missing everyone. Thrall enters the hallway.

Aram waves at Thrall as he enters the hall. “Hail! You’re just in time to watch Silren get his brain hacked…”

“No… not another one. Silren don’t!!!”

Silren sees a door open in his mind after the incense is burned. He felt a few tugs at the back of his head as he imagines stepping though. The wizard could feel his familiar squeak. He had not anticipated that the poor animal might feel some of these effects through their bond. There was a brief flash and he came back to the room. As his eyes reawakened to the room’s light, he felt that he could affect things out side of his grasp. Things floated around, darted to and fro. He briefly felt the ability to move Aram about, to gain control of his very muscles and frame… but immediately suppressed this urge, for he felt it would be a fight to do so. “I feel… happy with this.” He smiled diabolically and briefly chuckled to himself. “Torgo. Are you next? Care to have your third eye opened, my little friend?” It was then he heard Thrall object. “I am fine Thrall. Your concern has been noted.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Silren says. “Thank you for not melting my mind. What do you know of spiritual possession? I, on occasion, summon… things. While I know the standard means of fighting spirits, what steps would a mental master such as yourself do to guard against attacks on the psyche?”

“I am afraid that is beyond my experience,” the professor responds. “My interest in mental mastery has always emphasized the practical. The here and now. Especially as it pertains to my other areas of expertise. Why waste space carrying lock picks when you can manipulate the inner workings of the lock itself, and why waste time with secret hand gestures when you can simply speak directly to a colleague’s mind.”

He shakes his head, “Unfortunately for you. While I have heard of beings able to take possession of another’s psyche, I do not know of any way to defend against such. I do know that there is no way to surgically separate minds that are linked in such a way. Such spirits possess not the mind, but the soul, so while I may be able to distinguish the two individual minds, there is nothing that can be done psychically to separate them.”

Silren, “That is good to know. If you ever have need of my services, feel free to ask.”

At some quiet moment, Lother approaches Sven: “Aram and Silren seemed positively enthusiastic to get their brains modified. You seemed about as apprehensive as I was, what made you decide to it after all?”

Sven, “While Aram was having his ‘procedure’ done, I was quietly praying for the wisdom of Tempus to guide me; to see if doing so would prevent me from doing my work…..and there may have been a small prayer for Aram….maybe. Seeing as you are my second oldest friend, if you are considering having this done, I will ask for his advice on your behalf.”

Sven looks to Thrall: “But our friend here seems to have strong feelings about this topic – what is it that concerns you so?”

Thrall, “I do not like mind alterations at all. My mind is my own. I have studied long and hard to be what I am and I like it this way. If I was to be forced into this, I would be extremely pissed and would react accordingly….”

Looking around the room, for the most part, Durell’s countenance remains saddened and somewhat downcast. Upon hearing Thrall’s latest comments, he raises himself from his leaning position against the wall, quietly walks over to Thrall, places a hand on his shoulder and says: “You are not alone, my friend. I will play the cards that Nature and my training and experience have dealt me. I feel we are in agreement on this point.”

“Think of it this way. Some of us need to be immune to this undead disease. Our gamble may just mean our whole…” Silren had trouble saying the word. “….team’s survival.”

Aram’s face goes ashen, “Do you really think so little of us, Thrall? I would never dream of forcing someone to do such a thing. This is about being prepared for what we may face. I must admit that I found the tales told to us by the girls in the park, and the additional details from the journal, really quite horrifying, and I am most thankful that the professor was able to offer us a way to mitigate, if not entirely prevent, the same fate.”

Aram turns and bows to the professor again, as if to show that thanks, then continues. “However, it seems like we have exhausted this particular line of inquiry with regards to what might be going on in the cemetery. So if none of the rest of us are interested in taking this particular step to prepare, perhaps we should go see if the class upstairs has finally let out…”

“Seconded, Aram. There is still much to be learned here at the hall, I would bet. Come Torgo. Rest on my staff while we walk. I am still a little light headed and would hate to fall and crush your little bat frame…”

Thrall: “I just made my point of view very clear, that is all.”

“Yes, yes. Point made.” Sil softly mumbles incoherently. “No involuntary lobotomization for Thrall. At least today. What was that Torgo… six pennies-a-farthing you say? Really? Quite the steal, if you ask me…”

Thrall to Lothar and Durell: “The three of us are still free willed and untouched, brain wise?”

“Thank you Sven, for your offer, I would like you to pray for wisdom. But at this time, with roughly half of our group ’altered” and half in our natural state, I feel it is wiser for me to remain as I am. I can imagine having an awakened mind may be protection in this case, but it may be a risk at other times. Best spread any potential hazard as evenly as possible." Lothar pauzed, before he adds thoughtfully: “Besides, we know that those who were awakened recovered quicker, but we have no idea of the relative initial impact of the virus, before recovery… And perhaps it is good for some of us to get infected and have Swipe study us, in order to better protect potential future victims. I would take that burden, if it becomes necessary.”

Durell nods in agreement with Lothar. “That’s as good a way to put it as any. Let us manage our risks – both those of future encounters and those of unknown consequences offered here. I think having 3 of us in Nature’s given state and three ‘enhanced’ individuals is as good as we can get.”

Before leaving, Lothar turns to swipe: “As master of your particular guild, I assume you have an above average knowledge of the artifacts coming from this city, or have access to people with such knowledge. What can you tell me of this?” He produces his medallion from where it hangs under his shirt. He doesn’t take the chain off his neck, but holds it up to be seen.

The professor asks, “May I?” and leans in to inspect Lothar’s medallion. “Ah, yes,” he says, “used to find a lot of these in the ruins north of the river, around the old temple, where the fancy folks used to live. A couple of my brothers have been trying to work these out for years. Theory is that there is a collection of vaults, kindof an old bank, beneath the temple where the nobles used to stash things best kept secret, and that these were used as identification to get the priests to let you in. Of course, with all the orcs in that area, and the Xvimlar controlling the old temple, no one has been able to confirm that theory.”

He steps back and strokes his chin, “There’s also an old library and archive on this side of the river, near Kuto’s Well, that a lot of would-be scholars of the old city have been drooling to get into. One might be able to learn more there, but the area around the well has been a hotbed of weird monster activity in the last year…”

Sven, “What kind of “weird” monster activity?”

“The last group that came back from Kuto’s Well spoke of an explosion of darkness that spat out living shadows…”

Sven, “Well, that sounds terrible. BUT, the library may have information about the history of the graveyard, which could be of great value to us. Not only that, but the council is offering rewards for any tombs of old.” To team Desolate: “It might an option to keep us ‘on track’ for the graveyard run while we could potentially earn some much needed funds in the meantime.”

“Hitting the library sounds like a fine idea,” Aram agrees. “Perhaps I can find some old texts that would aid in my planned expedition as well. We could kill several birds in one go…”

Durell’s response: “Libraries that don’t house brain altering zombies certainly seems to be a better starting place”

“I understand Durell, I think we have had enought brain altering for one day already!” Lothar quips with a smile. “And I would very much like to visit that library. Finally a more substantial lead than just the name of a city and old family rumors! What say you, friends? Shall we go hit the books?” He looks around at team Desolate, his former doubt and worry gone, and replaced with a keen purpose and, it almost seems, joy… His eyes are clear and bright and his movements like a wolfhound on a scent.

Aram turns back to Swipe, “How far is the old library? Could we walk there and back before dark?”

“Not far,” Swipe replies, “but it can be slow getting there, the slums can be crowded this time of day, and the old roads aren’t go great. Kuto’s Well lies just on the other side of the inhabited slums. If you leave via the Parkside Gate, and go about three blocks, you’ll see an old tower that Professor Aumry has been fixing up for his research. Turn left there and the well will be about two blocks further on. Keep going past the well another five blocks to reach the old library. Just remember that the gates close at dark, whether you’ve got papers or not.”

Aram turns to his friends, “That doesn’t sound too far. What’s ten blocks. We could be there in under an hour and have four to peruse the stacks before we had to come back…”

“Short answer: no,” Sven says. “I vote for morning travel, personally. We can rest – most of us have been up all night. We need provisions – I travelled light, intending to purchase whatever I needed upon landfall. I need to pray. Whatever I have memorized – what’s left, anyway – was meant for a non-eventful ship ride – not shadow monsters. Also, provided we find anything, books are heavy. We might want a pack animal – or extra hands – to carry what we may find.”

“As much as would like to rush at this opportunity, there is sense in your words, Sven. Perhaps it is best to postpone a proper exploration until dawn, that way we can have more time to delve deeper into the library. Perhaps it is best for some of us seek provisions and housing, while those of us less dependent on rest or provisions..” He pauzes and adds with a wry smile: “or those less capable to attain those.. could scout out the route to and from the library, so we can best use our time tomorrow, without undue surprises. I have a feeling this city requires one to tread lightly and plan ahead…” He looks at his companions, trying to gauge their reactions and preferences, awaiting their response.

Aram nods, “I had planned on finding a place in the Slums to camp out tonight anyways, funds being as they are, so a brief outing to scout the area makes sense.”

Sven, “If you’re suggesting that YOU scout ahead alone – no. Like it or not, our best chance to succeed – and survive – is to stay together. WE (all of us) can scout ahead today; there’s time for that. Let’s see what your Orge friend may have seen or heard. I wouldn’t mind saying ‘hello’ to this Professor Aumry either. Not only may he know something about the library, but he may allow his tower to be a ‘safe haven’ for us in the event something unexpected happens where we can’t get back into the city.”

Lothar to Sven: "I intend no such thing, I see no good coming of venturing alone into an unknown city and a potentially hostile quarter of it, at that! We have, through circumstance, found strength in numbers, best to retain that. Thank you for your concern and your clear statement of your viewpoint " He nods in respect.

“Professor Aumry, you say?” Aram raises an eyebrow, “Wasn’t one of the job postings from him? Something about reconnaissance in exchange for magical items and free tutoring in the magical arts. I believe it said to inquire at ’Denlor’s Tower’…” he turns to Professor Swipe, “Would that be the one you said he is fixing up?”

Swipe nods, “Aye, that’s the one. Used to belong to some great wizard before the last great calamity. It’s a bit…askew…these days. The Council gives us professors lodging within the walls, but Aumry insists that he needs his own space, and thus has been trying to clean the place up.”

Sven, to Lothar; “If you don’t want to stay at the Blade, the Sune temple is looking for a guard. You could have an income and they’d probably let you sleep there too. Among other things. Not the worst scenario.”

Lothar smiles at Sven’s suggestion. “That may be a good idea to pad my coinpurse a little. But I think I’ll rather rest at the Blade with Thrall. I fear the Sune’s Temple interpretation of ‘sleeping’ will not leave me sufficiently rested for our undertakings.” He says with an amused laugh.

Thrall to the rest: " I know it is quite boring, but we need provisions and maybe some other stuff. I wasplkanning to go back to the Blade but with a detour of a few blocks. Maybe we find some shops or a market. Anyone ?"

Silren, “I would like to stick around the hall for a few, but if you could find a few pieces of fruit for my Torgo, I would pay you back.”

Aram strokes his whiskers, “Given the press of humanity, it seems unlikely that the shops would be confined to the few walled blocks of Phlan. I would imagine there is a market in the slums for those unable to afford housing inside the walls, where, presumably we’d get better prices… Perhaps another thing to add to an outing: find a market, scout the route to the library, check in at Professor Aumry’s tower, and possibly look for a relatively safe yet cheap place to establish residence…”

Durell kids Thrall: “Boring is ok with me. I will gladly go with you to find marketplace needs. Even just the walking is better for keeping my blood flowing than standing around watching brain experiments” He gives Thrall his best “you know what I mean” grin and gives a nod to encourage forward movement in the direction the markets may be.

Lothar: “Professor, do you know if there is a temple of Helm in this city?”

Swipe shakes his head, “No such luck. There are four temples inside the walls: to Tyr, Tempus, Sune, and Gond. Plus the shrine to the Four Seasons in the park. Outside the wall, the old temple of Tyr across the river has been re-dedicated to Iyachtu Xvim, and there is a temple to Chauntea and the Iron-Faced God out at Kryptgarden Keep. There’s also rumors of a couple of other hidden temples in the old city, set up by those who either couldn’t get the permits or couldn’t afford the space to set up within the walls, but they keep a low profile, since the Council has officially outlawed any temples set up outside New Phlan, save Kryptgarden. Might be some Helmites out there in the city, but they don’t really seem the sort to flout the law like that…”

“That’s literally exactly what I told you guys.” Sil rolls his eyes and slightly shakes his head. It would apparently take repeating things multiple times to these new companions if his. At least he was smart enough to stand behind the big dumb ones. He wondered if that’s what Torgo felt about him. Just a big chunk of meat to stand behind. The wizard scratched the bat’s ears. He mumbled, “I’m okay with that,” to the bat.

Thrall: “Shall we go then?”

“Agreed.” Aram says. He starts walking towards the Parkside Gate out to the poor part of town, taking note of any shops they pass along the way.

With a subtle and somewhat wry smile crossing Durell’s face, the closest thing to a display of humor appears as he asks: “You mean the WAITING is over? Oh, boy! Yes, LET’S GO!”

New Phlan — Old Wall Road

Exiting via the back door of the Training Hall, you pass three stores on your short walk to the Parkside Gate: an open air blacksmith with a sign that reads “Petroff’s Fine Swords”, a well-constructed building with actual glass windows with a sign reading “Aylaran’s Silver Shop”, and a dry-goods store called “Cockburn’s Grocery”.

If the dry goods store has something edible on the sign, Thrall enters.“Wait up, guys. First stop!”

The grocery is a long, low wooden structure. The sign is hand-written, but neat, naming the store plainly in the Trade Tongue, but has no pictures. The large double doors at the front, however, stand open revealing narrow, but tidy rows of shelves stacked with cheeses and bags of flour or sugar, and barrels heaped with nuts and dried beans.

Thrall enters, looks around, goes to the nuts and beans.. Waits to be helped and orders :
“Two pounds of nuts, one pound of dried beans. I also need 10 square foot of cloth, a pound of flour, needle and tread and if you have it two metal bowls about 10 inches wide.”

The store is a cramped place. Aisles of tall shelves are stacked with bags of flour, baskets of bread, barrels of pickles and sourkraut, further in you see spools of thread, piles of towels and linens, coils of rope, all manner of robes, dresses, and other accouterments, and everything in between. The man behind the counter is perhaps in his late twenties, tall and thin, with sharp features and a rather sideways smile.

“What kind?” he asks simply, waving a hand at the barrels. On closer inspection, the several barrels, lined up along the front of the counter contain: walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, dried peas, chick peas, lentils, and broad beans.

Thrall, “Half walnuts, half hazel, broadbeans and any left over cloth please.”

Aram stops outside the store, looks up at the sign and chuckles. “Pffft…Cock Burn…” the old man says to himself under his breath.

The young man quickly busies himself filling Thralls order, pouring nuts and beans into bags, gathering the cloth, weighing everything. He stops, halfway back one of the aisles, “We don’t have metal bowls, I’m afraid, only wooden one. Does that suit?”

Thrall: “Two wooden bowls will do, standard size is fine by me.”

The young man brings the bowls up to the counter and bundles up Thrall’s order. “That’ll be 26 gold, 9 silver, and 3 coppers, Sir.”

Thrall raises an eyebrow: “26 goldpieces? Who do you think I am? The Lord Mayor? I am willing to pay 15 gold and will recommend you to my friends.”

“Fifteen?! You would beggar me!” The young man says. “Would you steal food from the mouths of my wife and my three children! I couldn’t even pay the taxes on those beans for fifteen! Twenty four and five.”

Thrall: “Sorry my good man, 15 it is, or I leave the goods here.”

“Look these nuts are fresh from Sembia. You won’t find goods of this quality anywhere else in New Phlan. In fact, you won’t find goods of this sort, of any quality, anywhere else inside the wall. I have an exclusive contract. Twenty two, or you can go take your chances with the monsters.”

Thrall, “Fresh you call them? Pffff. No matter, I will go and buy my goods elsewhere.” Thrall turns and goes. “Oh, by the way, lower your prices a little, yet more customers and don’t let them pay for your wife and kids. Lamest excuse ever. This is for free. Goodday to you, Sir.”

Aram, still standing outside, raises an eyebrow inquisitively when Thrall comes out empty-handed. “Not find what you needed?”

Thrall: “Almost everything, but the owner is asking way to much! Let’s continue.”

Durell chuckles. “I do so love the word… FORAGE”.

Sven, “Yes, Durell, good thinking as always. Keep in mind that the water around here is poisoned. The food is poisoned. The earth may be rotten as well. Between you and Thrall, do you feel confident that you can find us fertile ground?”

Embry, “If it comes down to it, I’ve got some meager rations in my pack that I can share, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve eaten less than my fill. My body is fairly well accustomed to it and I’ll be fine for a short while.”

Thrall: “There must be fertile ground and there already is. I have seen plants, trees and even bees. They are very good in finding their food and don’t do so if the soil is bad.”

Welcome to The Slums

The party arrives at the Parkside Gate, leading to the slums and other uncivilized sections of Phlan. The palisade wall here is heavier than on the sea-ward side, easily four-feet thick, comprised of several sharpened spars stacked together and reinforced with stone salvaged from older buildings. The double-gate, just wide enough for a large wagon to pass through, appears to have been closed after the lunch rush earlier. It is guarded by ten soldiers in heavy, double-linked chain coifs and hauberks, with four more pacing the top of the wall above. A heavy wooden bar rests to one side, ready to drop into slots on the gate to bar it, and several angled braces for additional support also stand nearby. Seeing you approach, one of the guards steps forward. “Papers please.”

Aram walks up to the gate guards and hands them the charter. “Any news from beyond the wall today?” he asks the guards, smiling and slipping into his native Hillsfarran accent.

The guard looks at the charter for a long time, pulls out a quill and punches a small hole in it, then hands it back. “First day, huh? If you’re going shopping in the market, keep a tight hand on your purse. And keep a sharp eye out—the last group through mentioned that the Redhands have been out in force of late…”

The guard sets his halberd against the wall, another does likewise. The two then take hold of the large iron latch-bars and begin to pull the gates open, as the others fan out with their halberds ready and pointed towards the gate, as if expecting a rush of enemies at any moment.

When the gate is opened, your noses are assaulted by the stench of garbage, mud, and offal, carried on a sickeningly warm breeze. A press of beggars—children, the blind, the infirm, goblins, orcs, half-breeds, and other unrecognizable things—waits immediately outside the gate. The guards lower their halberds and march three steps forward in unison, forcing a break in the crowd. The unarmed guards wave you through. “Good luck…”

“Thank you,” Aram says to the guards. As he walks through the gate, he begins scanning the crowd, looking for anyone shifty among the beggars—anyone hanging back and not pressing the alms-bowl hard (spies), anyone near the front keeping the hand not holding the alms-bowl low and hidden (ready to pick a pocket), anyone playing up their injuries far too obviously (faking an injured arm or leg or peeking out from under a blindfold), or anyone with a the tell-tale bulge of a weapon hidden under their rags…

From the moment we walk into the slums, Thrall makes sure that his staff is in his left hand and commands Temur to walk closely to the right of him (The side were his purse is, on his belt under his tunic.

Durell falls into step with Thrall, with his quarterstaff to the outside, so, if needed it can be used to continue to push back/away any pressing crowd that comes too close. He figures that between the two of them, they can keep clear a pretty wide path.

Lothar follows Thrall and Durell, his pouches tucked inside his clothing. I walk to the outside right of the two, forming the right half of a wedge, hoping that Aram or Sven will form the left half. Left hand holds his cloack over his sword and other possessions that he can’t tuck under his clothing, while the right never hovers more than an inch away from his dagger. He glares hard at those pressing too close.

Not seeing any signs of a threat from the crowd, Aram tucks the group’s charter safely into the band of his belt, grabs his small purse, and tries to press a silver piece into every outstretched hand and bowl he can reach as he walks through the crowd, confident that the defensive wedge of the others will keep any pick-pockets away from his backpack (which has the real valuables in it).

Aram quickly exhausts his supply of silver, fairly certain that some of the beggars received two or even more, as there is no way to keep track of individuals in the forest of outstretched hands. Still, better to see it in the hands of the needy, raising them from the grips of chaos and poverty, than those of the obviously unscrupulous merchants inside the walls.

As it becomes clear to the crowd that the purse that held the silver has been emptied, they begin to disperse, leaving you a clear path up the road. One ancient-looking goblin tugs on Aram’s sleeve and croaks out in Common. “Huafk has a school. Behind the horse-seller. Tell him Huafk sent you. He’ll teach you to fight good.” You’re certain, contextually, that he said two different names there, but you feel that you don’t know enough goblin to distinguish them…let alone pronounce them correctly.

Aram watches the crowd of unfortunates disperse and thinks, not for the first or last time, that they would be much better off as slaves in Hillsfar, than free and living in the streets.

A twisted warren of shacks, lean-tos, and crumbling ruins stretches out in all directions ahead of you. The palisade on this side is covered with graffiti—lewd drawings and slogans in a hundred languages, carved or drawn in chalk, blood, feces, or whatever else was available at the time. The ancient Parkside Road continues to parallel the river here, running north-west, but shows minimal upkeep. The cobbles immediately outside the gate are cracked and worn, and just a few blocks on it dissolves into a mud path with the occasional island of old paving. The road looks barely passable, choked with garbage, debris, and people. Indeed, just a cursory look at the people (and things) milling about on this one street leads you to estimate the population on this side of the wall at at least twenty times that of “New Phlan”.

Sven will continue to keep a sharp eye on the flank he’s on. He will watch the buildings and sky as well, for potential “ranged attacks”. To Aram: “That goblin didn’t take anything, did he?”

Durell keeps moving forward at Thrall’s pace, keeping his staff level to clear away any stragglers staying in front of the “Desolate Wedge”. But turning his head over his shoulder toward Aram he smiles and comments: “I knew you had a good heart in there. Isn’t helping the less fortunate (and living) rewarding in and of itself?”

“I think you misunderstand me, Durell,” Aram says, stepping over a pile of refuse. “What ever made you think I had anything other than a good heart?” He ducks a low-hanging beam jutting from an old building. “The Council certainly seems full of it though — handing out monopolies; hiding behind walls that they haven’t been able to expand in a two years of work. They breed chaos and dissolution on their doorstep. This sort of rampant poverty in the name of pointless freedom can only lead to violence and disorder. I may not be able to repair it overnight, but I’ll take what small steps I can…”

Sven, “Aram. Do you still have our paperwork?”

“Aye,” the old man smiles, “right here.” He pats the rolled paper still in his belt. “Let’s find an out of the way place and I’ll move it to the bottom of my bag where it’s harder to reach.”

As you walk along, dodging trash and checking your pockets to make sure nothing’s missing, Durell suddenly shouts a warning. At the same time a high-pitched, scratchy voice yells out in some unrecognizable, guttural language. “Pooš! Sovetkot!” Sven turns a little too quickly to see the source of the noise and trips, landing seated in a large tub of filthy water. An ancient-looking woman with waist-length white hair, the sleeves of her dress rolled up past her elbows with a soaked apron over it, stands over him, pointing a loaded crossbow at the bridge of his nose. She continues to scream. “Pooš! Pooš! Pooš!”

The road here is filled with large tubs of water, some dark and filthy, others with a heavy head of soapy foam. Above, the area is criss-crossed with a spiderweb of ropes, from which hang clothes in various states of disrepair, all soaked and dripping. From the old-woman’s stance, you can easily tell that she is trying to block you from approaching a ramshackle old wooden and stone lean-to around which the laundry supplies appear to be arrayed. Her home, such as it is, has a heavy, moth-eaten, woolen blanket for a door and a cloud of black smoke coming from a hole in the roof.

She keeps the crossbow leveled at Sven’s face and continues to scream. “Pooš! Pooš! Pooš!”

Sven’s hands had instinctively grabbed for the sides of the tub – he now slowly spreads his fingers and turns his palms up towards the woman to show he’s not being aggressive. In the best ‘soothing’ baritone voice he can muster: “It’s alright. I’ve no interest in your belongings. We’re just passing through. It’s alright.”

Without breaking eye contact with the woman, speaking softer and faster out of the side of his mouth to Desolate: “What the Hell is she saying? I don’t know this woman. Why is she pointing a bolt at my face?” And then back: “Just calm down. It’s alright.”

“Keep calm everybody, weapons down, please. We do not want to create a ruckus here.” Thrall grabs Svens hand, trying to pull him out. “Anyone has some loose coin available to satisfy the washing lady? By the black beard of Sylvanus, where is Silren when you need him, he is one who speaks a lot of languages…”

Lothar immediately starts scanning the surroundings to see if anyone or anything is attracted to, or trying to take advantage of, this commotion.

Aram takes a step back and raises his hands placatingly. “I gave all my easily-accessible coin to the beggars,” he says to Thrall. Then, in the local Tharian he says to the washer-woman (hoping she understands), “Woah. We mean you no harm. Actually, we might be in need of your services.” He gestures at Sven’s soaked clothes…

The woman takes a step back, but keeps the crossbow leveled at you, though her aim alternates jerkily between each of you, such that you are worried it might go off by accident. She continues to cry out “Pooš! Pooš!”

Lothar, watching the surrounding area, sees a very large foot step around a corner of the street. The foot is followed by a body that looks perfectly proportioned for a human, save that it is ten feet tall. The face is soft, and round, almost child-like, and it is garbed in a shirt and breeches that look to have been sewn together from a number of similar garments. It looms over you menacingly, but looks expectantly at the old woman.

Aram, “Pooš, I presume?”

Aram turns to Sven’s question, “It’s her home. In a place like this, I would expect it is not uncommon for bands of armed ruffians to come by and take what few valuable the woman manages to collect. And we,” he waves at Team Desolate, with their mis-matched armor and collection of weaponry, walking in a wedge through the streets, pushing people out of their way with staves, “probably look just like that. Perhaps, assuming we don’t get crushed by Pooš here, we should proceed a little less conspicuously.”

Grumbling sarcastically under his breath; “Yeah, this is what I was hoping for: a fight with an old woman and a baby-giant.” To Desolate: “So, what are we doing here? Walking by hoping that that crossbow doesn’t go off and Poop won’t step on us?”

Aram, “I believe the correct response is: maintain eye contact, back away slowly, no sudden movements…”

Sven is now mildly annoyed. He lowers his hands slowly – maintaining eye contact and pausing or stopping if/when the old woman gets twitchy – to begin wringing out his clothes. “Alright. If this is about fear and protecting her home and ‘family’ – fine. I understand that. Let’s be on our way.”

Durell tries to slowly and in as unthreateningly a manner as possible help Sven out of the washbasin. With an even bigger grin (trying not to laugh), he answers Aram: "Not so much that you don’t have a good heart as how i NORMALLY think you get more appreciation and human reaction from the LIVING than I suspect you might get from the dead. THAT is what I was referring to about “warming your heart”. But honestly, that was before running into these antagonized beings." And he ends with a somewhat pained smirk on his face and continues to haul Sven away from the water.

Sven begins rolling pieces of the last few moments in his head: trying to block us from approaching her shack—it’s her home, raiding bandits, calling for her ‘son’. Sven’s arms and shoulders go slack, and with a whispered “self-realization” tone; “oh, no. dammit…”

The washerwoman’s hovel is right at an intersection, prime real-estate really. You can easily re-route elsewhere. Numerous other “people” (for a non-specieist use of the term) pass by on the side streets during your encounter. Most give you little more than a second glance before hurrying on their way.

Aram looks around for the tower, assuming that it still stands high enough to be seen past the shacks and lean-tos.

“……let’s get to the tower……” Sven carefully plucks a couple silver pieces from his small, front belt pouch (his petty change) and shows them to the woman before tossing them at her feet. Knowing she won’t understand him, he feels obligated to say “we’re not your enemies.”

The tower can be clearly seen, towering (pun intended) over this section of the slums, about a block to the north and west. It stretches perhaps seven or eight stories above the surrounding streets, tapering as it rises, though the top leans precariously out towards the near road.

Lothar nods a greeting to the giant being, almost a slight bow, while keeping his hands demonstratively in an open non-threatening posture. I speak calmy but clearly: “Our apologies, a simple misunderstanding. Please let us be on our way.” (Just because he has a baby’s face I’m NOT assuming him to be a simpleton. Plus if we can avoid fighting a brute like this, so much the better!)

Aram continues to back away, towards the alley to the right. Once he is at least a half-dozen giant-strides from Pooš, he turns, says “Come on”, and walks quickly away in the direction of the tower.

“Hold on!” Says Sven while stopping abruptly. “I have unfinished business with that woman!” He begins hurriedly removing his cloak (places it at his feet) then his backpack which he hands to Lothar “hold that a moment, please.” His belt and accessories which includes his helmet (at his feet) and finally his tabard. Puts everything back on except his cloak and tabard which he folds neatly and cradles in one arm. His helmet hangs from his belt. “Thank you, lad” he says to Lothar. “I’ll meet you at the tower!” He says to DESOLATE and stomps back to the laundry-woman’s hut.

Aram stares after Sven in confusion. “He’s not going to strike on old woman is he?” he asks, displeasure clear in his voice.

Thrall: “Are you sure you want to do whatever you want to do, Sven?”

“Shall I accompany you, Sven? It seems a bad idea to be about the slums on your own…” Lothar responds, with a worried face. To Aram: “Do not fret, I believe he just wants to have his clothes cleaned, she is a washer-woman after all.” I look at Sven for confirmation.

Sven, “Woman!! Where are you? We have business to discuss!” He calls from outside the hut.

The old woman still stands there, crossbow in hand. “What back already?!” She asks, in Tharian this time.

“Oh, good! You speak Tharian. I won’t have to draw pictures! Thanks to your ‘sudden appearance’ and blood curdling screaming and your tub of foul water, my clothes are a disaster! To add insult, you point that damn crossbow at my face—AND YOU STILL ARE!!!—thus threatening my life! THEN you take my coin!!!”

“SO – either you and poos robbed me at point blank, which I would have a real problem with, OR…I paid you in advance for the service of washing these clothes!" Sven gets close enough to drop them on top of the crossbow. “Do a good job of it and I may even tip you – and come to you again in the future.”

“What do you say, woman? Are you running a business? Or a thieves guild?”

After yelling at the woman, as soon as Sven takes a step towards the woman to drop the clothes, her finger twitches and he finds a crossbow bolt punching through his armor and into his gut.

”Pooš! Sovetkot!” she yells again, causing the giant who had just begun to walk away to pivot and come back at a trot.

“AAaaaaOOOOWWwww!!! FUCK SHIT DAMN!!!!!!!”

Lothar: Right, shit hits fan, sword comes out. I attempt to strike the crossbow out of her hands with the flat of my blade. At this point, I’m not sure if the shot was intentional or nor, so I try not to harm her needlesly. I shout at the big guy in a commanding voice: “You! Speak Tharian? Easting? Cormaranthan?” (I shout each language name in the correct, well, language.) Lothar’s movements are spare and efficient, his expression hard and focussed. His body is tense and coiled like a spring, ready to respond to anything.

Durell chuckles out loud, but plants his quarterstaff firmly on the road ahead of him and jumps forward and uses the staff as a pole to swirl around to change his direction 180 degrees. Cloak flowing behind him, he finishes this flourish jumping forward in the direction of Sven, and keeps running in that direction. Not knowing Thrall’s intent, he too will attempt to use his staff to strike the crossbow out of the washerwoman’s hands, or, if more easily achieved, will keep her from loading any further bolts into the weapon. He will, also, to the best of his ability, keep aware of the presence of “Big Bob”.

Hearing the screamed explatives, Aram groans and turns around. As soon as the washer woman is in sight, he casts Darkness 15-ft. Radius, centered directly on her, hoping the loss of visibility will encourage both sides to chill out.

Seething, Sven glares at the woman “…and now you try to kill me.” All to aware of the incoming freak show: “want to sic your dog on me? He’s gonna have to go through your home to get to me.” With that, he will dash to the old woman’s front “door”. She was initially blocking it, so she’s either protective of it, or hiding something. Either way, Sven’s counting on the woman not wanting a giant trashing the place.

Sven clutching at his side, dashes past the washer woman and into her small hut. The inside is about as poorly furnished as you might expect — a pile of straw with a blanket thrown over it for a bed, a small pit containing a few smoldering coals from last night’s cook-fire, and a small clay pot filled with shit, literally.

Outside, Durell, quickly and nimbly knocks the spent crossbow from the old woman’s hands. He hear’s several shouts of “You leave her alone!” as neighbors rush to her defense. One manages to strike Durell in the head with a hurled chamber pot.

Lothar starts to swing as well. Then everything goes black. Inside the sudden darkness, Lothar feels the flat of his blade impact something hard, but can’t see what.

From outside the darkness, Aram and Thrall see the hulking Pooš lumber in, swinging his big, meaty fists wildly. Given the lack of screaming, you assume he must have missed. Other neighbors hurl a barrage of whatever is close at hand—flower pots, bricks, even a knife in the general direction of where Sven, Lothar, and Durell were.

Then a quartet of Orcs with large bloody hand-prints on their tunics, armed with swords and cudgels comes rushing in from the west, presumably drawn by the commotion. The neighbors, so ready to defend the old woman just a moment before, turn and flee up the street.

Seeing the orcs approaching, Aram pulls out his heavy, iron sword, and dismisses the darkness. “Lothar, Durell,” he calls, “stop harassing that old woman, we’ve got REAL problems over here…”

“Dammit”, Sven thinks out loud. {Nothing strange going on here – what the Hell is that giant about? Neighborhood watch-golem? Why does it beckon to the old woman?} Still holding his side with one hand, he holds open the ‘door’ to the old woman’s house and calls out to her: “Dammit, Woman! I TOLD you we’re not the enemy here! Notice that my sword has never left my side – even AFTER you put a bolt in my gut! Now, get in here and take cover! And either have your ‘watchdog’ fight the red-hands alongside of us, or stand down and get the Hel out of our way!”

Those close enough to see get a completely different look in Durell’s eyes. “Oh, yeah, I knew there’d be orcs a’plenty. Doesn’t matter if it’s in Featherdale or New Phlan, the vile beasts inevitably turn up in the wrong places and need to be driven out.” With a blood fury driving him against his hated enemies, Durell looks to use his staff to crack a few orc skulls and wades into battle gladly.

Lothar steps in front of the shack door, shielding both Sven and the washerwoman. I shrug my shield on my arm, as I shout to the orks and Poôs: “This is an accident! We have no quarrel with you, but if you attack we WILL retaliate!”

As the darkness dissipates, the old washer woman, runs, but not into the hut. Rather, she runs towards the orcs shaking her fist at them and yelling. “Što te zede tolku dolgo? Plaḱa da e zašt’t’te!” The orcs make no move to attack her, and when she reaches their side, she points back at Durell and at Sven peaking out of her hut, “Tie dvajca e apadaa!”

One of the orcs grunts in acknowledgement and they charge. Sven ducks back inside, pulls out the bolt, and shoves a wad of clean linen (of which there is plenty) against the wound, under his armor where the weight will hold it in place.

Durell wades in to meet the onrushing orcs, but is surprised at how fast the brutish creatures are. The first swings a large club low, hitting Durell broadside in the stomach and knocking the wind out of him (7 damage). Stumbling back from the blow, Durell manages to dodge the jabbing sword and flailing morningstar of the next two, striking both quick blows with his staff. The fourth brings a heavy maul down overhead, Durell steps back to avoid taking a blow to the head, but the maul comes down on his right foot to the sound of snapping bones (11 damage, and 1/4 movement).

Poos, apparently acting as slowly as he thinks, takes a clumsy swing at Lothar that barely qualifies as an attack.

Finally Thrall finishes chanting his spells, blessing your party and cursing your enemies.

“Great…” Aram mutters, “a protection racket.” Aram wracks his mind trying to recall if the bloody handprint might have any religious meaning, knowing orcs to often be religious fanatics. The symbol bears some resemblance to several holy symbols— Bane’s black hand on a bloody field, Moander’s bloody handprint with jaws in the palm, or Malar’s bloody claw—but Aram is fairly certain that the mark on orc’s shirts is more “street sign” than intended for any overtly religious purpose.

“Fine, have it your way.” Lothar says with grim resignation. He charges the nearest Orc. (As long as Poôs his attacks stay ineffective I ignore him, he was the one local to assess the situation instead of defaulting to violence.) His face is set grim, his eyes cold. Foregoing any flourishes or advanced swordplay his movement are quick and efficient. Seeking to end this fight as soon as possible, his strikes are intended to kill as quickly and cleanly as possible. But the energy he puts into his blows betrays that he is furious.

{Funny what you can learn about an individual when combat is involved}, Sven thinks to himself before switching to damage control mode. {Durell has been hampered – at minimum – and needs to be excavated before it gets worse} “Durell! Take defensive measures until we get you out of there! DON’T resist us! Thrall! Let your wolf distract the orcs! You and Aram HAVE to get Durell OUT of there!!! Each of you take one of his arms across your shoulders and FALL BACK!!"

{The big, dumb giant…} "Lothar! Keep that giants attention off of us! Try to get him to chase you! When you can, get back to base! And for Tempus’s sake – don’t let him hit you!!!”
“You three!” (Directed again at Thrall/Durell/Aram) “I’m going to run interference on the orcs!”
{alright, Tempus – let there be no doubt why you’re the God of WAR!} Sven begins looking at the linens hanging above the ‘battlefield’.

Before Sven can get a word out, Thrall, reacting quickly turns the ground under, around, and in front of the orcs to thick quagmire of four-foot-deep mud. The club and morning-star wielding orcs immediately sink up to their knees, in the muck.

Durell, driven by rage and a deep-seated hatred of all Orcs, continues to lash out despite his broken foot. Landing three solid hits, one of which sends an orc sprawling into the mud. From its prone position, the orc slashes at Durell’s leg, almost taking him down.

Finally Sven begins shouting orders. Seeing him close, Poos turns and attempts to backhand Sven, but misses, hitting the side of the hut and collapsing the structure. The washerwoman, also stuck in the mud, screams at him, “Poos! T’ orou! V’d kade se zaša!”

Lothar and Aram, already in motion, charge towards the orcs, only to become mired in the mud themself. They wade through the thick morass, but cannot reach their targets this round.

The last orc, still mobile despite the mud and still facing only a single enemy, brings his maul down on Durell’s head with a horrible crunching sound, splattering the area with shards of skull and bits of brain matter.

Thrall sends Temur in to attack the last surviving orc. “For the troat, Temur, the throat”

“NO!” Lothar shouts, distraught. “Aram, deal with them! I’m aiding Sven!” I give one last angry glare at the orc and washerwoman before wading back to the remains of the hut. “Poôs! Poôs, face me!” (I don’t actually intend to fight him, I mainly want to get his attention away from Sven.) “Thrall, can you aid me or Sven?”

Sven side steps and covers his head from flying debris. “Son-of-a-!!” {I was gonna take that hut as payment for damaging my armor! No matter – how are the rest doing?}
He looks up and sees Durell… “YOU FILTHY CURS!!!!”

Even fueled by rage, he near-instinctively assesses the battlefield {Orcs 4 on 3…but we’re getting their flank…they’re up to their knees in mud??…big dumb one is slow – have to use that to our advantage…}

“HEY SHITHEAD!!!” {hopefully this will confuse him} Sven shouts to the giant as he flashes out his sword “YOU MISSED ME!!!” He looks quickly to the orcs, positions his stance for a solid overhead sword strike and teleports BEHIND one of the orcs that will allow him to strike it from solid ground.

Thrall and Temur, still on solid ground, strike quickly. Thrall stretches across the mud and smacks the orc that Durell had knocked prone, pool-cue style with his staff, right in the temple, knocking it out cold. Temur leaps the gap across the mud and bites the maul-wielding orc on its upraised right arm, but the orc holds his ground and shakes the wolf off.

Pooš furrows his brow angrily and takes a swing at Sven, only to hit empty air as Sven teleports away. Sven reappears behind the orc with the maul, who is already distracted by the wolf, and drives his sword into its unarmored back. STILL the orc remains on its feet, though the the grimace of determination on its face turns to one of pain and fear. With a howl it spins the maul in a wide arc and slams it into Sven’s side (7 damage).

Lothar turns away from the orcs and begins wading back towards Pooš, only to be brained from behind by the club wielding orc as it finally breaks itself free of the mud and pursues him.

The third orc, still largely mired in the mud, swings its morning star at the wolf, but misses wildly.

Aram, slow as always, finally pushes his way through the mud and swings at the maul-wielding orc. The clumsy, blunted, iron sword connects broad-side to the orc’s meaty shoulder, such that, for a moment the orc doesn’t even seem to register the hit. Suddenly there is a yellow-white flash of electricity from the blade, charring the orcs flesh and hurling it sideways to land in the mud, a smoking ruin.

Aram yells, “Lothar! Quit dancing in the mud and pick a target!” {Huh,} Aram thinks, but does not say, {maybe we should put Sven in charge. He seems to actually know what he’s doing, and his orders make sense. I never would have thought of using our psionic powers to get the jump on them…}

Looking at the already unstable and muddy ground under the morning-star wielding orcs feet, he stomps down hard and focuses his mind on further “decaying” the ground and opening a void directly beneath the orc’s feet.

“THRALL, NO!!! Lothar can handle it!” For a millisecond, Sven is thankful he seen Thrall turn, for it gave him the opportunity to “shout” an order rather than hold back from the pain shooting through his side.

“Let Lothar distract the giant! We need to finish off these orcs! Use the high, dry ground to flank and strike! I also need you two (Thrall & Aram) to keep an eye – or rather and ear – on me. If you find that I’m fighting and NOT speaking – that means I’m in dire straits and need healing – LOTS of it – QUICKLY!”

He looks at the wounded orc dead in the eyes “may you spend eternity being hunted by Durell.” Sven goes to strike the orc with the maul.

Thrall turns and goes back to the fight, not being used to get commands, especially military ones. He is staying on dry ground of course. “Temur, attack the orc!!!”

Lothar’s knees threaten to buckle for a moment as his head rings from the blow. “That’s what I get for trying to protect everyone all at once.” He thinks. The memory of his training master’s face and harsh voice comes back to him: “Pick your target and stick to it like fleas on a mutt! Trust your allies to guard your back, young pup!” Lothar redoubles his pace towards Poôs while he shouts “Can anyone get this thug off my back?” I use my shield to cover my head and shoulders until I get confirmation someone is on the orc. Once I clear the mud I rush Poôs, intending to shield rush him to the ground.

Upon seeing Lothar charging towards the giant, but unsure of Lo’s endgame: “If you can help it, avoid direct engagement! Try to get him to chase you thru the buildings! We need to strike him as one, if at all possible!”

Thanks to his expertise in more-mundane digging, Aram knows just where to strike. The ground beneath the orc’s feat suddenly opens up, and the mud rushes to fill the void, dragging the orc down with it. The orc cries out in sudden panic, then is silenced as it’s head is dragged down beneath the mud.

Lothar, covering his head, breaks free of the mud and barrels towards the giant at full speed. He ducks and goes to ram the giant with his shield, but finds himself deflected by a stiff-arm from the behemoth. A painful jolt runs through his arm as the giant shoves the shield backwards, causing Lothar’s elbow to almost buckle from the force (9 damage). At least Lothar is able to maintain his own feet, small blessing.

The club-wielding orc goes to pursue Lothar, but suddenly finds itself set upon by both Sven and Temur. It manages to block Sven’s strike with it’s iron-bound truncheon, but takes a nasty bite on the leg from the wolf.

“Ggat! Pooš! Perala žea, pooš! E se presreḱ!” the orc yells, a hint of panic in its voice.

“I think,” Aram suggests, hefting his blade and wading out of the mud to go help Lothar, “given the context, ‘pooš’ might be the orcish word for ‘help’…”

“Again, Temur, again. The throat!”

{Shit! The boy’s in trouble. Aram’s moving in – if we can hurt the giant, hopefully it’ll pull its attention away from Lothar…} Sven thinks. {We’re getting worn down and our magics are rapidly running out…if we get into a brawl with that thing in our current state – we’re dead men. Maybe Durell can still help us…}

“Lothar! When you can I need you to get to Durell – take his sword and see what he has on him that might heal you!….He won’t mind! Whatever you do, DON’T turn your back on the giant to do it! Thrall! do you have anything to heal anyone?”

{F***** orcs! Got to take them out NOW!} To Aram, “If we’re to have a fighting chance against that giant, we need to take away his mobility, or take away his sight!” {Hang in there, boy….I’m coming! Tempus protect him!}

Thrall easily delivers the coup de grâce to the orc he had previously knocked out with his staff.

Temur leaps for the last orc’s throat, but is blocked, ending up with a mouthful of club instead. With the wolf’s bite pulling the club away, Sven sees the perfect opening and slashes across the orc’s mid-section opening up the orc’s belly. The orc drops the club and staggers backwards, miraculously still standing, but holding its own bloody entrails in its hands.

Meanwhile, the giant swings furiously but, his blows glance harmless off of Lothar’s raised shield as the latter staggers about. Suddenly there is a sound like a crack of thunder as Aram strikes the giant from behind. Hurt for the first time, the baby-faced brute begins wailing and runs away down the street.

Given a brief respite, you turn back to look at where Durell fell, and see a pair of filth-covered children (or at least they are child-sized) have already crept in and are picking over his corpse. One is pulling off his boots, while the other rifles through his pockets.

The orc is, very clearly, busy holding his guts in. He is doing a rather poor job of that actually. You doubt he’s got any fight left in him.

As the giant turns to flee, Aram swings at his exposed rear. Aram’s blade, blunted though it is, tears clear through the back of the giant’s meaty hip, slicing through both his hamstring and his femoral artery, and biting into the bone beneath. The giant crumples to the ground in a heap, blood spraying from the massive gash.

Aram looks down at the crippled, bloody, and bawling giant and shakes his head. {What a bloody waste} he thinks, {well, maybe I can talk to it later}. He lifts the heavy blade as high as he can, right over the back of the giant’s neck, and let’s it drop, nearly throwing his shoulder out in the process.

Once he has severed the head, he kneels over the body, oblivious to what else might be going on, and says a brief prayer:

“Blessed Afflictor, Exalted Interrogator, Sacred Parasite,
drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
From those that would not heed,
we offer praise to those who do,
that they might turn their gaze our way,
and feed the hunger of the Gods.
The roaring of lions,
the howling of wolves,
the raging of the stormy sea,
and the destructive sword,
are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.
Look on the folly of these servants of entropy,
and grind them to dust unmercifully.
May their knavery and folly be ground from the record of time!”

Lothar sighs in relief and looks Aram in the eye, at first grateful, but then his eyes turn sad and mournful as he glances at the giant. “Thank you Aram. A shame it had to be this way, he seemed the most sensible of the lot…” His eyes clear up a bit as he visibly gathers his shaken resolve: “Best see to our defence and get ready, who knows what else this commotion will attract!” He strides/limps towards the others, but his gait falters and shoulders visibly slum when he sees Durell. “Aram, Thrall, Sven, how are you for the healing arts? Has anyone seen a defensible position we can retire to?” Lothar also keeps an eye on the orc corpses, and the crowds reaction to them, trying to gauge their standing in the community: Is the response to their deaths fear, relief, grief, something else?

Thrall rushes to the corpse-pilfering kids and tries to push/ shoo them away from Durell’s remains. Thrall calls Temur back to him to guard Durell’s body. He kneels down, closes Durell’s eyes and prays for his soul. “Sylvanus, Lord of the woods, take this soul to the realms beyond space and time, only to return in a better life…..”

As Thrall rushes Durell’s body, the children dart away, one bearing his boots and another a small armload lifted from his pockets.

Within minutes the traffic on the street quickly returns to its pre-altercation levels. Looking around at the gathering crowd, Lothar sees a mix of reactions. Most seem downright ambivalent, walking by the bloody mess as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. A few, mostly children, knackers, and rag-pickers, look quite pleased as they dash in to strip whatever bodies your party are not actively watching with the expert precision of long practice. A handful, maybe a half-dozen, look at you with a mixture of anger and fear in their eyes, though whether that is out of care for the orcs, or concern for yet more violence in their neighborhood is hard to tell.

The old washer woman is nowhere to be seen.

Seeing Aram kneeling over the decapitated body of the giant, one child, of truly indeterminate race (with the sharply pointed ears of a goblin, the hairy feet of a halfling, a shock of gray-white hair, and reptilian-looking eyes), sidles up to him. “Hey mister!” she (you think it’s probably a she) says, “Why’d you kill Bert? Did he do something bad again? You killed some Red Hands too! That’s pretty neat. You workin’ for one of the other gangs? I hear Matteo’s called ’em all together for a meeting tonight…”

{Ugh, what is that thing?} Aram thinks, looking at the child. {It wouldn’t even make a decent slave most-like. Are the people out in these slums really so degenerate that they will breed with anything? Maybe the Council is right to hide behind their walls. Better to burn it all and start over…}

“Thank you, sweetie.” Aram says, wearing his usual kindly old-man smile. He pulls a large, empty sack out of his pack and stuffs the giant’s still-bleeding head into it. {Perhaps Bert will know something useful…} he thinks, as he walks over to where the others are mourning Durell.

He bows his head in silence for a moment, then speaks up. “It would be best to inter him before more scavengers come, and it did not look like there was space set aside for graves inside the wall. The ground is still soft here. I have picks and shovels in my pack. Shall we?”

“Also,” he adds, “apparently there is a meeting of the various gangs that run this section of town tonight. Perhaps we should round up Silren, Embry, and Osakh and pay them a visit…and give Durell a proper tribute.”

Sven, still covering the injured orc at sword point, who I guessing is in close proximity of most of the other (non-giant) bodies yells at any looters or would be looters “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE! If anything is taken, you’ll pay in BLOOD!!!” (In a much calmer tone) Come here Lothar, watch over our friend here while I patch you up. You did well, lad."

Sven, "Thrall – not to be grim, but – take anything of value off of Durell. He had a sword, for r sure. Weapons, scrolls, armor, potions, pouches, jewelry…we need need it more than he does now. He was a warrior true, and he died a warriors death.”

Thrall to Aram: “Are you serious? Paying the local thugs guild a visit? Are you sure you did not get a serious blow to your head?” Thrall picks Durell’s body as clean as possible, taking everything except his clothes.

Sven, “We’re taking this orc in – let’s see if someone can get some information out of him about these “gangs.” Speaking of which – let’s take anything of value off of these dead orcs as well, including their “red hand” shirts – maybe these’s a bounty on them.”

After Sven’s ministrations, Lothar looks much better. The same cannot be said for the last orc. In the time it takes Sven to finish casting his healing spell on Lothar, the orc’s eyes roll back in his head, his arms go limp, dumping his entrails onto the ground, and he falls down dead from the massive blood-loss.

Aram shrugs at Thrall, “Not a guild, I’d think. Judging by the blasé attitude of the locals to violence, I’m assuming these gangs fight all the time. Tensions will probably be quite high at such a meeting. If we can catch them by surprise, we could probably provoke them to kill each other, and deal a significant blow to the forces of chaos in this town. There might not be another chance like this for a while?”

Hearing Sven’s recommendation to take anything valuable off the orcs, Aram pulls out another bag, and his enchanted dagger, and goes about severing all of their hands and collecting them in the bag. For good measure, he takes the hands off the giant as well.

Thrall: “Do I really want to know what you are going to do with those hands?”

{Probably not,} Aram thinks, {but I’m going to tell you anyways, because one should always be honest.} “The Blessed Afflictor can grant me a spell that will animate them,” he says. “They’re quite useful really. I can manage as many as four with a single prayer, and they can be programmed to perform certain tasks, or controlled by thought, almost as if they were my own hands.”

He grins, “I was thinking of filling a bag with them and commanding them to attack when the bag is opened. Then all we have to do is find this gang meetup, and chuck the bag through an open window…”

“Thank you Sven.” Lothar says, taking over his position guarding the orc. Dividing his attention between the orc (never letting my eyes off him!) and the discussion among Desolate, he comments “Thrall, I HAVE been hit over the head, and I think it’s a bad idea! We lost a man, took a beating and this was only a lowly patrol…” He avoids looking at the corpses being picked clean, while he understands the practicality of it, looting corpses in the middle of the street doesn’t sit well with him, especially the taking of heads and hands.

Sven, “To be clear – I will kill anyone or anything wearing this “red hand” symbol going forward. But the boy is right – this was sloppy. We need to work more as a fighting unit. And we need more than 6 or 8 of us to take on gangs of orcs.”

“Oh, come now,” Aram says, “other than Durell running off and attacking the orcs by himself…and Thrall trapping him in the mud…and Lothar running back and forth like a chicken with his head cut off…and you threatening little old ladies in the first place, I think we did quite well.”

Sven will use rope from the (once) hanging clothes to tie up the orc. First his legs, then his hands behind his back. Use the clean-ish linens to bind his wounds and then tie a rope around his arms and torso. He will free his legs just before we leave. Durell will be wrapped in the cleanest, white linen to be found before we lower him into the ground. Then he’ll pick up his own clothes, and wrap the orcs uniforms – and whatever else they may of had worth something – into a makeshift sack made from a piece of linen.

Lothar helps Sven wrap and lower Durell into his grave. “Durell, you deserve better than death and an unmarked grave in the slums. I hope your Gods and ancestors welcome you with open arms, my friend. May the soil rest lightly upon you.”

After everyone has said their peace, Aram drops a gold coin on top of Durell’s interred body, to pay whatever ferryman might be waiting to bear him to his plane of repose. Then shovel in hand, he begins filling in the hole. Before finishing, he pulls out a bag and puts two hands-full of the dirt from the freshly dug grave into it.

Aram looks around, at a loss for where to go after the death of a companion. “I can see the tower over there,” he says pointing, “and the market over there,” he points the opposite direction. “Are we okay to continue?”

Thrall: “Let’s go to the tower. On the way back I need some fruit from the market. I promised Silrens bat something.”

Sven, “Durell is gone. We have a captive. We’re in hostile territory with said captive who likely has a lot of friends willing to help him out, not mention the old woman who called these dogs on us in the first place. We’re hurting, low or out of spells, two of our members still in town, and you want to continue to a tower – to see a wizard – that we can just visit at the FUCKING SCHOOL tomorrow?!?! And to get fruit – that we can also get in town – for a damned BAT?!?!”

Aram turns and smiles at Sven as he leans down to cut the hands off the dead, but tied up orc — taking pains to avoid the pile of entrails lying in the mud beside it. “A rebuttal, if you will, friend. Your ‘captive’ here is clearly dead. You and Lothar have been healed. My supply of spells is still fresh from this morning. Silren and Embry were heading to the Bitter Blade, and could be fetched in less than ten minutes, and are both fresh…” he turns and points to where the roof of the three-story inn is clearly visible over the top of the wall, no more than a hundred yards away. “The wizard’s tower is a half-a-block yonder, hardly a long walk, even if we backtrack to the Blade to fetch our friends. The wizard’s job posting specifically stated that we ask for him at the tower, rather than at the school. And it is only three in the afternoon…”

“I know we’re all a bit rattled after Master Farnhed’s death, and I understand if you feel we are not up to the task of avenging him this night. But surely this altercation is not cause to abandon all that we had planned for this afternoon, especially since this was an altercation that could have been easily avoided IF YOU HAD JUST WALKED AWAY WHEN THE REST OF US DID…”

“As for the ogre. Osakh said he would meet us in the Slum’s Market tomorrow morning, but I saw him heading towards the gate after we last spoke, so he may be in the vicinity now, should we need his assistance. He’s not exactly inconspicuous…”

Thrall: “For now I am out of spells. Some rest would be nice, walking and talking would do the job, I am not used in fighting for my life every day or every other day.”

Aram nods to Thrall, “Let’s at least go back and get Silren and Embry then. It’s not far and we can figure out what to do after that….well, after that.” He hefts the bloody bag of hands and the bag with the head over his shoulder and turns back towards the gates.

Phlan Public Training Hall — Outside

Meanwhile, back at the Training Hall, after another fourty-five minutes of waiting, the doors open, assaulting your nose with the smells of smoke and ozone. A massive ogre, a full head taller than the one that was accompanying Aram earlier, with blue skin and long robes embroidered with flames pushes them open and takes down the sign. Behind him, the courtyard is hazy with smoke. A score of students are milling about. A couple pat at burns on their robes, and one is rolling on the ground trying to extinguish his burning clothes.

“Professor Manabu, I presume?” Rasped Silren as he bowed deeply. “Might I borrow a moment of your time? I’d buy you lunch if you haven’t fasted yet.” Silren actually fits in with his burned look, perhaps a first for the mage.

“I’m afraid you have the wrong person,” the ogre says, “shall I fetch the professor for you?”

“My fault, you look too impressive to be but a student. Would you lead me to him? I wouldn’t dare “fetch” a master of the evocative arts. What was that Torgo? You knew he wasn’t Manabu? Well next time speak up!"

“I’m his assistant,” the ogre says, with a small bow. “Wait here please, I’ll not be a moment.” He pivots, takes three steps back into the Training Hall, and vanishes.

Silren didn’t much like ogres or ogre magi. But he did respect power. He could let such common prejudices hide under the surface for power.

A minute later, an ancient-looking man with a flaming eye tattooed on his forehead hobbles out the door. “Inurn said you wanted to see me?” he asks, his voice scratchy and wavering with age.

“Yes. My name is Silren. Some call me the Burnt. I am new to Phlan. I am a young mage… and I wish to get to know others that may help me pursue greater mastery of the Art. While I do not feel quite ready to advance to the 4th Circle yet, I wanted to meet those who I would be able to study with soon. I also have a few questions of the old city and the old graveyard. A group of my companions are preparing to venture there on the morrow, and I wish to be aware of it’s dangers and history.” He bowed. “If you have not had lunch, I would gladly treat you today in return for some light conversation. Or deeper conversation if you like to discuss the Nogian Empire.”

The ancient mage coughs and runs his tongue along his few remaining teeth. “I do love a free meal, but I have a class on Jogishk literature starting in fourteen minutes. I do have time for a few quick questions if you have them, otherwise you’ll have to catch me during my office hours…”

“When are your office hours, Master? I am starved for intelligent conversation as my current companions are rather droll (Except my friend here, of course), better for standing in front of me as shields than discussing the secrets of the ogre and giant races or metaphysical & esoteric topics.” Silren reached into a pouch at his waist and drew a handful of shelled walnuts and plump raisins, chewing on a few before offering a some to the venerable mage. “Anything you know about the old graveyard and what dwells there or what secrets it may hide would be of the most interest to me; as well as what it would take to eventually teach here at the Hall.”

The old mage waves away the nuts, “The old graveyard, eh? You know, the Council has offered good money to anyone who can learn something useful about that place. Now, a wise person would look at that and think, surely anyone who knew about the graveyard would already have cashed in, therefore, since the Council’s offer still stands, there must not be anyone with any useful information about the old graveyard…”

He cackles, “As for teaching? Have you ever taught ’ought before?”

“I’m new to town, humor me. I’m sure you’ve heard rumors at the very least… and I trust a learned man over a sod in the Bitter Blade who eats the mystery meat if you catch my drift. And as for teaching, I’d be open to learning how when I try for the 4th Circle. I’ve done my share of showing the lower ranks the ropes in Hillsfar, so I have a start. I’m actually interested in teaching languages and history more so than magics if there’s any coin in it. If this adventuring thing is a wash I still need to eat.” Sil said between bites.

Torgo squeaks from atop the stave. “Yes. And to feed you. Hopefully the others remember to bring you some fruit.”

“My expertise is with the humanoids—orcs, goblins, and ogres—dwelling in the old city,” Manabu says. “I can tell you they avoid the graveyard, and have since the city last burned. I can’t tell you anything about what might be there now, but I do know that Valhingen Cemetery has been on that same spot since the city’s original founding in the year 367. A thousand years worth of corpses have been laid to rest in that place. Conservative estimates claim that at least a hundred thousand bodies have been laid to rest there, though I’d wager it’s several times more than that…”

“A wise man would find a way to put those bodies to use,” He grins. “But, that is my time, I must get to my class. I keep office hours at the Bitter Blade during the Middle Watch. You can find me then if you want to chat more…”

He turns back towards the Training Hall and vanishes.

“The original founding? I was led to believe that Phlan was founded by the Nogian Empire during the Founding Time around 4,000 years ago. Hmm…” Assuming Manabu doesn’t turn heel after his comment aloud, Silren makes his way back to the Blade, and his room… both to commune with Manos in private and to wait until Middle Watch to continue his discussion with the elder wizard.

Embry, “As terrible as it sounds, don’t we have an expert in the dead amongst us? Could that perhaps allow us an advantage? We could make sure he doesn’t do anything vile, maybe just speaking with them?”

Silren, not-quite-alone, walks back to the Inn and thinks about what to tell (& ask) the necromancer spirit about Phlan and it’s immense gravesite. He himself had little taste for necromancy… But perhaps there was a relic or item the spirit knew about to help him capitalize on the ancient corpses. If anything knew of a Nogian artifact capable of such feats, it would be Manos. Sil sighed, he knew the thing had continued interests in this world, some of which contrasted with his own ambitions. Silren really didn’t want the world to end if he could rule it himself someday… Or at the very least he’d like to grow old and comfortable.

“Ah, Embry. You know what I like about you? You’re so silent I don’t even notice you’re here half the time!” The wizard smiled. “Aram is harmless. I am also pretty sure that he has a very limited number of minor undead that he can command. I will commune with some spirits once we get back to the Blade and see if there’s anything else I might be able to do to locate additional assistance in the defense of the undead variety.” Or command them myself thought the mage. “I may also be able to speak with the dead, but the power is draining on me and I can’t do it every day… And there is a limit to how old the corpse may be. And please do not mistake me for a necromancer. I am more general in my studies, I much prefer evocations over necro-diddle.”

“Well anyways, we are here again at the Blade. Beware the bolts from the heavens, my Embry. If you would be so kind to give me an hour of privacy, I shall meet you down after and take in some of the local flavor.” Sil considered his words. “Not of the food. If something threatens you – come up and rap 4 times and I will come out. Rap 6 times followed by 4 and I’ll come with spells blazing. I suggest 4 times if I’m needed.”

Embry gives the space requested, heading down to take in some of the local talk. He will try and place himself in a discreet corner and just observe and listen.

Silren retires to his chambers. He places the amulet of the forgotten necromancer on his bedding, withdraws his dagger and pricks his finger. Drip, drip. The blood drops on the metal and vanishes upon contact, almost as if the medallion were drinking the lifeblood. Sil begins chanting in Nogese softly. Manos was not strong that day. It took the better part of a half hour for Silren to bridge the gap between mortal and spirit realms. The room grew cold and the hair of Sil’s beard prickled. He knew he was there. Instead of asking a question right away, the mage told the dead wizard all that had transpired, where he was located and of Aram and the cemetery. And after that, he posited, “What do you know of this place in your time that may benefit me on the morrow, oh wise master?” Torgo fluttered about anxiously.

Silren feels a familiar presence in the room, indistinct and chilling. A low voice, barely audible, echoes from the medallion. “Shortly after the rise of Myth Drannor,” the voice says, “the half-brother of the Coronal, our own king, came here. A small shipping port it was, impermanent, nothing. Where there was nothing, two cities were built, this one on the north shore, yours on the south, so that we might trade with the elves. Deep beneath the cities, in the waters that fed them, we placed the first two of the created, so that we might control the inhabitants. They contaminated the water and bewitched the mind and made the populace complacent. Easily ruled. Oozing, lurking, immortal things. Still there even now, I would suspect. You…” The voice grows weaker and trails off, but the presence remains. After several heart-beats it speaks again. “Time is short. What gift would you have for the morrow?”

“To speak with the deceased, ye of the Hands of Fate. I shall bring you something with more blood the next time we talk. I had no time to find something more suitable today. Keep strong and I will keep memory of you, to strengthen your connection to the realm of the living. In vita est memoriae.” The wizard waved his palm over the medallion to conclude the visit. He then replaced the relic over his head, used the chamber pot and left to meet Embry. Perhaps he’d try a game of Old Man’s Bones if anyone had a set.

Sil tells Embry that he is exhausted and will catch a nap instead, and to wake him when it’s supper time. There will be plenty of time for Old Man’s Bones later.

While he’s waiting for the proper time to wake Sil, Embry will move to sit at the bar if there is space and attempt to get information on the state of the city’s people, especially the poorest people. For obvious reasons he feels a connection there and just wants to know if there’s any needs to be met.

Even after the end of the lunch rush, the common room of the Bitter Blade stays fairly busy. The majority of the clientele appear to be of an adventuring persuasion, judging by how well armed everyone is. You also notice quite a few priests, from the many nearby temples. Conspicuously missing, especially as you watch their shifts end through the door, are the guardsmen from the nearby gate and bridge, who you would expect to stop at the nearest available watering hole.

Embry: I will attempt to broach that subject with the patrons, in as subtle a way as possible. If someone else is “protecting” this place, I’d rather not be taken by surprise. I will make off-hand remarks about not seeing guards around the place and how it must “police itself”. I’m also trying to make friends with some of the patrons that seem to carry themselves like " regulars" and making small talk with them, steering the conversation to stories of people they’d seen “cause trouble” and what happened to them.

One of the patrons, who has more than a bit of orcish blood in him judging by the gray-green palour of his skin, laughs. “Eh,” he says, “all the guards are from Hillsfar. Racists pricks every one of ‘em. If you’re not human, or can’t at least pass for human, they won’t give you the time of day. Wouldn’t be caught dead in a place that serves the likes o’ you and me. They all drink at the Laughing Goblin with the other racist pricks.”

“Troublemakers, you say?” chimes in a slender man dressed all in black and festooned with daggers. “Won’t find any around here.” Everyone in the bar bursts out laughing.

“Eh, don’t listen to them dunderheads,” says a dark-haired barmaid. “Ain’t no troublemakers ‘cause they know the punishment for startin’ anything is being chucked off the top o’ the wall, naked, in the middle of the night, to be eat’n by whatever might be waitin’ below. More ‘n a few of ’em just end up back here in Cooky’s stew pot…”

Everyone laughs again. “That’s right,” a heavily battle-scarred dwarf catcalls, “you’re probably eatin’ the last guy who started a brawl right now.”

“The Council’s punishments are only so harsh because you all really are troublemakers,” yells a white robed halfling woman with, oddly enough rabbit ears. “Speaking of which,” she says directly to Embry, “I heard there are a bunch of pirates set to get chucked off the wall tonight. You should head up to the roof, there’s a really great view from there. All the begging and pleading and recanting is quite the thing to watch if you’re new to town…”

“Also,” she adds, “they’re only joking about the stew. The Cook will take meat from whatever monsters the adventurers happen to bring in, but never anything humanoid.”

Embry: I continue the small talk long enough to be polite then head back to my quiet corner, awaiting my predetermined time to head upstairs, making a specific mental note to mention the pirates as soon as he emerges.


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