Ruins of Adventure

Proclamations and Rumors: Week 3
11 Eleasis, Year of the Helm

The following proclamations have been posted outside the Council Hall:

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

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

Proclamation LXXVl11
Be it known that the council is offering a reward to any person or persons who can provide information as to the disposition of several council agents who have been sent to investigate the unseemly happenings in the vicinity of Valhigen Graveyard.

Proclamation CXX
Be it known that the council has decreed that the threat of the pirates who plague eastern shipping to New Phlan will be eliminated. The council offers a generous reward for the exact location of the pirates stronghold believed to be in or near the Twilight Marsh. An even greater reward is offered for the elimination of the pirates as a threat to shipping. Apply to the Council Clerk for a commission.

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

Proclamation CXXXVIII
Be it known that beginning this, the tenth day of Eliasis, The Year of the Helm, 1362, the Council has decreed that all blocks of the Old City, commonly known as the Slums, between the River and the West Phlan Road, as far as Mendor’s Street shall hereafter be considered the rightful territory of New Phlan and subject to the laws and enforcement thereof; and that Mendor’s Street shall hereafter be called the New Wall Road. All those dwelling within said blocks may make petition to the Council Clerk for deeds of property no later than the 18th of Eliasis. Beginning the 19th of Eliasis, all those found in said blocks without the proper writs of citizenship and deeds of property shall be subject to the full measure of the law.

The following advertisments have been posted outside the Training Hall:

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

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

An Addendum: All faculty positions for Practitioners of Other Arts have been filled. No further applications for these positions are being accepted. Anyone attempting to put forward such an application shall be ejected from the premises immediately.

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

By Personal Request of Councilman Ulrich Eberhard
Be it known that a substantial award shall be offered to any heroes recovering the painting titled “False Chanterelle” by the artist Sheklesh from the grounds of Kadorna Mansion. Those wishing to claim the reward should bring the fully intact painting to Eberhard House during the first or second watch. Ask for Guillaume.

General Rumors about Town

  1. THE PIT, where the bodies of those thrown from the wall usually collect has been emptying unusually fast of late.
  2. More and more petrified victims are being found. At least one every two to three days.
  3. A “Special Envoy to the Council” has arrived from Zhentil Keep, supposedly to negotiate the trade of a powerful artifact discovered in the ruins of the old city in exchange for military assistance.
  4. The new High Priest of Xvim in the Old City is secretly not a priest at all, but rather a powerful demon in disguise.
  5. The Bells that protect Kryptgarden from the spirits of the Quivering Forest have not been sounded in days. The farmers are worried and considering relocating back to the Slums.
  6. An active adult dragon has been seen in Dragonden Pass for the first time since the Great Flight six years ago.
  7. To the west lives a tribe of insect-men who worship normal humans and give valuable gifts to all who find their village.
  8. The slave market by the docks is supposedly closing down soon. Better buy what you need fast.
  9. The Red Plumes have started patrolling outside the wall for the first time in over a year.
  10. A huge war is being fought not twenty leagues north of Phlan and no one has noticed.
Silren the Burnt's Journal, Entry 2
Praise Manos! We're rich! Aka: Troll Frenzy

[Inscribed in Dwarvish Runes, but with the Nogese word structure, in the cramped, anal script of a shopkeep or draftsman.]

YR 1362, Late Summer. The Bitter Blade, New Phlan : Day after last

We’re rich. Praise the Necromancer King Manos, we’re bloody well rich!

The day started innocently enough, with the group whining about this that and the other thing. Embry was feeling ill, and kept to the room. This was fine by me for I felt my possessions were more secured with an ex-bonded party dwarf than alone. ((Work in Progress))

The West Gate Tail
Worst. Job. Ever.

Sigh. No one ever said the life of a Night Mask is easy… but this is ridiculous. I should have known that following a Holy Woman of Beshaba, Mistress of Misfortune wasn’t going to be easy. I must have pissed off the Faceless though, because I have literally been through Hell and back. I will be heading back soon to report her death however, as I just saw Beryl stabbed through the heart by a Red Plume in Hillsfar, bleeding out in the street in the arms of her insane dwarven lover, Zyg the Cursed – a kin slayer who seems to lead the merry band of fucktwits that call themselves the Rough Pack.

I stowed away on the Valkur’s Wake leaving West Gate while following the priestess. Beryl was different than most practitioners of the Unfortunate One. She actually managed some converts in Westgate. One who happened to be a fellow Mask. He plunged to his death a day later during an assassination attempt we’d been planning for months. That was when I was called in… Apparently she had made it on the Faceless’ naughty list. And I was to ensure she didn’t come back to town any time soon and to harry her progress within her church. Well that was the plan however… it was unfortunate what happened next.

Beryl had started orating the fear of Beshaba on deck to any who would listen and had gathered a few eager listeners, mostly farmer refugee settler types from Hillsfar and abroad looking for a new life in Phlan. If you’re reading this missive and have never been, Phlan is a broken shithole that supposedly has promise as a settlement. It’s located at the mouth of the tainted Stojanow River. I guess you can trade freely there and it’s far enough away from Zhentil Keep to not be entirely corrupted by Zhents, but not really if you consider they probably own half the city anyway. I activated my cloak and assumed the form of a shipping crate and listened in a bit while enjoying the lull in action.

We ended up at the quarantined leper isle near town and some of the more heroic types decided to attack some odd gas bag blood suckers that were attacking plague victims. Stupid, if your ask me. After gaining the monsters’ attention they floated by and engaged in melee on the boat itself. That’s where I first really noticed Zyg. A terrible, bloodthirsty dwarf. He managed to kill one, but only after getting impaled himself… And our Beryl for whatever reason decided to heal him. This was the beginning of an unholy alliance. I mean, I’ve done some sick shit, but this dwur takes the cake.

There were a few others on the boat that formed a connection: Shilesque – a rather cute half elf rogue, Snowbell – a catwoman that hid behind me the entirety of the battle on the boat, Merra the Gnoll Shaman, Sasha – a half elf bard (rather quiet for one of his type), Slade – a mage that seemed to always think of poison… pretty sure he’s from Mulmaster. Wretched place. And Caerwyn – a badly disguised drow.

Desolate: Act 1, Scene 6

22 Flamerule, Year of the Helm, 1362 DR

The Slums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s Silren?”

“Upstairs, preparing whatever he prepares.”

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

Embry, “Aram is back asking for us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Slums Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thrall, “As promised, Torgo.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They hesitate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The head does not respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half-a-Loaf & Matteo’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silren, “Do you have any daggers available?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aram, “Who traps a library?”

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

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

Scholar’s Square

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

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

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

Silren, “Shit!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silren bolts.

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

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

The Bitter Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cracked Crown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And with that…bedtime.

Silren the Burnt's Journal
Entry #1, From Hillsfar to Phlan

[Inscribed in Dwarvish Runes, but with the Nogese word structure, in the cramped, anal script of a shopkeep or draftsman.]

YR 1362, Late Summer. The Bitter Blade, New Phlan

I am not one for dates, as I do not wish to write every day. Paper is precious and I am lazy. But some things are meant for reflection. Even if incriminating. For if you can read this script I am most likely dead or I have risen to become more powerful than the need for meditation on my early musings. Ah, but where to begin. Today I ran into Aram. The fool seems to think he knows where the bones of Duvanku are buried and has assembled a party of idiots to locate them. That is folly. Even though his religion is meant to stay the apocalypse, doesn’t mean they should seek out the keys and relics to do so.

Especially since Manos wishes to raise this dead god. Manos’ hate for the living is so great he wishes to unmake existence. Shame that I like existing. I must confess some interest in how events in Hillsfar has led to an ascension of sorts with Aram’s living “God”. Perhaps this power could be diverted to another mortal frame… my own. For now, I will tag along and play useful to Aram’s band. It has already proven fruitful, as he has fetched a spellbook and journal from a budding wizard named Donovan. I read it today. Mostly drivel. The author’s desire for building a new path of magic is misguided. What does one have to gain? Power is already in established paths. Better to find an obscure one already built than wasting your years on possibly fruitless research. The author also had a penchant for distractions such as pornography. I’ve seen better in mage’s shelves in Hillsfar. Really? Who’d want to boff a paladin? There’s probably rules & prayers involved. The most interesting part of it was Donovan’s love of portals & conjuration. The bit on blood, torture and sacrifice too. This I deem worth reading. I already feed one undying spirit life’s blood, best to know all I can about it, eh?

Torgo has been obsessed over fruit today. Calm down, bat! I’m sure that Thrall will bring something for you. He reacted well to that fear rune. He does deserve a treat.

Also Aram & Company were responsible for connecting me to Professor Swipe. The psion-thief has unlocked some potential I did not know was within me. I can now move things with my mind and even try controlling other’s frames. I believe it is best I do not advertise these abilities. I do not know the locals well enough to know if these powers are considered verboten. I am sure they will be useful in the future. I hope that some day I can teach others at this Hall. It would be a good cover for my continuing research. Coin needs to be be accumulated to eat. Right, Torgo?

And that brings me to this Professor Manabu. Quite the fascinating man. He is of schooling beyond me. I hope he proves to be a font of knowledge that I may drain. He can cast balls of fire, whereas I can only spell linear flames. Perhaps we will be able to dig up some secrets in the Valhingen Graveyard.

“My expertise is with the humanoids—orcs, goblins, and ogres—dwelling in the old city,” Manabu says. “I can tell you they avoid the graveyard, and have since the city last burned. I can’t tell you anything about what might be there now, but I do know that Valhingen Cemetery has been on that same spot since the city’s original founding in the year 367. A thousand years worth of corpses have been laid to rest in that place. Conservative estimates claim that at least a hundred thousand bodies have been laid to rest there, though I’d wager it’s several times more than that…”“A wise man would find a way to put those bodies to use,” He grins. “But, that is my time, I must get to my class. I keep office hours at the Bitter Blade during the Middle Watch. You can find me then if you want to chat more…”

Manabu might be lacking in some knowledge, however. He claims that Phlan was founded in 367! Manos himself has verified that the city was founded 4,000 years ago. Was I lied to? Or was it a test of my own esoteric studies? Or is Manabu too attached to learning about the unpure races? This is probably the case. Dirty orc kin. Some ogres were useful.

What I remember from Manos’ summoning earlier.

“Shortly after the rise of Myth Drannor,” the voice says, “the half-brother of the Coronal, our own king, came here. A small shipping port it was, impermanent, nothing. Where there was nothing, two cities were built, this one on the north shore, yours on the south, so that we might trade with the elves. Deep beneath the cities, in the waters that fed them, we placed the first two of the created, so that we might control the inhabitants. They contaminated the water and bewitched the mind and made the populace complacent. Easily ruled. Oozing, lurking, immortal things. Still there even now, I would suspect. You…”
“Time is short. What gift would you have for the morrow?”

The two Elder beings tainting the river are also of interest. The Nog were strong here and definitely profited from Myth Drannor. Which means ancient magics and artifacts may be buried in this ancient city still. Interesting Manos’ use of the term, Coronal. Even in modern elf speak, this word means, King. But the Nog were thought to be human. Perhaps there was Elven blood in the Necromancer Kings? This warrants investigation. I will find a sacrifice worthy of a stronger session with Manos on the morrow. For the moment, I am going to nap before my meeting with Wizard Manabu.

Continued… So I was awakened to find Embry and Aram requesting my assistance. Apparently, Durell picked a fight with a washerwoman, a young giant and a bunch of Red Hand tabarded orcs. He paid for it with a crushed skull and they were asking for my help. Well, the nonhumans definitely deserved a beating or worse. So we make to leave for the gates and we bump into Valerius Martialis Nerva of all people. Seems trying to leave Hillsfar only made more of Hillsfar visit, eh? So we head to the Market even though we were told Matteo was across from the Soup Kitchen. Go figure. The group Aram assembled is quite daft. Good to hide behind, but as I found out against the bugbears, shitty at detecting flankers. I fucked up. But at least that strange druid, doo-dad, Thrall had my back. Although he seemed angry about how we started a fight to begin with. Druids. He wouldn’t last 3 minutes in Hillsfar, I kid not. I had to let out a burst of malevolence when I came to. Market was on a verge of riot.

I briefly had a chance to speak with the dead bugbear. Learned nothing because of another one of Aram’s blunders. I am honestly stunned he’s still alive at his age. We finally made our way to Matteo’s. He claims the orcs are nice guys. He’s a slow feck. I memorized his mark though, and I should be able to tell who carries his blades if we kill any more filth he’s supplied. I fear possible insurrection. The mind numbing curse on this city has been lifted and there will be a psychic back lash at some point. I made an order for cold iron daggers. He used some words to make excuses for being slow and shitty at his job. I did get a sweet crowbar out of the deal. After following his directions to the library, we came across a statue that is most likely from a petrified adventurer. I bravely retreated to learn more before attempting the Library.

So we got back and I forced myself to socially bond with the Crusader… Uh, Sven. He’s okay for a dimwit. I also learned a bit watching Old Man’s Bones… a combination of dice and pick up sticks originally from Phlan. Seems fun, but I can’t stand gambling. Nuns seem to like it though. I also learned that the clergy will be of little use reversing petrification. I watched an execution with those nuns later this evening. So much more interesting than arena combat. I liked the behir. Lightning is a neat way to kill someone.

I did get to meet Professor Manabu again. Like most other wizards, he’s stubborn, full of himself and never thinks he’s wrong. I am the same. I sucked up to him and watched him drink himself into a choking fit. I’d like to think that was Manos’ doing, for the heresay concerning the Nogian Empire. He either does not want me to know the truth, or wants to suppress it’s memory. If that’s the case, I will keep my friend’s near. I did learn some more about ritual calcification and it’s magical reversal. Sadly, the spell is of the 6th Circle and very few known mages can cast it… at least in this region. It is good to know that we will most likely face basilisks. While I am not happy to hear of their commonality, at least we will be able to properly prepare a defense… something Aram usually forgets to do. I am to commune with Manos on the morrow. I will ask him who the Last King of Deckon Thar was. This should help in matters concerning Manabu in the future. I will make a point of visiting him with the other though.

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

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

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

“Hah!” The old mage shakes his head, “You’re right barmy. Now Nog was founded by a half-elf? And Coronal Irithyl’s brother no less? And more than 4000 years before the Coronal Eltargrim opened the city to Humans? Next you’re going to tell me that you believe all that nonsense about Deckon Thar having been built by the Nogese instead of the Kur-Tharsu…” he almost spit-takes.

“And a Noga language?” He laughs even more, then empties another glass, “Another example Lhaeo’s idiocy. The child just didn’t know that Auld Tharian could be transliterated to Ogrish heiroglyphs and thought it was an entirely new language. Hah! And to say you’re fluent in it…”

“Whatever spirit you think you’ve got tucked away must be quite the jester…”

He laughs until he is out of breath. “Alright, let’s assume, just for laughs, that your ghost actually knows something and is’t just pulling your chain for his own amusement. Ask him who the last king of Deckon Thar was…”

The old wizard finishes the last of the bottle and stands up, “What? No. Cockatrices are really quite rare in this region, you’ll find Basilisks are much more common, especially in the ruins…”

Speaking of trust, the plain, blurry faced woman that shared the common room at the Blade tonight may have been using the same dweomer I possess. From the Path of the Black Road. Either a fellow wizard or assassin. If it’s not an item bestowing this boon, it means she is at least equal strength as me… and might definitely be stronger. Perhaps she is the rogue we are looking for in our adventures. Anyways, time to sleep. Torgo is already napping on my pillow.

Desolate: Act 1, Scene 5

22 Flamerule, Year of the Helm, 1362 DR

New Phlan Public Training Hall — Basement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sven, “Faelana is the stern elven woman?”

“Aye, that’d be her.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Phlan Public Training Hall — Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Basement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thrall: “Shall we go then?”

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

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

New Phlan — Old Wall Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to The Slums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aram, “Pooš, I presume?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Again, Temur, again. The throat!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old washer woman is nowhere to be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phlan Public Training Hall — Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turns back towards the Training Hall and vanishes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desolate: Act 1, Scene 4

22 Flamerule, Year of the Helm, 1362 DR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sven, “What if one pays the 50 gold?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye. Twas his mark on t’ box.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Docks

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

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

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

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

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

Lothar: The harbormaster seems the most likely candidate, as the other three appear to have more defined areas of responsibility. “Good morrow, sir harbormaster! Could you direct us to where we are to present ourselves for registration?” In a lower voice, still clear and cordial, but not intended to carry beyond the harbormaster and any of my new associates standing beside me:" I also wish to inform you that those four (I indicate them with subtle gestures, clearly excluding Aram and the ogre.) are members of a pirate crew that employs a fireball-casting mage to prey on shipping to New Phlan." I wait for his response.

“Of course, Sir,” the halfling responds. “In just a moment these fine gentlemen,” he gestures at the waiting guardsmen, “will be escorting everyone to the office of the Clerk of the Council. The Clerk will hear your cases for applications for citizenship, or, I should guess by your martial attire, licensure for adventuring work, and issue the appropriate identification and writs of transit.”

At the mention of pirates his face darkens, “Ah yes. The elderly gentleman with the Ogre already informed us when they came ashore. They’ve apparently sued for amnesty under the law governing adventuring work, but their case will need to be heard by a judge to determine whether their crimes occurred within the city’s sovereign waters. Did you have any additional information or evidence to present?”

“I can’t say if it occured within Phlan sovereign waters, as I’m uncertain how far out these extend, but I’m certain the captain of the Escapade can inform you where we found the other ship adrift. What I can say, judging by my comrades information, is that the pirates were evidently deliberately targeting ships heading towards Phlan. It seems to me that would be of interest of the council to intervene. Especially as their excessive force, as evidenced by the mage, might dissuade future settlers from travelling here? Speaking of captains; how will the captain of the Wake be cared for, and I assume the captain of the Escapade will be curious as to any compensation for salvaging the Wake and it’s cargo and passengers? He had been most generous is his aid and assistance, I’d be remiss in not mentioning this. Could you attend to this? Thank you.” Lothar waits to see if the harbormaster has anything more to say. If not, he will give his regards and join Aram, the ogre and others. At approaching the pirates his expression turns hard and cold: “You must be glad we got here so soon, I would have liked to have a chat with you.”, he growls. His expression and stance give no doubt how pleasant this “chat” would have been…

At the mention of compensation, the harbormaster harrumphs, “As we have no ships of our own, Phlan claims no responsibility for the safety of ships, passengers, or cargoes in any waters outside of Thorn Island Sound. I am sure the captain of the Wake will be most grateful to your captain for his assistance, but they will have to decide upon compensation for services rendered among themselves. As to the pirates, I will inform the Council about the attack, and I would expect a bill calling for the pirate’s heads to be posted within a fortnight. Should you have a personal interest in these pirates, I am sure the Council would compensate you generously for their disposal, once a bill has been ratified and posted.”

Thrall steps forward and into the conversation. “Eherm, Harbourmaster? I was on board of the Valkur’s Wake. Maybe I can be of some assistance? Thrall Demonsweat is the name.”

The harbormaster starts to chuckle, then turns it into a not-so-polite cough, “Demonsweat? How’d ye get a surname like that, then?” He coughs again, “If you have evidence to present in the case, you can talk to the Bailiff at the Council chambers.”

There is a sudden silence and the sound of feet, and you turn to see the column of soldiers and settlers heading off down the street. “Well, off you go then…” the halfling quips.

Thrall: “The name was my father’s, as was his father’s and his father. I gladly call myself just Thrall, if that makes everybody a little less jumpy” ( grumbles)

The column of guardsmen ushers everyone along, with the group escorting the pirates taking up the rear. They march you along a broad thoroughfare running from the docks to the wall. After a block of walking past the expected — fish markets, warehouses, tenements, and taverns — the column hangs a left and you suddenly find yourselves facing several large, impressive stone buildings. The stone all appears to have been salvaged from older edifices, but the buildings themselves appear relatively new and well-constructed.

You march past a large temple, much less ornate than those you’re accustomed to in the South, with plain white-washed stone walls. The only ornamentation being the silver scales-of-justice mounted above the entry. Acolytes in plain gray robes scurry about in a small adjacent garden.

Next you pass a courthouse, so similar in design as to appear simply to be an extension of the temple. Here the contingent of guards surrounding the pirates peel off, ushering their charges through the front doors.

Lastly, the company stops in front of the largest structure, of the same recycled-stone construction, but much more ornate than the other two, with clear attention paid to the carving of pediments and entablature in the Doric fashion. Large double-doors stand open, flanked by long ropes forming a queue which the guardsmen usher everyone in to.

Several officious looking scrolls have been mounted on the wall immediately to the right of the entrance.

As the pirates are lead away, Aram catches up with Thrall, Lothar, and the others. “Hail friends, how goes the waiting in line? I’ve been told that all witness-testimonies in regards to our pirates must be presented in writing to the Clerk of the Council, rather than in person before the magistrate, so I guess I’m off to queue.” As he lines up behind the farmers, he stops to take a look at the board. “Information as to the disposition of various formerly-living entities,” he reads aloud to himself. “I daresay I might be rather uniquely qualified to open such negotiations.”

“If said entities are willing or even able to negotiate, that is.” Lothar responds doubtfully. “The reclamation of city blocks sounds interesting as well, but quite the undertaking. Perhaps there are some more straightforward tasks we can tackle first, get to know the lay of the land.”

Sven to his immediate company: “Mmm. What of accommodations? I personally was considering acquiring some land – seeing as they’ve parcels to spare. I may not be able to afford it alone, however. If the acreage is sufficient, I’d be willing to go in on it if anyone here had similar interest. Land to build, to grow, to heard? Perhaps some of the families on the Wake lost what they had – they’re skills would come in handy as well – and they may need the boost.” Looks towards the boy (Eddie): “Good people should be given the chance to succeed.”

Thrall: “First sort out the permits and the act of piracy. After that we will see were we will be staying. I would not mind staying somewhere on the outskirts, looking to the forest, but I cannot spend a lot.”

Embry, “My past has not left me with much in the way of funds” gestures to the crude hide armor he is wearing, “But if we do come across any sort of wealth in our working together, I would be happy to share a parcel of land with you. I don’t require much, just a small home for myself and a bit of land to work, you can have the lion’s share.”

Lothar looks somewhat embarassed: “What funds I had, I’ve expended on the trail. Let’s see what the council has to say, perhaps there are lodgings for adventurers? If not, I would gladly share lodgings or land with you?”

(Sven, somewhat upbeat) “Well,then! We’ve found common ground! We all have nothing! Yes, let’s see what the council says, but, we’re all able bodied individuals…(catches a very quick glimpse of Aram from the corner of his eye)…mostly. We’ll make a go of it in no time; if we work together.”

He gets a serious look and moves to within inches of Aram: “You, however……..we could probably get serious coin for that “silver tongue” of yours.” He stares intensely at Aram for long seconds – until he can no longer contain his laughter. “Haaahahahah! Let’s find out a bit more about your “work” before we shake on that one, yea? But, you’ve given no cause to be denied a chance!”

You wait for well over an hour as the various new arrivals lined up ahead of you are processed. After some time, a dark-haired slip of a girl, with perhaps a bit of elven blood judging by her ears, wearing the Council’s red and blue livery and holding a very large stack of paperwork, comes up to you in line.

“Greetings,” she says, with a curtsy made rather awkward by the hefty bundle in her hands. “Due to the number of applicants, the Chief Clerk has requested that we collect some information ahead of formal hearings. If you could please summarize your reasons for visiting Phlan today, I will try to match you with the correct forms…”

Aram looks at the pile of papers the girl holds. “Thank you, my dear,” he says with a sympathetic smile. “As a group, we will be needing a charter or licensure for adventuring work, writs of transit to pass into the uncivilized portions of the city, and permission to engage in commerce, if any such are necessary. My friends here,” he gestures to Sven, Embry, and Lothar, “also seem interested in more permanent settlement and the possible purchase of a plot of land, likely outside the walls. I will also be needing to fill out a legal affidavit providing testimony for a recent piracy case…”

Thrall looks around him, makes sure that the settlers standing together, the survivors of the Wake and the guys from the Escapede.

Durell wends his way between the FeatherDale contingent until he is behind the apparent leader and prods him to speak. Concerned that the “leader” may not command the attention of the elven administrator, Durell speaks up: “Ma’am, when you have time, this group desires citizenship, farmland and homesteads. Whatever paperwork applies we would gladly work to fill out.”

After scanning the postings, he also turns back to the Featherdale leader and opines: “You know, if that ‘bugbear offering’ is valid, free fish for life could be ’free fertilizer for the fields” for life!?! What say you about that? These new acquaintances we have made aboard ship might well be convinced to help with completing that task, if you think the reward is of value. Do you?"

The Featherdalesmen roll there eyes at Durell’s interjection. “Bulwark,” one woman says, “you’re efforts to protect us are much appreciated as always, but we’re not infants. We can fill out our own bloody paperwork…” She waves the stack already in her hands at him.

Chastized appropriately, Durell bows his head, stares at the ground and agrees. “Yes Ma’am. Just trying to help us all stay together. I’ll just sign my own papers as well. Again, my apologies”.

The thin farmer who was directing the loading earlier goes ashen at Durell’s suggestion. “Ye want us t’ fight bugbears? Ain’t no reward worth our lives…”

The woman laughs. “Why would we all stay together? We’re on land now, in the big city, and off to start our new lives. If I ever see this old codger again,” the gestures with the papers at the thin farmer, “it’ll be too soon.”

Durell turns to the thin farmer: “Of course not. But you will need fertilizer, right? If I can convince some of the brawnier passengers that just helped us survive the pirate attack that this ’bugbear task” could easily be accomplished, MY share of “fish for life” might well help with getting YOUR crops established. No?"

“Oh!” The thin man nods, “Aye, if’n ye want to go stickin’ ye’re head in a monster’s lair, I’ll happily take the fish.”

Thrall tries to get his own stack of papers to fill in. “Ehrm, Madam, can I get some forms to fill in for adventuring and staying in the nice city of Phlann?”

The girl curtsies to Aram and Thrall in turn and shuffles through her stack of papers. “How many in your group?” she asks looking at Thrall.

Aram counts up, turning the beads on his wrist as he does, “Myself, Thrall, Embry, Sven, Lothar, Durell, and Osakh makes seven,” he says quietly to himself, “plus room for Eddie after he gets himself trained.”

“Eight, I believe,” he says to the girl.

The girl sifts through her stack and starts handing papers to Aram. “Very well, Sir. Here are your applications for citizenship, which will need to be filled out for each individual…Militia enlistment will be waved since you are seeking an adventuring charter.” She moves some papers to the bottom of her stack, then hands him another, “Here is the application for your adventuring charter. Please note that all active participants names will need to be included on the official copy kept at the Clerks office in order for militia wavers, universal amnesty, and freedom of transit to apply, and for bounties to be paid appropriately. Should you have a change in membership, you will need to update your documentation at the Council Hall.” She pulls out another small stack of papers, “And here are the applications for settler status for your friends. Once your application has been processed you will be free to claim any unoccupied lands or buildings outside the walls that you are able to occupy and hold as a place of residence. Once you have occupied and tended a piece of land for six months, a deed will be drawn up and remanded to you and your posterity.”

She curtsies again, “I’m afraid I do not have forms for issuing witness testimony for criminal acts. You’ll have to discuss that with the Chief Clerk. Was there anything else I could help you with?”

Durell asks: “Since the posted proclamations and all but one of the ‘wanted’ items seem official, is it appropriate to assume that New Phlan is not ‘officially sponsoring’ the last item citing help for bugbears?”

The girl walks over and pulls that one off the wall and crumbles it up. “No,” she says matter-of-factly. Then, grumbling mostly to herself, “How many times do we have to tell Delbar not to vandalize the official notice board…”

“Ummm, who is DELBAR? And where might he be found, if someone were so inclined? Thank you for your help.”

“I would steer clear of that one if I were you. The council has already dispatched several agents to put a stop to his illegal trade with the Xvarts. He’s just one strike away from getting himself thrown off the wall…”

Aram nods to the girl in thanks, then looks down at the papers, “Oh, Dear. Might I trouble you for a pen?” He begins reading over the documents and inspecting what pieces of information they require, going ahead and filling out his own before asking the others for the necessary information to fill theirs out.

The herald curtsies yet again, and moves on to assist the sailors from the Escapade who are lining up behind you.

The citizenship papers are fairly strait-forward, asking for name, gender, physical description, age, date of birth, astrological sign, alignment of the planets at your time of conception, species, ethnicity, country of origin, town of origin, liege lord, religion, disposition of soul, profession, next of kin, family members in residence, marital status, declaration of existing property, declaration of slaves…

Actually, the forms may be the most ridiculous thing Aram has ever read.

“Thank you,” Aram says as Lothar hands him the quill and ink. Then, looking at the papers, “I think I may have stepped into some kind of nightmare…” He diligently begins trying to fill out his own, then realizes that using a dip-pen is practically impossible while standing in line. He hands the writing kit back to Lothar, “Perhaps we’ll just wait and discuss the paperwork with the Clerk. Surely they don’t expect even the peasants ahead of us to be able to supply such information in writing…”

As soon as Thrall’s paperwork comes up, he will give the right information, including date of birth (3rd full moon of the year….exactly 37 years ago, the name of his parents, Joshua Demonsweat and Isabella D’Argenteau, no brothers or sisters, no siblings and the name of his high druid, father Emain Macha of Procambur.

Later, when the young lady is answering questions about the posts, Sven follows up. “You know this Delbar, then? Fishery doesn’t seem to be much of a crime. Who or what are the Xvarts?” Should she toss the crumpled “want ad” aside, I’ll discreetly grab it and toss it to Durell.

“No, Sir,” she responds. “Fishing is not his crime so much as NOT fishing. Xvarts are nasty little creatures, a bit like a goblin, but blue, or so the guards say. Delbar has been trading with them against Council orders, bringing in far more fish than any of the proper merchants in the fish market,” she puts particular emphasis on the word ‘proper’, “and undercutting their prices. He has driven a great many honest merchants out of business already. The Council moved to put a stop to it a while ago, but now he keeps trying to post his ads to hire people to find a way to bypass the Council’s orders…”

“I see. Thank you for that clarification. You’ve been very helpful…perhaps you would be able to suggest a decent place where fellows such as ourselves might be able to rest for a night or two? Until we get our bearings.”

Sven will thank her again for her response (whatever it my be) and then wait out the bureaucratic nightmare)

The Council Clerk

After slightly more than an hour of waiting, you find yourselves in the office of the Chief Clerk of the Council of New Phlan (or so the plaque on the door says). It is a tiny space, divided in two by a solid wood desk as wide as the room. Atop the desk are three neat stacks of documents, an inkwell, a cup of silver fountain pens, a black-velour desk-pad, and an ornate wooden blotter. Behind the desk are two tall cabinets, a door (presumably to allow entry without jumping the desk), and a single chair in which sits a stern-faced elven woman, very similar in visage to the girl you met outside.

Your side of the desk is devoid of furniture, and fairly cramped with the six of you, plus the ogre standing there.

“Names?” The woman asks in an officious monotone, pulling a sheet of parchment off of one of the stacks and placing it in front of her.

Aram gives the lady a respectful nod. “Father Aram Carnithrax Decidimus, of the Second Free Prelature of the Opus Dei of Our Blessed Afflictor, at your service madam,” he says, “and our large companion is Osakh Oni-son of the Kur-Tharsu.”

He lays the stack of papers on her desk. “I’m afraid there was no appropriate space upon which to fill these out outside. Might I borrow one of your pens for a few moments?” Assuming she does not object, he takes one of the fountain pens and quickly begins filling out the forms to the best of his knowledge.

“Master Embry,” he asks, “Where did you say you are from again?” He politely peppers each party member with questions in order to fill in the forms appropriately.

“Very well,” the elven woman says in the same monotone voice, gesturing to the pens, “but be quick about it. In the meantime, can you explain the nature of your visit?”

The ogre takes one of the proffered pens and begins filling out his own forms, rather than answering Aram’s probing questions. Sven sees the Ogre filling out his forms and begins to fill out his own paperwork as well.

“That’s a rather complicated question, miss, though, I can see that you are a very busy woman, so I will try to keep it brief.” Aram says. “We’re here to offer our services in dealing with Phlan’s monstrous woes.”

He hands over the first few finished documents. “My friends also seek rights of settlement to establish a farm or the like outside your gates.”

“Also, there is a case before your courts regarding some pirates who attacked us on our way here, and I would like to submit my testimony for the judge to review.”

“Madam,” Aram says, looking up from the documents. “Many of the questions on your citizenship form are quite esoteric, to the point of being beyond some of my companions ability to answer. Are all of the fields mandatory?”

“No,” the woman says. “Only your name, age, sex, species, place of origin, and a physical description are required.”

“Thank you,” Aram says, and proceeds to fill the rest out as fast as he can.

“Lothar Dravion, of House Dravion, sixth of that name. Son of Ezekyle Dravion, the Lord of House Dravion and Lady Hekaterina Dravion, born of House Istobal” I state.

“Sven Dagdresson.” I’ll wait for a moment when the clerk is not in deep concentration before asking: “who do we see if we’re interested in one of the postings (bounties)?”

“If you have a bounty to turn in, you would do so here,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Thank you. So, ah, besides Xvarts, are there other groups that should be avoided?”

Thrall to Aram: “The paperwork is for sure not for free, I guess?”

The woman behind the desk glances over the paperwork as Aram hands it to her. “Everything seems to be in order,” she says flatly, pulling out a seal and a pad of ink and stamping everything. She takes the documents and sets them aside, then pulls another off of the shortest of the three stacks beside her.

“Your charter for engaging in bounties on behalf of the Council,” she says indicating the paper. “Does your group have a collective designation?”

“Ahmmm,” Aram muses, then turns to the others. “Do any of you have thoughts for a name for our little band?”

Embry, “That would be a leadership decision, friend. I am a lot of things, but a leader ain’t one of em.”

Aram laughs, "I wasn’t any kind of leader either until last night. “How does ‘Fraternity of the Crown’ sound to you?” Aram muses. “I must admit that it’s not particularly creative, given what I wear, but should be readily memorable for that same reason. And I should think, given the lack of monarchies in this part of the world, should not offend politically. Also it lends itself easily to establishing some collective heraldry, should we have the funds and desire later.”

“How about ‘The Seekers’?” Lothar suggests. “Seeing how we all came here looking for something? While ‘Fraternity of the Crown’ does have a nice ring, it does risk people misinterpreting the name as implying some sort of fealty, and I suspect some of us to be of a distinctly egalitarian bent, or otherwise opposed to any implication of submission… No offence intended, Aram.” He stated with an apologetic smile. “The Fraternity of Seekers’, perhaps?”

Sven, “Durell. Embry. Sven. Ogre (name starts with “O”). Lothar. Aram. Thrall. Eddie. Equals DESOLATE.”

“Oooh, I like that!” Aram says. “Very witty.”

“Well,” Aram says, “I appreciate Master Sven’s wit.” He turns to the Clerk, “You may refer to us as DESOLATE.” Then, to the others, “It’ll certainly be memorable…”

“Very well,” the woman says, still in the same officious monotone. She writes out the word ‘DESOLATE’ at the top of the page, stamps it, then quickly rolls it up and slides a silk band with a prefixed wax seal bearing the same insignia as the stamp around it.

“Here,” she says handing it to Aram. “You are free to leave the city at your leisure. Should you need to re-enter, show that to the guards at the gates. You will also need to show that paper in order to purchase rooms at any of our city’s fine inns. Your individual applications for citizenship and settlers rights will be reviewed by the Council tomorrow, and, if approved, individual papers can be picked up here on the eighth or ninth ride, between the Third and Ninth hours. A herald makes the round to all inns at the Orthros of Nons-Ride, and if you have not retrieved them by the week’s end, they will be trashed. Should you have any additional questions, please direct them to any of the Council heralds.”

She gestures to the door, raises her voice and says, “NEXT PLEASE!”

Aram accepts the charter with a bow, turns, and marches out the door. “Where to now lads?”

Sven, “Well, I want my belongings. Then I’ll want somewhere to put my belongings and lay my head for the night. And, since we are now grouped together by this document, we should probably have a drink – get to know one another a bit, yea? And, for my own benefit, it would serve me well to observe the locals. Things are…very different here as opposed to my homeland.”

“I would love to share a pint with you,” Aram says as they walk out.

Suddenly he looks across the street and stops in his tracks. He seems to be staring at a short, red-robed man with a badly burned face. “SIL!” he exclaims and walks strait across the street and gives the man a hearty slap on the back. “Well met! I didn’t know you were in Phlan?”

Silren the Burnt: “Aram.” Silren rasped. “You know it was a matter of time before I came here to investigate the Nogian Empire. Hillsfar is so… restricting. It’s been a pleasant vacation here in Phlan, so much that I…” The wizard spit a greenish loogie onto the cobbles. “…have decided to stay.”

“Stay? You’re not planning to go back to grocering are you?” The old man laughs. “Oh, where are my manners. Allow me to introduce my new friends. The heavily armored fellow is Sven Dagdresson, and these are Thrall Demonsweat, Lothar Dravion, Embry, and Durell Farnhed.” He gestures to each of them in turn. “And this large fellow is Osakh Oni-son,” he indicates the ogre.

“Everyone, this is Silren. I used to frequent his family’s grocery in Hillsfar, before young Silren took up his books.” He turns back to Silren, “We were just discussing find a place to share a pint. I don’t suppose you could recommend a good pub nearby?”

“Ah. A slave to Demonsweat. Is that a new drug?” He then looks to Embry. “A dwarven slave too?” The ugly mage scratched his head. “Porters and warriors for some expedition, old man? You have a map this time? Oh, a bar? Well do you have papers yet? Otherwise you have to drink a little further from here. If you have papers, the Laughing Goblin is right there.”

Aram laughs again, “No more map than when the First Prelature dug up that mound of yours, but there’s plenty of heresay that the old city is still there on the mountain. I hope to find more information here in the city.” He waves the scroll, “I believe we’re all set for papers, for now at least, so long as we stick together.”

Aram turns to the others, “Shall we go have a drink then? Any chance I can convince you to join us Silren? For both drinks and my new expedition? It’s nice to see a familiar face, even if it’s as ugly a mug as yours.”

The wizard thought. "You did tell them what happened to your last expedition, correct? I believe the Explorer’s Guild in Hillsfar refers to it as a “calamity” and a “mistake one hopes never gets repeated”. Mutiny and cannibalism may have come up too. I might just join out of pity, Buy me a drink and show me you actually have a plan and I’ll consider it."

Aram lets out an embarrassed laugh, “So I forgot to bring enough provisions. It happens. We needed more room for the shovels anyways. And how was I supposed to know that that burial mound was ACTUALLY cursed? Sure the cartouche said ‘All who enter here shall be eternally damned’, but they all say that…”

“It would have helped if you hadn’t planned to excavate in winter as well…” Mumbled the mage. Shaking his head slightly, he turned to the rest of the party. “I’m not much for socialization, I’m afraid. Here is the Goblin.” He then shuffled off to the entrance.

Thrall: “Come on, Silren was it? Join us for a drink. I’ll buy you a glass of mead.”

While it may have been hard to tell exactly where Silren had been looking (since the scarring was quite heavy and it seemed like one of mage’s eyes may have been lazy), the new companions were sure of one thing… That the odd, rude bitter thing before them had studied them quickly and thoroughly in the span on their short conversation. “I do not drink for pleasure, Thrall. Only when the water is foul do I drink watered wine or ale. It clouds the mind, the drink. And you never know what prey’s upon a weak spirit.”

Thrall: “Water, milk, juice? Anything?”

“The water here is foul. I’ll accept an offer of watered wine or ale, but because of my thirst. Think of it this way. Would you feel safe if a man who can call primal, fiery magics from the ether lost his inhibitions? Come. I wish to sit near the hearth.”

Thrall: “Watered ale it is. Now let’s see if we can all fit around a table near the hearth in this place.”

The Laughing Goblin

The Laughing Goblin is perhaps the quietest dockside tavern any of you have ever seen, even at this early hour.

The lower floor appears well-made, of solid-wood construction, and a good bit older than most of the buildings around it. The second story looks much more slap-dash, four hastily built shacks perch on the slightly sloped roof, each reachable by its own staircase. A testament to the space limitations in the walled section of Phlan.

Inside the place is mostly empty and you easily spot an open table by the hearth. What clientele you can see mostly appear to be fishermen and locals of the poorer sort. The room is well-lit from multiple oil-lanterns, but you somewhat wish that it wasn’t — as the walls are festooned with taxidermied goblins, all dressed in hand-sewn motley.

As the last of you enter, a big bruiser of a bouncer, easily six-and-a-half feet tall and broad-shouldered, but not visibly armed, steps in front of Osakh. “Hold it! We don’t serve his kind here…” he says, clearly un-intimidated by the ogres greater bulk.

“You don’t serve much of anything to anyone it seems.” Remarked the wizard, as he gestured to the room.

“Lunch isn’t served ’til Sexte…” the bouncer replies.

“You get paid coin only when this place is busy, eh? Kicking out a group this size is unwise, think of how much he eats. We all have papers and your bosses could use the coin, eh?”

“Nope, I get paid to keep riff-raff like him out, not to let them in.” Osakh simply nods and takes a step back. “It’s no bother,” the ogre says politely. “I have people of my own that I should meet with now that I am in the city. I can find you after you’ve had your drinks…”

Silren visibly gets angry and doesn’t look like he might be able to contain it. He never liked bullies, he’d had his share growing up. Shaking visibly, his better eye twitched. The mage managed a breath through a sneer and managed to grumble to the ogre-kin. “If it’s… no… skin off your… back… we’ll see you later.” He really felt like burning this place to the ground. But he stopped. For now.

“Thank you, Osakh. We’ll meet you outside the Council Hall in an hour,” Aram suggests, then walks past the bouncer and takes a seat.

“It was so much easier in Hillsfar,” he says to Silren, “back home I’d just have to show a leash and they’d have let me take him anywhere without a word. Is the supposed freedom Osakh and his like have in Phlan really worth such rudeness?”

“Back home that bouncer’d be long dead from the arena.” Smiled Silren slyly.

“Hmmmm, It seems Phlan is a city of opportunities, but not only in the positive sense…” Lothar frowns. “I will see you later Osakh.” I give the bouncer a cold stare as I walk past him. As I seat myself at the table, I mutter to those closest to me: There must be other establishments to be found in this city, I don’t particularly care for the decor, or the attitude…"

Durell remains largely quiet, and finds a seat. Leaning forward on his own staff, planted between his feet, he mutters: “throw too many different ‘types’ in one small space, there are bound to be some ‘ill-rubbed elbows’. If civility is the ONLY loss in New Phlan, we will be lucky. That can be regained, or rebuilt by better behavior by those settling the area.” He looks over at Silren, nods, and lets only three words slip through his lips at the scarred newcomer: “Easily upset, eh?”

“Justifiably upset. Coin is coin. I get ill treatment for my face. Before that, ill treatment for my height. Yet people get mad when you turn it back to them.”

Aram looks around the table, “I’ll buy the first round,” he says. “Watered beer for Silren. Does a pitcher work for everyone else?”

“That depends on what is in it..” quips Lothar. “Mead or a light ale would be fine for me.” He adds.

Silren, in fluent Nogese: “So Aram, what new dirt do you have on the Nogian ruins?” Silren knew exactly where they were supposed to be. He would hope the misguided explorer was still misguided… some things were meant to lie sleeping and undisturbed. It did not matter that Aram was set on protecting it. His order would cause more problems if it was unearthed and some fool meddled in the affairs of dead gods.

Aram stands and walks to the bar to order the drinks, calling back over his shoulder to Silren in Nogese, sure that very few others in the world would know the language. He speaks more slowly than the younger man, still unused to the spoken form of the ancient tongue. “Nothing new, but we’re bound for the good ones. When our Blessed Afflictor’s made his appearance in Hillsfar, he declared that the city of Deckon Thar lay atop the highest peak in the Dragonspines, at the headwaters of Stojano. You couldn’t ask for better and more authoritative directions than that.”

Aram shifts back to the Common tongue, “It’s just a matter of getting there…I’m not sure these old bones are meant for too many more climbs like that. I’d certainly be glad to have a young strapping lad like yourself along, not to mention someone with your proficiency in the language.” He stops at the bar and looks at the selections, hoping the tacky place actually has mead and not just the home-made swill that so many taverns did.

Silren, in Tharian: “The biggest issue I would think would be the orcish tribes that call that area home.” Fuck. He knew the general whereabouts… and that meant more of his meddling ilk knew too. “Best to gain some strength and allies here first, eh?”

“No doubt,” Aram replies over his shoulder. “Also, since you mentioned it, I’ll need to raise the funds to make sure we have food this time too. The boys and I were just talking about taking up on one of the official postings at the Council Hall…something about investigating the status of some formerly living persons in the old graveyard…”

“That sounds like you’re thinking ahead for once.”

The bar of the Laughing Goblin, unlike the rest of the place, is really quite impressive. Four shelves run the length of the wall, stopping only where the door lets into the kitchen, lined with bottles of liquor — all glass (a rare luxury) and carefully arranged by color and size to create a rather amazing rainbow of booze. Unfortunately that one nod towards aesthetics makes it almost impossible for Aram’s old eyes to tell what exactly they have to drink.

Atop the bar at one end, sit three large kegs of the house-brewed beer, along with a sign reading, in Common, “Lunch Special: Pork and Cabbage Stew”.

The man behind the counter looks to be at least as old as Aram, fat, and hairless, save for his drooping mustache. He already has a tray ready and is loading it with clay pint-mugs and an empty pitcher when Aram approaches. “Wha shoul I fill ye up wit?” he asks.

Aram turns back from his across-the-room conversation and stares at the liquor collections for some time, transfixed. “What? Oh, yes, I need a pitcher of whatever you have tapped, a pint of the same, but watered,” he pauses and stares again at the wealth of liquors, “…and a bottle of mead, Bochet or Metheglin if you have any, but nothing short.”

Silren asks the rest of the table, “What do we know of the graveyard and the inhabitants within, living and dead? I might be able to get some limited information from magic, but it always tends to be vague at best. Is there someone who feels comfortable talking to the watch? Another who feels comfortable asking the various churches? Anyone stocked on religious paraphenalia, icons and the like? We should get an idea of the layout during the day as well and only explore during the evening if we cannot find out anything during the day. Perhaps the training hall has someone working there who knows more of the local history and undead?”

“At this point, al we know is what was stated on the posting. We were intending to get a drink to consider and co-ordinate our next steps. And here we are…” states Lothar. “If the surrounding houses are inhabited, we could also get some information from them I guess, and they’d be more like to talk to us if we knocked on their doors during the day, instead of in the dead of night. So a scouting tour during the day seems like a good plan. How much of local history is still available? It’d be good to know at least something about who or what we may encounter. I don’t know how it is with the formerly living, but the living tend to be more co-operative if you at least know a bit about them…”

“Well then, Lothar, would you feel comfortable going door-to-door? I will commune tonight, and talk to those at the Training Hall who might have a more scholarly bent. Who here is comfortable speaking to the clergy?”

Aram returns to the table laden with drinks. “You are speaking to the clergy…” he jibes as he takes a seat, handing Silren his watered-down drink.

“Ha! Maybe you’d be better off, assuming they don’t hang you first.” Silren laughed. “You know, because of the bone raising.”

Sven to the table: “Where are we staying? Is there anywhere “safe” that we can ALL stay? Meaning the Orge, too?” Mumbles to himself “damn Orge had better poise than most humans I’ve met…”

When Aram returns with the beverages: “Hold on – don’t drink yet…” He gets up and goes to the bar: “Bartender! Another pitcher of ale, and a pitcher of water. Do you have any food ready?” While waiting for pitchers and answer on the food: “Why so quiet in here? You’ve got a nice selection here – you’re right by the clerks office…”

The barkeep shrugs, “Mos’ o’ our customers are t’ employed kin’. Mos’ o’ t’ ‘venturin’ types ten’ t’ pick places closer to t’ wall. Come back afte vespers and we’ll be packed as usual.”
He grabs another pitcher and fills it with a dark lager from the tap, then goes in the back and comes back with a pitcher of cloudy, gray-coloured water. “Stews boilin’ in back for t’ lunch crowd, I can fetch y’ a bowl if y’ wan…”

“I’ll take a few bowls for table, if you can spare it.” Sven will square up with the bartender and then bus the items over to the table. Once everything is accounted for, he gathers all of the pitchers and bowls to close proximity of one another and begins to murmur, ending with a loud “…so that I may live to fight another day!”

“Alright, men…” he says as he picks up the pitcher filled with the grey water: “It may look like shit…” takes a swig “But it’s safe.” He pours a full mug of mead for himself and sits back down. “Cheers. Now where are we gonna stay?”

“Sure, I’ll have a chat with the locals. May I?” Lothar asks Aram as he reaches for the mead. He pours a measured amount (mead if Aram allows, ale if otherwise) giving the drink a dubious sniff before taking a sip. (OOC: Is it any good, or is it the swill Lothar fears seen the establishment and colour of the water?) “I’ve little experience with hauntings or the unliving, are there any precautions we can take to prevent harm to ourselves, should we encounter, erm, resistance?”

Aram pours himself a mug of beer and another of mead. “Say what you will about the decor or manners in this place, but they know their booze. Proper northern drink and none of that piss-light southern fare.” The old man smiles wistfully and stares into the distance as he takes a deep draught of each in turn, as if pondering fond memories.

After a moment he returns to the business at hand. “I doubt we need to waste much time interviewing the locals,” he says. “In my experience, people tend to be unnecessarily frightened of and rude to the living dead. No sense wasting our time asking what the superstitious locals think when we can get better information by going right to the source. Though I believe you’re right that approaching in daylight may be the best course, these old eyes don’t handle the dark too well…”

Silren, “I disagree, Aram. This is exactly why we don’t trust you to lead. You’re too impulsive. As a scholar, I insist on us doing some research before haphazardly plunging into a nest of undeath! Right guys? I mean it’s only smart to take a day or two to get a feel for the place.” He cracked a really creepy grin that was supposed to be sincere, but with the burns it was hard to tell what the actual message was.

Embry, “I tend to agree that if we’re goin to look at spirits, we may need some idea of what we are lookin at. If they are the nasty type, my spear won’t do us no good. If you’d like, I’ll accompany anyone goin to do research.”

Silren, “Then you can accompany me to the Training Hall, perhaps even after we finish our drinks here.”

“That sounds a fair deal to me”

Sven, “We can’t afford to go into this half-arsed. Silvertongue (referring to Aram) proclaimed he was “uniquely suited” for such an adventure which, if my guess is correct, we’ll need a very solid “plan B” for when things go to Hel. My vote is for Lothar to speak to the local clergy – his sunny disposition is pretty non-threatening.”

Lothar chokes on his mead at the “sunny disposition and non-threatening” remark… but quickly recovers. Wiping a drip of spilt mead from his chin he replies: “Sure, I’ll try. There’s bound to be a temple near the graveyard I assume? Silren, you’ve been here a while, do you know where the temples are that are most likely to have usefull information?”

“Hmm, off the top of my head, Temples of Tyr, Gond, Sune, Tempus and a shrine to Mielikki in Vahlegen Park. All of them are located near here, north of the building – if I have my bearings right. There may be other hidden priesthoods I am not privy to, but honestly, it is not my forte,” Silren says.

Sven, “What say you, Durell? You seem to have a talent for observing what others do not.”

“Are all of the temples you mentioned inside the walls, Silren?” Aram asks as he brushes foam away from his mustache. “Given that the old graveyard is beyond the civilized portion of the city, I would expect any temple near it to be similarly uncivilized…more likely to belong to some demon-cult or other unsavory nonsense than be a proper temple.”

“All of those places of misguided worship are within the walls and close enough to walk to.”

Responding to Sven’s inquiry, Durell answers: “Being too new to these environs, I don’t know that I have observed enough to contribute. But, that said, it has always been my experience that to underestimate the value of the points of view of the locals is to partially blind oneself to what could otherwise be plainly seen. Personally, I would be happy to accompany Lothar on his trip to the temples, but I will query the locals living in the shadows of the houses of religion, and nearest to the graveyard. Does that suit everyone else?”

Durell’s comment makes Sven slap the table with delight “See now, you can’t teach that kind of insight!”

Silren, “I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that the old graveyard is outside of the city proper. All of these Temples are relatively close – being walking distance from where we currently sit and drink. Take your pick, although if I had to make a choice, I’d prefer a comely honey of Sune over a grumpy crusader any day.”

Silrens comment nearly sends mead through Sven’s nose and he tries to stifle a chuckle “Heh, lads’ got a point – I can go to Tempus. Lothar; Sune sounds like a good one for you.”

Up until now, Thrall hasn’t said anything, just listening and looking around. The wall with the mounted heads is not very comforting. The part of the conversation between Aram and Silren in a strange language was close to outrageous. When the greyish water arrives, he tastes it, and if it’s drinkable, he will get an extra bowl for Temur. If no one else is at the bar at that moment he will ask: “Barkeep, where would I find a person who is very knowledgeable about the woods north of town?”

At Thrall’s mention of the forest, the barkeeps spits on the floor and makes a warding gesture. “Ain’ no sane soul goes there…” he says.

“And any INsane soul? I was asking for someone who knows more of the forest?”

The barkeep shrugs, “Ye coul’ ax a’ t’ Blade maybe, or one o’ them Slums dives where t’ crazy folk han’ ou’.”

“Good enough, the Blade, is it in that direction (points to the right)? I am quite new to the city of Phlann.” Thrall gives him 1 silver coin.

“I’s Righ’ by t’ Parkside Gate. Can’ miss i’.”

“Thrall, I room at The Blade,” Silren remarks. “The food is questionable at best. We can walk you there before I go to the Hall if you wish.”

Thrall: “That is not a bad idea, not bad at all.”

Well, Aram’s start was correct. Short, horribly burned, human, some what lazy blue eye, ugly. Black hair (actually decently groomed), start of a wizard’s beard. Wears deep black and red embroidered robes – the red is in the shape of two hands reaching for the sky. He carries a black staff openly and a dagger at his belt. He wears soft dark boots and has a couple pouches. You might catch a wiggle under his robes close to the heart – there’s a bulge that betrays a small animal, perhaps? He smells of elderberry, myrrh & cloves. There’s a throng around his neck but the jewelry is not showing. He might be in his 30s but with the scarring, who knows. There is a definite Hillsfarran accent to his voice and he tends to accentuate the esses a little. As in snake, sarcastic, slippery and sin. If you have a lute, you can compose a ditty and sing it yourself, because he isn’t musically inclined.

Thrall thanks the man and goes back to the table to get a glass of mead. “I will visit a place called The Blade. I need to ask some questions over there. By the way: isn’t it usefull besides drinking and talking, That we get to know each other?”

Thrall continues: “I am a druid, you might have guessed that. I am knowledgeable about everything around and within the forest, but I also have my contacts in the somewhat shadier pubs and such. And with knowledgeable I mean that I know my plants, trees and animals for good or bad use.”

Sven tops off Thrall’s mug with mead and says to him: “So….does that mean you can interrogate the squirrels of the goings on?” he says with a slight smirk. He turns to Aram: “If you’re planning on filling out a report on those pirates, while you’re there, you might want to see if the records keepers have a map of the cemetery. It’d probably be outdated if they did, but, it may help.”

To no one in particular he motions to the food on the table: “This may be the only uncontaminated food we see today. Eat. Drink.” He takes a big gulp of mead from his mug before continuing: “the barkeep seems to be pretty knowledgeable. We should probably start with him.”

Sven looks to Aram: “You said this “ghost” thing is right up your alley. What makes that so? If we do indeed encounter some sort of un-life, what do you know or what do you have that will give us an advantage?”

Aram pours himself another measure of mead. “Our Blessed Afflictor has a long and amiable relationship with the undead, and grants to his faithful the ability to speak with them, to resist any harm they might cause, if necessary, to command them, and even to take the aspect of the disembodied dead.” He takes a drink, “I have made extensive study of the nature of the undead, various burial customs, and other related ceremonial matters. I have often worked with such creatures in the past, and, you might recall, brought a few of my own over on the ship. The Council’s decree only spoke of the inhabitants of the graveyard harassing the citizenry, not harming them, so I am sure we can come to some peaceful arrangement.”

“Whatever – as long as that arrangement isn’t made over our corpses. That said,” Sven continues, “the posting called for a “first hand account” – it didn’t say anything about eliminating or engaging the threat directly.” He looks at Aram as he takes another swig from his mug: “I’m going to be very upset if I find out you’re only 20 years old, but had several bad encounters with ghosts.”

“Nay,” Aram says, “only one bad encounter with a ghost.”

“I’ll tell you how it’ll pan out though,” Silren adds, “Aram will try to negotiate peace with the dead, only to see a shiny old trinket, lose his calm, get all excited and piss them all off as he tries to abscond with said artifact. He does know his burial customs well though, I can vouch for that. I was brought on by his group to translate Nognese artifacts on occasion in Hillsfar, the stipend helped pay for some of the books I needed to pursue my studies.”

Sven rolls his eyes at the “one bad encounter” and “shiny object” remarks muttering: “outstanding.”

Silren, “He isn’t all that bad. I just have a penchant for sarcasm. What is your training, Sven? Outside of the obvious martial note?”

Sven wipes the mead from his mouth: “How did you put it? I’m a “grumpy Crusader”, serving under Tempus. But don’t look to me to turn away any boogie-men unless it involves hacking or smashing. I have some ability to enhance or protect myself or another from supernatural evils, but not enough to overcome an overwhelming situation.” Looks to the others at the table “If any of you have abilities or items that will assist, it’s better we know now rather than later.”

Thrall: “When it comes to undead, I am as good as any priest but nothing special.”

Sven, “Don’t sell yourself short, Demonsbreath.”

“Perhaps while Silren, Durell, and Lothar are interrogating the locals, Thrall, Sven, and I should find quiet spaces where we might pray to our gods and prepare to meet the dead,” Aram says. “Silren, you said there is a Temple to Tempos here? And a park with a shrine to the sylvan gods?”

“And someone get us some damn rooms somewhere. I’m not sleeping in an alley tonight.” Sven chugs the rest of his mead: “We’ll need supplies and provisions too. And let’s not forget the bar keep. He looks like he’s been here awhile. He’s probably a trove of information, or at least rumors.”

“I don’t plan on interrogating the locals, Aram. I’m going to check out the Training Hall and see if any other fellow mages have any information on the graveyard and such. Yes, they (the places of worship) are easy enough to find.” Silren relays the information based on the map of New Phlan. “I’m sure Thrall can look up room & board for the rest of you at the Bitter Blade if there are rooms available. The price is 50 gold a month and that includes meals. The food isn’t that good there, but the rooms are private.”

“So, what’s the plan? Do we start researching the mission today, or do we spend this day to get our bearings and find lodgings so we can start fresh tomorrow? That whole administrative affair took a fair few hours, and I’d rather not spend my first night in Phlan sat in a graveyard…” Lothar says. “What say all you?”

“I’m just about finished here with my drink. One of you can probably secure rooms, I can go to the hall and the rest of you can canvass or visit the temples. We can all meet back at the Blade for dinner.”

Silren, “I would put one of you up for the night, but I need to commune in solitude prior to that. Perhaps an hour of my time before you were to bunk.”

Sven goes to bar: “Our complements to the brew master – and to the chef as well. I was wondering if may be able to offer up one more thing, in the way of information.” He pulls out a silver piece and begins to roll it between his fingers. “Is there anything you can tell me about the Valhigen Graveyard, and the purported hauntings that are occurring in that area? Do you know of anyone who may have ventured up there previously?”

“T’ graveyar’?” The barkeep looks up from the mug he’s polishing. “Dunno why ye’d wanna go thar. People been talkin’ abou’ skeletons — the walkin’ kin’ min’ ye — ‘roun’ thar. Course th’ain’t gonna bother anyone in t’ walls, jus’ t’ skum what live in t’ slums. I hear’d t’ las’ ‘venturers who wen’ near thar dinna come ou’ well. Th’all gave up…one got hisself tunt into a kobo…couple quit an’ ‘came heralds for t’ Council…an’ a paladin lady got herself crippled. Nice girl, pretty that’n, sits in t’ park mos’ days I hear…”

“Yer tab? I’s twelve gil for t’ mead, and nine-pence for t’ res’.”

Aram walks up beside Sven and lays 14 gold pieces on the counter. “I said this round was on me, did I not friend?” He nods to the barkeep, “Thank you for the information, we’ll seek out this paladin to see what she knows.”

Sven nods appreciatively to Aram.

Thrall: “Let us go to the Blade and get some rooms, I will share the place with anyone who is not snoring. Oh and by the way, if anyone keeps forgetting my name, I might forget to heal properly, the next time it is necessary.” Said that, he picks up the bowl from the floor and puts it on the table. He turns and goes straight to the door.

“Thank you, Thrall, I’ll take you up on that offer. Recent events have left my finances somewhat…depleted.” Lothar says, with embarrasment clear on his face. He nods, almost lightly bows, his thanks to Thrall and walks along with him. “Tell me about your home forest, what was it like?”

It was and still is a great place. As a druid, you have to work hard and for several years, before you can have your own sacred grove. I discovered an ancient grove within it, comprised of 13 ancient oak trees of at least 900 years old. Then some large scale lumberjacks came, wanting to axe down everything. I gave them several warnings but they didn’t listen. In the end, they didn’t leave the forest and I was asked by my high druid to leave and go north. By the laws of the land I am to be punnished but not to the laws of my God Sylvanus." Almost impossible to hear he says : “Nobody pisses me off, nobody”

“I am sorry to hear that. I remember the forests of my fathers estate fondly, I spent a fair bit of time in them in my youth. Several were semi-cultivated, used for timber, coppicing, or set aside for hunting or foraging. But one forest was always left completely wild. Legend has it there was a sacred grove inside that as well. It was a beautiful place. I hope you can find a new grove to call your home.” Lothar says as they step outside. He looks around him once in the street: “Having spent so long on the road and sleeping in the wild, I find I need to adjust to the rythm and rigours of life in a city again.”He nods a greeting to Thrall and any other party members already outside. "See you at the Blade tonight. Now, to find that temple of Sune… "

Sven, “I wish to seek out the paladin. Maybe see if we can find that kobold as well. I’m off to the park, if anyone else is interested.”

Silren, “Embry, let us escort Thrall to the Bitter Blade and then check out the Training Hall.”

Embry gathers up what gear he has and agrees to go with them to the Bitter Blade.

“Very well, we shall all meet at the Bitter Blade for dinner.” Aram says, then falls into step beside Sven. “A stroll in the park, and a beautiful Paladiness sounds quite pleasant. May I join you?”

“I was hoping you would.”

Embry, “I apologize for any odd behavior in the next few days, I’m not used to being out and about somewhere so large without someone breathing down my neck with a whip.”

“I could fix that if you wish. I’m just not handy with a scourge or a cat o’ nine tails.” Silren remarked. It was really hard to tell if it was a joke.

“I’d certainly prefer you didn’t " he scowls, unsure if it was a joke. “I’m just being honest, like my ma told me to be. I haven’t worked with anyone by choice in ages, and the idea of a friend… well I’ve only had one since I was a child.” Embry gets a slightly sullen look at that statement. “Maybe someday, if one of you gentlemen are up to the task”

Sven, at Em’s comment: “pfft. What are you talking about. You’re already MY oldest friend." He continues to Embry: “I’ll be at the park. If something’s not sitting right with you – come get me.”

“I was kidding.” Silren hadn’t been kidding. “I like your suspicion. Are you sure you aren’t from Hillfar? Come on, the inn is this way. I take since you’re an ex-slave that you are light on coin. You may room with me as the others are more likely to afford their own bed. I just ask that you keep guard over me as repayment. You may stash any of your belongings that wish there while we visit the Hall.”

Embry, “I think that would be a fair arrangement until I can come across some coin of my own. And Sven, I appreciate the offer, perhaps I will meet with you to discuss my discomforts later on.”

Dwarves didn’t take up much room. Silren liked room. [In fluent dwarvish] “It is no skin off my back.” It was hard to tell if Silren meant it as a whip joke.

Durell will follow the group going to the park. His intention would be to focus less on the expected paladin, but to query the “common folk” there for any information, though expecting only RUMORS. But in most rumors, there is a modicum of truth, if we can sort it out.

The party thus disperses. Aram and Sven walk across the street to the Council Chambers, where they find Osakh waiting, leaning against the wall. Lothar turns to the left towards Traitors Gate Road and the Temple of Sune. Silren, Embry, and Thrall turn to the right towards the Parkside Gate, and the Bitter Blade.

Valhingen Park

Aram waves at Osakh and heads across the street. “Were you able to find your people?” he asks. “If you are interested, Sven and I are off in search of a paladin who may have had some experience with the undead in or around Valhingen Graveyard. We hope to investigate the graveyard on the morrow in order to claim the Council’s bounty. Or, if you have further business of your own, we are planning to dine at The Bitter Blade this evening — which I understand is a more cosmopolitan establishment than this one.”

“Thank you, but, if you’re not doing anything until morning,” the ogre says, “I shall meet you then. My kin are forced to live in the slums, so I will be joining them there. I understand there is a market, I will look for you there, by the well in the morning.” He gives a dismissive, salute-like gesture and walks off towards the city gates.

Aram nods his head, “Very well, friend. We will look for you by the well in the Slums Market tomorrow morning. I think I will have to pass by that way to retrieve my belongings from the Council warehouse anyways.”
He turns to Sven, “Onward to parks and paladins?”

A tall hedge-row, nestled between the temples or Tyr and Tempus marks the limits of Valhingen Park, and you soon find yourselves circling all the way around to the main side facing the road before you find an entrance.

Past the hedge, you find a tiny grove of newly-planted trees, not more than a year or two old; four raised beds of roses — though they are not currently blooming; and a trio of smooth, stone benches, all surrounding a tiny, roofed well. Not much of a park, really, by southern standards.

The four sides of the squared, stone well-head are carved with depictions of the gods of nature and the seasons. The Unicorn of Meilikki, goddess of the forests and autumn, faces you as you enter from the east. The Rose of Chauntea, goddess of summer and agriculture, is carved into the south face. The Sunburst of Lathander, god of healing and the spring, surmounts the western side. And the Diamond and Snowflake of Auril, goddess of winter and cold, adorn the north face of the well.

Seated on the northern of the three benches is a beautiful elven woman dressed in fox furs—pale of skin, but dark of both hair and countenance. She stares at the well, puffing on a cigarette, and pays you no mind as you enter. A pair of crutches lean against a nearby tree, and you can see that her right leg appears to have been amputated just above the knee.

Sven let’s out a sign at the sight before him – he can’t help but feel that, to her, this must feel like a fate worse than death. He composes himself and makes sure he is in order and as presentable as possible. He tucks his helmet under his left arm before turning to Aram: “Just so you’re aware – I was suspect of you the moment I saw your boney headwear. Because of this, I found your mannerisms and words disingenuous – and you may find that she may also.” He looks back towards the woman on the bench: “I’m still not convinced that I’m incorrect on that assessment, but, if it makes you feel better; your friend Silren out-creeps you by a considerable measure.”

When we both look ready, Sven will give Aram a nod and make his way over to the woman, approaching her as respectfully as possible: “Milady.” he says as he crosses his right arm across his crest and bows his head in respect “Begging your pardon. My name is Sven Dagdresson, and this is my ally, Aram. We’ve come to seek your council on a matter that we understand you may have knowledge.”

The woman takes a long drag on her cigarette, holding the smoke in for a long time before blowing out through her nose. She shifts her seat, turning her back to you, though you suspect its more to hide the stump. “Knowledge?” she sighs, pausing to take another smaller puff. “What of?”

Aram smiles broadly and laughs at Sven’s comments as they enter. “You never should judge by appearances friend,” he says, “but I’ll hope to win your trust by actions if not by my choice of attire.”

After Sven’s introductions, the old man doffs his crown of bone and makes a sweeping bow to the lady. “Knowledge that may be painful to recall, fair one, but which we sorely need. Rumor has it that you’ve witnessed the…supposed unpleasantness in or around Valhingen Graveyard first hand?”

There is a long silence as the girl continues to drag on her cigarette. Finally she speaks. “Brave to even ask,” she says. “Most steer clear of it. My friends and I only went near, but that was enough.” She stops to smoke again, then continues. “Have you ever seen a head that you’ve just severed start talking to you?” she asks.

Seeing that the “park” was MUCH smaller than he anticipated, Durell will keep an ear open to the discussion with the paladin, but will casually wander back and forth between the trees and the hedgerow. Should anyone else be headed into the park, he will greet them kindly and ask if they might help a new arrival to Phlan with some directions. He will also periodically step back outside the park just to get a feel for the foot traffic in this part of town.

With her back turned, she wouldn’t see the “wtf” wince that inadvertently and briefly appears on Sven’s face regarding the comment about the head. (Provided she doesn’t continue talking unprompted) – He then gives Aram a look that says “this-is-your-department”.

Looking out the one gap in the hedgerow that surrounds the park, Durell can see that there is rather a lot of traffic, though none that seems interested in the tiny green space. The park lies on one of the two main thoroughfares through New Phlan. To the left, about a block and a half away, he can see the “Parkside Gate” out of the city, and beside it the very busy Bitter Blade inn. To the right, about two blocks away, he sees the docks where the battered remains of Valkur’s Wake are now parked. Immediately flanking the park are Phlan’s three largest temples: Tempus to the left, Tyr to the right, and the Temple of Gond directly across the street.

Aram jumps a little, on noticing Durell behind him. ‘Rangers,’ he thinks, ‘always so sneaky.’
Though he knows the woman’s question to likely be rhetorical, Aram cannot help but respond. “I can’t say that I’ve had that particular experience, having not severed a great many heads personally, but I have spoken to more than one head that was already sans a body…”

Sven interjects “That is to say: Aram, here, has had some dealings with the supernatural”
(He’ll say it faster if it looks like one of us is about to get the burning end of a cigarette to the eye)

The woman snuffs the butt of the cigarette out on the stone bench and tosses it into the well. “Well,” she says, “it’s not what one might call fun. My friends and I did not even enter the graveyard, just passed near it. A corpse walked up to us, out of a copse of trees and began talking to us…”

She pauses to pull a dry leaf and a pinch of dried herbs from a pouch at her waist, and does not begin talking again until after she has rolled the herbs into the leaf, lit it from a live coal kept in a small tin, and taken a long drag of the smoke.

“Ahhh,” she lets out a relieved breath and continues. “For the pain,” she says gesturing with the burning leaf to her missing leg. “Anyways, our guide, an Eraka, panicked and took a swing at it. It retaliated, and it all really went downhill from there. I took off its head, but it kept talking, then the head exploded on us, spattering us with bits of rotting gray matter…” she shudders and takes another long drag on the cigarette.

“…and before we you knew it, everyone was going insane. It’s all really a blur after that. My clothes melted. The herald started hallucinating. I started hearing what he was thinking…nasty things, mind you. The bard got displaced from time, and made me violate my vow of celibacy…mind you, she was pretty cute. The priests of Tyr started summoning devils. The herald got turned into a kobold. My leg got crushed.” She shakes her head and cradles it with her free hand, sighing again.

“Sorry, I’m rambling. Short version is I’m sure it all started with that talking corpse spraying its brains on us. We, all of us, went quite mad for a time, and none of us walked away un-maimed…”

Sven…scratches his head: “Um, what was the…talking corpse…saying? Do you think things would have played out differently if it hadn’t been attacked?” He looks at Aram and shrugs his shoulders as he has no idea if those are valid questions.

Durell quietly saunters over and whispers to Sven: “Did you understand that she heard what the undead corpse was thinking, or what the herald was thinking before becoming a kobold? If the former, knowing what the undead thoughts were – no matter how nasty – might be important information. What the pre-kobold thoughts were does not interest me. His transformation may be penance for his thoughts!”

Aram strokes his whiskers thoughtfully, “That sounds like quite the ordeal, miss. But the nomad struck first? Do you recall what the creature said before it was assaulted? Our goal is to resolve this peacefully, and if they were trying to talk, that might be possible. Without the preemptive strike, of course…”

Sven nods at Durell. He shall ask her for clarification (and details) if it was indeed the thoughts of the undead she was “hearing”.

The woman takes another puff and blows it out through her nose. “I really don’t recall what it said. Nor do I care to.” She finally turns and looks at the three of you for the first time. “You’re really planning on going in there?”

“Absolutely. If we’re to call New Phlan our home, the least we can do is attempt to help with those tasks the city deems necessary. That said, we want to do them carefully, and with the least risk to anyone. Your help, in any way, only furthers our chances of doing so.”

As you talk, someone else enters the gardens behind you. Glancing over your shoulder, you see a dark-haired girl of elven descent, wearing the red and blue livery of the council. On a second glance, you realize it is the same girl who was handing out forms outside the Council Hall earlier. “Fran,” she says as she walks in, “it’s time for lunch…”

The woman on the bench smiles warmly at the girl, snuffs her cigarette, and reaches for her crutches. She pulls something from beneath the crutches—an old shortsword, the blade dull and blunted—and hands it to Durell. “In that case,” she says, “take this. I can’t say it helped me much, but you might get better use from it…”

“What’s this about?” The girl asks as she helps the woman, Fran, to a standing position.

“Ah, miss,” Aram says, bowing slightly. “Thank you again for your help this morning. My companions and I are looking in to the disturbances around Valhingen Graveyard and were told that your friend here might have some information of use to our investigations…”

The girl shudders and frowns. “You’re done then?”

“No need to be rude, Lyra.” The one-legged woman says. She shifts the crutches under her arms and hops slightly. “Someone needs to deal with it, and these men volunteered.” She starts to move towards the exit, then pauses, “Lyra, do you still have the…” her words trail off.

“The what?” the girl asks, then “Ooooh.” She opens a satchel at her waist and pulls out an plain, cloth-bound book. “I haven’t read it,” she says looking at Fran, then turns to the three of you and hands it over. “Here,” she says. “It belonged to one of our companions, I don’t know what he wrote in it, but he wrote frequently during our time together. Maybe there is something that can help you…”

“Many thanks, Milady. Maiden,” says Sven as he once again salutes as the ladies go on their way. “I hope we’ll meet again soon.”

“Indeed, you have our eternal gratitude,” Aram says, bowing and taking the proffered book. He waits until they have moved on, then looks down and flips through the book.

Aram flips through the journal, not really understanding the magic, but fascinated with the authors musings and art-work. “Silren might be able to make more use of this,” he says out loud. As he flips his eyes suddenly go wide, lingering on a page, which he holds out for his friends to see. “Better perhaps that they didn’t read it…”

“Aha!” Aram says, flipping back a few pages. “Here,” he says pointing to a passage and reading it out loud: "Perhaps it was the somewhat prophetic nature of a proclamation made by the zombie after I had decapitated it, “We are for you. We will be back…” More credence to my previous thoughts that our meeting was not the result of random happenstance.”

“Not much to go on,” he muses, “and he failed to record what was said BEFORE they cut it’s head off, only after. She’s right though, this certainly reads like the writings of someone going mad…”

Aram continues to flip through the book, reading as quickly as he can, his face looking grim. “So it seems the undead of the graveyard, or some of them, at least, are carriers for a kind of psionic plague, which appears to grant those infected ever-more powerful mental abilities, but at the expense of devastating headaches and eventual death by their brains exploding. And, if the author is correct, can be spread either by contact with infected brain matter, or mind-to-mind by psionic contact, without needing any physical touch at all. Though the normal magical means seem capable of curing it, so it should not pose too much danger…”

Aram looks up from the book long enough for his eyes to linger on the dull, old sword that the woman gave for Durell. “And, what have you got there?” he asks.

“Lyra? The girl we just met has such abilities?” He quietly begins to contemplate the enormous tactical advantages such powers would offer, until Aram points out the “plague” portion of the journal. “You don’t suppose they are still in danger? Is there a chance that this Donovan fellow did not warn them of his findings?”

Aram flips back to the more risqué sections of the journal. “It appears that the woman, Fran, was able to cure diseases by the laying on of…umm…lips. If the journal is to be believed. So I would imagine that they are fine…” He grins, “It would seem that witnessing her curing Lyra is what brought on the authors sudden interest in…umm…creative portraiture.”

Sven, “Alright, old man. Pride aside…do you feel this is something we can accomplish? Is this in your area of “expertise”?

Aram nods, “I do. The undead seemed inclined to talk to them, which means we have a possibility of success by taking the diplomatic route. If that fails, we now know more of the risks, and can prepare accordingly, and have some magical weapons at our disposal, which can be helpful against many such creatures.”

He turns for the exit, “Come, we should share what we’ve learned with the others, and give this book to Silren to study in more detail.”

Durell literally jumps at Aram’s encouragement to leave the park. He has seemed almost unable to do anything but stare at this weapon a stranger, no, a PALADIN, has bestowed upon him. While not truly in a trance, he seemed to have missed all the discussion around him until now.

Vigorously shaking his head, blonde hair swinging back and forth as he attempts to clear the cobwebs from his mind, Durell directs himself at the departing women. “Truly, I thank you. I am sure that this weapon has a pre-ordained purpose, and I will use it to the best of my ability to protect the people of New Phlan from whatever caused you such pain, and haunts our new city. I cannot thank you enough, and I am honored by your gift.”

To Sven and Aram: “Yes, let’s go. There’s a quest to be completed, and we are the ones to do it. Let’s find the others and settle the issue of the graveyard! Onward!”

With another shake of his head, Durell gets a strange look on his face – almost as if he can’t believe the change in his tone, and his sense of urgency to follow this task to swift completion.

Sven, “Off we go, then.”

The old man tucks the book under his arm and heads out into the street. He looks left and right and back. “It’s no-where near dinner time yet, and they said they were headed for the Bitter Blade first. Shall we look for them there?”

“Between that book and the Paladin, we’ve gathered a wealth of information on the graveyard already. We should consolidate and document what we have thus far and give it to someone we can trust. That way, in the event none of us are able to report it first hand, someone will at least be able to hand it over to the council. Perhaps the boy, Eddie?”

Durell, "I am sure Eddie would be happy to be included, and would secure and protect the book. But caution would still be worth executing – can we ensure that the book cannot be opened by a curious youth desiring to be part of the “adventuring party”?"

Aram laughs loudly, “Wouldn’t that be a shock for his aunt!”

Sven, “To be clear…I meant that we should transcribe the information about the graveyard onto a separate parchment.”

“Aye,” Aram agrees. “Let’s find the others and see what they’ve learned, then we can compile a dossier to give to Eddie in case this doesn’t end well…” Aram starts walking towards the Bitter Blade, keeping an eye out for the others.

Durell follows Aram, but instead of his normal “hyper-awareness” stance and attitude, he continues to turn the “blunt blade” given to him over and over in his hands, examining it from every angle. His focus is so intense that periodically he stumbles over a raised cobblestone, or almost barrels into anyone stopping in front of him without verbal warning.

The Bitter Blade

You quickly walk the three blocks to the Bitter Blade. Sitting right next to the river, the three-story tall, stone building leans noticeably out towards the water. On closer inspection, you can see that none of the stones match in shape or size, and include everything from smooth, rounded pieces of granite harvested from the river, to crumbling chunks of marble salvaged from the old castle. You’re actually rather surprised it is able to stand at all.

The doors of the Bitter Blade are saloon-style, and a wooden sign over the door declare’s the Inn’s name in large, block lettering. Immediately to the left of the door is the beginning of a rickety wooden staircase that winds its way up the side of the building, with landings at open doorways leading into the second and third floors, before finally giving access to the roof. A large crowd appears to be gathering for lunch, and you can see several people milling about on the roof, and hear sounds of conversation echoing from both above and within.

Broken arrows and arrow-heads litter the ground around the Inn, and even more stick out of chinks in its stone walls — all coming from the opposite side of the river judging by the angles. As you approach another lazily flies over the river and clatters to the cobbles not far from you.

Just to the left of the building stand the Parkside Gates leading out of the city, which now stand open, allowing a steady stream of settlers and adventurers into and out of the city. A dozen red-cloaked guards systematically stop everyone entering, demanding to see either proof of citizenship, or an adventuring charter.

Just to the right of the Blade is the beginning of a wide, ancient-looking stone bridge across the river. The near side of the bridge has been blocked off by piled stones, leaving only a narrow gap manned by another dozen red-cloaked soldiers. Through the gap you can see a few humanoid corpses littering the bridge.

Silren, “Watch out for arrows. The orcs like to shoot from the Old City. They usually miss. Welcome to the Blade.”

“Sounds pleasant… let’s get our business done and get into shelter from random arrows.” Embry is cautious about the building- being a dwarf, shoddy stonework scares him.

Silren, “I’ll show you to the room and then we can make haste to the Hall. This place unnerves me as well, I just don’t have 200 gold a month to stay at the Crown, Embry.”

“Understandable. I’ll just have to close my eyes when I see the exterior.” Embry laughs.

Silren leads Embry up to his room on the third floor. The landing from the stairs opens into a hallway so narrow that when you see a man walking out, you have to turn almost completely sideways to let him walk past you. The passage seems to run the entire depth of the building, from the front to the river-side, with windowless wooden doors every eight feet on each side.

Silren’s room is the third on the right. The door opens inward into a long, narrow room with a single bed, a dresser with a wash basin, and a window that would look out towards the bridge, save that it has been boarded up and reinforced save for a tiny slit at about eye-level — and probably good that it was, since it is riddled with holes and a broad-headed arrow is currently poking through.

Embry, “Comforting.”

“Free arrows. One benefit at least.”

“You have an interesting outlook on things,” Embry says, smirking.

Thrall follows Silren and Embry upstairs, looking around and saying nothing. When the door opens, he looks inside. “Do you think there’s a room left here to rent, Silren? Judging to the crowd, that might be somewhat difficult.”

“If there isn’t, perhaps the owners know of a place to stay. Or maybe you can find some “friends” (air quotes with his fingers) downstairs that would know of a place to stay, “legally” (air quotes) or “illegally” (air quotes and a nudge, nudge, wink, wink)."

Thrall goes down to the bar and asks for a room with two beds, to be rented with meals for two persons, for two weeks. He will pay upfront if necessary.

The girl behind the bar stares at Thrall wide-eyed for a minute before responding, “Sorry, love, but we ain’t got no rooms with two beds. They all got just the one, but we’ve got a few open. A crown per night per room, breakfast’s included, but lunch or supper’s on you due to the crowds…”

Thrall: “Two single bedrooms, next to each other, for two weeks with breakfast it is then.”

Thrall finds himself a table and a chair and makes sure that he positions himself so, that he can see whoever enters the door. Temur lies down under the table.

The taproom of the Blade is, in fact, packed. At least a hundred patrons crowd the small room. The tables quickly fill and others are left standing should-to-shoulder at he bar. Others come in, yell orders at the barkeep over the general hubub, and then exit, turning towards the stairs to the roof.

Even in a place like the Bitter Blade, though, the presence of a large wolf under the table is sufficient deterrent that Thrall keeps the table to himself — though it is soon looted of unused chairs. Temur also appears to be sufficient deterrent to the wait staff.

The two tables nearest to Thrall contain, respectively: an extremely well-dressed boy of maybe twelve or thirteen wearing an eyepatch who is playing what appears to be a rather high-stakes card game (judging by the pile of coins mounded between them) with a pair of young ladies in the plain white robes of Tyrran novices; and a quartet of plain-clothed gentlemen, fishermen judging by the smell, who have clustered their chairs on the side of the table farthest from Thrall and keep casting wary glances at Temur as they hastily eat the soup they’ve been brought.

Thrall to the fishermen, gesturing to Temur: “My wolf under the table is quite tame and does not bite or growl unless severely provoked, don’t worry!” The cardplaying youth Is completely ignored. Thrall is completely free of “small sins” like gambling or heavy drinking. He knows that gambling MIGHT increase his monetary wealth but also knows that there is a lot of luck involved.

As Thrall is explaining about the wolf, one of the fishermen suddenly drops his spoon, splashing soup all over himself, and raises his hands in front of his face, staring at them with a wide-eyed, open-mouthed panicked look on his face. Thrall can see that his hands are taking on a stoney, gray pallour, as are patches of his face where the soup splashed him. “What have you du—” he begins to say, but his words choke off. A passing waitress glances at him only briefly and says “No refunds, love.” before sweeping past to deal with another customer.

“Embry? What’s the hold up?” Silren looked to the sky for arrows in case he needed to dodge.

Embry, “Um, something is really strange here. Get back in here a moment.”

Sil spins around, right ‘round and sees a fisherman choking and turning grey… "Ah. Cockatrice stew for lunch. Again. Poor fellow must’ve gotten the beak. This is why I eat at different establishments for my meals. Rooms are still cheap." The mage turned around. “Not much we can do for him, I don’t have magics to reverse the osmosis.” But he did. No fisherman was getting his cure all elixir, no way.

His robes squeaked. “No Torgo, not worth it. Your penchant for altruism needs to be stifled, my friend.”

Embry, “Wait, that’s normal? I’m sticking to my hard tack and jam.”

“That’s the spirit my dwarven friend. Freedom is no safer than bondage at times.” Silren tapped his staff impatiently then made way towards the Hall.

Thrall: “Co,co,cocatrice stew? That’s nasty! I would help if I would know how… poor chap.”
Thrall gets up and moves towards Silren and Embry.

Embry, “Let’s get out of here, I’m suddenly eager to be anywhere else.”

You watch as the man slowly turns to stone. His friends finish their soup, then grab him and haul him outside, setting him up beside the door like a statue, all the while grumbling about “Shouldn’t’ve ordered the mystery meat…” A few of the other patrons look up and roll their eyes, but otherwise seem unconcerned.

We, that is Thrall, Temur, Silren and Embry, make sure that we stay outside the Blade, out of reach of any arrows.

It’s a two-block walk to the west to reach the New Phlan Public Training Hall (as it is called by the large sign over the door). It’s a long, two-story building, windowless, and made of the same recycled stone as the other major structures in New Phlan. The large barn doors stand closed. A small sign hangs from a nail, reading: “Warning, class in session.”

“Depending on what class is in session, I do not care to get blasted in the face with magics or my pouches picked. Perhaps there is another entrance to this large building that may hold administrative workers or the like. Let us walk around the building and if one isn’t found, we can knock or peek in.” Silren whispers something to his robes, squeaks respond.

A bat flies out of Silren’s robes to the roof, only to come back shaking in fear. It lands on Sil’s staff. Some squeaks occur. Silren nods solemnly and itches the poor creature on the head. You hear some promises of fruit, as well as a heartfelt apology from the wizard to familiar. “There be wards of fear. Their author may be aware of us. Let us carry on.” Silren shuffled to examine for other entrances.

Embry, "If there are magical wards, perhaps sending me first would be wise. I have a bit of an advantage in overcoming such things "

“No need. We shouldn’t need access to the roof. I was merely curious. Poor Torgo was instructed to merely fly above and not land, I am relieved he did not decide to disobey me. It is a good thing to know that there are wardings about, for this building will not be the only city owned structure with them.”

Thrall: “Your bat eats fruit? I only know the insect eating kind? Where do you find fresh fruit here in this place, we should go there to stock up on eatable goods not petrifiing goods….”
“When we have the time that is”

“He eats bugs too, mostly mosquitos and the like. Fruit is a luxury… and since he risked his bat hide, I will try to make due with his request.”

Temple of Sune

After passing the Council Hall and turning onto Traitor’s Gate Road, Lothar quickly comes upon another large, ornate building. The old stones are covered with new bas-relief carvings of nymphs at play and prostitutes at work, and numerous fountains flank the steps, which are strewn with flower-petals.

As he approaches, Lothar hears singing from within, “…that can’t be saved. Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time. It’s easy. All you need is love…”

“Oh, right, THAT Sune…” Lothar thinks “Should have cleaned myself up a bit from my travels.” He smiles to himself: “No wonder the rest were so amused to send me here! Oh well, nothing for it, let’s get this done.” He brushes himself off, adjusts his clothing and gear to be a bit more presentable and heads towards the doors.

The doors of Sune’s Temple stand open, and the scents of perfume and incense waft out. Stepping in, Lothar finds himself in a large circular room with curtained doorways leading off in all cardinal and intercardinal directions. Artworks of all kinds cover the exposed walls between the doors, or stand on pedestals around the room. Potted flowering shrubs are interspersed among the works of art in a seemingly random, but not unattractive way.

In the center of the room stands a large, circular wooden stage, upon which five women dressed in fancifully cut red silk dresses slowly cavort and gyrate. Below them a score of plain-clothed supplicants continue their singing:
“…love is all you need.
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…”

I assume this is what passes for a service around here. So I calmly wait for it to conclude as calmly I look around the room. (If I have to wait, I might as well enjoy the view…and the works of art.) Should someone official looking approach me directly to inquire as to my presence, I’ll adress them. I may already look boorish to them, best not act it too.

As Lothar tours the works of art, a dwarf, shirtless, completely hairless save for a short, neatly trimmed beard, and with his exposed skin looking like it has been deliberately oiled comes out of one of the many curtained side chambers. Spotting Lothar, he trundles over and makes a very deep, sweeping bow, his out-turned hand hovering only an inch above the floor. “Good daaaay,” the dwarf says in a slow, smarmy drawl. “You look lost. How might I help?”

“Ah, good day sir.” Lothar responds while giving a formal bow of his own. “I seek information, if you have it. About the local graveyard. My friends and I understand it has been giving the local people some trouble and I would request of you if you have any information about the goings on there, or perhaps know someone who had witnessed the disturbances first hand?”

The dwarf’s face scrunches and a shudder runs through him, “Graveyards? Ewwwww. No.” He makes a limp-wristed, dismissive gesture.

“Ah, I understand, and I agree, a dreadful business. But sadly I must enquire. Do you perhaps know of someone else I can speak to?”

“Well,” the dwarf says, “high-priestess Joy might know something about the old graveyard.” He points out a tall, shapely woman dancing on the stage, with hair as red as the dress she is wearing.

“Thank you, kind sir!” Lothar responds “I shall trouble you no longer.” I bow to him as a goodbye and move towards the stage. I don’t want to interrupt what I assume to be a religious rite. I approach close enough to be noticed by the high-priestess and attempt to meet her eyes. If she returns the gaze, I give a respectful nod and step back into the background.

Lothar watches for half an hour before the noon mass comes to an end. Finally the supplicants around the stage disperse, most leaving to go back to their work else, though a few retire in pairs to the curtained antechambers. The high priestess steps down off the stage, and heads directly towards Lothar. “Sune’s blessing on you, child,” she says as she nears. She lays a finger on her lips and looks him up and down carefully. “That cloak does nothing for your complexion,” she finally says, critically, “some brighter colors would do you good, and we must do something about those fly-away hairs…”

“Thank you, and greetings, Mylady” Lothar offers a (hopefully) graceful bow. “And I thank you for your advice, due to my travels and endeavours I have had to compromise between pleasant appearance and the necessity of practicality. I would indeed do well to tend to my grooming and dress. But sadly I must discuss more, ahem, disagreeable matters at this point; My companions and I are investigating the trouble at the old graveyard. I would like to request if you or your temple have gathered any information or lore about the old graveyard, or perhaps if you know of someone who has had an encounter there themselves?”

The lady scrunches up her face in distaste, it’s really quite cute. “Ewww,” she says. “I’m sorry, but our faith is fairly new for Phlan, also we keep our own mausoleum beneath the temple, most graveyards are just far too ugly to properly house the saints. None of our priests have every been there.” She pauses, as if considering something, then continues. “…But,” she takes Lothar by the elbow and starts guiding him towards the far side of the room, “we do have this lovely tapestry that was recently donated by some adventurers which is believed to depict the old graveyard.”

40139467_1953189994720441_5830653193649913856_n.jpgShe stops in front of a cloth wall-hanging depicting headstones and a crumbling stone wall in various shades of gray. “It….doesn’t really fit the decor though. If you think it might aid in your investigation, you are welcome to it…”

“Thank you for your aid. Might I borrow this from you, perhaps it may yield some clues if my companions study it?” “Hopefully by solving this, ahem, issue, we can aid in making the lives of the people in New Phlan more pleasant.” I say with a charming smile. If she permits it, I will take the tapestry with me. Of course I won’t be so crass to yank the tapestry off the wall then and there, but coordinate with the High Priestess to have it gently removed and safely packaged. “Even if the subject is less pleasant, it is still art and should be treasured” If this involves some waiting, I will make some pleasant chit-chat, perhaps ask some sartorial advice? Should the time arrive to depart I will greet her with a deep bow “Thank you again for your aid, but moreso for your time and the pleasure of your company. You have brightened my day. Hopefully with this (pats the parcel) we may make the lives of others brighter, in our own way. I greet you, gratefully and respectfully, Mylady.” (Those etiquette lectures and training in courtly manners in my youth were boring as can be, but God’s am I glad to have had them now… Lothar thinks to himself)

The high priestess claps her hands and a pair of girls in similar attire glide up and, quickly and carefully, roll and pack the tapestry.

The Training Hall

Following on their trail through the city, Aram, Durell, and Sven spot Silren, Embry, and Thrall circling the Public Training Hall in search of an alternative entrance, and rush to catch up.

Finally, Silren spots a small, unmarked wooden door at the far end of the Training Hall, just across from the Temple of Sune — out of which Lothar walks, bearing a long wooden tube.

Aram waves at Silren when he spots them on the street and quickens his pace slightly, though his breathing becomes labored far more than would be expected for the moderate increase in speed. Finally catching up he stares up at the roof, trying to figure out what they are looking at and asks, “What news from the the Training Hall?”

“Class is in session, we were looking for a different entrance to avoid getting in the way. We found this.” Sil gestured to the door. He raps on it 3 times with his fist and awaits an answer. “And what of the paladin?” Slightly sneered the spellslinger.

“Her story was sad, but helpful,” Aram offers Silren the book. “And her girlfriend gave us a rather interesting spellbook…”

“…careful about page 8 though. It’s not really appropriate for public display.”

“Ah Aram. Excellent! I will peruse this later. Very exciting indeed. I take it you have skimmed the contents? A lady paladin with a lady friend? That paints quite the picture, eh?” The wizard’s eyes glimmered with excitement. He was always excited at the prospect of new magicks.

“Aram, did you know the author of this journal? Names are so… important in my field.”

“Neither the Paladin nor her friend spoke the owner’s name,” Aram replies solemnly. “They seemed rather distraught, as if they believe him to be deceased. However, the author did sign his work. It appears his full name was Donovan Phillips Leitch…”

Durell, “Wasn’t Donovan the name of the kobold on the Wake? Played a hurdy gurdy there too, if I remember correctly? Do we know where he went after we disembarked?”

“He appeared to be attached to the ship as part of the crew somehow,” Aram says, “so presumably he would be wherever they are. Making arrangements for repairs most likely. Though, from the girls’ story, and what I’ve read of the journal, the Donovan in the journal appears to have been the one most troubled by the psionic sickness they suffered. The journal makes it pretty clear that he was going mad — obsession bordering on paranoia. The others also appear to have been healed before he was, and we know he died somehow. If the disease had progressed to the point that his brain was destroyed…or exploded…then it’s possible, likely even, that his memory would not have returned to the new body intact. If the kobold even is the same individual from the journal…”

Thrall: “The kobold on board was called Donovan, I am sure of that.”

Sven, “That kobold changed into a harbormaster – or was it guardsman? – jacket once he stepped off the ship. I only remember because I was keeping an eye on him…”

Thrall: “That’s right!!! Question is why he did that. What is the last entry date in the journal? I also think that Donovan is the kobold, changed somehow, some kind of polymorph spell.”

Silren, “There are ways… When one is dead… Too affix the recently deceased’s spirit into another body. They call it, reincarnation, my Thrall.”

Thrall, “I know they do, but only as a natural state of spirit exchange, that is what I believe, but it is a discussion not well suited here.”

“Shoulda left him dead.” Sven grumbles. Upon seeing Lothar, he calls out – loudly and effortlessly- “LOTHAR! HO! YOU’VE FINISHED YOUR “BUSINESS” AT THE SUNE’S ALREADY?!?” (Sven’s “outside voice” has been forged in the heat of battle, generally shouting over dozens, perhaps hundreds of screaming warriors as he directed the use of huge siege weapons to smash fortifications into dust. It’s…not subtle.)

“Ho, friends!” Lothar says as he approaches. “While pleasant, the temple of Sune didn’t have much concrete information, they did loan us to his tapestry. Perhaps some clues can be gleaned from it? How did you fare?”

Thrall sighs: “Just a wave would have been sufficient, Even, Lothar probably had seen us already….Maybe we should continue our talk about our findings somewhere inside, so we don’t have to raise out voices.”

Aram looks at Silren, “Are you sure this is actually a way into the Training Hall, and not just some storage closet?” He knocks again.

“I’m a magician, not a groundskeeper. Fuck if I know, Aram.” The wizard stuck out his tongue and waggled his fingers with his thumb touching his nose at the grave priest.

Lothar sighs inwardly at the sight of what should be the eldest and the most learned within the party squabbling like children…

Silren, “Thrall, you said you have some resistance to wards? Would you be so kind to try the door?”

Aram tries the doorknob (or latch, or whatever it has).

While we wait, Sven just starts talking about what needs to be done. It’s probably as much for his own benefit as anything. Unlike his boisterous tone, his “calm” (or normal) speaking voice comes from decades of chant and prayer and is somewhat soothing, in its own way.
His comments: “I’ll need to pray for today’s blessings, and then again tomorrow morning before the adventure. Today’s “blessings” would be used, in part, to secure provisions for the next day or two. As in; we should buy rations for travel (dried, smoked, can items, etc) and maybe obtain a barrel of water (or whatever passes for “drinkable”) and purify them. Store them in one of our rooms and that way we know we’ll have safe food and drink for a day or so. We should also buy equipment that we may need. Everyone have their holy symbols? Holy water? 10’ pole or two? Sacks and blankets. They may come in handy if we have to keep a head from exploding all over us. The blankets could be used to shield us from splattering matter. Rope. Pick axe. Coordinate our spells…”

The door opens easily at Aram’s push, revealing a stone staircase leading downwards. A series of marks have been scratched into the top step: an inverted y, a horizontal crescent with a vertical line through the right-hand side, and pyramid of five circles.

Silren, “Let’s just check the front door again. Just give me a second to commit these runes to memory.”

Aram stares at the strange marks, “Does anyone know what these mean?”

Thrall: “It is a message for thieves and the like. Be aware though, most of the people inside are not of the honest kind.”

Durell asks: “For the information we seek, is there any REASON that we would be headed to a basement? Shouldn’t we just enter from the FRONT door and ask our questions? We have no need to skulk around, do we?”

“You do not mind to skulk around a haunted graveyard at night, but entering a basement in broad daylight is a problem? Silren proposed to try the back door, and since it is open, we might just as well enter. " Thrall replies. He steps through the door and down the stairs.

Silren, “I just don’t wish to piss off any trainers we may need in the future, but if you’re going down, I will follow.”

Aram, really quite curious, falls into step behind Thrall. As they descend the stairs, he pulls a knife from his belt, which begins to glow with a torch-like radiance.

Desolate: Act 1, Scene 3

22 Flamerule, Year of the Helm, 1362 DR.

Aboard the “Escapade”

It has been a week since you boarded the Escapade in Marsember. Few Cormyrean ships sail north of the Dragon’s Reach, and even fewer to the Moon Sea, and, while passage aboard the Escapade was expensive, you’re quite lucky to have managed it. The merchant caravel bore few passengers, laden as it was with cargo bound for Thentia, Melvaunt, and Zhentil Keep, but still the crew is a lively one and it has been a relatively pleasant voyage.

This night though, everyone has been on edge. A few hours ago you could see fire and explosions on the horizon. The captain changed course to avoid whatever conflict it might be, but still, it lay directly in the Escapade’s path towards the port of New Phlan, and even a long detour could not avoid that section of sea entirely.

“All hands on deck!” comes the call, just after midnight, accompanied by the blaring of a trumpet. There are bumping sounds as the hull collides with debris in the water—corpses of men and livestock, and discarded crates.

Embry: I make my way to the rail, rope in hand. I’m watching the debris for survivors, who I will attempt to toss the rope to.

Lothar Dravion: I move to the bow of the ship, taking a spare lantern if I can along the way. As soon as I’m there I look ahead, trying to spot survivors and any larger pieces of debris so I can call them out to those behind me along the rail to either pick them up or avoid them.

Perched in the fo’castle, Lothar can see a small ship dead ahead. From his high vantage, Lother can see that the deck is quite crowded with people and a few large animals. The ship’s single mast appears to have neither sail, nor colors, and the ship’s aft shows considerable damage.

Lothar’s voice rings out loud and clear: “SHIP! SHIP DEAD AHEAD! She’s dead in the water, with a deck full of people!”

Embry, “Well it seems we’ve come after a bit of trouble. See anything on your side aside from junk and death?”

The captain of the Escapade, a narrow-faced man with a pipe perpetually clenched between his teeth, begins shouting orders to his navigator and crew to bring them alongside the stranded vessel. “Reef the sails! Bring us around her port side! Get us a light over here! Arms at the ready!” his string of commands come out as a snarl around the stem of the pipe.

Embry responds to the command quickly, heading to the side of the deck as commanded, long-spear now in hand—watching the other ship warily.

Lothar takes a last hard look at the deck, trying to discern anything that might be important and then rushes back to the deck, taking up his spear and seeking a place he might be most useful.

Embry used to phalanx style of fighting, and seeing Lothar take up a spear, naturally gravitates to his side. “Whats your gut tell you? Cause of the trouble, or ones trouble hit?”

Lothar, “Hard to tell as yet… It’s still to dark to see them properly, and it might be a ruse. Best be ready for anything” He frowns and quickly looks around the check if anyone is watching their own port and stern.

Embry sees Lothar check behind him. “I doubt another vessel could approach through that debris without alerting us. If someone’s in the water to ambush us, best to find out that boat’s intentions fast.”

Embry looks back towards the captain. “Do we have any way of making contact before we are right on top of them? Messenger birds, an arrow with a note, even someone with a strong voice?” Turns to Lothar. “We’ve been approaching them openly and haven’t been fired upon, maybe they are just as anxious as us? Could be a good sign”

“Aye,” the captain yells from around the pipe. “Mate blew the signal asking if they’re friendly already. Ain’t heard a response, so we must assume they’re not.”

“Haven’t been attacked either, and their ship’s a mess,” replies Lothar, “Maybe their signallers are out of commission?” He pauses and adds: “Would you allow a few of us to go ahead in a sloop, Captain, see what these people have to say?”

“‘Fraid we haven’t got a sloop,” the Captain growls, “but you can take the boat and some rowers.” He yells to his men, “Heave to! Run out the longboat.”

“Well Lothar, I guess we are the volunteers for making contact.” Embry heads to where they are preparing the longboat and makes preparations to make the trip.

“That we are.” he responds with a lopsided grin. I move up to the captain: “When we are over there, we may need to make some on the spot decisions, and I’d like to know your position. What can and can’t we do if they’re innocent survivors? And how will you respond if this turns out to be a trap?”

The captain harumphs, “If it’s a trap, my men will be standing by at the rail ready to open fire. If they’re legitimately in trouble…” he pauses as if considering. “Well, we don’t have the space to take on a whole mess of refugees, but the port of New Phlan is less than five nauts away and the winds have been favorable. As long as that piece o’ junk is floating we can tow ’em there.”

Lothar: “Excellent. Thank you, Captain.” I quickly go to my backpack, I leave the armour in, no use for all that weight on the water, but I do grab my helmet and stuff my sheaf of papers into my tunic (whatever the outcome, I’d rather not have people going through that…). The pack stays where it is, and I go to the longboat to aid in preparations.

Sven: Having surveyed the situation, I approach the Captain: “With your permission, I too will go to the distressed ship. It’s highly likely there are those in need of services I may provide.”

“Do you have any medical supplies on board I may take with me? Salves, bandages, ointments and the like? Also, if you could spare two lanterns so we can see where we’re going and also to signal you if needed.” Thinks for a moment: “In fact, could you give me three signals that you’ll recognize? One for “all clear”, one for “trouble”, and one for…”open fire with prejudice”…just in case.” With that, I will grab any supplies offered, in addition to my backpack, map case, dagger, and staff (leaving the armor and heavy arms on board the Escapade. I’ll then make my way to the rowboat.

“Aye, permission granted. If you need mending, Carpenter’s probably got some whisky, and cat-gut, and saws you can use.” He turns to a nearby sailor and growls, “Load some lanterns on the boat, and take the flags.”

Since his armor is made of hide, Embry keeps in on as his boards the boat. “Nice of you to join us Sven. If things go awry, I have a feeling we will be grateful for your skills.”

Nods. “Thank you, lad. Not the way I envisioned arriving at Phlan.” Looks to Lothar and nods again “Greetings. ‘Tis a brave endeavor the two of you volunteer for.” Sven pauses in silent contemplation for a moment, looking at Embry’s armor. “As much as I am hoping for the best, you may be onto something there. I’m going to suit up before we hit the water. If there’s anything either of you were hesitant to bring, grab it and I can help reduce the weight considerably, if you wish.”

With that, Sven will grab the rest of his belongings and armor up.

“If this ship wasn’t the cause of the trouble, there may be wounded on board that need help,” Embry addresses Sven. “I’ve been trained in how to take a life but not how to save one. I’m more than willing to help, though. In that case I will follow your lead.”

“Sven, if you could reduce the weight of my armor, I would greatly appreciate it. And I agree, it will be good to have a skilled healer along, thank you.” If Sven gives the go ahead, I’ll go fetch my armor.

Aboard “Valkur’s Wake”

Hours pass as Valkur’s Wake drifts aimlessly on the sea. A few lamps flicker on deck, and occasionally the moon pokes out from between the clouds, but otherwise all is dark. Eventually the excitement of the evening’s attack wears off and everyone begins to drowse. Only two remain awake—Durell, anxiously keeping watch, and Jeyne, still trying to patch-together a sail, despite Nat having fallen asleep an hour before.

Suddenly, through dropping eyelids, Durell, spots a light to the south and east, small, but growing. As it nears, it splits into several lights, accompanied by the sound of waves lapping against a ship’s hull. After several minutes, the lights resolve themselves into the shape of a large ship—much larger than the Wake, or the ships that attacked it; double-masted, with two decks, and castles fore and aft.

As the ship continues to grow nearer, the sound of a horn rings out over the waves—three sharp notes in rapid succession.

Father Aram: Aram snorts awake at he sound of the trumpet with a, harumph. “What what?!” He climbs to his feet with much creaking of mail and popping of bones, glad that he didn’t sleep the whole night in his armor. He hastily arranges his coif and crown on his head, and squints out into the darkness. “What’s that?” he asks, his old, tired eyes trying to distinguish the dark blurs from the light blurs. “A ship?!”

Seeing the other, much larger ship bearing down on them, Aram, still a little confused by being suddenly wakened, begins running about the deck, shouting and nudging people awake. “Ship ho! Stand to! We’re under attack! Again!!”

Thrall wakes up from the shouting of Aram. No rituals, no prayer, just up on his feet within seconds. Staring in the given direction, he probably will not see anything more than Aram.
He turns to Aram: “Let’s be very alert on what is coming but I have a good feeling about this…..I’ve had a sort of dream or premonition about a large ship coming to our aid. Never had such a clear look at the near future.”

At Thrall’s pronouncement, Aram ceases his shouting and running about. “A dream, eh? Divinations have never been my strong suit, so I’ll take your word for it. We should find some way to inform them of our situation…” Aram begins trying to shake Nat the deck-hand awake, then looks up at the mast and calls to Durell. “These old eyes are no good in the dark. Can you see anything happening on their deck?”

“Ger’off!” the deck-hand grumbles, swatting sleepily at Aram’s hands. Finally he sits up sputtering, “What t’fuck do ya want? Canna ya see I’m sleepin’ here?”

“Sorry good dwarf, but it appears that we’re being approached by another vessel, and I haven’t the foggiest what the correct protocol for such a situation might be. Do you have some way to signal them?”

Nat rubs his eyes and looks at the larger ship bearing down on them. “Well, shit! Horn wouda been with t’ cap’n when t’ rail got blown off.” He jumps to his feet, “Any’en got a horn? Flute? Kazoo? Pots and pans I can bang t’gether? Anything?”

Thrall, “The hurry gurdy player maybe? Whistling on your fingers? I can do that. The wolf’s howl! Would that be sufficient? And in what sequence?”

“Wolf-howls donna tend t’ make people wanna be friendly, if ye get me. An’ I doubt even Donovan can play the gurdy loud enough t’ reach oer there.”

The dwarf walks over and kicks the hobgoblin awake. “Yass! Get’re up. Looks like we might have company and we need t’ signal ‘em that we ain’t pirates or whatnot.”

“Too late,” the hobgoblin says pointing out to sea, “it looks like they’ve already dispatched a boarding party.”

Aram, less excitedly now, makes his way around the deck, rousing everyone else with exhortations to be prepared to defend themselves, but not make any obvious shows of force that might provoke the people in the other ship. He saves Osakh for last, unless he is already awake, and then moves to the rail closest to the approaching longboat to greet them.

Thrall joins the rest at the rail and stares in to the dark towards the approaching light.

Aram’s eyes strain as he stares into the darkness, but he cannot make out anything except the two lanterns glittering on the front of the approaching longboat, like a pair of gleaming eyes. Finally, he raises a hand and waves at the approaching boat, in what is, he hopes, a friendly and non-threatening manner. “Hey!” he calls out in Tharian. “We’re in need of assistance!” His other hand, though, stays close to the hilt of his sword.

Aboard the Longboat

DM: You are soon suited up and underway. As your longboat approaches the other ship, you see figures beginning to rise on the deck. Perhaps two dozen all told. With his superior night vision, Embry is able to make out the figures closest to the rail — among them an Ogre, a Hobgoblin, a wolf, and a withered figure wearing a crown made of bones…

Embry, “Look alive, we’ve got figures on the deck. You don’t wanna know what they are, but they haven’t made a move yet. Keep your weapons ready just in case, but not enough to be obvious”.

“What do they look like? Are we dealing with survivors, or pirates?” Lothar asks, as he loosens the retaing strap on his sword hilt and adjusts his helmet.

Sven’s cloak was already draped over his shoulders to conceal his armored appearance (as to not further startle potential survivors) with his helmet in his lap so his view would be as unobstructed as possible. Apprehensive of the overall content of Embry’s statement, he glances at him and then to the disabled ship before returning to the task at hand (rowing, I presume). “Unless one of you has a cannon in your back pocket, I doubt our weapons will be of use this far out.”

“If you think we’re in danger, we should turn back now before we get in range of any archers they may have. If we get close and they decide they want to take us out, there’s little we can do save for signaling the Escapade to open fire, shutter the lamps and try to escape under the cover of darkness.”

Lothar smiles at Sven, it’s the tense, slightly cynical smile of a warrior hardening himself for battle: “Good, we have a back-up plan then.” After a pause he adds, more earnestly “If the arrows do start flying, take cover behind me and my shield.” Now that we are closer, I try to make sense of the damage to the ship, does it look like it’s rigged, or artificially made, or is it actual battle-damage?

The small ship appears to be legitimately and seriously damaged. In the light of the lamps, you can see that the aft-castle and rudder are completely missing, and the hull is blacked from fire in numerous places.

As you get closer, you can all see the withered man in the bone crown, flanked by an Ogre and a hobgoblin, is waving his hands arms in the air. “Hey!” he calls out in the Tharian tongue. “We’re in need of assistance!”

“Hoy, fellow! What happened here!” Lothar shouts out, after exchanging a curious/quizzical look with his boat-mates. As I call, I look over the rest of the crew on the crippled ship.

Though it is still hard to make them out in the dim light, you count at least a score of heads on the boat. Some a clearly feminine in shape, and several are shorter—perhaps dwarves, or children. All appear to be armed and ready for conflict, there is a truly impressive wealth of swords, axes, and crossbows being brandished.

Lothar: Automatically I take half a step in front of Sven, as my hand unconsciously strays closer to my sword and I slightly raise my shield. I await a response before i act further.

Aram cups his hands over his mouth to project better. “Ho! We were bearing settlers to the port in New Phlan when we were attacked by pirates and a mage. Our sails have been burned, and our captain took a blow to the head and is unconscious. We’re in dire need of repairs, and a medic.”

Sven, still processing what he’s seeing says to his boat mates “I’ve come as part of a humanitarian effort, and I’ll stick to that, but not until they’ve laid down their arms and we’ve received satisfactory answers to some basic queries (on top of Lothars question): Who is in charge? What was the purpose of their vessel? Why didn’t they respond to our ships horn (even though we may now be seeing that for ourselves)? Status of their crew, how many in total on board, and how many of them are wounded.”

Embry, “How many people do you have onboard? What’s the extent of the damage? Where did the pirates and mage go?”

“We drove them off!” Aram coughs. “If you would please, sir, or madame, or sirs, this shouting is hurting my throat. Perhaps we could discuss this on board?!”

“As you can surely understand, we’re hesitant to step aboard a ship of full of armed people, perhaps one of you would come down to our rowboat? Who is currently in charge?” Shouts Lothar…

Aram lowers his voice and looks to Thrall, Durell and the others, “Ummm…who IS in charge around here?” He turns back to look at the longboat and shrugs dramatically before yelling back, “I’d be happy to come down and have a chat…”

Durell continues to watch (and remain quiet) from his perch on the mast. Though it appears that negotiations and introductions with those in the small boat need to happen, he will leave that to the better speakers and those choosing to take the lead. All that said, he’s just “paranoid” enough to choose to keep his eyes on the bigger ship. Anything that big (bigger than any sea-going vessel he has ever seen) has the potential to decide to overpower those smaller than themselves. He will, however, do his best to monitor anyone boarding the Wake, should a tussle break out.

Thrall, “You should be in charge, Aram. You have the best way of words, I think. If it does not work, we will sort it out later.”

The old man in the bone crown coughs, then cups his hands to his mouth and shouts back again. “It looks like I’m in charge. I’m happy to come aboard to parley, but don’t really feel like a swim. Can you come in close enough for me to board?”

He turns away from the rail, “Eddie, can you help me get this off? If I’m getting into that tiny boat, I’d rather not sink like a stone if I go over.” He starts removing his chainmail.

Lothar turns to the crew of the longboat:“Can we pull her aside, please?” Once I get confirmation from the crew I shout to the old man with the unusual headdress: “We’ll be right alongside!”

As the longboat pulls up alongside, Aram gets Osakh to help him down in. Once he is safely aboard, he smiles, “Ah much better. Now you said you had some questions for us?”

“That is true, but first, let’s introduce ourselves.” Lothar smiles reassuringly. “Like civilised folk.” Friendly amusement colours his gaze as he continues: "My name is Lothar Dravion, and you are? " As he extends his hand expectantly…

“Ah, my apologies.” The old man extends his hand, even in the dim light, numerous vericose veins are visible through his paper-thin skin. “Father Aram Carnithrax Decidimus, second prelate of Our Blessed Afflictor, at your service,” he says smiling, deep dimples appearing at the corners of his mouth. “Very pleased to make your acquaintance, Lothar Dravion. You’ll have to excuse the armaments. Everyone on board is quite on edge after the earlier attack.”

“Now, as I was trying to say earlier. Our ship is badly damaged—dead in the water you might say—and we have rather a lot of women and children aboard who need to be safely conveyed to New Phlan. Any assistance you and your ship might be able to offer would be greatly appreciated.”

Since getting in the longboat, Sven made it a point to remain tranquil given the horrifying circumstances. But, from the moment he was able to clearly see the first signs of life on the crippled ship, his demeanor changed to intense focus. His gaze has not left the passengers onboard – not while rowing, not while speaking or being spoken to, in fact, he barely seemed to notice the arrival of our guest.

“We should be able to help ferry you to New Phlan, or at least to tow you into the dock " Embry surveys the damage. “You say you were attacked. Any idea why? Or just random luck?”

Something Embry said seems to snap Sven back into the moment. His voice now in a serious tone: “You say there are women and children? Wounded? Is the vessel taking on water? Are there fires down below or explosives on board?” He stands, grabs, and tugs on the rope(?) slithering down the side of the wrecked husk seemingly to test its stability. He then looks to Aram, eager for answers.

Looking at the ship from this angle, you can see that it likely has no “below” at all. It’s a single-masted, single-decked vessel, with a very broad, shallow keel, sitting not much higher out of the water than your longboat — clearly meant for ferrying passengers back and forth across the relatively placid Moonsea and not for any long voyages on deeper water.

It looks like any fires that may have been have been long-since put out, and there is no sign of listing or taking on water. The most significant damage appears to be the mast, which has no sails, and shows signs of both fire, and the rigging being hastily chopped away; and to the aft part of the ship, where the aft and port taffrails have broken away. Lothar’s practiced gaze recognizes the design as one where the rudder was likely mounted to the taffrail, which means the ship has no way of steering.

“The attack seemed random,” the old man replies. “Mostly likely just pirates looking to prey upon the settlers bound for the city. I guess they were not expecting warriors of our calliber to be among them.” He puffs up his his, then coughs a little.

“There were two ships, their hulls and sails died dark to make them harder to see in the early evening gloaming. The had a mage aboard, who fireballed our sails, then they overtook us from either side and boarded us. The battle was not what you might call glorious. There were eight, or maybe ten, of us who fought them off…” he begins counting off on his fingers. “Myself and my three companions, the ogre, a kobold minstrel and his lovely accompanist, a minotaur, an orc, a medusa (or a maid very much like one in appearance), and a lady-officer of Bane’s Black Fist. All bound for Phlan.”

His countenance falls and he stares at the bodies floating on the water. “We killed maybe thirty or fourty of the pirates, but lost perhaps a third of our passengers in the process, before managing to herd the farmers and their wives and children to the bow, away from the fighting. Finally, when enough of them had fallen, we rushed the mage’s ship. His response was to drop another fireball on our aft, blasting the boarding plants that held our ships together to aid his escape. The orc, our minotaur, and the two fine ladies died in the blast, our rudder was destroyed, and our captain fell overboard and suffered a grievous head wound. His skull appears to have been fractured far beyond either my or my companions’ magical skills to repair.”

He turns to the heavily armored man, “Other than the captain, we have been able to deal with the worst of the wounded—though there are still many who bear minor cuts or burns—and have seen to the last rights of the fallen. We have also taken four of our attackers prisoner, though I have not yet had the opportunity to question them at length about the cause for the attack. A tow to port so that we might turn them over to the proper authorities for their due affliction, and perhaps the services of a carpenter, and whatever your ship may have to spare in terms of spare sails or rigging would be of the most help. Though, honestly, I know nothing of ships, nor how much work the repairs shall be.”

“I am sorry for your losses. If you desire, we can arrange for you to be towed to Phlan?” Lothar looks aside at Sven and adds: “It seems our Sven here is eager to start his healing work, do you give him permission to board? If you agree I’ll accompany him, I’d very much like to speak to those pirates. Them having a fireball-throwing wizard very much unsettles me…” At this his gaze, friendly up until now, turns noticeably harder.

Embry, "I’m not exactly a carpenter, but I’ve got a strong back and a willing spirit. If you’ll point me in the right direction, I’ll help make repairs necessary to tow you in "

Thrall, from the rail above, “if you all come aboard, including father Aram, we can heal and repair and talk at the same time.”

If all is looking “well” (arms have been lowered, no signs of apparent hostility or ambush, etc), Sven hands the rope he was holding to Lothar; “after you.” He’ll then send up one of the lanterns before helping the other two (Embry and Aram) up. After that, unless Lo and Em see something they don’t like, Sven will send up the second lantern, secure the longboat to the ships hull with one of the ropes, strap on his gear and helm, mutter something and make his way up with Lo and Em’s help (cuz lighter or not, he has a lot of stuff).

Lothar: Up the rope we go. Once my head clears the deck I take a good look around. Any threats, anything that can lead me to doubt Aram’s information?

As Lothar comes on deck, he sees a large number of clearly frightened people armed to the teeth. Men, women, and children dressed in simple homespun garments all have some form of weapon in hand and have huddled together towards the bow of the ship. They gaze at Lothar distrustfully as his head comes above the rail. All of the non-humans—dwarves, hobgoblins, and ogre alike—however, have lowered and sheathed their weapons and step back to allow ample room to come aboard.

Lothar: I climb on board fully, keeping my movements smooth and predictable, and my hands away from my weapons. I greet those with lowered weapons respectfully while staying clear from those with arms in hand. Them I acknowledge with a nod and an open, friendly face. I step aside and wait for Embry, Sven and Aram to come aboard as well.

A man in green and Brown garb, wolf standing besides him, reaches out a hand to Lothar. “Thrall is my name. You come to help us?” Thrall looks over the rail to help the next one on board. If that is the old man, he reaches out with two hands.

Thrall to the armed setlers: “Lower your weapons, guys. I think it’s alright”

Knowing, (and counting on the fact that) people rarely LOOK UP in a new environment, Durell will continue his silent watch from his spot on the mast. While the current amenities seem to be all friendly in nature, he figures that, if needed, a surprise attack from the skies might be helpful. Of course, if work is to be done on the mast and sails, he also understands that he will be soon discovered and will give a shy and somewhat embarrassed wave of his hand and a “Hello”.

Embry: I follow after, giving a friendly nod of the head to everyone on deck and extending a hand to the figure who extended his to Lothar. “Seems you’ve had a rough time of it. Where can we help?”

Aram accepts the many offered hands to get back on deck, then stands back up and adjusts the angle of his bone crown. Once steady on his feet again, he turns to their would-be rescuers. “You said your ship might be able to tow us into port?” He turns to Lothar, who made the offer, “Would you be the captain of that fine vessel?”

“Greetings, Thrall, well met. Yes, I’ll help where I can. That is an impressive wolf, does he belong with you?” At Aram’s uestion Lothar flashes a slightly embarrased but amused smile: “No sir, I am not… I’m merely a passenger decided to lend a hand. Where can we help? And what information have you gotten from those Pirates so far?”

Lothar: I quietly as Embry and Sven: “Do we stay here and help?” If both answer in the affirmative I call down to the Signal Officer: “Officer, this ship has indeed been attacked by pirates. Please advise the captain that the pirates are using a mage and black sails to attack under cover of darkness and disable rigging with fireballs. Give him my compliments and request him to come alongside for rigging so we can tow this ship to harbour. If he has any supplies for repairs or rigging he can spare these would be greatly appreciated. If so please send my backpack and remaining gear along with them. Thank you, sir!”

Embry, “I believe we should stay on board and send those men back over to relay the news. We can do far more good here than ferrying messages.” He turns to the strangers. “Have you eaten, are your provisions intact? I have some hard tack and nuts to spare if anyone is feeling out of sorts and needs a bite. My friend here can give any medical attention needed. Hopefully we will have you and your ship in New Phlan without too much more trouble. I also vow you are hereby under my protection should these pirates return.”

Upon getting on board and setting his stuffed backpack down, Sven’s still helmeted head scans the passengers, looking for perhaps a familiar face. He lingers on the ogre, hobgoblin and kobold before finally removing his helmet: (whispers to Lo & Em) “I’ll stay and I’ll help, but if the Escapade can spare the signal officer we should keep him aboard with us as – (assuming the towed ship would be beyond “shouting” distance) – s/he’d be the only way to let the Captain know of any developments on our end.” With that he turns to look for someone who doesn’t look completely shaken: “Let’s see your Captain…and your wounded. See what we’re dealing with here, yea?”

“Good point, Sven” I’ll go ask him." Looking at the captain: “Ah he looks in a bad way. Sadly I’m no good at the healing of wounds, my talents lie elsewhere. I know something of the sailing trade, I could help with the repairs or clearing debris. Who is organising the repairs?”

“The captain is over this way,” Aram says, showing Sven to where the captain has been laid out. The gray-bearded dwarf lies on the deck, his head propped on a rolled-up scrap of the original sail. Aram kneels down next to the prostrate form and points out some blood matting the dwarf’s hair. “As I said, he took a severe blow to the head, and his skull appears to be broken. Thrall and I both looked at him, but our spells were not strong enough to knit the break.”

The sailors who rowed you over tie the boat off to Valkur’s Wake and come aboard as well. The signal officer blows a series of calls on his bugle. There are answering calls from the Escapade and soon the larger ship has maneuvered into position just off the Wake’s bow. Within an hour sailors above and below are tossing and tying-off lines, working as best they can in the poor light to jury-rig tow-lines for the damaged vessel.

Aram, not really knowing a thing about boats, watches with mild interest to the scurrying sailors for a bit, until fatigue starts to overtake him. “I’m sorry,” he says to the others, “but these old bones aren’t really up for pulling all-nighters…” He walks back to where his pack is stowed by the port gunnel, carefully stacks his armor, coif, and crown, and is soon snoring loudly.

Lothar: I aid the sailors where I can, even if it’s just hauling ropes and clearing debris and tangled lines. At some point the heat and (even reduced) weight of my armor would become a hindrance. At this point I shed it and stack it next to my pack and gear to air out. This is also a good moment to drink something, so I take out my waterskin.

Thrall: After some healing for those who need it, Thrall looks around if he can see some of the new faces. If he does, and they are not looking very busy, he will go towards them.

Lothar: “Greetings Thrall, how goes the healing?” And I offer him my waterskin. (It’s just plain water, but with some herbs added to offset the slightly stale taste that water from a waterskin tends to get.)

Thrall accepts the wineskin, takes a sip, looks at Lothar with a amused look. “Thyme, chamomile and mint? Nice one! What brings you on these waters?”

Lothar smiles at Thrall: “Right in one try! But then, judging by your appearance, you would be sort to know his herbs… As to what brings me here, it’s questions from the past and hopes for the future.” He shakes his head to himself. “Sorry if that sounded a bit cryptic. Fact is that I have many older siblings, which means my future at home is limited to what someone else is willing to give me. I’d rather make my own future. Phlan seemed as good a place as any to do so. Especially as some obscure local history seems to be connected to the place. And you, what calls you here?”

Thrall: " A very nasty thing happened in the forest I called home and I was strongly advised by my high druid to leave and find a new place to live and love.
Here on board I met father Aram and he asked me to join a expedition he is planning to make. I gladly accepted."

Sven (who I’m guessing is pretty well rested), will stay up through the night to tend to any wounded. He’ll also want to check out the captives and have a look at their wounds. He won’t ask them any questions, but certainly will listen to anything they volunteer. Finally, he will suggest that, for the duration of the dark hours, we keep a fresh rotation of on-hand passengers that have improved/advanced vision to keep a watch to seas in the event the attacker want to give it another go.

The Rough Pack: Part 1
Aboard Valkur's Wake
Note: Some adjustments have been made for clarity of who is speaking and to unify timelines, but not for overall grammatical inconsistencies between contributors (i.e. past vs. present tense). Introduction of new characters will be preceded by bold headings with links to character sheets (where appropriate).

1 Kythorn, Year of the Helm


It has been a few days since you boarded Valkur’s Wake. You are glad that you got on at the last stops, and that the voyage should be short, as the old flat-bottomed, single-decked, single-masted cog was already filled with people when you boarded, and no one disembarked at your stop.

The stern of the eighty foot ship has been fenced off and converted into a stable, carrying a handful of horses, mules, and other livestock, with a small, raised deck above the taffrail where the captain or one of his three assistants man the rudder and sleep. At least the trip is free. The captain, an old, gray-bearded, dwarven merchant named Donal Stormhammer, informed you that as long as you disembark at New Phlan, the council will be paying him ten times his normal passenger fee, so you get a free ride as long as that’s your destination and you give a hand with the lines if a storm blows up.

The thirty-odd other passengers are a motley mix of treasure hunters, monster slayers, a few farmers brave enough to settle in a city known to be plagued by demons and dragons, and those exiles from distant lands with no where else to go. Everyone, at least everyone who’s talking, has their own story of why they are traveling, but they all have one common theme—the promise of free land, fame, and riches in the ancient city of Phlan. During the night, everyone spreads out communally on the well deck, sleeping together cheek-to-jowl. During the day there is a little more space, with people standing most of the time, or else sitting on one of the crates or barrels of stores cluttering the deck or perching on the gunwale.

It is a bright day and the ship makes good speed ahead of a brisk southerly wind. Tomorrow morning, Captain Donal has informed the passagers, you will reach the port of New Phlan. A pod of dolphins splashes alongside the cog.

Chatter on deck today is more lively than usual, with the promise of landfall tomorrow. Near the bow of the Wake, half a dozen people stand about listening to a surprisingly articulate kobold doing a dramatic recitation of some poetry, or perhaps a monologue from a play. Judging from the spectators’ dress, there is a direct correlation between the number and quality of weapons the passengers are carrying and their level of racial tolerance. Near the mast, a woman wearing the stark-white wig of a priestess of Beshaba stands talking to a quintet of teenagers in peasants’ garb, trying to convert them to the worship of the Maid of Misfortune—judging from their wide eyes you suspect that this is their first time away from the farm, though their makeshift-looking weapons set them apart from the actual farmers and settlers who are all huddled in the stern near the animals, playing a game of chance and avoiding looking at the strange creatures riding up front.

Slade and Beryl

Slade walks over to listen to the priestess—gods of misfortune often interest him. Tales and deities are an interesting topic to the Mulman.

The priestess seems to be holding the teenagers’ attention more by her shapely figure than her excited sermoning — though her deliberately disheveled white wig, garrish red robe, and sallow skin detract somewhat from her overall appearance. As you approach you hear her exclaiming: “…and that was only last week! Phlan is a veritable city of calamities. War! Fires! Riots! It’s been conquered by the Zhents! Overrun by Ogres! Devoured by BANE HIMSELF! And only fifty years ago, burned to the ground by a whole flight of dragons! They keep rebuilding, but I tell you kids…the place is DOOMED!”

“Interesting tell me about BANE,” Slade says, unable to hide his curiosity.

The priestess rounds on you, her eyes wide, “Bane?! Why even BANE HIMSELF fell to the forces of calamity! Divine truth that even the Divine themselves are not free from their share of bad luck. Bane toyed with fate and was cast down and slain. No one, god or mortal is free from misfortune!”

The group of teenagers use the distraction Slade has provided to back away towards their families in the rear of the ship.

Zyg Ax and Shilesque

Zyg had left town a while back. Things had gotten too “real” and now it was time to see if anything had stabilized in town. He looked to the kobold and witch and thought of his own past misdeeds. Shudder. He took the time to reapply some care to his armor and weapons, perhaps for the 13th time this trip. Munching on some sea biscuit in between whetstone strokes, he hoped he could start gathering a motley crew of his own soon so he could exact his revenge.

Shilesque sits atop a barrel back amongst the farmers, blending right in with his thick brown beard and ragged garb. Only the sword hilt sticking out of a cloth-wrapped bundle on his back sets him apart. His attention seems divided—his eyes watching the game, but his fingers snap in time to the kobold’s recitation. Every now and again, he seems to loose the beat, snapping two or three times in rapid succession. Each time, a coin silently vanishes from the farmers’ pot and a faint plop can be heard in the water behind him.

“Oi! Brown beard!” The strangely dark dwarf bellowed at Shilesque rather kindly despite his features and grim actions. He noticed the strange action with the coin and such. “You practice magics? May I pick at ye knowledge a bit?”

“Me?” Shilesque gestures at himself with a look of feigned confusion and innocence. He slips from his perch atop the barrel and walks over to the grim-looking dwarf. On his way to the dwarf, Shilesque passes by the elf and the priestess. “Yeah, yeah. Disaster and calamity. Y’can be sure that we’ve all accepted Beshaba as our personal savior. May she not cut our strings of fate prematurely, blah, blah, blah…” He grabs the elf’s elbow and guides him away from the fanatic. “Come on bub, we’re gonna go talk about magic with this nice dwarf fellow over here…”

Slade replied, “Sounds good.”

Shilesque slides to a seated position beside him. “Pick away blacky. What’d you want to know?”

“A few things really. But first. Name’s Zyg.” The dwarf stood and looked the man dead in the eye, the way the dwur did in polite greeting. “Zyg Ax the Cursed. Skin wasn’t always this tan ye catch me drift? Or me fingernails or me teeth or me tongue for that matter. So first I’ll ask ye if you know how ta break an archmage’s curse. But there’s other shit I need ta know ’bout the arcane as well. Ya savvy?”

Shilesque looks at the dwarf’s universally dark features and drops his eyes from the intense gaze. “Shit man. Sorry, but I don’t know anything about curses, let alone how to break ’em…my knowledge of magic mostly ends at legerdemain.” He produces a coin and rolls it across his knuckles before making it disappear, then shrugs and extends a hand, “You can call me Shill, by the way…”

“Feck. Ya know, I ask everyone just in case, ya know. So that renders mos’ my udder questions somewhat obsolete if ya catch me drift. I think I can muster one more though. I’m puttin’ together a team, so ta speak. I needs magics and strong friends fer me revenge. Gonna delve some ruins ’round Phlan and try to make some right in town. Ya game? Ya got sometin ta add to da table?”

“Sure. I’ve got an interest in the ruins around there as well. An old man back home told me that Phlan used to be part of the Noga Empire, waaaaaaaay back in the day, and that the old ruins are pretty much the only place I might be able to find out more about the specific magic I am interested in. Seems the ancients were trickier than we give ‘em credit for. But what’s this revenge business about? Just after the mage that made you all dusky-like?”

“Revenge.” Zyg seemed to savor the word, let it roll around the tongue a bit before continuing. “A bitch of a witch tricked me into slaying me own wife an kids. Used me tears to fuel a spell ta make her a lich. Never caught even caught the name o’ the bitch of a witch that turnt inta a lich if you catch me drift. Den she cursed me fer good measure ye know. From what I’ve learned, ta become a lich ye need to be a gran’ wizzo ta start. I need mighty magics an’ allies if I’m gonna ever make tings right again.”


Snowbell’s ears twitch at the sound of “revenge.” She regards the dwarf carefully. He looks like he can handle himself. His motivations are in the right place. Perhaps he could be a keen ally. Discretion might be more of an issue.

Shilesque listens to Zyg’s story in amazement. “So you went and got yourself cursed by a Lich-Bitch-Witch?!” He tries not to laugh at the last part. “Bloody Hells, man. I’m happy to tag along and help out along the way, but lemme tell you, if we actually run into the Libiwitch, I’m running the other way….”

Shilesque’s voice trails off as the talking fluffy white cat in a dress saunters up. While he’s been watching her for the past few days on the boat, an anthropomorphic cat is not something you get used to in a hurry, even on a boatload of misfits like this one. “Speaking of cursed…” he half-whispers to Zyg out of the side of his mouth, “any guess what her story is?” He instinctively takes a step back as she gets closer, then tries to pivot the motion into a clumsy half-bow. “Welcome my…umm…Lady? What can we do for you?”

“Lemme guess.” Zyg said to the cat-woman, “Daddy was a gnomish bard and mommy was a tabby? Jus’ kiddin’. Name’s Zyg. What can we do ya for?”

“Whispering isn’t proper, dear,” Snowbell replied. “Your ears must be terribly inept if you think I couldn’t hear that. I also couldn’t help but overhear this business about revenge. I always like to meet a man with… simple priorities. Always makes the next step rather predictable. So let us skip the pleasantries and get straight to the point. You have a big bad and his pet zombie to kill and I’ve got a list with nine lives on it. And each one is getting considerably more cowardly and well defended as the last is crossed off. So it’s simple, really. I go through a few inconveniences use my particular set of talents to position you for realizing your life’s single ambition and you show up to help, say, a half dozen times when my latest victim least expects it?”

“Yeah, well, that’s not creepy at all…” Shilesque mumbles.

“Creepy? Look oo yer talkin’ to. They tell kids stories ’bout me to scare the boogeymen ’way.” Zyg turned to Catwoman. “What’s yer profession? I ain’t takin’ no cobblers or crumpet bakers down inta some darks with me if ya get me meanin.”

Snowbell clicks her tongue, “Oh don’t worry, they are all evil as can be. Very bad people. Were I to divulge the details I’m sure we’d turn this boat around and kill them all right now.” She lets out a high-pitched laugh.

Shileque shrugs, “Alright then. Guess we’re off to kill the bad-guys…” he elbows the elf that he rescued from the priestess. “What about you bud? Up for some skulduggery and undead witch hunting?”

“Oh me revenge is a slow burn. It’s been 30 or so years since the shit went down. I’mma in fer the long haul. Priorities fer me is gainin’ power and influence, perhaps I can even find someone else to kill the hag fer me. I ain’t stupid ye see. Magics and connections, Shil. Ya gotta start somewhere.” He turns back to the catwoman, “If ye have enemies, must mean yer somebody then?”

“You could say that…” Snowbell pauses. “Unfortunately I’m supposed to be dead somebody and I would like it to stay that way. A girl that looks like me has certain difficulties remaining discreet. So it is imperative to my participation that my involvement in this stays a secret. People talk all the time about things they shouldn’t and I would really prefer not to…cover up my trail. Speaking of which, I think I’ve lingered long enough in your company. Let me know if you’re interested in my help.”

She saunters off towards the back of the ship, pauses, and returns. “By the way, hun, You dropped your coin purse and your dagger may stick a little bit when you try to draw it. And your shoe is untied.”

“Well that’s a cute story there, but I don’t keep coin ina purse, me boots pull on, an’ I don’t have no dagger. Jus’ me axes, wide blade and bolt thrower. But if ye wants ye can hang out.”

Snowbell turns and walks off in a huff.

Shilesque waves as the cat-girl walks off, and remarks, not-at-all quietly, “So our furry friend is a compulsive liar.” He waves a hand at the complete lack of lifeboats, leaky or otherwise. “Do you think her hit list is real? Or does she just really need someone to pet her?”

Zyg grins, shrugs and wonders what other strange shit he’s gonna see this week. “She’ll be back. I had a cat like that once. On da morrow, there’ll be a dead rodent at our feet as an offerin’ and some purrs expectin’ gratitude. I think we’ll keep her round if that’s the case.”

“Oi! That’s the first time I’ve smiled in ages, Cat Woman. Git over here and have a drink.” The dwur reached for his wineskin, took a swig and offered it to Shil, Slade, Snowbell. “I don’t think we caught yer name, either.”

Sasha Ethhald

Sasha pulls a lute from his pack, he’d left town with little more than the clothes on his back but wouldn’t give that up. He begins playing a tune and humming to pass the time.

“Oi! Bard!” Zyg yells in a gravelly tone. “Know anything more recent of Phlan? I’ve been gone 5 years or so and could use a catch up on recent ’appenin’s.”

Sasha sings a tale of woe on how Phlan had fallen on hard times and all the recent tragedies that have been endured…

“I’ll toss ya a silver if come over and tell us in plainspeak instead of lissenin’ to prose. You can sing it fer the elves later.”

Zyg turns back to Shilesque, “Hey, Shill, as crazy as this sounds, ya think tha crazy she preacher over there can heal wounds? We may wanna befriend or hire her if we cannae finda liason of the Gods, eh?”

Shilesque furrows his brow. “As a last resort maybe? All I really know about Beshaban theology is that it’s very DOOM DOOM DOOM, and all about bad-things happening because bad things are supposed to happen. Even if she has such powers, I doubt a Beshaban would be the most reliable healer-for-hire…”

“Jus’ sayin’ the hiring pool may be thin once we get there. Best keep all the options open, eh?”

Sasha starts a little ditty about karma and things going along to fate’s plan, and the absurdity of it…

Making sure Cat Girl wasn’t within sight, Zyg slipped a gold coin from his pack and palmed it to the bard. “Thank ye.”


Yass and Arny

As Snowbell walks away from Zyg and Shill, looking for a place to make herself scarce, she suddenly feels someone steps on her trailing tail and lets out a howl of pain. The deckhand who trod on her lets out a similar shout of alarm, and spins around. “Oh! I’m dreadfully sorry miss!”

Snowbell looked at him for a split second with a terrifyingly savage face of a pissed off cat, “HSSSSSS…scuse me. Oh. My goodness! I’m so sorry about spitting on you like that dear.” She wipes his face with a handkerchief, and pats down pockets. “How rude of me! I should have been watching where I was going.”

The deckhand, on closer inspection, is an oddly handsome hobgoblin―square jawed, aquiline nose, perfectly coiffured hair, only his gray-brown skin and side-ways sticking out ears mark him as goblinoid. He graciously allows you to wipe the spit from his face without comment, then makes a sweeping, genteel bow. “The fault was all mine, miss.” He turns back to the rope he dropped and begins tying it off.

Snowbell strolls slowly across the deck, looking for the boy the other day with the shiny silver axe. He looked rather slow and brutish when he weilded it. It might be fun to spar for a few rounds and she could use the exercise. She looks for a mop stored somewhere on deck to break and whittle into a dagger length dulled practice tanto.

Snowbell finds the young man back with the farmers, having just been dealt in to a game of tarockk. His silver-plated axe sits right behind him, in a loose pile along with his pack, helmet, and a large round shield. A broad, cocky grin is plastered across his face as he stares around the circle, though, over his shoulder she can see that his hand is complete shit…and that he’s holding his only trump upside down (a bad omen for any card player).

As she approaches, she does find a pair of mops, hanging from hooks on the inside of the gunwale, that would be appropriate for her needs.

Snowbell walks by the men, carelessly swiping one in the face with her poofy tail as she goes by. She wanders in a circle for a minute before lazily drifting towards the shield and then curls up into a ball and fits-she-sits in the slightly convex bowl and pretends to sleep

The young man reaches behind him and gives Snowbell a half-hearted shove off of his pile of stuff. “What kind of dumb wizard goes and makes a cat-person without giving it the intelligence of a man?” he grumbles to his compatriots.

“Ah, lay off and ante up, Anry. The dumb cat’s just taken a likin’ to ya,” another jibes. “Maybe the pussy will let you give it a good petting later…”

“Fuck off, Kray,” Anry replies. “Far as I know you’re the only one here who likes ’em fluffy…”

Snowbell absorbs the shove by rolling on her back and stretching out and pushing on the bag trying to get a general idea of its contents besides the axe over the course of an hour or so whenever something big and distracting happens in the game, resuming feigned sleep in a lopsided tummy up position. After Snowball figures out (or doesn’t) what is in the bag, she scent marks it and wanders around the boat looking for rat holes to put her baited snaptraps by.

The boat itself is in immaculate condition, despite hauling a mass of unwashed peasants, there is not a rat nor hole to be found.



Hearing faint clapping from the half-dozen or so people near the prow of the ship, Shilesque figures the demonstration of kobold poetry has ended and that it’s safe to approach. While certainly wary of the kobold, and the freakshow around it, he figured they couldn’t be any weirder than the fluffy white cat creature. He makes a nonchalant pointing gesture where Zyg and the others can see, as if to say, ’I’ll be over there,’ then winds his way through the boxes the fourty-feet to the front of the ship.

The front of the Wake is much less crowded, by virtue of more than a third of the passengers being clustered in the back, actively avoiding their more inhuman ship-mates. The kobold himself is dressed in muted green doublet and pantaloons at least a size to large for him, and a floppy green velvet hat. His more devoted listeners include: a fair-skinned man in well-worn chainmail, his head and face shaved perfectly smooth; a surly looking halfing who, despite the drowning risk, has refused to take off his full plate armor all voyage; a hairy, seven-foot tall goblinoid with strange burn-scars and the scent of brimstone hanging about him; and a twitchy woman with a fish-like tail wearing a bikini top and a sarong. Two of the teenagers who had been beset by the priestess—girls, a redhead toting a smith’s hammer everywhere, and a brunette in a gingham dress with a pair of daggers prominently displayed on her belt—have moved up behind these four to listen as well.

As Shill approaches, the kobold is making a sweeping, hat-off, bow, with some polite, but unenthusiastic, clapping from the small crowd. “Thank you, thank you,” the kobold says in a droning tenor, displaying feigned gratitude with the aplomb of a true professional. “Now if you’ll direct your gaze to your left,” he gesticulates like a tour guide, “we should be coming within sight of the infamous Thorn Island soon. Once home to a cursed temple, Thorn Island was reclaimed by the forces of the Marquis de Kryptgarten early last year and has been converted into a quarantine and holding facility for refugees coming into Phlan…”

‘Wow, the kobold knows his shit,’ Shilesque thinks. He finds an unoccupied crate to sit on to watch the misfits and listen to what else the kobold might have to share. Shilesque steps over to the rail and looks in the direction that the kobold indicated, trying to make out the island.

Looking out, Shilesque can just make out the island on the horizon, some miles away. From this distance it looks like a black speck, though you can make out the shape of a tower and a faint intermittent flash—a lighthouse perhaps.

The kobold, meanwhile, continues. “In the year 1209, construction began on the Temple of Tyr on Thorn Island, though, sadly the temple and all who dwelt there were destroyed by a flight of dragons only sixteen years later. The accursed souls of the dead priests plagued the island for decades. Two years ago the Council posted a large bounty for any party or parties that might rid the island of the undead menace. According to official records, at least eight groups attempted to assail the island and died in the process. Finally, in the spring of last year, this very ship was forced to careen itself on the island to wait out a storm…”

Zyg was beginning to wonder at all the evil humanoids that were working the ship. For a fellow dwur. Who plied the seas. If it weren’t for land travel being so difficult and wild in the region he would’ve avoided a boat and open water himself. But a dwarf that had a half orcish first mate? He’d been thinking on it the better half of the journey, hoping he hadn’t fallen into a pirate ruse or slaveship. The fact that he didn’t need to pay irked him more and more by the hour. He was all for being more acceptin’ in these progressive times, ‘specially after having his own prejudices take a hand in the deaths of his wife and kids… but it was beginnin’ to feel a bit more awkward. He could see a money hungry fellow-dwur selling out some dirty poor humans. Especially the type to buddy with a grimy orc blood. If it was true, he might be able to counter bribe the captain to let him and a few friends off prior to port. But he’d need a few friends with so he didn’t get tossed in the brig instead.

Zyg wanders over to Shill with the intent of letting him in on his suspicions.

Shilesque nods along with Zyg’s whispered concerns. “Yeah, I’ve always heard that bugbears,” he head-gestures at the tall, shaggy goblinoid, “are pretty notorious for kidnapping and ransom rackets. But I think we might have to get used to them. Back on the mainland I heard that the walled part of Phlan is pretty nice, but very land-strapped, and most of the people have to slum it out in a shanty town that’s supposed to crawling with orcs, and goblins, and shit…and all the older sections of the city have supposedly been carved off by one warring gang or tribe or another.”

“Actually,” Shill remarks, “if we’re hiring help, this kobo seems pretty well informed. He was even handing out flyers when I got on board. I wonder if he’s tied to the boat, or if he’d maybe be willing to hire on as a guide?”

“Maybe we can convince the Cap’n to drop us off a lil outside of town, eh?” Zyg replied, “I have some cash stashed, and methinks it’d be safer than walkin’ into a possible trap. He seems the type that would accept a counter offer, especially if it filled his coffers a bit. Ya game? I ain’t against hiring a guide as long as he ain’t part of any slaver crap. I value freedom pretty heavy, that’s why I left Phlan before.”

“Worth a shot, but the Cap’n said he was getting ten times the normal cost of passage per head. That ain’t gonna be cheap.”

“An’ that’s what makes it suspect, eh? Ma used to say, ain’t no thing as a free brew. Let’s talk to yer kobo and then we get like three of us or more tagether an talk to the cap’n.”

Sasha wanders over. “I couldn’t help but overhear. I just got out of a situation where I was heading to the salt mines and I have no desire to return to that outcome…”

“Stick with us then, this free trip jus’ seems a lil too good ta be true,” Zyg said.

Shill gestures at the large Gnoll sniffing around the livestock, “Well, if the goal is to intimidate the Captain into letting us off early, how ’bout that one?”

“Sure. As long as it’s nah onna tha crew already. Let’s go have a talk. Ey bard and elf, come wit us ya hear?”


Merra and Rhumur

Merra is looking around sniffing the salty air. Her stomach starts to growl “ooo animals.” She looks at one of the farmers, grunts to get attention and signals with her head towards what looks like some form of land forming in the distance. Waits for reply, Getting somewhat anxious to be on land and start what he came here for.

The farmer, who had been watching the gnoll suspiciously as he examined their livestock, suddenly jumps when the thing makes a noise. He watches, with a mix of fear and curiosity as the gnoll makes some sort of bobbing gesture with its head, his hand drifting towards a nearby hoe defensively. He clearly has no idea, what, if anything, you are trying to communicate.

Rhumur quietly walks around the deck, Smile on his face as he basks in the days sun. He walks around the deck, never staying in one place for too long. People watching mostly, but stopping and listening to conversations every once in a while, trying to pretend hes not listening, but is not very good at hiding his obviousness. Sensing a possible situation arising between the Gnoll and the farmer he’s passing by, he walks up to the Gnoll, putting his arm around its back. Standing next to it, Rhumur looks up at the Gnoll.

“It seems are hungry my friend, and perhaps I can help you with that. I may have something for you a little more sating than this poor farmer has to offer. Let us speak to the side about what Lathandar has to offer for your belly”, patting the Gnoll on it’s belly as he says it.

Merra growls and barks at the touch of another, stepping back to size up the one who touched her. She eyes him up a little more carefully giving a little snarl and reluctant nod of the head takes a step closer as to follow the small man on his offer.

As Rhumur guides the gnoll away from the make-shift paddock, he turns to find a motley band approaching from across the deck. “Excuse me,” Shilesque, a dark-bearded man in peasant’s slops says. “This good dwarf here has a bit of a proposition for your large, hairy friend…”

“We have a suspicion tha this free trip is too good ta be true. Kinda worried slavers may be involved on da mainland. I have some coin an’ was thinkin’ aboot talkin’ to tha Cap’n about leaving us ashore a lil past town, any of ye with me?”

Merra bares her teeth as if to smile at the small man’s proposal.

“Hmm…That never quite occurred to me,” Rhumur says, bringing his hand up to his chin as he starts to rub it. He stares at the dark bearded man then at the dwarf, as if sizing him up. “Perhaps you are correct, however, how are we to know,” gesturing to the Gnoll, “you’re not the slavers trying to lure us into an area away from the safety of many, many prying eyes so that you may over power and enslave us?” He pauses for a moment, realizing he may have been a little more brash than he intended. “Not that I’m insinuating you are, of course, just minding our own safety.”

Merra tilts her head back and barks out a few laughs for the insulting words “try”.

Zyg’s few encounters with city dwelling gnolls had been ones from Mulmaster and Hillsfar… not the nicest of places. But since he often lived in the poorer areas of town and frequented the types of bars that would serve a cursed evil-looking dwarf, he’d had a few encounters that didn’t end in bloodshed. And since this one hadn’t eaten anyone since the trip started, that was probably a good thing. “Oi, ya seem ta have trouble spittin’ out the words, but understan’ pretty well. So cannae ask yeh if yer game? I don’ think ye’d have fun hauling rock fer no hooman’s, right?” The dwarf held out a hand and arm to shake if there was agreement. “Or jus’ nod yer head up n down if yeh ain’t fer da shakin’.”

Slade walks over to the gnoll “Oi gnoll guy you from Mulmaster?”

“Oi. And another thing, mates.” Zyg adds, “No one eats any o’ the food or drinks any of the dranks the boat be handin’ out tonight ya hear? We needn’t be drugged up and dropped off anyways, ‘k? As long as Gnolly agrees, we’ll make to find the Cap’n and present an offer to be dropped off prior to the docks.”

Merra nods in agreement and thinks to herself “I pretty persuasive” tucking her head and letting out a few laughs.

“So that makes six of us getting off? How much bribe-fodder do you actually have Zyg?” Shilesque asks.

“Might be enough, might not. But we’ve gots some bodies now, right? There ain’t many o’ them either. I counts 4 with the Cap’n and Kobo included.”

Shilesque looks at the others, “So, do we want to confront El Capitan with our counter-offer now, or wait til morning? I’d vote for sooner rather than later, because it looks like we’ll be proper into the harbor if we wait til breakfast…” He gestures at the island, now in full few rather than a speck on the horizon.

“I’d say now, but where’d Slade go?” Zyg replies.

Shilesque points. “It looks like he’s fishing…” Slade waves at the people pointing at him.

“You reel ‘im in, an’ I’ll get kitty.” Zyg went over to talk to the catwoman.

Shilesque stares at the dwarf a moment, “We’re taking the cat?!” He sighs.

“Come on,” Shilesque says to Slade, Sasha, the Gnoll, and the priest. “Looks like its time for some good old-fashioned intimidation and bribery…”


Zyg finds the cat curled up next to where the would-be settlers are playing cards. “Hey there. We have a feelin’ this trip migh’ nah be so free after all. Me an’ some of da others are gonna talk to the Cap’n aboot droppin’ us off slightly outside town if ya catch me drift. Wouldn’ think you’d fare well inna labor camp or such. Ya in?” Zyg held out his hand for a hand/paw shake

The card-players actively ignore Zyg, as they have done all voyage to anyone the least-bit out of the ordinary, until they hear him mention “labor camps”. “WHAT?!” becomes the general outcry from at least a dozen men, their game suddenly forgotten.

“Who else arranges fer people to be tranperted fer free for gold on the other side, eh? We ain’t in Shadowdale, we near Phlan, Mulmaster, an’ Hillsfar brothers. Ya do tha math. But, let’s nah get crazy. All I wants is ta get dropped off a lil south of town. We pay him fer the trip fairly and no one needs ta get all pissy, jus’ in case everythin’ is on the up & up. Savvy?”

Sasha says quietly to Shilesque, "Before anyone decides to get violent…I know some… let’s say tricks… that can help persuade people…

“Trick away.” Shilesque looks at the various monstrous creature on board, “I’m in no hurry to engage in fisticuffs…”

“I’ve got um some (air quotes) medicine we can use,” Slade adds.

“Is it the non-lethal kind?” Shill asks, “I’d rather avoid murder unless absolutely necessary.”

Slade winks, “Oh K,” and chuckles to himself. He takes a copper dabs it with a vial he pulls out “don’t touch this side my friend but make sure your intended does.”


With the farmers distracted by Zyg, Snowbell casts Invisibility on herself and attempts to swipe the Arny’s silver axe. No one notices the cat going invisible. Unfortunately, she reaches down to grab the axe just as it’s owner does. Their hands brush, briefly, startling the boy, but that just makes him grab the axe all the tighter — forcing Snowbell to abandon her larcenous plans.

Nat and Thion

Wandering off, Snowbell finds the two deckhands — a bald dwarf and the handsome hobgoblin — working together to tack the sails. “Boy, I canna wait to get back on land,” the dwarf says.

“Indeed,” replies the hobgoblin, “this latest haul is unusually unruly.” He nods towards where Zyg and company are stirring up the farmers, “Yonder dwarf is causing quite the ruckus.”

“Eh, as long as they dunna knock each other overboard, we’ll still get paid for delivery. A few more runs and I can afford to pay the cap’n to get off this stinkin’ heap.”

Thiondar exits from the small tent in which he’s hidden himself away since leaving land. You wonder how someone dressed so lavishly has escaped your notice thus far. Every bit of his attire screams opulence. It is not immediately clear if his clothing is lavish or simply gaudy fakes worn by a deranged man. He is quite handsome but his features are marred by a grimace and he is clearly agitated if not outright enraged and is making little effort to hide it. His embroidered robe bears the image of a gauntlet with an eye peering from the center of it, and the only apparent arms is a small shield engraved with a balancing scale.The man is wearing a fancy red cap and it looks like his hair might even be in a bonnet. If not for the pointed ears one might conclude that this tall figure was a slightly built human with very feminine facial features. A thin gold ring with a symbol to small to make out at this distance adorns his left hand.

Thiondar initially thought this group to chaotic to ally himself with but the mention of slavers has his blood boiling. His first instinct is to knock the nearest crew member overboard but remembering his failures when he pursued the priesthood he slightly regains his composure before he reaches the nearest crew member. Instead he pulls up just short and spins sharply to his right. He begins pacing the deck occasionally muttering to himself. Very perceptive observers might notice he seems to mouth the same phrase over and over.

Thiondar had journeyed to Hillsfar in search of a suitable horse. There were none in Phlan that met his exacting standards. Finding that the Red Plumes had commandeered all of the best in the city state of Hillsfar he instead went shopping for the best attire he could find. (I didn’t bother rolling starting gold as the kit granted plenty). The remainder was spent on lavish meals and he spent his last coin without saving for the return trip. Since leaving Hillsfar he has relied on bluffing his way home. It never occurred to him that his luck and quick tongue were not as good as he thought.

Seeing the strange tent open, Shilesque thinks, ‘Well, we roped all the farmers into this, guess we might as well get everyone ashore we can.’ He walks over to the effeminate, flamboyantly dressed man, who clearly seems a bit confused and/or angered—probably both. “Hey!” he says drawing close, but not too close, “Do you need help with something, er…miss…ter?”

As Shilesque approaches he overhears Thiondar mutter, ‘No, that won’t work either.’ Noticing the approach, Thiondar pauses and gazes intently into the eyes of Shilesque. After a stern initial look, his countenance changes into a warm disarming smile. There are at least six prominent bulges under Thiondar’s robes but he never gives a hint of reaching for one, leaving Shilesque unsure if they are the hilts of weapons or possibly large gems given the rest of the dandies clothing. Thiondar responds, ‘Whatever the plan I’m with you as I can’t seem to think of a good one myself.’

“Ummm…thanks?” Shilesque seems more than a little concerned that the richly dressed man is ‘with them’. “My name’s Shill,” he says, finally extending a hand. “Do you have one? A name that is.”

‘I am Thiondar, servant of Tyr.’ Thiondar glances at the offered hand, briefly considers its cleanliness, then remembering that he is wearing gloves, shakes it vigorously. He whispers conspiratorially, ‘Don’t allow appearances to deceive you, I might not like to get dirty but there is a reason I wear red…’ Lowering his voice further, ‘It hides the blood.’

While waiting to see if he will be informed of any plans, Thiondar tries to ascertain who is working on the ship, and if any of the passengers might be silent security (people with rope burns, missing fingers, very tanned or sunburned). After doing so, if the conversation allows, he makes his way back toward his tent where he can retrieve his long spear if a melee appears imminent.


Captain Donal

So as Zyg makes his way back to the group, angry commoners in tow, the odd cat lady pops in out of nowhere and whispers what she heard. It confirmed his fears. He made a beeline for the Captain after motioning for the malcontents he at this moment called friends to follow. “Oi, Cap’n. We have a matter ta discuss. But I’m sure ye mates ‘ave already gots yer ear. ’Ow much for the likes of us to get dropped out south o’ tha city all quiets like? We have some coin, an’ would like to pass gently inta da night if ye catch our drift, eh?”

The Captain sets a rope to hold the wheel steady and walks down from the small aft-deck to meet you halfway. “Why, certainly, cursed-one. We’d be happy to drop you off anywhere nearby. Of course, if Phlan is not your destination then any of you getting off elsewhere will need to pay the standard passage free of 5 gold a head, and I’ll warn you that there are bands of pirates and slavers, and worse things, that tend to roam the shores outside of town.” He lowers his voice, “We’d also be happy to drop you off after dark if you are in particular need of not being seen approaching the city — for a small extra hazard fee, of course. Say, 20 extra gold for a night drop?”

Under his breath, “Give me a flat price fer all of ’em. Night preferable.” The dwur gestured to the lot. “An’ I’ll see if it’s do-able.”

“All of ’em? You want to take all of my passengers?” The captain’s face grows stern, “I don’t see any good coming of that, cursed-one. Especially not for these simple folk. But if everyone wants off, I’ll not make anyone go somewhere they don’t wish…”

“Name tha price. I ain’t gonna see any of these blokes get caught on me conscience if I cannae help it.”

“Three hundred. Name the place. But I’ll want to hear it from each and every person’s own lips that they want off, and I don’t want to hear that you threatened or coerced any of these good people into following you gods-know-where…”

“300? 325 and it’s a good spot and there’s no ill blood twixt us. Means no bullshit if we run inta ya at the bar, savvy?”

“So long as I don’t hear of harm coming to any of my passengers at your hands, you need fear no ill from me.” The captain shakes his head, “325 it is,” he spits in his hand and extends it to you.

The dwarven deck-hand suddenly storms up. “THREE-TWENTY-FIVE!” he shouts, enraged. “WHAT THE FUCK, CAP’N! The council promised 50 gold a head for every settler we bring to town! How the fuck are we supposed to get paid if you let them off somewhere else?!”

Zyg spat in his hand and made to seal the deal. Quickly. But his left hand was itchin’ if it needed axin’. “Wut’s 50 gold? Slave shit? If ye wanna bring da noise, me bard is playin’ ye dirge, pissant.”

Sasha switches from a simple tune to a charm spell cast on the complaining deck hand…

“Slaves?” The captain and the deckhand both freeze, horrified looks crossing their faces. “Is that what you think this is about?!” The captain retracts his hand, “If you’ve been slandering my good name and blaspheming the reputation of this temple, I have no qualms tossing you overboard right bloody now…”

“Me Momma jus’ used ta say there’s no such thing as a free brew. An’ fer you getting 50 sovereigns a piece, it looks a lil odd, dern’t it? Jus’ let us off at land an’ we’ll get outta yer beard. 325 still stands.”

Shilesque overhears the outburst and looks quizzical, “Did he just say ‘temple’?” he asks the others gathered around.

Caerwyn Tyr

The rough shout of a deck hand broke Caerwyn from his trance and he roughly shook awake. He swiftly adjusted his mask, and lifting a heavy cloak peering out from under his dark cowl. A tense scene down the deck greeted him, the captain being confronted by a couple impatient dwarves. “Perfect,” he though, “a scrap is the last thing we need on a tub this small.”

“I don’t see how it’s odd at all,” the captain continues. “The Council of New Phlan promises all captains 50 gold crowns a head for every new settler brought to the city. The city has something of a reputation for shortening the lifespans of those that choose to take up residence there. The Council pays ten times the standard rate to ensure that all souls brave enough to attempt to settle in their accursed city aren’t impeded by the need to pay for their own passage…”

The captain glowers at Zyg, “I’ll happily let you and anyone else who wants off, but if I hear from anyone on this boat that you’ve been spreading false accusations that I would traffic with slavers, it won’t be land I’ll be letting you off to. The punishment for blaspheming a temple of the Lord of Waves is a quick dip, if you get my drift…”

“I jus’ worry a bit, eh? Wouldn’t you? ‘Ow boot this. I won’t rob ye of yer load if its on the up and up. But any one who wants to leave with me can. If less than half decide to leave, 125 gold. if it more than half makin’ shore I’ll toss ye 325. You make a decent coin, we all feel better. But when I get into the town, I’ll make sure the others got out safe too. I find out there’s ill shit we’ll both go from there, huh?”

Shilesque leans in towards Zyg and whispers, “Shit, Zyg. I think we might need to apologize. I just realized…the ship’s name…this really is some sort of floating temple to Valkur. I don’t know about you, but, I don’t know how to swim.”

“But if ye show me proof ye a holy man of Valkur…” Zyg continues, “I’ll apologize right now. I think ye can appreciate my love of freedom if ye are.”

The deckhand’s face has turned a deep red, “Cap’n! You can’t be letting people off! You can’t!!”

The hobgoblin walks up and cuffs him across the back of the head, “That’s not your place to say Nat. If these people want off, they get off. A sailor’s place is to take people where they wish to go, not to direct them where they do not wish. You’ll get your land-locked bar soon enough.” He shoves the dwarf to one side and steps up to Zyg, opening his shirt to show the shield and stormcloud symbol of Valkur tattooed on his chest.

The captain nods at the little speech, “As he said, Nat. One more voyage won’t hurt you.” He rolls up his sleeves to show matching holy symbols tattooed on each bicep.

“But cap’n!” The dwarf, Nat, is practically crying at this point.

“Oi.” Zyg says, “We’ll get out at the city. Ye can collect. An’ if we can find somewhere off to tha side I’ll be sure to leave you an’ yer boys a donation. Make sure hobby knows the drinks are on me in town, k?” Zyg drops 50 gold to the Captain off to the side, and apologizes again.

The captain bows, “Valkur thanks ye for the donation.” He scoops up the coins and dumps them overboard, as Nat screams out an anguished “Nooooooooooooooo!”

“Serry if I caused any strife, brother. Ye ever need anythin’ onna da mainland, I ain’t hard ta find… Unless I find somethin’ ta break this curse of course, then ya need ta find a red ’aired, green eyed grumpy feck of a dwur instead.”


With the confrontation with the Captain relatively peacefully ended, Shilesque walks back to the front of the ship. It feels like everyone on the ship, from the youngest farm-boy to the creepy fish-lady are now staring at him and Zyg — some presumably quite angry over their misunderstanding, others just pleased to have a distraction from the monotony of the voyage. Shill tries not to meet any of their gazes as he makes the walk of shame back up front and plops down by where the kobold was performing and playing tour guide.

“Guess what folks,” he says to no one in particular, “the captain of this ship is entirely on the up and up. Who would’ve guessed that?” He sighs and addresses the kobold, “So, since we’re making landfall in Phlan by morning, what can you tell me about the city? Everything so far sounds pretty bleak…”

The kobold nods his agreement, “Bleak is definitely the right word for it. Heck, the last time I spent any significant amount of time ashore in Phlan I died…which is why I look like this.” He smiles, though on his canine face it looks more like a snarl, and takes a deep breath.

“I could spin volumes about the city, and, in fact, I’m writing a book about it, but I’ll try to be more brief, eh. Phlan can basically be broken up into three big chunks. There’s ‘Civilized Phlan’”, he makes quotes with his fingers as he says this, “which surrounds the harbor. About two years ago the Council, hoping to rebuild on the ruins of the past, made a beach-head at the docks with a big army of Red Plume mercenaries from Hillsfar and erected a palisade around an area about 250 hectares around there. The wall is heavily guarded and most ‘unsavory types’ — myself now included — are kept out. It’s relatively peaceful, as long as you stay indoors after dark, and is home to four good-sized temples, the Council Hall, a Council-subsidized Academy for training wizards and swordsmen, and most of the town’s ‘legitimate’ merchants…”

“Next you’ve got the slums. It’s basically a shanty-town that has grown up just outside the walls. After the Council put up their big wall, everyone that craved peace, but couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices for limited real estate, ended up there. It’s pretty much the only place where you’ll find affordable housing, but means you’ll be rubbing shoulders with all kinds. Gang wars between goblins, orcs, and other things often break out in the streets, and beggars and pan-handlers of all stripes are everywhere. On the plus side, you can find pretty much anything in the market there, since there aren’t really any laws governing what can or cannot be sold. The Council keeps promising the clean the place up and expand the wall, but they’ve made very little progress on that front…”

“Last you’ve got the Old Town. That place is basically rubble, but some people are trying to eke out a living there. It’s crawling with monsters—not just the kind like me, but the really scary kind: ghouls, trolls, basilisks, and even a demon or two have all been seen in there. The Old Town is huge and there are a lot of old collapsed mansions, towers, and temples from the city’s storied past out there. It’s the kind of place one goes when they value getting rich more than they value their life…”

“The Council has been paying out huge sums over the last few years to any adventurous types willing to put in the effort to clean up the Slums or purge sections of the Old Town of beasties, and there have been some successes—mostly by the Marquis of Kryptgarten before the Council found out that he was sacrificing people to devils to get the job done and ran him out of town…”

“Well, that definitely explains why the Council’s so eager to bring people in.” Shilesque replies. “I’ve also heard that Phlan has something of a reputation for being populated mostly by criminals. Is that true too, or just propaganda from the neighbors?”

The kobolds cackles, “No, that’s mostly true. The Council and the Temple of Tyr have refused all extradition treaties and offer universal amnesty to anyone willing to sign on to their service. They offer full political asylum, a promise from the clergy of Tyr to ignore all past misdeeds, and large cash rewards as well, to any individuals willing to take up the cause of beating back the monsters dwelling in the old city. They’ve recruited quite a few notorious criminals to the defense of the city in this way — even the son of Teldar, King of the Pirate Isles and Scourge of Cormyr.”

“Universal amnesty and no extraditions?” Shill looks equally surprised and impressed, “I assume they expect everyone to behave after receiving this amnesty, yes? Or is working for the council an unlimited get-out-of-jail free card?”

“Oh yeah, you still have to obey all of Phlan’s laws…though they’re pretty loose overall, only apply within the walled portion and the slums, and are only really enforced inside the walls. And really, ever since Elissa Bivant took a seat on the council, they might as well not have laws at all — she even made buggery legal…”

“Right, no stealing within the walls without a really good reason,” Shill nods. “So how does one get in on these glittery prizes and endless compromises from the Council?”

The kobold suddenly stands up, takes a deep breath, and belts out “ONE LIKES TO BELIEVE IN THE FREEDOM OF MUSIC!”

“Sorry. I mean, just present yourself at the Council chambers after you disembark. Biggest building in town, can’t miss it. There’s a bit of paperwork you’ll have to fill out, and they’ve implemented a rule where they only extend adventuring charters to groups of 3 or more…though if you appeal directly to a council member they sometimes make exceptions and issue special licenses for individuals outside of the normal process…”


Zyg decides to lay low a bit, finds a barrel to prop has back against and sits quietly watching the rest of the crew and passengers. Zyg had been in kind of a depressed lull lately. But just considering the possibility of enslavement must have lit a fire that he’d thought dead. It wasn’t that he was concerned as much for himself. In his own way, he was slave to his curse, his past actions, and specifically the Witch Lich he’d unluckily crossed fates with. No, it was the idea that the free folk, the optimists, the young he was surrounded with could be chained like him. And that pissed him off.

Snowbell uses the mast a scratching post, then climbs it and takes a real nap on top.

Thiondar feeling a little confused and unsure of the truth will watch for an opportunity to speak to Nat alone. If it arises he will cast friends and attempt to ascertain why he is upset. If possible he will steer Nat toward an edge of the boat in case they really are headed to a slave port. If so he will attempt to knock Nat overboard before the effects of the spell wear off and Nat realizes he was influenced. If everything is on the up and up Thiondar will apologize and offer to put in a good word for him with the town clerk if he’s ever in need of a different line of work or at the Temple of Tyr should he find himself in need of a priest.

After the Captain tosses Zyg’s donation overboard, the dejected Nat heads back to where he was working the lines. In his emotionally disturbed state, the bald, beardless dwarf is easy pray for Thiondar’s spell. As he climbs up on the ship’s rail to tighten a shroud, he suddenly notices Thiondar. “Oh, hey,” he says in a friendly voice, “you mind grabbing that line right there while I tie this off?”

Thiondar nods and picks up the line, “Do you think the last sacrifice necessary seeing as we are so close to land? I will say, the weather has been good thus far so the skipper seems to know his stuff. Even so, I can’t wait to reach Phlan where I can enjoy a sumptuous meal with friends.”

Nat groans, “Necessary?! He’s always doing that. Nearly half of everything we earn for these trips either gets chucked in the sea or handed to other ships. ‘For repairs to keep other seamen safe’ he says…like we never need money repairs around here. If it weren’t for Cap’n Donals religious proclivities I’d’ve been back on land running me own bar ages ago…” He spits off the side of the boat, “I’d rather be rich and take me chances with The Bitch Queen, than scraping by on half wages on a calm sea.”

‘Have you considered another line of work? Sure transporting people for the council pays fairly well but a storm at sea is every bit as dangerous as group of orcs. Not to mention pirates’

“Aye, I’ve thought about it more’n once. Killin’ orcs for the council pays about as well as shipping people for ’em does.” He finishes tying off the line and hops down from the rail. “Maybe now’d be a good time for ‘at. I’m right sick of Cap’n Donal’s shit.” He nods to himself, “Yeah, when we put in to shore tomorrow I’m tellin’ the cap’n that I quit…and I’ll go find me some people to bash orcs wit…”

From what I’ve overheard on this journey so far you might be able to find some fellow orc bashers right on this boat. I initially questioned some of their morals but seeing how they stuck up for others when they jumped to the wrong conclusion about this being a slave ship I might go on a few forays into the slums along side them myself. Assuming that’s where they end up headed. Having grown up around here, I’ve heard many rumors not to mention the occasional slip of the tongue from Sasha on groups who have disappeared. There’s some areas I am flat out not venturing into just yet.

Nat’s face brightens. “Y’mean I can come wit’ you?”

Thiondar enthusiastically responds, ‘Absolutely I’d love the company, I am just not sure where I am going just yet.’ Dropping his head somewhat he continues in a somber tone, ’ I am going to tell you a story I have not shared with anyone, so I’d appreciate you keeping it secret for now, at least until I’ve proven myself to whoever we join up with. Although my mother was an elf I have little in common with them as she died in child birth. I’ll never know what possessed her to hook up with a human cleric of Tyr. I never felt comfortable asking my father growing up and now it is too late. Dad was never comfortable with strangers and he considered all adventures to be of ill repute. When we landed on Thorn Island we easily made way into the keep as the skeletons and zombies fled before the mighty power of Tyr channeled through his holy symbol. The orcs came out of nowhere and we were careless not expecting any living creature. He told me to run and he covered my escape smashing into the line of orc bowman. I dared a few glances back, the first couple times it looked like he was getting the best of them, smashing skulls to either side with his hammer. The last time I looked though dashed any hope for his survival. The orcs had gotten around behind him and once they did it was only a brief moment before they found a weak spot in his armor and cut him down. Shortly after I fled the island was cleared and Father Tim’s body was retrieved. It was already rotting so we made haste to bury him in Valhingen Graveyard. That experience, my cowardice in not going back to the island , and the issues within the Church of Tyr led to a breakdown. I am not even sure how many months I’ve been away as I spent the time in riotous living. I hope that my father’s friends on the council have preserved his estate but since I left immediately after the burial and told no one where I was going or if I was coming back, it quite possibly has been auctioned off. Regardless, I am out of money and cannot pay the taxes so despite my noble appearance, I am anything but at the moment.’ Becoming upbeat once again, ‘Opportunities are plentiful in New Phlan and I will restore my honor or embrace the sweet relief of death.’

Nat listens to Thiondar’s confessions with the patience of a true friend (or someone well and truly charmed, as the case may be), then walks over and pats the half-elf on the shoulder. “Sorry t’ hear ‘bout your da. Glad they got ’is body out o’ there. I actually hauled a couple crews over to the island meself, includin’ the ones that finally dealt with them orcs, though I dinna have a hand in the fightin’.”

‘I think dad only brought me along to chronicle his deeds and carry supplies. I don’t think I could have bested him with my spear even if he only used his open palm. A hell of a warrior priest he was. A bloody knight to boot and I use the bloody not just for effect but quite literally as well.’ (Does Thiondar think the spell has worn off yet? He’s waiting to see the reaction before he approaches any other passengers. If Nat seems to still be with him, he will leave Nat to his work letting him know he is going to inquire as to us joining up, and introduce himself to some other passengers and inquire as to their plans once they reach Phlan.

“Nat, I’m going to go see if we can find a group that wants to kill some orcs. Let me know if you need help with anything.” Thiondar will look for Shilesque and inquire as to their plans.


Shilesque stands and thanks the kobold when he sees Thiondar coming over, then moves to meet the overly dressed man (who he still thinks must be a little on the crazy side). “Heya,” he says, giving a weird half-salute, as if tipping a non-existent hat. “What can I do ya for?”

‘The hairless dwarf over there," Thiondar says, pointing to Nat, "and I were wondering what your plans were when you reach Phlan? I am familiar with the area and have some contacts in the town. As I am sure you have noticed, I have expensive tastes. Recently it seems I may have overspent but beyond that I have a disdain for Orcs. If you plan to kill any, we’d like to tag along, expecting of course our share of the loot and any bounty paid by the council. I might even be able to negotiate some extra pay here and there on the parties behalf."

Shill shrugs, “Well, I for one would love to have a tour guide. I’m not really keen on killing things just because of what they look like, but if some orcs make a nuisance of themselves, we’ll have to see what happens. As to once we’re dockside, I’d be happy to have you two along. The more the merrier, eh? Especially in such a dangerous place.”

He turns and gestures towards Zyg, “The hyper-melanized dwarf over there is apparently looking for the witch that cursed him to be dark—wants some revenge, you see. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and is quick to stick up for folks, so I’ve agreed to follow along and help him out.”

He then waves a hand at the fluffy, white cat-person perched on the mast, “Kitty up there also has a bit of a hit list. She’s pretty cagey about it, but I also suspect revenge as a driving motive. She seems a bit loose, but the dwarf seems to want her along.”

He scans the rest of the crowd, pointing others out. “The gnoll and the robed guy seem to be together. They agreed to help us if the captain turned out rotten, but I don’t know that we’ve discussed what they’ll be doing when we reach Phlan.”

“I think the bard over there agreed to help Zyg with his revenge business, but he’s been oddly taciturn for a bard, more providing background music than actually saying anything, so I’m not actually sure.”

“Zyg and I tried to recruit that elf, but he seems to have some attention problems, which I guess is pretty normal for a full-blood, so I’m not really sure what he’s up to at all. He might be with us if we asked again though.”

“So that’d make nine of us, with you and the dwarf, and I suspect we could probably recruit at least one or two more if we need them. Personally I have an interest in exploring the ruins, either in the city or in the area north of there—the older the better. Beyond that I’m just looking for some fun, so I’m happy to help with whatever, and the contracts the council hands out sound pretty lucrative, in more ways than one.”

“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Thiondar says. "I am not a genocidal maniac, not yet anyway, but the orcs in old Phlan, like the other creatures, are a different breed. They are much more organized and often better equipped. We do best to proceed with caution. If civilization is to return to the area we must drive these vermin out. I’ll let Nat know that we are going with you.’ Thiondar turns around abruptly and walks back over to Nat. “Nat, good news, they’ll take us on, equal share of the loot. Do you think we will be on the water another night? If not, I better pack up my tent.”

Slade is trying to be patient but stuck on a boat this long with out anyone trying to murder him or him trying to murder anyone is uncharted territory for this gray elf.

To be continued…

Desolate: Act 1, Scene 2

Near sunset you pass abreast of Thorn Island, and you get a good look at the first bit of land belonging to the city of Phlan. The deck falls silent save for the shuffling of feet as the majority of the passengers move to take in this first glimpse of land. The pebbly shore of the island is lined with tents and crowded with people, all backlit by a few camp-fires that send plumes of smoke up into the sky. Behind the tent city rises the walls of the old keep, and the lighthouse within. Scaffolding has been erected all around the walls, and the glowing beacon of the lighthouse shows the promise of a city revitalized.

Suddenly the silence and the gloam are shattered by a great roar as a ball of fire bursts above the small ship. Durell, more intent on watching the orc than the island is the first to notice it, as well as the two ships now bearing down on the Wake from the opposite direction — their sails and hulls dyed black to blend in with the night.

Within seconds the deck becomes a riot of settlers and animals attempting to get clear of the now burning sails.

“Nat! Yass! Get that sail down!” The captain yells from his perch at the rudder. Two deck-hands, a dwarf and a hobgoblin, rush to obey, but the damage has been done.

Aram rushes to the far rail, and peers out at the approaching ships. “These old eyes ain’t what they used to be,” he mutters and rummages through his hefty backpack. Withdrawing a small vial of blue liquid, he raises it to hips lips and concentrates on the corsair ships.

Aram’s vision swims and shifts, and he finds himself looking down on the two boats. They are smaller than the Wake, but lateen-rigged with three sails a piece, and loaded with men — perhaps thirty to a boat, lightly armored but heavily armed with swords, daggers, and crossbows.

One ship lags slightly behind the other, and Aram can see that it’s navigator bears no visible weapons, but does have an ornate mahogany wand or rod of some kind clutched in his left hand, while holding the till with the other.

Pin dashes over over and helps pull the burning sail down. The ashes from the fire begin to burn his wiskers.

“Thanks!” shouts the Hobgoblin as Pin runs over. “On three…”

The dwarven hand dashes to the main spar and quickly pulls the two pins holding it to the deck. “Three!” he shouts.

With a quick shove from Pin and the Hobo, the entire mast, topples sideways until it is hanging parallel with the deck. The ship tilts slightly, but the entirety of the burning sail now now hangs out over the water, several feet past the rail.

Making a quick check over the Featherdale settlers and directing them to “Stay down, but out of the way of the crew”, Durell hands his quarterstaff to one of the rambunctious youth with a “You hold this for me till I need it ok? I need an assistant like you!”. Picking up his longbow and adjusting his quiver, he heads in the direction of the ships he sees. With the flaming sails dropping, Durell yells at the closest crew member: “Got any tar, pitch? What do you patch holes with?” His intention is to turn some of his arrows into FLAMING arrows if he can dip them in pitch and light them off the burning sails.

With the mast down, the dwarf hops up onto the mast like a balance beam. “Aye!” he shouts to Durell. “There by the rail!” He points to a lidded barrel as he begins walking out along the mast, pulling a small axe from his belt. “Better make it quick though. We need to cut this sail free and run up a new one before we’re overrun.”

Grabbing 3 or 4 arrows in one fist from his quiver, he pries open the barrel and immerses the arrow tips and about 3 inches of the arrows in the pitch. Then looking for some still burning flame, shoves the covered arrows into the fire. Once the flame has spread to the arrows, he will, as rapidly as he can, attempt to return the favor and launch the missiles of flame at the main sails of the lead ships, hoping they too will be slowed without support from the winds.

Thrall keeps close to his new companions. Those who look him in the face, can see that his eyes are darkening and turning almost black. Helping where he can, the animals first. He reaches for a necklace under his shirt, kisses it and puts it back.

Aram, eyes still staring into nothingness, shouts to be heard across the boat. “There ships are rigged for speed, even with fresh sails we’d be hard-pressed to outrun them! I’d guess sixty men aboard! With crossbows! And their captain has a wand!” He blindly reaches for the massive chunk of flattened iron hanging on his back. “They have us out-numbered, but I’m more concerned that we’re out-gunned! I think our best bet is to engage them up close! Captain! Can we make for the island?”

“Aye,” the captain shouts back to Aram, and pulls hard on the rudder turning you towards the island, though at this point you have only momentum and the waves to move you. Nat manages the cut the lines, releasing the flaming sails to be doused by the sea, but there is no time to raise the mast again.

Durell knocks two arrows, now lit. Despite the distance, both shots are true and little sparks of flame appear on the sails of the pursuing ships. With his magical vision, Aram can see the pursuing crews immediately leap into action to douse the flames before they can spread much.

Suddenly a bank of fog springs into existence around the rear of Valkur’s Wake, though Thrall’s spell is insufficient to shroud the entire 80-ft. vessel.

Though slowed slightly by the damage to their sails, the two ships bear down on the Wake quickly. Expecting to be boarded, everyone—farmers, sailors, and adventurers alike—rush to arm themselves as best they can. Thrall has just managed to tighten the last straps of his armor when the two ships pull abreast of the Wake’s rear, flanking it. Ropes and hooks fly out of the fog, and the Wake shakes as the two ships are pulled hull-to-hull with it. Armed men begin pouring over the gunwales.

Aram shakes his head to dispel the effects of the Clairvoyance, tightens his grip on his sword and rushes to intercept the men coming over the port gunwale. Unfortunately, he moves very slowly in his post-clairvoyant disorientation and from having to shove his way past the panicking farmers. Finally breaking through the crowd, he swings clumsily in the tight quarters, hitting nothing but air.

Durell looks for his young assistant, throws his longbow to him and holds out his hand and yells “Quarterstaff now, buddy”. Once he has his staff, he advances to join combat.

As the attackers begin streaming over the rail, they are met by fierce resistance. The silver-haired woman and the fiddler from the front of the ship react the swiftest, the former tossing a flash of greek fire onto the deck of the port vessel, and the latter catching three of the assailants coming from the same ship with a gout of Burning Hands.

A half-dozen men from the first rank coming over the starboard rail suddenly drop to the deck, snoring peacefully as the kobold gives a particularly vigorous crank on his hurdy-gurdy. The next in line is caught on the horns of the minotaur as he charges across the deck, and another is cut down by his sword.

Another from the port side takes a crossbow bolt to the face from the tentacle-haired woman, while several of his companions find themselves stymied by a trio of pitchfork-wielding farmwives. Then the melee begins in earnest.

Men swarm across the deck, hacking and stabbing. One finally reaches Thrall only to be knocked down by a blow from his staff, and savaged to death by his wolf. By this time Durell finally manages to recover his staff from the boy, and swiftly knocks one attacker overboard. He then rushes to the aid of some farmers, cold-cocking two more of the attackers with blows from his staff.

Pin, reacting slowly, finally draws his sword and guts one of the men as it charges him. Aram rushes up beside Pin, and swings wildly, hitting nothing but air. His opponent falls anyways, as the ogre comes in right behind him and decapitates it.

For a brief moment, the deck is mostly clear of enemies and the remaining settlers have managed to congregate in the bow of the ship, putting you and the other more militant passengers between them and further harm.

Aram looks at the next wave of men coming from the two ships and begins chanting a prayer to his god. He scans the crowd of attackers, looking for those with the best weapons or armor, hoping to stem the tide a bit.

Durell checks over his shoulder to quickly determine if any of his fellow Featherdalemen are among the wounded. In any event, he moves steadily forward toward the remaining enemies. His stride is slow and purposeful. If it can be done without coming to a complete stop, he will hurl overboard any of the attackers (dead or wounded) near enough to the gunrails, to let the sea keep them busy for a while. All while preparing to put the quarterstaff to use against the living pirates.

More men continue to pour over the aft rails from both starboard and larboard, but momentum appears to be on your side. The first several are met by yet another Sleep spell from the kobold, and another gout of Burning Hands from his accompanist. Meanwhile Durell, the minotaur, and the wolf take out the last three from the first wave, leaving everything forward of the mast clear of enemies.

Suddenly, there is a snapping sound, as the sails of the pirate ships fill with wind, but blowing directly away from the island. With the lines and boarding planks holding the ships together, all three boats begin moving backwards at a steady pace. The mysterious wind that has reversed your course also dissipates the fog shrouding the aft of the ship. As the fog lifts, there is a barrage of crossbow bolts from the two ships, tearing into your massed defenders. Durell, Thrall, the minotaur, and the ogre all take hits.

Still more men stream onto the Wake from the other ships. Two of the assailants manage to land solid blows on the fiddle-player. The orc rushes to her side with some timely healing, only to be stabbed himself.

Aram sees four men in chain amidst the attackers, he finishes his spell and two of them freeze in place, mid-stride, then topple over from the pitching of the deck. Another of the more heavily armored men charges and lands a blow on Pinder with his axe.

Two of the buccaneers, noticing Thrall chanting the words of a spell, rush him. One lands a blow, but they are not quite fast enough, as the Flame Blade appears in Thralls hand perfectly angled to run the man through.

More than a dozen armed buccaneers now crowd the deck. They mange to land several more blows on the minotaur and the wolf, but the slow-moving ogre holds the line, cutting down one of the armored men, and using his bulk to keep the buccaneers from reaching the remaining Featherdalesmen.

Aram shouts to the others, “Their mage must be controlling the wind. We need to take the fight to them if we’re to have any chance of getting out of this!” Then, more quietly to those nearby, “They’ve lost more than half their numbers. If we take out the leader, the rest will likely surrender.” He hefts his blade and begins leading the way towards the boarding planks, swinging the weapon in broad arcs to make a path.

While Durell agrees with Aram, as he continues to wield his quarterstaff in the direction of any of the boarders to the aft of the ship, he attempts to look beyond the two boarding ships to the third. In particular, he’s looking for who’s steering the ship, and how many visible crew members might be on THAT ship. He will also not the distance between the Wave and that ship.

As the sun is dipping behind the mountains to the west, Durell can just make out a third ship on the horizon. The ship appears to have the same dark hull and sails as your attackers, but that may just be a trick of the light, silhouetted as it is. It is much to far for him to make out any details, but appears to be sailing in your general direction.

Thrall calls Temur back to him. “Guard!” He tries to speak firmly but hardly manages it. Thrall to one of the children : “Can you get me one of the small bottles from that backpack please?”

Durell’s helper, bow still clutched in one hand, rummages through Thrall’s backpack with the other and hands him one of bottles.

Thrall drinks his potion of healing half. The other half he gives to Temur.

Thrall takes out any bolts out of his body and Temur’s, takes a sip. Hands it over to Durell. “Here. Take a sip. You look like you need it. The rest is for my friend Temur here.”

Durell turns his head at Thrall’s offer. Depending on the closeness of the “next” enemy, he either shrugs and continues fighting, or shrugs, takes the vial and tosses back the liquid like a veteran drinker of potent liquors. He then asks Thrall: “See the third ship? How long do you think before it gets close to us? More than 10 minutes??” He continues to fight, specifically trying to make his way to a gangplank on one side of the ship, with the intent to kick the end off the rail and into the water. Hopefully stopping the flow of pirates from at least one side of the ship.

Thrall, “Ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Hard to tell but it will be near dark then. Let’s try to keep them off as long as possible.”

Noting the direction Aram points, several of your ship-mates rush towards the ship bearing the wizard. The orc moves the fastest, charging through the ranks of pirates on your own ship, taking a few hits in the process, and tosses a bag onto the enemy ship’s deck — out of which crawl a large number of what appear to self-mobile, severed hands.

With a moments respite from the distraction, Thrall, Durell, and the wolf share the contents of Thrall’s healing potion (OOC: all are fully healed). Seeing them momentarily with their guard down, the remaining armored pirate charges, axe at the ready, only to Pinder slip in behind him and slash mightily at his hamstring, severing his left leg completely (OOC: critical hit with a backstab). The man topples screaming to the ground, all thoughts of offense forgotten.

The minotaur charges through the crowd of pirates at the rear, knocking one of them into the water as he leaps onto the wizard’s ship. The fiddler, right behind him, pulls out a pick-axe and hacks down another pirate.

The wizard on the other boat, alarmed by the turning tide of battle, launches another fireball, centered right above the boarding plank linking the gunwales of your ship and his. The minotaur, the fiddler, the orc, and the uniformed woman are all caught in the blast, along with quite a few of his own crew, and most of the livestock on the Wake. The ropes and planks holding the ships together are burned up, and the wizard’s ship begins speeding away under sails filled by magical wind, leaving Valkur’s Wake and the second pirate ship lurching in his wake.

Engulfed in the blast, the aft end of Valkur’s Wake is in flames. The taffrail, and with it the captain and the rudder, break away and tumble into the sea.

The remaining crew of the second ship, still attached, drop their crossbows and rush to break themselves free of the burning Wake — cutting lines and hacking at their own boarding planks. They too are soon free and furling sails to escape.

The last four pirates still on the deck of the Wake throw down their arms and join the settlers and the remaining crew in trying to douse the fires — hacking at the smoldering gunwales and tossing burning cargo and corpses overboard.

“Shit!” Aram exclaims. He drops his over-sized blade and rushes to the rear of the ship. He heads to the dead bodies of those who helped them repel the pirates and kneels over them in prayer.

“Blessed Afflictor, Exalted Interrogator, Sacred Parasite,
You who commandeth the nine million,
You who commandeth the seventy blasphemies,
You are made holy, an eater of souls!
I speak through the worms in the heart of The Just.
I will create a slaughterpen above the valleys,
I will create a place of injury and error!
Look with favor on these your servants who have fallen!
We hail them and offer them unto the Nothing.
We Name them, yet build them no monument.
They died as you died, in defense of Order.
Take them into your infernal legion,
Lest we all drown in the black that awaits the End of All Things.”

Recognizing them for experienced adventurers, Aram strips their bodies of valuables as he recites the last rites, lest any thing of power be cast to the chaos that lies in the watery depths.

Thrall hears the prayer of Aram and feels a little nausea coming up. He doesnt like what he hears but on the other side, any prayer for the dead that does not raise them should be ok….the pilfering is also not very comforting. He also starts to pray to heal the rest of the wounded.

Durell runs to the rear of the ship and scans the waters for signs of the captain or any others (especially Featherdalemen) that may have been split off from the main ship. Depending on what he sees, Durell will either look for rope or downed and unburned sailcloth to try to throw to a ship’s captain that knows how to swim, or will drop his staff and doff his quiver and will dive in to save a potentially sinking dwarf.

Scanning the water, Durell spots the captain floating not far from the ship. He is supported by a chunk of driftwood from the broken rail, but appears to be unconscious. Several corpses from the battle, and some lost livestock also float in the water, but no other passengers have gone overboard.

Soon the fires have been extinguished, but the ship has been severely damaged. Without rudder or sails, Valkur’s Wake drifts lazily through the night, driven only by the lapping of waves against its hull.

As Durell hauls the unconscious captain back on deck, the remaining crew hazard lighting a few lamps and scan the waters around the ship for other survivors. One crewman pulls a crossbow off of a fallen pirate and begins systematically putting the floundering animals out of their misery, as the ship lacks winch or tack for getting them back aboard.

Soon the waters are filled with dead animals and the smoldering remains of cargo. Much has been lost. As Aram and Thrall make the rounds, healing the injured and sending the dead on to their final rest, the settlers, practical folk that they are, follow Aram’s example in stripping the bodies of weapons, armor, and anything else valuable before tossing them into the sea.

Aram turns to Durell. “I also have no need of these weapons, but your friends,” he waves a hand at the farmers, “might do well to arm and armor themselves. Phlan is a treacherous place from all I hear, and you won’t be able to keep them all safe on your own.” He looks meaningfully at the dead bodies, settlers and pirates alike, strewn across the deck. “For myself, one of these rings and one of the potions seems fair, plus perhaps the large gem which would more than cover wagons and supplies for the expedition I am planning. Beyond that I would suggest we leave the weapons, armor, and cash to get the peasantry back on their feet — given how much they’ve lost in the attack.”

Thrall, “You are absolutely right, Aram. The settlers need their protection and the extra coin to get their new life started.”

“We need to give the orc also his last rites….. but we will get to him later. First things first. "
Thrall tries to revive the captain.

The captain appears to have taken a serious blow to the head when he was blasted overboard. Thrall is able to patch up the wound, but his skull appears to be at least partially fractured — he is not in any immediate danger, but remains comatose.

Durell: "If no one wants the armor and weapons, I am sure that either the settlers can choose to use them, or, at the worst, attempt to sell them and use the proceeds for whatever they need. “As for me, I would only ask for the Ioun Stone and/or the proficient Broadsword, also to give to the settlers (preferably whoever lost the most livestock, to prevent starvation). (I’d really like to give the sword to the youth who stepped up to aid us. If he can lift it, at least he’ll know how to use it in the future). Other items could be useful, but I would gladly yield them to my new brothers in arms. In fact, in my sea chest I happen to have an enchanted set of Brigandine armor that was passed down to me, but is too restrictive for my use. I would gladly give it as a ‘swap’ for the Elven Chain, if others were agreeable”

“Aye,” Aram says, looking at the eager and strapping lad who served as Durrel’s weapons-caddy. “Give him the sword, and armor too. It shouldn’t be too much trouble for us to train him up into a semi-competent fighter in his own right. And by all means, if you can use the mail, take it.”

The boy’s eyes go wide when he is offered the sword. “Really, Mr. Bulwark? I can fight with you?!” He swings the sword a couple times, the magical blade guiding his strokes and making him look like an expert. He sheathes it and takes the offered brigandine. It’s big, but he is broad-shouldered and long-limbed for a thirteen-year-old, so it only takes a few adjustments of the straps to make it fit adequately. The other youths, all a bit younger than him, ooh and ah as he gets outfitted.

“See,” Aram says, “he looks a proper warrior already.” He turns to the kobold, ogre, and tentacle-haired woman, “Is there anything here that you would claim as a memento of our battle? You did just as much, if not more, than we to repel our attackers.” He turns back to the eager youth, “What’s your name, boy?”

Durell grins in appreciation of the attention his “assistant” has garnered. He leans in close to the boy and whispers: “Where are your parents? They might not like having their son pressed into fighting. I’ll talk to them.” He then steps back and appreciates the skill with which the sword allows and enables itself to be used.

“M’name’s Eddie, sir,” the boy responds. He shrugs and shifts in the armor, getting used to the weight and testing how much it allows him to move. “My Ma and Da are back in Featherdale,” he says to Durell, then points to a comely, curvaceous woman in her mid-thirties perhaps, wearing a plain homespun dress, who appears to be trying to wrangle the llama. “I’m traveling with me aunt.”

Using his innate animal empathy, Durell will go and attempt to calm the llama, and introduce himself to Eddie’s aunt. He’ll ask about the “how and why” of the aunt and her nephew leaving the rest of the family in Featherdale, and move to New Phlan. Specifically, he’ll press for what the aunt expects from Eddie, and how his latest “baptism by fire” into adventuring is going over.

“Oh, thank ye,” she says as Durell calms the animal. With the pen in the rear destroyed, she loops a rope over the llama’s neck and ties it off to the fallen mast. “I’m hoping to start a new life in Phlan,” she explains, “you see I…” she stops and goes a little red. “Well, I didn’t have much luck back home, so I’m hoping a new start in a new place will set things right. My brother said that I shouldn’t be traveling alone, so he sent his eldest, Eddie, along to help me get settled and help around the house. Though, Eddie’s always had a bit of a spirit to him, I don’t really think he’s really meant to be helping out an old spinster like me…”

Meanwhile, the Ogre and the others join Aram in pouring over the pile of loot.

“Hmmm,” the ogre, Osakh, remarks. “All of these are too small to be of any use to me, save the stone,” he points to the ioun stone. “Give me that, and the rest is yours.”

The kobold, with sniffling noises and tears streaming down his cheeks, picks through the pile and pulls out the amulet and the silver pick. “These…w…were,” he sniffles. “These were Delphia’s.” You see he is already clutching the burned and battered neck of his accompanist’s violin.

A tentacle snakes out from under the woman’s robes towards the pile and picks up the ring of mindshielding. “This,” she says simply. Then, seemingly as an after-thought, “and a share of the coin. This voyage may have been advertised as free, but I am less liquid than I might wish.”

Aram picks up the two remaining rings, “Did you have a preference Thrall?”

“Anyone will do”. Thrall looks a bit absent minded and tired.

Aram hands Thrall the Ring of Protection, since it looks like he needs it, and hands him the unclaimed Potion of Fire Resistance as well. He then slips the healing potion to Durell, since he’s the only one of us that can’t cast spells, keeping the last ring and the potion of polymorph for himself. He picks up the dagger and hands this to Durell as well, “I understand there are many creatures that can only be harmed by magic, if you do not have such a weapon, you may want to have this in your back pocket, so to speak.”

Aram makes the rounds on deck, making sure the last of the injured are dealt with and the surviving cargo and animals are secured. He then turns to the four pirates that were left alive. “Hey Osakh,” he calls to the Ogre as he walks over to confront them.

“Good sirs,” he says, staring the pirates down as best he can with an old man’s dimples and laughing eyes. “I’m sure you understand the situation you’re in,” he gestures to the fourty-odd bodies of their fellows floating in the Wake’s wake, then gives a little nod in the direction of the ogre. “You clearly chose the wrong life-path, when you embraced a lawless life of piracy. This is your chance to make amends, a bit, for the error of your past ways. We currently sail towards Phlan — though I use the term sail loosely — and this ship is under-staffed. Phlan offers general amnesty to all those who would aid their city. If you can help us get this ship ship-shape, and get these people safely to Phlan, you will have a clean record once you step in the city, a clean start for a new life. OR…” he says dramatically, “you can choose not to help us, and I can ask my friend here,” he again indicates the Ogre, “to tear your limbs off and throw you to the sharks as just reprisal for the harm that you’ve caused…”

The four pirates fall to their knees in front of the scary, smiling old man and his ogre compatriot. “Aye! Aye! Aye!” they all say, “We’ll help you get to land safely…we’re sorry…please don’t eat us!”

Surveying what’s left of the ship, now without a conscious captain, Durell asks out loud – presumably to his new fighting partners, but potentially to anyone that hears, including the gods: “Excuse me, but are we to leave the Minotaur alone in the midst of our attackers? Is there any way we can provide locomotion to this floating raft now to attempt to assist?”

One of the deck-hands, a hobgoblin, who has been inspecting the dropped mast overhears Durell and turns in his direction. “Indeed, sir. The mast appears to be un-damaged, we’ll just need to hoist it back into place and rig a new sail.”

“Oi, mister optimist,” A bald dwarven hand chimes in. “The spare sail was stashed aft! It’s ash now! An’ we slashed all the lines, so we’re talkin’ days of riggin’ even if we had a sail.”

“Can we commandeer cloth?” The hobgoblin asks. “We’re less than 10 nauts out from Phlan, we should be able to limp in as long as we can catch any amount of wind.”

“I would offer my cloak, but that could turn out very badly. But,” Aram looks around at the corpses, “we’ve still got some dead pirates to strip, and we could fish a few more out of the water. If we take all their clothes, there should be plenty of cloth.”

Aram walks over to the mast. “But first,” he crouches and puts his arms under one side, “Osakh, can you help us get this thing raised and bolted back into place?”

Osakh grabs the mast opposite Aram. Soon the hobgoblin, several of the farmers, and the four pirates have joined and with a mighty shove the mast is hoisted back to a vertical position, and the bolts shoved back into place by the dwarven hand. “Fine!” the dwarf grumbles, “yous start strippin’ clothes and I’ll start sewin’…”

Uncomfortable with “life adrift”, Durell realizes there is little he can do at the moment. He does approach Eddie’s Aunt and asks her: “I don’t want to assume anything, but by the look of your wonderful dress, I am guessing you are no stranger to needle and thread. Might we get your help with stitching together a makeshift sail to get us to our destination”

Pending her answer, he will either escort her to where the sail is being put together, and then head toward the newly re-erected mast and look for a crow’s nest, if there had been one and if it survived the skirmish. If so, he will make an attempt to climb/shinny up the mast to “take watch”, specifically trying to understand the direction the currents are taking us, looking for the ship the Minotaur boarded as well as the “new third ship”.

Like most of the passengers, Eddie’s aunt, Jeyne, is still much too wired from their present situation to even think of sleeping and readily joins Nat in attempting to stitch together a makeshift sail, thanking Durell for giving her something “useful” to do to “take her mind off of things”.

Valkur’s Wake’s small, single mast is not large enough to support a crow’s nest, and the rigging has all be cut away — though Durell thinks he might be able to perch on the boom or spreaders, at least until the makeshift sail needs to be hung.

Shimmying up the mast, though, Durell finds he cannot make out anything of use. With the time it has taken to deal with the fires and the bodies, and the descent of night, all three of the other ships are long gone, as far as Durell can tell.

“Well,” Aram says, “it looks like we’re going to be here a while. I’m going to give these old bones a rest…” He puts down his large pack and finds a place to sit, resting his back against the port gunnel, then removes his crown and coif, setting them beside him, but doesn’t bother doffing his mail. “I’m just going to doze a bit. Don’t hesitate to kick me awake if anything’s happening.”

He is soon snoring quite loudly.