Ruins of Adventure

Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 7
In which the Paladin's composure is shattered...by a skeleton...

GM

With the two outriders scouting around, you are able to find a safe campsite, and have no further issues in transit to it. The other side of the bridge runs to a clearly defined, half-paved road, running through a surprisingly dense forest. About two hundred yards from the river, you find a place that has clearly been used by previous traveling parties. A side trail, wide enough for the wagon, has been cut to a small clearing, about fifty feet off the road. The canopy of the surrounding trees provides decent coverage against being spotted from the sky, though the fact that the trees seem to move more than the wind would indicate is a little disconcerting. Stones have been piled around the edge of the clearing, forming a wall about two-feet high, and a stone fire-pit in the center shows signs of recent use. There is even a small feed-plot, providing extra grain for the animals. You are kind of surprised that it is not already in use when you arrive, but, given that it is just getting dark, and is pouring rain, you suspect that most travelers would probably have pressed on into the city, probably by the more easily navigable eastern bridge. Aside from the tracks of other travelers, there are no signs of predators or or threats.

As you pull into the clearing, Rant hops down from the wagon and unhitches the worn-out oxen. Teldicia starts rummaging through the stores you purchased at Jerome’s looking for tarps, stakes, and other necessities.

Lyra

Lyra helps Teldicia dig out the tent, blankets, sleeping bags, tarp, tinderbox, and cooking supplies. “What do we want to fix for supper?”

Carrying the cookpots over to the fire pit, Lyra looks around. “If all the caravans camp in the same place, won’t those who make a living raiding them know exactly where to look for them? If we’re setting watch I’ll be of more use after a few hours of rest.”

Donovan

Donovan looks at Lyra, somewhat surprised by her travel-savvy, “A watch? That’s a good idea, glad someone thought of it. I was just planning on getting a bite and going to sleep…” He grins sheepishly. “What’s the best way to do that? There are six of us, plus Amara, and everyone needs to get some sleep, Do we just take shifts?” He goes into the back of the wagon and starts looking through the food stores. “I need close to two hours in the morning to study, prepare my spells, and identify that shield, so if we’re doing shifts I can take the last one—though I guess I could do some of that on the road if someone else can drive.”

Lyra

Lyra shrugs. “I’m not really sure about the details. Mother travelled quite a bit before she settled down in Waterdeep, and was cautious to find something off the main paths, but not so poorly travelled as it had its own dangers, on our way here. She had no shortage of warnings on the dangers of travel and being caught unaware.”

Frantiska

Frantiska scans the forest once more before dismounting,and beginning to remove Thistledown’s tack. She carefully piles her saddle and gear underneath of the wagon so that they can dry out a little, and leaves Thistledown loose to graze. She then starts scouring the surrounding forest, especially near the trunks of broad-leaf trees and low-lying shrubs for caches of dried leaves, twigs, and other potentially dry tinder and kindling to get a fire started.

GM

Desite the rain and inexperience on the part of several of you, you manage to get the camp pitched with relative ease. Frantiska manages to scrounge a few handfuls of relatively dried leaves to use as kindling, but creating a fire during a thunderstorm is still quite difficult. Finally Hurd, used to a nomadic lifestyle, suggests what his tribe often did, which is to re-pitch the tent over the fire-pit to keep the rain off. Thirty minutes later you are all huddled under the tarp around a merry little blaze. The two oxen and Hrud’s sturdy pony are tethered grazing in the glade nearby, watched over by the unusually intelligent and steady warhorse. Rant collects some rainwater and treats you to a simple, yet filling soup of chickpeas, onions, and mushrooms—the fruits of his labor volunteering in the slums. By the time supper has ended, everyone is feeling a little better—even Hrud’s headache has dissipated. After two hours the storm finally blows over and you are treated to about of half-hour of daylight before you turn in for the night, serenaded by the host of insects, frogs, and night-birds emerging after the rain.

During the middle watch of the night, Hrud is awaked by the sound of a snapping twig, startlingly loud against the sudden silence of the forest around you. The fire is still burning and Frantiska sits staring at it, appearing oblivious as if asleep despite being upright with her eyes open.

Hrud

Hrud, who was sleeping in his bedroll by the fire, takes a moment to register the noise. Then, realizing what he heard, quickly rolls to his feet with sword in hand, his back to the fire. Scanning the darkness for movement, he shouts, “Sampeyan ora dijupuk kula maneh, asu-pasuryan!”

Donovan

Donovan, sleeping on an extra trap spread out underneath the wagon so as to stay dry while also not subjecting the others to his snoring, starts awake at Hrud’s shout and hits his head on an axle. He jolts back to the ground and curls up, groaning before half-crawling, half-rolling out from under the thing. “What’s all the noise for?” he asks in drawled tones, between yawns, his eyes only half-opened.

GM

Hrud hears another twig snap, followed by the sound of footsteps converging on your camp from the south and west.

Hrud

Back still to the fire, Hrud moves to face southwest, sliding his sword into his belt and taking up his shortbow as he does so. He knocks and arrow and prepares to fire.

Lyra

The thud against the wagon axle and Hrud’s shouting rouses Lyra. She motions for Amara to remain quiet and picks up her bow, quiver and broadsword.

Sword safely on her hip, she strings her bow and tries to stay out of sight near the pile of statues in the chariot, looking out the front and rear of the wagon for signs of attacker or ally.

Frantiska

The shouting slowly tears Frantiska from her reverie. Continuing to sit, very still, on the ground, she slowly looks around, scanning the perimeter of the camp for evil.

Donovan

Donovan groggily moves over next to Hrud, “What’s going on?” he asks, then says “Oh, nevermind,” suddenly remembering who he’s talking to. He draws a small, thin stiletto from his belt and endeavors to keep his eyes open as he waits for whatever it is that has Hrud on alert.

GM

Brother Rant continues to lie on his bedroll under the tarp, though his eyes are wide open and alert and his hand is on his mace. «Friend Hrud,» he whispers, «what do you see?» In a bedroll on the opposite side of the fire, Teldicia makes a small snort and rolls over. Hrud hears more footsteps from the darkness, at least two men, maybe three, and Frantiska senses a faint but persistent malignance, an evil not strong, but so ingrained as to be instinctual, almost unthinking.

Donovan

“Ok, I heard that!” Donovan blinks a few times to clear the sleep from his eyes and try to focus his vision into the infrared. He takes a half-step forward and to the side, getting closer to Hrud and making sure his back is to the fire.

GM

To your heat-sensitive vision the woods appear teaming with life, the trees are full of sleeping birds and squirrels, you spot several nests of mice, rabbits, or similar small rodents nearer to ground level. The area where the sounds are coming from, however, contains nothing that you can see, not so much as a single mouse or drowsing sparrow.

Donovan

Donovan takes another step back, squints his eyes against the fire, and turns to Brother Rant. “There is nothing out there. Literally nothing. The forest in the area where the sounds are coming from looks like it’s completely dead. . . . . .Oh shit!” He sheaths the stiletto and almost runs for the front of the wagon to retrieve the third green sword from under the driver’s bench. “Undead incoming!” he yells, trying to make sure the girls are also awake, and confident that any element of surprise does not matter a wiff.

Lyra

At that, Lyra heads to the back of the wagon to have a look around. “Do we know what kind, and how far away?” Lyra picks up her cloak where it had been draped over a statue to dry, and carefully arranges it over her dress, the soft glow of an armor spell obvious in the darkness.

GM

On queue, three humanoid forms burst from the underbrush. The first, moving the fastest is completely skeletal, devoid of all flesh, but caked with black-mud. It leaps over the low stone perimeter and runs with swift, but jerky, strides into the clearing, a similarly mud-caked, dull-looking shortsword raised for the attack. The second runs hunched-over, its long, clawed fingers almost dragging the ground. It looks feral, its eyes blazing red, its hair long and matted with dirt, and its body covered with leathery, mummified flesh. It hops, animal-like up onto the wall and waits there, crouched and ready to pounce. The last lumbers slowly out of the trees, its bloated, rotten flesh hanging loosely from its from, a massive two-handed hammer held low, clutched tightly in hands that look like they might drop off from the weight of the thing.

Donovan

Donovan grabs the broadsword and spins, clutching it awkwardly in two hands. Not knowing what else to do, he hefts the sword over his head and charges the zombie with the hammer, since it looks like the slowest and weakest.

Frantiska

Frantiska springs to a standing position, drawing two shortswords from her boots. She leaps between the skeleton and the girls in the wagon, one silvered blade ready to block its attack and the other ready to counter. “Donovan, no! Stay close! They’re less dangerous if we stick together…”

Lyra

Lyra still grips the edge of the canvas tightly, although she no longer needed it to steady herself as she steps around the chariot. She scans the surroundings for signs of the threat. A skeleton. A zombie. For the briefest of moments, her eyes met the wight’s. The bow slips from her grip, forgotten, clattering against the chariot. She screams until her throat is raw and she’s gasping for breath.

Hrud

Hrud, perceiving the clawed, feral-looking abomination to be the most dangerous of the three, lets fly with this shortbow.

Frantiska

Standing there, ready for the attack, Frantiska stares at the skeleton, as if there is something familiar about it. Hearing Lyra’s scream, the realization dawns on her, that is my sword! It had to be, the skeleton charging at her was carrying Sir Guy’s Spoon! Suddenly the memories of the last day come flooding back uncontrollably—the girl being raped, the executions, the lecherous dwarf, the rain, the weir, the water…the black water…

She gasps, choking, striving for air. She looks at the mud caking the skeleton. The black water. She gasps. That was almost me. I was in that mud. She gasps again, so hard to breath, she thinks.

She hears Lyra screaming in the background, I…can’t…breath…

She struggles for air. She can feel the water filling her lungs, her vision going black. She gasps one more time, then lets out an ear-piercing shriek, perfectly matched in tone and volume with Lyra’s, as if in stereo. Her paladin’s composure broken, her legs buckle. She looks at the skeleton one last time…

…and RUNS!

GM

Seeing Lyra and Frantiska melting down, Amara adds her own high-pitched note to the chorus of screaming. The blaring noise finally getting through, Teldicia rolls over, stuffs her fingers in her ears, and sits up, looking around utterly confused, “؟ چه همه که سر و صدا است!” she yells, in a language that is somehow painful to hear.

Ready for the incoming creatures, Hrud stands his ground and unleashes a flurry of arrows at the feral-looking abomination. Three of the four strike home, right in the thing’s center of mass, but seem to bounce harmlessly off its leathery hide without leaving a mark of any kind.

Frantiska spins on her heels to run, but is struck in the back by the fast-moving skeleton with a strong downward stab. The point of its blade slams into her back with enough force to knock her to the ground, not piercing her skin, but hurting like a blazing iron. She slumps limply to the ground.

Brother Rant leaps to his feet, mace in one hand, and shoves his holy symbol into the skeleton’s face. “THE POWER OF TYR COMPELS YOU!” he says in a bold voice, clearly unfazed by the undead creatures’ presence. Of course, it soon becomes clear that they are equally unfazed by his.

Donovan crashes upon the zombie, swinging wildly with the magical broadsword. Despite having his head turned away, trying not to look at the disgusting, rotting corpse, he feels the blade cut deep. With a sickening tearing noise, the thing’s left arm falls away at the elbow, thumping onto the ground taking the huge hammer with it.

The feral red-eyed thing stays crouched on the wall, watching the chaos intently with what looks like a smile.

Lyra

Lyra’s scream cuts off abruptly as Frantiska slumps to the ground. “No. Not again. YOU LEAVE HER ALONE.” She staggers out of the wagon, reaching out with her powers as she moves to protect Frantiska’s prone form.

Donovan

Donovan stands there holding the sword, mouth agape for a moment, amazed that he hit, let alone severed the things arm completely. He lets out a whoop and begins singing in his best death-metal growl as he gleefully hacks at the thing again.

Dancing round the bonfire as they weave their witchery
Disembrained bodies coming back from the dead
Disembowelled hands take the brains from your head
Because once you look into their eyes
You’ll see their faces is full of worms
A heap of guts in clever disguise
Their aim to make you zombified

No! (No!) It can’t be you, you’re dead! (Dead!)
No! (No!) You can’t bury me, I’m alive! (Alive!)

Lusting for treasure and killing for wealth
Enslaving the natives and toasting your health
Drums of the voodoo gods are sounding out in the swamp
Resurrection ritual, it’s you that they want
Once you look into their eyes you’ll soon become a ghoul of gore
Zombies teach cannibals to be afraid
They’re cruel like never before

Approaching the plantation at the setting of the sun
Now you’ll see before your eyes what voodoo rites have done
Retiring to your mansion to count your wealth once more
Fingernails will scratch the pine as you’re throwing back the door to say…

Frantiska

Frantiska feebly tries to crawl away, clawing at the dirt with her fingernails, but finds she does not have the strength. She croaks quietly, “Help…the water…drowning…can’t…breath…must…escape…”

Hrud

Hrud drops the bow, frustrated that his arrows had no effect. Drawing the Fang of Mace from his belt, he stalks over to the smirking creature and, with a mighty roar, swings with all his might.

GM

There is a shudder in the ground beneath the skeleton as bits of dirt and sod vanish to be replaced by a doorway to nothingness. Lyra and Rant get a brief glimpse of the ground far below as the skeleton plummets through the hole, tumbling end over end, and vanishes.

On the other side of the clearing, Donovan strikes up a song and lashes out at the zombie again, scoring a vicious blow. Hrud rushes up beside him, swinging at the wight perched on the wall nearby. Just as he is preparing to swing, the skeleton, still spinning lands, sword first, right on the head of his quarry. The impact of the magic shortsword caves in the wights skull, and the impact with the ground sends pieces of skeleton flying in every direction. Unable to stop his swing, Hrud spins with the follow through, the long reach of his blade just missing Donovan, but cleaving right through the zombie’s neck and upraised arm, sending both extremities sailing splattering into the nearby trees.

The three creatures apparently defeated, Rant drops to his knees and says a prayer of healing over Frantiska. Teldicia looks at all the fuss, sees that it is over, rolls back over and is quickly sound asleep.

For a few brief moments more, the zombie stands there twitching, headless and unarmed, then falls over and ceases to move.

Donovan

Donovan finishes his song, then strikes his best ‘mighty warrior’ pose—arms above his head, sword upraised, muscles [all 8 of them] flexed, one foot planted on the zombie’s chest. He pumps his hands in the air a few times to congratulate himself on actually hurting something with a weapon. When he notices that no one else is congratulating him, he sheepishly puts his arms down, wipes the sword off, then turns his attention to the giant hammer the thing dropped. He kicks the thing’s hand away from it and tries to pick it up, gripping it up by the head, away from where the zombie was holding it, and closer to the center of mass.

GM

The hammer is designed like a war-hammer, having a long hook behind the striking head, almost like a pick-axe, and a long spike off the top, but the head is easily twice as big and the handle half-again as long, giving it reach comparable to a longsword. The hammer is much lighter than it looks, and Donovan is able to heft it with no problems. As he picks up the hammer, the head of the hammer begins to glow with a clean, blue light, bright enough that it illuminates the entire camp.

Donovan

Donovan strikes his victory pose again, this time with the magical sword in one hand and the obviously magical hammer in the other.

Lyra

Lyra sits down heavily in the wet grass next to Frantiska, eyes wide and shoulders shaking, staring blankly at the ground where the skeleton stood. Her voice was soft, her mind clearly elsewhere. “Will she be alright?”

GM

As Donovan stands there on the zombie’s chest, the zombie’s head slowly rolls back from the woods until it is staring right at him and moans, “We are for you. We will be back…”

Donovan

Donovan lets out a scream that would do a horror-film school girl proud, then begins hitting the head over and over with the hammer until it is a fine, pulpy mess.

When he is sure that the zombie is not going to talk to him anymore, Donovan starts poking through the pile of corpse-pieces for other valuables.

GM

You find no jewelry, armor, or other valuables on the bodies. However, as you search, your trained eye notices that the funerary wrappings on the wight are covered with slightly faded magical script, almost like someone had transcribed a spellbook or scroll onto the shroud before interring the body.

Donovan

Donovan looks distastefully at the feral corpse’s smashed head, then at the gore-stained wrappings. He sighs and shrugs, “It’s been a weird night anyways, might as well get to it.” He sets down the weapons, rolls the body over, and begins carefully unwinding the rags.

Hrud

Hrud spends a moment poking at the remains of the undead, on the off chance there was still some spark of unlife in the ruined forms. Finally loosing interest, he walks over to the wagon and grabs a handful of arrows [5 silver arrows] to replace the ones he’d used up to this point. The fact that the tips are different from the ones he’d used up to the point isn’t lost on the barbarian. Slowly, his mind begins to put one and one together – different arrows for different foes – that’s why his initial attack had no effect …

As the others go about the business or looting and/or recovering the encounter, Hrud takes another five arrows from his quiver, and, sitting down by the fire, dips them into one of the vials of river sludge. After coating the tips he sets them to dry on the warm ring of rocks circumscribing the firepit. Arrows for the undead, arrows for the living … and regular arrows for food. But what would happen if he accidentally mixed them up? Deciding it would be a good idea to differentiate which arrows are which, he stains the fletchings of one subset with ash the other with some damp redish clay around the campsite.

Frantiska

As Rant’s spell takes effect and the strength returns to her limbs, Frantiska immediately resumes crawling away as quickly as possible. She crawls alternately panting, gasping, and crying, then scrambles, rising, then breaks into a run, leaping the low wall and disappearing into the forest.

Lyra

Lyra rises and walks over to Donovan, her lilting elven unusually shaky. «Teldicia just spoke Baatezu, and cast darkness with neither word nor component earlier. And those things…. Its eyes were full of hatred, and the promise of something worse than death.»

Donovan

Donovan looks at Lyra’s red-rimmed eyes, «Just wait til you see what that thing had written on its clothes,» he bundles up the wrappings and shoves them into his pack. He then looks startled as Frantiska resumes her running, apparently oblivious to her concerned friends tending her. “Should we go after her?”

Donovan is just getting ready to run after the elf-maiden when he stops, suddenly realizing what Lyra was saying. «So the reason Teldicia doesn’t speak elvish is that she’s a devil-in-elf’s-clothing? I guess that would explain the extra-large yabos too…» He looks intrigued. «Do you think she’s maybe one of those temptress devils?…» He zones out for a moment, then snaps back to attention, «Oh, right, Frantiska. Time to go rescue the third of our lovely traveling companions…» He takes off running.


Meanwhile a few hundred yards away…

Hrud

For some reason, Frantiska suddenly have a very vivid mental impression of Hrud talking to her in her native tongue, despite not seeing or hearing him. “Where are you going?”

Frantiska

Frantiska stops dead in her tracks. «What?!» she says aloud. She looks around frantically. She recognizes Hrud’s voice, but can’t see him. Selune! I must be going insane! I’m imagining the barbarian’s voice in my head. He can’t speak elvish. She screams and starts running again. Selune! Why can’t this day just end…

Hrud

“Not elvish. Not speaking at all. Mind-talking.” You get the impression of a thought derailed and sudden curiosity – not so much oblivious to Frantiska’s terror, as unable to comprehend it – “Selune …” Another impression of waiting, as if waiting for another to arrive, “I wonder if could hear her through you?”

Frantiska

Her mind is filled with images from the past twenty-four hours, juxtaposed upon each other chaotically. Orcs with their man-parts hanging out, flaunting their violent, sexual nature at her. Tidal waves of black sludge crashing down upon her. A girl, battered, and bloodied, her sacred parts mutilated by the foul touch of men. Drowning. A tower crumbling and falling into a lake of utter darkness. Drowning. A dwarf with piercing blood-red eyes staring at her, through her. Donovan, his face a grotesque mockery of desire, his hands reaching for her. Drowning, always drowning. An ancient and decadent city, awash in blood and filth, water and fire, black and crawling with verminous men.

The images quickly become replaced with a sense of nakedness, exposure, violation. Instead of the girl, it is she who lies battered and exposed. Instead of the orcs it is Hrud, forcing himself upon her, violating the sanctity of her mind. Fear wells up, greater than before, accompanied by rage, righteous fury at having been so violated. She stops running. She stands panting with exertion, her rage building. «Get out of my head!» she screams aloud.

She turns and begins walking purposefully back towards the campsite, her head now filled with images of her cold-cocking Hrud yesterday. Images of her slaying dozens of kobolds with her arrows. Images of hacking fish-things from the air. Images of her strength, the power to meet out vengeance. She walks back towards the camp her mind filling with the desire to destroy her enemies. The enemy. The one who could violate her so fully. She smiles as she walks back, her mouth changing from a rictus of terror to the calm smile of one who has made a decision. She draws her longsword and talks to herself as she walks, a bit of poetry perhaps, a thing to focus her mind on the task ahead.

“Love no god, that would not extend her might, only where
qualities were level; Selune queen of virgins, that
would suffer her poor knight surprised, without
rescue in the first assault or ransom afterward.
This she delivered in the most bitter touch of
sorrow that e’er I heard virgin exclaim…”


Back at the camp…

Hrud

“Enteni!” Hrud calls after Donovan. “«Rant, Frantiska is coming back, but she is confused and angry»”, he says, turning to the cleric. Then, completely without irony, adds, “«Her head is messed up».”

Lyra

At Hrud’s shout, Lyra looks up, from where she realized she’d been staring at the shattered ruin of three undead. She looks over to Rant. “What did he say?” When she hears his translation, she pales, trembling. “What did he do?”

Donovan

Donovan looks back, trying to make out what Hrud and Rant are shouting, and trips over the low perimeter wall in the process. As he disentangles himself, he finally catches on to what is being said. “She’s what?!”

Hrud

Rant translates, “«I asked her where she was going».” After a moment’s thought, Hrud adds, “«Maybe she wanted to be alone»?”

Lyra

Lyra wrapped her cloak around her tightly. “You can’t just do that to people, it isn’t right!” She hadn’t known that either when she first came into her powers, but she had been very young. She didn’t know a lot of things then, but she learned. And so must he.

Hrud

Hrud gets to his feet in a huff, giving the impression not of a raging barbarian, but of a hormonally-imbalanced teenager, “«I didn’t even know I could do it until yesterday. Teldicia was all like ’it’s about time’ when I contacted her. And you didn’t say anything to me about it after I made us all incredibly rich.»”

Hrud sees Rant doing his best to not simply keep up with the rambling diatribe, but to allow for the various cultural and linguistic differences in their languages.

“«You don’t know what it’s like to be surrounded by people you can’t talk to – and who look down on you because of it, not that they weren’t already (Don’t act like you don’t think you’re better than us). And suddenly, when I find out that I can communicate, Frantiska goes insane and you start lecturing me on how I’m doing it wrong! If I had a choice in the matter, I wouldn’t even be here right now.»”

Frantiska

As Donovan recovers from tripping over the wall, he look up to see Frantiska, about as disheveled as the elven woman could possibly appear, with red-rimmed eyes, still-soaked hair, and the old black cloak belted around her as her only clothing, stalking towards him, a longsword held loose and ready in her left hand. She whispers as she walks, “Love no god, that would not extend her might…”

Lyra

“You found out you can communicate, and when I resisted because I wasn’t expecting it, you pushed through anyway! Most people can’t even do that much. Do you have any idea how that feels?!” Lyra stopped abruptly, deliberately slowing her breathing until the heat passes. “You don’t even realize how dangerous this is, to yourself, or others. Touching either of our minds after that, you’re lucky you’re not insane yourself!”

Hrud

“«Resisted? I don’t …»” Hrud starts to argue, when he catches sight of Frantiska bearing appearing by Donovan. “«Don’t attack!»” he shouts.

Frantiska

Her eyes scan the clearing, falling on Hrud, burning with intensity, “only where qualities were level…” She looks right past Donovan as is he did not exist, steps over the wall and stops, hearing Lyra’s words. “After that? Insane?” she whispers to herself. She throws down the sword, turns towards Hrud and charges, her hands beginning to glow.

Donovan

Apparently spared, rather than getting up, Donovan scrambles behind the low wall and lies down, hoping that Frantiska won’t notice him when she’s finished with Hrud.

GM

Hrud quiets and stares at Frantiska, concentrating, sweat beading on his forehead. Frantiska clears the distance in a few bounds and…

Frantiska

Frantiska swings, but instead of hitting Hrud, her arms go around his neck. The cold, white light from her hands spreads and encompasses his entire body, filling him with a sense of well-being, and she kisses him full on the lips.

Lyra

Expecting the cure, but not the after effects, Lyra turns bright red and looks away. Rant being in that direction, she turns redder and stares at her boots.

GM

Hrud’s head suddenly explodes into pain, worse than any he’s felt before. His skin becomes hot, the veins in his head bulge and throb, his eyes go wide, and then his body relaxes. A small trickle of black liquid seeps from his ears.

Frantiska

Frantiska maintains the kiss until Hrud’s body relaxes, then pushes him sharply away and stalks back to the wagon without another word.

Hrud

Hrud slumps to his knees, completely stunned. Feeling his bedroll beneath him, he allows himself to fall over and curls up into a fetal position. Frantiska’s kiss, aside from the sudden onset of unexpected emotions it stirred up within him, had also cleansed him and stripped him of his new-found powers. The barbarian was now several orders of magnitude outside of his ability to comprehend or articulate everything that had happened to him in that split second. Rolling over so the others wouldn’t see his tears, Hrud lay there until the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion completely overtook him.

GM

As the yelling and the drama dies down, Rant walks over and helps Donovan to his feet. “I think it’s safe to come out now…”

Donovan

Donovan allows himself to be helped up. He thanks Rant and goes to collect the sword and hammer, putting both beneath the driver’s seat of the wagon. He mumbles “goodnight” to no one in particular and crawls back under the wagon to sleep off the events of the last several minutes. As he dozes off, he contemplates the buxom devil-ess on the other side of the fire and wonders how much souls were going for these days.

Lyra

Lyra heads back into the wagon and carefully unstrings her bow before curling back up in her sleeping bag. The disciplined breathing she’d been forcing herself to do for the last several minutes giving way to sobs.

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Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 6
In which the party finds a tower in the river...

GM

Just past the cemetery, the river running to your right begins to widen and then rejoins the main branch. An old broad-crested stone weir, with a tall tower in the middle divides the river into two, splitting it around the city. A high, stone footbridge runs from the weir-tower to the ancient walls of Veljevo Castle, though a fifty foot section of the middle of the bridge appears to have collapsed long ago. The water above the weir has pooled into a shallow retention pond, and the accumulation of pollutants behind the weir make the water a deep, greasy black, and makes the smell almost unbearable.

At the north end of the pond, where the river narrows again, is a relatively new-looking suspension bridge. The bridge is just wide enough for a wagon to cross, accessed by long wooden ramps, and held up by chains connecting to pilings driven into the ground about twenty feet on either side of the river, avoiding the foul-smelling black sludge of the river-banks. Even at the narrow point above the pond the river here is still very wide, such that you can just barely make out the far bank through the rain.

Donovan

Donovan glares at the ox, “Don’t cross me, Mr. Brisket, or I’ll make you live up to your new name.” He then sits back and lets the cows do their job, finally pulling the wagon to a stop by the bridge. He climbs down from the driver seat and looks up at the darkening sky, realizing that he has lost all track of time with the rain and the distractions from the cemetery and the hobgoblins. He walks over to the edge of the prairie and relieves himself in the grass, then returns to the back of the wagon. “I’m starving, and I doubt much of anything is going to bother us in this weather. Let’s have some lunch before we cross the river…”

Frantiska

Frantiska looks back at the cemetery as they ride away, trying to ignore the nagging sense that something is following them. When the wagon stops, she dismounts and cups her hands, taking a drink of the rainwater and releasing Thistledown to graze at the near-edge of the prairie. As the others start getting into the food, she wanders down for a closer look at the weir and the castle beyond it—though it requires all of her training and determination to not flee from the stench. She walks quite close to the edge of the river, stepping carefully to avoid the sucking black mud, and briefly considers wading out across the weir to check out the tower. Luckily, the thought of drowning in that disgusting black ooze wins out over her curiosity about the old ruins and she turns and walks back to the wagon instead.

Hrud

Hrud stands at the edge of the river, looking at the weir and the structure standing forlornly on the other side, his nomad spirit stirring within him. “«I’d like to see what’s in there.»” Turning back to the party sitting on the wagon, he asks “«Do we have any rope? I don’t think I need it, but better safe than sorry.»”

Frantiska

Frantiska grabs a rope and an oddly-ridged, heavy-headed arrow from her saddlebags. “Apakah kita melakukan ini?” she asks, walking back down to the weir. She gives Hrud a strange smile, as if somehow elated at the thought of wading across a disgustingly polluted stream and climbing a rickety old tower, and thankful that someone talked her into it, not that he had actually said anything of the kind. “No anchor on this side,” she says, tying the rope to the arrow. She strings her longbow and takes careful aim at a chink in the wall of the tower.

Donovan

Donovan sits at the back of the wagon, a hunk of cheese in one hand and a hunk of bread in the other. He takes a bite, then sighs when he sees Frantiska and Hrud playing down by the weir. “Hey!” he shouts, trying to be heard above the rain and the river, “Stay away from the water. That stuff will kill you!”

GM

The arrow bites deep into the old stone of the tower, and a few sharp tugs on the rope tell you that it is sufficiently secure. Brother Rant tosses a handful of nuts and dried fruit into his mouth, then ties a scarf around his face to guard against the stench before walking down to the weir. Teldicia comes behind him. “Are you two really going out there?” she asks, coughing and gagging a little. Rant looks at the rope, shrugs, grabs the end and walks as far away from the river bank as it allows, then kneels down, pulling it taught and bracing it.

Hrud

“«I don’t intend to drink it, Dawn-of-man»” Hrud says, as he gathers his two-handed spear. As he passes the Rant, he says, “«I have heard tale of clerics purifying food and water, is this something you can do?»”

Making his way to the rope pulled taught across the weir, the barbarian stands to the cleaner side and, looping his his arm around the rope, begins to walk across the weir, using the spear as necessary for balance or support.

GM

Rant nods, «Normally Tyr could do that for me, yes. But the water fro Barren River has resisted all attempts by our priests to cleanse it. Also, do not misconstrue Donovan’s words—even touching the black water is dangerous. People who have fallen into the river have suffered an amazing number of strange maladies and boats taken up-river may rot out within a day.» As Hrud steps onto the weir, Rant calls after him one more time, «Just be careful!»

Frantiska

Frantiska slings her bow back over her shoulder, takes hold of the rope, and edges her way out onto the weir behind Hrud.

Hrud

“«I will!»” Hrud calls back. However, as the makes his way further out, the smell, which was merely unpleasant from the side of the river, becomes almost tangible to the barbarian’s sensitive nostrils. ‘Maybe this was a bad idea …’ he thinks to himself, but refusing to loose face with the others – especially now that Frantiska has stepped out after him, Hrud presses forward, albeit a little more carefully than before.

GM

You slide across the weir, taking care not to get anything but the soles of your boots wet. When you are about half-way to the tower, you hear a horrible, piercing shriek. Immediately thereafter, two creatures come hurtling out of the black water of the pond, strait at Hrud and Frantiska’s heads. As they fly over, narrowly missing the both of you, you see what looks like a three-foot-long toad with a long, caudal tail, and a pair of flying-fish style wings instead of front legs. Their broad mouths are full of very sharp-looking teeth.

Frantiska

Frantiska reaches down and pulls Sir Guy’s Spoon from her boot. Maintaining a grip on the rope with her other hand, she slashes at the fish-thing flying overhead with the enchanted shortsword.

Donovan

Donovan heaves a giant sigh, “I just wanted some lunch…”. He hops down from the back of the wagon and runs down beside Rant, preparing to cast a sleep spell if more of the flying, frog-fish creatures should emerge from the murky waters of the pond.

Lyra

Lyra drops her apple core in the grass as she hops down from the wagon and picks up a quiver, bow already in hand. She nocks and draws, waiting for their next pass.

GM

As Hrud stands dazed and wincing at the horrible sounds, Frantiska rips the sword out of her boot-sheath and swings it in a high, arc over her head. The blow has enough force that it looks like it should have gutted the fish-thing, but instead lands solidly on the thing’s abdomen and sends it hurtling onto the bank where it lands with a dull thud and stops moving.

The second creature, sailing right past Hrud’s head, splashes into the water of the stream below the weir and then re-appears ready for another leap.

Lyra stands, feet planted pointing towards the river, gripping her bow tightly. She knocks and arrow and lets fly, the string snapping painfully against her forearm and the arrow fishtailing into the mud of the riverbank, nowhere near the fish-thing.

Teldicia starts to move when she sees the creature readying to leap from the water again, as if wanting to run down and help, but stops just shy of putting her bare feet in the muck at the edge of the river. Her forehead crinkles a bit and she stares at the water for a second before shouting, “Watch out, there are more of them, a LOT more!”

As if on queue, fifteen more of the creatures poke their slimy, toothsome heads above the surface, preparing to leap at Hrud and Frantiska. Donovan, apparently expecting such an event, throws a handful of sand towards the lake. You see five of the creatures suddenly go limp and begin to sink back into the water.

Hrud

Slashing wildly at anything that gets close, Hurd risks a glance back to the group standing on the shore. Nodding at the smelly sludge below him, he shouts “«Fire»!”

Frantiska

“Hrud, Saya pikir mereka mencoba untuk mengetuk kita di dalam air.” Frantiska gives Hrud a lite shove, “Dapatkan ke menara jika Anda akan,” then twines the rope around her wrist a few times to make sure she is secured. She lowers the dulled sword to a ready position and waits for them to jump.

Lyra

Lyra frowns, and adjusts her stance closer to what she’s seen Frantiska do.

Donovan

Donovan smiles as the creatures pass out, “Well, I did my part…”
Having used up most of his other options, he pulls out the hand crossbow and takes aim at the fish-thing on the down-river side.

GM

The remaining fish-things hurl themselves out of the water at Hrud and Frantiska. Donovan and Lyra’s arrows and bolts fly wildly from the shore, coming nowhere near to hitting the fast-flying creatures. Luckily, the creatures are no more accurate. Frantiska swats two of them out of mid-air with her shortsword. Hrud draws the green-bladed broadsword and opens another from the gills to the tail with a wild swing. The remainder land downriver with several large splashes.

As the things pass, Hrud begins inching his way further out onto the weir and shouts something. Rant, stills bracing the rope, shouts a translation for the others, “Hrud says to keep shooting!” At about the same time, the first fish-thing leaps up at Hrud from the lower stream, this time hitting him right at knee-level with its whole body. Hrud’s knees reflexively bend to absorb the blow, preventing any damage, but causing him to lose his footing on the slippery weir. The barbarian’s feet slide out from under him, and he finds himself submerged up to his waist in the pond, dangling with one arm still hooked over the rope.

Teldicia, still standing near the edge, looking skeptically at the water grumbles “Fuck it,” under her breath and then shouts at Rant, “Keep it tight!” She runs forward and jumps, landing upright with her feet planted on the rope and runs across it as if it were as solid and stable as yonder bridge out to Hrud and Frantiska.

Lyra

Lyra relaxes her shoulders a bit. It’s just velocity and angles, with teeth. Aim at where it will be, not where it is.

Frantiska

Frantiska looks between Hrud floundering in the water, Teldicia running across the tightrope, and the eight or so creatures getting ready to leap again. “Help him!” she yells to Teldicia, then lets go of the rope to get out of the girl’s way, pulls the pick-axe from her belt with her off-hand, turns and plants herself facing the down-river troop of fish-things, ready for another onslaught.

Hrud

Using the rope, Hrud scrambles back up on the weir, determined to make it to the far side.

Donovan

Donovan growls as his shot goes wide and reloads. “You know,” he says to no one in particular, “I actually have just the defensive spell for this situation prepared, it prevents physical contact by all manner of small, dumb creatures like this. Of course, it requires me to touch the subject to be protected, which doesn’t really help those three out there…” He moves a little closer to the river and levels his crossbow at the downstream cluster. “…unless, of course, I could reach through a hole in space-time to touch them…” he hazards a sidelong glance at Lyra.

Lyra

Lyra glances over to Donovan as she draws past her cheek. “It could also be used like a fishing net to strand those things on land, or bypass the river entirely. But it’s a little late for the latter, and the former would dump them right at our feet. Would you be able to ward all of them?”

Donovan

Donovan shakes his head, “Not really. Just one of them. Unless they were hugging each other…”

GM

Teldicia runs out the rope to where Hrud is dangling, hooks her ankles around it, and lets herself fall, catching the rope with one elbow and swinging so that she is hanging underneath of it by her legs and the one arm, her lithe back still a good foot above the water. She grabs Hrud’s wrist, at which point it becomes painfully obvious that he is much to heavy for her small arms to lift. But the slight added support makes it quite easy for Hrud get himself back to an upright position, despite the searing pain that suddenly shoots through his head.

Just as Hrud is standing up, the creatures leap again. Frantiska sidesteps closer to Hrud to intercept the things. Her pick catching one in the gill and whipping it sideways into a second, sending both flying back downstream. Sir Guy’s Spoon, comes down hard on the back of one’s neck with a horrible cracking sound. Two more are shot out of the air by Lyra, who looks just as surprised as the fish-things. The last two leaping from downstream fly wildly over the heads of the three now out on their weir. But…!

The one from the upstream side, the first to attack, and the largest, flies right over Hrud as he begins to stand and clips Frantiska in the back her head with its tail as it sails past, sending her sprawling face-first into the river below the weir. She vanishes underwater. Her head appears briefly allowing her to gasp a breath before the current from the hydraulic jump sucks her back under.

Frantiska

Frantiska claws her way to the surface, flailing about wildly in the water—made all the more wild by her attempts to keep a grip on her weapons. As her head breaches the surface, she manages to gasp out a cry of “THISTLEDOWN!” before being dragged back under. As she gets sucked down she regrets screaming and thinks that maybe she should have gulped a deep breath instead…

Lyra

Lyra pulls the corner of her cloak over her nose and mouth, the foul-smelling mud sucking at her boots as she approaches the bank. “Fish nets, eh?”

Donovan

Donovan drops the crossbow and tears open his pack, looking for another rope or the like to toss. All he finds is a roll of bandages--strong enough, he thinks, I just hope I am. He grabs the roll of bandages, ties on end around his crowbar to create a grip and give it enough weight for throwing. He hefts the heavy crowbar and gets a running start, ready to throw it as far downstream as he can. Then stops, dead in his tracks as a torrent of black water sprays out of the empty air beside him.

GM

With an explosive gush, the waters of the Barren River pour out onto the land. Hundreds of gallons pouring out onto the riverbank every second, mingling with the rain and eating a huge gouge in the already muddy and sodden ground on its way to rejoin the river. Donovan is forced to dance backwards as the ground by the doorway begins to dissolve away. You see one and then another of the fish-things splash out through the doorway, tumbled end over end by the rushing sluice. Then a much larger shape comes splashing out into the mud. Thinking quickly, Donovan tosses the crowbar and manages to hook Frantiska’s belt, though not without leaving a bad bruise on her back, before she is flushed back into the river. The force of the water yanks him off his feet and begins dragging him towards the gate himself…

Lyra

Frantiska safely through, Lyra ends the torrent as abruptly as it began, and backs away from the bank. Donovan won’t like finding out what’s on the other side.

Frantiska

Frantiska gasps and crawls blindly in the direction she assumes to be up, swimming through the muck, guided by the hook yanking on her pants until her hands contact something more distinctly solid, then collapses onto the muddy ground.

Hrud

Hrud starts to thrust the spear (pointy side up) down where Frantiska went under when he notices the eruption of foulness over on the shore. Seeing the elf woman alive and (relatively) safe, the barbarian decides that staying on the weir is certain death. The closest thing to him being the tower, he makes for it as fast as possible, looking for a way inside – hopefully before the chaos of the last few seconds dies down and brings the attention of the creatures back to him.

GM

The tower juts up from the center of the weir, some forty or fifty feet tall, and has a tapered look to it, with the base half-again as wide as the top due to its function as a dam dividing the river over the weir. Water surrounds it on three sides and runs right up to the base of the tower. To the south there is a stone and earth levee which keeps the rivers separate and runs out to connect to the island which is effectively Old Phlan, though it appears to have been heavily eroded. In fact, it looks like it has eroded enough that there is no way to circumnavigate the tower on foot.

There are no entrances near the bottom that you can see, though you cannot see the other side of the tower without swimming around it. The only opening you can see is the broken bridge about three-quarters of the way up on the south side. Because of the tapering structure and crumbling stonework, it looks like it would be an easy climb for you, despite being slick with rain.

Lyra

Lyra looks over the muddy gouge. How long would the land bear the scars of her impulsiveness? But Frantiska is alive, and that is what mattered. Stepping carefully through the thick mud, Lyra makes her way over to where she collapsed. “Should we take her over to Brother Rant, or the wagon?”

Donovan

When the water stops, Donovan scrambles to his feet and carefully makes his way down the muddy slope. He heaves Frantiska onto her back, grabs her under the armpits, and begins to drag her towards the wagon as best he can, taking advantage of the reduced friction the mud grants and trying to at least keep her head and upper torso elevated out of the mud.

GM

As the gate closes, you hear a grunt, and notice Brother Rant still straining to anchor the rope, sweat beading on his forehead. Clearly noticing this too, Teldicia curls herself back up on top of the rope, stands up, and walks carefully across to the far side, reaching it about the same time as Hrud. She reaches up onto the side of the tower, finds a fingerhold, and easily steps up off of the rope, her feet planted flat against the sloping wall of the structure. When it becomes clear that no one else is depending on the rope for support, Brother Rant lets go, allowing it to slump into the water, and sits down on the muddy ground, breathing heavily, his arms shaking slightly.

You hear a high-pitched shriek, like the one that preceded the frog-fish-things’ attack, from somewhere much further downriver. Perhaps thirty-seconds later, you hear another, fainter shriek, even more distant.

Hrud

Hrud makes his way to the base of the tower. Standing on the levee dividing the river, Hrud props the spear (point down, lest he fall) against the tower and begins to climb. The stonebiter arrow nearby catches his eye.

Hrud wiggles the arrow a little, but feels certain that it’s not going to budge without a fight. A quick glance down at the sludge helps him decide that risking another dip in that foul murk is not work it. Instead, he unties the rope from the arrow and ties it around the spear, which he then drapes over his shoulder; the weight of the weapon holding the rope in place.

Turning his attention to the tower, Hrud begins to climb. The barbarian’s head throbs evilly at each push or pull of his weight up the structure. It couldn’t have been the sludge, because he was already in it when the headache struck. Teldicia, she was trying to pull him up when it happened. Did she do this? How? One of the stones slips loose from the wall, nearly causing him to fall. Questions for another time, Hrud reminds himself. Right now, focus on the climb.

Lyra

“I think I can carry her if you can get her weapons, and hold my bow and quiver. Do you think she has some dry clothes in the wagon? Hers are soaked through, and if the river can eat away boats, I’m not sure how well cloth and leather will hold up.” Lyra helps Donovan carry Frantiska to the wagon. “Brother Rant, are you well enough to tend to her?”

GM

Brother Rant stands and stretches, “Yes, though I must say, the green-haired maid is heavier than she looks.” He grabs Frantiska’s feet and helps them haul her to the wagon. “Amara, bring that lantern please, so we can get a better look at her injuries.”

Lyra

Lyra smiled. “You could’ve tied it off rather than holding it. I could’ve sworn we’d gotten a tent, which would have a set of stakes with it.”

Rant

Rant looks slightly bemused, “At the time, I was not able to see anything sufficiently sturdy to tie it to in direct line with the weir. It seems I should do a thorough inventory of the stores you have collected once time allows…”

Lyra

Lyra wipes off the bottom of her boots in the grass as best she can, and climbs into the back of the wagon. She takes off her leather gloves, tucking them into her belt, and sets about trying to find spare clothes for Frantiska, or at least a blanket.

GM

You can just barely make out the forms of Hrud and Teldicia scaling the side of the tower and then vanishing into it, occasionally illuminated by the odd flash of lightning. A few minutes after they disappear, a faint wavering light appears through the small window on the north side of the tower.

Frantiska

Frantiska coughs herself awake, expelling another gout of the disgusting black liquid from her lungs, and rubs her eyes with her, amazingly, clean hands. In fact, all of her skin is somehow still clean, as if the sludge simply cannot adhere to her immaculate flesh. She rolls herself over and deliberately heaves a few times to make sure no more of the water is inside of her. As she kneels on all-fours in the back of the wagon, her arms, somehow no longer the tight mass of coiled muscles they were only minutes ago, shake violently.

Sadly, the same cleanliness does not extend to her clothing. Her dress is black, reeking, and dripping—not only with the disgusting water, but literally dissolving in the contaminated sludge, liquefying and dripping off her body in putrid globs. Shuddering she jumps out of the wagon, her legs almost buckling underneath her, and begins tearing off the offending clothes and flinging them away before the wagon becomes contaminated as well. Only when she is completely naked does her head snap around, casting an enraged, near-murderous glare at Donovan and Rant, certain in her mind that they are enjoying the spectacle.

She stands there for a moment, the perfect picture of elven beauty and indignant rage, then her face goes pale. She pivots and looks at the pile of discarded items, then plunges her hands into the mess, pulling out her bow. Ruined. Even if the water were not corrosive and putrefying, the wood, strung and fully tensed, cannot handle that level of saturation. She sifts through the pile again, realizes that the pick and Sir Guy’s Spoon had been in her hands when she went under, and comes up with her last remaining weapon, a simple short-sword. She drops to her knees and begins sobbing, this has been, without a doubt, the worst day ever! she thinks.

Lyra

Neither speaking nor actually looking at her, Lyra hands Frantiska a blanket.

Frantiska

Frantiska reaches out with one hand and wraps the blanket around herself. «Thank you,» she says in elvish.

Lyra

In the wagon, Lyra unstrings her bow, and cares for it as best she can to ensure it’s not damaged by the rain, then sits with her feet dangling out the back to let the rain wash the mud from her boots. «Mr. Donovan, can you ward the oxen with that spell you mentioned when we make to cross the bridge? I doubt all of those things have gone so far as it sounds. I’ll take no chances with the weir again; I can see to it that Teldicia and Hrud cross safely back.»

«Frantiska, you are welcome to my bow, and any spare clothing that fits you. There should be a set to replace the clothes I’d given earlier.»

Lyra sighs and pushes a soaked lock of hair out of her eyes. «If it comes down to it, I can make a supply run to town, but I’d prefer that be a last resort.» She gives Donovan a half-hearted grin. «I told you, I’m not used to camping.»

Donovan

Donovan averts his eyes as Frantiska starts stripping, resisting the urge to look as best he can. He walks down to the side of the wagon by the river. “I can see a light, which means Hrud and Teldicia are probably still alright. Lyra, can you contact them the way you did Professor Aumry?” He looks up and down the river. “As for crossing, I think we should wait and do it in the morning. It looks like we’re all done with adventures for the nonce. I think we should drive a little further up-river and a little west, so as to be away from the bridge. We can camp on the prairie tonight, and hopefully get an early start tomorrow. The animals will enjoy the chance to graze, I imagine, and hopefully it won’t be so gods-damned wet in the morning.”


Meanwhile back in the tower…

Hrud

As easy as the climb is (which is a blessing, given the headache that accompanies it), Hrud decides to go to the very top of the tower.

GM

As Hrud crests the top, his hand comes free of the tower, holding an ancient, loose slate tile. The sudden loss of his grip nearly causes him to fall, but he is sufficiently experienced to recover, despite the slippery conditions. Keeping his weight on the wall, he peeks his head over the top and finds a very slightly peaked, tiled roof. The tiles are arranged so that the runnoff is mostly channeled to the corners of the tower, though numerous tiles are missing. In one place enough tiles have been displaced that it looks like Hrud might be able to drop into the tower from above, if he could safely navigate the rain-slicked roof.

Hrud, with Teldicia following close behind, side-crawls around the structure and drops lightly down onto the long, cantilevered remains of the old bridge. There is an unpleasant rattling and splashing sound of a few loose rocks being dislodged to splash into the river as the two of them put their weight on the bridge, but it otherwise seems stable enough. The entrance to the tower looks like it probably had a door at some point, but that is long-since gone, leaving a crumbling stone archway with a couple of rusty, iron hinges driven into the sides, looking for all the world like some gaping, black maw. The inside of this top-level of the tower is very dark, but seems to be a single room. The only feature notable in the dimness being an even darker area in the middle of the floor indicating either a hole or perhaps an open stairwell leading down into the pitch blackness of a lower level.

Hrud

Gathering the rope into a pile on the bridge, Hrud double-checks where it’s knotted around the spear. He lays the spear down on the bridge across the doorway and kicks the pile of rope towards the hole. “Kita bisa menek metu yen lantai menehi dalan.” He says to Teldicia, not knowing if she understands him or not.

Waiting to hear – or possibly see – if his actions have prompted any reaction, he steps a foot into the room to check on the stability of the floor.

GM

Teldicia takes a step forward and looks down into the hole, “این در آن وجود دارد سرد است” she says, uttering a string of sounds complete alien to Hrud’s ears. The tower remains cold and dark, and silent save for the sound of rain falling through the holes in the roof and splashing into a larger body of water below. The floor seems reasonably solid.

Hrud

Another dull throb in his head reminds Hrud that things are happening between his ears – things he doesn’t quite understand. He is aware, however, of the fact that he can, at least for now, connect with another mind. Hrud tries to reach out to Teldicia with his mind, to let her know “We can talk like this. I don’t know how, or why, or for how much longer, but I can do it.” He tacks on a mental image of the two of them lighting a fire and looking around.

Not sure if his attempt succeeded, the barbarian begins to carefully feel his way around the perimeter of the room, staying well away from the dark opening in the floor. He looks (feels) for anything of interest – particularly anything flammable that could be used as a source of light.

GM

Hrud feels an almost immediate response, a voice in the back of his head, like the words that run through his head when he is thinking of what to say, repeating themselves until they find meaning, except very feminine. Oh good. I was wondering when you’d reach out. You’ve always been able to do this right? I mean, I can listen, but I can’t initiate. The voice in his head rambles a bit, somewhat chaotic and hard to follow for a while You can’t see can you? I can’t see much either, other than you, you’re bright as a candle, but it’s cold in there. Nothing alive at least. No remnants of a fire. The exterior walls are warmest from yesterday’s sun, but the rain is dissipating that fast. I can find the edges of the hole, and tell that there is water pooled below.

You can vaguely make out her movements in the darkness, hear her light footfalls and the sloshing of her sodden dress. Here. This corner. To your right, stay close to the wall. Ooh! Watch out for that, it looks sharp! Here. You feel her press a bundle of something and a long stick into your hand. These seem dry, and probably flammable. Do you have flint?

Hrud

“Flint, yes,” Hrud thinks in response to her last question, completely unaware that he’d also mumbled the words aloud, though in his native tongue. “This is the first time I’ve ever mind-talked,” he continues to mumble-think as he drops to his knees. “Didn’t you put it (the ability) in my head? When you touched me?”

Setting the Fang of Mace beside him, within easy reach, he situates the stick between his legs so I won’t roll away and retrieves the flint & steel from his belt pouch. Just as he’d done thousands of time before on the Ride, Hrud begins to strike.

Teldicia

What? No, it’s nothing I did. It was there since we met? Not as much as that waif Lyra, but more than nothing, and you’ve been broadcasting static like crazy. Even worse when I try to listen to you. It’s about to drive me crazy. Anyways, maybe something in the water woke you up. Maybe something else.

After a few strikes, the rags take the spark, and slowly bloom into a flame. It’s not a proper torch, no pitch or tar, but compared to the deep blackness before the small flame is blinding. Your head throbs, but after a moment your eyes adjust. The first thing you see is the green-haired woman, standing close to you, the lightweight dress she’s been wearing plastered tightly to her curvaceous form by the rain. Warming up are we? says the voice in your head, in a very overtly suggestive fashion.

Once the flames are going, you find you have to twist the torch regularly to keep the rags from unraveling as they burn, and you don’t think it would be safe to hold it above your head. The room you are in is small, roughly the dimensions of the top of the tower, minus the thick walls. You can see the peaked roof above you—a rotting wooden frame overlaid with slate tiles, many of which are missing, allowing the rain free access into the structure. The floor is wooden, thick solid boards, slick with rain and mold, and showing numerous odd gouges—claw marks most likely—from something large, with three widely-spaced, very sharp, claws on each foot. An even, circular hole is set in the center of the room. You can see the remains of a wooden, spiral staircase attached to one edge of the hole, but it appears to have collapsed past the third stair down. Immediately beside you on the floor is the skeleton of a small humanoid, not more than three feet tall, but not build like a child, maybe a goblin. This corner is relatively protected from the rain, and the stick you hold looks like it was once a short spear, and the rags were the creature’s clothes.

Other than the single corpse, which seems to be missing a leg, now that you think about it, there is nothing else on this floor. Waving your torch towards the hole and peering down, you see a glint of metal at the bottom of the shaft, maybe thirty feet below you.

Hrud

Broadcasting static? “Sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Warming up … ?” Embarrassed, doubly so by the fact that – due to their connection – there is no way to pass it off (not that Hrud was ever known for being smooth), he turns his attention to the claw marks on the floor [Tracking] and then to the hole.

GM

The claw-marks are extensive, criss-crossing each other and ranging about the floor, and vary in age, some looking years old, others appear much fresher (judging by the discoloration of the wood where it has been scratched). Despite the obvious age of the place, the accumulation of mold is large limited to the corners near the walls, so it is likely that whatever made the marks either comes here frequently or else uses the tower as a permanent dwelling. Numerous other scuff marks also mark the floor, largely concentrated in a direct path from the entrance to the hole, looking large several fairly large, heavy things have been dragged in and dropped in the hole over time.

As you stare at the floor, squinting to make out details in the wan light of the torch, the throbbing pain behind your temples continues to build. Teldicia circles the room in the opposite direction from you, staring down into the hole. Have you ever fished? The rope’s wet, but it shouldn’t be too hard to climb down. Getting back up might be a problem. If I lower myself down, do you think you could haul me back up?

Hrud

“I … can.” Hrud mumbles, the pressure behind his eyes making him tear up a little. “We may want to hurry, it looks like this is a lair of some sort.”

“My head is killing me. I have to break contact. If you still want to do this, just yell and I’ll pull you up. Take the torch. Magic items most important.”

GM

Teldicia takes the torch, hooks her legs around the rope, and slides down. After only a couple of seconds you hear her yell, “گه مقدس! من نگه دار تا. شما باید برای دیدن این!”

Hrud

Words! That was the signal! Hrud starts hauling away at the rope.

GM

You haul Teldicia up to the lip of the hole and she swings her legs over and carefully raises the makeshift torch. She babbles something you can’t understand, then stops and looks frustrated and begins trying to pantomime. She makes a happy, excited face, points down in the hole emphatically a few times, rubs her thumb and first two fingers together in an odd way, then points at your eyes and back down the hole.

Hrud

To Hrud’s (throbbing) mind, Teldicia’s motions don’t convey that there are any creatures down there, but that there may be an issue with getting what’s down there out. He thinks for a moment – wishing (not for the first time in his life) he were a good deal smarter – then has an idea. He points to his head, then in the direction where the rest of the group is waiting for them on the river bank, and says “Lyra?”

GM

Hrud reaches out and finds Lyra’s mind, only to discover that it is completely closed off. Its feels like the mental equivalent of banging his head against a brick wall. He pushes harder, then throws his mind full-force against the barrier, it feels very much like ramming a door, all of his faculties bearing down to crush the offending barrier. Then…he is through…though not without his headache rising to blinding intensity. You feel that the resulting mindlink is tenuous, like a bad call-call with a lot of static on the line.

Hrud

“Teldicia says … lot of stuff to take, bottom of tower, need help getting it out. And light.” The mental presence starts to fade.

Lyra

“…You?” The words melt away to images as quick as thought before the link fades completely. Rant dropping the rope into the water, exhausted. Frantiska retching up foul black water, her clothes drenched. The ox, pony, and filly placidly grazing next to the wagon and tent a safe distance from the river, the first stars of evening filling the sky. And as the link fades, Hrud sees a door opening into the tower where once there was only crumbled bridge and open doorway.

Lyra’s brow furrows in surprise and confusion. “Hrud? Hey! Donovan! They found something in the bottom of the tower, we’ll need light and maybe a teensy bend in space to get stuff out.” She pulls her cloak around her to keep the rain off, and hops off the edge of the wagon. She grabs the lantern and takes a few strides away from the wagon, just in case. She angles it carefully to minimize the rain getting through, and holds up the light to have a look at what they’d found.

GM

The light from the lantern beaming through the dimensional doorway suddenly illuminates the lower level of the tower, several orders of magnitude brighter than the makeshift torch Teldicia is holding over the hole above. At the same time, a trickle of water begins pouring out the other side of the door, running out onto the already muddy ground. As the waters subside through the gate, the light is reflected and magnified as it bounces off of a large pile of metallic objects—heaps of gold and silver coins, golden goblets and plates, statues and sculptures of bronze and brass, even the remains of a full-sized bronze war-chariot. A mixture of humanoid and animal bones, most of them cracked open as if gnawed upon, and broken weapons litter the floor. Various odds and ends, ranging from a small, smashed boat, to moldy tapestries complete the pile of debris. All of the items are strewn haphazardly, as if they were simply tossed into the hole from above.

The southern wall has a large, rusty-looking iron bar, maybe six-feet in length, protruding perpendicularly from it.

Teldicia lets out a whoop and slides back down the rope, swinging slightly to land on the upturned hull of the boat, rather than in the remaining water. She waves to Lyra, then motions for Hrud to climb down. She looks around at the heaps of stuff, then looks back at Lyra and asks, “Should we just hand stuff through to you guys?”

Lyra

“Huh. Know any art dealers in Melvaunt?”

Lyra waves back and looks around. “Brother Rant, Mr. Donovan, there should be extra sacks in the wagon. Overexerting myself while I’m trying to concentrate on the gates might become problematic, but I can hand things through and hold the light.” She frowns a bit. “Do you think those bones were gnawed on before they were thrown down or after?”

Hrud

Kneeling on the floor in the room above, Hrud slowly removes his hands from either side of his head. He expels a sigh of relief when he realizes that his skull is not, in fact, splitting down the middle. Leaning over, he sees Lyra’s portal and the light coming in through it. Gratitude and relief wash over the barbarian, dulling – but by no means expelling – the lingering ache in his skull.

Seeing that Teldecia is now down and off the rope, Hrud retrieves his spear from the doorway. Untying the rope from the spear, he passes it through the upper stair until its touching the floor – no sense in leaving behind a perfectly good rope. Before he descends, though, the barbarian takes a closer look at the goblin skeleton, just to make sure he hasn’t missed anything it of value it might have been wearing.

Then, his inspection complete, he wraps his legs and free hand around both ropes and shimmies down to the bottom. The rope he leaves in hanging until they’re finished. Just to be safe.

Turning to the others, he asks, “Apa ana apa mabur geni-ambegan naga ing Phlan?”

Donovan

Donovan moves up beside Lyra to get a better look through the gate, his eyes widening. “Gnawed bones, piles of gold, and an entrance forty feet above the ground…” he looks meaningfully at Lyra. “Lets get this done quick.” He steps through the gate, looks around, and starts pointing at things, “Grab those first…”

Lyra

Lyra furrows her brow. “I’ve never tried it before, but I should be able to hold it open, but I’ll be completely tapped out and need to rest after. Fifteen minutes at best, but I’d like to leave enough leeway that I can establish another, so let’s call it ten.”

Donovan

“Right.” Donovan grabs the most valuable thing he can see. “We’ve got ten minutes people, lets get this stuff in the wagon!”

Donovan looks at the heavy statues, water-logged tapestries, and piles of loose coins. “Lyra, we may have to come back, this looks heavy.” He grabs the shield and piles it with the cloak, ring, chalice, scroll-case, and as many gold coins as he can lift and hauls it back to the wagon. “Brother Rant, do you think you can help Hrud haul some of those statues out?”

Lyra

Lyra whispers to Donovan as he carries a load to the wagon. “If we’re going to be camping reasonably nearby, an hour of meditation buys us another five minutes or so.”

“If we move fast, or come back after I’ve rested, I can reposition the gates to load it directly into the wagon. We might want to reposition anyway to keep the paintings out of the rain. Frantiska! There’s a big statue of the Simbul in here! And a chariot!” She pauses, confused. “How did they get a boat in here?”

Lyra ducks through and grabs the iron decanter, all smiles. “Endless water, just what we need more of today.”

GM

Teldicia stacks the paintings and hauls them out. Rant steps cautiously through the gate and looks around, «Hrud, Donovan asked us to haul out the statues.» His eyes fall on the chariot, then he turns back to the gate and measures it with his arms. “Lyra, can you change how large your doorway is?”

Hrud

Having (what he assumes is the same idea as Rant), Hrud starts loading whatever he can on the chariot. When Rant has a moment, he points to the metal bar on the wall and says, «Do you think that opens the tower to the river somehow?»

Lyra

Lyra pauses from gathering up coins, brow furrowing more in concentration the longer they take. “Anywhere from twenty inches by sixty, to eighty by eighty, oriented however I like on both ends.”

GM

Rant smiles and starts loading more things in the chariot, “Make it big as you can, please, Miss Lyra. Does anyone have a guess as to what will happen if Hrud pulls that lever?”

Lyra

When everyone is clear of the gates, they disappear, reappearing at the end of the wagon, and next to the chariot so it just needs a push to move into the wagon.

“We can use the chariot to move the heavier items through, now. We just lost two minutes doing that though.”

Frantiska

Frantiska pulls the wet blanket tighter around herself, grabs her belt from the goo that was once her beautiful dress, and climbs into the wagon. She fishes out her tobacco pouch, looking more annoyed than enraged now, and breathes a sigh of relief to see that the contents are still dry. I guess I wasn’t under that long. She rolls and light one, then watches in fascination as Lyra opens the dimension door and everyone begins looting the tower, at least I didn’t almost drown for nothing. When Donovan hands the first load up into the wagon, she takes the dry cloak and puts it on, cinching it around her waist with the belt, looking quite surprised when it fits perfectly and conveniently has arm-slits. She then puts Amara to work helping her neatly arrange the items in the wagon as the others load them.

Donovan

Donovan helps load the last of the stuff into the chariot, though he is breathing heavily after the first statue, clearly unused to physical labor. With everything loaded he moves around to the back, ready to lend his shoulder to shoving the overloaded two-wheeled contraption through the gate.

Lyra

Lyra also goes over to assist in pushing the chariot through the gates.

Hrud

Hrud puts his back into pushing the chariot.

GM

With four of you shoving on it, you easily nudge the chariot through. You now, for good or ill, have a chariot sitting in the back of your wagon. You also have a very full wagon.

Lyra

Lyra wedges a heavy bag of coins behind each wheel to keep the chariot from rolling, and places the decanter next to the crate of food. “At least two magical, by my reckoning. The shield likely is, and the decanter of endless water definitely is. I suppose checking the rest can wait until morning.” Lyra makes a little nest among the bags of coins and sits down to meditate. She opens one eye. “We might want to turn the chariot sideface to be sure it won’t roll out.”

Hrud

A hiss of effort and an incessant throb are all Hrud is aware of as he
shoves the chariot out of the tower. There is a moment, however, as
they pass through the portal when a familiar scene flashes in his
mind’s eye:

A majestic, chocolate-colored horse; dead at his feet, dead by his hand

Hrud gasps, the reaction going unnoticed among the gasps of the others as they contribute to the push. Frantiska nearly died, and it was his fault – his idea to cross the weir.

The horse reborn, walking out of the fire

A moment later, the chariot was out and the party was regrouping and, as far as Hrud was concerned, rather overwhelmed at the amount of treasure they’d just recovered. Surely someone—or something—somewhere was going to return to this ‘lair’ and see that it had been raided.

Retrieving the rope before Lyra closes her magical door into the tower, Hrud catches sight of Frantiska sitting on the wagon. The elf woman is still beautiful despite her bedraggled (for an elf) state, still proud, but there is now a weight pulling at her delicate features. She was covered, but acted as if still exposed in some way. Hrud, never having had much in the way of material possessions, had a hard time empathizing with what it was like to loose something precious. A brush with death, however, especially in that foul murk … he could understand how that might ruin someone’s day.

Hrud waited until Rant’s activity carried him next to where she was sitting, going over the spoils of their misadventure. He wanted to make sure his question was translated properly, and her reply as well.

“«Frantiska, when you were under … Did you cross over, even for a little bit? Did you see the other side?»”

Frantiska

Frantiska rolls another cigarette, its been a really long day. «No Hrud. There is quite a firm line between almost drowned and actually drowned, thankfully.» She turns to the others, “The plan is to camp just north of the bridge, correct?” She climbs out of the wagon and up onto Thistledown, checking the spare swords strapped to her saddle. “Oh, Lyra, this cloak has informed me that it is also magical…and aware…”

Frantiska guides Thistledown over closer to the wagon while she waits for the others to be ready to depart. «Actually, Lyra,» she speaks in Elvish, her voice low, making it hard to hear her over the rain, «I don’t think this cloak and I will get along well. I’m stuck with it for now for modesty’s sake, but once I obtain proper clothing, one of the rest of you will probably make better use of it than I would.»

Lyra

«I’d at least wish to find what it knows about how it ended up there, and who put it there, but I’m leery of something that would get along poorly with a lady such as yourself. What’s the problem? It … isn’t being disrespectful about its current circumstances, is it?» There’s a slight hint of anger in Lyra’s eyes and voice. Although perhaps to not get along with Frantiska it merely needed to be male, and she didn’t seem to be advocating being rid of the thing entirely. «I’d offer you my cloak, but it’s soaked. But there should be a spare set of clothing here somewhere. Maybe I should just pop into town for a trunk of dry clothes and cloaks in the morning, and unload whatever of this I can take with me. We’re not so far from Jerome’s that it will be more than an hour or two before I can come back.»

Frantiska

«The cloak isn’t the best communicator. From what I gather it encouraged it’s previous wearer to explore the tower, found a dragon there, and was not able to save its wearer from the thing’s claws, then was stuck there.»

Lyra

Lyra carefully climbs around the chariot, digging through a pile of blankets. Eventually, she carefully pulls out a chemise, hose and dark grey linen dress. «Probably ill fitting on either of us, but at least it’s intact and dry.» Her eyes slid over the chariot and its glimmering burden. «Perhaps we can find a tailor in Melvaunt.»

Hrud

Hearing Frantiska’s reply, Hrud mutters something along the lines of “«Not yet, then.»”, for which Rant can only shrug, having no context for either the question or the reply.

The barbarian gazes out over the unsightly river, and is suddenly struck with an idea. “«Do we have any old pots or jars? A container that is easily replaced?»” he asks the cleric.

GM

Rant reaches into his pack and pulls out a couple of empty stoppered glass flasks, of the kind commonly used for holy water, «Will these suffice?»

Hrud

“«Yes, quite nicely. Will you be needing them back?»” Hrud glances at the pile of treasure beside them, “«I can buy you more … »”

Donovan

Donovan climbs up into the drivers seat of the wagon and snaps the reins. “If a dragon lives in that tower, we might want want to go ahead and camp on the other side of the river, just to have more cover under the trees. Any objections?” He turns the oxen towards the bridge without waiting for an answer. “I should be able to identify the shield and the scrolls in the morning. And I’ll make sure to scan the pile for other magical trinkets as well, unless one of you is prepared to do that now?”

Lyra

Lyra checked the steadiness of the chariot as the wagon lurched into motion. “Were you going to ward the oxen so fish monsters don’t hurt them?”

Donovan

“Oh yes!” Donovan quickly casts protection from vermin on the upstream ox.

Hrud

Hrud hurries back from the river to catch up with the wagon, two vials of river sludge clinking softly in his belt pouch. “«The kobolds captured me outside the city walls as I slept. We should be careful in where we choose to camp.»”

Lyra

Lyra leans up to be able to whisper to Donovan. «Hrud contacted me, not the other way around. I believe he is also the source of the psionic interference I was sensing last night. I’m really not quite sure what to make of this development.»

Frantiska

Frantiska and Thistledown ride ahead across the bridge and begin searching for a place to camp.

View
Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 5
In which the parade gets rained on...

GM

On the other side, the muddy track of the road runs strait west, up away from the river-bank, and vanishes into a wall of tall grasses, marking the edge of the prairies which Rant informs you are known to the Eraka as “Segara Saka Suket”, the Sea of Grass. As the road vanishes, Rant’s spell goes too, leaving the animals once again struggling slowly through the mud and the axles of the wagon tangling in the grasses. To your right, just north of the bridge, you see a wide area where the grass appears blackened and blighted, somehow made even more dreary and unpleasant-looking by being drenched in rain, in the center of which stands a shoulder-height, ornate wrought-iron fence, surrounded by a knee-high stone wall. A few stray paving stones make it look as if the road from the bridge once ran right up to the gates. As if to encouraged by your proximity to the old graveyard, the rain picks up and a flash of lightning streaks across the sky.

Donovan

Donovan pulls up on the reins to slow the oxen before they get hung up in the tall grass. He flinches at the crack of thunder overhead and pulls his hood lower. He stops the wagon at the edge of the Grass Sea and stands up to try to see farther through the mist and rain. “Lyra, council reward or no, I’d rather not go poking into Valhingen Graveyard on a day like this. I’d prefer to swing wide around the graveyard as well, but that means heading out into the open prairie before cutting back north and east, but that looks like it will be extremely slow. Unless someone wants to walk ahead of the cows and hack a road for us.” He sits back down and pushes the crossbows under the bench to try to keep them dry. “If you want to take a look, Lyra, I suggest that we do a drive-by. If we stick to the verge where the dead grass is, it should be easier going for the wagon and get us close enough, but not too close, to take a peak at your graveyard, and hopefully get us north of the city faster…”

Frantiska

Despite sitting on horseback in the mud and the now driving rain, Frantiska somehow manages to still look calm and dignified—her soaked clothing does not cling, her raven dark hair stays out of her face, and the mud somehow does not stick. She turns Thistledown, who looks particularly unamused at having mud up to her girth, north towards the graveyard and leads the way, “Let’s get moving then.”

Donovan

Donovan struggles to back up and turn the cart to follow his decisive new friend. “So, Lyra, what are we looking for again?”

Lyra

Lyra kneeled behind the driver’s bench, bow across her lap. “If I recall correctly, the council wants any information on the nature of whatever has taken up residence there. The grass itself isn’t much of an indicator, unfortunately. I can think of a half dozen reasons just offhand—magic, defilement, curses, a strong connection to the negative plane, a strong connection to one of the lower planes. Maybe that’s just a particularly unusual looking native specimen.”

GM

The wagon rolls slowly past the old cemetery, the steady creek of the wheels and drip of rain occasionally accented by a clap of thunder. A breeze blowing off the sea from the south sends the rain pelting in through the back of the wagon, strait into Brother Rant’s face, but means that Lyra is kept relatively dry. Sitting on the bench beside Donovan, Teldicia lights of fog lantern and shines it ahead of you. The black grasses do not seem to bother anything, though Hrud, bringing up the rear near Brother Rant, points out that they are bent in a way that indicates they’ve been trampled fairly regularly, not with any clear path or direction to the damage, but rather looking like a fairly large number of creatures, probably bipedal, milled about the yard in a relatively aimless fashion. As the wagon drifts slightly closer to the cemetery wall, Teldicia sweeps the lantern in that direction, revealing that the ground inside the fence is heavily disturbed and oddly mounded, like giant mole-hills, as if something forced its way up out of the ground from below. Even with the lantern, you cannot see too far past the fence, as a thick fog seems to hang over the graveyard, in addition to the rain.

Frantiska

Frantiska rides closer to the fence surrounding the graveyard, roughly 30 feet away, and allows her eyes to adjust, shifting to the infra-red, hoping that the heat from anything living will stand out more against the rain and mist. At the same time, she reaches out with her mind, feeling for whatever emanations of malevolence may be detectable. Her bow is out, readied, and loaded with one of the new silver arrows.

GM

To Frantiska’s elven sight the graveyard looks just as it is—dead. Everything looks a uniform cold blue, a stark contrast to the grasses of the prairie behind her, which teem with life. If anything stands out, it is that the surfaces within the graveyard look even colder than the rain which is falling on them.

To her other sense, however, the graveyard seems blazing with light. The emanations are overwhelming, nearly knocking Frantiska from her steed. Sharp, stabbing pain returns to her head, accompanying the sense of pervasive evil—as if the graveyard itself were a single entity, living, thinking, and plotting something horrible.

Donovan

Donovan tries to focus on driving, but can’t help but look at the beaten grass and upturned dirt. “You know…sleep spells don’t work against zombies…” he mutters, “…and arrows go right through skeletons.”

Lyra

“Those magic blades and sling bullets will have to suffice.” And gravity, Lyra thought, would work on most things if it came to it. Or creating an aperture bisecting an entity would result in…. Lyra shuddered.

Hrud

As crowded and smelly and claustrophobic as the city was, Hrud found the the fouled waters and corrupted vegetation before him now to be much more upsetting. The disturbed graveyard was merely icing on the cake [or whatever the Eraka equivalent would be]. “«What is the source of this evil?»”

Frantiska

“Kalau saja aku tahu.” Thistledown is already straining to get away from the accursed site, Frantiska lets her have the reins, giving her only the slightest nudge back towards the wagon. “There isn’t the slightest sign of life in that place,” she says as she pulls up alongside Teldicia and Donovan, “not even an insect, and yet the whole place seems to be thinking, plotting foul deeds. Not the passive evil of a curse or a spell, but like the very ground is sentient. Some powerful undead creature must be at work here, a lich, perhaps, or a shade, or a vampire of great age. Something not only able to raise the dead from their graves, but grant them thought and then control them to a single purpose.”

She shudders. “The list of places in this town that need to be razed to the ground just keeps growing…”

Donovan

Donovan looks back at Lyra, “Anything else we want to know about this place? Other than ‘how fast can we get away from it?’”

Lyra

Lyra flinches at another crash of thunder. “When we return to the training hall in Phlan, there is a technique I may be able to master that may be of some use. Many undead exist between this world and another, and it is possible to force them to one or the other.”

Donovan

“Well that doesn’t sound too immediate. Let’s get out of here before whatever kicked up that dirt becomes as curious about us as you are of it.” Donovan flicks the reins, trying to push the oxen to go at least a little faster to get away from the cemetery, no matter that there is no road, and its raining, and its grassy, and that they’re cows. “Come on…” he pauses and looks at the oxen, realizing that the liverer never told them their names, “…Mr…Brisket! Come on, Sirloin! Giddyup!”

GM

One of the oxen stops in its tracks briefly, throwing its head and looking back at Donovan as if offended by his comments, nearly upsetting the cart. Jerked to a halt, the other gives an angry bellow and they both start forward again at a good clip. Only a few minutes later the grass fades back from black to green and the cemetery is fading into the mist behind you.

View
Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 4
In which the party FINALLY gets out of town...

GM

Donovan comes in to Half-a-Loaf through the back door of the establishment, at about the same time that Rant leads Frantiska, Hrud, and Amara in through a side door. The main doors of the place, facing on the market, stand open to two very long lines of people, one going in, another out, both standing three abreast. Despite the mix of humans, goblins, orcs, and…other things…the affair is amazingly peaceful and orderly, with only a little bit of shoving near the back of the line, probably because of the four, fully armored Tyrran battle-priests who flank the doors. Inside the line divides, allowing the ‘customers’ to walk down one of three long tables where the white-robed Tyrran and red-robed (if the sheer, revealing things they wear can really be called robes) Sunite priests scoop large ladles of thick soup into hollowed-out pieces of bread.

Despite the hundred or more people in the one room that is Half-a-Loaf, it is surprisingly quiet, the only sounds being the steady shuffling of feet in the lines, the faint schlopp of soup pouring into bread-bowls, and numerous murmured “thank-yous” in dozens of languages. The smell, however, is overpowering. The delicious smell of hot stew mixes in the air with the scent of hundreds of unwashed bodies in a way that makes you almost light-headed as you open the door. At the far end of the barn-like building, where Donovan enters, there are a few benches and stools set up against the walls, mostly occupied by the elderly or injured, who are in turn being tended by another handful of priests from either sect.

Look as you might, there do not appear to be any other rooms in the building, nor do you see any food preparation being done. Given this and how full the pots of stew look despite the hundreds of souls being fed, you imagine some sort of conjuration must be at work.

Frantiska

Seeing Donovan, Frantiska raises a hand in greeting, then steps back outside. “Brother Rant, I’m going to take the horses around to the back. I trust you will keep an eye on Amara.” She pats Thistledown and looks at Hrud’s mount, “Hrud, apakah Anda ingin saya untuk mengambil kuda Anda kembali ke gerobak?”

Donovan

Donovan slips around the room to where Brother Rant is and quickly explains about the situation with Ellen waking up and the discussions in the wagon. The two of them then make their way to the priests who are providing healing services, then, after a brief consultation, head out to the wagon. «Lyra,» Donovan calls up as they step out the back door, «it sounds like Sune’s priestesses are actually trained and equipped to deal with these kind of situations. Can you get Ellen out of the wagon?»

Lyra

Lyra still only looked at the girl with her peripheral vision. “I haven’t been in town long, but all of the Tyrrans I’ve met have been really nice. If you don’t want to eat here, will you at least come speak with one of the priestesses? They can help. I’ll go in with you, if you’d like.”

GM

Ellen takes a tighter grip on Lyra’s arm and looks up at her in a silent, pleading sort of way.

Lyra

Lyra gives her a soft smile. “You can try out those new shoes while we’re at it. I’ll be right there with you.”

Hrud

Hrud finishes looping the reigns of his horse around the back of the wagon, then walks over to where everyone is gathered. “Apa kita siap«Are we ready»?” He says to the group at large. Then, to the girl, “Aja pengin teka karo kita «You coming with us»?”

GM

The girl looks alarmedly at the tall, muscular, and barely-dressed barbarian speaking unknown syllables at her from the back of the wagon, at the handsom, but heavily armed and armored priest translating for him, at the pudgy, bespectacled old man speaking rather harshly at her from the front of the wagon in an equally incomprehensible tongue, then back to Lyra. More crawling than walking, despite the dome of the wagon leaving plenty of room to stand upright, and still keeping a grip on Lyra’s arm, she moves to the front of the wagon, away from Hrud and Rant, and climbs down, on the side opposite Donovan. Her eyes look moist, almost on the brink of tears, but continue to dart between the many people crowding around her. She tugs Lyra’s arm towards the shop and whispers, “I think I’ll take my chances with the priestesses…”

Frantiska

Frantiska points across the street. “Donovan, is that the smith that you said could possibly re-lacquer the swords?” She rubs her forehead again and grimaces. “Rant, do you mind translating for Hrud, since he’s got one of those—I’m not really feeling up to it right now. So, it would be nice if you were not carrying around obvious symbols of Xvim, but lacquering metal is not a fast process…we’d probably have to leave them to be worked on.” The look on her face makes it obvious that she is not pleased by the thought of further delays, or perhaps that she is just generally irritable because of the headache, or, even more likely, both.

Lyra

Lyra climbs down from the wagon as best she can with only one arm free, and tries to keep in step with the girl as they head to the back door of Half-a-Loaf. She thought she felt the start of the bruise where Ellen’s right thumb was. With her free arm, she knocks twice and then pulls the door open enough to check that there is nothing that would further startle Ellen before heading inside, keeping between Ellen and the crowds.

The smell was overwhelming as Lyra looked around for a priestess that would be free to assist them.

Donovan

Once the girls are clear, Donovan climbs up into the wagon. “I’d prefer to have ensorceled steel close at hand, no matter if it’s tainted. We’ve talked much of the swamp, but getting away from the city is no mean feat itself. Worse perhaps. We’ll strike out south and west, towards the bay, through the shanty. It would be much faster to go north and east to reach the Phlan Road, but that would take us past Kuto’s Well, a known bandit hot-spot, and then across the bridge into the old wealthy districts where the Xvim’s temple is, which is entirely controlled by the orcs. Though the swords might give us something of a pass, I’d rather not take any chances of angering Xvimlar temlars. So, south and west.” His face looks unusually grim. “From there we should swing wide around the city, most west than north. The northern sections of the old city are equally troublesome—the old textiles district is home to many hobgoblins and gnolls, the old castle is overrun with bugbears and, judging by the occasional large projectile, they have either giants or siege engines, and the gods know what might come out of the graveyard. So we should cut at least a mile west of the city, out of catapult range, then head north. There is a newer, but less nice, bridge north of the city, almost half-way to Sorcerer’s Island, where the river is blackest—the smell is worse, but we should avoid the humanoid tribes that way. From there we’ll be able to rejoin the road into the swamp, but taking the long route that way, we’ll probably not reach the road until dusk…” Why did I take this job, he thinks to himself.

GM

Forewarned of the situation by Donovan and Rant, Lyra and Ellen are met at the door by a pair of priestesses—a Tyrran with white, strait hair almost indistinguishable from her robe, and a full-figured, almost plump, Sunite with skin as white as the Tyrran’s robe and lips as red as her own. Both have eyes that show considerable experience and wear expressions of deep kindness and sympathy. The Sunite silently takes Ellen’s arm and guides her to a stool in a quiet corner, the Tyrran addresses Lyra, “Thank you, Miss Lyra is it, I recall Sister Theymr mentioning that you’d stayed with us last night, we’ll take it from here. Sad to say, Priestess Alliance has quite a lot of experience with cases like this. Too many of these beggar-girls make easy prey for the orcs—the would-be adventurers don’t fair much better.” She takes Lyra’s hand and gives it a reassuring pat. “We’ll make sure she’s okay. You watch out for yourself out there.”

Lyra

Lyra nods. “Thank you for your kindness, Sister. Please take good care of Ellen.” She looks over at Ellen across the room, and certain that she is in good hands, heads out the door.

Lyra waves at her companions as she walks over to the wagon. “I think she’s in good hands. Are we ready to head out?” Her new sword knocks awkwardly against the wagon as she tries to climb up into the wagon, so she settles for sitting on the edge then swinging her feet up. Not the most ladylike of entrances, but it will have to do until she gets used to the sword belt. The sword. Lyra cringes at the thought. She was just talking to a Tyrran priestess!

“Is there something we can do about these swords? I don’t think anyone’s likely to mistake someone like me for a chosen of Xvim, but still….”

Frantiska

Frantiska quietly slips in as Lyra is leaving and walks over to the priestesses near Ellen. She grabs one by the arm and presses her purse into the woman’s hand, “When you feel the girl has recovered,” she says, “please see that she gets this, to start a new life with.” Once she has assent from the priestess, she smiles, exits, and mounts Thistledown.

Donovan

“We were just talking about that.” Donovan waves at the tall, burly smith hammering away in the yard across the street. “Matteo over there does lacquer work, but Frantiska says that can take quite a while, and everyone seems eager to get underway. We should probably just get moving and deal with them as-is. We can look into getting a fresh coat of paint on them when we get back. Alternatively, a little work with a knife could probably remove or deface the holy-symbols, then just pray to Jodj that Xvim doesn’t notice and take offense…”

Lyra

Not the answer Lyra was hoping for. “What about getting the blade refitted with a new hilt entirely? Would that be any faster than lacquering it?”

Hrud

As they talked, Hrud walked over to the smith looking around at his stall. After a moment’s search, he found what he was looking for sitting off to the side – a bucket of ashes taken from the forge. Using his blade to stir up the darker, cooler ash at the bottom, the barbarian quickly (just in case) scooped a handful of ash and rubbed it over the gauntleted hilt of the green broadsword. It wasn’t a permanent solution, but it would at least cover up those hateful eyes.

GM

The blacksmith could easily pass for a barbarian himself—tall, lanky, blond, and shirtless, with tightly-coiled muscles in his shoulders and one arm, and numerous small scars where most of his chest-hair has been burned off by stray sparks. He looks up briefly from his work, but, noticing what Hrud is up to, merely nods and turns back to his hammering.

The dark ash does a passable job of disguising the weapon’s hilt, though, given the thin drizzle of rain that begins almost immediately thereafter, you doubt it will last long.

Frantiska

Frantiska shakes her head at the disgusting display the smith is putting on, has he no shame! she thinks. She looks to make sure that Rant has Amara in hand, then turns Thistledown towards the westward road. “Are we ready to go now?”

Donovan

“Rant, tell Hrud that I think I’ve got the hang of this thing if he would be more comfortable riding.” Donovan doffs his hat and pulls his hood up against the rain. He takes the reins and coaxes the oxen forward slowly.

Lyra

Lyra holds a hand out the back of the wagon briefly and watches the rain droplets roll across her palm. “How far do you think we’ll get before evening?”

Hrud

Hurd, having gathered the few items he’d left on the wagon, returns to his mount and waited patiently behind the wagon.

Not having much to offer in the current conversation, the barbarian found himself remembering one of the times he was out watching over the cattle as they grazed – this must’ve been during one of the Eastern migrations, due to the number of streams they crossed – the herd knew it was time to return, but for whatever reason, couldn’t seem to find the place where they’d forded.

They meandered aimlessly for quite a while before finally finding the right place and getting their return trip under way. It was nearly dark when they’d returned; old Skadi was furious: “Yer a headache when you’re here, and a ulcer when yer gone!” Still, all the animals were accounted for, so the he didn’t stay mad for long – even let him take the herd out the next day. Skadi was a grouch, but a lazy grouch.

Back in the present, Hrud wondered when this herd would finally find what they were looking for and be on its way.


GM

The oxen are clearly used to working as a team and pulling loads of this sort and their slow plodding gate brings you steadily away from the city. Beyond the market and the smithy, the road bends south, towards the shoreline and away from the walls of the new city. You pass the ruins of the Library to your right, the area around it oddly clear of the hovels you’ve seen elsewhere, beyond which the ruins of the old city slowly fade into more and more shanties. Past the market all semblance of paving vanishes, leaving your animals plodding through mud tracks and puddles, made ever slicker by the continuing mist of rain. The oxen do not seem to mind though, and the large, wide wheels of the wagon slide easily over even the worst of the potholes.

Near the shore, the road, if you can call it that, bends westward, veering back towards the old town. Within a mile all further remnants of the slums settlements have vanished and the track comes within throwing distance of a new, but poorly crafted, wooden palisade that marks the old textiles district. Though the rain continues, a brightening of the gray-white sky overhead tells you that it is just past noon, and allows you to make out several tall, humanoid forms perched on towers at the corners of the wall. They stop and watch your progress, spears clearly visible in their hands, and, for a span of several minutes, you suspect that they might sally-forth to assault the wagon. As you near the far corner of the palisade and the road begins to bend away to the south again, you one lower its spear and pull something up over its head to ward off the rain and turn away.

Only a little further west the slight wind changes and a horrible stench assaults you. The grasses along the trail fade to gray, wither, and then vanish altogether, and you soon find yourselves looking at a wide stretch of black water pouring into the bay and leaving a large gray smear on the sea to your left. Donovan points out that this is the west, and smaller fork of the Stojanow, and marks the historical limits of the city of Phlan. The track bends northward here, and, this close to the defoliating effects of the river, turns into a soupy morass through which even Hrud’s sturdy pony is forced to proceed very slowly. You see an old stone bridge crossing to the west side of the Stojanow a few hundred yards north of you, within easy shouting distance and shortbow range of the stockade surrounding the textile district. You see more and more heads appearing in the tower closest to the bridge and suspect they are thinking the same thing…

Donovan

Donovan winces on seeing the guards on the wall. “Sorry,” he mumbles, “I forgot we’d have to cross over the fork going this way…and that it was so close to the old Cadorna place.” He reaches down beside him and checks to make sure both the hand crossbow and heavy crossbow are loaded and ready. “I geuss that means we’ll be pretty close to the graveyard when we cross over as well.” He puts on a fake smile. “On the bright side, I doubt those hobos will chase us over the bridge with the graveyard so close.”

He keeps a hand on the reins and the brake, just in case, but lets the oxen keep up their steady plodding. “We have to cross one way or the other, so we should probably just keep going…”

Lyra

Lyra places her bow and two quivers of arrows next to her. The sides of the wagon might offer some protection, but not enough. And the graveyard as well. “Wasn’t one of the council proclamations regarding information about any entities in the graveyard? We should keep an eye out as we go by.”

Frantiska

Frantiska, who had been riding side-saddle with her legs tucked up against Thistledown’s flanks to avoid splashing her boots with the dark, foul-smelling mud, drops into the stirrups and pushes Thistle into a trot, kicking up a great deal more mud, to put herself up alongside the exposed side of the wagon. She pulls out her longbow and bends it across her knee to string it and knocks a brightly-fletched sheaf arrow, making a great show of readying the large bow, hoping that it’s obviously superior range will help deter the creatures on the walls. As she does this, she chants the words of an arrowflight spell. “My apologies Mr. Donovan, but I am beginning to hate this town of yours…”

Hrud

Noticing how the members of the group appear to be readying their ranged weapons, Hrud does likewise with his shortbow.

Lyra

Lyra stands up in the back of the wagon, and fails to find any gaps in the canvas that she would be able to shoot from. “Usually I am not one to advocate initiating hostilities, but perhaps we might wish to discourage them from standing up there while we still have a range advantage?”

GM

Brother Rant pushes Amara down behind a crate and grabs a light crossbow, “Stay down.”

“But I can help,” she says.

“No.”

“But I can help!”

“Miss Amara, please stay down.” Rant loads the crossbow and crouches at the back opening of the wagon, steadying the bow on the top of his shield. The girl looks at him huffily, mutters something to to the kitten she is holding, which vanishes.

“Ok, but only until Whiskers gets back…”

Lyra

Lyra takes up position behind Rant, so she would be able to fire over his head. Kneeling to pick up one of the quivers she whispers in the trade tongue: “The girl is a genie-binder, you realize? When Whiskers comes back, it— She? I’m not sure. Either way, it will have something for her, and she will use it. I’m not sure you realize what you’ve signed up for in protecting her.”

Donovan

Donovan looks back at Lyra in astonishment, but keeps driving, “Range superiority or no, I count at least a dozen up there, and only seven of us down here, counting Amara. Do we really want to get in a shooting war with a whole tribe of hobgoblins?”

GM

“Genies?” Rant raises an eyebrow then looks at the place where the blue cat was only a moment ago. “I’ve heard of stranger things…” He looks out the back, then speaks up so that Donovan can hear from the front. “At the rate we’re going, we’re certainly not initiating a battle from this angle.” He moves up to the front of the wagon to look over Donovan’s shoulder. “If they sally forth, this mud will make us very easy targets, with no way to escape.” He smiles and moves back to Lyra, “I’ll be right back”, then hops out of the back of the wagon, sinking well past his ankles in the muck.

He pulls out his holy symbol, takes a fist-full of the mud, and bows his head in silent prayer. As he finishes, there is a faint sucking sound as his boots, the hooves of the horses and oxen, and the wheels of the wagon all come free of the mud slightly. Thistledown whinnies and stamps her hooves, clearly surprised that she is now standing firmly on top of the muddy track.

Rant runs to catch up with the, now much faster-moving, wagon and pulls himself up. “Whatever you do, don’t leave the road until we’re across the bridge…”

The wagon and horses free, Rant leans his head out of the wagon, «Master Hrud, Lyra and Frantiska suggest that we should attack the creatures on the wall before we are in range of their bows. What is your opinion on the matter?»

Hrud

«One doesn’t try to sneak past a bear’s cave by shooting into it – unless the bear is already charging. Would it be possible to put up a smoke screen?»

GM

Teldicia perks up as Rant translates Hrud’s question. “Maybe…” The wagon continues to rattle along having covered half the distance to the bridge by now, smoothly crossing the mud as if it were hard paving stones. Teldicia stand up on the driver’s bench, holding on to the canopy to maintain her balance, and waits. You can just see one of the creatures on the wall begin to draw his bow, probably just to test the range as it still a long shot, when Teldicia raises her hand…and the entire top of the tower is enveloped in darkness, looking like a great, black globe has been set over the top of it.

An arrow comes streaking out of the darkness and lands in the mud twenty paces or so from the wagon.

Hrud

« … Nicely done.» Hrud, expecting actual smoke, takes a moment to shake off his surprise at the sudden globe of darkness, «Can you make wagon noises too? Lest they track us by sound.»

Donovan

“You guys are all awesome,” Donovan breathes. “Tell Hrud that was a great idea. Now lets get across the river before they figure out what happened.” He snaps the reins and urges the two big draft animals to pick up speed as much as they can.

Lyra

Lyra reddened a bit in embarrassment. Her own magical aptitude was still rather lacking. She moved up to the front of the wagon, watching for incoming arrows that may hit the oxen or driver’s seat.

GM

A handful of wild shots come streaking out of the darkness, most nowhere near the wagon. One, however, comes hurtling, probably at random, strait at one of the oxen, only to vanish in midair a foot away from the beast. You hear a pained scream from up on the wall.

With no real resistance forthcoming, the wagon crosses the bridge over the river with no further problems. A tiny blue unicorn appears in Amara’s lap and she mumbles huffily, “We could have helped…”

View
Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 3
In which the party separates...again...

GM

Teldicia still sits in the back of the wagon, holding the sleeping injured girl’s head in her lap. “Oh, the little one ran off, saying something about needing to get a present for her grandmother. Rant when after her.” She takes one of the folded blankets and carefully slides it under the girl’s head, extracting herself. She climbs down next to Lyra, “So, what’s with all the munitions?”

Lyra

Lyra sighs “I had just intended to get a bow and some arrows, food and traveling supplies for everyone, and a few things for the girl. It seems Frantiska and Donovan had other ideas.”

Lyra looks around, scanning the crowd. “Do you know where they were headed, or at least which direction? Rant shouldn’t be heading off alone after publicly executing one of Mace’s gang members.”

GM

“The girl was heading into the Market.” Teldicia points, “Shall we go after them?”

Donovan

Donovan looks slightly concerned, “For all that he was bleeding on the cobbles when we found him, Rant seems capable of taking care of himself…though I’d hate to lose our most important cargo before we have even set out.” He looks around to double-check that everything is packed. “At present though, we have four animals, a wounded girl, and a giant wagon full of weapons to be concerned about. Frantiska, can you and Hrud take your horses and go after them? You’ll have a much better chance to spot them in the crowds if you are mounted, and a better chance of clearing a way as well. Lyra, Teldicia, and I can stay here and watch the wagon, the goods, and the girl.”

He turns to Teldicia, “The bows are to help us get through the swamps. Even if we are not the best shots, the six people armed with ranged weapons can be an effective deterrent to would-be bandits or raiders. Also, if we are attacked, being able to get off a volley before any attackers close to melee, even if only half our shots hit, can substantially improve our odds of survival.”

Teldicia

“Her name is Ellen,” Teldicia says. “She woke up briefly while you folks were filling up the armory here.” She moves up to the driver’s bench, “Rant said he wanted to leave the girl with the priests at Half-a-Loaf on the other side of the market square. This thing doesn’t look to hard to drive. If we’re staying with the wagon, maybe we should go ahead and take it over there so we’re not just sitting here twiddling our thumbs waiting for them to get back…”

Frantiska

Frantiska sighs, untethers Thistledown, and mounts up. “Alright, we’ll meet you at this Half-a-Loaf place.”

“Hrud, ayolah. Kita harus pergi mencari di mana Saudara Rant dan gadis kecil itu pergi..”

Lyra

Lyra climbs up into the back of the wagon awkwardly trying to arrange her sword, bow, and quiver for easy reach. She kneels next to the girl and gently brushes a stray lock of hair off of the girl’s face. “I’ll keep an eye on Ellen.”

Hrud

Hrud understood “have to go looking” and that was about it – still, it was enough. Grabbing his bow, he makes his way back around to his horse and swings up into the saddle, ready to follow.

Frantiska

Frantiska nudges Thistledown and heads down the connecting alley into the market that Teldicia had indicated. “Hrud, jauhkan mata Anda keluar untuk Brother Rant atau gadis itu,” she says as they enter the market, standing up in the saddle to see if she can spot their missing companions.

GM

The market square is crowded, dozens of tents, carts, and stalls buying, selling, and fencing everything imaginable, some of them even legitimate, fill the square. The din of merchants hawking their wares, beggars asking for handouts, street-corner evangelists preaching about all manner of gods, and shoppers running around is near-deafening. The crowd is heavily mixed, representing nearly every race and nationality, though human settlers from the south and the local orcs and goblins dominate. All are from the lower end of the economic spectrum. Frantiska picks out a score of languages being used, just within earshot.

Standing in the saddle, you easily see Amara, Rant standing very close behind her, less than ten yards to your left as you enter the square, standing in front of one of the few permanent structures in the square—a wooden stall laid out with all manner of candles, incenses, oils, and even a handful of of vials labeled, in Common, as “Poshuns of Heeling”.

About thirty yards to your right, in the center of the market, the crowd has parted slightly, revealing a dark-haired man in slightly nicer clothes than everyone else standing on a large crate, ranting in the local dialect:

…my sturbovani tym, yak kulʹt Eberhard postupovo zrostaye kulʹt, yakyy stav dzherelom tsiloho ryadu nadzvychayno seryoznykh zbochenʹ pryntsypiv, demokratiyi, revolyutsiynoyi zakonnosti. My vvazhaye za neobkhidne, shchob Rada materialy, shcho stosuyutʹsya tsʹoho pytannya ye.

YA vyyavyv u Ulrich Eberhard tsi nehatyvni kharakterystyky, yaki pryvely piznishe do tyazhkykh naslidkiv. Poboyuyuchysʹ maybutnyu dolyu New Phlan, ya vkazav, shcho neobkhidno bulo roz·hlyanuty pytannya pro peredachu Eberhard z pozytsiyi heneralʹnoho sekretarya, bo Eberhard ne bulo pravylʹne stavlennya do nashykh hromadyan.

U 1363 Volodymyr Abd-alʹ-Beyn, miy batʹko, pysav: ‘Pislya pryynyattya na posadu heneralʹnoho sekretarya , tovarysh Ulʹrikh Eberkhard nakopychenyy nezmirnu vladu v svoyikh rukakh, i ya ne vpevnenyy, chy zumiye vin zavzhdy buty v zmozi vykorystaty tsyu vladu z potribna dopomoha’.

Volodymyr takozh skazav: ’YA proponuyu, shchob tovaryshi vvazhayutʹ metod, yakym Ulʹrikh Eberkhard bude vydalenyy z tsiyeyi pozytsiyi i za dopomohoyu yakoho insha lyudyna bude obranyy dlya nʹoho, lyudyny, yaka , persh za vse, bude vidriznyatysya vid Ulrich Eberhard tilʹky v odnomu yakosti , a same, bilʹshoyi terpymosti, bilʹshoyi loyalʹnosti, bilʹshe dobroty ’…

Hrud

Hrud marks the position of Rant and – which one of the girls was it? There were so many to keep track of – Amara in the square, then turns his attention back to the speaker. Usually, when someone speaks in a crowded area like this, it’s connected to something troubling.

Frantiska

Frantiska strains to understand the man’s speech, but finds that it only worsens her budding headache. She turns Thistledown to the left and nudges her way through the crowd towards Amara and Rant.

GM

As you ride closer, you see Amara hand a small bag, presumably coin, to the chandler in exchange for a single twist-molded black taper. Rant, scanning the crowd, spots you and gives a small wave of recognition.

While the speaker seems very excited, the crowd seems to waver between derision and disinterest, though there are the occasional, isolated cheers of assent and support for whatever the man is saying. It doesn’t look like there is much chance of it devolving into violence…for now at least. The man himself seems oblivious to the jeering of the crowd and presses on with his speech:

Tovaryshi! Rada povynen oznayomytysya z novymy dokumentamy, yaki pidtverdzhuyutʹ kharakter Eberhard avtora. U 1653, Abd-alʹ-Beyn vidpravleno Eberhard nastupnyy lyst: “Shanovnyy tovarysh Eberhard Vy maly hrubistʹ poklykaty moyu druzhynu i vylayaty yiyi Nezvazhayuchy na te, shcho vona skazala, shcho vona pohodylasya zabuty te, shcho bulo skazano, ya ne zbyrayusya zabuvaty tak lehko”. Tovaryshi! YA ne budu komentuvaty tsi dokumenty. Vony krasnomovno hovoryatʹ sami za sebe.

Yak pokazaly podalʹshi podiyi dovely, tryvozhnistʹ Abd-alʹ-Beyn bulo vypravdano. Eberkhard, yakyy absolyutno ne terpiv kolektyvnosti v kerivnytstvi i v roboti, vystupav ne shlyakhom perekonannya, ale nav’yazuvannya svoyikh ustanovok, vymohy bezzasterezhnoho pidporyadkuvannya do yoho dumky. Eberkhard vynyk ponyattya “voroh narodu”. Tsey termin avtomatychno staye nepotribnym, shcho ideolohichni pomylky lyudyny ne dovedeno. Tse stalo mozhlyvym vykorystannya samym zhorstokym represiyam, proty budʹ-yakoho, khto v budʹ-yakomu vypadku ne pohodyvsya z Eberhard, proty tykh, khto buly tilʹky pidozryuvaly u vorozhykh namirakh, proty tykh, khto mav pohanu reputatsiyu.

V tsilomu, yedynym dokazom provyny faktychno vykorystovuvaly “vyznannya” z samoho obvynuvachenoho. “Vyznannya” buly prydbani cherez fizychni tysku …

Hrud

Hrud walks his horse over to Rant and, indicating the speaker, asks, “«What is that man talking about?»”

GM

Rant looks in the direction indicated, «Oh, that’s Hasan. Nevermind him, he’s out there every day. He blames the Council, and Head Councilman Ulrich Eberhard especially, for the failure of his business. He’s been trying to raise popular support to get himself /elected/ to the Council.» They way Rant says the word ‘elected’ it is clear that he thinks the entire concept is ridiculous.

Amara, clutching the candle tightly, suddenly perks up at one word Rant says, “Hasan?! Daddy?!” Her head snaps around and she begins jumping to see what Hrud is pointing at. The tiny blue unicorn at her feet begins galloping in excited circles around her.

Frantiska

Frantiska, reaches down and hoists the girl onto the front of her saddle so that she can see across the crowd. “Is that man your father, Amara?” she asks, pointing to the orator. Not liking the look of that candle, or the chandler, she attempts to focus past the headache to sense the presence of evil magics or intent.

What?! Frantiska thinks, through the sudden blinding pain in her head. While Amara is distracted looking over the crowd for her father, Frantiska quickly knocks the candle out of her hand and gives a sharp whistle, indicating for Thistledown to stomp on it. She briefly considers shoving Amara off the saddle as well, knowing well that most normal people’s petty vices and jealousies are not meant to trigger the special senses given to her by Selune, but recalls something the Queen’s Psychologue once said about all small children being sociopaths. Striking a child unprovoked would make me no better than the beasts in this shanty. It may just be a child’s passing rage at her estranged parents. I will just have to bide my time, watch her, and try to set a good example.

“I’m sorry Amara, I was just startled by something. Allow me to buy a replacement for you…” Frantiska scans the ground to make sure the candle is destroyed, then looks at the chandler’s selection for one a little less cursed…

Hrud

Hrud, the vague look of confusion that he normally wears growing a little less vague, is completely puzzled by Frantiska and her sudden, unexpected reaction. His first thought is, ‘She must hate candles,’ which is then followed by, ‘We are never getting out of this city.’

GM

Amara, from up on the horse, spots the man and yells “It is daddy!” Her countenance suddenly falls as the candle is knocked from her hands, “Oh! That…that was my present for Grandmother!” She begins bawling.

Frantiska

“Brother Rant,” Frantiska says, urging Thistledown closer to the chandler’s stall, “Donovan is bringing the wagon around to the other side of the market and asks that we meet him at a place called Half-a-Loaf.” She tries to ignore the girl screaming in her ear and calls down to the chandler. “Sir, how much for the red candle?”

“Amara, calm down,” she says, “there was something amiss about that candle. We’ll get you a replacement for your grandmother, then we can go speak to your father…”

GM

The chandler looks bemusedly at the elf woman and the screaming child, “Seven gold for the red one,” he says simply.

“I don’t want a red one! Grandma likes the black ones! The red ones are no good!” Amara shouts, turning red in the face. “And I do not need to speak with father, I’m on a mission for Uncle!”

“…I also have another black one for twenty gold if the girl would prefer,” the chandler pipes in.

Frantiska

Insistent isn’t she. Frantiska hands the chandler two platinum coins, “A red one please, Sir. Not to impugn your wares, but the black one seemed to have some malignant magics about it and is probably not an appropriate thing to be entrusted to a child.” A vein begins to stand-out on her forehead, marring her beauty only slightly. “Amara, please cease your tantrum. It would be disrespectful for you to come all this way and not at least say hello to your father before leaving again.”

The transaction complete, she stows the candle in a saddle-bag, rubs her temples, and turns Thistledown into the crowd. “Hrud, Bruder Rant, datang, kami akan berbicara dengan ayah gadis-gadis dan kemudian kita harus berada di jalan kami.”

Hrud

Hrud tried to parse the elf’s words. The best he could figure, she and the girl were going to speak with someone’s father. “Aku bakal ngenteni kene.”

Glancing around the market, the hilt of the barbarian’s new broadsword catches the corner of his eye – the evil eyes starting up at him. Turning back to Rant, he asks, “Panjenengan sapa kene ngedol paint?”

Frantiska

Frantiska calls over her shoulder, “Hrud, kita harus pergi dengan cara yang anyways. Yang terbaik adalah jika kita tidak bisa dipisahkan. Jika kita terus berpisah, kita tidak akan pernah keluar dari kota ini.”

Hrud

Irritated at being bossed around, even if he can’t totally understand her words, Hrud replies, “Sing mekso iki prawan kanggo ngomongake sing wong. Iki bakal njaluk kita metu saka kutha?”

GM

Brother Rant follows Hrud’s eyes to the sword. «Matteo the Smith does enamel-work. His shop is right behind the soup kitchen.» He points in roughly the direction that Frantiska is riding. “Miss seneng mrintah punika tengen, rama ing prawan kang wis rightful ditahan, kita ngirim paling ngandhani wong ing ngendi kita njupuk Amara. Lan yen kita tindakake mau, Mungkin kita bisa njaga perdamaian.” He starts walking after the girls. “Ayo, iku cara tengen paling.”

Hrud

Hrud sighs, then nudges his horse into following Rant.

GM

Like elsewhere in the slums, the crowd around Hasan parts easily, with only the slightest hint of panic, at the sound of hoofbeats behind them. Seeing Amara seated on the front of the saddle, the orator stops mid-rant and hops down from his soap-box to approach the horse.

Frantiska

Frantiska nudges Amara hard and whispers in her ear, “If you have something against your father, that’s fine, I understand that that is common with human children, but it is no excuse for impoliteness.”

GM

The speech abruptly ended, the crowd begins to disperse back to their work and shopping. The speaker, however moves close to Thistledown, looking up a you. “Amara? What are you doing here? And who are these people?” his tone is not as excited to see his daughter as one might expect. The man himself is clean-cut, dark haired, slightly dark of complexion, well dressed—with a nicely folded handkerchief peaking out of his pocket and other little touches to indicate wealth without ostentation—and possessed of a thick accent that mixes both the local and a hint of something more exotic.

“Nothing father,” Amara replies petulantly. “Uncle Aumry asked me to visit grandmother, so I am on my way there. He hired these people to escort me.”

“Grandmother?” he looks confused.

“Yes father, you know, my grandmother in Melvaunt. She is very sick. Uncle Aumry asked me to visit her and help her feel better…”

His face turns slightly ashen, “Oh! For your Uncle? Well you better get about your business then…”

“Mama sends her love too…”

“Are you taking good care of Susalia?”

“Yes father…”

Frantiska

Frantiska’s eyebrows raise slightly as she listens to the strange exchange between the little girl and her father. She is obviously too young to be the orchestrater of anything too sinister, but, between the girl’s insistence on the cursed candle, her father’s obvious confusion about the grandmother situation, and the sense of malevolence she detected from the child, Frantiska determines not to let the girl out of her site until they return from Melvaunt.

She narrows her gaze at Amara and leans down to offer a hand to the man. “I’m sorry, Sir,” she says in a cold, haughty voice, “we have not been properly introduced.” The last words are said with the tone of a scolding school-marm. “I am Frantiska Sykora, my companions behind me are Hrud, of the Eraka, and Brother Rant Harmell of Tyr. Professor Aumry contracted our companions, and us by proxy, to escort your daughter on her little errand. I promise we will keep her safe, and out of trouble…”

GM

The man looks surprised to be addressed, as if he were perfectly willing to take Amara’s word about you, then gives Frantiska a firm handshake. “Very pleased to meet you, Madam Sykora. My name is Hasan Abd-al-Bane. I must say, you seem a good deal more respectable than the usual sort that Aumry and my wife arrange to look after our little Amara…” He looks quizzically at the other horse and there is something resigned in his voice as he speaks. “Your shaggy friend seems much more their usual variety of babysitter. Still, I am glad to hear that she is in good hands.”

An unreadable glance passes between the father and daughter, causing Hasan to take a step back. “Well, I’d best let you all be on your way then…
And please, do keep an eye on her at her grandmother’s, she does tend to get into trouble when the old lady is involved…downright spoiled sometimes”

Frantiska

Frantiska can’t help but be angered at the man’s obvious lack of concern for his child, leaving her in the company of total strangers, traveling under what are most likely false pretenses. Humans! she thinks, this must be what comes of having such a short life and being such prolific breeders. Like rabbits! If you can make two, or four, or a dozen in only a few short decades, I suppose that would let you consider some expendable. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s a self-professed Banite—or was, given that Bane had been dead for a decade. She nods politely to the man. “Your trust is appreciated…” she says coldly. “As you suggest, we should be on our way then. Good day, Sir.”

“Mari kita pergi dari sini.” She says over her shoulder as she nudges Thistledown further across the square.


Meanwhile, back at the wagon…

Donovan

Donovan climbs up in the wagon and takes the reins. Alright, he thinks, cows aren’t that scary. “Geeyup,” he says, giving the reins what he thinks is a gentle snap. So, strait for two or three blocks, then a hard left onto Traitor’s Gate Road to come up behind the market. “You’re right, Teldicia. Just one turn can’t be too hard…”

GM

The cart is, in fact, pretty easy to handle. The going is fairly slow with trying not to trample people in the crowded streets, but you manage to make it, without incident, to the back door of the soup kitchen in about 25 minutes.

Lyra

The slow lumbering of the wagon was somehow both relaxing and infuriating. Lyra decided “I could have been there by now” was probably a poor measure of travel time, especially given how many theres (and at least two nows) it could be applied to.

She jumped in surprise when the girl next to her began to stir.

Lyra slides up closer to the front of the wagon, so she can take the opportunity to speak with Donovan and Teldicia. She settles in facing the back of the wagon so she can still keep an eye on the girl. “I had the opportunity to read through the books last night. The spellbook has Stars, Smoke, Windwielder, Shapeshifter, and the research notes detailing a rather troubling custom path — Brimstone. I believe one of the new spells therein was used to call forth the Lemures, and the journal also indicated how the portal was created – and ends abruptly after noting it nears completion. One of the priestesses at the Temple of Tyr was interested in acquiring the books.”

GM

Teldicia looks intrigued, “Might I peruse the books, those are not paths I am familiar with? The research notes don’t sound like the sort of thing we should be handing out to just anyone. It’s probably safer to keep things like that with us.” She turns to Donovan, “Don, speaking of finding interesting things, did I hear you say that the blade you took off the kobold had Noga writing on it?”

Lyra

“Noga writing? Frantiska will be interested. She is seeking information on the Empire of Nog.”

“My first inclination is to make sure no one else can make use of this research. It’s unconscionable. Imbuing a summoned devil with the power to pierce magical protections, summoning Lemures, the gate…. If not for that, Gendry would still be….”

Donovan

Donovan pulls the bronze machete out of his pack and hands it to Teldicia. “More eyes on it would be welcome. I’m curious about the inscription. From what I can gather, I think it means ‘Thirdly, I know that there is someone pursuing me—Death—whom I cannot escape from, so I have prepared myself to meet him,’ but the Noga characters are strange to me.”

He carefully guides the oxen around the turn, then turns back to Lyra, “As for the book, Lyra, I would like to peruse it while we journey as well. I’d rather stay away from diabolism, but I have dreams of crafting my own path some day. Seeing how the author went about it would be a good start. Given how many students of the arcane arts we have in our party, counting the three of us, plus Frantiska, We would do well to start compiling a shared library by which we could compare notes and have a basis for future research.”

Lyra

“If you’re interested in spell research, you should speak with Mother when we get back. It is her area of expertise.” Lyra glances at the machete as Teldicia turns it over in her hands to examine the inscription. “Where did you pick that up?”

Donovan

“While you were in Jerome’s, the mate of one of the kobolds we killed yesterday came and challenged Hrud to a duel. She lost, obviously, but she was sporting that thing.” Donovan shrugs, “There is actually an old story in town about a weapon like that being handed down for generations among the champions of the Red Hand kobold tribe. I guess she was their champion this time around…”

Lyra

“I can’t even finish shopping without something trying to kill us? No wonder you wanted everyone to stay with the wagon.” Lyra vaguely wonders if the monster filled swamp will actually be an improvement.

“Is the Red Hand tribe from the ruins, or somewhere outside the city that moved in?”

GM

Teldicia takes the machete and tears the last of the string off of the grip. “The inscription is part of a Nogian poem…”

“I have chosen four things to know and discarded all other things of knowledge.
The first is this: I know that my daily bread is apportioned to me and will neither be increased or decreased,
so I have stopped trying to add to it.
Secondly, I know I owe to the gods a debt which no one else can pay for me,
so I am busy about paying it.
Thirdly, I know that there is someone pursuing me—Death—whom I cannot escape from,
so I have prepared myself to meet him.
Fourth, I know that the gods are observing me,
so I am ashamed to do what I should not.”

“All of the mystics who follow the teachings of the Nogian battle-mages know it by heart. It sums up the core of their philosophy.” She holds the weapon gingerly by the unbound tang, and swings it easily. “It is also said that the Grand Master Hatim, who they say wrote the poem, also crafted four relics, each representing one of the precepts. Odd that such a weapon should end up in the hands of a kobold…”

Lyra

“Then it sounds like most of the students in Waterdeep missed lessons one and four. They had a rather poor reputation.” But where would kobolds get a Nogian relic from?

“If it’s been passed down in the Red Hand for generations, that means they likely had it before they swore fealty to the Scything Claw tribe. Found in the ruins of Old Phlan, then, or brought with them when they settled in over a century ago?”

GM

“Well, the last one is open to a lot of interpretation, since Hatim never said which god or gods were watching. Depending on which god they think is in charge, what you should not do can vary a lot.” Teldicia grins, “And if they missed the first…well, you at least wouldn’t have to worry about them actually using Nogian magic.” She hands the blade back to Donovan.

Lyra

Lyra briefly considers asking which gods Teldicia thinks are watching, but is pretty sure she wouldn’t like the answer given that she was traveling with Rietta, a necromancer, and a priestess of the Maid of Misfortune. “There were rumors they could trap spells within their own flesh, but they were mostly just beggars and street brawlers. Is that the Nogian magic you mean?”

GM

“Well, beggars, yes. Most take the ‘my daily bread shall neither be increased or decreased’ part as a prohibition on the accumulation of wealth, or at least on the accumulation of goods and possessions, I can’t speak to them being street brawlers.” Teldicia rubs her temples and smiles, “Huh, my headache seems to be gone,” and breathes a sign of relief. “You are also right that, at it’s simplest, Nogian battle-magic involves the use of rituals to entrap the energies that other casters would use to manipulate their spells within the mage’s own flesh. Thus making them stronger, faster, resistant to blows, or able to heal at remarkable rates, but at the cost of having a harder time casting spells in the more traditional manner.”

Donovan

Donovan looks back at Teldicia briefly, before realizing that he shouldn’t take his eyes off the road, “How do you know so much about ancient Nogian magic? And, let me just go ahead and ask the obvious follow-up, if your answer is what I assume it will be, can you teach us?”

GM

Teldicia laughs, “Yes, your assumption is probably right, and, yes, I can probably teach you. or at least let you muddle along with me since I am just a novice at it. As long as we have fun, right?”

Lyra

Lyra looks between Donvan and Teldicia. “Using stored energy as a catalyst for physical changes seems like a rather interesting area of study, at least. Another perhaps obvious follow-up — is that why you’re in Phlan?”

GM

Teldicia laughs again, “Kindof. I’m here because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. It’s convenient that Nog is supposed to have been around here, if we find any ruins or the like, I would love to study them, but mostly I’m just here following the tenants.”

Donovan

Donovan hands the machete back to Teldicia as he pulls the wagon to a stop. “Here, you keep this then.”

GM

Teldicia takes the weapon gingerly, “Thank you.” She straps the sheath to her thin belt, then reaches into her pouch, pulling out a handful of darts and hands them back to Donovan. “These are for you then. Keep them, use them, sell them, or whatever.” She looks back at where the girl is stirring, “So we’re just going to patch her up and drop her off?”

Lyra

Lyra watches the darts exchange hands. “Maintaining equilibrium in accordance with the tenants?”

“I’d rather not just leave her, but our other options are to delay our trip to find her family, or maybe take her with us so she can resettle in Melvaunt. Mr. Donovan, is Melvaunt large enough that it would have a psychologue?”

Donovan

Donovan looks at the darts, wondering if they would fit his new crossbow. “Thanks.”

“While it’s nothing compared to Waterdeep, Melvaunt is a good-sized city, maybe thirty-thousand souls. There very well may be a psychologue in Melvaunt. If we’re thinking of taking her out of the city, we should probably wake her up and ask her. After her recent encounter, I doubt she would take well to waking up in the back of a wagon full of strangers, in the middle of a monster-infested swamp, on its way to a city with something of a reputation for smuggling and human trafficking…”

Lyra

“Once she wakes up, we ought to just ask her where she wants to go and help her get there.” Smuggling and human trafficking? Not to Melvaunt, psychologue or no.

GM

You hear a faint voice from the back of the wagon, “Ask me what?”

Lyra

Lyra moves over near the girl, with a deliberate slowness to her actions so as not to startle her. “Teldicia said your name is Ellen. Brother Rant of Tyr and Donovan, a former herald of Phlan, are the ones who treated your wounds. I’m Lyrathwen Alethiel Beragaion, but you can call me Lyra. Are you feeling better? Are you hungry? Right now we’re in a wagon near Half-a-Loaf in the market. You’ve been unconscious for…” She thinks for a moment. “Probably more than two hours now.”

GM

The girl stares at Lyra for a bit, then practically leaps up from the floor of the cart and throws her arms around Lyra’s neck. “YOU! You saved me! You’re the one who…who…” she stops suddenly and shoves Lyra away. “You…saw…” she scuttles backwards as much as she can and seems to shrink, curling into a ball in a corner made by the crate of food and the canvas wall of the wagon, pulling awkwardly at the unfamiliar dress, apparently trying to cover or hide every last inch of exposed skin.

Lyra

Luckily, the dress Lyra was wearing previously was already quite modest. Lyra half turns, giving the girl her desired privacy. “The ones who hurt you will never be able to hurt anyone ever again. My other companions, Frantiska, a knight of Selune, and Hrud of the Eraka saw to that.” She reaches into one of the nearby bundles. “We got you some shoes, too.” She extends them towards Ellen, still not looking towards the girl.

GM

The girl snatches the shoes and quickly puts them on, judging by your previous looks at her feet, she may have never worn such before, though you hadn’t really thought about it. A minute or two of silence pass before Lyra feels a hand tentatively grab her arm, “You can’t leave me here…”

Donovan

Donovan keeps his eyes fixed on the street, “Miss, we’re on our way to Melvaunt and have a three-day journey through the swamp ahead of us. You’d be much safer if you stayed with the priests here in town.” He switches to Elvish to address Lyra, «There is no way of knowing how badly traumatized she is at this point. It would be great if we could help, but we’re not trained for this and a sudden outburst at the wrong time could get us all killed. It’s probably safer for everyone involved if we just leave her here.»

Donovan stops the wagon. “We’re here,” he says. «I’ll leave you and Teldicia to sort it out, but the priests are probably much better equipped for this sort of thing than we are.» He sets the brake and climbs down from wagon. “I’m going to go in, see if Rant and the others have made it here yet, and let the priests know what is going on.”

Lyra

«Why do you always assume people can’t speak Espurar?» As Donovan climbs down out of view, Lyra wonders if she could extricate her arm without provoking another outburst. Ultimately, she decides against it. “Where do you want to go, if not here?”

Donovan

«Elementary my dear Lyra,» says Donovan in a tone clearly meant to mock a number of professors he’s had in the past, and possibly Frantiska and Lyra’s mother as well. «Despite anecdotal micro-population evidence to the contrary, sic our party, people of elvish descent are a distinct demographic minority not only in Phlan, but in the Moonsea, and the Realms at large. Despite the popularity of the fair language among mages and the nobility, most common folk, baring those in areas close to the few extant enclaves of the people, have no reason to learn the language. More-so, most humans, it turns out, only know their native language and probably the common tongue. Those that are multi-lingual are much more likely to have learned one of the many, many regional languages than that of another race.» He grins over his shoulder. «Until Frantiska can teach us all something even more exotic, the fair tongue is probably our best bet for talking amongst ourselves without being eavesdropped on. The added benefit being that most of us already know it.»

View
Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 2
In which the party finally gets their shopping done...

Donovan

As they toss the bundle of weapons and armor into the wagon, Donovan shrugs. “I was thinking we could pawn most of them. Jerome’s is right on the other side of Madam Esmerelda’s, almost. The only problem with that thought is that Jerome supplies the gangs as much as the adventurers, so the weapons would most likely just end up back in the hands of other ruffians…”

As he climbs back up into the wagon, he smiles, “We could just shove them in a corner of the wagon and sell them when we get to Melvaunt. That would keep them out of the local arms-market at least.”

Hrud

Hrud reclaims the green sword he left at the wagon. He then changes out of his hand-me-down leather armor and into the leather curiass. The barbarian proceeds to examine both of the spears, examining the heads and sighting down the hafts for any bows, splinters, or cracks. After a moment’s consideration, he tosses one back on the pile of loot and carries the other with him to the drivers bench.

As he starts to climb up, he suddenly remembers something. Stepping back down, he wonders over to the pool of blood that had spilled from the orc’s crushed skull. Kneeling down, he presses his hand into the crimson puddle, then slaps himself on chest – leaving a shiny red hand-print glistening in the sunlight. After wiping his hand off on the dead orc, he returns to his seat, ready to continue the journey.

Lyra

Lyra carefully steps around the spray of orc gore at the back of the wagon and climbs in to check on the girl. She removes hose, a chemise, and the wine colored dress she was wearing yesterday from her pack, and re-folds them in a neat pile next to the girl so that she’d have them in the order she’d need them getting dressed. Her brow furrows, realizing she doesn’t have extra shoes to give. She adds to her mental list of things to get at the market. “Brother Rant, how is she?”

GM

“Her injuries were pretty severe, but she should recover soon enough, physically at least. You reached her just in time.” Brother Rant climbs up in the wagon with the girls. “There is no telling what sort of emotional scarring she might have from an event like this. I don’t know of any proper Psychologues in the city, but we can at least get her someplace safe and find who she belongs to.”

Teldicia chimes in, “One more distraction then? Finding her family, if she even has any, in this warren sounds like it would take forever.”

Brother Rant nods, "The soup kitchen I volunteer at is on the far side of the market. We should take her t

Lyra

Lyra was practically scowling. “Belongs to?”

GM

Brother Rant looks at Lyra confusedly, “Yes, Miss Lyra, while there are a lot of lost souls in this town, most people still have someone willing to take responsibility for them—a parent, a sibling, a spouse, or even fellow adventurers. She seems a bit young to fall in that last category, but then, so do you I guess.” He smiles, “Even if she has no family, she might belong to a group like your own. We are social creatures. Everyone belongs to someone, that is just the order of things.”

Lyra

Her expression softens. “Shouldn’t it be ‘belongs with’ rather than ‘belongs to’?”

Frantiska

Frantiska makes a clicking sound with her tongue, and Thistledown follows close behind while they haul the loot back to the wagon. “Selling them fifteen leagues away seems like a reasonable solution to the local problem, but what are the chances that forces from Melvaunt would come here?” She climbs up on Thistledown and nudges her into the crowd, making way for the wagon.

«Lyra,» she says, once mounted,«in light of recent events, Thistledown and I are definitely coming along on your shopping expedition to provide security.»

Lyra

«If nothing else, I could use some help carrying things back. I’m a little worried Brother Rant just made himself even more of a target for the Xvimlar than he was already, though. We should make it a fast trip.» Lyra slips out the back of the wagon and heads towards Jerome’s, keeping a wary eye on the crowd. «So what brings you to Phlan, anyway? Aglarond is rather far from here, and you seem to find this place as unwelcoming as I do.»

Frantiska

Frantiska smiles warmly as she follow’s Lyra to the store, clearly pleased by the question. «My purpose here is twofold. First, it is the wish of the Witch Queen that her servants learn as much as they can about the larger world, so as to better serve her. More specifically, I am investigating a mystery. You see, my personal interest is in the area of etymology, that is the history of languages and words. While studying in Aglarond, I noticed an oddity—the language of my homeland appears to be more closely related to the language of this region than of any of our neighbors. There is no mention in the official histories of Aglarond of any kind of diaspora or exodus from this region, nor even of any significant trade or other interaction. So, I began traveling here to see if there might be some sage, or tome, or other clue that could shed light on why this linguistic anomaly might be.» She barely stops for breath as she speaks, «While traveling through the Duchy of Carmathan in Damarra, Thistledown and I met a teller of tales who spoke of Phlan. While he went on for some time about the “glorious reclamation” that the Council is attempting, we were eventually able to get some more interesting details out of him. First that Phlan is among the oldest human settlements in the lands north of the Moonsea. Second that there was a great library in the old city, and that some portion of it may still be standing. And third, and perhaps most important to my research, he spoke of an ancient civilization that existed near here, the Empire of Nog.» Her eyes truly light up at this, «Then, in a small library in the city of Darmshall in Sunderland, I found a few scraps of parchment and palimpsests which the librarian claimed came from this ‘Nog’. While I was not able to fully decipher them, they characters and words I could make out were clearly of Mulani extraction—very similar to the language of Thay, nearest neighbor and greatest enemy. So, it only stands to reason that if this ‘Nog’ existed, is as old as the bard’s tale led me to believe, and is linguistically associated with the lands even farther east than Aglarond, then it may be the link I need to unravel why our language is so close to that of Thar. Perhaps all of the eastern civilizations originated here, in Nog and Tharkul, and there was some event that forced both cultures to migrate east.» She stops Thistledown at the door of the store, surprised to see an actual brick-and-mortar establishment here, and climbs down. She whispers something into the horse’s ear before walking into the building behind Lyra. «So, I am here in Phlan because I hope to gain access to the library in the old city, or whatever is left of it, hopefully find some more clues to the location of the Empire of Nog, and then mount an archaeological expedition to unearth whatever ruins may still stand of Nog. In the meantime, I hope to do whatever good I can, as Selune calls.»

Lyra

Lyra paused in thought as she picked through the shelves for needed supplies. «Before Plhan was founded, the Stojanow River went by another name — the Nogaro. I’ve heard of Nog in Waterdeep as well. There was an old monastery near the docks, claiming to teach the ways of the “Battlemages of Nog”. Rumor is, they learned to trap spells within their own flesh, but for the most part they were beggars and brawlers of ill repute. But, if the Nogaro has its roots from the Empire of Nog, it may have been located near the river, or perhaps its source.»

GM

Jerome of Melvaunt’s is a long, high-ceilinged, windowless, wooden building, a clap-board sign hanging over the door bears the traditional three gold balls identifying it as a pawn shop. Lyra and Frantiska walk in to find the place dark, almost oppressively so after being outside, with only a single candle in a hanging sconce every fifteen feet or so of the building’s length. Two guards, tall men in scale armor, leaning on unsheathed two-handed swords, immediately flank the door on the inside. Merchandise is piled haphazardly everywhere, with ceiling high stacks of barrels, crates, jars, chairs, bolts of cloth, and other things, with no apparent organization or reason. To the right, as you enter, is a large iron-barred cage with a small window at waist-level inside of which is a heavy wooden desk and a single wooden door in the wall behind it.

A dark-bearded dwarf wearing thick horn-rimmed glasses sits at the desk. Seeing the two girls come in, he stands, unlocks the cage and steps out. “Welcome ladies,” he says in a surprisingly smooth voice for a dwarf and a tone that leans towards sleezy pick-up artist, “how can Jerome help you today?”

As Lyra begins listing the things she is looking for, he whistles and a large, burly half-orc comes walking out from behind a pile of carpets. Jerome begins barking orders in orcish and soon a mound of blankets, sleeping bags, and other gear is sitting at Lyra’s feet. When she mentions ‘six weeks of food’ the dwarf’s eyebrows go up comically, “What sort of food M’lady, and, for the two of you? Your friend looks like the adventuring sort, I hope you weren’t planning on living on hard-tack for that long? You’ll get scurvy that way.”

Lyra

Lyra glances around at the stacks of dubiously acquired goods. It almost looks like a hobo dragon’s hoard. Then she looks down to the growing pile at her feet, trying to think if there was anything else she’d missed. “Six people for one week, sir. What would you recommend?”

GM

Lyra notices that a few of the blankets have someone else’s initials embroidered along the edge.

“Six people for one week,” the dwarf looks around and starts barking more orders in orcish, “you got a cook with you?” His half-orc assistant comes back with an opened crate filled with jars and pouches.

“Here ya go, this’ll make some proper meals for pretty lasses such as yourselves.” He begins holding up jars and bags to show you. “Here’s five pounds of rice and 2 pounds of chickpeas, put them in a barrel to soak and then just boil what you need when you’re ready to eat—they’ll fill your party up just as well as hard-tack with none of the tummy troubles after. Then you’ve got 2 pounds of salt cod and 5 pounds of beef sausages for your protein. Two dozen eggs and three loaves of sourdough for your breakfasts, and a jar of strawberry preserves to spread on it. Then we’ve got 3 quarts of pickled beans, 2 quarts of mushrooms, and 2 quarts of onions for flavor, just dump a quart in with your rice to make a nice side-dish. A gallon of olive oil, good for lamps or for frying the mushrooms. A wheel of yak-butter cheese, 2 pounds of walnuts, and a quart of pickled pears for snacking on the road. Sugar, salt, and Herbs de Provence for adding a little more flavor to your dinner. And a keg of mead to wash it all down with.”

He gives the two of you the biggest grin you’ve ever seen on a dwarf, actually maybe the only grin you’ve ever seen on a dwarf, “For pretty ladies such as yourselves, I’ll even knock an extra five percent off, which brings it to an even 70 gold for the crate.”

“And I suppose you’ll be needing pots, pans, and a camp stove too?”

Lyra

Lyra looks at her companion. «Can you cook, Frantiska? I can boil water and measure things, but when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.»

Frantiska

Frantiska is at first overwhelmed by the dark confines of the store, then completely shocked by the owner. What is he saying? Why is he smiling like that? Oh, Selune! Is a dwarf hitting on me?! Her face flushes a deep red, luckily hard to make out in the dim candlelight she thinks, then she realizes that everyone else, like her, are probably using infravision which would just make the heat flushing her cheeks that much more obvious. She blushes some more. She barely follows the conversation as the dwarf espouses the virtues of his canned vegetables. When Lyra finally asks her about cooking she stammers out «Umm, no!» and ducks out the door a little too quickly. «I’ll go ask the others…»

Lyra

Lyra looks confused as Frantiska rushes out. “A bit of dried fruit would be good. Apples, or maybe currants if you have any. Yes, we’ll need cooking supplies. And do you have any blankets that are less … monogrammed?”


Meanwhile, outside…

Donovan

Donovan, surprised to see Frantiska go into Jerome’s and leave her horse untethered and unattended, moves to the front of the wagon and directs Hrud, mostly by pointing emphatically, to pull the wagon up next to the store. “Brother Rant, we can easily walk to Half-a-Loaf from here. Do you think the girl is stable enough to be carried across the market? Or should we wait and take her in the wagon when the girls are done?”

Hrud

A sickly green shimmer danced along the length of the broadsword as Hrud turned it over in his lap. His eyes came to rest on the two painted eyes starting up at him from the guard. There was something about the shape, or the placement, or something about how they were rendered that was weighing on his mind.

Sitting on the wagon, waiting for the others to conduct their business (it looked as though this merchant was far less interested in fish than the one he’d dealt with down by the docks), the barbarian tried to recall his experience after Frantiska had … facilitated a quick albeit unexpected dreamwalk. The sword in his dream didn’t look like this one and, to be honest, didn’t ‘feel’ as sinister.

Suddenly, realization dawned: The figures looking down at him – one of them had eyes like this. It was one of the smaller figures, if he remembered correctly. Those hate-filled eyes had bored into with what he could only discribe as a general sense of contempt and spite. But the figure didn’t do anything, didn’t say anything in his vision … was this just a coincidence?

It seemed to Hrud that it must be in the nature of the gods to make people lots of questions, while answering as few of them as they could get away with. And even then, answer them in the most confusing, frustrating ways imaginable.

He wondered if they would give him a straight answer when he finally got to ask his question.

Donovan

Sitting in the front of the wagon waiting, Donovan has a sudden thought, his face breaking out into a large mischievous smile, and pulls the hurdy-gurdy from his pack. “Rant,” he says with a smirk, “don’t translate this please.” He cranks up the hurdy-gurdy and begins playing a slow, slinky jazz number over the drone. “I call this…Ode to Hrud…” he says, then begins singing in a high tenor.

Nobody understands me,
although I wish they would.
Nobody understands me.
I hate being misunderstood.

Nobody understands me,
no matter how I try.
Nobody understands me,
and I can’t understand why.

When I think of all the glorble snop
I’ve tried so hard to explain!
They all look amused,
or a little confused.
Why can’t they see what I mean?
(It’s very snooffly.)

Nobody understands me,
though memmily blitt each day.
Nobody understands me,
but I guess zooglobble that way.

How can I make you understand?
How can I make you see?
Why does my queckery biffle you so?
Where will this ezzleboo dornut go?
What do explectionary inuews know?
When will you yuddle for me?

Nobody beezifies me.
Nobody febbin ud.
Kibblezy deen voo nizee!
I hate being misunderstood.

GM

As Donovan’s song drones on, the crowd in the street begins to move back noticeably. At first, you expect it to be from some musical criticism, then you notice the parting crowd reveals a kobold, a red hand-print covering its face and a battered, bronze-bladed machete gripped in its paws. It barks in its high-pitched voice, sounding like an enraged minpin, and points a finger at Hrud. Off to one side, an old man wheeling a push-cart of fried dumplings stops and looks up at the wagon. “She says the big guy killed her mate and she wants retribution. Fight to the death and all that…her versus the big man…” The old man looks like he is trying hard not to laugh.

Donovan

Donovan stops playing and looks incredulously at the kobold, waiting for Rant to translate for Hrud and wondering what kind of crazy kobold would challenge the barbarian to a fair fight. “This has got to be a trick of some kind,” he says as he begins looking around at the crowd, side alleys, buildings, and rooftops for more kobolds.

Hrud

Hrud stands up on the wagon, sets aside his short bow and takes up the green broadsword. Stepping down, he slowly starts walking forward, saying “«Your mate? Your mate attacked me outside the city as I slept and kidnapped me. Your mate was going to torture and kill my horse for no reason. Your mate uttered a curse with his dying words.»”

The barbarian stops roughly 10 feet from the kobold and takes up a fighting stance, sword held ready with both hands in front of him. “«Your mate got what he deserved.»”

GM

There is a flurry of words as Rant translates for Hrud and the old dumpling-cart man translates for the kobold, and vice versa.

The kobold narrows its eyes at Hrud, tightens its grip on the machete, lowers its head, and charges at Hrud screaming, “Skreeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaayt!”.

The flurry of translation continues and Rant barks out, «She just called you a ‘flat-head’.»

Hrud

Hrud attempts to side-step the charge, bringing the sword down across the kobold’s torso, then follows up with an upward swing.

GM

The kobold charges, leading with its head, leaping at the last minute with the clear intent of head-butting Hrud in the groin. Hrud sidesteps, and chops down onto its back, causing the kobold to crash head-first into the dirt of the road. She rolls to a standing position, spins, surprisingly quickly, and slashes at Hrud, making a deep gash in his thigh with the machete. The last swing leaves her wide-open though, and Hrud’s counter-attack catches her under the chin, sending her reeling back several steps with a long line of blood dripping down her front.

In the wagon, Teldicia moves up onto the front bench to watch the fight, Amara also moves up to peek over Donovan’s shoulder, shouting little encouragements like “Yay Hrud!” and “Get her!” and “Ooh, watch out!” when the kobold counters.

Donovan

Donovan cranks up the Hurdy Gurdy and begins a more upbeat rendition of his “Hrud’s Blues” song.

Hrud

Hrud, utterly shocked by the severity of the attack, utters an incoherent roar of pain and rage and drives the point of his sword into the center of the kobold’s mass.

GM

Whether Hrud was inspired by Donovan’s song, or enraged by it, or the kobold was just distracted, it works. Before the kobold can react to make another assault, Hrud stabs the green-bladed sword through the thing’s small chest, impaling it up to the quillons. The kobold gasps in surprise, gives the briefest of shudders, and dies.

Donovan

Seeing the thing die, Donovan finishes a few more bars, then sets down the instrument and climbs out of the wagon. “Rant, give Hrud my congratulations on his victory.” Donovan walks over and looks at the kobold’s machete, where it has slipped from the things fingers onto the dirt road.

GM

This bronze-bladed machete has little in the way of a grip, just twine wrapped around the tang and tied. The tang under the loose wrapping appears to be carved with some kind of hieroglyphics. Donovan recalls some local stories about an ancient “golden sword” that has been handed down for generations among the champions of the red hand kobold tribe.

Hrud

As Hrud and Donovan stand there looking down at the little corpse bleeding out on the street in front of them for the second time today in under a hour, the barbarian’s head starts to spin and he sinks to one knee, his wounded leg giving out beneath him. “«Your song. I felt it …»” he mumbles.

GM

Brother Rant jumps out of the wagon, telling Amara and Teldicia to stay put and runs over to Hrud. «Sit down» he says, pulling some bandages from a pouch. He expertly cleans and binds Hrud’s leg. He then presses his hands against the wound and says a prayer to Tyr, healing it completely.

Hrud

Feeling immensely better despite the new scar, Hrud thanks Rant and says, “«Next time, I’ll shoot first.»”

Donovan

Seeing the markings under the grip, Donovan kneels down and begins tearing away the twine. He stares fascinated a the glyphs, trying to make them out. “Rant,” Donovan says, as he examines the strange weapon, “can you ask Hrud if he would like the blade? If not, I would like to take it for further study.”

“The glyphs are the ancient Noga language of the northern Moonsea. They roughly translate as: ‘Thirdly, I know that there is someone pursuing me—Death—whom I cannot escape from, so I have prepared myself to meet him.’ Interestingly, the first word is Skreeayt, meaning “Thirdly” (or “and another thing”)—purely by coincidence, Skreeayt is also a kobold word (and given name) meaning “flat-headed”."

Hrud

Hrud listens to the translation of the markings on the blade. “«The words of one resolved to die – but I am not.»” He hands the blade to Donovan, “«It is yours to study, Dawn-of-man.»”

Frantiska

When Frantiska gets outside she closes the door behind her so fast as to almost slam it and puts her back against the wall breathing heavily, fighting off the slight panic attack at the thought of the lecherous dwarf looking at her in that way. When she sees Hrud, Donovan, and Rant standing over the body of another kobold she immediately snaps out of it. “What are you doing?” she asks incredulously. Then, remembering where she is and what’s going on, she stammers out, “Lyra! You’ve got to help her! There’s a dwarf…he’s, he’s… Can any of you cook?” Her cheeks flush again and she buries her head in her hands, praying to the Maiden of the Moon to protect her against the impure thoughts of men.

Donovan

Donovan accepts the machete, pulls the sheath off the kobold, and straps the blade to his pack. Noticing Frantiska rush out of Jerome’s he looks up worried, knowing a bit about the place’s reputation as a fencing operation and a den for thieves. Hearing her say that Lyra is in trouble he rushes for the door. “What was that? Can we cook?” he looks confused. “Rant said he volunteered at a soup kitchen…” he says as he throws open the door to the store and barges in. Only after opening the door does he stop to think that he is probably no match for anything that could scare Frantiska like that.

GM

“Oh?” Jerome looks at the blankets, eyes wide, then throws the bundle at his half-orc assistant. “Što e ova?” he yells, “T rekov da go zbere koncte advor! Oda da kupa eko čsta one!” The assistant scurries off with the bundle of blankets and returns a few minutes later with some less nice, but more socially acceptable ones. “I’m very sorry M’Lady,” the dwarf says. “Ce Pazuv gets a little confused sometimes. Those others were made special for another client. I’m sure you understand.” He takes the new pile of blankets and carefully sets them aside. “I’m very sorry about the mix-up. We’ll add these to your order free of charge…” He looks at the half-orc again, “Ce Pazuv, Jabolka rbzl, suvo!”

“Yes, we have apples and currants, how much would you like?”

The guards by the door jerk a little as Donovan throws open the door, but do not otherwise move. “Ah! The herald is back in town, splendid!” Jerome says, seeing Donovan walk in. “I hope you brought something interesting back from your travels for Old Jerome. I’ll be with you in a moment, just let me finish putting together this lovely girl’s order.”

Lyra

“Mr. Donovan!” Lyra smiles and waves as he rushes in. “Do you have pots, or do we need to get some? And do you like mushrooms?”

GM

Jerome cocks an eyebrow, “Oh, you’re together?” He shoots Donovan an appreciating gaze, tapping his the side of his nose with one finger. “You always did have good taste, ol’ dog, and two of them no doubt.” The dwarf flashes his disturbingly large grin again and turns back to Lyra, “An extra five percent off your traveling expenses, for an old friend.”

Frantiska

Hearing the exchange between Donovan and the garrulous dwarf from outside, Frantiska moves to the other side of the wagon, hoping to put as much room as possible between herself and the lechers, and fumbles in her pouch for her tobacco and papers. It takes her some time to get the cigarette rolled properly in her agitated state, but finally she gets it lit and leans back against the side of the wagon and begins taking long, slow draws on it, trying to put out of her head the thoughts of Donovan and Jerome undressing her with their eyes.

Donovan

Donovan looks around for a minute before, still expecting some threat, then sees the large pile of goods in front of Lyra. “Ummm…no I don’t have pots and pans. Good thought though.” He walks up and shakes Jerome’s hands. “Sorry, nothing too interesting this time. I’ve got a few things you might be interested in.” He pulls out the silver shoulder plate, earring, bracelet, door knocker, bell pull, and bell. “But they are of a more local vintage.”

He leans close to Lyra, “What got into Frantiska? She sounded like you were being assaulted…”

GM

Ce Pazuv, the half-orc brings a pound of dried apples and a pound of dried currants and adds them to the crate of food. Jerome looks over the pile of goods, making some mental calculations with the speed of a true master fence. “With the ‘Old Friend Discount’, that will come to one hundred and thirty five gold pieces, ten silver, and eight and one-half coppers.” He looks at the items Donovan has layed out, “All together, those will fetch you fourty-eight gold, five silvers, which brings your total to eighty-six gold, six silvers, and eight and one-half coppers.”

Lyra

Lyra looks even more confused and whispers back. “Assaulted? What? Mr. Jerome has been … enthusiastically helpful, although I fear I may have gotten his assistant in trouble after pointing out some of the blankets were monogrammed. I didn’t think Frantiska or Brother Rant would appreciate the needlework.”

Donovan

Donovan looks at Lyra shrugs, “She looked like she had seen the tarrasque or something…”

He then turns to Jerome, “Eighty-six, sixty-eight and a half huh?” He cocks a crooked smile and gives the dwarf a look that says ’you’re going to hate me’. He reaches under his cloak and pulls out a very heft purse out of which he counts, 399 copper pieces, 217 silver pieces, 34 electrum pieces, 19 gold pieces, and 5 platinum. “That should do it. You owe us half a copper…”

Donovan counts out the money and pushes it through the window into the cage so that Jerome can stash it. “Oh,” he tosses another 2 gold through the grate, “ask Ce Pazuv to fetch the girl a set of pots and pans. We’d also like to see your special stock…we’ll need some bows, crossbows, and plenty of ammo…”

Lyra

Lyra is deep in thought, fidgeting with the end of a lock of her hair. “Maybe it was seeing the half-orc that bothered her? Given what just happened….”

The words ‘special stock’ seem to snap her back to the present.

GM

Jerome walks into the cage and watches Donovan intently as he counts out the coins. He unlocks a drawer of the desk, takes out and opens an iron box with three locks, and then carefully arranges the coins inside before relocking it and returning it to the drawer. “The special stock, Donovan? I thought you didn’t go in for the violent stuff…” The dwarf opens the door behind the desk, “Just a second,” and disappears through it. “Ce Pazuv, da v pooge da g včtate rabot vo vagoot dodeka Jas Ja zvleče oružJe,” he says, poking his head out briefly.

The half-orc scoops up the crate of food and walks towards the door. “Boss says to load your wagon…”

A few minutes later, Jerome returns from the back room with several cases, which he opens to reveal a plethora of bows, crossbows, and ammunition.

Donovan

Donovan grabs a pile of blankets and carries them out to the wagon, “Hey, anyone who needs to stock up on arrows or the like should come take a look. We can take turns watching the cart…”

Lyra

Lyra looks over the array of bows. “Not violent. Defended.” She gestures to a graceful longbow. “That one. I’d also like a quiver, and 60 sheaf arrows. Do you happen to have any archery targets as well?”

Hrud

Finally losing interest in the little kobold who nearly felled him with (what simply HAD to be) a lucky strike, Hrud turns to Rant and asks, " Pripun wong saka kutha ngomong ‘glathi?’ " Rant gives him a reply, for which Hrud thanks him and not-quite-limps into the shop.

The barbarian makes his way to the unusually short man who keeps rubbing his hands together in what could only be lust for the large sale he was about to make. Standing slightly too close and towering over the dwarf, he very slowly and very carefully pronounces the first word of common he’s ever spoken: “Blades?”

GM

“Of course no one would suspect such a refined young lady of violence.” Jerome slides over next to Lyra as she is examines the bow, close enough that his voice, smooth as silk, comes from right around her waist, “Yes, that one is almost as lovely as you, M’lady. A perfect fit I think.” He steps forward to hand the bow up to her. “Such an elegant lady with such a lovely bow needs special ammunition though…” He flips open one of the cases to reveal a dozen, carefully packed arrows, with silver heads shaped like willow leaves and fletchings of the purest white swan feathers. He carefully lifts one of the arrows out and hands it up to Lyra, “I can even cut you a special dea…”, then starts when he hears Hrud’s gruff voice behind him.

His head snaps around, and up, much to far up, with a look of feigned innocence as if saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, is this your woman?!’ He takes an awkward step back from Lyra and the barbarian, then looks Hrud up and down assessingly. Regaining his composure, his broad mercantile smile returns, “Ah. Eraka? Apa Urut saka glathi sampeyan kasengsem?”

Lyra

Idle flattery to sweeten the sale, Lyra thought, but her breath caught as he opened the case. Beautiful craftsmanship. “My skill could scarce do them justice.”

Hrud

Hrud holds his hands roughly a foot apart, approximating the length of a dagger, “Ngalangi agul-agul. Tanpa emas utawa sugih watu. Landhep.”

Frantiska

Frantiska finishes her cigarette. Feeling a little calmer, she over and helps Donovan secure the goods in the wagon. “If you’re watching the wagon, I’ll go make sure that creature is not doing anything to Lyra…” She straitens her shoulders and strides into the store like a general marching to the battlefield.

She walks in, glad to see Hrud there keeping an eye on the girl—he at least seemed to know how to keep his eyes to himself. Seeing the weapons laid out her face softens a bit. “The stave on that bow looks a little long for you Lyra…” she walks over and puts a hand on the girl’s elbow, pushing it up a little, “you’re almost dragging the ground with that one. You want the bow to be about your own height when unstrung, and you’ll want to make sure it is flexible enough for you to bend and string yourself.”

She takes a hard look at the weapons, looking for a bow that would be the best fit for Lyra’s frame, preferably one with sights and an arrow rest since she is a beginner.

GM

Jerome bows to the big barbarian, and hurries back into the back room, returning with two cases full of daggers of all kinds of makes. He lays the cases on the floor next to the bows, flips one open and sits pondering a bit before pulling out a very plain-looking, iron-bladed dirk, “Kene kowe. Kebak-dawa tang, kayu atos nyekethem, unornamented, nanging banget fungsi.”

Jerome turns to Frantiska with a sweeping bow. “You have an excellent eye M’lady,” he says tapping the side of his nose again. “I’m glad to see such an excellent and beauteous archer has chosen to grace our fair city. And you’re friend here is quite right,” he says, nodding to Lyra and taking another of the silver leaf-heads out, “these arrows are longing to be fired by the delicate hand of a true master such as yourself…”

Frantiska examines the bows, hefting each one and testing its draw before handing Lyra a much shorter bow, only about 24 inches in the draw, with flexible tips, horn and sinew reinforcement, and additional lathes to build up the grip and add an arrow rest [a composite shortbow], explaining that it will make the arrow fly faster and straighter with less effort on Lyra’s part.

The longbow that Lyra was holding, while very beautiful in design, appears to have been weakened by being stored bent. The other bows—3 more longbows and 1 shortbow—are in decent working condition. There are also eight crossbows—2 heavy, 5 light, 1 hand—none of them remarkable, and two of the light crossbows look like they will need serviced before being combat ready (old strings, loose bolts on the draw ring, and the like). There are plenty of arrows—barrels of sheaf and flight arrows, some bird and frog-crotch, and a few stone-biters—all of which look functional, but not as well made as the ones Jerome is trying to push on Lyra. Those silver leaf-heads are clearly of the highest quality and probably worth 30 gold pieces or more.

Hrud

Hrud takes the dirk in-hand, get a feel for it. As he inspects the blade, an idea strikes him. Turning to Lyra, he offers the weapon to her, handle first, “Terus iki. Mangsuli cara ngrasa ing tangan.”

Lyra

Lyra accepts the dagger, checking the edge and balance. “I think I like mine better.” Unlike the bow, Lyra handles the knife with the familiarity of one trained in its use.

Hrud

Hrud watches how the girl holds the weapon, the ease of how she turns it over and hefts it. By the time she makes her statement, the barbarian is decided. Taking the knife back, he turns to the dwarf and asks, “Pinten?”

GM

“Siji emas,” Jerome responds simply.

Hrud

Hrud rummages around in his belt pouch for moment, frowning. No coins. Instead he pulls out one of the stones Donovan gave him back in the kobold’s hideout (hematite). Handing it to Jermome, he asks, “Bakal bisa iki?”

GM

Jerome looks at the stone closely, turning it over with his fingers. “Iki nggoleki,” he says. He walks back into the cage, closing it behind him, and once again goes through the process of getting out the lockbox. He places the stone inside, and counts out five gold coins. “Panjenengan pangowahan,” he says, handing the coins out through the window.

Hrud

Hrud reaches hesitantly towards the gold, expecting them to be snatched back at any moment as a cruel jest. Seeing that the dwarf was apparently just going to let him have it, he quickly slid the coins into his coin pouch. Each little clink the note of a beautiful song he was hearing for the first time. The barbarian had possessed money before – old Skadi would pay him a little to help out with the cattle outside their tent city – but up until last night, the most he’d ever carried in his life was a single gold piece. Here were five, all his! Was the stone really worth that much? Trying to adopt a nonchalant manner (ie: being painfully obvious), Hrud leans on the counter, looks around and says “Aku duwe liyane. Pengin?”

GM

The dwarf flashes a big, affable smile. “Yen milaur bakal mbeta duwit receh, aku bisa mesthi ngganti mau kanggo sampeyan.”

Frantiska

Frantiska fights the urge to bolt again, knowing that Lyra needs her support in the face of this reprehensible creature, and gingerly accepts the arrow. She pulls out her own longbow, still strung from the recent battle with the orcs, and knocks the arrow making sure it is long enough on the draw. Satisfied, she kneels down and places the arrow in the case. “I will take them,” she says curtly. She pulls her own pouch of gems out, and tosses it through the window. “There are seven-hundred gold worth of gems in there. I will take these arrows, the bow,” she gestures to the bow Lyra is holding, “two of the crossbows, five full quivers each of flight and sheaf arrows, four quarrels of bolts for the crossbows, and a set of targets if you have them. I would like the rest liquidated…” she stops and thinks, eyeing the lecherous merchant coldly, “and keep in mind that one of Tyr’s priests is right outside the door, so please keep your fingers off the scales.”

“Hrud, Aku mundhut panah supaya dienggo bareng. Jangan memberikan kerdil ini lebih banyak uang.”

Hrud

“Mungkin mengko.” Hrud shrugs to the dwarf. Taking the dagger , he turns and heads towards the door.

Donovan

When Hrud comes out, Donovan walks back in—just in time to get the gist of what Frantiska is laying out with her order, and to hear Jerome muttering something about ‘ice queens’ under his breath as he assesses the gems. Donovan walks over to look at the crossbows, then counts out fifteen platinum and passes them through the gate. “We’ll take both heavies, and the hand crossbow, and add a quarrel of darts for the mini to the order as well.”

Hrud

Hrud walks back to the wagon, where Rant is attending both the wagon and the young woman on it. Holding the blade, he extends the dagger towards her. She stares at him uncomprehendingly. Rant interprets his actions, “He wants you to take it.” Hesitantly, she reaches out and grabs hold of the weapon – possibly for the first time in her life. “«It’s expensive to rape an Eraka woman»,” says Hrud, “«Few men are willing to part with their jewels.»”

GM

Jerome accepts the jewels and the coins, grumbling a little in the local Thari dialect, and does a quick tally. “Tse feyerychne kholodna yak lid Donovan, ale u neyi ye khorosha stiyka,” he says looking very pointedly at Frantiska, or rather, at her torso, and smiling, “tak shcho ya shche daty vam znyzhku.” He places the gems in the box, but leaves out the platinum, and begins counting out many more. As he counts he yells to his assistant, “Ce Pazuv, optovaruvaje za v. Dve tešk, od eda straa, lak, šeeset sop, šeeset let, četreset kavg, deset pkado, prooc,” who immediately begins packing arrows into quivers.

Finally the dwarf pushes six neat stacks of ten platinum coins each through the window, “I love a woman who knows exactly what she wants…” he says, smiling and tapping his nose again. “There is your change, in full, and I hope that lovely hand of yours puts those arrows to good flight…”

He locks up the lockbox, the drawer, and the cage, then goes back into the labyrinthine piles of goods and returns with a set of archery targets which he hands to Lyra, “Enjoy your lessons, M’Lady. I hope we see you in here again sometime.”

Lyra

“Thank you. I’m sure your wares will be put to good use.” That didn’t quite come out how Lyra had intended, especially given the quantity of coins and quantity of weapons changing hands. She turns to take the archery targets out to the wagon, but pauses to address Frantiska in the ‘mother tongue’. «And thank you, Frantiska. I’ll need you to show me how to care for it properly, but I’m a quick study. Let me know how much I owe you when we get back to the wagon.»

Frantiska

Frantiska picks up the case of silver arrows. «You don’t owe me anything Lyra. Wealth only has value to the extent that it can be used to help others—though, given the nature of this city, it is in all of our best interests that everyone in our group be capable of holding their own in a fight. If you wish to repay me for the bow, just promise that you will be diligent in your practice.» She tucks the case under one arm, grabs Lyra’s elbow with the other, and quickens her pace for the door. «Now let’s get out of here…»

GM

As you finish loading your stockpile of weapons into the wagon, you notice that Amara and Brother Rant have both disappeared.

View
Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 1
In which the party sees more of the Slums' underbelly and we learn about Lyra's powers...

Lyra

Lyra awoke before dawn, in an unfamiliar, yet quite comfortable bed. She rolled over and pulled the covers up to her ears to escape the stares of Amara’s … companion.

At precisely dawn, a sudden breeze caused the fireplace to gutter slightly.

“Lyrathwen Alethiel Beragaion! Just where were you last night, young lady?”

Lyra stiffened and pulled the covers all the way over her head. This was not how she wanted to start her morning. “I went by the clerk’s office to try to find you, but you had already left for the day, then I accepted the hospitality of the temple to Tyr for helping save one of their priests in the slums. I … I tried.”

The silence was deafening.

“Discreetly?”

Lyra sighed. “Of course, Mother.”

“If you could stay out last night, you can get up this morning. And make the bed, I did not raise you in a stable.”

“Yes, Mother.” Lyra begrudgingly rolled out of the soft, warm bed.

“And your things aren’t going to pick themselves up, young lady. Someone might trip over them.”

“Yes, Mother.” Lyra’s whispers are increasingly exasperated as she finishes gathering up her gear.

“Are you going out dressed like that? Put your cloak on, it’s chilly out.”

Lyra shook out her grey cloak. “Of course I’m going out dressed like this! I didn’t even have any other clothes before Professor Aumry’s prepayment for escorting his niece to Melvaunt….”

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY

“My party was contracted to escort Amara to Melvaunt to visit her sick grandmother, and return with a shipment of spell components.” Oh boy. Not exactly the way Lyra would have liked to break the new.

“Who is going, and when will you be back? Lyrathwen Alethiel Beragaion, you have some explaining to do! Meet me in the park in ten minutes.”

The wind dies down abruptly, as Lyra headed upstairs shortly after daybreak.

Her meeting with her mother was brief. Faelana had about as much love for the Eraka as the minotaur, but the sword of Selune seemed to warrant something close to approval as a traveling companion.


Donovan

There is a scream, followed by a loud thud, and a smaller bang, and the tenement shakes.

With a groan, Donovan sits up, rubbing his rump and trying to get his bearings. The world is dark and blurry. He feels around him and finally locates his glasses. Less blurry, but still dark. He sees that he is in his own apartment, rare as that event is, and that he is on the floor beside his bed, still in his clothes from the day before. He groans again, rises from the floor, the realization that he fell out of bed slowly dawning on him, and tries to remember what he was dreaming. Something about a girl, of course, maybe two or three, and a singing lizard, and a leaning tower, and a bull locked in mortal combat with a big snake, and a man hanging upside down, and a floor covered with glowing runes. Tymora! he thought, he hated surrealism.

He makes his way to the one window and props it back open, looking out to see the dimmest light beginning in the east. He stretches, finds his chamber-pot, relieves his bowels, then empties the pot out the window. There was something about that dream, something important…

Like the sun, feebly trying to peak through his window, realization dawns on him—it wasn’t a dream. As he suddenly recalls all the events of the past two days, he rubs at his eyes, pleased to find that his headache is gone and he feels reasonably well rested. He scurries about the room, righting the tick mattress that had been knocked askew by his tumble out of bed, finding his bags, and pulling out his spellbook and components. He casts his last spell from the day before, identifying the bracers he had taken off the kobold leader, then sits down to study spells for the upcoming journey.

Seventy minutes of study and meditation later, Donovan is feeling much more alert, and hungry. He brushes off his clothes, rearranges some things in his pack, sorting out a few items to be pawned into the backpack he had taken from Vinnie, puts on the bracelets and his earblades, checks his knives, grabs a long oaken staff from the corner of the room, and heads out the door. Pausing to lock it behind him.

Right, Donovan thinks to himself, to the temple. He beats feet down the stairs. The sun is properly up now, just cresting the mountains far to the east, and casting an ambient gray-blue light through a mostly overcast sky. A stiff, wet breeze blows off the Moonsea, threatening rain in the near future [sorry, it just sounded good]. Donovan jogs down the docks. He stops briefly at the market to sell the extra backpack and a few items to a guy he knows and to peruse the morning’s catch, buying an halibut-pastry from a vendor for his breakfast, then books it up the Parkside Road. Almost exactly two hours after falling out of bed he is standing at the front doors of The Waiting.

Frantiska

Donovan arrives to find Frantiska already awake, outside, and seated strait-backed on Thistledown. From high on her horse, both literally and figuratively, she appears to be very heatedly questioning Teldicia about the nature of her upbringing and how she managed to avoid learning the “mother tongue”, as she insists on referring to the Espruar language when speaking Common. Seeing Donovan come jogging up, she immediately clams up, nodding to him briefly and saying only, “You’re late.”

Lyra

Lyra fidgets with her backpack straps as the two older women talk, trying not to show her annoyance at being designated a ‘half-person’ in the ‘mother tongue’.

Hrud

A moment later, Hrud saunters around the side of the temple astride his horse. The barbarian and his horse are both chewing on something – an apple most likely, based on the apples bulging from a small sack strapped to the saddle.

Donovan

Donovan puffs up in indignation, “I am not late, Madam.” He looks over his shoulder at the sun. “I was up quite before dawn. Surely you understand the time it takes to commit a great many spells to memory…and I missed dinner, had to stop for a bite to eat…and had a few things to pawn, figured it’d be faster to do it at the market rather than making an extra stop at Jerome’s on the way out…” He blusters a bit more, then finally settles to, “It’s close enough to dawn, eh?”

He shoves the last bit of the fish pastry into his mouth, chewing noisily. “Well, now, we all here?” He does a mental count—Frantiska, Teldicia, Lyra, Hrud. “Where is Amara? Wasn’t she with you Lyra?”

GM

“She is here.” The doors of the temple open and Amara comes walking out, wearing a similarly indignant expression, apparently directed at the guiding hand of her new bodyguard resting on her shoulder. Brother Rant stands one step behind her, decked in full mail and coif, with a large triangular kite shield and mace strapped to his back. “I had to ask Sister Winona to wake her up, since I am not allowed in the women’s quarters. Apparently Miss Lyra left the dormitories early…”

Frantiska

Frantiska nods curtly to Donovan again, then turns to Lyra and Teldicia. “So, what is our itinerary?”

Lyra

Lyra looks around at her traveling companions. “First, we should pick up the wagon out in the slums. Do we need additional fodder, or other supplies for the journey to Melvaunt? It will be at least three days’ travel each way.”

Donovan

Donovan, trying to ignore Frantiska’s obvious sexism, speaks up’ “Thank you Lyra.” He smiles at everyone else, “Good morning Brother Rant, Hrud, Teldicia.” Then, “If everyone is ready let’s just get going. The best place for cheap supplies is the Slums Market, and we can ask Ernst about fodder for the horses and the ox-team.” He turns up the road and starts walking towards the gates.

He stops and pivots, “Oh? Did we figure out if anyone among us knows how to handle oxen?”

GM

Brother Rant begins translating for Hrud. [Assume that Rant will translate all public conversation from this point on…]

Hrud

«I know a little about them» Hrud replies.

Frantiska

Frantiska considers that she might have the requisite skills, but imagines that the barbarian is much more suited to dealing with…cows. She pats Thistledown to reassure herself that being a teamster is not for her.

GM

You reach the gates in short order, and find two long lines of merchants, labors, adventurers, and even a few farmers queued up to leave the city—and almost all of them visibly armed in some fashion. The gates stand open and a double contingent of guards are ushering people through at a good pace, giving only cursory attention to everyone’s papers, as they seem much more concerned with keeping the line moving and keeping the beggars and ruffians from the other side of the wall from coming in.

Donovan

Donovan asks Brother Rant to “Tell Hrud thank you for me.” Then queues up at the gates.

Hrud & GM

«I’m driving a wagon?» Hrud asks Rant.

Brother Rant shrugs, «They seem to have hired a wagon for the trip to Melvaunt, but none of them know how to handle the oxen that would pull the thing.»

Hrud replies to Rant, “Dasi munggah pasukan padha ora bisa ngontrol, iku umum karo iki bangsa?”

Rant smiles, “Ya,” he says simply.

Donovan

As the party makes its way through the gate, Donovan keeps a close hand on his purse, being more flush with cash than he has been in several months, if not longer. When the press of people on the far side of the gate becomes too much, he throws a large handful of coppers (pulled from a different pouch) haphazardly into the crowd off to the right-hand side of the road, then pulls the others behind him through the gap left by the beggars moving to collect the coins. “We’ve got a long way to travel,” he mutters, his voice just barely audible to whoever is right behind him, “better to waste the coins than the time.”

Frantiska

Frantiska rides along behind Donovan, pressing her last few coins, mostly gold, into the outstretched hands. While she is free with her money, she keeps a sharp eye on any hands the get too close to her fine boots, and the swords strapped to them. Once clear of the crowds, she continues to follow Donovan to their destination, keeping Thistledown at a slow walk and carefully picking their path around the refuse filling the streets.

Lyra

Lyra keeps a close eye on her belt pouch as they pass through the crowds. “Umm…. Did anyone else hear those merchants in the queue talking about shipments from Melvaunt running into issues, or about the kobolds in the swamps having strange powers and growing to enormous size?”

Donovan

“Kobolds of unusual size? I don’t think they exist…”

Hrud

Despite the crowd pressing in around the procession, no one seemed too eager to get close to Hrud, a situation the barbarian was happy to maintain. He was already feeling little confined within first the confines of the temple, then those of the city, and now the crowd surrounding them.

Hrud watched the scrawny, bedraggled forms of people – some crawling about on the ground, desperate to find a coin or two, others begging pathetically for a handout – and shook his head. He wondered if any of them ever once considered stepping outside the dirty, smelly city to dig up a root or catch a rabbit on their own.

As they gradually passed through the crowd, he began to feel it, out there ahead of him – the siren call of the open road. Well, not completely open, he reminded himself, as it appeared that he would be travelling with this caravan, but certainly better than being trapped behind stone walls. It was almost like participating in one of his tribe’s Migrations. Hrud wondered what surprising and exciting new things this journey and it’s unknown destination would held in store for him.

GM

You reach Ernst’s Livery in short order. Up the street you can see construction on Professor Aumry’s tower continuing apace, which is to say, you see the hundred or so workers slowly shuffling to their positions, and promptly laying down to rest. Three guards patrol Ernst’s coral, leading a dozen or so horses about the enclosure to give them a semblance of exercise. The man himself stands just outside the coral, yoking a pair of Ayrshire steers, easily a ton a piece, to the massive wagon that the professor has contracted for you. Seeing you approach, he waves. He looks at the two riders and smiles, “Got yerselves a proper hescort, eh?”

Donovan

Donovan looks at the eighteen-foot monstrosity with its extra-wide wheels, How big IS this components shipment? he thinks to himself. “Aye, Ernst, we picked up a couple of outriders to help with the transport.” He walks around the wagon, looking at the wheels, the hitch, peeking underneath, and otherwise trying to look like he knows anything about what he’s looking at—and likely failing. “Is fodder for the oxen included in what the Professor gave you? Or will we have to acquire that on our own?”

GM

Ernst leads Donovan around to the back of the covered wagon. “I want the animals back healthy, so the feeds included in the price. Thereare two bales of alfalfa hay and a bale of hops in there for them. You’ll want to stake them out to graze in the evenings as well. If you want some oats for the horses, I could sell you a couple bushels…”

Hrud & GM

[assuming Rant is still translating, Hrud wants to know how much he charges for the oats for his own horse]

Ernst looks back and forth between the priest and the barbarian, listening to the exchange. “Tell yer friend that I’ll charge ‘im twenty gold for a thirty-two pound bushel of whole oats, bruised fer easier digestion of course, with some linseed added fer extra proteen. That’s about a tenth off the going market rate, and should last ‘im about three days if he’s working the horse, six if the horse is an easy keeper. He’ll probably want a block of salt too, which I can chip off for a silver a pound. One pound will probably cover him for the round trip to Melvaunt and back.” As he talks, he walks around looking at the horses, seems not too impressed by the shaggy steppes pony, but stops and spends a long time staring at Thistledown then looks up at Frantiska. “This one’s almost too young to be ridden, but I guess you elves are light, eh? She’ll make an excellent brood mare in a year or so, if’n you don’t break ’er. How much would you sell ’er fer?”

Hrud barely manages to stifle a gasp. 20 gold pieces – No wonder there are so many beggars here! One would have to go out of their way to starve a horse on the Ride, with its verdant rolling plains. Herds of wild horses thrive there, even through the snowy months … Deciding not to dwell on the matter, Hrud simply nods and turns his attention to the driver’s seat on the wagon.

Frantiska

Frantiska’s face probably mirrors Hrud’s on hearing the price, though less from surprise than the realization that she just gave away her last gold piece to a beggar. Hearing the follow-up comments, her face changes from one of mild depression to cold anger. “She is not for sale, Sir.”

She turns to Lyra and addresses her in the mother tongue, «Lyrathwen, do you know anything about the possibility of forage between here and Melvaunt? Mr. Lietch mentioned some swamps. Is it such the entire way, or only partly?» She stops and thinks for a moment. «Actually, I remember passing along the swamp road to get here. It was not pleasant and took a few days to cross. Do you think this merchant would accept gems as payment? I’m afraid I gave out the last of my coins to those unfortunate’s back there…»

Lyra

Lyra thinks for a moment. «Merchants are usually happy to accept gems, especially if they are getting the better deal for it, or can transact them easily. I could give you change for your gems if you would prefer that option. And Frantiska … that man you gave the gold piece to may very well be murdered in his sleep tonight for it. Stability, not money, is what is needed to save the people of Phlan. Someone or something tried to kill us five times yesterday, just going to that tower and back to the gates, yesterday. It was a very eye-opening first day in town.»

Frantiska

Frantiska turns back to the liverer, pulling a large white amethyst from her pouch. “Here,” she says handing it to him, “I would like two bushels of oats for the horses, and a large salt-block to share between the animals.”

Without another word, she turns back to Lyra. «I saw some of that—kobold horse-thieves, animate skeletons, a gate to the nether-world, an oni, and a forest linnorm—all not more than two blocks from this very location. If it is this bad this close to the city, with such a strong Tyrran presence, I hate to imagine what it is like elsewhere in the ruins. Were it not for the pour souls unable to find shelter within the city walls, I would suggest that the Council just burn this shanty-town to the ground.» She looks around at the squatters huts and the rubble. «From the generosity that I saw at the temple, if we were to make a concerted effort to root out the more dangerous monsters and criminal elements, I’m sure the priests could do much to improve the lives of these people. Sadly though, even if bearing coin puts them at risk, I am sure these people need to eat, and in a town controlled by merchants, that means that they need money.»

GM

Ernst looks at the gem. “Aye…M’lady. I’ll get that for you right away,” he says, turning and heading towards a storage building inside the paddock.

“Are we about ready to leave then?” asks Brother Rant, lifting Amara up into the front wagon.

“Yeah, who’s riding where?” Teldicia interjects, walking back to where Donovan is peaking under the keel. “If the barbarian is driving, will someone need to be riding his horse? Or should we tie it up and let it just follow behind?”

Hrud

Hrud, wearing pretty much all of his gear at this point, walks his horse to the rear of the wagon, where he loosely ties the reigns. «Since we raise them from birth, Eraka horses will follow their owners of their own accord. But I will keep him tied until we are out of the city»

Donovan

Donovan waits until Ernst has loaded the fodder for the horses in the back, then climbs up onto the driver’s bench, making sure to leave plenty of room for the barbarian. He looks at Amara behind him, and around the rest of the wagon. “Looks like there is plenty of room for all of us up here. Hrud’s driving. I’ll navigate since I know the area best. Frantiska, you’re riding, correct? Lyra, Amara, and Teldicia can ride in the covered section. Brother Rant, would you mind riding in the back and keeping a rear watch?”

As everyone gets in, he points to the left. “We should head towards the market first, to make sure we have food for ourselves, camping gear, and probably a tarp to string up to keep the animals dry when we camp. Then swing out to the west and circle north. There is a bridge north of the old textiles district—it’s a little close to the older ruins for comfort, but the alternatives are either going strait through the ruins to the east, or trying to ford the Stojanow. Lyra, do you mind handling the shopping, or would you like me to? We should make sure two or three of us stay with the wagon to make sure the whole thing doesn’t get stolen.”

Lyra

Lyra nods. “I can handle that. What all do we need?”

Donovan

Donovan stops to consider, “Well, we’ll need food for the seven of us for three days, four or five to be safe. Sleeping gear—though, if people don’t mind being too cozy we can sleep in the wagon, in which case just blankets, otherwise sleeping bags for those that don’t have them and at least one tent since it looks like rain. A large tarpaulin to cover the animals, especially their food, if it rains at night. I have a lantern, but we should probably have a second, plus three to four nights worth of oil. Flint, tinder, and firewood so we can have a hot meal and don’t have to camp in the dark…” He stops and looks at the others. “Feel free to chime in if you think of something else we’d need for a three day trip through a swamp, or if you already have any of the such, so we can mark it off the list…”

“Oh, and you should probably take Amara along and see if you can help her find those candle or whatever she wanted to take for her grandmother.”

Lyra

Lyra nods and commits the list to memory. “Mother knows a few of the shelter spells, so I’m not really used to ‘camping’ in the traditional sense.”

Frantiska

Frantiska turns Thistledown in the direction Donovan indicated, keeping the longsword Teldicia had given her layed across the pommel of her saddle as a warning to would-be thieves. “Lyra, do you know what sort of market this is? I can’t imagine it being particularly legitimate, being in this ghetto. If it is an open-air market I should be able to follow on Thistledown to provide you and Amara with some security.”

Hrud

«Can one fish in a swamp?» Hrud asks. «or hunt?»

GM

«Sure,» Brother Rant replies, «the knights of Iniarv’s tower largely feed themselves on the swamp’s bounty. Of course, it depends on what you prefer to eat. There are a lot of frogs, muskrats, beaver, raccoons, pope dear, furbears, though I think the tower-folk mostly hunt the big reptiles.» Once Amara is secure under the canopy, he climbs up in the back and calls up to Donovan, “If you’re planning provisions, we should be able to press upon the hospitality of the Helmites at Iniarv’s Hold for at least one meal.”

Donovan

“Hunting and stopping at the tower both sound like good ideas, but we’ll still need some amount of provisions.” Donovan looks around to make sure everyone is aboard. “Alright, this ain’t no hayride. Let’s move ’em out of here!”

GM

The road south from the livery to the market is much wider, and, more importantly cleaner than the road running from the gates. While the road is largely clear of debris, corpses, and human waste, it is packed with people, making travel along the route very slow indeed. 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 to market, 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, you pass collapsed buildings, both ancient and recent, and even have to stop at one point while a couple of dead adventurer-types are dragged out of the road in front of you.

Judging by the accumulation of flies and the lack of valuables, it looks as if the bodies had been lying there for several hours. The creatures that pulled them out of the road are best described as ‘whats’—vaguely humanoid, they wear billowing, thread-bare robes which do little to hide their misshapeness. One has a severe hunchback, which helps to keep his face hidden in the folds of the robes, but his exposed feet are grotesque, the left is tiny and turned inward, like a child with a club-foot, the right looks like a bird’s talon affected by a severe pox, his hands are wrapped in strips of rag. The second’s head is uncovered, revealing a horrible, bloated mismatch of parts—one ear pointed elf-like, the other large and fan-shaped, a large porcine nose, differently sized eyes of a color that resembles urine, the vestiges of a third eye slightly off-center in the forehead, a mouth filled with bleeding gums and smattering of oddly-angled teeth, and a few loose strands of straw-coloured hair over a lumpy cranium.

Once the bodies are cleared, the two creatures both bow deeply, the better to hide their faces, and hold out chipped wooden bowls to you, as if expecting some recompense for the service.

Frantiska

Frantiska rides along slowly, torn between fascination at the ancient ruins around her and a kind of enraged horror at the violence of the city. For a time she scans the crowds, detecting evil, then gives up when she realizes how truly despicable the population of this ghetto really are. She guides Thistledown closer to the wagon and leans down to be heard by those within, “I hear screaming. Should we help?”

Donovan

Donovan watches the mongrelfolk with feigned interest while scanning the crowd around him—this smells like a set up, he thinks. When the bodies are cleared without an ambush happening he breathes an inward sigh of relief and flips a silver into each of the two misfits’ bowls. As the wagon starts moving again, he suddenly realizes that that was probably the set up and looks behind to see if they were replacing the corpse-roadblock for the next passersby.

He looks up at Frantiska as they ride along, avoiding eye contact by looking at her chest, so as to not make her uncomfortable—nice view anyways—and responds, “Other than picking up the wagon this morning, the Professor didn’t give us a strict timeline for his deliveries. We can’t help everyone, but if you want to check out the screams, I’ll back you up.” After a brief pause he continues, “This place sucks, but its home. Would you guys be in for making a concerted effort to clean this place up once we get back from Melvaunt?”

GM

They wait until you are about a block away, but sure enough, Donovan looks back to see the two mongrelmen dragging the bodies back into the middle of the street.

Frantiska

Frantiska takes a deep breath, ignoring Donovan’s lecherous gaze, “Alright, we may not be able to help everyone, but even one life saved is worth it.” She turns Thistledown in the direction of the screams. “Hrud, kita akan memeriksa jeritan. Kau mau datang? Lyra, are you coming?”

Donovan

Donovan shakes his head at the unnecessary heroism of the elven woman, but wordless slides down out of the wagon. “Teldicia, Brother Rant, can you two guard Amara and the wagon while we check this out?”

Lyra

Lyra slips out of the back of the wagon, glancing back at the robed figures dragging bodies. “I’m still not much help in a fight, but I’ll do what I can.” She looks up at Frantiska. “If I were to get a set of archery targets, would you be willing to teach me how to shoot sometime?”

Frantiska

“Lyra, if you get yourself a bow, I can turn you into a competent archer right now…and then would gladly train you later.” Frantiska nudges Thistledown to move, using the warhorse to push a gap through the crowd for her allies to follow. «For now,» she calls over her shoulder in elvish, «we have more pressing concerns.»

Hrud

Unsure if he should leave the wagon, and even less sure of exactly what the elven woman was trying to say, Hrud sighs, unslings his short bow and hops down, knocking an arrow as he follows. «As long as someone is watching the wagon … », he says to Rant, in passing.

GM

Teldicia moves up to the front of the wagon, cocking and loading a crossbow. “Hurry back,” she calls after Donovan.

Rant maintains his perch in the back of the wagon, “Coba supaya mau metu saka alangan,” he says to Hrud as everyone runs off.

Frantiska leads the way, Thistledown cleaving a path up the road and then down an angled alley towards the sounds of the screaming. Supremely used to adventurers, do-gooders, and meddlers rushing about at the slightest sign of trouble, the crowd easily parts to let you pass. Dashing down the alley you come by the back way to the northeastern edge of the market. The screams, now clearly identifiable as female, though weakening and interspersed with sobs, appear to be coming from inside a long, low stone building to your left, one of many that mark the perimeter of the old market square. To your right is a fortune-teller’s stall, a triangular sign with the traditional palm symbol identifying it as “Madam Esmerelda’s” in common. A brightly dressed old woman leans against one of the tent posts, arms crossed, staring dispassionately at the closed door of the building from which the screaming emanates and looking at you with a raised eyebrow as if to say, ‘What can you do about it?’

Donovan

Donovan stops at the door, smiles at the Gypsy-woman, and tightens up his grip on his staff. “So, should we just rush in there and see what’s up?”

Frantiska

Frantiska knocks and arrow and walks up to the door, ignoring the callous glances from the fortune-teller. “Judging by the sounds, I’m not sure we have time for detailed intelligence gathering.” She looks over at Hrud, “Hrud, anda ingin menghancurkan membuka pintu?”

Lyra

Lyra peers through a gap in the crumbling building. “It looks like at least six men surrounding someone, and I assume the screams are from the person they’re hitting. Is that sufficient intelligence for now? Mr. Donovan, crowds seem to be your specialty.”

Hrud

Hrud quickly stows his short bow and unsheathes his broad sword. Moving to the door, he tries the latch, ready to barrel through should it open … and determined to smash it open if it does not.

GM

The door swings open easily, looking as if it was closed in a hurry and not latched at all. Inside you find what appears to be a warehouse, with many boxes piled around, and a small gang of orcs, eight in all, in various states of disrobement and disarray. Only a few are armed, though many weapons lie about on the floor in easy reach. A human girl, perhaps in her mid-teens lies naked on the stone floor. She looks severely battered, her face a mass of bruises and her nose askew, and is being held down by a particularly large orc who is forcing himself on her. The other orcs stand around, grunting “Ebe! Ebe!” presumably cheering him on. Judging from the amount of blood on the ground, he is not the first…

Frantiska

Frantiska gasps and nearly pukes in a mixture of rage, horror, and revulsion, her fingers loosing the string of her bow which, by coincidence of staring at the scene is pointed at the one currently raping the girl. Recovering her senses as the arrow strikes home, she immediately knocks another arrow, chants the words of a charged arrow spell, and lets fly at the rapist. “GET OFF OF HER!” she screams in common.

Lyra

As the door allows light into the room, the surprise, shock, and disgust are clear on Lyra’s face. She places a hand against, no, through the wall; concentrating as the space between gives way, and she pulls the girl through into the alley.

Donovan

“Crowds…right,” Donovan fumbles in his bag for a pinch of sand and flings it into the building, casting a sleep spell at the orcs.

Seeing the bloody and battered girl materialize beside him, he then reaches into his backpack for the rod of health.

Hrud

Hrud rushes in, making a bee line for the nearest Orc.

GM

Frantiska’s first, clumsy, instinctive shot buries itself into the orc’s exposed ass-cheek, causing the creature to jerk and then fall forward as the girl vanishes out from under him. All the orcs begin to yawn as Hrud rushes in, swinging wildly. Hrud strikes mightily, but finds the orcs falling before his blows get close enough to connect, as the three closest to the floor collapse, asleep. As the remaining orcs spin around, the room is lit up by Frantiska’s second arrow, crackling with electricity, striking the still dazed and confused orc rapist in the back. There is a small explosion, a spray of sparks and viscera, and the orc is left lying where it fell, a smoking hole the size of its head where its chest cavity was a moment before.

The four orcs still standing look confusedly at their prey standing outside and surrounded by armed, spellcasting ruffians, rather than lying on the ground where they expect her to be, then at their friends lying suddenly unconscious, apparently struck down just by the wind coming off the mighty barbarian’s blade, then at the smoking hole that is their leader’s torso, then at the face, and the bow of the enraged elf-woman standing in the doorway. Looks of unbridled terror cross their faces. They ignore the weapons lying about and make mad, scrambling dives to take cover behind the various barrels and crates filling the warehouse.

Donovan

Pulling out the rod, Donovan rushes to help Lyra catch the girl as she falls out of space. “Nice trick that…” he says, pressing the hand end of the rod lightly to the girls skin and willing it to bring forth its curative powers.

Lyra

Once the girl has her footing after being unexpectedly upright again, Lyra digs in her backpack and wraps a blanket around the girl. What could she possibly say to her? That she’s safe? Was anywhere in the slums safe? That it would be ok? Would it be ever again for her?

Lyra shakily puts her hand on the wall again, this time bracing herself against the oncoming headache.

Frantiska

Frantiska knocks another arrow to her bow, “Donovan,” she says, “when we get back we are definitely cleaning this place out. I’ll go door to door if I have to…” and fires again, and again, at the panicking orcs.

Hrud

Hrud stalks the nearest conscious Orc, determined to feel his blade bite deep this time.

GM

The girl collapses into Lyra and Donovan’s arms and promptly passes out from blood-loss. Even with the swiftly applied healing, it looks as if she may never find her footing again, judging from the awkward angle that her left knee has taken—though you might be able to set that…you think. While she seems stable, she appears to have several broken bones and…other injuries which may never heal.

As you all concentrate on the girl’s health, the orcs dash for cover. Unable to find another exit from the building, one orc actually runs shoulder-first into one of the crumbling brick walls with enough force to shake the building slightly. While he seems dazed, the hole he creates is large enough for one of his friends to start climbing through…only to be nailed in the back by Frantiska’s first shot, causing him to go limp, effectively blocking that mode of egress.

Hrud’s swing narrowly misses the third orc, maybe even grazes it’s heel, as it dives headfirst over a pile of crates, screaming “Pooš!”

The last orc, seeing no other recourse, scrambles for the pile of weapons, coming back to his feet with a strange, green-bladed, basket-hilted, broadsword in his hand. He glares at Hrud and strikes an en garde, then staggers backwards a step as Frantiska’s second arrow takes him in the left shoulder, right through the iron-studded jerkin he is wearing. Growling he snaps off the arrow and looks ready to charge the door.

Lyra

Lyra picks up the girl as best she can. “We should get her back to Brother Rant. Maybe he can … augh, my head.” Lyra shakes her head, eyes squeezed tightly shut. Which really only makes things worse. “If we get her back to the wagon, I have spare clothes, and Brother Rant might be able to assist with some of these injuries.”

Donovan

Donovan looks at Lyra, “You’ve done that a few times now…How far can you go? Can you get yourself and the girl to the wagon so Brother Rant can administer to her?”

He moves over behind Frantiska, and grips his staff like a spear, ready to lash out past her at any orc that get’s too close.

Frantiska

Frantiska squints to focus on the orcs as white spots begin to dance in front of her eyes and the throbbing begins again in her temples. “I hate kobolds,” she mutters as she knocks another arrow. She considers stepping back to avoid the orc getting ready to charge, but with Hrud to slow it down and Lyra and the girl behind her, she decides to stand her ground. She looks for targets—five orcs down, one behind the crates, one too close to Hrud, and…that one. She unleashes both arrows at the orc who bashed that hole in the wall.

Hrud

Hrud, extremely frustrated that he can’t seem to land a blow, bears down on the remaining orc.

GM

The orc with the sword feints towards Hrud, though still too far back to connect, then charges Frantiska and the door. Hrud pivots and easily hits the orc as it runs by him, causing it to stumble forward, dropping its blade much too low to stop the butt of Donovan’s staff from ramming it in the stomach. The orc bends double over the staff, knocking Donovan backwards from the force of the impact, then slumps, incapacitated to the floor.

Frantiska stands her ground solidly against the oncoming orc, then calmly unleashes her arrows once it drops out of her line of fire. The other orc, still dazed from running head-first into a brick wall, however effective that might have been, is struck cleanly by the first arrow, and would have fallen to the ground, had the second arrow not come right behind it and pinned the dead orc to the wall.

From behind the pile of crates you hear the last orc screaming “E! Skrše Zab! Pooš! E bol, e bol! Pooš! E e go kažeš! Toa e sao eda devoJka, te e se bro! Pooš! Jas zvad! Jas zvad!”

Lyra

Lyra could barely walk, carrying a girl the same size as herself. I’m not much use in a fight, but I’ll do what I can to help. Through the haze of pain, she knew what had to be done. The stone wall in front of her gives way to the wood and canvas cross section of their covered wagon. As gently as she could, she lifts the girl and places her into the back of the wagon. She leans forward, just enough. “BROTHER RANT!” The girl safely out of harm’s way, Lyra’s fingers gently caress the rough, crumbling stone of the wall for a moment. “It’s … complicated.”

Hrud

Hrud moves to the fallen Orc, takes the green broadsword from it’s slack grip and executes it with its own weapon – curious to see what, if anything, happens.

GM

It dies. The sword’s grip is a little thicker than you are used to, but the heft and balance are very nice. You also notice two identical swords lying near the other, sleeping orcs. Aside from the green blade, the other notable feature of these swords is that the shell-guards are made to look like a gauntletted fist, and have two black eyes painted on the back.

Hrud

Hrud turns to Frantiska and, pointing his sword at the (very soon to be) only remaining survivor, asks, “Bisa diajak Orc?”

Frantiska

Frantiska shrugs, “Saya tidak berbicara Orc,” then walks in, asking over her shoulder, “Do either of you speak Daraktan, or should we just execute these barbarous pigs?” Her voice clearly conveys that the latter is the preferable option.

Lyra

Lyra shakes her head. “I can usually pick out parts of it, but not always enough to make sense. I think we’ve established that ‘Pooš’ is ‘help’, but I was a bit distracted to catch everything he was yelling. Brother Rant may, but he’s probably a bit busy at the moment, and I’m really not in the mood to negotiate for, or accept, surrender, given the circumstances.” Lyra slumps against the wall, rubbing her temples.

Hrud

Hrud sheathes one of the two swords he’s carrying and walks over to the Orc cowering behind the barrel. He reaches down and yanks him up by his filthy hair, holding the other Orc’s green sword to it’s throat. “Pedhang wis arti. Njupuk iki siji menyang klapa lan beras.”

Frantiska

Frantiska furrows her brow against the rising pain, and starts to go around, dispatching the sleeping or wounded orcs with her shortsword. She tries to follow what Hrud is saying, but is completely lost.

GM

As Hrud pulls the orc upright, it continues to scream, clearly not understanding a word Hrud is saying. Seeing his companions being executed, his eyes widen and he begins to blubber even more. “E! Dolgo zeJa, Hung Kako Bul, Ltl Topk, Ja Ebe Od Pozad, Skrše Zab, Crvea Agare, Toa Trae Vo Zadot! Ve ste g ubJa! Ve ste g ubJa! Pooš! Džudžja! Pooš! Zee ož! Zee devoJka! E e ubJat! E e ubJat!”

Hrud

“Aku bakal bali. Mbantu nindakake laro.” Hrud says, and marches the orc out of the building and back to the wagon. Upon seeing Rant, he says «A group of orcs were caught raping a girl.» Laying the green broadsword on the wagon by Rant. «And they had these swords. This one is talking, but we don’t understand.»

«I have to help them carry stuff.» Hrud says, grabbing his captive’s wrist and pressing the orc’s hand to one of the posts on the wagon. The barbarian then grabs one of his arrows and slams it into the orc’s hand, pinning him firmly to the wagon. «Stay here.»

GM

Brother Rant looks up from where he has just finished popping the girl’s hip-joint back into place. Hearing Hrud’s account and seeing the sword, he glares daggers at the orc, asks Teldicia to watch the girl, and climbs out of the wagon. «The sword is the mark of Xvim and the Church of Darkness. I did not think Mace and his crew would act so openly.» He pulls the mace off of his back. “Što e vašeto e ork?”

The orc, between piteous wails and attempts to dislodge his hand replies “Ebam TvoJot čerep!”

Rant then speaks loudly, drawing the attention of the passers-by.

“Ebam TvoJot čerep. Ste ble obvet za krvčo delo sluvaje, kako sle zakosk, baterJa protv ovaa devoJka, služ a teata volJa a Xvim, Sot a surovosta. Od svedočejeto a ove svedoc dokaz što se gleda tuka, ve ste se aJde va vo očte a Sovetot, a Tyr, a Zakoot. Kako sudJa Tyr, Jas ḱe rečeca da eposreda srt. Kako Tyr Zakoot se edo, eka bde taka.”

He then translates into the Common tongue.

“Orc. You have been accused of the crime of rape, both forceful and statutory, and battery against this girl, and serving the dark will of Xvim, the Son of Cruelty. By the testimony of these witnesses and the evidence seen here, you are found guilt in the eyes of the Council, of Tyr, and of the Law. As Tyr’s judge, I sentence you to immediate death. As Tyr and the Law are one, let it be so.”

And the local language.

“Cherep Ublyudok. Vy buly zvynuvacheni u zlochyni z·hvaltuvannya, yak sylʹnyy i zakonom, i batareya proty tsiyeyi divchyny, i sluzhachy temnu volyu Zvima, Syna zhorstokosti. Za svidchennyam tsykh svidkiv i dokaziv bachyly tut, vy znayshly provynu v ochakh Rady, Tir, ta Zakonu. Yak suddi Tir, ya zasudyty vas do nehaynoyi smerti. Yak Tir i Zakon odyn, nekhay bude tak.”

And again for Hrud’s benefit.

“Kéwan. Sampeyan wis dipuntudhuh saka angkara saka rudo pekso, loro kuwat lan kukumipun, lan baterei iki marang prawan, lan porsi bakal peteng Xvim, Putraning kekejeman. Miturut paseksiné iki saksi, lan bukti katon kene, sampeyan ditemokaké kaluputan ing mripate Dhéwan, saka Tyr lan Hukum. Minangka Tyr kang ngadili, aku ukara sampeyan langsung mati. Minangka Tyr lan Hukum iku siji, supaya iku dadi.”

He grips his mace in both hands and brings it down full-force right onto the orc’s head with a sickening crunch.

“Let all who bear witness know that Tyr’s law has been done.” He breaks the arrow off, allowing the orc’s body to fall to the street.

Hrud

Having stopped to witness the execution before rounding the corner, Hrud gives Rant a nod before setting off. The elf woman would have liked to have seen that, he thinks.

Hrud then makes his way back to the others.

Donovan

Donovan seems dazed and sits rubbing at his head for a while before finally getting up off his ass. “At least we’re getting better at this whole killing things thing,” he says to no-one in particular, as he watches Frantiska and Hrud dispose of the orcs. He hauls himself up and starts systematically removing valuables from the orcs. Given the interesting swords, he casts detect magic just for good measure.

Lyra

At the sight of the pile of trinkets being gathered up, Lyra turns and retches, the full force of what just happened hitting her. She leans with her forearm against the wall, the other hand holding her skirt and cloak out of the way, her shoulders shaking until there is nothing left but dry heaves and sobs.

Lyra coughs and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, and stands back up. She half smooths her skirt and carefully rearranges her cloak to re-conceal the soft glow around her. “The swords mark them as favored of the temple of Xvim. As for the green…. Huh.” Lyra looks both confused and deeply concerned. “The alloy is from the plane of Baator, and particularly effective against extraplanar creatures, especially the Tanar’ri.”

Donovan

Donovan looks at the green swords carefully, “Carrying these would probably give us a good amount of clout with the tribes in the old city, but might get us arrested, or at least questioned, in New Phlan—Xvim not being particularly popular with the Tyrran-led government. Still, these are good weapons and might be pretty useful if we ever have to deal with the Xvimlar or the orc tribes…or if we run into demons. Matteo the Smith does some lacquer work and his shop is just on the other side of the market here. Maybe he could give the guards a coat of paint to make them less obvious religious icons. Even if he can’t I think we should hang on to these.”

“There are plenty of undead beasts and similar monsters that they say can only be harmed by enchanted weapons, so it’s probably worthwhile for us all to have one.” He picks one up and makes a clumsy swing with it. "I never really learned to fence, but ‘stick them with the pointy end’ seems easy enough. Frantiska has Sir Guy’s Spoon [love the Price of Thieves reference], so you should probably grab the other one, Lyra.

“Lyra,” he says, “you have a remarkable gift. I can understand why you would want to keep it secret—especially given how useful it would be for escaping capture or imprisonment. I promise not to speak of it openly…and I’m very glad to have you on our side.” He stops and thinks for a moment, trying to ignore the growing pain behind his eyes. “You’re the one who got your mother and yourself onto the boat, aren’t you?” He smiles, “I thought your mother’s explanation for how you got there sounded a little off. She can’t teleport on her own, can she?”

Lyra

“Gift?” Lyra scoffs. “My mother wanted me to grow up to be a powerful mage like her. My ‘gift’ ruined that.” Lyra sighs. “This is the only time the matter will be up for discussion. A natural telepath, untrained in defending oneself, is a very dangerous thing to be, so she grudgingly allowed me to hone my skills. The headaches. I don’t think they were caused by Frantiska. Mother may have done something to … discourage … any further public display of my abilities. It is my understanding that my way is both easier and more precise than the more traditional magical teleportation. And with a moving target, precision is everything. Look through Mother’s eyes as she scries the vessel, calculate the necessary adjustments for speed, acceleration and direction, and just … go. We made it to Phlan from Waterdeep in less than a week. Partly Mother, partly me. I haven’t pressed her for why we left in such a hurry, but she burned most of her research before doing so. She’s trying to protect me from something, and I don’t know what. But if she thinks here of all places is safer for us than back in Waterdeep….”

Donovan

“Lyra,” Donovan looks at her with narrowed eyes, “no offense, but if these headaches are your mother’s doing, I may have to turn her over my knee at some point.” He gathers up the rest of the weapons, armor, and other loot, using one of the orc’s cloaks as a makeshift bindle. “Frantiska, can you and Hrud grab a corner here.”

“Also, did you say you can see through your mother’s eyes? What else can you do?”

Frantiska

Hearing Brother Rant’s voice carrying [it sounded like we’re only a block away or so, right?] Frantiska steps out of the building to listen to his pronouncement, pleased both that justice is being done and at his impressive linguistic skills, Maybe I can pick his brain as we journey, she thinks. Teh deed done, she walks back in and looks distastefully at the swords—only a Xvimlar would mass produce magic weapons and then give them to orcs. “Mr. Leitch, much as I hate the look of these things, your reasoning is sound. Better that you should take them than for them to end up in the hands of other creatures such as these.” She leans down and grabs the other side of the tarp. “What do you intend to do with the rest of this? There are enough weapons and armor here to start a small army.”

Hrud

As the group carries the load back to the wagon, he slides the leather curiass and spears over to his side and makes a mental note to retrieve the sword he left at the wagon.

Lyra

Lyra distastefully picks up the last green sword, and gives it an awkward swing. “Wasn’t there something about a broadsword course at the training hall? We might want to look into that when we get back.”

She speaks softly, as if not wishing to be overheard. “As for what I can do, some you’ve seen firsthand. Telepathic two-way conversation, which is how I arranged for us to speak with Professor Aumry. Traveling hundreds of miles while sleeping to awaken somewhere else. Displacing myself in time, which really isn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. With animals and a wagon there’s really nothing I could do to expedite our journey, although without those, and with the liberty to operate openly, dream travel would have had us all there in Melvaunt in time for breakfast.”

View
Chapter 1: Arriving in New Phlan: Part 12
In which the day finally wraps up, curses are removed, and everyone gets some rest.

Donovan

Donovan walks down to the docks. He wanders the street a bit before coming to a tall, wooden tenement, perched on what was a pier only three months ago, but now a good hundred feet from the water. He walks around to the back of the building, fumbling in his pockets for a key, and ascends a rickety staircase. The building was not the most sturdy-looking, little better than some of the buildings in the Slums, but at least it was inside the walls, and it was home.

He stops at a door at the top of the third flight of steps when he hears a shout from below him. “Oi! Don!” He looks down to see a short, scrawny, rat-faced man with a bad comb-over glaring up at him. “When did you get back Don? I haven’t seen you in a month and your rent’s due. Another day and I was ready to rent your room out to another letter.”

Donovan groans, rubs his temples, and fishes two platinum coins out of the pouch Aumry gave him. “Here Stan,” he drops the coins down into the man’s outstretched hand. “That should pay me up in full and for next month two. I’m leaving again in the morning and probably won’t be back for another couple of weeks…” He leaves the man to the coins and turns and opens the door. He stumbles into the small, one-room apartment and locks the door behind him. Still groaning and rubbing at his head, he drops his bags right inside the door and goes to relieve himself into a pot in the far corner. After a long pee, he walks over and props the small window open with a stick to let in the air and dumps the pot out the window…hoping that his landlord is still down there. He goes and collapses onto his bed and is soon snoring away.

Lyra

Lyra’s shoulders slump as she thinks for a moment. “An air drake, a magma silt horror, and a cistern fiend should all be big enough that someone would notice. An eater of knowledge still big, but less big than the other three. Killing any of those would be highly problematic, especially with just us. There’s a good chance any one of those could destroy most of the town before anyone could do much about it. Of course, a telepath strong enough to keep the field going this long is also likely to be problematic. If it’s a device … that would probably be easiest to triangulate the location of, but otherwise I’m not sure I’d know what to look for.”

Frantiska

Frantiska puffs on her cigarette and looks incredulous, “So we don’t actually know anything.” She begins unhitching Thistledown, “In which case, there is nothing we can do for the moment. Let’s hope that your instincts about this a wrong. Maybe it’s just the strain of the day, or the smell of the water here getting to us all. I suggest we take Donovan’s advice and get a good meal and some sleep…” She looks bemusedly around at the unfamiliar city, “Any guesses where we could find such?”

Lyra

“Calling it ‘water’ seems charitable….” Lyra looks around to orient herself. “We ate at the Cracked Crown earlier today, but some of the sisters from the temple of Tyr are planning to be at The Bitter Blade tonight. Playing cards with the grocer, apparently. As for lodging, I’m not entirely sure. Mother is staying … somewhere. I could stay at the temple; they offered hospitality for saving Brother Rant earlier today.”

Frantiska

Frantiska looks at Hrud, “We’ll need to keep and eye on him. You said you knew a priest that has had dealings with his tribe. Let’s start there.”

“Hrud, kita akan menemukan sebuah penginapan di mana kita bisa makan dan tinggal untuk malam.”

Lyra

“That would be Brother Rant. I think the fastest way back to the temple is this way…. I should check on Amara and pick up a few things that I left there.

Not wanting to take chances with unfamiliar side streets at this time of day, Lyra sticks to the main roads, heading back to the parkside entrance of the temple of Tyr. “Something that would break the concentration of anyone in town momentarily, like that explosion, or Donovan’s hurdy-gurdy, might give us a moment’s reprieve.” Lyra sighs and presses the heels of her palms into her temples. “Just, be on the lookout for anything suspicious as we head across town.”

GM

In the two block walk to the temple in the last fading light of the day, you notice nothing out of the ordinary, for Phlan at least. At this time of the evening, the roads are fairly crowded with people as they close up their shops and head for their homes or one of the three inns inside with walls. The mix is remarkably diverse: humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, even a few orcs, goblins, and…other things, and all of the citizenry appear to be armed. Everyone has at least a dagger visible, and the wealthier shopkeepers walk about with large swords or crossbows, and usually a few heavily armed and armored guards as well. In the short walk, your headaches abate not in the least.

Lyra

Lyra seems to be focusing on the crowds. She keeps her voice quiet. “Look, the people coming from that way seem fine. That’s consistent with my assumptions about the source of the headaches having a stationary area of effect with a finite radius.”

Frantiska

Frantiska looks around at all the people passing on the street, “This seems like a rough town. I thought it would have been more peaceful inside the walls…”

Winona

As you near the temple, you see Winona and two of the other white-robed Tyrran priestesses coming out the main doors. Winona looks like she is dressed for a night out on the town, her robe open in the front to reveal a suit of double-linked chainmail underneath, a set of metal flindbars stuck into her belt, and a large, two-handed flail strapped to her back. She absentmindedly fiddles with a deck of playing cards in her hands, shuffling and rearranging them as she chats with the other sisters. Seeing Lyra, she stops and waves.

Lyra

“Apparently their definition of ‘civilized’ is less overcrowding, more money, and stronger walls and better arms and armor to keep it that way.” Spotting Sister WInona, Lyra waves back.

Winona

Winona guides her little party in Lyra’s direction. “Good evening, Dearie…” Winona flinches slightly as an arrow suddenly comes flying out of nowhere to clatter against the wall of the temple. She turns and glares at the river before continuing, “Did the rest of your shopping trip go well?”

Lyra

Lyra isn’t quite sure which is more shocking, the arrow, or the Sister’s reaction to it, and winced at the sudden noise as it hit the wall. “It was … fine. I found the rest of my party while I was out, and some … additions. Sister Winona, this is Frantiska Sykora and Hrud of the Eraka. So far as I can tell, Hrud does not speak the common tradespeech, and I was hoping that Brother Rant might be able to assist in translating.”

GM

A few more arrows come flying out of the darkness while you talk, landing among the cobblestones of the road or bouncing harmlessly off the walls of the temple, most of their momentum having been exhausted. One of the other priestesses, a slip of a girl in a novice’s habit with a spiked mace resting against her hip, speaks up, “I saw Brother Rant attending vespers in the chapel just now.”

Hrud

Hrud unsheathes his sword (slightly disappointed that it doesn’t appear to be any different than it was before), “Ngendi nyerang?”

Winona

Winona smirks a little as the barbarian draws his sword and points to the north. “Orcs, on the other side of the river. They do this every evening. It’s a bit too far for their bows, but they try anyways.” She fiddles with the cards a bit more, then realizes what she’s doing and holds them up. “We were just on our way to the Bitter Blade for some fun. Care to join us?”

Frantiska

Frantiska raises an eyebrow, “That explains everyone’s armament. Are the orcs just ruffians, or have they ever made any real threats against the city?” She briefly contemplates testing the range of her own weapon, then notices Hrud’s elevated alertness. She thinks for a moment, “Hrud, Orcs di sisi lain sungai. Mereka hanya mencoba untuk menakut-nakuti orang.”

“I don’t know the word for Orcs in any equivalent language…” she admits quietly to Lyra.

Hrud

Realizing that no one seems to care much about the attacks, or interested in doing anything about it, Hrud grudgingly puts his sword away.

“Wong ing kutha iku edan” he mutters.

Winona

Winona closes her eyes tightly and shakes her head a little, “Ugh.” She suddenly notices that Lyra and her companions are also acting strange. “Did you bring some sort of headache monster with you dearie?”

Lyra

“Half the monsters I know of that can do this are forty feet long, and none under nine. I think we would have noticed by now…. " Lyra trails off and rubs her eyes again.

Winona

Winona groans, turns, and opens the door back into the temple. “Sorry dears, I’m suddenly not feeling well so I’m out tonight.” She motions for Lyra and the others to follow her as she heads inside. “We should get one of the senior priests to look at you, there are a number of contagious maladies which could cause pains like this…”

Lyra

Lyra follows Sister Winona inside the temple. “I was fine until I met up with Mr. Donovan. And you were fine before meeting up with us, correct?” Lyra frowns and looks over at Frantiska. “Did anything … unusual … happen while you were outside of town, and when did your headaches start?”

Frantiska

Frantiska motions for Hrud to follow them, “Ya, Hrud, mereka gila. Ayo, kita akan menemukan imam anda.”

“The headaches began shortly after we dispatched the kobolds. I doubt that this is any kind of mundane illness, Selune’s power shields her knights from such inconveniences.” She looks around the large temple, clearly unimpressed. “Lyra’s theory that it is some kind of psionic assault, or perhaps a curse or enchantment seems more likely…” She pauses, realization suddenly dawning on her, and reaches up and snatches the hat off the top of her head.

GM

Another identical hat appears in its place. You now have two ugly hats.

Frantiska

Frantiska looks at the frumpy, reddish thing in her hands for a moment, then snatches the other one off of her head.

GM

Frantiska pulls the hat off of her head, followed by another, and another, each identical to the last. 6…7..8… The hats just keep coming. 9…10…11… Soon a small pile of the hats litters the floor of the temple, and always a new one is there on her head. As the hats fly, she can feel the headache growing worse.

Winona

Winona can’t help but laugh. “Look on the bright side, dearie. You could move out to the slums and run quite the haberdashery business with no work at all…”

Lyra

Trying not to laugh just makes Lyra’s head hurt worse. “I don’t suppose you remember the phrasing of the curse?”

Frantiska

Frantiska rubs at her temples and throws another hat on the ground. “The kobold priest said ‘May your heads never be uncovered for a million days! May your roots wither and die! May your fleas and lice shrivel! May the kings of gods and men rain their hatred upon your pates,’ or something pretty close to that.” She plucks off another hat and stares at the thing, trying not to think about how impolite it is to wear a hat indoors. “I hate kobolds…” she mutters.

Lyra

A million days is a long time to have a headache. Lyra lets out a long, drawn out sigh. “The part about the fleas doesn’t sound so bad, at least. Sister, is there anyone specializing in curses we could talk to?”

GM

You stand, hats piled around you, in the vestibule of the temple. The sound of priests chanting vespers echoes from behind the large doors into the sanctuary. Doors which creep open as you continue to make a ruckus. “Can I help you?” says a voice. You look to see Brother Rant, mended, freshly shaved, and wearing a suit of scale armor emblazoned with Tyr’s Hammer, coming through the door. He looks bemusedly at the heap of hats littering the floor.

Lyra

Lyra blushes a bit. “I hope you are feeling better, Brother Rant. This is Frantiska Sykora, and Hrud of the Eraka. We have two issues at present. One, Hrud does not understand the common tradespeech, and we were hoping you might be able to help translate. Two, Frantiska here seems to have acquired a minor … affliction.”

Winona

Winona notices Lyra’s blush, sidles over and gives her a nudge in the side with her elbow (as good as a wink to a blind bat, eh?).

GM

“The Waiting”, as it is called, is typical of Tyr’s temples. The temple is a traditional cruciform shape [typical of most Roman Catholic cathedrals] (though the Tyrrans would refer to it as “hammer-shaped”), constructed entirely from stone with a facade of white limestone. The roof is flat and crenelated, with manned guard towers at each of the transepts, and the heavy, windowless, iron-reinforced doors give the impression of a fortress more than a place of worship. Narrow hammer-shaped windows, more like arrow slits, line either side of the the nave, letting in very little light. The interior of the narthex is empty and the walls unadorned, save for another pair of large, reinforced doors—though, being the diocesan seat, these doors are bound in gold and have large, golden hammers inlaid in the centers. To either side of the narthex are stairs, leading down.

Beyond the double-doors, is the chapel or sanctuary, which is arrayed like a court-room, with several rows of uncomfortable looking hardwood seats flanking a single aisle. At the back, where the chancel would be in a normal church, is a large, curved bench, with high-backed seats for five judges (priests) behind it. The middle seat, belonging to the Bishop, appears to be carved from gold. In front of the judges’ bench, is an elevated, cage-like witness-box, flanked by two tables. Over the witness-box, floating in mid-air, is an over-sized, silver-inlaid hammer, which glows with a brilliant blue-white radiance providing the only light in the room. In the apse, behind the judges’ seats, is a large white statue of an old soldier in full armor, his eyes bound to indicate blindness, his left hand holding a set of scales aloft, and his right hand stuck into the mouth of a slavering wolf. The south transept has a table with scribe’s implements laid out on it. This being an affluent temple, the north transept is filled with a massive pipe-organ. No other statuary, art, or ornamentation can be seen anywhere in the place.

Currently, through the opened narthex doors, you see some forty or fifty people, a mix of white-robed novices, heavily armored priests, and well-dressed city folk, seated in the pews chanting the evening prayers—the judges’ seats are currently empty. Occasionally, one of the petitioners will rise and go to stand in the witness box, the hammer flashing brightly as he or she confesses his transgressions in front of the assembled congregation. The reek of incense hangs in the air, but you see no censers or braziers currently being used, and the organ stands silent.

“Thank you Miss Lyra, I am feeling much better.” Brother Rant looks Frantiska up and down, then looks at the pile of hats. “That is quite the affliction you have there. I’m afraid I don’t know much about magically replicating headwear.”

He then turns to Hrud and gives an odd gesture, swinging both arms wide and bumping his two fists together, “Rahayu sore, Hrud saka Eraka. Aku Bengak-Bengok Harmel, imam saka Tyr ing Cukup, diadopsi saka Angin-Jaran kulawarga,” he says in perfectly accented Erakic, “Sami-sami kita kutha. Apa Panjenengan klan?”

Hrud

Fascinated by the architecture and stonework, Hrud pulls his gaze away from the temple and returns the gesture.

“Rahayu sore. Aku ing ‘dawa kulo’ klan, lan pangarep-arep kanggo bakal bali sedina. Aku nggoleki jawaban saka dewa lan ora bisa bali aku duwe nganti mau.”

Frantiska

Frantiska pulls another hat off her head and rubs her forehead aggressively with her other hand. “The hats seem to be a manifestation of a curse that was placed on me by a kobold in the ruins,” she says, answering Brother Rant’s comment, but clearly talking to Lyra and Winona. “Is there anyone in the temple who might be skilled at curse removal?”

Winona

Winona stops to think, finding it much harder to do as the throbbing in her head increases, “Sister Theymr is able to remove curses. Let’s take you down to the dormitories and see if she can help…”

Hrud

Noticing a set up stairs leading up, Hrud asks, “Bisa ndeleng kutha saka gendheng?”

Frantiska

Frantiska looks around at the pile of hats on the floor, “Thank you, Miss, but first, I need to see to my horse, and also, what should be done about these?”

Lyra

Lyra looks at the growing pile of hats. “I can help clean up.”

GM

Brother Rant looks where Hrud is looking, trying to figure out why he is asking to go up, since there is no roof access from here, “Kula nyuwun pangapunten, kanca. Sing gendheng mati watesan.”

“I’ll take care of the horses, Lady Sykora, and then I believe I will give your Eraka friend a tour.” He bows to the ladies, “You probably want to make sure those hats are destroyed, in case the curse is something that can be spread.” You see a vein begin to stand-out on his forehead.

“Kakang Hrud, aja duwe Panggonan kanggo amben mudhun kanggo wengi?”

One of the two novices accompanying Wonina pipes up, “We can probably burn the hats in the fireplace in the dormitory. I’ll run and tell Sister Theymr to expect you.” All too eagerly, she dashes down the stairs to the left.

Hrud

“Kanthi jaran.” Hrud says with a shrug.

GM

“Sampeyan bisa turu karo jaran yen pengin, utawa aku bisa kurban sing amben yen seneng. Teka karo aku, aku bakal nuduhake endi jaran kandhang punika.” Rant heads outside, and carefully approaches the two horses.

Hrud

“Aku ora nyana kuwi loman. Matur nuwun.” Hrud says to Brother Rant, following him.

GM

Brother Rant takes Thistledown’s reins and leads Hrud and the horses across the square to the stables, which are tucked in the park half-way between the temples of Tempus, Tyr, and Gond, and shared by the three. The stables are large and sturdy-looking, with walls made from stones salvaged from the ruins and stalls for some two hundred animals, more than half of which are full. “Iki stabil jaran diwenehake minangka layanan dening Dhéwan lan candi. Punika biasane digunakake dening tentara Tempus, nanging sawetara Tyr kang paladins tetep jaran kene uga.”

Brother Rant finds two empty stalls between a pair of heavy war horses, making sure that Thistledown is situated beside a mare, so that the smell of the filly will not drive any stallions to distraction. “Dadi enom kanggo wis ditunggangi limang atus liga,” he says in a soothing voice, more to the horse than anyone else. He brushes down her coat (she doesn’t seem to mind that it is the fourth time that day), and shows Hrud where the fodder for the animals is kept.

Hrud

“Candhi perdagangan – pangan? peralatan?” asks Hrud. There is an audible growl from his stomach.

GM

“Aja padha sumelang ing bab perdagangan. Yen sampeyan lagi kanca saka Lyra lan dheweke perusahaan, aku arep priksa manawa sampeyan njaluk meal apik bengi iki.” Rant finishes tending to the horses and shows Hrud how to lock the stalls. “Yen wis perlu barang liyane, Aku suggest sing mriksa pasar mudhun dening katharine. Padha biasane mbukak ing jam iki.”

Hrud

Using his bedroll as a sack, Hrud bundles up his spoils from the unexpected encounter with the Kobolds out in the slums. Then, following his nose, makes his way down to the temple’s kitchen and pantry. Aware, at least in part, of the stares he draws, Hrud assembles a modest meal from the food he finds lying out – hoping not to inadvertently offend anyone in the process and quietly wonders off.

Hrud meanders through the temple, taking care not to blunder into the sanctuary. Finally, he finds himself back at the entrance. As he starts to make his way to the front door, something in the corner catches his eye.

The barbarian walks over and picks up a frumpy, red-brown hat with a single drooping white feather stuck in the band.

This was the elf woman’s. It must have gotten kicked out of the way. Moments pass as he contemplates what to do with it. Give it back to Frantiska? She seemed to have quiet a few of them, and didn’t really seem happy about it. Would she mind if Hrud took it? On The Ride, when things were left on the plain, it was assumed their owner didn’t want them anymore, else they would have taken better care of it.

The Eraka didn’t have much use for headgear, outside of ceremonial headdresses or the odd helmet – often incorporating bits taken from a notable kill. This hat didn’t look like it had any religious significance, and it certainly wouldn’t do anything to keep his skull from being split. Hrud wondered if it would be worth anything.

Looking at the food in his left hand and the sack of plundered weapons at his feet. Hrud needed a free hand. He raised the hat to his head … Nah, he just couldn’t see himself wearing it. His fellow Eraka would mock him mercilessly (well, /more/ mercilessly than normal) if they saw him wearing such a thing. Into the bag it went.

Making way out of the temple, Hrud tried to stay close to any walls or buildings facing the river as he made his way (again, following his nose) to the docks. The barbarian had encountered several small village ports along the rivers that fed The Ride. The docks of Phlan smelled like all of them put together. The occasional click of an arrow hitting stone or thunking into wood told him the orcs were still across the river, but in the deepening twilight, it was obvious they were firing blindly.

Rounding a corner, Hrud found a number of storefronts. Many of them were dark, one sounded like a tavern, and there, on the end, what he hoped was the trader that Brother Rant had spoken of. Entering the store, he found a sour-faced man sitting behind a counter counting money – or he had been, until an unexpected visitor had him hastily shoving the coins into a box and down behind the counter.

The man asked Hrud a question – probably wanted to know what he wanted, despite not understanding the words. The barbarian walked to the counter and upended his bedroll.

GM

The man behind the counter, looking more than a little terrified, eyes the pile of weapons that has been dumped in front of him. Though the large man’s intent seems obvious the man looks bewildered as he waves a hand towards the case of, now slightly less than fresh, fish still remaining of his day’s wares. He babbles out something, then, seeing the lack of recognition on the big man’s face, sighs. He pulls a dozen silver coins from a pouch at his waist, not touching the box behind the counter, and lays them on the counter, pushing them gingerly towards the barbarian.

Hrud

Careful not to betray his excitement at making the most money on a sale that he’s ever made, Hrud scoops the coins into his pouch, rolls up his bedroll and makes his way back to the temple. Hrud wonders, as yet another arrow clatters above him in the night, maybe it’s possible to make a living at killing evil creatures and selling their belongings …

Between this, the free meal, and the offer of a real bed, this has been a very good day – kobold kidnapping and elven neck-punching aside.


Meanwhile Downstairs…

Lyra

Arms loaded with hats, Lyra proceeds to the women’s dormitory.

Winona

Winona puts her arm through Frantiska’s in a much-too-familiar way and leads her down the stairs to the women’s dormitories. “Don’t worry Franny, I’m sure SIster Theymr will be able to get that dreadful thing off your head. Then we’ll get you a nice meal and a bed for the night, and I’m sure you’ll feel right at rain in the morning.” She stops and leans against the wall, massaging her temples. “Seriously, lets get that damned contemptible thing off of your head before mine explodes…”

Frantiska

After the recent attempted horse-thievery, Frantiska briefly considers going after Brother Rant to take care of Thistledown, but then realizes that if anyone in this town is to be considered trustworthy, the Tyrrans would be the ones to trust with her beloved companion. Resigned to the fact that she has more immediate problems to deal with—in the form of a magically induced fashion faux-pas, a breach of etiquette, and a potential public health risk—she allows herself to be lead downstairs. Even allows herself to be called ‘Franny’ without comment. She is, however, completely taken aback by the near-opulent comfort of the dormitories—nothing to compare with her experience as a favorite of the queen of Aglarond, but far, far superior to the austerity she had expected from what is considered the strictest religious order in all the Realms.

Once in the dormitories, she immediately collapses to a sitting position on one of the beds, figuring that for this one, brief moment in her life, she can allow the circumstances to dispense with formalities. Once sitting, she clutching at her head as if trying to hold her brains in.

Lyra

Lyra rather unceremoniously dumps the armload of hats near the fireplace, and goes to check on Amara and the items she left here earlier.

GM

Lyra finds Amara fast asleep, the doll, Susalia, clutched tightly to her chest, its eyes seeming to follow everyone around the room. Lyra’s gear is still right where she left it, though the books lie open on the next bed over, layed out as if someone were trying to read both simultaneously.

Pre-warned of the situation, the white-haired Sister Theymr comes bustling over as soon as Winona leads Frantiska in. “I’m Theymr,” she says to Frantiska, “let me take a look at you…” She plucks a hat off of Frantiska’s head, turning it over in her hands, and paying only moderate attention to the one that appears in its place. “Kobolds, eh? This hat’s actually much nicer than I would have expected.” She tosses the hat into the fireplace. She says a brief prayer to Tyr, reaches out, and plucks the hat off of Frantiska’s head again, tossing this one into the fire as well. This time, no new hat appears to replace it. “There, all done.” She looks at the three girls appraisingly, then motions for two of the novices. “Flax, Sarah, please start laying out supper. And then, I think, these girls should get some rest.”

Lyra

Lyra will give Susalia a slight nod of greeting, and collect the books before setting her backpack and the box down next to the rest of her things.

GM

Theymr and another novice begin tossing the remaining hats in the fireplace. About 10 minutes later, Sister Sarah and Sister Flax return carrying two large trays, one piled with meats, cheeses, bread, and fruits, the other bearing four large pitchers of wine. They set them on the table and begin spreading tablecloths and laying out some dozen or so place-settings from a cupboard at the end of the room. Perhaps more important than the food, by the time they return your collective headaches are starting to feel much better.

Winona

Winona’s head is starting to feel better, but she figures a stiff drink or two won’t hurt. When Sarah and Flax are finished, she sits down at the table and immediately pours herself a glass of wine, downing it in one gulp. She adjusts her glasses and watches the other sisters begin making their way in for dinner. “Lyra, Franny, come have a seat. No sense going to sleep on an empty stomach.”

Frantiska

Frantiska breathes a sigh of relief when the hat is removed. She sits a few minutes longer until the headache has subsided, then walks over to where Lyra is sitting. “Miss Beragaion, may I leave my things here? I want to go check on Thistledown before turning in for the night.” She sets her bow, quiver, pick-axe, and bag on the bed next to Lyra’s. Before heading upstairs, she checks the edge on the sword belted to her shin, but prays she won’t need it until after she has had a nice long sleep.

Lyra

Lyra looks up at Frantiska. “That’s fine. Watch out for stray arrows while you’re outside.”

Sitting on the bed, she rubs her temples and looks over at the sleeping Amara and closes her eyes. For a moment, she almost seems to have fallen asleep herself.

Frantiska

Frantiska heads outside, pausing briefly to ask one of the akolytes for directions to the stables. She passes Hrud and Rant on their way back to the temple, giving them a polite nod, but does not pause in her mission. When she reaches the stables, she makes a bee-line for Thistledown, smiles appreciatively at the care that has been taken with the horse’s grooming, feeding, and security, then throws her arms around the filly’s neck. “Did we do the right thing in coming here?” she whispers.

Lyra

After a few minutes, Lyra snaps back to her senses with a small jerk, looking around the room. She rubs here eyes, stretches, and takes a place at the table, heaping a plate with meat, cheese, and fruit with a small portion of bread. As an afterthought, she pours a glass of wine. It’s been a long day.

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Campaign Theory: Hygiene
Reposted from the "The World of Tel-Avi" campaign

With special thanks to Bill Bryson

Bathing

Europeans, historically, were always curiously ill at ease with cleanliness and early on developed an odd tradition of equating holiness with dirtiness. When St Thomas à Becket died in 1170, those who laid him out noted approvingly that his undergarments were ‘seething with lice’. Throughout the medieval period, an almost sure-fire way to earn lasting honour was to take a vow not to wash. Many people walked from England to the Holy Land, but when a monk named Godric did it without getting wet even once he became, all but inevitably, St Godric.

Then in the Middle Ages the spread of plague made people consider more closely their attitude to hygiene and what they might do to modify their own susceptibility to outbreaks. Unfortunately, people everywhere came to exactly the wrong conclusion. All the best minds agreed that bathing opened the epidermal pores and encouraged deathly vapours to invade the body. The best policy was to plug the pores with dirt. For the next six hundred years (until the mid 19th century) most people didn’t wash, or even get wet, if they could help it – and in consequence they paid an uncomfortable price. Infections became part of everyday life. Boils grew commonplace. Rashes and blotches were routine. Nearly everyone itched nearly all the time. Discomfort was constant, serious illness accepted with resignation.

Devastating diseases arose, killed millions and then, often, mysteriously vanished. The most notorious was plague, but there were many others. The English sweating sickness, a disease about which we still know almost nothing, had epidemics in 1485, 1508, 1517 and 1528, killing thousands as it went, before disappearing, never to return (or at least not yet). It was followed in the 1550s by another strange fever, “the new sickness”, which “raged horribly throughout the realm and killed an exceeding great number of all sorts of men, but especially gentlemen and men of great wealth”, as one contemporary noted. In between and sometimes alongside were outbreaks of ergotism, which came from a fungal infection of rye grain. People who ingested poisoned grain suffered delirium, seizures, fever, loss of consciousness and eventually, in many cases, death. A curious aspect of ergotism is that it came with a cough very like a dog’s bark, which is thought to be the source of the expression ‘barking mad’.

Clearly not all of these dreadful maladies were directly related to washing, but people didn’t necessarily know that or even care. Although everyone knew that syphilis was spread through sexual contact, which could of course take place anywhere, it became indelibly associated with bathhouses. Prostitutes generally were banned from coming within a hundred paces of a bathhouse and eventually Europe’s bathhouses were closed altogether. With the bathhouses gone, most people got out of the habit of washing – not that many of them were entirely in it to begin with. Washing wasn’t unknown, just a little selective. “Wash your hands often, your feet seldom, and your head never” was a common English proverb. Queen Elizabeth, in a much-cited quote, faithfully bathed once a month “whether she needs it or no”. In 1653, John Evelyn, the diarist, noted a tentative decision to wash his hair annually. Robert Hooke, the scientist, washed his feet often (because he found it soothing), but appears not to have spent much time damp above the ankles. Samuel Pepys mentions his wife’s bathing only once in the diary he kept for nine and a half years. In France, King Louis XIII went unbathed until almost his seventh birthday, in 1608.

By the time Europeans began to visit the New World in large numbers they had grown so habitually malodorous that the Indians nearly always remarked at how bad they smelled. Nothing, however, bemused the Indians more than the European habit of blowing their noses into a fine handkerchief, folding it carefully and placing it back in their pockets as if it were a treasured memento.

There is no doubt that some standards of cleanliness were expected. When an observer of the court of King James I noted that the king never went near water except to daub his fingertips with a moist napkin, he was writing in a tone of disgust. And it is notable that people who were really grubby were generally famous for it, among whom we might include the eleventh Duke of Norfolk, who was so violently opposed to soap and water that his servants had to wait till he was dead drunk to scrub him clean; Thomas Paine, the pamphleteer, whose surface was an uninterrupted accretion of dirt; and even the refined James Boswell, whose body odour was a wonder to many in an age when that was assuredly saying something. But even Boswell was left in awe by his contemporary the Marquis d’Argens, who wore the same undershirt for so many years that when at last he was persuaded to take it off, it had so fixed itself upon him ‘that pieces of his skin came away with it’. For some, however, filthiness became a kind of boast. The aristocratic Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was one of the first great female travellers, was so grubby that after shaking her hand a new acquaintance blurted out in amazement how dirty. ‘What would you say if you saw my feet?’ Lady Mary responded brightly. Many people grew so unused to being exposed to water in quantity that the very prospect of it left them genuinely fearful. When Henry Drinker, a prominent Philadelphian, installed a shower in his garden as late as 1798, his wife Elizabeth put off trying it out for over a year, “not having been wett all over at once, for 28 years past”, she explained.

By the eighteenth century the most reliable way to get a bath was to be insane. Then they could hardly soak you enough. In 1701 Sir John Floyer began to make a case for cold bathing as a cure for any number of maladies. His theory was that plunging a body into chilly water produced a sensation of ‘Terror and Surprize’ which invigorated dulled and jaded senses.

Benjamin Franklin tried another tack. During his years in London, he developed the custom of taking “air baths”, basking naked in front of an open upstairs window. This can’t have got him any cleaner, but it seems to have done him no harm and it must at least have given the neighbours something to talk about. Also strangely popular was “dry washing” – rubbing oneself with a brush to open the pores and possibly dislodge lice. Many people believed that linen had special qualities that absorbed dirt from the skin. As Katherine Ashenburg has put it, “they ‘washed’ by changing their shirts”. Most, however, fought dirt and odour by either covering it with cosmetics and perfumes or just ignoring it. Where everyone stinks no one stinks.

What really got the Victorians to turn to bathing, however, was the realization that it could be gloriously punishing. The Victorians had a kind of instinct for self-torment, and water became a perfect way to make that manifest. Many diaries record how people had to break the ice in their washbasins in order to ablute in the morning, and the Reverend Francis Kilvert noted with pleasure how jagged ice clung to the side of his bath and pricked his skin as he merrily bathed on Christmas morning in 1870. Showers, too, offered great scope for punishment, and were often designed to be as powerful as possible. One early type of shower was so ferocious that users had to don protective headgear before stepping in lest they be beaten senseless by their own plumbing.

Assuming that most fantasy games are set in the equivalent of the Pre-Victorian era (since Victorian is usually associated with “Steam Punk”), it should be assumed that standards of cleanliness similar to those above were followed. Asking for a “Hot Bath” to be drawn when staying at an inn should be a completely alien concept to most characters (indeed very few homes, let alone an inn should have anything resembling bathing facilities). PCs that insist on dousing or submerging themselves in water on a regular basis are likely viewed as insane by their neighbors and should be treated as such.


Toilets

The English for a long time were particularly noted for their unconcern about lavatorial privacy. Giacomo Casanova, the Italian adventurer, remarked on a visit to London how frequently he saw someone “ease his sluices” in full public view along roadsides or against buildings. Pepys notes in his diary how his wife squatted in the road “to do her business”.

‘Water closet’ dates from 1755 and originally signified the place where royal enemas were administered. At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson installed three indoor privies, probably the first in America. which incorporated air vents to take the odour away. By Jeffersonian standards (or actually any standards) they weren’t technologically advanced: the waste simply fell into a collecting pot, which was emptied by slaves. However, at the White House Jefferson in 1801 in stalled three of the first flushing toilets in the world. They were powered by rain-water cisterns installed in the attic.

Most people continued to use chamber pots which they kept in a cupboard in their bedrooms or closet, and which were known (for entirely obscure reasons) as “jordans”. Foreign visitors were frequently appalled by the English habit of keeping chamber pots in cupboards or sideboards in the dining room, which the men would pull out and use as soon as the women had withdrawn. Some rooms came supplied with a “necessary chair” in the corner as well. A French visitor to Philadelphia, Moreau de Saint-Méry, noted with astonishment how one man removed the flowers from a vase and peed in it. Another French visitor at about the same time reported asking for a chamber pot for his bedroom and being told “just to go out the window like everyone else”. When he insisted upon being provided with something in which to do his business, his bemused host brought him a kettle, but firmly reminded him that she would need it back in the morning in time for breakfast.

The most notable feature about anecdotes involving toilet practices is that they always involve people from one country being appalled by the habits of those from another. There were as many complaints about the lavatorial customs of the French as the French made of others. One that had been around for centuries was that in France there was “much pissing in chimnies” there. The French were also commonly accused of relieving themselves on staircases, ‘a practice which was still to be found at Versailles in the eighteenth century’, writes Mark Girouard in Life in the French Country House. It was the boast of Versailles that it had one hundred bathrooms and three hundred commodes, but they were oddly underused, and in 1715 an edict reassured residents and visitors that henceforth the corridors would be cleared of faeces weekly.

Most sewage went into cesspits, but these were commonly neglected and the contents often seeped into neighbouring water supplies. In the worst cases they overflowed. Samuel Pepys recorded one such occasion in his diary: “Going down into my cellar…I put my foot into a great heap of turds…by which I found that Mr Turner’s house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me.”

The people who cleaned cesspits were known as nightsoil men, and if there has ever been a less enviable way to make a living I believe it has yet to be described. They worked in teams of three or four. One man, the most junior, was lowered into the pit itself to scoop waste into buckets. A second stood by the pit to raise and lower the buckets, and the third and fourth carried the buckets to a waiting cart. Nightsoil work was dangerous as well as disagreeable. Workers ran the risk of asphyxiation and even of explosions since they worked by the light of a lantern in powerfully gaseous environments. The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1753 related the case of one nightsoil man who went into a privy vault in a London tavern and was overcome almost at once by the foul air. “He call’d out for help, and immediately fell down on his face,” one witness reported. A colleague who rushed to the man’s aid was similarly overcome. Two more men went to the vault, but could not get in because of the foul air, though they did manage to open the door a little, releasing the worst of the gases. By the time rescuers were able to haul the two men out, one was dead and the other was beyond help.

Because nightsoil men charged hefty fees, cesspits in poorer districts were seldom emptied and frequently overflowed, not surprisingly given the pressures put on the average inner-city cesspit. Crowding in many London districts was almost unimaginable. In 1851 in St Giles, the worst of London’s rookeries, 54,000 people were crowded into just a few streets. By one count, eleven hundred people lived in twenty-seven houses along one alley; that is more than forty people per dwelling. In Spitalfields, further east, inspectors found sixty-three people living in a single house. The house had nine beds, one for every seven occupants.

Such masses of humanity naturally produced enormous volumes of waste, far more than any system of cesspits could cope with. In one fairly typical report an inspector recorded visiting two houses in St Giles where the cellars were filled with human waste to a depth of three feet. Outside, the inspector continued, the yard was six inches deep in excrement. Bricks had been stacked like stepping stones to let the occupants cross the yard.

At Leeds in the 1830s, a survey of the poorer districts found that many streets were “floating with sewage”; one street, housing 176 families, had not been cleaned for fifteen years. In Liverpool, as many as one-sixth of the populace lived in dark cellars, where wastes could all too easily seep in. And of course human waste was only a small part of the enormous heaps of filth that were generated in the crowded and rapidly industrializing cities. In London, the Thames absorbed anything that wasn’t wanted: condemned meat, offal, dead cats and dogs, food waste, industrial waste, human faeces and much more. Animals were marched daily to Smithfield Market to be turned into beefsteaks and mutton chops; they deposited 40,000 tons of dung en route in a typical year. That was, of course, on top of all the waste of dogs, horses, geese, ducks, chickens and rutting pigs that were kept domestically. Gluemakers, tanners, dyers, tallow chandlers, chemical enterprises of all sorts, all added their by-products to the sea of daily sludge. Much of this rotting detritus ultimately found its way into the Thames, where the hope was that the tide would carry it out to sea. But of course tides run in both directions, and the tide that carried waste out towards the sea brought a good deal of it back when it turned. The river was a perpetual “flood of liquid manure”, as one observer put it. Smollett said that “human excrement is the least offensive part”, for the river also contained “all the drugs, minerals and poisons, used in mechanics and manufacture, enriched with the putrefying carcases of beasts and men; and mixed with the scourings of all the wash-tubs, kennels, and common sewers”. The Thames grew so noxious that when a tunnel being dug at Rotherhithe sprang a leak the first matter through the breach was not river water but concentrated gases, which were ignited by the miners’ lamps, putting them in the absurdly desperate position of trying to outrun incoming waters and clouds of burning air.

Into this morass came something that proved, unexpectedly, to be a disaster: the flush toilet. Flush toilets of a type had been around for some time. Early toilets often didn’t work well. Sometimes they backfired, filling the room with even more of what the horrified owner had very much hoped to be rid of. Until the development of the U-bend (in 1880) and water trap every toilet bowl acted as a conduit to the smells of cesspit and sewer. The backwaft of odours, particularly in hot weather, could be unbearable.

The bigger problem was that London’s sewers were designed only to drain off rainwater and couldn’t cope with a steady deluge of solid waste. The sewers filled up with a dense, gloopy sludge that wouldn’t wash away. People known as “flushermen” were employed to find blockages and clear them. Other sewery professions included “toshers” and “mudlarks” who delved through muck, in sewers and along fetid riverbanks, for lost jewellery or the odd silver spoon. Toshers made a good living, all things considered, but it was dangerous. The air in the sewers could be lethal. Since the sewer network was vast and unrecorded, there were many reports of toshers getting lost and failing to find their way out. Many were at least rumoured to have been attacked and devoured by rats.

Keep in mind that most of the documented cases below (including ones of people shitting on the floor of their own homes) are from the 18th century or later…it took a long time for people to start caring about disposing of waste. Even in a “Steampunk” game (perhaps especially in such settings), a general sense of horrifically poor hygiene should be conveyed (see above statements about “floods of liquid manure” in 19th century London).

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Chapter 1: Arriving in New Phlan: Part 11
In which the party is reunited...and get a headache...

Frantiska

“Will ana a priest?” She speaks the words aloud to herself, trying to puzzle out Hrud’s meaning. She leads her horse out of the alley, looking at the collapsed houses and piles of refuse, she can’t help but feel deeply sorry for the people forced to live in these conditions. “Lead the way,” she tells Donovan, before turning back to the barbarian. “Melvaunt adalah kota terdekat di sebelah Phlan. Sekitar tiga hari naik menuju matahari terbit. Di sisi lain rawa. Aku berhenti di sana sebentar dalam perjalanan ke sini. Jalan ini cukup berbahaya, sehingga mereka menyewa penjaga.” As she speaks she starts to feel more confident, though the words still come slow. She hopes she’s saying anything remotely right…

Donovan

Donovan heads for the gates, picking his way through the rubbish-choked streets, and hoping that the guards won’t ask any awkward questions about why he’s coming back with the same number but completely different people than he left with just a few hours ago. He steers his way past the building with the gate, hoping to find Shaddup and make sure the carnage is sufficient to keep other people from stumbling through the portal to Hell.

GM

You find the way to the old building completely blocked by rubble. Broken boards, bricks, and stones fill the street, a thick cloud of dust still hangs in the air, and at least three buildings have been flattened (not counting innumerable shanties). Climbing up on a reasonably stable-looking pile of debris, you can see that the building in question is among those that have been completely destroyed—you can just see the tail of the dead linnorm peaking up through a pile of bricks. The street looks mostly deserted. A few beggars and scavengers pick through the rubble, but there is no sign of Shaddup.

Hrud

It sounded to Hrud like the group was going to be traveling three days to Melvaunt through a dangerous swamp. Hrud shrugged. As long as he could find someone with the knowledge he sought, it didn’t really matter. Besides, he thought, looking around at all the destruction, this city was apparently quite dangerous. If this was what city-life was like, he couldn’t understand how the people living here had survived for so long.

Donovan

Donovan turns to Teldicia, “I guess we’ll just have to trust that Shaddup was smart enough to give himself enough time to get away before the building blew.” He looks around, sees a side-street the looks like it veers in mostly the right direction and marches off, trying to look like he knows exactly where he is going and is in no way lost in this labyrinth of alleys.

GM

Teldicia walks along beside Donovan, adjusting the pack on her shoulder. “Do we have a rendezvous place? I’d like to go liquidate some of this stuff before nightfall, and word in town was that most of the decent pawn-shops are out here.”

Donovan

Donovan shrugs, “It sounded like Lyra suggested we meet at the Temple of Tyr before she vanished. If you’re running off on your own, keep your head down and be careful, we’ve already seen that these slums are full of some really nasty creatures.”

GM

Teldicia peels off as you finally turn back onto the Parkside Gate Road, “Alright, I’ll see you at the temple early tomorrow.” Ahead of you the gate stands slightly ajar, guards, inside and out, stand, polearms at the ready, ushering a steady flow of people into the city as everyone hurries to get into ‘Civilized Phlan’ before dusk settles. The watch captain from earlier in the day is still on duty, standing just outside the gate checking papers. He nods at Donovan, then looks at the two well-armed, mounted warriors following him. He steps in front of you and holds up a hand, “Newcomers?” he asks.

Donovan

Donovan greets the guards, “Yes, these two fine warriors aided our group in destroying the Red Hand gang. If you don’t mind letting them in the gates this late in the afternoon, I was hoping to get over to the Clerk’s office before it closed and get them added to our charter.”

Frantiska

Frantiska nods politely to the guards. She leans over to Hrud, “Kapten penjaga ingin melihat beberapa bukti niat baik kami sebelum ia akan membiarkan kami masuk. Mr Donovan mengatakan ia akan menjamin kami dan membawa kami ke pemimpin kota untuk mendapatkan kita lisensi untuk hidup dan melakukan bisnis di kota.”

Hrud

Hrud’s perpetually confused expression deepened somewhat. It sounded like Dawn of Man was going to be performing some kind of rite before the keepers of the city so that he and the elf could enter the city. Maybe there would be a priest or shaman in attendance …

GM

The watch captain looks you all over, then, hearing Hrud and Fran, speaks up, “Eraka, eh? Aku ora njaluk akeh suku panjenengan mudhun kene. Panjenengan olèh ing Phlan supaya dawa sing setuju kanggo njaga perdamaian.” He waves the three of you through. “Take them strait to the Clerk,” he says to Donovan.

Hrud

“Aku ngucapke matur nuwun. Mangsuli, ana sembarang imam ing kutha iki?” Hrud replies, as he passes the man.

GM

The man stops Hrud briefly, “Ana papat kuil. Apa urut saka imam sing nyoba golek?”

Hrud

“Sembarang bakal nggawe, supaya anggere padha ora Hoar, Selune, utawa Shaundakul”

Donovan

Donovan tries his hardest to follow the conversation, but fails miserably. He marches on through the gates, hangs a right and fast-walks to the Council Hall, motioning for Hrud and Fran to follow.

GM

As you near the Council Hall, Donovan spots Lyra, laden with weapons and travel gear, at about the same time she notices him, followed by a beautiful elven woman mounted on a chestnut filly and a shaggy barbarian mounted on a steppe-pony.

Lyra

Shock, surprise, and relief wash over Lyra’s face. Donovan, alive and well, with two more adventurers, and no sign of the ogress, necromancer, or weird overly-friendly elf woman.

“Mr. Donovan!” Lyra waves, and rushes over. She curtsies, careful not to lose balance with the new backpack. “Mr. Shaddup didn’t know where you were, and when I couldn’t find you I thought something terrible might have happened on the way back to town. I — I’m glad you made it back safely.” She looked like she was about to start crying again.

Frantiska

Seeing the large, officious looking building, Frantiska dismounts and leads Thistledown over to a hitching post. “Ini tampak seperti tempat,” she says to Hrud, still stumbling over the strange language. She ties up her horse, more to dissuade curious passersby from attempted horse-thievery than to keep the filly from running, and pulls a small pouch from the saddlebags. Not wanting to interrupt the heartfelt reunion here, she pulls a pinch of herbs and a small piece of paper from the pouch and begins rolling a cigarette. “Mau satu?” she says, offering one to the barbarian.

Hrud

Hrud wasn’t exactly sure what the elf woman was trying to say about the building – it must be significant for some reason or other. He was, however, more than a little surprised to see her smoking. Was she a shaman? Perhaps she was going to take a spirit journey?

At any rate, he decided by shaking his head. Depending on exactly what it was she was rolling up, he knew people tended to react…oddly when they smoked.

Frantiska

Recognizing the look of refusal on the barbarian’s face, Fran shrugs, lights the rolled paper, and leans back against the hitching post. She smokes slowly, taking long, deep pulls on the cigarette and breathing out in puffs, shaping her mouth in an ‘O’ to produce small rings, trying to clear her mind and calm her nerves before having to face even more unfamiliar faces.

Donovan

Donovan smiles, “Well met Lyra. You’ve seen Shaddup? I was a little worried that he might not have gotten far enough away from the building before it collapsed, what with those short legs of his.” He waves a hand at his new companions. “These are Frantiska Sykora,” he indicates the woman, “and Hrud of the Eraka. We ran into a gang of kobold horse thieves and they both proved very helpful. Teldicia and I helped Frantiska recover her horse, so she owes us one. It seems that Hrud doesn’t speak the common trade tongue, but Frantiska here has been able to piece together a bit of what he says, perhaps more, since it seems that they’ve started chatting a bit, but from what I’ve gathered he is looking for a priest of some kind. Thus, I was going to see if your mother could adjust our charter to add them, and Teldicia, who has been deprived of the rest of her group…”

Lyra

“Mr. Shaddup didn’t seem to hear me. He looked injured, and I think his proximity to the explosion may have affected his hearing. He said something about it not being the sort of party he was expecting and having enough money to fund his research, and then he headed off towards the river.” Lyra starts crying again.

Lyra regains her composure and looks over at Frantiska, and introduces herself in elven, “My name is Lyrathwen Alethiel Beragaion, although most people just call me Lyra. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She curtsies again, and looks back to Donovan. “Apparently Brother Rant has had some dealings with the bar….” She stops and quickly corrects herself. “…northern tribesmen in his work for those who harp. He may know if any of their shaman are in town. Amara is safe and resting in the women’s dormitory of the temple of Tyr. Miss Teldicia is going to be joining us? What happened to the rest of her group?”

Frantiska

Frantiska takes another drag on her cigarette before responding to Lyra. “Beragaion?” She says quietly, taking a hard look at Lyra’s ears. “A’tel’quess?” She transfers the cigarette to her off-hand and offers the other to Lyra. “We have a lot of your kind back in Aglarond. Your surname is of the Teu’tel’quessir of Evereska, is it not?” She laughs self-consciously, “I’m sorry, where are my manners.” She snaps a very precise military bow, hands held wide to her sides. “Fair be our meeting, for our hearts are light and our swords sheathed, we hold peace in our hands and its light guides us. I am Frantiska Sykora, daughter of the Simbul, Sword of Selune, and Moon Knight of Aglarond.”

Hrud

Looking at Frantiska quizzically, Hrud interjects, “Selune? Ngerti dheweke?”

Frantiska

Frantiska takes a short puff, and, slowly, tries to answer Hrud’s question. “Ya, aku tahu gadis bulan. … Terang Nydra di lidah masyarakat rawa. … Ela kepada suku-suku padang pasir. … Lucha kepada orang-orang dari selatan. … Selune di lidah utara. Di mana saja bulan bersinar adalah tempat untuk Selune. Sebagai bulan perak lilin dan berkurang, sehingga untuk melakukan semua kehidupan. Wanita Putih Malam adalah ibu dan guru bagi saya dan saya pedangnya.”

Hrud

Hrud was having trouble understanding the woman, some of her words made sense, but not all of them … were those names used by people in different regions?

At any rate, it did not matter, because Hrud was certain he understood her to say that she knew Selune.

“Apa kowe isa karo dheweke?”

Maybe the answer lay with this woman …

Frantiska

Fran rubs her temples feeling a headache coming on and trying to puzzle out what Hrud is saying. She could understand the words, she thinks, but they made no sense contextually. Finally giving up, she says, “Apa yang Anda maksud dengan kowe?” To Lyra she says, “I’m sorry, trying to speak with this man is rather tiring. If your Brother Rant can speak his language properly, I suggest we get the paperwork over-with and go find him post-haste.”

Lyra

“I have a headache as well, and I’m not sure it’s natural.” Lyra pulls a bit of string from her belt pouch and ties it around the handle of her knife, holding it in front of her like a pendulum, and chants as she concentrates on her surroundings.

If there’s something you don’t know
That you’d like to learn about
Don’t sit and mope all day
I know a real good way
To help you get things figured out

The dagger swings in a circle once (with a little help) and Lyra pulls up on the string, catching the dagger in her hand. “Synaptic Static. Stay on guard.”

Hrud

Hrud thought for a long minute, then tried again, “Bisa diajak dheweke?”

Frantiska

Frantiska nods, “Dia menjawab doa-doa saya, ya.” Then, to Lyra, “What is Synaptic Static?”

Hrud

Hrud looks slightly less confused, as the conversation appears to have focused him somewhat, “Bisa takon lan njaluk njawab?”

Lyra

Lyra half shrugs. “It’s a sort of … field of psionic interference. That’s what’s causing the headaches. I suppose it could be coming from the training hall. We should go speak to my mother and get back to the temple, maybe it’s not as bad there.”

Donovan

Donovan nods, “Right, now that we’re all introduced, lets get the red-tape dealt with so I can go to sleep…” He pushes open the door to the Clerk’s chambers and walks.

GM

You walk in to the small, cramped office to find the Clerk, her tightly bound red-hair starting to fray at the edges from a long day of dealing with new immigrants, sitting slumped in her chair, her elbows propped on the big desk, staring at a very long scroll, half of which has unrolled onto the floor in front of the desk. As Frantiska moves to follow Donovan in, the Clerk’s eyes peak up from the paper and one of her hands shoots out sharply to point at a large sign that reads “No Smoking” in not only the common tongue, but at least twelve other scripts. “Mr. Donovan, back already?”

Lyra

Lyra looks around one last time, as if there would be some apparent source for the psionic interference, before heading into the clerk’s office.

Frantiska

Frantiska stops in the doorway, flicks the embers off the end of her cigarette, pinches the charred end, and sticks the half-burned roll back into her pouch. As she walks in, she remarks to Hrud, “Ya, jika doa saya tulus, maka mereka akan dijawab.”

Donovan

Donovan looks at the tail-end of the oversized scroll and is suddenly very glad that he decided to become an adventurer this morning. “Sorry, Deb, ee don’t mean to take up too much of your time. Our little outing to the Slums this afternoon was more exciting than expected. We’ve just got two small orders of business to take care of…well, maybe three or four.” He takes his glasses off and rubs his temples. “First, I wanted to see if there was a reward posted for dismantling the Red Hands gang. Second I need to file a death certificate for Mr. Gendry who was in here with us earlier. Third, I need to have our charter amended—to remove Mr. FitzTeldar, who is deceased, and Mr. McPillflup, who has decided to retire to his research, and add Ms. Teldicia, who I believe was in here earlier as well with a different party, and these two fine folk behind me…and I suppose also to have Ms. Teldicia’s other charter annulled, due to the death of three of her companions and the dissolution of her group.” He sighs, “And I guess I need to fill out death certificates for her companions…”

Donovan begins fishing in his bag for a quill and, without a word, pulls the second chair around to his side of the desk, anticipating the mountain of paperwork he’s going to have to deal with…

Lyra

Lyra winces and rubs her temples. Clearly the cause of the headaches is still ongoing. “Mr. Donovan, do you need help with the paperwork?”

GM

The Clerk rolls the scroll up and sets it aside. She squints at you and messes with her ear, somehow looking even more tired and haggard by the second. “Four death certificates, two new immigrants, and two charter changes? I do not approve of your definition of a few small orders of business, Donovan.” She opens the cabinet behind her and pulls out several stacks of paper, laying them on her desk, then a large ledger which she flips through. “There is a small reward posted for dealing with the Red Hands.” She pushes the stack of papers across to Donovan. “I’ll need to go get it from the vault. You can start filling out the rest while you wait.” She stands and exits the room by the door behind the desk.

Lyra

Four death certificates? Wouldn’t sudden extra-planar travel technically be missing-and-presumed-dead, not dead dead? Lyra peeks over Donovan’s shoulder as he fills out the death certificates, to confirm the casualties beyond Vince and Gendry. “I can help with the immigration forms if you’d like, Ms. Frantiska.”

Frantiska

Frantiska walks in and looks at the forms, “I should be able to handle it, thank you. Besides, legal documents always use such interesting language…”

Hrud

Standing awkwardly in the doorway, Hrud glanced around at the various racks of scrolls, stacks of paper and occasional book filling the office. There were a few in his tribe who could read, but he was not one of them. Old Skadi had tried to teach him when he was young, but got fed up and quit after only a day. Skadi said all his questions made his head hurt. As far as Hrud was concerned, if he had someone to answer his questions, then he didn’t need to read the answer which may or may not be true, anyway. One could never be to trusting of the written word, especially when you had no way of know who wrote them or why.

Paper was good for one thing, though: wiping. While the clerk was gone, Hrud attemped to discretely slide a small stack of papers up under his breastplate. There weren’t many broad-leaved trees or shrubs on The Ride.

Frantiska

Frantiska walks quickly over to Hrud, her boots ringing against the floor, and, for the first time, looks him strait in the eye, her gaze fixed like a reproving mother. “Tidak ada Hrud. Mencuri itu salah.” She sticks her hand out as if demanding the papers he has taken.

Hrud

Hrud was completely shocked. He never been approached or spoken to in this manner by a /woman/. His first instinct was rage, but Hrud reminded himself that he was not on the Ride, he was in a city. Things were different here … very different, apparently. Had the woman really intended to challenge him, she probably would have had a weapon drawn – that, or she was very confident in her abilities.

“Sing swara bakal njaluk sampeyan matèni antarane Eraka, wadon. Rahayu kita ora ngolah.”

Holding her gaze, Hrud reached down and pulled his breastplate out to let the papers fall to the floor*.

Donovan

Donovan looks up from the stack of papers and offers them to Lyra, “Which would you like?”

Hearing Hrud’s voice rise, he looks over and notices the papers laying on the ground, and peaking out from under Hrud’s breastplate. He curses under his breath. "Fran, you might want to inform our friend that spying is the only crime guaranteed to get you executed in this town. He can beat up all the merchants he wants for their pocket change and it’ll only get him thrown over the wall at night, where a man of his assets will probably have a fighting chance. Stealing documents from the Council will get his head removed from his shoulders faster than Tyr can say “Justice”, which is pretty damn fast I imagine."

He perks up suddenly and swears again. “I think I hear her coming back. Lyra, can you help them get that cleaned up before the Clerk notices things missing from her desk…”

Lyra

Lyra scoops up the papers and quickly begins organizing them.

Frantiska

Frantiska continues to glare at Hrud for the moments it takes her to realize that he is disparaging her gender. Without another word she punches him hard in his unprotected throat. “Beruntung bagi Anda, Anda maksud,” she says as he slumps to the floor.

Donovan

Donovan looks rather terrified as the big man crumples to the ground. “Umm…that’s one way to tell him, I guess…” He begins frantically filling out forms in a hurry.

Hrud

Lightning rips across a sky the color of blood; deafening thunder shakes and cracks the mountains, bringing them low. A ring of fire rages, dancing tongues of flames reaching in vain to the heavens. In the center stands Hrud, screaming incoherently and hacking away at the remains of a chocolate-colored filly, his broad sword so covered in gore that the naked blade can no longer be seen.

“Enough.”

The voice is barely a whisper, but clearly heard. With the chaos around him, there is no way he could have heard it. Besides, there is no one here, no one but Hrud, who raises his sword for another strike …

“Enough”

The barbarian stops mid-stroke. The ring of fire persists but makes no noise. The sky is now a deep velvet black, filled with stars from one horizon to the next. There is no trace of the storm. Towering over the flames are row upon row of spectral figures, numbering far more than Hrud could count. There are no distinguishing features, but somehow, he can tell their eyes are all fixed upon him.

“Let go of the rage”

He can’t tell how he knows, but he /knows/ that the voice is not coming from any of the figures. Where is it coming from? There is a soft whiny behind him; Hrud whirls to see the elf woman’s horse standing behind him, alive and very much alive and unharmed. He raises his sword, somewhat uncertain – he knows what he wants to do (or, rather, what his people would have expected of him) but is not sure what he should do …

“You have been set apart”

The voice comes from somewhere above or behind or /beyond/ the silent sentinels. As the point of his sword dips toward the ground, Hrud notices the blood and bits of meat slide off of it as cleanly as if here were drawing it from a sheath. The blade is no longer metal, but something different – Hrud finds it impossible to articulate how – it’s still a sword, but a different kind of sword. The fire continues to rage around him, but the color of the flames slowly change from an bright red to a shimmering golden yellow.

“Seek me.”

The horse trots to the edge of the ring and passes through, disappearing into the night. Where it passed through the flames, they are extinguished, leaving a wide opening. Hrud slowly makes his way to the edge of the ring.

“Be free.”

Hrud can just barely make out the hoof prints shimmering faintly in the night, despite being unable to see the ground itself. He takes a breath and steps into the unknown. Immediately the fire dies out leaving him in darkness. Two final words follow him.

Gradually, he becomes aware of the hard wooden planks beneath him. More than that, the sharp burning sensation at his throat. He makes a few difficult swallows, and opens his eyes. The elf woman is standing over him, looking none-too-pleased.

This woman felled him with a single blow. The shame of that realization burns as much as his throat, but his initial desire for revenge is replaced by something else.

The barbarian resists the urge to unsheathe his sword so he can look at the blade, thinking the gesture would be taken as an attack. Instead, he reaches up under his breastplate and pulls out the remaining few sheets of paper he tried to hide. Holding them up for Frantiska to take, he croaks out the last two words whispered to him in the darkness …

“No … wipe.”

GM

The door at the back opens and the Clerk walks in. She seems to pay no attention to the man lying on the floor, or the scattered papers, save for the slightest eye-roll as if to say “adventurers are weird” or “why is it always the crazy ones” or “why me”. She resumes her seat and hands a pouch containing two small flasks to Donovan. “Here you go. The standard reward for disposing of one of the Slums gangs is two potions from the Council’s stock. Those are potions of vitality, they should help keep you from having to come back so often…”

Frantiska

Hearing Hrud’s comment, Frantiska smiles down at him, stifling a laugh and once again avoiding looking the man in the eyes. She takes the proffered papers, hands them to Lyra, then offers Hrud a hand to help him up. “Kula nyuwun pangapunten babagan. Sampeyan gulu oke?”

Hrud

“Aku ora mati dina iki,” Hrud rasps.

Lyra

Lyra flips through the papers and adds them to the most reasonably appropriate positions in the stack. “Is the assistant clerk still on duty, or has she left for the day?”

GM

The Clerk grunts softly and pushes against her eyes with the heel of her hands before answering Lyra. “The assistant clerk went to find herself lodgings. She’ll be back in the morning. If you have specific business with her, I’d suggest looking at Mother’s Boarding House, as, given her desperation for work, it’s probably the only place inside the city walls within her means.” She yawns and shakes her head. “Are you quite finished yet, Mr. Leitch?”

Donovan

Donovan takes the pouch with the potion flasks and hurriedly scribbles out the last few pages of death certificates—he didn’t even know the guys anyways. “Here you go Deb, sorry to bother you this late in the day. Thanks for the potions, these should definitely come in handy.” He stands and turns to go. “Is he okay?” he asks Lyra and Frantiska, gesturing at Hrud with his chin.

Lyra

“That was quite a punch, but he seems to be recovering.” Lyra tilts her head a bit, as if trying to hear something in the distance. “And the headaches should be going away. It stopped…”

“Ugh. Looks like I spoke too soon.”

Lyra grumbles to herself “Is someone trying to annoy the entire town? This shouldn’t even be able to happen for more than a couple minutes without some serious power behind it.”

She speaks up again. “I may be able to triangulate the source based on where it seems to let up. But one, I’m not sure we can assume it is a stationary source, and two, anything powerful enough to keep going this long, I’m not sure I want anywhere near.”

Donovan

“If you can track down the source of my hangover and kill it, all your drinks from now on will be on my tab.” Donovan heads out the door, grumbling and rubbing harder at his temples. “I’ve had enough of this. I’m ready to gouge my bloody eyes out. I’m going to bed.” He turns and starts walking towards the docks. “Assuming I can sleep this off and my head doesn’t explode in the middle of the night, I’ll see you all outside the The Waiting just after sun-up.”

Lyra

Lyra places the papers back on the desk and looks at Donovan’s retreating figure. “But what about….”

She looks over at Frantiska and Hrud. “To the temple of Tyr, then? I wonder if priests can cure headaches.”

Frantiska

Frantiska bows to the Clerk, says a brief “thank you”, and walks out of the office. “Hrud, tampak seolah-olah sudah waktunya bagi kita untuk meninggalkan,” she says over her shoulder.

Once out of the building, she immediately begin rolling another cigarette, hoping that the nicotine might help take the edge off. She turns to Lyra and asks, in a strained voice, “You say you think some magic is the cause of our collective pain?”

Lyra

Lyra shifts the box she’s holding to the crook of her elbow so she can rub her eyes. “Given the symptoms, I believe it may be psionic rather than magical in origin. One of my tutors in Waterdeep was … gifted.”

Frantiska

Frantiska looks confused, “Is the difference that significant?”

Lyra

Lyra considers that statement. “I suppose there is not much difference from a spell that requires concentration to continue the effect.” She actually perks up a little at that. “But this particular effect covers a fairly large area. Dozens of yards, at least. They could be almost anywhere. Where were you when it started? I didn’t feel it in the weapon shop until I came over here. If we walk up that way and it stops, it’s probably on the opposite end of the city.”

Frantiska

Frantiska lights the cigarette and takes a long pull. “If the area is as large as you say, this could cause a substantial public health problem. Donovan might be right—we may want to find the source of this and dispose of it. How much do you really know about psionics? Are there particular creatures that cause effects like this? If so, what other abilities might they possess?”

Hrud

Thinking the punch must have confused him (more than normal), Hrud was only able to understand Frantiska’s mention of leaving. He started to follow them out, making sure to stay just outside the unexpectedly strong elf woman’s reach.

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