Ruins of Adventure

Desolate: Act 1, Scene 6

22 Flamerule, Year of the Helm, 1362 DR

The Slums

As you make your way back to the gates leading into New Phlan, you find the way much less crowded than when you came by less than an hour earlier. It could just be a matter of scheduling. Though, more likely, it is the wide berth the crowd is giving Aram, as he marches along with two bags of limbs slung over his shoulder — bags which, by this point, have soaked-through with blood, and are leaving a dripping red trail behind him.

Unsurprisingly, when you reach the gates, you are stopped by the guards. What is surprising, is that they do not show any signs of concern at the sight of your grim-faced group returning so soon with blood-soaked bags in tow — and, perhaps, the fact that so many armed men did not respond in any way to the screams and sounds of battle less than a block away.

The same guard you greeted on the way out holds up a hand at your approach. “Papers please,” he says. Then, looking at the blood-soaked bags, “More meat for the Blade?”

Aram smiles at the man and pulls out the charter, which was still tucked through his belt (and possibly a bit blood-stained itself). “Here you are,” he says handing over the paperwork. “Thanks for the warning about the Red Hands, by-the-way. Got myself some souvenirs already…” he jiggles the bags for emphasis. “Do you know if the Council is offering bounties on humanoids these days?”

The guard gives your papers only a cursory look, “Still seems to be in order,” he replies handing it back. “Aye, standard bounties still apply,” he holds out a hand, clearly indicating the bag, “may I?”

“Sure,” Aram replies, handing over the bags. “Got four sets of orc hands, a set of giant hands, and a giant’s head.”

The guard opens up the bag. “Well, I’m afraid we don’t pay extra for sets. Or heads. Just need the left hands to claim the bounty.” He passes the bag of hands to another guard and opens up his purse, passing Aram five gold coins. “Ummm…” he passes the bag with the head back. “It’s a little grizzly, but I guess you can keep this one for your souvenir. You might want to talk to one of the temples about getting it preserved so it doesn’t stink up the place though…”

Aram looks a little crestfallen as he accepts the gold. “If you don’t need them for the bounty, could I keep the right hands?” he asks.

The guard shakes his head, “Sorry. We’ve had a bit of a problem lately with amateur necromancers letting Crawling Claws loose in the town. Part of the reason the Council offered a bounty for hands, actually. It makes sure people turn them over…” He tucks his red-plumed helmet under his arm and wipes his brow. “Not that I’d expect your lot of doing something like that,” he adds smiling.

“No…wouldn’t dream of it.” Aram says, taking back the bag with the giant’s head and walking past the guard towards the Bitter Blade next door. {Note to self} he thinks, {find a safe place outside the walls to store any corpses or body parts I intend to animate later…}

While partially healed again, Lothar is still a bit woozy and quite shaken by the recent events. He stays fairly subdued and keeps to himself. When next to Sven he quietly mentions: “Thank you for taking charge back there, you provided focus to the group. I believe we need to train together, learn to fight as a unit, to prevent this from happening again.” He goes quiet and introspective for a second, before he adds: “Truth be told, I’d rather take direction from you than Aram in battle. He seems too at ease with death and gore.”

“It’s better to find these things out sooner rather than later.” Sven says to Lothar. He notices Lo still looks a little “off” and casts a second (and his last at the moment) cure light wounds on him while Aram speaks with the guards.

Aram, short a sack of limbs, heads past the gate guards and into the Bitter Blade. He scans the room looking for Silren or Embry.

Embry comes to greet him, asking how the mission went. “It’s been a bit strange waiting here with this one” he laughs.

Aram shrugs, “Not done yet, I’m afraid.” He jiggles the blood-soaked bag with the head in it. “We ran into a few complications just beyond the gate and thought it would be polite to come back and ask if you’d like to join us…”

Embry, "If you need my aid, I am here. I will gladly accompany you "

“Where’s Silren?”

“Upstairs, preparing whatever he prepares.”

As Embry knocks to get his gear from the room, Silren is found answering the door with a half closed robe. “YAWN. Hey there, Embry. What do you need?” The wizard scratches himself. “You need me for anything?”

Embry, “Aram is back asking for us.”

“Hmmm. Aram asking for help? That’s suspect. Just give me a Hillsfar minute to get ready. Your gear is where you left it. Torgo. Come. There may be fruit.” The bat fluttered. He came downstairs quickly and curious.

Three minutes later Silren makes his way to the common room. “Aram. What do you need of me? I was napping in preparation to talk to Professor Manabu during the 3rd watch. I wish to make this appointment so tell me if whatever you’re planning can be done quickly enough to make it back to this side of the wall before the gates close.”

As Embry heads out and up the stairs, Aram walks out and stares after him, shielding his eyes against the afternoon sun. When he sees Silren coming down the stairs, he waves the bag again, and catches him before he heads back inside to the common room. “Got a present for you,” he says. “Ran into this giant and a bunch of orcs just outside in the slums…”

“A present? Ooo. Once I get that flensed it’d make a jaunty chapeau. Very nice.”

Aram laughs jovially. “We also heard about some meeting of the Slums gangs going down tonight, at the home of some guy named Matteo. Thought we might try a bit of an ambush…”

Silren, “And was this head a part of this Matteo’s friends? Did it speak common or Tharian?”

Embry, “And I thought I had interesting news about pirates being executed tonight. If you have a plan, I’ll be there.”

“He didn’t say much at all,” Aram replies. “Appeared to be working with the orcs, all of whom had bloody handprints on their shirts, and an old washerwoman who was setting them up. Most of them were speaking orcish, but the washerwoman spoke Tharian, and they all behaved like they understood the battle plans Sven kept shouting…”
“We’ll need to subtly ask around and figure out who this Matteo is and where he lives, but if we can manage that, and catch them all while there chatting, maybe we can strike a decisive blow against the chaos gripping this so-called city…”

“Subtly? Why? You’ve apparently pissed off a gang. Find him and break him quick.” The wizard poked a head into the common room of the Blade. ""Any of you know a Matteo in the Slums? 3 gold in it if you can tell us where he lives, 5 if you can take us to him. Any takers?"

“Matteo? Best smith in town.” The bartender yells back to Silren. “Had to move shop out there a couple months ago. Has a place just past Traitor’s Gate, across the road from the soup kitchen. Sure’n he’d appreciate the business if you need any weapons.”

Embry, “Might I suggest, I have a history of life in the slums. If you need someone familiar and able to blend in, I could be of help.”

Aram looks surprised, “You’re a local, Em?”

“Not a local, but I’ve lived that life for the entirety of mine. I’ve a better chance of blending than most. I may even have a plan how to find him, without much suspicion, if you need.”

Sil tosses 3 coins to the barkeep. “Can you relay a message for me? I mean to meet with Professor Manabu later, but fear I may get caught outside the gate. If I don’t make it back, would you send my apologies? Silren’s the name.” And with that he heads out to find this shop with the others.

Thrall, “Yeah, that fight in the slums did not go ok for Durell……He ran into one orc too many, took a full blow to the head. We had to bury him on site.”

“Ah. Then we shall exact a quick and unexpected strike on these unclean offenders. Durek, sorry, Durell will have his post humus comeuppance. I have a few offensive dweomers on call today, a spell of dire combustion that travels in a pillar from my hands towards a target and any in it’s path, a smaller hands of burnination, a spell of illumination which I can focus in ones eyes, a lich’s fear that often stuns it’s victims, the ability to speak with the recently deceased, and a few other tricks. Flashy, devastating effects that could clear a small block. I’ve been itching to exhaust some of these pent up arcane forces, so point me in the right direction.” The mage grinned a bit too excitedly. “See Torgo? Our new, erm, ‘friends’ need our help.”

Embry, "That is tragic indeed. I deeply regret not accompanying you now. I may not have been able to save him, but I would have at least stood at his side until the end. I shall strive to honor him. "

Thrall to the rest and Silren in particular: “With spells like that upon your sleeve, what do you think me and some others are going to do? Watch the mindless killing and act as a healing canon? I have some serious issues with that!”

Lothar keeps quiet during this discussion, choosing to tend to his gear. Between Aram’s attitude to death, the guards habitual indifference to those grisly trophies and Silren’s apparent gleeful eagerness to cause mayhem, he is wondering what he has gotten himself into, and just what kind of “city” Phlan is. At last he speaks up: “Has anyone considered the ramifications of what we are about to do? I understand the need for vengeance, but if we succeed in decimating the leadership of several gangs, a gang war will surely follow. Causing more suffering for the population of the slums, and their lives are miserable enough as it is… Plus who knows who, or what, will rise into the power vacuum. Do we really want to make the slums an even more hostile territory than it already is? We will no doubt need to travel through it regularly.”

“You make an interesting point. A power vacuum could be trouble. What if, instead, we could find a way to redirect these gangs into something more constructive, like helping remove these orcs?” Embry says.

“Oh! A wizard! He’d be great to join us!” Mocked the eccentric spellslinger as he waved his staff. “Why, I guess I’ll spend my time researching puppy saving charms, love potions & rainbow fart spells instead! You come to me, wake me up, tell me you beat up a washerwoman and started a gang war and you want me to SIT AROUND NOT TELLING YOU I COMMAND POWERS THAT COULD HAVE EASILY KEPT YOUR POOR FRIEND ALIVE? YOU THINK A POWER FUCKING VACUUM IS WHAT YOU NEED TO WORRY ABOUT? YOU NEED TO WORRY ABOUT GETTING STABBED BY ORCS AND THUGS, THAT’S WHAT!” Silren thrusted a finger to the sky. “Come.” He said cooly. “We will ‘talk’ to Smith Matt first. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“What was that Torgo? Prophetic, you say? Well shit, bat! I am a gottdamned wizard, I don’t know why I have to keep reminding everybody.”

“Aram. Did you tell the rest of my training? That I was part of the war wizard cabal of Hillsfar? That as a member of the 3rd circle that I commanded a small pod of lesser wizards? That I spent 2 tours attached to a Red Plume squad before I was honorably discharged? Hmm? I didn’t think so.”

Aram just laughs at Silren’s rant and addresses Embry and Lothar, “I doubt we can get he gangs to help remove the orcs, since, I am fairly certain at least one of the gangs IS the orcs. Really though, a turf war might be exactly what this city needs. If we can get the orcs and goblins and whatnot fighting each other, then the civilized folk might finally have an opportunity to organize and drive them out properly. And if we create a power vacuum in the Slums, it could, conceivably, be filled with law and order, rather than just feeding the gangs and making them stronger.”

“Also,” he adds, “if this Matteo is the city’s foremost crafter of weapons AND hosting a meeting of gang leaders, it can only mean that things are about to get much worse for the people of this town if we don’t cut this off right now. Durell was slain by orcs with clubs and other sub-standard arms. How much worse do you think it would be if they were all armed with proper steel?”

Silren, “Why can’t these Phlanites just do what we did in Hillsfar? Build a bigger, better wall and kick out all the undesirables? We’re such a happier, sane lot now.”

Aram suddenly looks thoughtful, “Say. If this Matteo guy was forced to move outside the wall, it could be that the Council passed out promised monopolies to other businesses and not just the grumpy green-grocer. Do you remember how angry the herald-girl got when we asked about the fisherman with the bugbear problem?” He strokes his whiskers, “There’s some sort of conspiracy to squash free commerce and drive up prices going on, and its probably going to end extremely violently if we don’t do something about it…”

Lothar, "Maybe have a chat with this Matteo first? If he has been forced out of the city because of a monopoly granted to another, he may be simply seeking an alliance with the locals? And he may have more reasonable prices? The comment from the guard at the gate also worried me, apparently raids into the slums for “mystery meat” are nothing unusual… It doesn’t cast a good light on the ‘Esteemed City of Phlan’…"

“Well, they’re not exactly quiet about the fact that they are hiring a small army of ‘independent contractors’, present company included, to clear the area outside of the wall of ‘monsters’, and are none-too-clear about defining what is or is not ‘monstrous’…” Aram scrunches up his mouth, making his mustache bristle. “Silren has a good point. I don’t know about the Council, but most of the guards are from back home in Hillsfar. If they’re anything like my nieces and nephews, they’re just waiting for an excuse…or sufficient manpower…to have a good old-fashion purge of all the ‘undesirables’…”

Embry, “So maybe we go meet this Matteo first, offer him a friendly way to solve what’s going on.”

Silren, “Chatting with Matteo is fine, but let us put ourselves in his hypothetical shoes. If he is producing weaponry for the local thugs… where’s the profit? Poor folk aren’t handing over gold for blades and the like. He’s an arm’s dealer and needs a market for his business. He got kicked out of his shop in the New City. That has to ferment some resentment. Aaaaaand, you guys may just have killed some of his hired or sympathetic muscle. As much as I ‘d like to think this might solve our problems, we’re most likely putting ourselves in a foul spot.”

Aram, “Pitty they don’t have a proper colloseum here though. This chucking miscreants off the wall naked, instead of making them fight minotaurs naked for entertainment like we do back home, is downright barbaric…”

“Myself and Embry are the only two who haven’t been to the slums. Perhaps we go separate and talk to Matteo, while you follow and keep an eye on the shop. If he checks out, we’ll relay that to you. If not, we try something a bit more drastic. Oh, we’re here at the gate.” Silren shows his papers and looks to see if any of the Plumes look familiar.

Silren scans the faces of the guards, but, given how tight a leash Hillsfar keeps on its mages, does not recognize any of them from the small handful of regular soldiers he was allowed to speak with back home.

“Nice to see the Red Plumes guarding the walls, though. I appreciate your service, officer.” Silren bows slightly.

Aram pulls the group’s charter back out of its place in his belt and hands it to the guards. “Why do they call this ’Traitor’s Gate’?” he asks the guard, trying to make small-talk.

A voice from behind the visored helm of one of the officers replies, “Because idiots like you use it.” The visor raises to reveal the face of a non-descript, almost deliberately so, clean-cut Hillsfarian soldier wearing a smirk. There is a long pregnant pause before, suddenly, Silren recognizes the smirking face to belonging to Valerius Nerva, an intelligence officer whom he served with during his time in the Plumes. “Hiya, Silren,” he says when he sees the telltale shift in body-language as recognition dawns on the wizard. “What brings you to our gates this fine afternoon?”

“Thinking about engaging in a little Hillsfarian ultraviolence on what might be an arms dealer for the orc filth in the Slums. Want in, Val?” Torgo squeaked with joy. Valerious used to sneak fruit to the bat on occasion. Apparently the little bastard remembered.

Valerius shakes his head and waves you all through the gate, “Sorry, Sil. I’m stuck here until my shift ends…”

“No problem, Val. You can find me at the Bitter Blade out of uniform or look for us in the Slums later. Heading for Matteo’s. If we don’t make it back later, send some of the home team to bring back our corpses.”

Sven, “This…gang meeting…I feel there’s more to it than we might think. I think it’s a precursor to something much bigger…” He stops short of saying ‘War’. But he can smell it in the air, like the odor that lingers before the rain on a dry day. If he IS right…there’s much work to do. “I’m going to stay behind – as much as it pains me. I need to set up a safe zone for us. There are people I need to see and consult with. People we may need on our side.”

“If there are items you wish to leave behind, I shall tend to them.” Sven looks to Thrall. “If you leave the sword Durell was carrying, you should know that I will return it to the one who gave it to him in the first place, leaving it up to her if she wants us to keep it.” To Lothar, “You’re going into hostile territory, lad. Don’t let it change who you are…but don’t let it take your life either…not without a fight for the ages.” He gives Lothar a vial (Healing potion). “Use this if you need it. And remember – if Aram dies…take our papers. We’ll need those.”

Thrall hands Sven Durell’s sword and elven chainmail. “I cannot use it anyway.”

“Is that armor magical? I knew an enchanter that used to say it’d resize… If so…” Silren paused for effect. “Torgo, you want some bat barding?” The bat squeaked a squeak that sounded a bit like a laugh. “Nah, he’s good.”

Lothar nods, almost bows to Sven out of sincere respect: “Thank you. I shall endeavour not to lose myself, in whatever may come. And thank you again, I’ll use it wisely.”

Embry, “Do not worry, Lothar, we will help keep you out of trouble.”

The Slums Market

As the gates swing open, your ears are assaulted by the cacophony of a hundred costmongers shouting their wares: “Wet fish!” “Chickweed and grun’sel!” “Turf! Get’yer turf ’ere!” “Hot eels!” “Ripe, strawberries ripe!” “Peas’-soup!” “Fresh Milk! In the can or strait from me own udders!” “Rat poison! Guaranteed t’ kill ’em quick!” “Knives, knives to grind!” “Herring toasters! Herring toasters here!” “Comb yer hair? Penny a comb!” “Squirrels! Live Squirrels! Get ‘em while they’re chitt’ring!” “Dung! Dog dung!” “Wine! Silver a cup!”

You pass through Traitor’s Gate to find yourselves in a massive, open-air market. Dozens of rickety stalls and tattered pavilions crowd the large plaza before you, all crawling with beggars, goblins, orcs, adventurers, merchants, and a few people from the civilized section of town. The crowd, for the most part, appears to be people just going about fairly normal lives—peasant women carrying baskets with babies or groceries, merchants hawking their wares, urchins running about, a farmer driving a herd of pigs, beggars and panhandlers asking for handouts—though the term “people” is used very broadly, as you see goblins, orcs, and even gnolls freely mixing with the human residents. More sinister undertones are obvious, however—you see small armed groups (mostly goblins and orcs) walking about, occasionally stopping at various merchants stalls where bribes are hastily handed over, you hear the sounds of weapons clashing and the occasional scream from side alleys.

Amidst the chaos you spot other distractions as well. An organ grinder performing with a dancing bear. A dark-bearded man in a fez, standing on an old crate shouting the praises of Shar, goddess of the night. Another man, on a slightly taller box, tries to proselytize some other god, or so you guess, as his voice is completely drowned out by the first.

A kobold pup, a disturbingly-toothy grin plastered across his canine-face, shoves a box towards Silren as you walk out. “Cigar mister?” it yaps.

{Now this is more like it} Aram thinks as they walk into the market, {unfettered commerce, though, who would want to buy dog dung?} He turns and nods his thanks to the gate guards then tries to take in the full scope of the market. {Wonder if they’ve got any whelks?} He shudders inwardly when the kobold pup comes bounding up, but smiles warmly at the little thing. “Cigars? Don’t mind if I do. How much?”

Silren waves a finger and uses telekinesis to turn the box towards the kobold and then opens the lid with his mind. If it was a trap, the lil bugger would get it in the face. “Aram, hold. Where is your caution? Did you leave it in Hillsfar?”

Embry, “Aye, let’s not start a full-scale riot the moment we open the gate.”

The box, already open to show a row of poorly rolled cigars, does not move. “One gil, Sir!” the pup says, addressing Aram and paying no attention to Silren’s unusual gesture.

Silren, “I’ll pass. I prefer the hempen pipeweed or blue tinged mushrooms myself. Right Torgo?”

Aram fishes a gold coin out of a pouch and drops it in the pup’s box, and takes a cigar. “There, you see,” he says, gesturing at the market with the cigar. “The perfect analog for the trials of the Blessed Afflictor. Entropy. Buildings crumbling, people moving in disordered masses, the screams of the dying. Behind us lies Order. Lines, queues, rules, walls, and buildings relentlessly rebuilt from the detritus of failure. Without the efforts of the latter, the whole world would become the former. But those very efforts towards civilization, poorly managed, spawn yet more disorder on their very doorstep! All of civlization is ever-spiraling towards destruction, and not even the most well intentioned Councils can manage to slow it down!”

Aram fishes around in his pockets for a sparker and lights the cigar. He takes a puff, then grips it in his teeth and talks around it like Churchill. “Still, even in the midst of all this decay, the people strive for civilization. Just look at it, Silren. Even the wee monsters are buying and selling. They have food. They have shelters. Now that they can get clean water from the river, all their earthly needs are met. It’s just ORDER that they lack! Strong leadership and guidance that those idiots inside their walls refuse to provide! This is what comes of letting the youth run amok and play at Council’s and consensus…” He resumes walking as he rambles and rants.

Silren, “Enjoy your poison cigar, old man. Let’s find Matteo. Sooner we get out of the hive of scum and villainy the better.”

“Right! Poison! Exactly!” Aram says, puffing on the cigar and not really listening through his rant. “Chaos is just like the poison that used to course through this city’s river. It’s pervasive. It gets into everything!”

“I think you might be smoking dog shit and cyanide was my point. You accept anything from a fucking dog lizard after you murdered a bunch of filth a half hour ago?” The wizard shakes his head. “Reminder. Those orcs rape like humans drink water. Those southern heathens will steal your tent, goods, coin and women while smiling…” Gesturing to the fez wearing idiot. “And gobos smell worse than the grave if a grave died and was buried in one. And given the chance these pricks would climb that wall, rape all the noble women, drink all the beer and torch any decent business and order. Don’t forget that. New Phlan first, eh?”

Thrall stays at the back of the party, hearing the ranting and rambling, coming from the head of the party. “And I thought the wizard was the sensible one…….freaking hell….pffff”

Thrall gets himself some strawberries (if they look ripe and fresh). A few are for Torgo, as promised, a few for himself. The remainder he will keep for later to cast Goodberry on them.

The strawberry seller appears to be a human girl, maybe twelve or thirteen, with dirty, dirty-blonde hair and a patched, threadbare dress. Her wares are ripe, though not quite fresh — to Thrall’s expert eye, he’d guess they were picked about a week ago. She continues to hawk her wares in a sing-song as you look them over, “Ripe Strawberries, Ripe!” then, to you, “Silver a pound, Sir.”

Thrall takes one pound and pays the silver coin. No fuss, no hassle.

Torgo, seeing fruit, flies over and lands on Thrall’s shoulder. The bat squeaks cutely, tilts it’s head and blinks cutely while motioning with it’s left clawed hand towards it’s mouth. Silren sees the exchange, slips two fingers into his robe and grabs a single gold coin from the inner pocket. “Little girl. Thank you for finally quieting my pet.” The creepy wizard sneaks her the gold by putting it in the basket under the fruit. Hopefully out of sight of the party and the crowd. He had a reputation to keep. “Make sure you stay safe from the orc kin, my dear.”

The girls eyes go briefly wide, but she knows better than to call attention to the windfall. She gives a tiny, half-curtsy then turns away and resumes her hawking. “Strawberries! Ripe Strawberries!”

Thrall, “As promised, Torgo.”

Torgo wolfs down the offered berry. Red juice dripping from its teeth. It proceeds to make chirping noises at Thrall, motioning for more fruit as they move.

Aram strolls into the market, puffing the cheap cigar and looking around for a smithy or weapons stall that might point them to Matteo. Embry does the same, minus the cigar. He makes a point to watch his companions purses to keep an eye out for pickpockets.

From his slightly lower vantage, Embry has a pretty good view of the purses not only of his companions, but of much of the crowd as well. Strangely, none of the locals seem to be acting particularly concerned…indeed, Embry does not see a single sneaky goblin or quick-fingered child even trying to untie a purse-string or slice a pouch.

Embry is so baffled trying to figure out why there is no pickpocketing going on that he almost misses the large, shuggy-furred bugbear that suddenly steps in front of Aram, glowering and cracking his knuckles, apparently unconcerned by the old man’s prominent, and blood-splattered weapons and armor.

“Toll,” it says simply, in slightly slurred Tharian.

Embry spots two other bugbears nearby, nonchalantly leaning against a wine-sellers stand.

Silren mumbles something as he steps back behind his meat shield friends, wiggles his fingers of his right hand and casts light directed on the eyes of the lead buggy. “Lumos, fool.” He says under his breath. {Perhaps putting Aram in the path of the most danger will keep him from accidentally awakening Duvan’ku someday.}

Embry holds his hand out towards the bugbears “We don’t want trouble, you’ve startled our friend. What is the toll and who is collecting it? Is it for Matteo?”

Aram reaches into a pocket, “How much, my good chap?” he asks jovially. Then there is the flash of light, “Damn it, Silren!” His hand reaches for his blade, sure that any chance of a peaceful resolution has been lost. He swings for the fences.

Lothar cuffs Silren on the back of the head, as he would a petulant brat: “You idiot!” as he quickly steps past to take his place in the developing battleline. I give the shaft of my spear a sudden jerk, sending the leather sheath on the blade flying loose to hang from its lanyard under the spear head. (I’m not getting within reach of big mofo’s again, if I can help it!) “Someone watch our rear!”

Silren seethes. “Such ‘tolls’ are theft, you arrogant Cormyrean.”

Embry puts his shoulder next to whoever is standing near the front, long spear at the ready in a rudimentary phalanx formation, yelling for the bystanders to clear the area. “But perhaps we could have talked our way out of it, especially if we had all gathered around to give a bit of a show of power.”

Thrall reaches for his amulet and prays silently for the spell Flameblade

The first bugbear, suddenly blinded roars a confused “Whu!” The other two stand up strait, but seem equally unsure of what to do, or why their companion’s head is suddenly haloed with light.

They hesitate.

Then Aram’s sword comes out and up, slashing across the blinded bugbear’s midsection. It howls in pain and swings a hairy fist in Aram’s general direction, but cannot meet the reach of Aram’s blade, overbalances itself, and stumbles to the cobbles.

The other bugbears start to move to his aid, then see Lothar and Embry set their spears, and decide that closing might not be the best idea. Rather than charging, they start looking around for something to throw.

Behind them, Thrall feels the answering call of his god as the desired spell enters his mind.
The masses thronging the market adjust their paths to give you a few extra feet of space, but otherwise continue about their business unconcerned.

Embry, “Leave it at that, you bastards, move along, no toll, no more violence. And we all keep our heads.”

Aram stumbles slightly from the momentum of his unweildy weapon, then hefts it over his head and brings it down on the prone bugbear. “In the name of Our Blessed Afflictor, I find you guilty of the crimes of intimidation, extortion, and exaction. May you find better employment in Hell,” he says, loudly enough for the crowd to hear. {Perhaps we can turn Silren’s itchy trigger finger to an advantage and make an example of this little unpleasantness…}

Silren reaches out telekinetically, trying to lift the prone bugbear’s purse. Suddenly the crowd parts, and a fourth bugbear, previously unseen, steps out behind Silren and runs him through with a short sword. It grabs Silren’s belt as he falls, and yanks hard, tearing it off of him. “Toll…” is says in the Common tongue.

As Lothar and Embry stand there, spears at the ready, the other two bugbears start grabbing things off of the wine-sellers cart and throwing them. A small cask smashes against Lothar’s shield, spraying him with cheap red wine. A bottle hits Embry solidly in the face, but luckily does not break.

The blinded bugbear attempts to rise, but does so directly into the line of Aram’s sword. The force of the blow cleaves its skull in two, adding considerably to the bloodstains already decorating Aram’s armor.

“Kill the old man!” The bugbear standing over Silren’s unconscious form yells to the others. “The other two might be valuable…”

Thrall raises his right arm, shouts " Fireblade!!! And moves in with the rest of the phalanx, ready to attack.

Lothar casts a quick glance at Embry and shouts: “Reform phalanx around Silren, take his attacker first! Aram, guard our flanks, Thrall, aid Silren! Desolate, HUAGH!” He syncs the “huagh” to a look and a signal-nod to Embry and wheels around, keeping his shield to the outside of the formation, turning to face the bugbear that attacked Silren.

{Silren?!} Aram is really quite surpised to see his old acquaintance drop in his peripheral vision. Then he hears Lothar shouting orders. {Huagh? What’s that mean} Aram thinks, {why all the shouting?} He carefully looks around, trying to decide what would be more efficacious. {They’re too big to Hold. Command will only affect one. Healing spell might get Silren up, but it looks like the gang has the one on Silren taken care of…}

{Flanks huh?} Aram turns and charges at the two bugbears who are throwing things, hoping to catch them off-guard.

Thrall: “Temur, protect Silren and attack!!!!”

The wolf leaps for the nearby bugbear, biting it hard and pushing it back away from Silren’s body. The tiny phalanx turns with surprising efficiency and alacrity. Unfortunately the bugbear, though startled by the wolf, is able the dodge the thrusting spears of Lothar and Embry. Still, the reach of their spears prevents him from counter-attacking.

Thrall, moving from behind the line of spears, slips in from the side and tags the bugbear with his flaming brand, setting its fur alight and eliciting a howl of pain.

Aram breaks away and charges into a hail of thrown bottles from the other two bugbears. He manages to swat away a couple of missiles, but one bottle strikes him in the leg and shatters, burying a dagger-like chunk of broken glass in his right leg, just below the hang of his hauberk and above the knee. He manages to keep his feet, but is hobbled by the pain, breaking his charge.

Lothar stabs at the bugbear again, trying to take him down fast. Not feeling anything pelting him anymore, he shouts: “Aram, how’s our flank?” If there is a chance to do so safely, Lothar casts a quick glance at where he last saw the two other bugbears.

Aram grits his teeth, reaches down, and yanks the bloody shard of glass from his leg. {Damnit! That one hurt.} He glares at the two bugbears and hobbles forward, blood pouring down his leg, but confident that, should things really turn south, there is nothing they can really do to him. He tightens his grip on his sword and activates his ring, causing it to crackle with electricity. “Servants of chaos,” he declares as he swings weakly ahead of him, “today you become the victim!”

“Lothar, do you have this one?” Embry breaka rank and goes to Aram’s side to help him deal with his foes.

Temur, much quicker than those of you on two legs, leaps at the backstabbing bugbear, but the wolf’s aim is quite terribly off. Temur impales himself on the bugbear’s sword, and recoils, whimpering. “Heh!” The bugbear laughs. “Not so very strong or smart? We’ll see how you boast after I kill your little pet…”

Thrall swings for the creature’s neck, but Lothar is the faster. His spear pierces the bugbear through it’s left eye, such that it is already dead when Thrall’s flaming sword removes its head from its body, the heat cauterizing the wound as its made.

Hearing him whimper, Thrall turns to Temur first and for all. Nothing else matters. Thrall kneels, lifts his head and gives Temur his healing potion, as much as needed.

Meanwhile the other two bugbears, seeing their chosen target closing, draw long knives and lunge at Aram. The first is deflected by Aram’s mail, harmlessly, but the second finds a chink and drives home into Aram’s side, barely missing piercing his kidney. The bugbear just has time to withdraw the blade before Embry comes crashing in, driving his spear clean through the creature and pinning it to the vintner’s stall.

The last bugbear standing turns and looks ready to make a mad-dash out of the marketplace. But is also quickly impaled by Embry.

As Embry prepares to disengage his spear from the skewered bugbear against the vintner’s shack, a familiar looking form – somewhat short and wearing armor that appeared to be oversized for his body comes bounding out of the nearby crowd. “I’m here to help, guys!” yells the boy called Eddie, as he wields a broadsword that also looks like it would be too big for him. But with an unexpected finess, he lights into the bugbear, cutting into the carcass at the same time Embry withdraws his spear, making the removal easier, and keeping it from getting caught. “I’ve got this one!” he exclaims.

Embry wraps a scrap of cloth around his wound and thanks the newcomer for his assistance.

“Eddie, my boy!” Aram calls happily through pain-gritted teeth. “Glad to see you about. How’s your aunt?” He tries to keep up the small talk to distract from the massive amount of blood seeping from his leg and his side. Leaning shakily against the vintner’s stand, he presses a hand to the wound in his side and prays silently for healing. He lets out a small sigh as the bleeding stops, then hobbles over to Silren and does likewise As he walks he says, more steadily now, “I’m sorry to say this Eddie, but your friend Durell has passed…”

Lothar surveys the scene, quickly scooping up any pouches or purses before Silren can. I check up on our wounded, starting with Thrall and Temur: “Is he okay?” To Temur: “You did well, Temur, thank you!” When I get confirmation they’re okay, I hand Thrall the pouches and purses: " Divide these into equal shares for all of us when we get back. Include a share for Durell, so we can arrange a memorial. Oh, and for Eddie too, I don’t think he’s going home soon!" He adds with a wry smile. I assume I approach Aram and Embryo at the same time: “How are you? Well fought my friends! If you are restored again could you search the bugbears? The way they talked about us as valuable makes me think they are slavers and I want to know who they would sell us to…” Before Aram kan interject, I add:“Now I know your stance on slavery, Aram, but they were looking for able-bodied fighters, meaning they’re either building a slave fighting force or organising blood sports, and that I cannot accept!” I turn to Eddie:“Well met, Eddie! You arrived just in time! Can you help me guard he scene, keep our friends safe and prevent looters? How are the villagers doing?” I gesture him to follow me as I take up a relaxed guarding position near the corpses, warning away any would-be looters. When it seems safe enough, I take a moment to wipe the blood off my spearblade and shield.

As the battle ends, the practiced indifference of the people crowding the market dissipates and dozens of onlookers and rag-pickers start to crowd back in, many seemingly as unconcerned about Lothar’s warning glances as they had been about the attempted broad-daylight mugging. Lothar manages to hastily grab the purses from the four dead bugbears before anyone else can, but the bodies are soon mobbed by grubby, grabbing fingers. He looks for the severed head of the presumed leader, but it is no-where to be seen.

Silren sits up and assesses his situation. He checks his person for anything missing & digs his potion of healing from his robe if it’s still there. He’ll only drink it if he feels more than halfway in the gutter. “Hey. Everyone. Come here.” Silren motions for the group to come closer. “I’m sorry. Thank you for saving my life. I did not expect a flank – and quite honestly I cannot stand bullies.” The wizard remembers getting beaten within shreds of consciousness before. From his father’s hands. “I will take your lead from now on, in the field at least. I might still have the strength to speak with the dead. Would you wish for me to question this ex-leader?”

Embry, “If you can figure out who they are working for, then I think that is a good plan.”

“I’ve never tried using this power after being rendered unconscious. Let me see if it is still at my call.” Silren’s hand moved to the amulet to see if the telltale trickle of arcane energy was still present. Sil felt great to be honest. And all his tricks remained untrucked. Um, intact. “Um, Embry. Perhaps we move the body a bit behind one of these stalls before I call upon his spirit. Torgo. Keep watch over my back while I’m focused. Yes, yes. I know. I was being stupid. And yes, if I die you can hang out with the strawberry guy. His name’s Thrall, by the way.”

“Do it!” Lothar grunts, as he bodily shoves two would-be looters off the corpse at his feet (the one that backstabbed Silren). “Eddie, use the flat of the blade or your fists, the goal is make them feel sorry, but not dead!”

Holding his broadsword across his body, one hand on the hilt, one gingerly holding on to the pointed end and blade, Eddie starts walking toward the crowd making pushing motions with the sword to keep the onlookers at bay. (Without being obvious, he tries to push the SMALLER crowd members – children, goblins, small women, etc)

As soon as Lothar starts bashing the grubby-fingered child looters with his shield, the generally passive air of indifference that dominated the market quickly collapses. Whatever tacit truce allowed the market to exist is gone in an instant. In a place where violence and theft are commonplace, this is something completely different. The general grasping and shoving of greed quickly gives way to open, murderous aggression.

In the blink of an eye, a full-scale riot breaks out. Mobs of orcs, goblins, kobolds, ogres, beggars, farmers, merchants, and adventurers suddenly turn on each other, though your party is the clear focal point of the suddenly released tension.

“DO YOU BEGGAR FOOLS DARE TRIFLE WITH A WIZARD! LEAVE THE CORPSE OR YE BE CURSED TO THE END OF DAYS!” Silren burns a charge from his amulet of terror. Hands spread to the sky as he’s enveloped in dark purple energy. Silren, arms raised, glows with a horrible, terrifying malevolence.

The riot…stops. Nearly a hundred people just stand and stare at Silren, slack-jawed with fear.
A small handful of individuals — a couple orcs, a goblin, a beggar, a halfling with a slave’s tattoo, a beautiful mail-clad woman, a man dressed as a pirate — are unaffected. The beggar, already hunched over one of the bugbears, doesn’t even look up as he continues to loot the body.

Of your party, only Aram seems unimpressed by the sudden, awesome display of power. Lothar, Embry, Eddie, Thrall, even the wolf, stand dumbfounded, rooted to the spot, and unable to look away from the horror that is Silren.

“Geee! Wow!! What else can you do?” Eddie says, his awe is sincere, that of an amazed youngster seeing something unusual for the first time

Aram quickly cleaves the head off the nearest bugbear and shoves it in the bag with the giant’s head to be questioned later. He looks at Silren, “Well, you certainly made an impression. Shall we exit stage left my friend?” Aram grabs Embry and Eddie and starts dragging them back towards the gate. “Come along…nothing to see here…”

“Silren, grab the others before your handiwork wears off…”

“No problem, Aram. You know how I get when I’m angry. Come, come my dears. Let’s get back to the gate. I’m sure the white hairs will go away eventually. Torgo, come my pet. You’ve seen this before.” The wizard herds the others back towards the gate, but scopes out a target for his scorcher spell if there’s any real pursuit.

Dragging the others, you reach the edge of the market before the first of the rioters come to. Aram spots a collapsed house about 20 yards west of the gate, only two walls of the old stone structure still stand, but one of those walls is still tall enough to shield you from view of the market.

After a few minutes of utter terror to think things over, most of the crowd appears to have learned the error of their ways. With your group removed from sight, and the bugbears lying there to be looted, the market quickly returns to normal…though not without an opportunistic few taking advantage of the paralyzing fright of their fellow market-goers to settle an old score or two.

Silren, “You were wrong, Aram. There is order here. Barely. But it’s there.”

Aram pulls out his wineskin and force-feeds a swallow to Thrall, Embry, Lothar, and Eddie. “There you go. Fortify your nerves. He’s not so scary really…” He talks quietly but cheerfully, and gives liberal, grandfatherly pats on the shoulder, until the effects of Silren’s amulet were off. When it seems like they are in their right minds again, he passes the wineskin around again. “There now. I think we should be avoiding the market for a bit, eh? What say we skirt around and see if we can find this Matteo chap?”

“I am reminded of my commune earlier, Aram. We should talk further. There’s a chance whatever eldrich evil that tainted the water was killed or displaced… and the water was magically subduing the populace. We may be sitting upon a greater powder keg than anyone realizes, stored negative psychic energies of 4,000 years.” The mage calmly stated. “But, yes. Let us find this Matteo and skirt the market for now.”

“Eldritch evil tainting the water?” Aram strokes his whiskers. “Care to elaborate?”

“Not right now. I doubt it will affect our immediate course of action. Let’s visit this Matteo. Thank you again, my friends. Let us hurry so I can make my meeting with Professor Manabu this evening. There will be much to discuss over pipe weed and dinner.”

“Warn us next time you pull something like that! … But thank you all the same, that turned ugly fast. It seems the slums are more volatile than we realised…” Lothar seems shaken, both by Silren’s feat and the sudden and intense violence lurking below the surface of the population.

“Warning you would have defeated the purpose, my friend. Allow a practitioner of the arcane arts some sense of mystery and drama. We’re happier that way.” Silren dug into his pocket and pulled out a few walnuts and raisins, offered Lothar a few and then chewed the rest. “Plus, some asshole stabbed me in the back and was preparing to murder me and leave Torgo homeless. With my luck, I’d come back as a ghost and he’d continue to pester me for fruit.”

“We do have a talent for making ourselves popular with the locals..” Lothar remarks wryly. “Gotcha, Silren’s, will do.” He turns to Aram:“Did we get any useful information before everything went crazy?” “Oh, and how is everyone else doing?” Lothar looks to the others, to check on them.

Thrall comes to his senses, realising that he is out of danger. Turns to Silren and says, calm on the outside, furious on the inside: “Never ever include me in your spells again unless I ask for it!!” To Aram and Silren : “If one of you needs to start a fight again, just because you feel like it, give me a Fucking warning up ahead. I will turn my back to you all and leave! I have got a lot of better things to do than getting my ass kicked twice a day!” How angry he really is, shows on his face, even Temur has curled his lip and has flattened his ears.

{The fuck?} Aram thinks. He holds up his hands placatingly, “Thrall, if I may, that is a bit unfair. I did not start either of those fights. I merely acted to end them as quickly as I could after Sven and Silren started them. It should also be noted, that, as far as I can tell, you have faired much better than most of our group in the battles so far in terms of ‘getting your ass kicked’.” Aram looks meaningfully at the not-quite-fully-healed gashes on his leg and side.

“Also, it seems to me that, surprises aside, Silren acted quite prudently to end that last situation before it turned into a fight. A fight which, I might add, could have been avoided if certain of our number did not feel the need to threaten peasants, children, and beggars…”

“Actually,” Aram’s face loses it’s usual smile, becoming quite grave, and his voice raises slightly, “it seems to me that all three fights we’ve been in today were the result of our members mistreating those less fortunate than ourselves. I would happily have paid that bugbear’s toll rather than causing a ruckus, we could and should have easily walked away from that poor, old washer-woman, and there was absolutely no reason to strike the people in the marketplace over a corpse…” {And people call MY morals questionable} he thinks.

Aram turns back to Lothar, “We did not get any information, but I do have one of the bugbear’s heads if master Silren would care to interrogate it.” He pulls the head out of the bag and offers it to the mage.

“It was you who killed the giant child, Aram… But it is like I said, at the next fight I will turn my back and leave. And that fight is going to happen when we ’talk ’ to this Matteo” Thrall starts to undress, tunic first, revealing his leather armour, then the armour. Dresses again, this time tunic first and armour as last.

“Of course I killed him. And the bugbear. And an orc. As I said, I make sure to end fights as quickly as I can, but don’t blame me for starting shit…” Actual anger bleeds into Aram’s voice. “If you are so cowardly that you intend to walk away when our companions are in danger, you’d best walk away right now…”

Aram gets a death glare from Lothar, his voice icy cold: “You would rather we leave each fight as clueless and witless as we start it? I was trying to preserve any information we could find. We NEED to know what is really going on in this forsaken place! If we just keep doing whatever our fancy or past grievances dictate we are going to get killed here without anything to show for it. Don’t hide behind your fucking high horse! I came here to find my past, not bury my future!”

“Thrall. If you leave, please leave some strawberries. Torgo thanks you.” The mage pulled a gold coin out of his pocket and flipped it to the druid. Facing Aram, he states, “Then let us do that now. Set the head over there.” The wizard looked to a spot behind the wall, out of immediate sight. “I should get two questions… If it does not resist my call. It has happened before. Spirits are a fickle bunch.” Sitting indian-style with the head facing him, Silren lets a trickle of magical energy into the amulet. “Oh Great Manos, grant me your boon. I, Silren, your connection to the realm of the living requests your connection to the realm of the dead.” He smears a little of his blood on the amulet. That usually sped things up.

As Silren starts his incantation, Lothar falls silent, apprehensive, but still fuming.

There is a sudden chill and the bugbear’s eyes open. “What?” it says gruffly, in a voice echoing and distant.

“Who did your group work for?” He used his mysterious wizard voice.

“What’s a human care. We work for ourselves.” The bugbear’s severed head replies.

“After a fight is not the time to ask questions, save perhaps this way,” Aram waves a hand at Silren and the head. “We were mugged, Lothar. Plain and simple. What more information do you need from that encounter than we need to proceed more cautiously and refrain from provoking every peasant, human or fiend, we come across?”

“None,” says the head, “caution is prudent.” The chill passes and the eyes close.

“I ask the questions!” Still using his wizard voice: “Who’s the most evil agent of the old city you know that resides in the Slums, dead bitch?”

The head does not respond.

“Damn it, Aram.” Silren kicks the head to the side, turns, loosens his robe and pisses on the head, before turning his head about and stating, “Look it seems that we have our differences and all, but I think we can all agree this town is screwed up, right? We all have different ideas about how to go about it, but something is going to fight us sooner or later and to Hell if we’re going to go down without a fight if it comes down to it. Here’s the rub. Thrall. You talk to Matteo first. We’ll let you do the talking. IF it still comes to craziness, we’ll dig you out.” He then reties his robe and turns about.

Lothar, well and trully pissed off by now: “Well, that we need to be more cautious was painfully obvious to me, even beforehand! Don’t patronize me like that! And we don’t even know if we were mugged! For all we know these were representatives of some sort of impromptu government of the slums, and the money used for good ends! We have strong suspicions that the Phlan City council is totalitarian and powerhungry, And we don’t know shit about the affairs of the slums, except that we’ve done our damnest to antagonize one or more of the powergroups within it. Who protects the interests of the people of the slums, do you know that? He may have!” Lothar points angrily at the piss-soaked head. “For all your talk of aiding the downtrodden, you seem to have precious little interest in finding out who is already doing so!” Lothar sighs deeply, visibly struggling to rein in his temper. “All I want to do is find out for sure who, in this Helm-forsaken place, the oppressors are and who the protectors are… So we can at least ally ourselves to the right faction and do some good in this benighted place!” His anger either expended or contained, his shoulders sag and his uncertainty and doubt start to show through…

Silren, “I hate to say this, Lothar. But there’s never a clear answer as far as moral things stand. But I doubt the bugbears that were stealing our coin were fine upstanding citizens. And a washerwoman that shot a bolt into you guys before calling on a giant friend were recently at the Temple of Sune participating in a local charity function for crippled adventurers.”

Lothar looks aghast: “She was? What have we done…” Lothar is silent for a moment, regret clear on his face. “I know there is no clear black or white, Silren, I doubt there is even a single one truly fine upstanding citizen in this whole city. But I do hope we can at least find one of the lighter shades of grey to work together with. The people in this slum deserve better than they have.”

Silren, “Then cleansing the obviously evil types only betters their (the masses) existence, correct? Those bugbear thugs are no longer going to demand tribute from little girls selling berries again, eh? The bigger issue is that citizens here get temporary absolution when they settle here. But if they decide to break those rules, pardon my Cormyrean, fuck ‘em. You’re also nobility, correct? It is well within your blood right to make those decisions for the commoner.”

“You mean judge, jury and executioner? I’d rather not. And in my view, enforcing law works best in an functional and balanced municipality, which this clearly is not… I guess justice tends to be more arbitrary, and violent, here. At least that suits our current proclivities, I guess. I think that before we can think of dispensing justice, we at need to tackle the rampant injustice first. It’s just that there is so much of it… " Lothar looks away, doubt in his face. “This place is a powder keg, for now, let’s just try to not be the spark.” He looks at the rest of Desolate, with clear question in his eyes.

As they walk towards Matteo’s Silren adds while nodding in agreement, “There was a dark being that tainted the water here before. I know little of it, except that it’s influence is gone or on hold. It kept the weak-willed docile. Now that it’s gone, the natives are restless. I hope that does not mean that the New City is on it’s last days. The orcish filth in the Old City seems so much more organized than these bureaucratic oafs and their insipid paperwork. But I’d still rather deal with occasional paperwork than be killed by orcs, gnolls, bugbears, xvarts, etc… See what I mean?”

“I do, I just wish the Council wasn’t so introspective, indifferent and, well to be blunt, corrupt. They aren’t reallly honouring their propagande about returning order and civilisation to this city. They’re content to sit behind their walls, enrich themselves and exploit others. It seems there is precious little good here, just indifference, evil and the need to survive. I had hoped we could at least be a positive influence during our stay here. So far we’ve only spread death…”

“Perhaps the Council just bit off more than it could chew. They are a greedy lot, gambling on such a long shot. Who folds first though? And I would not say these deaths are negative. To steal others lively hood through illegal tolls or those that deceive you by pretending they don’t speak Tharian or the trade tongue do not mean you or us well. And now that it’s started, we have a target painted on our back. Better to bear it though with pride and keep fighting than to bog ourselves down with idiosyncratic moral details.”

“The council’s greatest crime, if you will, seems to be their passivity… At least we can’t be accused of that.” Lothar smiles grimly. “You’re right; We’ve set a path, no way to go but ahead. Let’s go speak to Matteo.”

Aram tunes out for a minute, letting the hotter heads of the youngsters play out. When the direction of the conversation changes, he becomes thoughtful. {Noble?} he ponders the idea a bit before interjecting. “Lothar, none of cities around here are what you might call ‘pillars of morality’. My home city of Hillsfar is known throughout Faerun for its intolerance. Zhentil Keep is home to the Black Network. Mulmaster is known as the ‘City of Danger’ and has crime-rates that make these slums look tame. ALL of these cities have interests in Phlan and representatives sitting on the Council. To expect anything other than greed motivates any of them is laughable…” He tries to keep his tone level, rather than accusatory or insulting.

“But,” he continues,“many of the Council members also claim to be descended from the noble houses of Old Phlan, exiled after its many calamities. If Professor Swipe’s comments about your medallion are true, you may have some hereditary claim here as well, perhaps as much or more than the Council members. It might be worth talking to the Council and reviewing their rules and seeing if there is a way you could have more direct say in the city’s governance…without resorting to backing an uprising of some kind.”

“But,” the old man shrugs, “we’ve been here less than a day and already have more balls in the air than we could ever hope to catch: the graveyard, the library, the slums, the gang-wars, the undead, your heritage, my expedition to the mountains…and we don’t even know what really brings Thrall or Sven to the city. I want, and I suspect we all want, to address everything and know everything RIGHT NOW, but it really has only been hours since we disembarked. We’re already in over our heads…” His shoulders sag, showing the fatigue of years and a long day. He sighs, “I don’t know what our priorities really should be right now. We can’t fix everything in the city in a day, or even a week, or likely even a year. After we find out about this Matteo person, I think we should stop…return to the Inn…get some rest…and then have a serious discussion in the morning about what to focus on, in what order, and for what reasons…”

Aram shakes his head, “So how do we find this Matteo?”

“Easy,” Silren looks to the Traitor’s Gate and looks for a guard. “Where’s the soup kitchen at?”

Walking by the gate, you see several guards with crossbows standing watch at the top of the wall. Given the angle, you’re certain that they can easily see into (and fire into) the market if they wished. Valerius is among them. “Soup kitchen?” he calls down from twenty feet above you. “Why? Bear meat not good enough for you?” He laughs and points a little to the left, “See that line of hungry orcs? Just queue up, can’t miss it…”

“Thanks!” Silren saluted back. “It’s right cross the street from that soup kitchen. Tally ho, and such.”

Strolling along with his shipmates, while enthusiastically creating amazingly smooth and adept figure 8’s with his broadsword, Eddie seems to exude an amazing amount of childlike wonder for one having just been in the midst of a bloodbath. "You guys argue too much. No wonder Durell went away! He hated too many words – he liked ACTION! He was COOL! So where are we headed now? And when will tall dark and purple be pulling another “freeze the crowd” show?? Huh?" His naivete could be annoying, but the toothful and wide grin on his face makes it hard to be angry with him.

Silren, “I do not like to use that ability too often. The spirit that enables that power is a crafty one. I fear that one day he may lead me astray, but not today. Not today. Keep you wits about you… Eddie is it?”

“Eddie,” Aram’s voice is solemn, “I’m really sorry to have to tell you this, but Durell did not leave. Durell is dead. His head was smashed in by an orc with a bloody hand-print on his shirt, just outside the Parkside Gate less than two hours ago…”

“That’s one of the reasons we’ve been arguing to be honest.” Added Sil.

Eddie stops his sword swinging, and his walking. He turns to the rest of the party and speaks with a voice that is obviously attempting to sound “adult”, but is also just as obviously on the verge of breaking into tears. "Nope. Nope. Nope. Durell went away. What you may have seen was a that he “left” during a battle – which is exactly what I would expect – but I have NO DOUBT that he just “went away”, and I FIRMLY BELIEVE he will be back when needed. He’s our BULWARK." With a sniff or two, and a quick (so as to try to be unnoticeable) rubbing of his cheeks against the shoulders of his over sized armor, removing any “leaking liquid”, Eddie resumes his artful sword maneuver practicing.

Silren stops. “My parents died in a house fire while I was on my apprenticeship. At first, I didn’t want to believe it. Wanted to think they made it out. But after they found the remains a few days later, I found that it was better for me to have that closure, than to lie to myself every day. The rest of our friends did gain vengeance, but there are other members of this gang about. We are going to do our best to keep this from happening to others like Durell. Understood? We need you to be strong, calm and focus, ok?” The wizard pats Eddie or Billy or whatever his name was on the back.

Another sniffle from Eddie, and a nod and a shrug avoiding the pat on the back is accompanied with a low mumble (barely audible and not particularly directed at or to anyone in particular). “Sure, you had a corpse. Don’t see Durell anywhere, do you? He went away”. Swinging of the sword gets “wider”, likely keeping folks away from his front and side pretty much as he walks.

While walking, Trall makes sure that he falls back a little. In silence he is trying to commune with his God Sylvanus. Not knowing If he is heard or not, he is explaining what happened the last few hours. At the end he asks for some sort of divine intervention to help him out of the next sticky mess.

Half-a-Loaf & Matteo’s

Taking the left fork from the gate and walking less than a hundred yards, you round a bend to find the soup kitchen. The market stretches out to your right, behind the building, proceeding as if the altercation and near-riot of fifteen minutes prior had never happened.

The kitchen is a long, low building, new and clean, with symbols of Tyr and Sune painted on the walls. A hundred people, at least, stand in a long line outside the near door of the building — rag-clad humans peaceably standing cheek-to-jowl with mud-splattered goblins and muscle-bound orcs, many of them with the bloody handprint on their tunics. Another line files, less densely out of a far door, bowls and chunks of bread in hand, smiles on their faces.

Across the road, stands an open-air smithy. The massive furnace throws a deep red glow across the road, even in daylight. A young man (mid-twenties you’d guess), with dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard stands working the forge. He pulls a glowing-orange chunk of half-molten metal, bare handed from the furnace, to many oohs and ahhs and winces from the crowd waiting in line across the street, and tosses it onto an anvil. With several quick, deft blows of his hammer, with more than a bit of a showman’s flourish, the molten lump transforms, then vanishes with a hiss of steam into a bucket.

The young man reaches into the bucket and pulls out a perfect, black-iron rose, each petal distinct. The people in the slow-moving soup line clap and nod appreciatively. One of the bloody-hand wearing orcs breaks from the line, crosses the street. There is a brief, unintelligible conversation. The orc passes a bundle to the young smith, and returns to the line holding the iron rose.

Embry, I give a polite clap at his handiwork. “Well done sir, I have an eye for the craft, and you are clearly a talented man.”

Aram stops when the others approach the smithy, staying back where he can keep an eye on the bloody-hand orcs. {Fascinating} he thinks, watching the line of people waiting for their handouts of food. {Even the charitable organizations make no distinction between the orc gangs and the human peasants. And the urchins and rag-pickers in the market were just as brazen in their looting. Perhaps Silren is right, there is Order here, of a kind. The orcs are as much a part of this community as anyone else. Perhaps I was right and that old washer-woman was just calling for help. A pack of bumbling, heavily armed fellows from out of town stumble in and start yelling at her…of course she defends herself. Then Durell charges and murders the neighborhood watch? All a terrible misunderstanding, or string of misunderstandings, leading to more chaos…more unnecessary violence.} “Shit,” he says, quietly, to himself. {Definitely not a mess to be solved in a day…}

Silren saunters up to the smithy. Are there any wares openly displayed?

A single wooden rack next to the smithy bears a couple of pieces, which you suspect are intended just for show: a flanged, iron mace, crafted as it were in a single, solid piece; a short, broad-bladed, single-edged sword with a perfect hamon line running down the blade; a small iron cooking pot with clusters of grapes worked in exquisite detail around the rim; and a beautifully burnished breastplate — literally named, for it is crafted to the exact figure and proportions of a lady’s torso, such that you’d worry of blows being channeled into the cleft between the bosoms (if one was a pedantic internet troll).

Silren looks closely, and examines for any marks that would appear an artist’s signature or such. “Would you mind?” Silren reaches to possibly handle the short blade, if the smith agrees.

43743553_2017005901672183_4968624068744970240_n.jpghe smith gives a small nod as Silren reach for the blade, then turns and takes a crucible out of the furnace, pouring the molten metal into a nail-mold. Taking a close look at the sword, Silren finds a touch-mark of a highly-stylized ‘M’ stamped on the base of the pommel. Then notices it secreted on the other items as well.

“Excellent workmanship, though not entirely my style.” Lothar remarks with a humorous smile as he examines the breastplate. He turns to Matteo: “Nice feat with the bare hands and the steel.” He nods in respect.

Eddie chirps: “They’re cool, but not as cool as mine.” With a quick flourish of his sword, he’ll back away from any future conversation with the smith.

Silren, “Do you have any daggers available?”

The smith turns to Silren. “I only make things to order,” he says, “and I’m a little backed up today, but if you’d just like a knife I can have one for you by market-time tomorrow, next week if you want it properly tempered and fully sharpened.”

“Sure. But I’d like three and if at all possible done in cold iron. Next week is fine. I once met a fae creature that gave me trouble. Is that doable?” {Silren thinks, he has time to fuck around with iron flowers, but no time for a small item. And those orcs dropped a load of something off to him, either raw metal or weapons, hmmm.}

“If I may ask, how come you are doing business here, sir? A man of your skills and, erm talents,” gestures to the hot iron and his bare hands, “would have his pick of places to practice his trade.” Lothar asks, genuine curiousity and respect for his craftmanship in his voice and expression. Gesturing to the food line and surrounding buildings: “These people must count themselves lucky to have a craftsman of your caliber among them.”

The smith continues to pour out nails, not looking up as he responds, such that his expression is unreadable, though his voice is hard. “Oh, I had a fine shop inside the walls…not that long ago…” He finishes pouring out the nails and looks up, wearing a forced smile. “But it’s nice out here, too. Closer to the customer base, you might say.”

“Ah, those Council fools playing market?” Remarked the mage casually.

The smith finishes pouring the nails, then stands, wipes his hands on his apron, and turns to Silren. “Three blades, cold worked? I can have them for you in a week, but they’ll be a bit crude. I haven’t the proper tools for dinking or bunishing, nor an apprentice to help with the peening or swaging. If you want something with a proper edge I’ll need a month at least. And in either case, it won’t hold up to use like properly heat-tempered steel…”

“Look. faeries don’t stab themselves. Otherwise I wouldn’t need such a tool. How much? Um, one crude and the other two worked.”

A raised eyebrow, “Five gold for the set.”

Silren, “Agreed. Know anyone who works silver? Spirits piss me off too.”

“I am sorry, I didn’t mean to poke at an apparently sensitive issue. Your location just surprised me. Then again it is perhaps good that the people here have access to quality goods instead of just the scraps the Council leaves for them…” Lothar shrugs off his gauntlet and extends his hand: “I am Lothar Dravion, glad to meet you.”

“And I am Silren the Burnt. Weaver of Flame, Caller of Eldrich Fear, Master of Torgo the Bat of Fruit, Stabber of Faeries and Disgracer of Skulls.” The wizard attempts smile with one eye cocked and bows towards the smith. {That should impress him, thought the uncharismatic mage. This small talk thing was getting easier every time.}

The smith accepts Lothar’s hand. His handshake is surprisingly, notably weak and brief. “Matteo, formerly of Matteo’s and Petroff’s Fine Blades,” he says, then snorts and laughs at Silren’s pronouncement. He coughs back the laugh and continues. “No need to be sorry over my location. I just had a falling out with my partner, but everyone knows his work is shit. He’ll be out of business in a month. Even the Councilman Urslingen comes out to me to have his armor mended, and this way I can sell directly to more of my customers, rather than forcing them to use intermediaries all the time.”

{Why doesn’t anyone respect wizards any more? Fricking young ones. Where did the magic go?} Silren hides his slight anger by looking at the crowd, perhaps for the ones that weren’t affected by his fear earlier. Warrior lady, pirate guy, slave halfman. Maybe to see if any of the red hand orcs were heading anywhere other than the soup kitchen.

Silren looks around, but there does not seem to be much of anything on this side of the market. Most of the crowd seems to be coming from the market, passing through the soup line, then exiting and going back around the building into the market again. The one exception is a small enclosed fish-market with a sign labeled “Something Fishy” and a smell indicating that its products are none-too-fresh, the next building over from the soup kitchen, which appears to be attracting a bit of traffic from out of the market — mostly kobolds and goblins by the look of it.

Everything to the south and west of the smithy quickly becomes ruins — not the half-built-up, densely inhabited ruins of the slums, but weed-choked, tumbled piles of stones with nary a lean-to among them.

“A shame to hear about that falling out, Matteo. But most of your customers live out here? I guess that makes sense, one has more need to be armed and armoured out here than inside the walls… And I imagine some parties would rather not have the Council know of their purchases.” Lothar looks at the line for the soup kitchen a moment, observing the people waiting for food. “I see a fair amount of people with that red hand mark, what does that mean?”

“Must be new around here,” Matteo says. “The Red Hands are one of the biggest orc tribes in the ruins. Half the orcs you’ll meet belong to the hands, though only the warriors wear the mark. They hire themselves out for ‘protection’ services. Mostly a racket though…anyone out here who doesn’t pay up them can expect a less-than-friendly visit, unless they’ve teamed up with another tribe. Still, they do a pretty good job of helping out the slums-folk when the Council’s bravos and free-swords swagger through and can’t tell the difference between a milliner and a murderer…”

“They’re not bad chaps, for orcs.” He points to the orc in line holding the iron rose, “That one over there payed me a whole bag of chestnuts to make a gift for his lady-friend…”

{Well, it looks like I won’t be getting my deposits back. Thinks the wizard.}

Lothar, “Thank you for the information, we are indeed still getting our bearings here. Rare for a protection racket to actually provide protection when required, I can understand your regard for them. By your remark I understand the council and it’s sell-swords aren’t exactly well regarded here? How come the situation stays as stabile as it is?”

Silren, “They were sold a dream, eh? Like we all were. It’s easier to fight for it than to give up on it. We were all sold once – and no one wants to admit they’ve been had. It’s those that realize that the dream was a dream without any substance are the bitter ones. Most folk here ain’t that bitter. Yet. Come, come. we have some breaking and entering to do before it gets late.”

Silren absent mindedly grabs 3 gold coins and passes them to the smith. “The other 2 on receipt of purchase. And how would one find the old library from here?”

Matteo accepts the coin, then points at the many branching paths just past the fish market. “Second from the left there, about three blocks I think, but most people avoid that place. The orcs say its haunted, but I think it’s mostly just that no one has managed to pick the lock yet.”

“You have a crowbar handy?” Silren asks. “We can even bring it back.”

He pulls one off of his rack of tools. “One gold as a deposit then. You can have it back when I get my tool back.”

“Sure enough. Good way to test your work, eh? Add breaker of doors to my name, eh?” The Wizard hefted the bar over his shoulder and began whistling a jaunty door opening tune. “Anyone want to check out a few books? Come Torgo. There may be fruit on the other side of the door.” The bat chirped excitedly in response.

Glad to be moving again, Eddie shakes his head and wonders aloud “Who would’ve thought I would be trying to break IN to a LIBRARY? Something new every day!”

Silren, “Ha, ha! Right? Let’s go break something.”

Aram falls in step behind the others as they head towards the library. “Everyone keep alert,” he says, “there seems to be some general consensus in the town that this place is not safe, even by comparison to the slums where we’ve been fighting all afternoon…”

As we walk, Lothar speaks up (before reaching the actually [even more] dangerous parts for the slums): “So, where do we stand right now? We’ve talked to Matteo, what are our opinions on him? Of course we blew our cover for tonight’s meeting as he now knows we are all together… What do we do with the Red Hand and avenging Durell? It seems to me, they are the local equivalent of a peace keeping force, do we really still want to dismantle that? It seems to me that the true responsibility for Durell’s death lies with the Council’s manipulations and opression. And what about visiting the wizard’s tower to see if we can use it as a fall-back location if things go wrong. We’ve established the slums as hostile, mostly through our own doing… But judging by Silrens new toy, that seems to be off the table. Where does everyone stand on these matters?” He looks at the other members of Desolate in turn, gauging and eliciting their responses.

“That’s quite a lot of questions.” The old man says in a tone of voice that makes you think he’s going to lecture you about all of them… “Regarding Matteo,” Aram responds, “his comments about his customers not having to use intermediaries, along with the transaction we saw, makes it clear that he is definitely arming the Red Hands. But you’re right, Lothar, that the situation is much less black and white than any of us first thought.”

Aram stops walking and strokes his whiskers. “The real question, regarding the Red Hand, and Matteo, and the whole slums situation, is ‘who was that child who told me about the meeting, and why did they do so?’ Matteo said the Red Hands were not the only tribe offering ‘Protection’, and that they were plenty violent towards those that dind’t pay up, and some of the people in that crowd on the Parkside seemed definitely pleased that we’d killed them. They’re definitely no peacekeeping force. There is still a gang war happening out here. Any ‘peace’ likely has more to do with whatever ancient eldritch power polluting the water that Silren was talking about, than the efforts of these orcs.”

He sighs, and resumes walking, carefully stepping over the rubble in their path. “This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but the responsibility for Durell’s death lies with our own incompetence. Sven went back to confront that old woman when the rest of us had already moved on. Durell charged those Red Hands, alone, without making any attempt to clarify the situation, or wait for us, or discuss tactics. There was bloodlust in Durell’s eyes when he saw those orcs.” He sighs again, “I could have Held Durell, or the orcs, or both, had I thought of it and been able to match the young man’s speed. We’re to blame more than anything. The orc that delivered the killing blow to Durell is dead. Justice was served there, and I think our ‘avenging’ should stop there…” a long thoughtful pause. “If we’re going to be fighting gangs of orcs, or the Council, or whoever, lets do it in a measured way that can help bring more order to these people’s lives, and not just for vengeance. As enticing of an idea as vengeance is, it just throws fuel on the fire of this chaotic world.”

The old man pauses on hearing a noise and gazes intently down a side-alley — which is clearly the opposite direction from where whatever the noise was came from. He shrugs and continues, “I think talking to Professor Aumry about his ‘job’ and using the tower is still a viable idea, though,” he points at the top of the tower just visible through the ruined city streets, “there’s now a mile of hostile slums separating us. So that seems like a discussion for the morrow, and a venture back through the Parkside Gates.”

Thrall, “Nice, some sensible talking” coming from behind.

Eddie stays to the outside of the group, and, figuratively, to the outside of the deep discussion between the others. He does pipe up at one point with “This ’it’s ok for orcs to be hanging around town’ stuff boggles my mind. In Feathersdale, they were just marauding, bloodthirsty killers and invaders to an otherwise peaceful community. That’s why Durell hates them so much. So much so that he can’t hold himself back from driving them off and away from our townsfolk. I don’t think you COULD slow him down or stop him from taking down any he sees that are causing trouble or pain.”

Lothar’s shoulders slump at Aram’s words. "Unpopular doesn’t make it less true… We are the dangerous fools here, because we thought too black and white, used our weapons before our brains. That made us easy to manipulate, by the council, by whoever tipped us off on Matteo. We automatically assumed that because the slums seemed hostile, New Phlan must be safe, the white to Old Phlan’s black. The veneer of civilization made us assume they were reliable and trustworthy. I think we should start gathering information for ourselves instead of letting others spoon feed us! "

Silren, “I do not completely believe Matteo was telling the complete truth. The gift of the black rose could be the front for something more complex. Orcs tend not to give gifts to their lady friends. Matteo needs to get raw goods and fuel from somewhere. Perhaps he’s getting it from the Old City. If that’s the case, he may be supplying the opposition to New Phlan through intermediaries. The weapons that the Red Hand orcs were of shoddy quality, you said earlier Aram. Not worth keeping. That runs contrary to his skill level. My guess is he has a definite underground tie in for his own protection. We should find out if the Red Hands tribe runs through the old town, and I know just the man to ask when we get back to the Blade. Let’s pop this lock today and then come back to the library tomorrow. We can discuss our actions a bit further if we can learn more about the orc tribes in the area.”

“If we pop the lock now, doesn’t that just leave the library open to looting by others? At least a hundred people saw us coming this way…” Aram says. “If we can actually get the door open, we should explore as much as the light will allow.”

Silren, “That’s the point, Aram. Orcs won’t get far, but someone else might try. We can follow in their footsteps on the morrow. Let someone else take some risk. We don’t have any trap finders here, right? Plus, I can have Torgo keep roost here tonight and keep watch and report in the morning.”

Aram, “Who traps a library?”

“Who doesn’t? Books are very important. Wards and the like should be present. Plus anything that’s called the place home for the last 60 years. You see this burn on my face?” Silren pointed to the most gruesome part of his feature, encompassing the right side of his face. The beard only made it look worse. “It was from a single book I thought was safe to read. The wizard’s of Hillsfar refused to have it healed as penance for my actions. I guarantee that there’s similar things here to be found.”

After Silren’s words Lothar turns to him:“With what you are saying, could it also be that the locks on the library aren’t meant to keep people out, but to keep something in? Why else send in adventurers, instead of scholars who can actually discern valuable texts from amateur erotica?”

Scholar’s Square

The streets grow progressively quieter as you near the old library, the bustle of the market fading behind you. After traveling less than a block, the roads change from being choked with refuse to being choked with weeds and fallen stones. You pass the occasional skeleton, long since picked clean, but no other signs of humanoids traversing through this section of the ruins.

Two blocks on, the smell of damp, fetid air reaches your nostrils. The old cobbles here are sunken into the ground, or missing, and the bare patches are spongy under your feet. The ancient buildings are nothing more than tumbled piles of stones covered over with thick mats of dark-green vines.

Looking ahead, you see, incongruously, a perfect statue of a man in armor standing in the center of an intersection. The stone appears to be undamaged, and the lines are crisp, as if they’d been carved only yesterday.

Silren, “Shit!”

“Agreed,” says Aram, as he starts rummaging through his pockets in search of a mirror. “Nothing says ’don’t come this way’ quite like fresh statuary…”

Silren, “New plan. We need to learn more about things that can turn people to stone. We leave now. I will return the crowbar on the morrow. Also, we need a cart and a mule.”

Eddie scrutinizes the statue closely. Especially the subject’s stance (to the point of taking up the same stance and looking in the same direction). “Really, guys? folks just stand still in an intersection and get turned to stone? Wouldn’t they look scared? Or in an offensive or defensive stance? Doesn’t this look more like a statue HONORING someone? Any way we can find out WHO?”

Moving in closer, Eddie can see that the statue appears to be of a man holding a map or scroll open with both hands. His gaze is fixed just over the rim of the scroll at something down the street to the left. The workmanship is exquisite, the curl of the scroll, the links of his mail, everything is perfectly detailed. There is no base or plinth. The statue’s feet are placed firmly on the ground. One foot is slightly forward, and the hips are tilted in a resting posture, as if ready to stride forward to greatness as soon as it figures out exactly where it is.

Eddie, “Ok, Silven, you may have a point. No base explains why no plaque of honor. And the detail is more than anything I have ever seen in statues”.

“Lothar,” Aram says, as he grabs Eddie’s sleeve and starts trying to pull the boy backwards, “didn’t you say that the Temple of Sune deals in art? Perhaps we should go inquire with them…right…now…”

Silren moves around where he can scrutinize the face more closely, and sees that it appears to be biting its lip in a mixture of worry and confusion. There is even a perfectly carved bead of sweat running down the man’s face. Suddenly Silren catches a hint of movement in the shadows down the alley to the right, past the statue.

Silren bolts.

“Good idea, Aram! Let’s go! Everyone, go back, watch your feet, don’t look up! " Lothar suddenly seems rather pale and hurried… I grab Eddie as well and haul him back the way we came

Thrall and Temur turn like the rest, looking to the ground, not up, but trying to pay attention to the flora and fauna. Though he does not have time to make any thorough examinations or exploration of the local flora, Thrall notices examples of hedera overgrowing the buildings, sphagnum fuscum and poa palustris as the dominant ground covers, and several species of stropharia (in the moist areas and close to walls where there is some shade). He does not see any sign of avian or reptilian tracks.

The Bitter Blade

Everyone backtracks to Matteo’s, then on back to the Traitor’s Gate. You get back behind the gates without incident just as dusk is falling. The shops and temples inside the walled part of the city are closing up as you make your way back to the Bitter Blade.

There is still a fine statue of a panicked farmer who looks like he is choking to death standing right beside the door. Silren notes that, unlike the statue you saw in the slums, this one appears to be wearing actual clothes, rather than the highly-detailed stone carving of clothing.

Silren is slightly dismayed that it was as late as it was getting back, but happy that he made it through the gate before it closed. He enters the Blade and looks for Sven. Regretting that he didn’t get any food at the commissary, the wizard takes a seat, sets down the crowbar, and orders something that doesn’t include mystery meat. “Sven. We have much to talk about.” The mage fills in the crusader on their antics, leaving out any incriminating details, of course. When mentioning the Library, he informs him of the need for caution due the stone making monsters and possibly needing a lockpick or scout hired to make sure they don’t perish to traps and closed doors. “Perhaps there is someone to hire here, or even one of Swipe’s students on the morrow.” The wizard also looks for any early arrival of Professor Manabu.

“Aye,” Aram agrees sitting across from Silren. “One of Swipe’s students would probably be ideal, and asking Swipe will save us from having to shout around town that we’re looking for thieves…”

Silren, “Preferably an attractive female rogue.” {That’d make a sexy statue.}

Aram, “In my experience, the sexier they look, the more likely they are to rob you blind and leave you to rot…”

Silren, [In Nogese:] “They sell for more as statues.”

“Huh. Maybe we’ve been fooled or there’s different types of stone transformation. Bears asking a certain dead man I know later.” {That other statue is definitely worth carting back then.} “I guess my questions to the group are: Do we feel better with our chances at the Graveyard or the Library? If we go Library, there’s some things we should prepare for in advance tomorrow. #1 acquire a scout for help in any traps we encounter. #2 determine if there’s more than one type of monster that turns people to stone. This farmer outside was killed by something that only turned his flesh to rock. The figure we found by the library was entirely stone, but too detailed for me to write it off as happenstance. #3 acquire protections or reversals from a temple – most likely of Sune. They will want nothing of my ugly face, I suggest the prettiest of us should go and take of that. #4, while we’re here in the New City, we should talk to Matteo’s old partner – next to the Silversmith we passed on the way here. There’s always two sides to a partnership splitting and I feel that Matteo might just be a slow worker. Slow workers tend to drive a more cost savvy partner insane. Trust me, my parents were always complaining about that at the shop back home. Perhaps we could help reconcile their differences.”

“And while there, we can look at getting some silver weapons. Spirits and undead and devils and demons all hate that stuff. Good for us to have either way we go.” Silren looked to Thrall, “Make sure if you have any spells to charm or pacify animals to have them ready. I’m pretty sure the thing that the farmer ate is a weird relative of a chicken. You might be able to calm a chicken.”

Thrall adds his two pennies :" I would prefer to go to the library first tomorrow. The graveyard is way to big for us now, I think. I also have to apologise for my behaviour earlier. I am simply not used to killing, blood and gore every day. I am perfectly able to kill however, if someone is stupid enough to annoy me long enough or to take from me, what is mine."

“Thank you for healing me as well. I assume that was you. Torgo enjoys your company and fondness for berries – And the little feck is a great judge of character. Heck, he hangs out with me.”

Aram, “There are risks whatever road we take. I know of a few creatures that petrify with a gaze — medusae and basilisks for example — which can be mitigated or reversed by use of a mirror. So that might be something else we should acquire.” The old man turns to Sven. “There is a temple of your god here, is there not? Would they be able to provide in the case of petrification? Personally, though, I fear the undead much less than whatever beasts turned these men to stone. Whatever might be in the graveyard, we at least know from Lady Frantiska’s account that they can speak, and thus likely be reasoned with…”

Silren, “While I agree with you on being less worried about the undead, the library is quite interesting and may hold clues to the Graveyard.”

“Aye,” Aram concedes. “Assuming there truly are books still there, the Library does seem like the best starting place for most of our ventures…not only the graveyard, but Lothar’s ancestry, and my expedition as well.”

“I will try to learn more of stone rendering monsters tomorrow morning before we leave.”

Eddie pokes and prods the “Choking Farmer” statue a bit, and then pipes up with: "Hey, could it be that the clothes weren’t affected on this guy because the “statufication” started from the inside out (something he ate) versus the other guy being “stoned” from the outside? Just wondering."

Silren, “I going to try and find out. I’m not well versed in the specifics of primal calcification, Eddie. But learning is half the battle.”

“Well,” the elderly Aram says, “if you all are not planning on getting into any more trouble until morning, I am going to go get some sleep. I’ll meet you for breakfast.” With that, he pushes his chair back, rises and heads for the door.

“To Durell!” Sven raises his ale/lager/mead/whatever high into the air before drinking deeply.
“There’s much to discuss…in the morning. BUT…” he continues, “from now on, we don’t leave the walls without obtaining a guide. Even if it’s a walk to the market, we need somebody who knows their way around…. There’s plenty of scavenging youths out there that would gladly do it for coin.”

“I’m afraid, after the day we’ve had, it would just go to my head,” the old man says. Aram raises an empty hand in a glass-holding gesture in response to Sven’s toast. “To Durell, may he rest well in the halls of his ancestors. And now, friends, I bid you good night.”

Sven, “I told you that you can stay with me if you’d like. The offer is still available. We can probably fit three, if they’re not claustrophobic.”

“Thank you, but I prefer a bed to myself.”

Silren will actually have a glass with Sven and toast in kind, but keep it to the one mug. He did almost die today. He waited up looking to speak with the Professor… Ooo, was that a game of Old Man’s Bones? The wizard looked with curiosity and tried to learn the basic rules.

Sven, “Well, for what it’s worth, I’m glad you decided against busting into this “meeting” of the gangs that was allegedly happening. Although I do feel it is something that needs monitoring. Again, use of the locals may be beneficial.”

Silren, “The gangs will find us. Have no doubt. I’d remain vigilant and beware of violence, unless we did actually scare some respect into them.”

Silren turns to watch the game, being played by a trio of white-robed Tyrran nuns and Ian Cockburn, the grocer. It does not take long for Silren to catch on to the fact that Cockburn is being taken for all he’s worth…

Sven, “The Orcs walk outside of the wall with impunity. They own the streets out there. They won’t be intimidated by a tiny skirmish – and if the various factions are looking to unite or cooperate, their grasp will tighten. If they are being lead by this Matteo – or someone else with a grudge against this place (Phlan) – it could become a BIG problem.”

Silren, to the Crusader: “No doubt. I believe they might be led by those in the Old City.” To Cockburn: “Ah. Mr. Grocer. I see the nuns are taking you to Church. Your walnuts and raisins have been quite the hit today. I will suggest your shop to my friends in the future.”

“At some point, I will talk to this Matteo. I was not with the rest of you this afternoon, so maybe it will offer some benefit if we remained “strangers” in that regard. Besides, if he’s as skilled as you say, I may have use of his services.”

“He might be skilled, but he’s slow and overloaded. I am more interested in if his partner has any skill and has a better catalogue of weaponry.” Remarked the wizard while watching the game. He might have to pick up a set of these bones. “My worst fear is he’s beholden to equipping the slums for insurrection. I do not want to be in the middle of a revolt. Oh, have they hanged the pirates yet?” He phrased the last question to the nuns.

Sven “They’re killing the pirates? Imbeciles.”

Silren, “I was curious if it was the ones you guys ran into on the boat the other day. I think they actually throw them over the wall naked or something.”

Sven nearly spits out his drink with shocked laughter “Hah! Reinforcements for the embittered on top of it! Lovely!”

“Glad I’m not the only one here with a sense of humor. I think you and I will get along, Sven.”

“I’ll ask how you feel about that the next time the guards are watching you get murdered three feet outside of the gate.”

“Oh, not yet,” says one of the nuns, a serious-looking young woman with wire-frame spectacles and dark hair pulled into a tight bun. “Though, they should be starting soon. There were four of them convicted this morning. If you want to watch, there is a very fine view from the terrace on the roof…”

Silren, “Would you show me, sister? I could use the company until Professor Manabu shows. After your game, of course.”

Sven, “Well, I’ll have a look. Morbid curiosity on how this dump operates…”

She looks at the now rather large pile of winnings in front of her fellow nun, an elderly white-haired woman with the shawl of a sister superior embroidered with golden scales. “If you’ll excuse me, Sister Erol,” she says with a bow, “I think I’m done. There is some justice to be observed, after all.” She sets aside the dice and rises. “This way,” she says, heading for the door and then the stairs, which wind their way up and around the side of the building.

Silren checks out the nun’s butt on the way up. Manos would find it hilarious if he ended up… nevermind. “I have my own defenses, but I appreciate your type when the help is offered, Sven. Just protect my flank better than the others did today and I’ll appreciate.”

Sven finishes his drink with a chug and wipes his mouth before heading to the roof.

Following the priestess up to the roof, Sven can see a contingent of red-caped guards leading four men up a wooden staircase to the top of the wall. The four man are wearing nothing more than their smallclothes. As they are led up to the highest point on the wall, the roof of the Bitter Blade fills with eager spectators. You notice the elderly nun, Sister Erol, has joined you and is now taking bets on what monsters might be waiting for the criminals at the base of the wall.

As the first man is shoved towards the edge and looks down, you can hear him screaming, “What! No! Don’t! Please! I didn’t do it!” His screams are punctuated by several deep, rough growls from the other side of the wall, unlike anything Sven has ever heard.

A guard gives the man a light shove and he topples forward, accompanied by cheers from not only the Blade, but several other nearby rooftops. There is a short, terrified scream, which ends quickly, to be replaced by the sounds of snarls and rending flesh.

The second pirate pleads even more pitifully than the first. As the guard shoves him forward, there is a brilliant flash. Crackling arcs of electricity rake the top of the wall. The guard leaps backwards as the charred remains of the prisoner topple forward.

“Ha! The behir is out!” calls a burly, red-bearded man, “Pay up, Erol!”

After the stroke of lightning, a dozen extra guards, armed with doubled arbalests deploys to the top of the wall. The last two prisoners are prodded forward with spears to keep their guards out of harms way. Their end is swift, and followed by a rain of heavy bolts and many pained growls and cries, and one last burst of lightning from their “executioner”.

With the show over, the crowd disperses from the roof, with many a happy remark about how the Blade will have “good eating” on the morrow.

Sven, If I can catch Sister Erol before she departs, I’ll ask her “I’m new here – what other fantastic beasts make appearances?”

Sister Erol walks down the stairs with Sven, “Oh, we get the gamut of creatures from the Old City, the pile of bodies does a good job of attracting them — trolls, ankhegs, owlbears, unusually large rats, even a tiger once. And, of course, some of the larger creatures pose a risk to the city, so attracting them within firing range is quite effective at winnowing them out as well. Sadly we cannot always count on a creature showing up. More than a few have survived the drop to escape into the Slums, but such is Tyr’s will…”

“Sister, I have a question regarding your faith.” Posits Silren as they walk down the stairs. “Does the clergy have anything that can un-petrify stoned adventurers? Clearly that is of risk if we continue to work for the Phlanish Council.”

The nun shakes her head, “Sadly no,” she replies. “I know of a prayer that can protect those near to me from such attacks for a brief time, but actually transmuting flesh into other materials and back requires the work of a mage.”

“Most interesting. This magic does not fall on any of the Paths I follow… Perhaps a fellow wizard can pen me a scroll. You have been most informative, Sister. Thank you for your time and company. Come, Torgo. We must meet with Manabu.”

While some of us will go to the spectacle on the roof, Thrall announces that he will go to his room and retreat for the night. Hands Lothar his room key and says " Well rest and goodnight. I will see you in the morning." In his room, he will put his backpack down, removes his armour and takes off his boots. From his pack, he gets out the remainder of the strawberries. If there are any real good ones there, he will put them aside, casting Goodberry on them. After that he finds a small cloth package in his backpack, after some digging.
Opens it and takes the silver pendant out. It is a image of Sylvanus. The cloth he places on the floor, facing South. The pendant is placed in the middle. Thrall starts praying.

Lothar: Well my exploration for the night will take me to a quiet spot for a silent prayer to: “Helm, I ask you to look kindly upon Durell, who died defending another. That his soul may be given safe passage to wherever it will go. I give thanks for my survival today and also ask you to look kindly upon myself, that you may grant me the strength and the endurance to defend my own and guard against any that would do wrong or harm.” Once that is done, I go to the room I share with Thrall and quietly go to bed, doing my best not to wake Thrall.

Silren waits for Professor Manabu to arrive. He wishes to ask about the red hand orcs, to either verify or dispute Matteo’s claim.

Since Eddie has no real coin of value, he will follow Sven to his room, but will simply plop himself down at the end of Sven’s bunk. He arranges his “stuff” around him, and leans against the footboard of the bed. When he sees Sven actually take his armor off to sleep, Eddie will follow suit – fairly obvious that he’s taking his cues from the older warrior as to what is “appropriate”. He does take his knife from its sheath and places it on the floor within reach before closing his eyes.

As the night drags on, the Blade slowly empties out. Indeed, nearly half the patrons leave immediately after the executions. By the time midnight rolls around, Silren finds himself sitting more-or-less alone, save for a small handful of die-hard patrons: an unusually short (even for a gnome) gnome sitting on a pile of cushions on a stool, passed out with his head on the bar, who the staff seem content to leave be; a young man in an orange-dyed robe squinting through the dim light at a small traveling spellbook and making occasional notes in the margins; and a girl so plain-looking that your eyes seem to slide off of her, sitting alone in the back.

After nearly five hours of waiting, the door finally opens to admit the wizened professor Manabu. The young wizard, tries to get his attention, but is brusquely waved off, as Manabu walks up to the bar and takes a full bottle of whisky and a lowball glass to an empty table.

Torgo sees the whisky and flies close to the Professor, lands across from the mage and squeaks expectantly. “No. The last time I gave you a whisky taste you tried to shack up with a squirrel. Well, one finger drop if the Professor will share.” Silren walked slowly over. “I had some questions, but if you aren’t in the mood for company, I’ll digress. However I do have a valid reason to believe this city was built on remains closer to 4000 years old – and that the water problem was a byproduct of the initial subjugation of the local populace – if you’re up to a bit of conversation, Master.” The mage bowed and then gently motioned to the chair across from Manabu if he cared for a guest.

“Oh, it’s you, the old mage raises an eyebrow and empties a glass. “Sure, have a seat. What’s all this nonsense about the city being four thousand years old?”

“I happen to commune with a spirit that has knowledge of it. He was here then.” Silren takes the seat. “And the son of a bitch knows I’m too useful to lie to. I can generally get in a question or so before he fades, daily. So I guess my question to you is, what do you wish to learn about? I’d trade for current information on the Red Hands, the Slums and or the petrifying denizens that might call the old Library home. Also my associates are looking for magics that might unpetrify one of us if that happens. I’m sure Aram has the coin to at least put down on a scroll if available.” He paused. “If you doubt my ability to commune so, I’ll have you know that I can answer many general questions of the Noga Empire due to my past sessions, as well as my fluency in Nogese.” While talking, Silren keeps a wandering eye (his lazy one of course) on the plain woman and the apprentice mage.

HAH! The Noga Empire? It’s a children’s story, a fairy tale, not even worthy to be called a myth. Just the result of a bad translation of Kazerabet’s Ars Necromantia by that blo-hard Lhaeo.” The old wizard shakes his head and blows a raspberry, “I don’t care if you’ve got bloody Elminster himself in your pocket, if you believe that there was a Noga Empire, you’re a bloody idiot. Phlan was founded in the year 367 as a trading post between the ogre kingdom of Kur-Tharsu and the elves of Myth Drannor.”

He empties another glass of whiskey, and laughs loudly. “As to unpetrifying someone. That is a spell of the 6th order. Which, so far as I know, should be beyond the capabilities of any mage in Phlan, except perhaps the Marquis, assuming the rumors about his power are true, or maybe the Sorcerer of the Isle, assuming the rumors of his murder by the Marquis are untrue…”

“Of course, I have access to books with the spells you seek, and, if you take my class, would be happy to let you copy them, on the off chance that you can find a mage capable of casting them.”

“Oh, no Noga Empire? That’s even funnier. Shortly after the rise of Myth Drannor, the Coronal – who was half brother to the King of Necromancers of Nog helped found the trading post that eventually became Phlan, enabling the half elven wizard ruler and his kin to trade with Cormanthor. It was they who set the created, oozing primordial things that infected the waters here to keep the inhabitants docile. I know a little of Ars Necromantia, and Lhaeo was a bleeding romantic for a bone raiser. Fecking idiot wouldn’t know a lich aura from a spectral terror, but what he did know firsthand did manage to get writ properly on occasion, when he didn’t screw up his tenses and adjectives from the original Nogese. I challenge you to come up with a question that I can phrase to my friend to prove the veracity of it’s knowledge. Perhaps something only a Mage King of Boneraisers may know. I can most likely have the answer for you by mid-afternoon tomorrow.” Silren smiled, not a hint of doubt crossed his scarred visage. “I do believe I’d enjoy taking your class when I’m ready. I feel comfortable talking to you and Torgo here likes you. Little asshole is a great judge of character.”

“Hah!” The old mage shakes his head, “You’re right barmy. Now Nog was founded by a half-elf? And Coronal Irithyl’s brother no less? And more than 4000 years before the Coronal Eltargrim opened the city to Humans? Next you’re going to tell me that you believe all that nonsense about Deckon Thar having been built by the Nogese instead of the Kur-Tharsu…” he almost spit-takes. “And a Noga language?” He laughs even more, then empties another glass, “Another example Lhaeo’s idiocy. The child just didn’t know that Auld Tharian could be transliterated to Ogrish heiroglyphs and thought it was an entirely new language. Hah! And to say you’re fluent in it…”

“Whatever spirit you think you’ve got tucked away must be quite the jester…” He laughs until he is out of breath. “Alright, let’s assume, just for laughs, that your ghost actually knows something and is’t just pulling your chain for his own amusement. Ask him who the last king of Deckon Thar was…” He pours and empties yet another glass, then coughs roughly. “Whew, sorry, wrong pipe…”

“My friend would talk more of the First King. One named Arasheth. I will do so on the morrow {if only to see you choke again}.” Thought Sil as he got up and once more scanned the room. “Are cockatrices the only petrifying things out here?”

The old wizard finishes the last of the bottle and stands up, “What? No. Cockatrices are really quite rare in this region, you’ll find Basilisks are much more common, especially in the ruins…” He stares down at the empty bottle, “Well, that might be a new record for shortest office hours. Thanks for the entertainment.” He heads for the door, ignoring the protests of the orange-robed apprentice.

“Let me know what your ghost has to say. I’m really quite curious…” he walks out the door laughing.

Sil will head back to his room, write an addition to his journal, rest then memorize slightly different spells. As soon as he feels he’s given Manos enough time, he’ll commune and ask who the last King of Deckon Thar was and if he didn’t know, everything he had time to talk about the various Kings of Deckon Thar and their relationship with the Kur-Tharsu. The gift he’ll request will be Find the Path.

As he was walking up the stairs, the thought occurred to him that he was being spied upon by the plain lady. He was able to cast a spell that blurred his face as well… from the Path of the Black Road. So, she was either an assassin or similar to him if that was the case. He would keep an eye out for her in the future, although that spell would make it difficult.

The Cracked Crown

Once outside, Aram walks across the street to the Cracked Crown. He makes his way to the front desk and inquires, “A room for the week, please? For one.”

The Cracked Crown is a sprawling one-story structure, nearly as large as the Council Hall, or Tyr’s Temple, but only half as tall. It is a tidy building, with a fresh coat of white-wash on the exterior and a polished brass sign made to look like a gold coin split in twain — stamped with the likeness of an old man wearing a bishop’s mitre.

Walking around to the main entrance, on the opposite side from The Blade, Aram passes several pig-styes that appear to have been built on the back-side, facing the temple of Tempus and the only plot of green plant-life inside the walls. Aram finds the double-doored entrance propped open to show a long wooden reception desk manned by two young men in stiff-looking blue and white livery.

When Aram requests a room, one of the young men raises an eyebrow imperiously and gestures to a wooden sign with gold lettering in fine copperplate, which reads: “All guests must show their papers upon arrival. Guests without properly notarized identification will be referred to the proper authorities.”

Aram pulls the charter from his belt. “I have a notarized charter from the Council,” he says. “The clerk informed me that individual identification, citizenship, and residency papers would be delivered at the end of the week. Will this suffice?” He places the charter on the counter in front of them and weighs it down with a gold piece.

The young man nods, “Welcome. It’s ten gold per week. Thirty with meals provided from the dining room.”

Aram takes off the heavy frame backpack that he’s been lugging all day and fishes into the bottom for his gold. He counts thirty coins out onto the counter. “There you are, young man,” he smiles in his grandfatherly way. “I’m afraid these old bones are quite worn out. Do you have a room that’s quiet? Tucked into a corner, out of the way perhaps? And, might I ask that you have a plate sent up to my room? Whatever the chef has leftover from the dinner rush will do.”

“Yes sir!” the boy behind the desk says. He opens a cabinet behind him, takes out a key, and hands it to the second liveried young man. “Take our friend to the west wing, last room on the right.” The servant with the key bows deeply to Aram, “May I help you with your bag?”

Aram smiles, “Please.” He lets the boy carry his pack and follows him down the hall. When they reach the room, he presses another gold into the boy’s hand, takes his bag and the key, and locks the door behind him.

The room is large and well appointed, dominated by a fine sleigh bed, sized for a queen, with scrolled foot and head boards, and crisp white linens. There is a large wardrobe, with a full-length mirror on the front, and a lock fitted to the same key as the door; a close stool of fine wood; a matching side table; and a wash stand with two ewers of clear, clean water.

Ten minutes later, there is a knock on the door, and the boy returns with a steaming plate bearing a perfectly seared veal cutlet, crisp sautéed string beans and brussels sprouts, and a cream and fruit trifle in a clear glass dessert bowl. “Would you like a glass of wine with your dinner, sir?” the servant says, offering the plate with a deep bow.

Aram smiles broadly as he takes the plate, “a glass of the house red, please.” He sets it on the side table, sits down on the bed, and removes his armor and boots while waiting for the wine to arrive.

{Blessed Afflictor} he prays silently over his meal, {thank you for your providence. Please watch over my companions, as they share their cramped quarters surrounded by murders and peasants. Let not the mystery meat claim their lives before you are ready to collect them.} “So let it be.”

After finishing his dinner, Aram changes into his dressing gown and carefully sets about brushing the dust from his day clothes, repairing the links of his mail, and rounding the edge of his great, blunted blade.

As midnight approaches, he kneels by an open spot of the floor and draws a large pentagram, first in chalk, then mirrored in charcoal an inch offset from the first, then fills the gap between the two with the dirt taken from Durell’s grave. Lastly he removes the giant’s head from its bag and dabs at the corners of the pentagram with the congealed blood from its neck.

“Blessed Afflictor, Servant of the Iron-Faced God…” he intones, his voice affecting a rough baritone, quite unlike his normally warm tones.
“You who commandeth the nine million,
You who commandeth the seventy blasphemies,
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you, if I do not sing your worth.”

“For it is written:
I traveled through a land of men,
A land of men and women too;
And heard and saw such dreadful things
As cold earth-wanderers never knew…”
{Ah, the scriptures, so poetic} he thinks as he weaves the quote into his prayer.

“I have stumbled upon a city in chaos,
a city of disorder, doomed to destruction.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

“Oh Phlan! Happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
‘Tear it down!’ The unwashed souls cry.
To you Blessed Afflictor they cry,
‘Tear it down to its foundations!’”

“Oh Phlan! I will give you over to bloodshed.
Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.
I will fill your mountains with the slain;
those killed by the sword will fall on your hills,
and in your valleys and in all your ravines.
While the whole earth rejoices, I will make you desolate.”

“Blessed Afflictor, Exalted Interrogator,
This is the time of taking, this is the hour of gratitude.
This vessel receives your Order.
Tomorrow we seek a Library,
Ancient to the ignorant, young to the world.
Guide, guard, and protect our small band,
Grant unto us the power to lay waste to the forces of chaos.
And when we perish, may we join your infernal legion.”
“So let it be.”

And with that…bedtime.


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