Ruins of Adventure

A Cold Spring for Crows: Part 1

1st of Ches, 1362 D.R.

GM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HyunA

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korë

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

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

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

Fionn

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

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

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

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

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

Bixby

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

Yobob

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

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

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM

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

Korë

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

Korë

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

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

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

GM

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

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

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

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

HyunA

“Rhaich!” spits HyunA as she enters.

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

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

Yobob

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

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

Korë

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

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

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

GM

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

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

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

Korë

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

Frolik

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

GM

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

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

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

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM

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

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

Frolik

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

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

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

Korë

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

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

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

Fionn

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

Yobob

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

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

GM

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

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

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Outside

Korë

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

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

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

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

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

GM

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

Korë

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

GM

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

Korë

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

GM

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

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

Korë

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

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

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

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

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

GM

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

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

Korë

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

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

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


Back at the Inn

Korë

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

Hektor

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

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

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

Frolik

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

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

Korë

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

GM

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

Korë

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

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


2nd of Ches

Korë

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

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

GM

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

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

Ommos

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

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

He sticks out his hand, “I’m Ommos.”

Korë

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

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

Ommos

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

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

Korë

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

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

Frolik

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

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

Ommos

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

Korë

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

GM

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korë

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

Frolik

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

Ommos

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

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

GM

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

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

Korë

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

Hektor

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

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

The robed “bird-men” looked throughly spooked.

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

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

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

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

Korë

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

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

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

GM

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

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

Hektor

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

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

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

GM

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

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

Hektor

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

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

Korë

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

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

Frolik

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

Ommos

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

GM

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

Hektor

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

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

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

Korë

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

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

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

Frolik

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

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

Hektor

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

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

Ommos

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

GM

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

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

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

Korë

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

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

Frolik

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

Ommos

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

Hektor

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

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

GM

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

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

Korë

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

Ommos

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

GM

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

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

Ommos

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

Frolik

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

GM

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

Frolik

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

Korë

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

GM

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

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

Frolik

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

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

GM

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

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frolik

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

Korë

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

GM

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

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

Ommos

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

Frolik

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM

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

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

Ommos

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korë

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

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

GM

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

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

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

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

Korë

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

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

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

Frolik

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

Ommos

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

Hektor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Köre

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

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

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

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Solo's Quest - Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yamtwit/Frantiska

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

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

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

Winona

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

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

Lyra

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

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

Skaegedde

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

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

Yamtwit/Frantiska

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

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

Miero

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

Winona/Ryesha

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

Hrud

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

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

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

GM

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

Hrud

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

Yamtwit/Frantiska

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

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

Lyra

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

Miero/Winona

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

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

Skaegedde

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

GM

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

Miero

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

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

Yamtwit/Frantiska

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

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

Lyra

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

Miero/Winona

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

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

Skaegedde

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

Hrud

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

GM

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

Miero/Ryesha

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

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

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

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

GM

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

Lyra

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

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

GM

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

Skaegedde

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

Yamtwit

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

Skaegedde

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

Miero

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

Lyra

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

GM

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

Skaegedde

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

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

Miero

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

Lyra

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

Winona/Ryesha

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

Frantiska/Yamtwit

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

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

Lyra

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

Yamtwit

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

GM

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

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

Frantiska

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

GM

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

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

Lyra

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

Donovan

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

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

Skaegedde

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

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

Hrud

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

GM

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

Lyra

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

Donovan

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

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

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

Hrud

Seeing yet another kobold, Hrud draws back to strike …

Lyra

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

Winona/Ryesha

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

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

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

Hrud

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

Yamtwit/Frantiska

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

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

Lyra

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

Winona/Ryesha

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

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

Donovan

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

Lyra

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

Donovan

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

Yamtwit/Frantiska

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

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

Lyra

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

Donovan

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

Lyra

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

Donovan/Frantiska/Ryesha

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

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

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

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

Frantiska/Yamtwit

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

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

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

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

Lyra

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

Donovan/Winona/Ryesha

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

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

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

Yamtwit

Hrud asks Yamtwit about the oversized weasels still inside.

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

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

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

Frantiska

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

Lyra

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

Donovan/Ryesha

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

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

Donovan shrugs, “Logical guess really…”

Hrud

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

GM

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

Donovan/Winona/Ryesha

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

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

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

Hrud

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

Lyra

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

Frantiska

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

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

Lyra

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

GM

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

Yamtwit/Frantiska

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

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

Donovan

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

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

Yamtwit/Frantiska

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

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

Donovan

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

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

Lyra

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

GM

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

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The Amazons: Session 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

excalibur.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hauled ass onto the ship and cast off.

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

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

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The Amazons: Session 7

Hammer 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hammer 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The girls stared at the monster in stunned silence.

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

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

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

Thakane.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midwinter Day

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

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

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

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

“Pun intended…” Hot Flanks quipped.

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

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

“But what about Ven…”

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

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

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

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

10 Alturiak

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

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

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

1 Ches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Ches

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Ches

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

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

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

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

7 Tarsakh

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

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

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Those Left Behind: Session 3

19 Hammer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

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Those Left Behind: Session 2

18 Hammer

The party emerged from the well just before dusk, loaded down with all the tools of their nefarious trade. Heavy snow was falling and the streets of the Slums were largely empty. They crept to the edge of the square around Kuto’s Well, then İstediğimi summoned a dust devil to blow the snow back over their tracks, obscuring signs of their having exited the well. With that done, they hurried towards the walls of New Phlan.

They reached Ivanovich Poppof’s house to find a half-dozen orcs standing about it, shivering in the snow, and talking rather loudly, presumably complaining about guard duty, but none of the party spoke ‘orc’ so it was hard to be sure.

Yury cast a sound bubble over the group and the silently slipped around to the rear of the house. Or rather, that was their plan, but one of the orcs looked in their direction just in time to see Grinkle and Tamn bringing up the rear and raised the alarm, which the party failed to hear due to their protective bubble of silence. Moments later six orcs were charging at their backs.

Grinkle did not fare well in the initial orc onslaught, taking a spiked club to the side, then getting hamstrung by an orc with a long, curved sword. Sending him sprawling to the ground, his screams of pain muffled by Yury’s magic. Tamn took a grazing hit from a spear, but managed to deflect the remaining attacks directed at him.

Yury reacted first, spinning and unleashing a mass of thick, sticky webbing from his hands. One orc managed to leap forward, away from the spell, managing a half-hearted swing at Tamn as he did so, the rest were trapped in the webbing. Zander stepped up and downed the free orc with two swift blows of his flail.

Grinkle scrambed backwards from the webs and said a prayer to repair his injured leg and staunch the bleeding. Tamn suggested that Yury “encourage them to be quiet” and began lighting a torch. Yury threw another sound bubble over the web-entrapped orcs and Tamn tossed in the torch, burning them alive…quietly. Grinkle laid a cloud of gloom over the area to keep the flames from being seen by observers outside of the alleyway.

Once the webs and the orcs had burned away, Isti and Tamn put on their climbing harnesses and scrambled up onto the snow-covered roof. They tied a rope around the northern-most chimney, then threw the end down. Tamn climbed down first, followed by Isti, coming out into the house’s kitchen. Tamn unlocked the deadbolt and removed the bar from the back door, as Isti examined the cabinets and drawers stuffed with dried foods, plates, bowls, and eating utensils. A trap door, presumably leading into a basement or cellar, was in the south-east corner, and a wooden door led south into the rest of the house.

As the others came in, there was some discussion as to whether they should get a wagon or wheelbarrow to haul all the food and furniture back to their hideout. Tabling the conversation, Yury suggested that they check the cellar first, then work their way upstairs. Everyone agreed and Zander cast a find traps spell and led the way.

The trap door opened to a set of rickety wooden steps, leading down into a plain, dark cellar. Five figures, crouched near a door on the far side of the cellar, immediately began barking as Zander started down into the hole, the sound oddly muffled by Yury’s spell. “I hate dogs,” Zander grumbled. The chorus from his infravision-equipped friends was unanimous, “Those are not dogs,” though as they lunged at Zander it was clear that the cold, skeletal creatures had been dogs at some point in the past.

Tamn reacted first, jumping down the stairs and clipping one of the skeletal hounds with his iron-studded club. The dog recovered quickly and clamped its jaws onto Tamn’s arm. Isti dropped down beside Tamn and knocked the undead canine away with the flat of her sword.

Two more of the hounds lunged at Isti, but she managed to dodge aside. Grinkle, still at the top of the stairs, castigated the undead hounds, raining down a string of blistering invective about how they were “vile, unclean, putrescent,” and the like. The skeletal hounds were literally blown away by the harshness of Grinkle’s words, hurling them back against the far wall where they shattered.

The cellar had nothing of interest other than the door, which Yury quickly unlocked. Beyond the door was a passage into the old sewers and catacombs that ran under most of the old city. Isti pointed out that the sewers were all connected one way or another, so there was sure to be a way to get from here to their hideout. They all agreed that they should finish casing the house and taking anything that could be carried, but that maybe they could use this passage to secretly return and transport furniture and other harder to stash items back to the well.

They made their way back up into the kitchen and through the south door into what was clearly the living room of the house. Two large, stuffed chairs stood in front of the second fireplace. Next to them was a small bookcase packed with leather-bound volumes. A well-built, mahogany table surrounded by six hardwood chairs stood next to the far wall, near the stairs going up. On a small table by the front door was a 12-inch tall gold statuette of an illithid.

The party immediately began discussing how they would get the table, chairs, and bookshelf back to their lair, when something small darted out from under one of the table and slashed at Grinkle, tearing into his leg with tiny, razor-sharp talons. A hairsbreadth later, three more came bursting from cover, one from each of the stuffed chairs and another from the bookshelf.

“Fucking undead cats now?!” said someone, as the things hissed and tore into the party. Zander took a minor scratch. Isti cut one in half laterally with her sword. Yury telekinetically hurled the one on Grinkle against the ceiling, shattering it. Then Zander swept away the last two with his flail.

“Of course the only joker willing to build a nice house out here in the slums would have to be a necromancer!” groaned Tamn.

They grabbed and bagged the gold statue and headed up the stairs with Tamn in the lead, into a small, unfurnished hall. Six humanoid skeletons waited, one on either side of the two windows, and another in front of each of the two doors leading off the hall. There was an audible, collective sigh as the party prepared to confront them.

One of the skeletons lunged at Tamn, but he met it with a club to the midsection, toppling it over the railing of the stairs to clatter on the floor below, then rolled towards the far door to clear the landing. Yury came up behind Tamn, deftly dodging the claws of the next two skeletons and then cast a spell to blur his form, making him even harder to hit. Grinkle was a step behind, beating back the nearest skeleton with a sword to the head, with Zander right beside him crushing another skeleton with his flail. The skeletons closed on them, one getting its bony claws into Zander. Then, Isti dispelled the magic animating the remaining four.

Expecting more skeletons, the party crowded around the next door, weapons at the ready, as Zander, still magically scanning for traps, nudged it open. Within was a small bed with fine linens beside a fireplace in the opposite wall, with a plain wooden desk and chair closer to the door. They cautiously stepped inside, looking under the bed, desk, and in the fireplace, then relaxed when they found no undead guardians. On the desk was a candlestick, several letters written in a language none of them understood, a half dozen quill pens, two large bottles of ink, and several blank sheets of parchment.

Isti claimed dibs on the bed if they could get it out of the place, but they otherwise passed over the room and headed for the next. As they stepped back into the hall, Grinkle pointed out a trap door in the ceiling, presumably leading to the attic, which they agreed to check after the next room.

bonebat.JPGThey were equally cautious opening the next door, which led into a room smelling of sulfur, rotting meat, and other unidentifiable stenches. A large table covered with glassware and other alchemical paraphernalia dominated the center of the room. A bookshelf leaned against the far wall, near the one round, unshuttered window that Tamn and Isti had noticed the night before, and a plush, high-backed chair stood next to the fireplace. In the corner opposite the chair was a small podium, completely covered by a book at least three feet wide.

Isti scanned the room with detect magic. When both Isti and Zander gave the all clear that there were neither mundane nor magical traps, other than the ones they both detected on the large book, Tamn pushed the door the rest of the way open and Yury led the way inside. As soon as Yury cleared the door, a creature looking very much like an oversized, skeletal bat leaped on his back.

The bat thing clawed and bit at Yury, tearing into his flesh. Then the large-armed tiefling went rigid, his muscles seizing and freezing him in place. Tamn stepped up and swatted the thing with his club, knocking it off of his paralyzed friend, and Isti hacked at it with her sword.

The bonebat hurled itself at Isti, biting her and stinging with its tail, digging a great, bleeding gash in her stomach, and paralyzing her as well. Grinkle dealt the thing a glancing blow with his sword, then Zander sent it flying halfway across the room with his flail.

The bat, apparently more intelligent than the other skeletons, picked itself off the ground and flew up and out of the nearby chimney. Zander wanted to give pursuit, but only Tamn would fit up the chimney, and he was on his knees trying to revive Isti.

Zander and Grinkle used their magic to patch up the worst of Isti and Yury’s injuries. Five minutes later the two of them started moving again.

Once everyone was mobile, they gathered up the laboratory gear, figuring it was probably the easiest thing to fence of anything they had found in the house so far, packing it as carefully as they could in the sacks they’d brought. These they left on the landing, and then climbed up into the attic.

The attic was a single, large room, with a low, sloped ceiling, and completely empty, save for one small, colorful wooden box, nailed shut and tucked into a corner. A faint scratching sound could be heard coming from within the box. They approached cautiously, scanning for magic, traps, and curses, before Tamn laid to with his crowbar and pried the thing open.

Within they found a cheerfully painted wooden puppet, a marionette, which immediately sat up and gestured to its mouth, which had apparently been glued shut. Zander took one look at the thing, groaned, and destroyed it with a warp wood spell.

They worked their way back through the house, using detect metals and minerals and treasure scent spells to look for any more loose valuables. They found nothing else, so they grabbed the bags of alchemical equipment, gathered up the books, and made ready to leave. Before stepping out, Isti went back down to the cellar, cut off a lock of her hair, and hid it in a corner with the intent of a spell to track the path through the sewers from their lair later.

After everyone else slipped out the back door. Tamn bolted and barred the door again, then climbed up and out the chimney to join them. There was no sign of the bonebat outside. Grinkle cast a mass pass without trace over the party and they made their way back to their hideout through the snow, unmolested.

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Chapter 3: An Old Lady in Melvaunt: Part 7
Interlude: The Squatters in Onyx: Part 4

GM

As everyone leaps out of the way, the walkway gives one final shudder and comes down, making a terrible racket. The mass of metal and wood crashes down on Donovan, but seems oddly ‘springy’. Boards bend and chunks of metal bounce off of him, but the weight is still enough to give Donovan some severe bruising.

Donovan

There is a scream from Donovan, followed by a number of muffled grunts as the pieces of walkway fall on him, each quieter than the one before. Despite the supernatural softness of the pieces, Donovan’s flesh is softer. As the last pieces clatter to the ground, sliding down into the pool, all sounds from Donovan cease.

Frantiska

Frantiska rises shakily to her knees and looks at the passage she is now stuck in. She can just make out the sounds of yelling and combat down the corridor. She turns back out of the hole and looks at the carnage — she is unable to see Lyra at this angle, and there is no sign of Donovan, but she manages to catch Hrud’s eye and pantomimes climbing down and then back up. She turns to her one companion in the tunnel, “Teldicia, I’m going to go see what those cries were. Please stay here and help the others get up.” She draws her blunted shortsword, doubting that she has the room to pull a bow in these cramped tunnels, and begins crawling forward on her knees and her other hand, letting her eyes shift into the infrared to accommodate the darkness and looking for the telltale heat signatures of the kobolds’ passing.

Hrud

Frustrated at being left behind, but aware that one of his companions is in dire need, the barbarian lowers himself from the lip of the opening in the stomach and slides down to the pile of rubble where Donovan lies.

Lyra

Lyra looks around frantically, grabbing a twisted length of metal as she picks her way through the debris over to Donovan, and uses it as a lever to move some of the debris off of him.

GM

Lyra shoves a few more chunks of debris off of Donovan and looks him over. None of his injuries look serious at first, but he does not appear to be breathing. When she turns him over, she finds that she has a good view of his brain through a deep crack in the left-rear of his skull and the orbit of his left eye has been flattened.

Lyra

Lyra staggers back a step, then another, and abruptly turns and empties the contents of her stomach into the acrid water, retching and sobbing.

Hrud

Hrud sighs heavily upon seeing the fatal wound. He bends down and gently – for him – hauls the older man’s limp form out of the debris and foul water, carrying it over to the stairs leading up out of the water. But the time for mourning is interrupted by distant battle. There are other companions still alive and quite possibly in danger.

Walking back down into the water, he grabs the largest piece of the walkway and props it against the wall where, until a moment ago, Frantiska had been, checking to see if it will allow the two of them to reach the ledge above.

Having finished stacking the remnants of the walkway to the best of his ability, Hrud returns to Donovan’s corpse and begins stripping it of items – though not of clothes. After setting everything aside, he selects the fine bracers and the extra Fang of Mace to carry. Glancing up, he notices Lyra staring at him, but the girl is already so pale, he can’t tell if she’s still feeling ill or angry at what must appear to her as his attempts at merely looting a corpse.

“Iku cara saka seng numpaki kanggo njupuk karo wong item saka kanca menyang perang, utamané nalika avenging pati. Kene, njupuk iki.” he says, pushing Donvan’s backpack and beltpouch into her hands.

“Padha kudu kita.” he says to Lyra. Then, nodding at the silent form on the steps beside them, adds, “Kita bakal bali kanggo Dawn-of-Man.”

Hrud move to his makeshift scaffold and pauses long enough to administer a couple doses of Yamtwit’s Sacred Ghi, taking it up the rope and climbing into the passage above. When he reaches the top, he lowers the end of the rope to Lyra, nodding at her to follow.

Lyra

Lyra sobs and hugs the pack to her chest at Hrud’s habitual mispronunciation of Donovan’s name.

After taking a few moments to compose herself and rearranging things to free her hands, she carefully makes her way up to the ledge

Hrud

Practically yanking Lyra into the tunnel, Hrud quickly takes in the rope and starts crawling after Frantiska – determined not to let the party get any more separated than it already is.

Lyra

Lyra briefly considers which is more improper — crawling in front of someone while wearing a dress, or crawling behind a barbarian that favors loincloths as a fashion statement before following Hrud while trying to avoid looking at him, instead keeping an eye out for side passages and murder holes above them.


Meanwhile, in the upper passage

GM

The kobold with the injured arm tries desperately to club Ryesha with his good arm, but keeps getting tangled with her spear and her, slightly, greater mass pressing down on him.

The old kobold, meanwhile, uses the distraction created by his remaining guard to wiggle out of the melee and begin crawling away, making it as far as the next intersection of the passage and disappearing around a corner to the left.

Winona/Ryesha

Winona, determined to get Yamtwit back on his feet, grabs the entire stock of clarified butter that he had given her and pours it over him, bathing all of his wounds and force-feeding several flasks down his throat.

Ryesha, still pinning the kobold, lets go of the spear, leaning in on the thing with her forearm across its neck. With her other hand, she pulls one more knife and stabs the thing in the gut.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit gets unsteadily to his feet, using the shillelagh as a crutch. “Where’d the scary one go?” he asks Winona.

GM

Frantiska crawls for some ways, with the passage curving away to the left and slightly downward before hooking back to the right. About thirty feet ahead of her is a four-way intersection from which she can hear sounds of scuffling and voices. She sees a kobold come racing from the left-hand of the intersection and turn to his left and disappear behind a curtain directly across from her without even a glance in her direction. About halfway between Frantiska and the intersection there is a wooden door on the left, from which she can hear the faint sounds of something moving around.

Frantiska/Yamtwit

Seeing the blur of the small figure running across the passage, Frantiska reaches for her bow, then remembers that she really does not have room to fire in these tight passages. Grumbling she considers her options—through the curtain, ahead left, or the nearby door—and decides to deal with things systematically. She crawls as quietly up to the small door as she can, checking to see if it is locked, and looking for any obvious mechanisms that might indicate a trap of some kind.

Yamtwit, meanwhile, hefts his club and stalks up to the corner where he assumes the witchdoctor ran, gesturing for the Tyrran sisters to follow. He stops just before the intersection and peaks his head out slowly, looking in every direction for possible ambushes before proceeding.

GM

Hrud, Lyra, and Teldicia crawl only a short ways before they round a bend and spot Frantiska a short ways ahead of them poking at a small wooden door. Just past Frantiska, the light from the hammer illuminates Yamtwit’s head peeking out of a side passage. Just past Yamtwit, the passage ahead is obscured by curtains made of weasel fur covered with large, irregular splashes of blood or red paint.

Frantiska fiddles with the door and finds that it is designed to swing inward and ‘locked’ from the outside with a simple hook and eye latch. The hinges are on the inside, just visible through the crack around the frame. She can see no other movable pieces or devices connected to it.

Frantiska/Yamtwit

Frantiska gives a small start when the blue glow from Hrud’s hammer lights up the passage, then breathes a small sigh of relief when she looks up to see friends coming from either direction. She holds a finger up to her lips to indicate that they should be quiet. She shoves against the door, just to make sure the latch holds, figuring that whatever is on the other side can wait, then points towards the weasel-hide curtains.

Yamtwit grins broadly and turns, lifting one side of the curtains out of the way with his shillelagh to peer inside.

Skaegedde

Seeing the door flex a little and hearing something outside, Skæggede reaches out with a foot to nudge her companion and strains feebly again at her restraints, hoping to break free before the kobolds come calling again. “Psst!” she whispers, “Wake up! They’re coming back…” Blessed Ao, she thinks, please don’t let them have brought the weasels again. I hate weasels…

GM

Frantiska’s keen elven hearing pick up on the faint, whispering voices on the other side of the door. While she cannot make out the words at this distance, the voice is a good deal deeper than kobold voices and tinged with a faint hint of panic.

Frantiska

Frantiska gestures Yamtwit and Hrud over near the door. “Ada sesuatu di balik pintu. Tidak anjing wajah. Kedengarannya takut,” she explains in a harsh whisper.

GM

As Yamtwit lifts the curtain, the light falls on a slight bump of upturned earth right behind the curtain which appears to be growing slowly. By the time Frantiska tries to call him back, the lump has grown to about the height of a kobold. With a cracking sound, two arm-like protuberances burst from its sides and it tears free of the floor.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit curses, “Put bon mache paseke trik nouvèl plis gen Kobold san!”, and swings for what passes for a head on the little earth elemental with his shillelagh.

Hrud

Sick of playing games with the kobolds, Hrud slides up beside Frantiska, swinging his legs forward. Rolling back and drawing his knees to his chest, the barbarian kicks the door inward as hard as he can.

GM

The door bursts off its hinges and flies a good five feet before landing with a thud. Inside you see a fully-bearded, blue-eyed dwarven woman and a halfling man with long dark hair tied to opposite walls by heavy ropes. They are restrained in a very uncomfortable-looking position, with their arms bent under and behind their backs, and slightly above the line of their shoulder-blades, so that they hang leaning far forward. When the door bursts inward, the halfling is drowsing where he stands, while the dwarf woman is stretching to kick him awake.

Winona/Ryesha

Rye gathers up her knives, wiping them on the kobolds’ fur, then jogs up behind Yamtwit with Winona crawling along behind her. When the small rock-monster appears, she lets out a frightened squeak and tosses a knife at it, or rather, over its head to clatter against a wall.

Winona’s eyes light up with what can only be described as joy on seeing a creature of, presumably extraplanar origin. She casts extradimensional detection, just to be sure, then tries to strike up a conversation, her voice sounding like the rumbling of stones cascading down a hill. «Hey! Are you really an earth elemental?! I’ve always wanted to meet one of your kind! You’re shorter than I imagined. Anyways, what is life on your plane like? What do you eat? Have you ever run into one of the Baatezu on your plane?…Ooh! Sorry about the goblin and his stick!»

Miero

The halfing jerks awake at the sound of the door crashing. “Oi!” His head jerks up, nearly wrenching his shoulders out of their sockets. “Hey!” he calls through gritted teeth on seeing something other than a kobold on the other side of the door. “Help a fellow out, eh?!”

Lyra

Keeping an eye out for kobolds approaching from the rear as Hrud kicks the door in, Lyra tests out if she has enough range of movement to make use of Donovan’s crossbow.

Skaegedde

The dwarf-woman lets out an audible sigh of relief. “Ao være lovet! Yo, det er en dværg hammeren. Hvor har du det?” She looks at the barbarian, realizing that he probably didn’t understand her and switches to common. “Hey, big guy. Nice hammer, good dwarven work. Do you, mind cutting us free?”

Miero

“Oi! You’re not going to bore him talking about your Ao bullshit again?” The halfling allows himself to droop to a more comfortable position. “Besides, he’s clearly Eraka, dumb fuck probably doesn’t understand a word you’re saying Skaeg.” He looks at the barbarian, and puts on his best begging puppy face, making his eyes look big in the way that only a halfling can, “Jaran-pacangan. Pitulung kita njaluk tangan kita bebas, eh? Banjur ngutangi kula agul-agul supaya aku bisa nggawe karo snicker-cemilan ing sawetara kobo necks.”

Hrud

It takes Hrud a moment to size up the two strangers.“Hvorfor har du gentager dig selv?” he says, walking over to the dwarf woman. With a slash of his broadsword, he severs her bonds. Looking at the halfling, he asks, “Kan denne ene have tillid?”

Miero

“Oi! Big horse-lover talks like a dwarf?” The halfling shakes his head, “Looks like I’m the one left out.” He flinches when the man starts swinging his sword in the tight confines of the cell. “Hey! Nonton ngendi sampeyan lagi ngayunke bab sing!” He twists his head around to look out the door, at the trio of elven women crouching behind the barbarian. “Can one of you ladies tell your big lug of a friend to mind his pig-sticker?”

Skaegedde

“Without any hint of an accent in fact…” Skaegedde rolls her shoulders to get the kinks out and bows to the big man. “Thank you. Sorry for repeating myself, I was not aware that you spoke my language. I suggest we stick with the common tongue though, out of politeness to my cell-mate. As for whether he can be trusted? The kobolds took him prisoner, which is enough of a sign that he is on the right side for my tastes.” She pops her neck loudly, then begins smoothing her thick, luxurious beard. “How many kobolds are left? Did you already off them all?”

Miero

“Sing tengen, sampeyan krungu dheweke, aku minangka dipercoyo minangka Tyrran getih. Irung minangka resik minangka bayi kang. Cukup kula njaluk bantuan jancok sing metu saka tali iki!”

Lyra

Lyra peers past Hrud at the kobolds’ prisoners, trying to ignore the disparaging remarks regarding Hrud’s intellect. “Are either of you injured? We don’t know how many kobolds there were to begin with, but we’ve killed … a rather large number on the road led by a caster with snake spine earrings, four kobolds inside the skull, six in the spine, three or four weasels, and I’m not sure how many in the group over the murderhole near the esophagus and on the walkway around the stomach….”

Miero

“Good times!” The halfling smiles despite his obvious pain, “Sounds like you’all’ve been busy. NOW CAN SOMEONE PLEASE CUT ME FREE SO I CAN FINISH THE JOB?!”

Frantiska

Frantiska looks carefully at the two prisoners, trying to let her mind relax, listening for The Moon Maiden’s insights. After a moment, despite the difficulty of concentrating with Yamtwit fighting an elemental in one corner and the halfling yelling in the other she speaks, “They’re fine, Lyra. Any mischief they may be plotting is clearly directed at the kobolds. Hrud, biarkan mereka bebas dan memberi mereka senjata. Kita membutuhkan semua bantuan yang bisa kita dapatkan.”

She pivots as best she can in the narrow confines, and crawls, sword in hand to go aid the goblin and the halfling.

GM

The small elemental looks very confused as Winona starts talking to it. It just manages to begin a response, saying «Uuummmm . . . Yes?», when Yamtwit’s shillelagh comes down on the top of what passes for it’s head. The enchanted club pounds into the creature, sending shards of rock flying in all directions and reducing it to not but a pile of rubble.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit does a little victory dance and trips over his own feet, landing on his bum. He hops to his feet and brushes the curtain aside again, looking in to see where the witchdoctor ran to.

GM

A short passage extends past the curtain, then opens up into a much larger space, stretching a good distance ahead and bending out to the left. The light from Hrud’s hammer leaks out just enough to hamper Yamtwit’s infravision, leaving most of the room beyond in shadowy darkness. What light does penetrate the passage glints tantalizingly off of a pile of dark, rounded, glass objects stacked against the right-hand wall, and Yamtwit’s poorly focused infravision makes out the deep glow of a bed of smoldering coals in the center of the room. As Yamtwit looks on, the room is suddenly bathed in a solid, uniform blanket of heat, completely obscuring his infravision. A wall of that heat seems to be moving outwards, towards him, until, lit by the wan light of Hrud’s hammer coming from the other room, he sees it to be a thick wall of choking, black smoke.

Lyra

Lyra carefully scoots to where she can lean past Hrud, retrieves Donovan’s stiletto and boot sheath, as well as her own from her left boot, and hands them to the dwarf. “Pick one, he can use the other after you cut him down. I also have a heavy crossbow, a hand crossbow, and a sling, or we can backtrack to scrounge something up from the kobolds back in the stomach after we deal with the immediate threat.”

Skaegedde

The dwarf woman takes the knives gingerly, holding them as if they were some kind of strange-smelling fish, “Thanks,” she says, not too enthusiastically. She passes the shinier one to the halfling, who, judging by the murderous gleam in his eye, knows just what to do with the stiletto, then stalks out the door, pausing to look back at Hrud, “Fik en anden hammeren store-fyr?” Seeing the smoke seeping into the corridor, her eyes narrow. “Ved lort-gennemblødt mindre guder, kan det ikke være godt!” she mutters. Then she sees the goblin standing in the opening to the passage, “De dørstoppere er i ledtog med nisser! Skynd dig, dræbe det, før det angriber!” She draws the knife from its sheath and holds it out in front of her as one might a tiny spear or perhaps a toothpick.

Hrud

Hrud follows the dwarf’s gaze to Yamtwit. “At man? Han er på vores side. Pas på, selv om han gerne malke ting.” Seeing how she is clearly uneasy about using a dagger, the barbarian extends the Yargrund to her, “Her kan du bruge denne til nu. Men bo tæt, jeg har brug for lyset. Giv den anden til den lille med den store mund.”

Skaegedde

She takes the hammer and grins broadly, “Tak! Jeg vil gøre god brug af det!” She tosses the other stiletto to the halfling. “Let’s go smash some kobolds!”

Miero

The halfling rubs where the ropes have been chaffing his wrists, then takes the stilettos and smiles at Lyra. “Thanks miss, these’ll be perfect.” He tucks the sheathe into his belt and twirls the two blades through his fingers, one in either hand. “The name’s Miero,” he says as he heads for the door. Stepping into the hall he sees the smoke and casually pulls the neck of his tunic up over his mouth and nose. “I’m guessing the kobos are that way, eh?” Without waiting for an answer, he charges blindly into the thickening smoke with the two blades held low before him.

Winona/Ryesha

Winona finally crawls around the corner and looks immensely relieved to see Lyra, Frantiska, and the others. She coughs on the smoke and crawls towards the rest of the party, keeping as low as she can.

Rye, meanwhile, looks very surprised when the halfling man comes prancing out of the cell and charges into the smoke. She turns to follow Winona to go talk to the others, but something in the back of her mind pushes her in the other direction. With a sounds that is half frightened squeak and half war cry, and all adorable, she pulls a pair of her own knives and runs into the smoke with him.

GM

The halflings go careening through the smoke and come out on the far end of the room. The bed of coals appears completely cold now, with all the smoke coming off of it propelled out into the corridor, as if by some unfelt breeze, leaving this half of the room free of obscurement. Lying on the ground next to the coals is the body of the old kobold, lying curled on on his side with his head “downwind” of the burned-out fire and obscured by the smoke.

The room is filled with curiosities: One wall is piled high with blue, glass jars of varying sizes, most of them are empty, but three appeared to be filled with eyeballs, and another, large one holds a thriving ant colony. One lidless, empty jar near the top of the stack has a label pasted onto it which reads in very clear common, “Do not open. World-destroying angel inside.” A crude desk made from a wooden plank laid across a couple of rotten crates sits opposite the wall with the jars. Laid out on the desk are a large collection of loose needles, both bone and metal, an amputation saw, 4 blue-glass jars filled with live leeches, several other jars filled with various bubbling liquids, sparkling dusts, or thick black tar, and several vaguely kobold-shaped dolls made of mud and hemp. A one foot tall wooden lawn gnome sits in the center of the desk, looking like it has been repeatedly burned, hit, cut, scratched, and otherwise defaced, with a pair of metal needles sticking out of each eye. Seven small turtles (or perhaps tortoises) wander about the room, passing in and out of the smoke slowly and shedding a wan light from black-candles stuck to their shells by melted wax, each candle flame a different color: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white. In the corner is a haphazard pile of treasures: a small wooden chest, an ivory handled cane, 2 gold candlesticks, a silver stein, and a silver astrolabe. The far corner of the room, past the kobold’s body, is still heavily obscured by smoke.

Ryesha/Miero

Ryesha coughs and rubs the smoke out of her eyes as she looks around at the scary, old kobold’s unusual belongings. Seeing the body lying half in the smoke, she cautiously walks over to the kobold and nudges him with her foot, keeping her knives at the ready. When he does not respond, she sheaths one knife and grabs his ankle to slide him out of the smoke. When he still does not respond, she creeps up to the head end and checks his vitals, keeping her knife against his throat in case he moves.

The halfling man watches as the wary, knife-wielding, girl with considerable interest—more so than the room itself. When she starts examining the kobold, he steps up behind her, making not a sound, and startles her by speaking, “Sveiki glīts, kādi ir jūsu vārds?”

Ryesha jumps, then hazards a glance back at the man who had run past her earlier. “Es esmu Ryesha, māsa Ryesha no Tyr, ja jūs vēlaties, lai būtu precīzi, un tas puisis ir miris kā durvju naga.”

Miero mutters under his breath, “Tirāns eh? Ja ir izpētījuši.” Then, louder, “Atdzist, es esmu Miero.” He walks over to the pile of treasure and checks out the chest.

Rye stands up from the kobold’s body, “Nice to meet you Miero. I’m going to go get the others…” She sheathes her remaining knife, covers her mouth, and heads back through the smoke. Once clear, she waves the rest of the party over, “Looks like old kobo had an aneurysm or something…he’s stone dead. You all should come in here, there’s a lot of weird things, and a pile of shinies that might be part of that tribute we were looking for.”

Skæggede

Skæggede smiles and hefts the glowing hammer she’d been lent by the barbarian, “Aha! My stuff!” She heads into the smoke, holding the hammer high to try to penetrate the choking blackness with it’s glow.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit coughs and backs away from the smoke. Squinting against the irritating vapors, he begins to chant, low and rhythmically. At about the same time that Ryesha comes running out to a small, swirling wind blows up out of nowhere, coalescing into a two-foot-tall tornado with a pair of glowing blue eyes in the center. Yamtwit points and the dust devil whirls into the room, sucking the particulates out of the air, suspended in its body. It then rushes past Frantiska and Teldicia, out into the stomach chamber where it deposits the remains of the smoke in the semi-acidic pool before returning to its home plane.

GM

As the smoke dissipates, you can see that the corner of the room, back and left from the passage where you entered, is hung with well-made, frilly, white-lace curtains, cordoning off a small sleeping area piled with blankets, a patchwork quilted down comforter, and a pure white fleece. Two books, one large and crudely-bound with wooden planks, and the other small and bound in black leather, rest on the pile of bedding, along with a bundle of charcoal and several loose sheets of rolled parchment. A large bronze brazier sits on a low tripod next to the bedding. On a small shelf carved into the wall over the bed is a small wooden whistle with a childlike carving of a bird hewn into its foot and a wooden rattle carved into the shape of a gnomish skull and painted a bright, cherry red.

Miero, satisfied that the small chest is not trapped, opens it to find an iron ring hung with ten keys and a copper brooch resembling a stylized spider resting on a mound of silver coins.

Ryesha/Winona

Once the smoke has cleared, Rye strides back into the witchdoctor’s room, with Winona crawling at her heels. Winona casts a quick detect magic and looks around the room.

Hrud

Hurd sees the books and papers lying around and briefly contemplates replenishing his supply of wipes. Noticing Frantiska nearby, he reconsiders.

Lyra

Lyra tries to get a better angle of observation of the turtles meandering around the room. “Something seems to be keeping the turtles from leaving. See how they turn away from the doorway as if they bumped into something?” Lyra shakes her head. “I’m not sure what to make of the candles though.”

After another minute in thought, Lyra looks rather startled. “Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white? Certain kinds of priests craft magical candles. If they are what I suspect, I would consider dousing the red, yellow, and purple.”

Hrud

Despite having no clue what the young woman just said, Hrud could tell that she was thinking of messing with the dog-faces’ magic. Hefting the twin broadswords, he casually drifts next to the side of the room’s entrance, where he can put his back to a wall. No good will come of this, he thinks.

Winona/Miero/Ryesha

Winona turns to Lyra and the others and begins pointing things out, “The intruments, the brooch and keys in the chest, that goat hide, those three jars, the candles on the turtles, and all the written stuff are magical.” She crawls over to the books and begins rummaging through the papers with considerable interest.

Miero takes the brooch and pins it on his shirt, then turns and looks around at the other things Winona indicated. Seeing the books he fast-walks over to Winona and snatches the smaller, black-bound book out of her hands just as she’s starting to open it. “That one is mine,” he says simply, tucking it into his pants.

Winona looks crestfallen as Miero snatches the smaller spellbook from her, but she gathers up the rest and stashes them in her pack. She then turns back to Lyra, “Don’t magical candles trigger when you snuff them? If they are anything potentially harmful, I would suggest we grab everything we can drag and get out of here before they go out…”

“I’m definitely down with that,” the halfling interjects. “Anyone of you folks got a spare bag I can start shoving swag into?”

Ryesha wanders over to stare at the piled blue jars. “Sister?! Do you think this is real?” she asks, pointing to the one with the ‘Do not open, world-destroying angel inside’ label.

Lyra

“The kind mystics create are more potent the longer they burn, if I recall correctly. Charm, mind reading, and truth telling are the ones I’m concerned about. I think the other colors are actually beneficial. Green for luck, white for purity, blue for … oh, I never had a good mnemonic for that one.” Lyra stops abruptly. “It actually takes a fairly powerful caster to even make magic candles. What did he die from?”

Winona

Winona walks over and looks at the body, “Good question. I don’t see any wounds,” she kneels down and checks him more thoroughly, “but he’s not breathing and his heart has stopped. Judging from the grimace on his face, he died painfully. A heart-attack? Maybe the stress of the fight and the chase were just too much for someone so old?”

Skaegedde

Skæggede walks over and grabs the ring of keys from the chest. “Været på udkig efter dem,” she mutters. She then goes and grabs a blanket from the pile of bedding, lays it out on the floor and starts piling the ivory cane and the various gold and silver ornaments on it. “Who needs a bag?” she says to the halfling. She then turns to the makeshift desk. “Aha! Min også!” she says, grabbing to vials and stuffing them into her sash. “Ros Ao! Nu er alt jeg har brug for er mine våben og rustninger.”

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit saunters in and looks around, “Wow! What a lot of junk!” Overhearing Lyra and Winona talking, he walks over to where they are crawling beside the body. “You really think the old creeper just bought it from natural causes? Did you check for poison? Maybe he killed himself when he saw Fran coming from the other passage and realized he was trapped.”

He walks over to the desk and looks at it almost admiringly. “Lots of good stuff here,” he says to no one in particular, grabbing the jars of leeches and making sure the lids are on tight before putting them in his bag. “Not as good as butter, but sometimes they’re can help with maladies of the blood.” He uses his club to carefully slide the pile of needles in on top of them, then throws in the amputation saw, “Never know when you might need these either…”

Frantiska crawls in last. “I would have expected more from the way the villagers were talking about their tribute,” she says. She crawls over beside Lyra, “We should be right above the fundamentum here.” She looks around to get her bearings, then points at the wall of jars, “I would expect those ropes connected to the ceramic door in the stomach to run in here, or there to be another room on the other side of that wall…”

Skaegedde

The dwarf casts a disapproving look at the goblin, “Leeches and saws and needles and butter? What do you expect to be doing with those? Not trying to heal I hope…Ao redde os, goblinen er som primitiv som dørstoppere!” She grabs the other bottles and flasks that have stoppers, looking in briefly to make sure she is not grabbing some foul-smelling kobold poultice or the like.

Lyra

With a frustrated groan, Lyra nudges a lid out of the bed of coals with Donovan’s staff before scooting back to give the jar and candles as much distance as possible. “Does opening a bottle labeled DO NOT OPEN seem like a reasonable cause of death?”

Lyra gives the lid another nudge. “I think Yamtwit is probably right. Destroying angel is also a type of deadly white mushroom related to the death cap. I don’t suppose anyone knows what the poisoning symptoms are? Besides, if it were an actual angel … shouldn’t the container be a magical flask or something rather than a glass jar?”

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit nods vigorously along with Lyra’s assessment, “That’s right, when my tribe was trying to find things that we could eat back when we were Scabeaters instead of Cheeseaters, we tried lots of mushrooms. The destroying angel was a little white one that looked like a penis. I remember my second cousin on my father’s side, Carrotwit, ate one and he basically exploded. There was blood and shit everywhere!”

Frantiska’s face turns a little green and she asks, “How long did that take?”

“Oh, about an hour…”

Winona/Miero/Ryesha

Hearing this, Ryesha grabs the whistle, rattle, fleece, and the lace curtain (because she’s sure she can make something cute out of those) and tosses them onto the blanket that the dwarf lady has been filling. She helps the dwarf fold it closed and starts dragging it towards the passage, “In that case,” she says, “let’s get out of here before the old guy makes a mess all over the place…”

Winona nods and crawls after her. “There was another passage strait ahead, now our left, out there…”

Miero shuts the chest full of coins, easily hoists it up onto his shoulder, and follows them.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit turns to look at Hrud, who has been quietly hanging out by the wall, realizing that he doesn’t understand a thing anyone is saying. “Jaran-kanca, aku pracaya lawas asu-pasuryan poisoned piyambak karo roh jamur, kang bakal nggawe wong njeblug. Kita kudu kanggo njaluk metu cepet. Pemanah-nyonyah ngandika sing ana sing arep kamar liyane kanggo njupuk asam menyang weteng. Milanipun dalem panjenengan badhe sing cara.” He hefts his shillelagh onto his shoulder and turns to the door, then turns back and looks at the desk one more time. “Apa kita njupuk iki boneka ora nyenengake karo kita?”

“Oh, lan njeblugake sarana sing wong bakal duwe diare tenan ala sawise sampun seda…”

Miero/Ryesha

Miero speeds up to fall into step beside Rhyesha. “Tātad, tas, kas noved gudrs plašs, piemēram, sevi, lai kļūtu Tirāns?” he says, grinning.

Ryesha doesn’t so much as look in his direction, but just keeps pulling the blanket full of loot as she says, “Tas Tyrran, nav Tirāns, un es pievienojos, jo bez likumiem mēs nebūtu labāk, nekā šie kobolds.”

Lyra

As everyone makes ready to leave, Lyra looks back at the tortoises. “Do we have something we can leave the tortoises to eat and drink? I don’t know how long they’re going to be trapped in there, and it seems cruel to just leave them….”

Yamtwit

Yamtwit stops and looks at Lyra curiously, then shrugs. He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a wheel of cheese, which he crumbles and scatters on the floor before leaving.

GM

Beating feet from the curiously dead, old kobold, the party rounds the corner to the left. The passage continues to slope downward and bend to the left, ever so slightly, before opening up into a honeycombed warren of dens and sleeping chambers. You pass through numerous oddly shaped burrows, carved into the dragon’s ribs, spleen, and liver. Each has one or two piles of bedding (a mixture of sheep skins, weasel furs, and appropriated blankets), the remains of a cookfire (mostly dead coals but a few with embers still flickering, and the various trappings of kobold tribal life—pots of war paint, bows and spears in various states of repair, cooking implements, childrens toys (mostly small percussive instruments and hempen dolls), and the like. You crawl through dozens of such rooms, winding your way through the dragon’s major arteries, passing two more outlets into the upper portion of the stomach, then find a much less natural passage going strait back towards the neck and sloping upwards.

Skaegedde

Skaegedde hauls the blanket-bag along behind them, wondering if it wouldn’t be a better idea to find a relatively safe place to leave their loot rather than dragging it all over the cave complex. As they go, Skaegedde pokes around the dens and warrens looking for something else she can use to beat kobolds with, so as to not monopolize the barbarian’s beautiful hammer. Eventually she comes up with a couple of stiff goat-hide tunics that can pass for armor and a sturdy, spiked morningstar. “Tak,” she says, handing the hammer back to Hrud.

When they reach the passages overlooking the stomach she stops and sets down the loot sack for a bit. “Wow? What happened here?” she asks, waving a hand at the wreckage of the collapsed walkway and all of the kobold corpses scattered about.

Lyra

Lyra tries not to cry. “There … there was an ambush. After that was dealt with, too much weight on the walkway collapsed it.” Her voice cracks halfway through. “Mr. Donovan di … didn’t make it. We should come back for the body once we’re finished.”

Frantiska

Frantiska maneuvers around to pat Lyra’s shoulder, trying to ignore the ache in her back and knees from being on all fours for so long. “We’ll do just that, Lyrathwen,” she says, trying to keep her own dislike of the lecherous old charlatan out of her voice. “But for now…” she glances in the nearest den, “we’ve killed a lot of kobolds in here and on the road, and all of these rooms look recently abandoned. Either we’ve killed them all, or they fled, or they have another ambush point nearby.” She pauses, “There is also the fact that there are plenty of signs of children about—toys at least—and we have seen none of the like. So perhaps some of them fled with their young when it became clear that they were being invaded. If that is not the case, and they are hiding nearby, we may have to temper our actions to avoid harming the innocent. Either way, now is the time for vigilance…”

Skaegedde

Skaegedde grunts and nods, “Nice work! I will pray to the Hidden One for you friend.” She walks back and grabs the other side of the bag that she and the halfling girl had been dragging, then points at the passage going back up, “That way then?”

Winona/Miero/Ryesha

Winona looks out into the stomach, “Either we go up, or we try to find a way to those holes up on the sides, or we head into the intestines…which seems like a good place for a never-ending winding maze of traps and ambushes, don’t you think?” She lays down flat on the floor, rolls onto her back, and stretches as best she can. “Bunny, why don’t you grab the goblin and our two new friends and scout ahead. Crawling in armor isn’t any fun…”

Miero steps up and sets the chest of coins down on Winona’s chest, eliciting an angry, grunting, gasp. “Alright then,” he says drawing the stilettos, “you watch the loot and we’ll go hunting.” He looks at Skaegedde, Yamtwit, and Ryesha and makes a ‘follow me’ gesture with his head before heading up the passage at a slow jog.

Ryesha sighs, drops the blanket and pulls out her own knives, “I guess I don’t really have a choice”. She spares a look down at Winona with the thought that maybe she is getting a little too much experience in the field, then heads after the other halfling.

GM

The passage slopes gently up for about fifty paces of a halfling, then opens into a large chamber, a mirror of the lungs where you were previously ambushed. Left-hand wall has been carved away to reveal a knot of corded, petrified muscle tissue with a massive opal, larger than an adult kobold (and that is only the exposed portion), lodged in it. A crude altar has been built into the back wall, made from piled skulls—mostly a mix of human and lizardmen—and topped with a clean, black altar cloth, trimmed with cloth of gold. Dozens of skeletons are stacked against the right-hand wall, their bones scored and pitted, as if they had been cleaned by immersion in acid. Some of them have a faint metallic sheen—likely the result of residues from dissolved metals fusing with the bone. A capstan has been set into the middle of the room, set with four handles, with two ropes running down into holes in the floor.

Ryesha

Seeing the spectacle of the altar, Ryesha mutters, “Wait here,” and back down the corridor a few feet before turning and sprinting back to where Winona and the others are waiting. “Sister, Lyra, Frantiska. You guys are going to want to see this…” she says, panting.

Frantiska/Yamtwit

Frantiska crawls after the halfling girl, really wishing she could smoke right now.

Yamtwit, meanwhile, looks around the small shrine, considerably less excited than Ryesha. “What a mess…” he says, walking around the pile of corpses. He then steps back over to the capstan and gives one of the bars a little jiggle. “Any guesses what this does?” he asks his new companions.

Hrud

Following the others into the room, Hrud is entranced by the large gemstone. The barbarian walks up to it and run a hand along the smooth exposed portion.

Winona/Miero/Ryesha

Miero walks up beside Hrud to look at the massive gem, “Wis sampeyan entuk linggis, wong amba?”

Winona crawls after Ryesha and comes into the room. “What horrible blasphemy is this?” she says, sounding exactly the wrong kind of excited one would expect in such situations. “Are these some kind of sacrifices to the dead dragon?” She crawls over to the bodies and looks at them, then back at the capstan, “Do you think that is what they used to let the acid into the stomach? Clean off the corpses with the dragon’s acid, then pile them here near the heart as a kind of payment?”

Ryesha just shudders. “What do we do about it?” she squeaks.

“Ooh, Bunny, desecrating evil shrines is fun!” She crawls over to the altar and sits up, her helmed head just scraping the ceiling, even seated. She adjusts her glasses and pulls out her holy symbol, field brazier, several sticks of incense, and a couple flasks of holy water. “First we’ll want to burn this altar cloth…” she says, opening the brazier and blowing the hot coals back into life…

Frantiska/Yamtwit

Frantiska and Yamtwit both move closer to Winona, equally fascinated by what she is doing.

Hrud

Hrud shakes his head, then stops, his semi-permanent expression of confusion lifting for a moment, and says, “Dawn-of-Man.” The barbarian then turns and heads out of the room, back to the stomach where Donovan’s body still lay on the steps – along with the old adventurer’s remaining gear. Making sure he has the crowbar, Hrud grabs as much as he can carry and hauls it back to the room. Setting the pile of possessions down, he walks back over to the massive gemstone with a smile, hefting the crowbar. Carefully trying to avoid damaging the smooth surface of the stone, he slides the end of the crowbar into the section of fossilized tissue, trying to chip away at the opal’s stony prison.

Winona

Once the coals in the field brazier are glowing nicely, Winona takes a fork from her mess kit and uses it to carefully lift the black and gold altar cloth and place it in the brazier. As the cloth begins to smolder, she raises her hands into the smoke and intones, “Gone. Gone. Gone even farther is perfect justice.” As the cloth catches, she parts the smoke with her hands and deftly drops a pair of incense cubes into the flame, santalwood for the dispelling of evil vapors and junniper and rose hips for sight. “May the presider over courts be my vanguard. May all evils flee me and the essential procedure present no troubles.” She gestures broadly, gathering the smoke towards her and inhales deeply. The lifts her holy symbol, holding it in the column of smoke directly above the fire. She nods to Ryesha and they begin to chant a common mantra in tandem:

“Mighty Tyr. Cleanse this place. May all beings be free from enmity and danger. May all beings be free from mental suffering. May all beings be free from physical suffering. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings protect themselves joyfully. I have been blinded by the net of injustice. Tyr, judge and minister, come near and treat me with mercy. Your discernment, like the fire at the end of an age clears away the mere appearance of injustice in the mind; please bestow it upon me.”

She stands, lifting a flask of holy water and splashes it over the bone altar chanting again, “Gone. Gone. Gone even farther is perfect justice.” Ryesha takes the other flask, doing and saying likewise.

Winona places her holy symbol back around her neck and takes her massive, silver-headed flail in two hands. “Tyr. Even-handed One. May your single all-seeing eye look down on the evils of this place and judge them. As we judge the physical, may you judge the spiritual. As we cleanse the stone, may you cleanse hearts. As we crush the face of evil, may you crush the spirit of evil. Whatever foulness resides in this place, may this simple act see it destroyed and your justice done…”

Ryesha nearly yells the final mantra, “Come perfect justice!”, her voice coming out as a frightened squeak, then takes a quick step back and ducks as Winona swings the two-handed bludgeon sideways in a wide arc, putting as much of her weight behind the blow as she can from her seated position, and snapping her shoulders to add extra whip to the chain as the head smashes into the side of the bone altar.

GM

The pile of skulls practically explodes from the force of the blow. Bone fragments fly in all directions, bouncing of walls and pelting the party with shrapnel. The ground gives a brief heave and a sudden wind knocks you all off of your feet and nearly sucks you out of the room as you hear the unmistakable sound of a dragon’s roar echoing all around you. As the sound and the tremor fade, you see that the massive gem lodged in the wall has crumbled into a fine powder that gives off a faint golden glow.

Miero

Miero picks himself up off the floor, eyes wide with surprise, and starts looking through the wreckage of the bone altar and the pile of bodies for anything valuable. “Beshaba’s blackened teets, Tyrant! What the fuck did you just do?”

Hrud

Hrud is chipping away slowly and carefully (for him) around the large opal when the sudden tremor and ghostly roar engulfs him. Part of a flying skull hits him in the back of the head, causing him to lurch forward, accidentally bringing the crowbar into contact with the stone. When the stars have cleared from his eyes, he looks down to see the opal has crumbled into dust. The barbarian looks around awkwardly, hoping no one noticed him break it.

Lyra

Lyra brushes the bone dust and shrapnel from her cloak and hair, coughing a bit from the rich incense. “Was the heart gem used to bind the dragon’s spirit here?”

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Those Left Behind: Session 1

My name is Tamn, and, apparently I am once again an outlaw, on the lamb, and hunted by everyone. I started as a slave. Escaped slavery to become an adventurer. Had my party killed by creepy shadow things. Became a bandit. Ratted out the bandtis to get ‘captured’ and ‘reformed’ by a local baron. And now that baron has been outlawed himself and his former subjects are out to kill those of us that worked for him. So…yeah…need to find a new line of work soon…

Let me back up.

12 Hammer

We stood on the battlements of Kryptgarten keep, watching the angry villagers massing. The previous day had brought quite a shock. Squire Grimnir and his companions had left early in the morning, trekking north through the snows to find the source of the Barren River’s pollution before the the spring floods could ruin our fields. Shortly after they left, a group of lovely ladies had shown up asking strange questions about the squire. Shortly after the ladies left, a crier from Phlan arrived to deliver a writ of outlawry against the Squire and his pals for crimes against the state, and claimed all of Kryptgarten as forfeit. Then one of the farmers found the hacked, burned, and very dead body of Pooky, the Squire’s giant, six-legged, albino crocodile-demon pet (yeah, he’s a weird guy), near the edge of the keep’s lands. That, of course, was sufficient sign for those of us at least somewhat loyal to the Squire to hole up in the keep, shut the doors, and try to figure out what to do since he was gone.

Now, I use the term ‘loyal’ loosely here. With the exception of Grinkle, who worships the squire as a god, and a few tattooed kooks from Hillsfar who did likewise, most of us served him out of debt, fear, or both. Not that we feared him, which we did, but that doesn’t matter, but rather fear of the settlers in and around Kryptgarten, all of whom were from Hillsfar and had similar views on non-humans to that infamous city. The squire, scary as he was, had served as a buffer between the few of us who were not human and the potentially murderous xenophobia of the locals. Which leads us to the battlements.

As I said, by the end of the previous day, Grinkle had ordered all ‘cleanly and faithful servants of our lord Grimnir’ to withdraw into Kryptgarten Keep and shut the doors. This morning we had been awakened by the crashing, banging, gonging sounds of a giant black-iron bell falling from a great height. We rushed up to the battlements to see that the church which Grimnir had erected, dedicated to himself and run by Grinkle, was on fire. The sound must have been the bell falling from the tower, which had already collapsed. All of the settlers, some two hundred of them, were gathered around the gates. Everyone was armed with a torch, and most also had bows, spears, polearms, swords, shields, and armor (sometimes its not such a good idea to require 100% of your population to train with the militia).

With the peasantry up in arms, the church destroyed, our lord outlawed, and our monstrous defender killed, our position seemed untenable. There was only one thing to do: sneak out the back door.

Grinkle gave a little speech to the gathered ‘priests’, most of whom were heavily pierced and tattooed former chaos-bubo-cultists from Hillsfar and not particularly reliable. He told them we (Isti, Yury, Grinkle, and I) were leaving, and that as high-priest he was basically disbanding the church. Any of them who wanted to go with us could, the rest should divest themselves of their holy soap (yeah it was a weird church anyways), go dirty up their faces, and then let the villagers in once we were gone. Unsurprisingly we only had one taker on the going with us part, a real wacko (but a very talented wacko and a tough SOB) named Zander Payne.

We ran down from the walls and into the subterranean living quarters of the keep, grabbed all the gear and provisions we could carry, and were out the secret, back, entrance tunnel in under an hour. Isti dropped some kind of invisible wyvern trap spell in the passage in case we were followed. We watched from the woods as the ‘faithless wretches’ (as Zander called them) opened the gates and let the Kryptgardians charge into the keep. Then we booked it into the woods.

Now, the Quivering Forest is not a fun place to hang out, in any season, but in mid-winter its downright miserable. Grinkle, the tallest of us, was up to his knees in snow, which meant Isti and I were up to our chests. We were cold, wet, and homeless. Then, of course, there were the navigational issues in the forest, the fact that trees and landmarks tended to move around. We decided to head due-south and get out of the forest ASAP, as best we could determine on a cold, overcast winter day in a forest that wouldn’t stand still.

Displacer_Beast.jpg
Then, of course, there are the creatures that live in the forest that were just as cold as we were, and considerably more hungry. It should come as no surprise that, just when we saw the edge of the woods, two big (and I mean BIG) cats with tentacles sprouting from their backs appeared, one blocking out path ahead, and one creeping up behind. Grinkle, who’s former tribe used to live in the forest, called them ‘bèt deplase’ or ‘displacer beasts’, and said they were almost impossible to hit. Of course, they also looked faster than any of us (especially me and my short legs) so it seemed like we had no choice but to try to hit them.

Just as I made the decision to charge the one in front of us, they pounced. It was at this point that I noticed that they had 6 legs, each with very sharp claws, but it was not the claws they attacked with, it was the flailing tentacles, each ending in a spiked pad. The one ahead leaped at me. I managed to dodge one tentacle, but took a rough hit from the second. The second took Zander, one tentacle hitting his left hand with enough force to splinter his shield and tear most of the flesh down to the bone.

Zander wailed in pain and lashed out with his flail, hammering the spiked weapon into the beast’s side. Grinkle, surprisingly quick for his size, stepped into the thing’s blind-spot as it attacked Zander and hacked at its backside, cutting it’s tail clean off and causing it to let out a roar of pain. Isti rushed up, keeping Zander between herself and the beast, and, taking a handful of snow, channeled the power of the elements into Zander to heal some of the damage inflicting by the beast’s strike.

Yury tossed a trio of knives in rapid succession into the one that had struck me, and I followed up by plunging my swords into either side of its neck, severing its main artery. It turns out they were not so hard to hit as Grinkle believed, especially if you can gang up on them and know some basic anatomy.

Of course, the other one was still standing and quite angry. It roared, spun, and tore into Grinkle with everything it had: two tentacles, four fore-claws, and a powerful set of jaws. The creature tore him apart, shredding his robes and sending blood flying everywhere. His body went limp. It’s a miracle he survived.

Zander swung at the thing’s exposed backside, but missed, striking air where he thought the thing’s rump should be, but Yury came through with his knives again, two shots sinking up to the hilt into the thing’s flank and dropping the beast like a stone. Zander knelt and rubbed a pumice stone over Grinkle’s wounds (I shudder just thinking about how much that must have hurt) and they miraculously closed. Grinkle got to his feet and we hurried the hell out of there.

We needed a place to live, luckily Isti new just the place.

We left the forest and headed south as fast as we could travel through the snow, reaching the outskirts of Phlan just before dusk. We slipped through the slums unnoticed (because really, hobgoblins, kobolds, mohawked madmen, and half-demons were perfectly commonplace in that shit-hole) and reached Kuto’s well by nightfall.

The place was cleaned out. It had clearly been looted and picked over, murder-hobo style, but no one new had moved in in the nearly two months since we left (not even the other thieves’ guilds). So we made ourselves as comfortable as we could, treated everyone’s remaining wounds, and got some sleep.

13 Hammer

There was some discussion the next morning. While all of us had criminal backgrounds, none of us were currently known or wanted in Phlan, no one outside of Kryptgarten knew that we were associated with the Squire, and we even had the old letters of marque from my previous adventuring group. Kuto’s Well was plenty suitable as a hideout, but we still needed to live. We discussed the possibility of taking up thievery or adventuring for the Council (despite Grinkle and Zander’s dislike of their treatment of Squire Grimnir), or both. Both won out.

We considered making contact with some of the other more established criminal gangs in town—Swipe’s gang in the sewers near Podol Plaza, which Tvoja used to be a member of, the pirates out on Stormy Bay, or even the gang operating out of Koval Mansion over on the orc-infested north side of town—but decided that if criminal enterprises were our goal, we’d be better off setting up a new gang with ourselves in charge, rather than letting someone else push us around.

We decided that we’d work, in the immediate future, on getting the well catacombs set up as a proper hideout again. We needed furniture and supplies if we were going to stay there for any length of time. We also decided that, if we could get into the city proper, we should get the Bitter Blades’ charter updated—since I was the last surviving member I could do that—in case we happened upon any bounties that we could take advantage of (because really, no matter how much some of us disliked the Council, there was no reason we shouldn’t deprive them of some gems).

So, with a plan, we snuck out of the well around noon, when most of the local monsters who used the well for water would be sleeping, and headed through the slums towards ‘Civilized Phlan’.

Only a couple blocks from the gates, we heard a high-pitched scream coming from a side alley. Now, I’m not exactly soft-hearted fellow, and my friends are not the nicest folk in the world, but I’m not one to leave a lady in distress, especially with so many orcs about. You know how orcs are. So I ran towards the sound and the others followed, after some brief hesitation.

We rounded a corner to see a young human girl, of an age with little Martha who I used to run with, or perhaps a little younger, dressed in a ragged brown dress with her back to a wall. She was screaming frantically and beating a stick at a pack of dog-sized rats swarming around her. Two mangy rat-sized dogs (you got that right, big rats, small dogs) stood by her feet, yapping and snapping at the rats trying to keep them off the girl. I gave out a sigh of relief on seeing that, at least it was not orcs raping someone again (you of course would not be surprised by how often that happens out here).

I drew my club and rushed the rats, sure that my friends would have my back (or not so sure, but not caring at least). The rats, apparently much braver even than is typical for giant rats, turned en masse and came at me head on. Even given the fights I’ve been in, seeing all of those teeth, I could understand why the girl was screaming. And those teeth were quick too. Ten of them were on me before I could get a swing in. I took several bites and one of them latched onto my right calf, biting so deep that I could feel its teeth grinding on the bone. I caved in the grinder’s head with my club, but by then even more were on me. Again there were lots of bites, and another one actually got its teeth into the same leg, which was bleeding very badly by this point, and knocked me to the ground.

Luckily Yury was there with his knives—three throws impaled three rats, knocking them off of me. I took one more bite before the other three laggards caught up. Isti drew her sword and swung at one of the big ones, but overbalanced and nearly impaled herself when she fell. Grinkle and Zander, clean-freaks that they are, actually had spells granted from their “god” expressly for the purpose of exterminating vermin. One spell from Grinkle snuffed out six of the big rodents, and Zander took out four more, leaving only the three biggest standing.

LOUISE-WITH-GIANT-RAT-406x480.jpgThings were looking pretty good, until I looked up and realized that the girl was gone, and saw another dozen or so rats crawling out of various nooks and crannies around the alley. My first thought was that maybe it was a setup, but rats aren’t that smart. Maybe the girl was a were-rat!

I didn’t have time to think much more as the rats swarmed over me and Isti where we lay on the ground. I felt a lot of bites, and then felt very cold, then passed out completely, having lost a lot of blood in a very short time.

Luckily I’m tough and a fast healer, so the others were able to fill me in later. For started, one rat nearly disemboweled Isti, and a second broke her leg with a bite. Grinkle and Zander were able to do their extermination spell thing again, and Yury’s knives took down one of the big ones. Of course, their sensibly keeping their distance just meant that the remaining rats had more time to gnaw on Isti and me.

Zander finally decided we’d been sufficiently and stepped in, crushing one of the big rats with his flail, and then impaling one of the smaller rats with the handle-spike on the backswing. Grinkle grabbed me and Yuri and dragged us back away from the gnashing teeth of the giant rats, casting a spell of regeneration on me to slow the bleeding. Yury then showed that he was apparently able to speak with animals, threatening the last two remaining rats with Grinkle’s extermination if they did not withdraw. Wise little blighters that they are, they complied.

It’s a miracle that Isti and I didn’t both bleed to death, as severe as our injuries were. None of our friends were trained healers, though they did have some magic to help. Once the rats were gone, Zander and Grinkle applied all the healing magic they had available just to stop the bleeding, and were quite unable to wake us back up.

Yury, who, like me, is not such a bad guy, ran down the alley to try to find the girl and see if she was alright (I having not had the chance to explain that I suspected she was a were-rat). He reported seeing the two little dogs running out into another street yapping, but no sign of the girl.

With nothing else for it, they dragged our asses back to the hideout to recover.

15 Hammer

I faded in and out of consciousness several times, then finally woke up two days later. My leg hurt like a bitch, but I otherwise felt functional. Our priest friends had expended A LOT of magical healing on me and Isti to get us back in functional shape. Between watching us and healing us, they had been out getting the basics. They had managed to buy, beg, borrow, or steal (mostly steal) bedrolls and blankets for the five of us, a good supply of wood for fires, stores of food, mess gear, and even a stuffed sofa for the ‘lair’.

It would be some time before Isti and I were fully recovered, but we could at least move around the hideout enough to help cook, clean up a bit, and care for ourselves, freeing the others to go about their business.

Actually, I was glad to have a couple of days to recover. Grinkle, Zander, and Yury were out a lot, trying to get a better lay of the land and plan for our new life here, which left me and Isti with a lot of alone time. It turns out we were healed enough to fuck like bunnies, and we did, a lot. Before I met Isti, I never would have thought that I’d be into kobolds, but we’re all mammels, and she’s pretty darn cute, and the fur feels kindof nice against my bare skin, especially since we went to Kryptgarten and had Grinkle making all of us bathe so…

17 Hammer

A couple days after we woke up, Zander came back late in the evening (after some heavy carousing in ‘Civilized Phlan’) to tell us about some rich muckity-muck who was had been dumb enough to build his house outside the walls of ‘New Phlan’. A guy named Poppof, some king of merchant-wizard from up north, who had built a big two-story town house on the wrong side of the wall. Now this alone was not particularly newsworthy (space in New Phlan was getting really cramped and the Council had not approved expansion of the wall yet), until Zander told us that Poppof and most of his guards had been seen locking up the house, hauling out some goods, and hopping on a boat the day before. If they were going on a trade mission, they wouldn’t be back for weeks, and a big house like that was sure to have plenty of nice furniture and things to dress out our hideout in style.

Isti and I, being small and inconspicuous, agreed to go stake the place out and case the joint for the rest of the day. If this Poppof fellow was a wizard, he was sure to have some magical traps and the like, but even that should not be too much of a problem for a pack of skilled thieves with plenty of magical training. Right?

The two of us found the house easy enough, a nice two-story townhouse, locked up tight. The second floor overhung the ground floor in the front by about five feet. Poppof had had the rubble, muck, and snow cleared away around the house and had installed a couple of cute planters with shrubberies along the front, under the overhang, and cleaned out most of the street so that people in the house would not be looking out at piles of shit like everywhere else in the slums. Hooray for gentrification.

All the windows were shuttered, save for a single round pane of glass over the front double doors. The front door was too obviously trapped, radiating all kinds of hostile magic and showing more mechanisms than was at all reasonable. Isti suggested that it was probably a leomund’s trap (an illusion to make the door look more trapped than it was). The place had two chimneys, both on the Wall side of the house. There was also a back door, locked and barred from within.

The street was pretty busy, and there were no good hiding places near the house, so we just casually scoped it out, circled once, and then went to the far side of the street and perched on top of a ruined old hovel to watch. No one came in or out all day, but it was clear the place was being watched. We spotted a couple of orcish toughs standing on the street not far away and giving the stink-eye to anyone who seemed too curious about the place, us included. It seemed Poppof must be up-to-date on his protection money.

When it got dark, we made one more circuit of the house. The alley by the back door was narrow and dark. Making it less likely we’d be seen going in that way. Curious about the chimneys, I kept watch while Isti scrambled up to the steepled roof. She came back down quickly, reporting that the chimneys were open, but narrow, probably easy enough for the two of us to go in that way, but not the others, and not hauling anything out.

We went back to the hideout and reported our findings. The others agreed that we should hit the place tomorrow night, before any of the other, more established gangs got the same idea.

To be continued…

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Chapter 3: An Old Lady in Melvaunt: Part 6
Interlude: The Squatters in Onyx: Part 3

GM

Hrud leads the way through the portal with weapons drawn, expecting an ambush, but keeping his eyes mostly on the ground. Despite the hardness of the stone floor, he can easily make out a few muddy footprints, mostly kobold, but a few larger reptilian clawmarks and some bootprints, all old and all heading, more or less, from the curtained passage ahead to the door behind him. He also spots a few dried bloodstains on the floor near the center of the room, beneath where the ropes are hanging.

Even through the dimension door, Donovan and Winona’s psionically heightened hearing picks up the sounds of numerous kobolds coming from above Hrud.

Donovan/Winona/Ryesha

Donovan grabs his largest crossbow off his back and rushes through the portal, scanning the ceiling for possible murder-holes. «Frantiska,» he calls back in elvish, «please inform our barbarous friend that there are numerous kobolds above him and he should expect unpleasant things to start falling on his head soon.»

Winona, apparently noticing the same thing but not understanding what Donovan is saying, turns to Lyra and the others. “Kobolds in the ceiling,” she says plainly.

Ryesha lets out a plaintive squeak, then tugs on Winona’s sleeve and whispers, “Up those ropes maybe?”

Frantiska

Frantiska steps through the dimension door behind Donovan, “Hrud, anjing wajah di langit-langit.” She turns her bow upwards and gestures with her eyes towards the three holes from which the ropes are descending and a visible gap in a large boulder that appears to have been laid across a larger hole. «Lyra, Donovan,» she says switching to elvish, «I can see their heat signatures through the holes, can we get a light up there?»

GM

As it becomes obvious, from the upward staring and crossbow-pointing, to the kobolds observing you from above that their concealment has been blown, they respond with a barrage of arrows from the half-dozen murder-holes concealed in the spongy lung-tissue of the ceiling. Dozens of small arrows rain down around Donovan, Frantiska, and Hrud. Three find gaps in Frantiska’s armor, but none manage to hit Hrud or Donovan.

Hrud

Not having anything that could reach the kobolds above, Hrud takes a risk and ducks though the curtain looking for cover.

Donovan/Winona/Rye

I can’t possibly hit them through those tiny holes, Donovan thinks, knowing that he’s far from a crack shot with the bulky crossbows. But! he thinks smiling. He releases his grip on the crossbow, allowing it to dangle from his shoulder, grabs the sheaf of scrolls from its case, and rifles through them until he finds the right one. This should do the trick! He points a finger at the large stone to which Frantiska is pointing, mutters a few incomprehensible syllables, then, says loudly, “UP!”

Winona, suspecting that Hrud must have seen some more accessible targets, pulls the larger flail off her back and rushes through the dimension door, across the room, and through the curtain after him.

Ryesha, tries to ignore the voice whispering in the back of her head about glory and the images of her gleefully slashing at kobolds with her knives. She shakes her head, but looks down and notices that she already has a pair of blades in her hands. She shuts her eyes tight, thinking no, kobolds are mean, we shouldn’t get that close. When she opens her eyes, however, she is standing right beside them…

Lyra

Lyra concentrates on keeping the doorway open, wincing at the hail of arrows. “If we can prop up the tapestry or some of those furs, they won’t know who’s standing where for the next volly.”

Frantiska

Frantiska winces as the first arrow strikes her in the thigh, exposing her to the second which catches her in the side, just below the ribs. She stumbles to the ground and tries to crawl back to the cover of Lyra’s dimension door, but the third shot strikes her in the back, right through her heart. She lays still, blood pooling on the floor around her.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit watches the hail of arrows and curses. He hitches his backpack up over his head, runs the few feet through the portal to where Frantiska is laying, and drags her bleeding body out of the kill zone on the off chance that she can be repaired.

Once safely through the dimension door, Yamtwit works furiously—breaking off and removing the small, barbed arrow heads, and wadding bundles of gauze and shoving them into the holes to staunch the bleeding. I can apply proper bandages later, he thinks. Once the wounds are at least cursorily plugged, he rolls her onto her back and checks her breathing and pulse, only to find that the shot through her back pierced her heart. [In proper Hollywood fashion] He beats furiously on her chest for a while, pumping in a futile attempt to restart the damaged organ.

GM

Teldicia pushes herself away from the wall against which she has been leaning heavily, takes a deep breath, and sprints into the room, leaping strait up to grab the lip of the hole made by Donovan’s levitation spell, twelve feet above, then hauls herself up into the passage with the startled kobolds.

Beyond the curtain, Hrud and Winona find an empty den. Two dozen piles of sleeping furs are scattered on the ground and a burned-out cookfire sits in the center of the room. The walls and ceiling are the same pock-marked, petrified lung-tissue as the room before, with a similar guarantee of murder-holes linked to the passage above. A few bats clinging to the ceiling, seemingly oblivious to the commotion from the other room, are startled by the light of Hrud’s hammer and begin flying about, swarming out the exit at the far end of the room.

Hrud

Hrud continues moving through the room, peaking into the next – ready to dash into it should any arrows come down from above.

GM

Hrud runs to the far exit, swatting the occasional bat away from his face, and looks out into a long corridor running to the left and right. The passage is rounded, with smooth walls, apparently an extension of the esophagus through which you had been traveling earlier, and slopes downward to the left and sharply upward to the right.

Hrud

Hoping that the passage to the right will lead him to the shifty dog-faces above, Hrud presses forward, eager to dish out some pain.

GM

The kobolds are startled by the rise of the rock and the sudden appearance of Teldicia and Ryesha in their midst. There are a dozen in all, huddled two a piece around six murder-holes, four leading into the first room, and two more over the room into which Hrud and Winona have run. Each has a bow in hand and buckets, filled with their short, barbed arrows sit beside each hole. They let out a series of alarmed, high-pitched, barking noises and then resume firing—three groups firing into the rooms below at Donovan, Hrud, and Winona, and the others turning to the more immediate threats.

Arrows rain down around those in the room below, one striking a grazing hit against Donovan. Ryesha snags one arrow out of the air, but takes a second in the wrist. Teldicia, just cresting the hole, takes two arrows directly in the chest. She slips from her perch and slams back down to the floor right by Donovan’s feet with a sickening thud.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit on seeing Teldicia fall bolts up cursing in his native tongue, “Youn lòt pèdiSe mwen menm woutpa gen okenn. Hay mèrdik!” He runs back through the portal, yelling to Lyra, “You just keep the door open missy!”, and quickly lays hands on Teldicia, praying fervently to his goddess.

Lyra

Lyra pulls a board out of the stack and throws it though the doorway towards Donovan. “Get that up there and fall back!”

Donovan/Winona/Rye

Donovan, now that he has a clear shot, reaches into his pouch and pulls out a handful of sand, throwing it in the direction of the hole in the ceiling and pronouncing the words to yet another sleep spell.

Winona pulls a brazier from her pack and holds it up as a makeshift shield, calling over her shoulder to the others, “Nothing in here but more snipers, but it sounds like the far passage is clear. Run for it!”

Ryesha’s face goes white when she realizes she is stuck up the hole, alone, and outnumbered twelve-to-one. She tosses the knives she is holding at the faces of the nearest kobolds, then runs towards the far room and dives headfirst through one of the holes, “Sister! Catch!” she yells as she falls.

Winona drops her flail and sticks out her arms to catch the falling Ryesha.

GM

Ryesha’s knives both strike home, one plunges into a kobold’s neck, sending it reeling backwards, clutching at its throat and drowning in its own blood. The second takes a kobold in the eye, blinding the thing and causing it to drop its bow. She tumbles through the hole into Winona’s arms just as Donovan’s spell goes off, causing eight of the remaining kobolds to slump to the ground, suddenly too drowsy to stand up. The two remaining kobolds, farthest from the spell’s origin, continue firing down at Ryesha and Winona, striking both of them as Rye lands.

Hrud rushes up the passage to the right, running uphill for a dozen yards before he is stopped by a deep pit. The light from his hammer illuminates a number of giant weasels at the bottom of the pit, quiet and peaceful in death.

Teldicia groans, open her eyes, and grabs the wooden plank that Lyra threw from where it had fallen next to her and tosses it up into the hole above.

Donovan/Winona/Rye

Winona puts down Rye, yanks the arrow out of her thigh, and grabs her flail from the floor. “Run!” she says, and does just that, heading for the far exit.

Donovan, slips an arm under Teldicia’s armpit, pulling her the rest of the way upright and runs after Winona and Rye. «Lyra, we’re going this way! Blow it when we’re clear…»

Yamtwit

Yamtwit runs after Donovan and Teldicia, staying close on their heals, eager to ensure that at least one patient survives this skirmish. As he peels out into the hallway, Yamtwit yells, “Hruď, ngendi sira lunga?”

Hrud

“Punika cara metu. Kudu pindhah mudhun.” Hrud says, as he comes stalking back down the corridor, frustration on his face. “Apa asu-pasuryan isih urip? Bisa aku tekan wong-wong mau?”

GM

As you all run out of the room, you hear the high-pitched yapping voices of the two kobolds shouting something, along with some muffled, equally high-pitched grunts, as of someone being kicked awake.

Frantiska

As everyone’s attention is focused on the other room, Frantiska’s heart suddenly resumes beating. She coughs, flecks of blood spraying from her mouth, and raises an arm weakly. She manages to whisper «Lyrathwen…» and briefly clutches the hem of Lyra’s dress before her arm falls limp again.

Lyra

Lyra sinks to her knees next to Frantiska, hands shaking as she pulls wax stoppered sheep’s bladders from her backpack.

She remembers Frantiska lying in the road, leg twisted unnaturally, blood everywhere. No, Donovan’s memory, she reminded herself. But more importantly, his memory of the goblin handing Rant a flask, the buttery smell as Donovan turned around, and the healed, whole flesh when he turned back.

When it sounds like the awake kobolds have run over to their friends, Lyra speaks the command word for that board, then returns to fussing over Frantiska, letting the gateway close.

GM

There is a muffled BOOM from the small charge detonating. The kobold’s chattering speech trails off into screams, then silenced, leaving only the sound of small bits of stone and debris clattering onto the floor.

Donovan/Winona/Rye

Donovan runs out of the room and, seeing Hrud coming from the opposite direction, down to the left. “This way!” he says, then stops in his tracks. “I don’t suppose anyone has a way of getting in touch with Lyra to tell her which way we went?”

Winona and Ryesha both shake their heads. “Sounds like the bomb blew,” Winona adds, “We should go back and clean up the mess.”

“Hmmm,” Donovan’s brow furrows. “It’s clear that they know we are here. With this many murder-holes, they probably have some living quarters or something in the upper half of the body, closer to the spine.” He points down the esophagus, “We know that way should lead to the stomach…”

“Okay,” he finally says, “let’s go clean up any kobos that may be left and then see if there are any passages off of that upper chamber.” Donovan unslings his crossbow again and turns back into the room. “Rye, can you get up in there again and lower one of those ropes for the rest of us?”

“Maybe…” Ryesha’s nose and forehead wrinkle adorably in concentration. She vanishes.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit explains the plan to Hrud, “Terwelu cah wadon sethitik wis arep uncalan tali mudhun supaya kita bisa njaluk bantuan kanggo asu pasuryan.” He then turns to Teldicia, “You look sick lady. No more jumping in front of things with arrows, okay?” He draws a club and carefully skuttles into the room, taking pains to keep Teldicia behind him.

GM

Ryesha appears back in the upper chamber of the dragon’s lung, surrounded by kobolds, or rather, surrounded by the limbs, body parts, and blood splatters of exploded kobolds. A wide, smooth-walled passage, just large enough for her to stand upright, exits at the far end of the chamber, then splits to run parallel with the esophagus below. A ladder in the intersection leads up into the spinal column.

Donovan/Winona/Rye

Below, everyone hears a high-pitched shriek, followed by an “Ewwwwwwwwwww!” Ryesha walks over and looks down the hole, cautious of the still-levitating rock. “They’re dead…” she says with a mixture of disgust and relief. “There are two more passages up here, but they’re my size, so maybe a bit small for the rest of you.” She examines the three ropes, noticing that they are apparently meant for hauling the rock up, and have a good bit of slack. She runs the slack out through the already-provided holes, down to where a kobold could reach them from the ground, then ties off the ends to keep the rock from falling when Donovan’s spell inevitably wears off.

Donovan goes over to the door which was recently blocked by Lyra’s dimension door, opens it and yells down the stairs. “Lyra, we’re all clear up here.” He then turns back to the others, “So…Esophagus, Trachea, or Spine? I’d prefer not to be crawling, but it makes sense that they would put the important stuff in the passages where they would have a greater advantage. But, given that everything is carved from organs, the stomach is probably the biggest room, which might give us the advantage if we can lure them into a mass confrontation there…”

Winona just shrugs, “Whatever dearie…”

Frantiska

A minute after the butter has done its work, Frantiska groans and opens her eyes again. She sits up slowly and notices a trickle of blood still issuing from the arrow-wounds. She presses her hands over the injuries, a blue glow surrounding them, and looks up at Lyra. «Thank you Lyrathwen. Remind me not to walk into obvious traps in the future…» She stands up slowly, replacing her bow on her shoulder and pulling out her shield and shortsword.

Lyra

Lyra stands and smooths her skirt. «I … had intended to take you back to the village to recover from your injuries under the care of the healer there once you were stable. But if you would prefer to continue, the area above should be safe now.»

Yamtwit/Frantiska

Yamtwit looks up at the hole, sighs, then starts climbing. “Donovan, the trachea stops here, right? If we’re in the lungs?” He pulls himself up into the messy higher chamber then calls down through the hole. “We know the spine was linked to the murder-holes over those pits. If you’re heading for the stomach, it probably makes sense for a couple of us to go this way, run parallel, and make sure you don’t get shot at from above again…” A scowl crosses his face, “Of course, we’re not really the best ones for dealing with that. Can we get a couple of Lyra’s bomb-boards?”

Meanwhile down below, Frantiska stretches a bit and takes a test swing of her sword. «I’m fine, Lyra, and, much as I may dislike many of them, I could not live with myself if I abandoned our companions when they were in danger.» She looks around. «Do you have sufficient strength for us to rejoin the others, or will we have to backtrack and find another route up?»

Lyra

Lyra nods, reopening the portal into the room in the same location it was previously.

Donovan/Winona/Rye

Donovan looks up at the goblin, trying to suppress his instinctual thought to never split the party. “Alright Sir Cheeseater. Just don’t stick your necks out more than necessary. Remember that in those close confines we won’t be able to get to you in a hurry if you get into trouble.” Seeing the Dimension Door open, he turns and looks through it at Frantiska. “FRAN! I thought you were dead…again…”

Winona looks up at Ryesha, “Stay out of trouble Bunny. We’ll meet you in the guts. Don’t be afraid to scamper if you need to.”

Ryesha looks down and shrugs. “You always said I needed more field practice…” she whispers, barely audible to anyone save Yamtwit. “Come on Mr. Yamtwit, I guess we’re going this way.” She pulls her knives out of the pair of kobolds she killed, kicks a stray leg out of the way, and heads for the passage.

“Oh!” Donovan says, “Lyra, do you have some boards that our little friends could take with them?”

Lyra

Lyra steps into the portal, and allows it to close after she and Frantiska are both through. “If we use more, we won’t be able to fully collapse the hill, but being able to deal with the kobolds should take precedence.” She holds up one of the boards. “Glowing arcane symbol on one side, triggering words written on the other. Please make sure to note it before throwing it, and as I mentioned earlier, several places are not structurally sound, so please take care where you are detonating it.”

Yamtwit

“Just a sec Bunny-girl! Be right behind you.” Yamtwit reaches down and grabs the board. “Thanks!” He stops and thinks for a moment, “Can I get two?”

Lyra

Lyra passes a second board up to Yamtwit.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit grabs the board, says another enthusiastic “Thanks!” and runs after Ryesha. “So, Bunny-girl, are we doing this the team-sneaky way?” He tucks the two enchanted boards in his pack and grabs one of his clubs.

Hrud

Hrud begins making his way down into the lower regions of the lair, straining his ears for any sign of a kobold response to the explosion that occurred.

GM

Hrud turns into the left-hand passage, which continued to slope steadily downward. Hearing the skuttling of numerous feet and the high-pitched barking voices of kobolds up ahead.

After about ten yards, the smooth, rounded walls begin to widen steadily for another ten feet, before ballooning out in all directions, opening into the vast gallery of the dragon’s stomach. The ground slopes even more sharply here, but steps have been carved into the side of the stomach wall, leading down to the “floor” below, where a deep pool of acrid-smelling water has collected. At the far end of the pool, another set of stairs leads up towards a similar opening, presumably to the dragon’s bowels. About half-way up the stomach wall to Hrud’s left is another, smaller opening, covered by a tight-fitting, hinged door, apparently made from a large, ceramic pot lid. A pair of ropes attached to the lid-door string back through holes drilled in the wall just above it.

A wood and metal walkway with flimsy-looking, rope railing has been constructed around the circumference of the upper portion of the stomach, about twenty feet over Hrud’s head. Numerous side passages lead off from this walkway, carved into the walls. Hrud can easily hear kobolds moving about up above, but none are visible from this angle.

The stairs lead directly down into the pool, and back out of it on the far side. The walkway looks like it might support Hrud’s weight, if he was careful, but it also looks like if he grabbed on and shook it hard he could bring the majority of the thing down.

Frantiska

Frantiska hurries through the room and into the passage behind Hrud. She looks around the stomach, somewhat impressed by the kobolds’ ingenuity in renovating the dragon corpse. Seeing the walkway and hearing the kobolds, she carefully holds her shield over her head, before examining anything else more closely. She points at the ceramic-capped hole on the left-hand wall and taps Hrud’s shoulder. “Hrud, saya pikir itu adalah ‘Fundamentum’. Itu yang akan membuat napas asam naga,” she says, trying to explain dragon anatomy in her imperfect Erakic.

Donovan/Winona/Rye

Ryesha turns on Yamtwit, her eyes blazing and her nose scrunched up in a way that is simultaneously frightening and adorable, “DO. NOT. CALL. ME. BUNNY-GIRL!” Her momentary outrage turns to a sullen whimper, “It’s bad enough that Sister Winona calls me that. She’s my superior, so I can’t stop her. But as for you and the rest of them, my name is Ryesha. Sister Ryesha if you want to be formal, or even Rye is fine, but don’t call me Bunny.” She spins on her heel and turns down the left-hand passage, her eyes giving off the faint, tell-tale glow of infravision, but somehow more pink than red. “Let’s just see where this goes before everyone gets too far ahead…”

Below, the others fall into step behind Hrud and Frantiska. Donovan walks slowly, crossbow in one hand the his other arm around Teldicia for support, under her armpits and tantalizingly close to her breasts. Come on Don, focus, a kobold shooting gallery is no place to be thinking about the ladies… he tries really hard to keep his unwholesome thoughts to himself, hoping that telepathy was not one of the gifts that Teldicia got from the virus.

Winona clanks up behind Hrud and Frantiska in her armor and looks down at the pool of water. “There is no way I’m going in something that smells that bad,” she says, adjusting her glasses. “Can we get up to that catwalk? It’ll probably intersect with where Bunny and Yammy will come out…”

Lyra

Lyra follows, brow furrowed in consternation as she looks around. “Ah. Does anyone else find that ceramic aperture covering alarming?”

Frantiska

Frantiska turns to Lyra, “I think that leads to the dragon’s fundamentum…the source of it’s breath attack. I suspect that the odd choice of doors and the smell of that water means that the kobolds may have found some way of harvesting its secretions. Going up seems the best course of action…” Frantiska takes out her bow and a wood-biting arrow, stringing a strong, but lightweight thread through the eye of the arrow. “Does anyone have rope?” she asks. “Hrud, tali?”

Hrud

Hrud shrugs off the loop of rope off his shoulder he’d been carrying prior to walking through Lyra’s magic door into the kobold ambush and hands it to the elf.

Frantiska

Frantiska ties one end of the rope to the string, loops the string back so that she has about 30 feet of slack on either side of the loop, and fires the arrow into the catwalk above. She then pulls on one end of the string, hauling the heavier rope up and through the eyelet of the arrow, ties the two ends of the rope together to form a dangling loop, then pulls the loop until the large knot is tight against the eyelet to keep the rope from shifting. “Apakah anda ingin pergi dulu?”

Hrud

Hrud climbs the rope, trying to move as smoothly and evenly as he is able, afraid that his weight might bring the walkway down.

Once on the walkway, he moves to the edge of the room, wanting to be off the rickety structure sooner rather than later.

GM

Hrud hauls himself up onto the walkway and finds himself face-to-face with a trio of spear-wielding kobolds standing in one of the many side-passages. The nearest kobold yells the time-honored signal, “Bree Yark!” and dozens of the tiny creatures come rushing out onto the walkway from the other holes bristling with bows and spears. The three spear-wielding kobolds rush Hrud as he stands on the edge…

Hrud

Despite the odds, Hrud finds himself elated at the opportunity to smash more skulls – the dog-faces repeated ambushes serving only to annoy the barbarian. Drawing his broadsword, he rushes to meet them.

Donovan/Winona

Seeing the swarm of kobolds coming pouring out of the many upper passages, Donovan rifles through his collection of scrolls, and, aiming for the largest pack of them he can see, casts ice knife.

Winona suddenly feels deep regret over her religion’s prohibition on the use of projectile weapons. She briefly considers grabbing the rope and trying to pull down the catwalk, then remembers her inability to discuss tactics with Hrud, Suddenly she has a mental image of Ryesha squaring off against five kobolds. “Bunny’s in trouble,” she says. “I can’t do much here…I’m going to check on the little ones…” She turns and runs back to the last chamber and begins climbing up the ropes. Fighting while crawling has got to be better than getting shot at by things I can’t reach, right? she thinks.


Meanwhile in the upper passage

GM

Rye and Yamtwit turn the corner into the passage and immediately run up against a small pack of kobolds who have been standing there quietly. So quiet, in fact, that the two smallest party members realize they can hear no sounds at all, neither the talking of their companions below, nor even their own footsteps and breath. Five kobolds stand glaring at them in the silence. The first four carry spears and are arrayed for battle—two kneeling abreast in the narrow corridor, with two more behind them, creating a miniature version of a pike hedge. The fifth, behind them, is rather terrifying for a kobold—old and withered, with scores of bone piercings in his ears and eyebrow ridges, his arms are painted blood-red up to the elbows and a big red ‘X’ is painted on his bare chest.

The four guard-kobolds hold their ground while the fifth stands very still, locking eyes with Yamtwit and staring at him intently.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit opens his mouth to yell for reinforcements, but no sounds comes. “Mèrdik grenpe kobo trankil,” he mutters soundlessly to himself, somehow unable to look away from the creepy old kobold with the red hands. He walks slowly backwards towards the corner, keeping up a steady string of curses, and maintaining eye contact with the creepy kobold. As soon as he can hear himself again, he quickly incants the words of a shillelagh spell.

Ryesha

Rye screams at the sight of the kobolds, then freaks out even more when she cannot hear herself scream. She whips the two knives she is holding at the nearest kobold guards. She really wants to run, but images flash through her mind of her standing triumphantly atop a pile of dead kobolds and Sister Winona praising her and calling her by her proper name and not some lame pejorative. She knows the thoughts are not her own, but decides she doesn’t really care. She takes a half step back to have more room to throw and draws another pair of knives.

GM

Rye’s blades strike home on the kneeling kobolds, one burrying itself in the chest of the kobold on the right, who collapses to the ground bleeding profusely, the other hitting the left-hand one in the causing it to drop its spear. The two kobolds behind them leap over their wounded friends and charge at Ryesha, spears lowered. Rye easily sidesteps one spear, but, in the narrow passage, has no way of avoiding the second, the point of which ends up buried deep in her side.

Behind them, the old kobold crosses his arms over his chest, along the lines of the red ‘X’ tattoo and continues to stare intently at Yamtwit.

Yamtwit

As the old kobold continues to stare at Yamtwit, the goblin suddenly feels very dizzy and unsteady on his feet. His hands begin to shake, his joints ache, and his body feels as if it is responding a good bit slower than his thoughts.

Yamtwit stumbles backwards from the intense gaze, tripping over his own feet, and tumbling the shillelagh out of his hands. Growling he clumsily hauls himself to his feet and charges the kobolds assaulting Rye, swinging for the benches with the magical club, but the blow goes whistling harmlessly over the kobolds’ heads.

Winona/Rye

Winona hauls herself, heavy armor and all, slowly up the rope and into the passage above. Her face wrinkles in distaste at the splattered kobold parts and she strains to hear where Bunny is—disconcerted that her psionically enhanced hearing cannot pinpoint them. I need to practice more, she thinks. Grunting she crawls on hands and knees towards the only obvious exit, her helmet scraping on the low ceiling. I’m not going to be able to swing a damned thing in these tunnels, she thinks, but at least I can be around to heal Bunny if she needs it. She rounds the corner and stares in amazement at the silent play of combat being enacted ahead.

Ryesha, flinches away from Yamtwit’s wild swing, a little unsteady on her feet herself from bloodloss. Seeing the kobolds ducking, her hands, seemingly of their own volition, driven by Kisakhavar’s bloodlust, interpose themselves directly in line with the kobold’s necks, causing the kobolds to impale themselves, the short blades burrying themselves up to the hilts in their dog-like chins. Winona’s eyes widen at the sight of timid ‘little sister’s’ brutal tactics.

GM

The old kobold with the tattoos grins maniacally when he sees Winona and waves a hand. Winona, Ryesha, and Yamtwit’s ears are suddenly assaulted by the screams of the wounded and dying kobolds, as sound returns to the space. The old kobold chants a few words in his own harsh language and stretches both hands skyward, “Yangın ve ağrı ve bıçak ve ölüm, elimi gel! Kötü küçük yarı-kız üzerine tıp ve o cehennemde çürümeye olabilir!” A long blade-like tendril of flame appears in his left hand, and the right jabs a finger at Ryesha, causing a sudden feeling of disorientation to come over her.

The last kobold guard standing, or, more specifically, kneeling, yanks the knife out of his arm, then picks his spear up with his good hand and hurls it towards Yamtwit. The throw is wobbly and weak, but still sufficient to hit the staggering, unbalanced goblin. He pulls a club from his crude belt and backs slowly away, still keeping himself between you and the old kobold.

Winona/Rye

Ryesha’s shudders as the fell magic grips her along with the crushing knowledge that she cannot possibly harm the scary old kobold sorcerer. Hearing the scrape of metal on stone behind, she turns to see Winona crawling around the corner. “Sister! Help!” Her hand reaches involuntarily to her bandoleer for another brace of knives. No, that’s not going to work! she thinks, more to her cloak than herself, and instead yanks a flask of sleep gas out of her pouch and throws it at the kobolds.

Winona’s thoughts on watching the fight are more along the lines of, why can’t it be hell hounds or Tanar’ri or something else easy to deal with? She crawls forward and does what she can to at least keep her smaller companions alive while they fight the witch doctor, placing a mail-clad hand reassuringly on Rye’s back and casting cure light wounds.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit glares angrily at the old kobold, sure that his sudden clumsiness must be his doing. He hefts the shillelagh in both hands over his head and charges, knowing that in his current state caution is basically pointless.


Downstairs…

Frantiska

Frantiska almost grins at the sudden appearance of exposed targets at good range. She shoves her shield back towards Lyra with her foot as she drops to a kneeling position, “Lyra, do you mind being my shield-bearer?” Her elven-made bow comes up, four arrows on the string at once, and sends all four streaking towards the kobolds on the far end of the walkway.

Lyra

Lyra checks for murder holes overhead that will need to be avoided as she scoops up the shield, as much hiding under it as wielding it. “The tunnel will give us some cover from the walkway overhead, and I don’t see any murder holes in the tunnel itself.”

GM

Despite their “ambush”, the kobolds are surprisingly slow to react. Donovan’s ice knife slams into the chest of one kobold with exceptional force, leaving a large gaping wound, then explodes, freezing another three in their tracks. Nearby, four more go down with arrows protruding from their chests or between their eyes. Hrud easily brushes aside the flimsy spear-thrusts of the kobolds charging at him with his hammer, then takes off two of their heads with one swipe of his green-bladed sword. Teldicia, apparently having not needed Donovan’s support as she led him to believe gives him a wink as she leaps into the air, grabs the edge of the walkway, and swings her legs over, kicking the third kobold menacing Hrud solidly in the chest and sending it sprawling back into the passage from whence it came.

Three more spear-wielding kobolds, apparently undeterred by the death of their companions, charge along the catwalk towards the big barbarian. Two lunge for his middle, but Hrud easily backsteps, only to have the third shove the spear between his feet, sending Hrud toppling from the walkway. He hits the sloped floor of the stomach below then slides down the side into the acrid smelling, but harmless, pool of water at the bottom.

The other kobolds still on the walkway begin firing at Lyra, Donovan, and Fran below, but most of the small, barbed arrows clatter harmlessly off of the large shield that Lyra holds over them.

Hrud

Angry (and a bit disoriented) at being removed from the fray, Hrud splashes to his feet and grabs one of the small spears dropped by the kobolds. In a huff, he flings it towards the walkway, very nearly hitting Teldicia due to his wrecklessness.

Donovan

Donovan grins stupidly at the wink from Teldicia, stares slack-jawed at her panties disappearing over the lip of the walkway, then, not taking his eyes off her, casually tosses a handful of rose petals in the direction of the kobolds shooting gallery and mutters a few words.

Lyra

Lyra continues to use the shield to protect Donovan, Frantiska, and herself from arrow fire.

Frantiska

Frantiska’s catches Donovan’s upturned face and lewd grin out of the corner of her eye. Someone has to do something about that lecher, she thinks. She dips the limb of her bow behind his knee and sweeps his legs out from under him, toppling him into the pool with Hrud. She quickly swings her bow up and knocks an arrow, but the tripping maneuver leaves her balance off and sends the shot flying wide.

GM

Donovan manages to get his spell off before he is dumped in the drink. All of the remaining kobolds on the walkway, as well as Teldicia, suddenly slump and fall where they stand.

Donovan

Donovan rises of out the pool, spitting and spluttering with soaked pantaloons and water dripping from his hair. He spares only a brief glance back at Frantiska, sure that the beautiful elf woman must have been saving him from some terrible attack, and tears his broadsword and stiletto from their sheaths.clumsily, ready to defend himself against whatever horrors must be lurking in the pool. He looks around the gallery, noting that none of the kobolds are moving, then lowers his weapons a little. “Did we get them all?” He walks up a few steps, shaking water off of his soft boots. “Judging by their reaction, I’m guessing the living quarters, and probably any treasure are up there…” he gestures towards the catwalk with his stiletto, then sheaths it.

Hrud

Hrud moves back over to the rope and returns to the walkway, dispatching the remaining kobolds – and giving the dead ones an extra poke for good measure. He nudges the snoring green-haired elf with his toe as he passes her.


Upstairs…

GM

As Yamtwit charges by to get at the old kobold, the kobold guard smacks him in the back of the head with a side-handed swing of his club. Yamtwit stumbles forward, but still manages to land a solid blow on the old witchdoctor, knocking the ancient kobold backwards onto his rear. There is a sudden cracking and hissing noise as Ryesha’s flask of sleeping gas breaks on the ground near their feet, then sublimates into the air. The kobold cough and splutter a bit, but seem fine. Yamtwit, however, feels suddenly very lightheaded. He yawns widely and faints, unconscious to the ground.

The two kobolds let out exultant cries, loud enough to be heard echoing through the upper tunnels to the stomach gallery below. The injured kobold makes a small jump into the air, bringing his club down on Yamtwit with the force of his body weight behind it. The witchdoctor then stabs down into Yamtwit’s back with his flaming sword, searing a hole right through the poor goblin.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit snores peacefully, oblivious to the beating he’s taking. He snorts a little when the flaming blade pierces him, but then just rolls over, still breathing contentedly, hugging and cuddling his shillelagh like a plush doll.


Downstairs…

Lyra

Lyra looks around wildly at the kobold cries echoing around the chamber. “That doesn’t sound good. Can anyone tell where it’s coming from?”

GM

Teldicia emits a very unladylike grunt as Hrud kicks her, then slowly opens her eyes. She jerks instinctively when she notices how close to the edge of the walkway she is lying, causing the whole thing to sway slightly, then rolls closer to the wall before standing up. “I guess we won?” she says looking around.

Frantiska

Frantiska returns her bow, shield, and sword to their proper stowage and hauls herself arm over arm up the rope to the catwalk. She ‘tsks’ with distaste on seeing Hrud riffling through the kobolds belongings then looks around at the seven or so passages leading off the walkway. She points at three that run generally back towards the head-end of the dragon. “One of these…” she says, “but they are all too short to walk upright in…”

Hrud

Having left his nic(er) shortbow outside with his pony, Hrud decides to take a shortbow and as many arrows and small spears as he can carry. The barbarian reasoning – albeit begrudgingly – that he’d better recover from his fall before charging into battle again. If he can’t kill the dog-faces up close, at least he’ll be ready to get at them from a distance.

Donovan

Donovan sheathes his blades and stares at the passages Frantiska indicated, watching the reverberations of the kobold voices, like spikey balls of red sound bouncing off the walls. Finally he points at the left-most of the three passages. “The one on the left!” he says, running up the stairs to the rope and hauling his soaked paunch up to the catwalk.


Upstairs…

Ryesha

Ryesha’s eyes go wide when she realizes her mistake. She reaches down and grabs one of the kobold spears then charges, holding it not point first, but crossways across her body at arms length so as to take up the whole width of the corridor.

GM

The kobolds seem caught quite off guard by Ryesha’s unusual tactics. They look up from pummeling Yamtwit just in time to get closelined by the spear shaft. The old kobold raises his hands to try to fend off the attack, releasing his grip on the blade-like flame and causing it to sputter out and vanish. Rye’s momentum carries her and the kobolds a good two yards past Yamtwit’s body before the three of them go down in a tangle of limbs, spears, and clubs.

Winona

Winona crawls behind Rye as fast as she can, grabs Yamtwit’s ankles and drags him a few more feet away from the fracas before she starts trying to patch up the worst of his injuries.


Downstairs…

GM

With the weight of three people already moving around on it, along with the weight of the unconcious kobolds, Donovan’s shaking on the rope as he climbs up proves too much for the flimsy walkway. There is a shudder through the whole thing, followed by a harsh creaking noise as the bolts driven into the stone walls start to bend and pull free…

Hrud

Hrud dashes & dives for the nearest side, not wanting to take yet another spill of the walkway.

Lyra

Lyra ducks back into the tunnel, clear of the soon to be falling walkway.

Frantiska

Frantiska grabs Teldicia’s arm and leaps into the passage Donovan had indicated.

Donovan

Donovan, being in the worse possible position, mutters a brief “Oh shit!” and lets go of the rope, tucking into a ball and throwing his arms over his head. Instinctively, his virus-addled brain begins using soften on the section of walkway directly over him.

To be continued…

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