Ruins of Adventure

The Bitter Blades: Session 4: A New Crop
In which Tom leads a new group of would-be heroes to their deaths.

Tom’s reunion with Martha was a joyous one. The girl had been terrified for those three days that he was gone. When he returned injured and empty-handed, and refused to tell her about what happened on the island, she tried desperately to talk him out of adventuring. She didn’t like being alone, she said. Tom, however, knew how tight their funds were, especially with what he had to pay for her apprenticeship. Fifty silver a week was far more than he could make by doing minor repair jobs. Unless he could find work as a master mason, she would lose her chance at a better life, or he would starve, or likely both. Adventuring, risky as it was, was the only chance he had to provide for his daughter.

Two days after his return, after escorting Martha to the gates, Tom went out into the Slums, deeper than he usually liked. His left arm still hurt, and was stiff, but it worked, and he had no intention of letting the arm slow him down. He explored the market, wandered back alleys, and asked everyone who did not look ready to stab him. Eventually, in the smelliest corner of the smelliest alleyway, tucked between the wall of new city farthest from any gate, and an old hempworks, he found the shop he was looking for. JACK, OF ALL TRADES read the sign in garishly bright letters. Within he was told he would find the scavengers who had so graciously brought him home—an odd thing that, it might seem a little gesture, but leaving him alive and clothed was so alien to most Slums-dwellers, that Tom felt certain that these scavengers could be trusted.

Tom pushed open the door to find a shop piled high with all manner of broken, ramshackle, or ill-gotten goods. Nothing that someone inside the walls would even touch, but much that was useful out here. The blue-glowing hammer from the keep on the island was hanging upside down from the ceiling in place of a candelabra. The proprietor was a broken, twisted little man—if man was even the right word. His face looked like a cross between an orc and a bloated rat, with tangled, greasy, gray hair and one eye white and useless. The odd fellow waved cheerily at Tom as he entered and asked what brought him.

“The boat you found me in, I need it,” Tom said. “I need to get back to the island.”

“Rough business that,” said Jack. “You were half-dead when I found you, why would you go back there?”

“I left my companions there to die. I need to at least bury them. And I need money to feed my family. I’m the only one in town who has come back from that island. I know what’s there, I know the layout. If I can find a few people foolhardy enough to come with me, I think we can finish what I started before.” Tom explained.

“The boat is right where you left it. It was too big for me to carry back here. But it’s mine now.” Jack glared at Tom with his good eye. “There is no way you could afford to buy it back. So how ’bout I rent it to you?”

“Rent it?”

“Yeah. You find your foolhardy warriors and I’ll take you across to the island in my boat. In exchange, I want first dibs and a double-share of any wreckage and salvage from the island. No magic mind you, no one out here will buy it. But I want first pick of any weapons, armor, usable wood, stone, anything else you may find, and help loading it and shipping it back here.”

“Done,” Tom said. He extended his good hand to shake with the ugly creature, then turned to leave. “It may take me a couple of days to round up sufficient people to take the island. I’ll meet you back here when we’re ready to go.”


Tom talked Jack into letting him borrow a sheet of parchment paper and a dram of ink. He wrote out a quick notice—his penmanship was horrible with his damaged shoulder, but the results were legible—offering “free, discrete passage to Thorne Island and recent intelligence on the creatures therein for any group of heroes willing to take up the Council’s call to action. Interested parties should ask for Tom at the Bitter Blade after sundown.” He went into the city and nailed the notice to the Public Training Hall, right next to all the others.

He had not even completed driving the nail when a striking young woman with white hair and a wicked scar on her face tapped him on the shoulder. “Looking for blades?” she asked. She was trailed by young and much-too-eager looking dwarf. Tom was quite surprised at the quick and sudden response. He stammered out a yes, and the three wandered towards the tavern discussing particulars.

As they reached the door of the Bitter Blade, the sound of someone running in armor alerted them. The white-haired girl was the first to spin around, seeing a heavily armored, mousy-haired, young woman chasing after them. Hands went to weapons, but then the girl waved the notice at them. She did not say a word, but pointed at the notice, then back to herself several times until Tom got the picture.

“You want to come with us?”

She nodded vigorously.

“Why?”

She pointed at the notice, then held up another, more official-looking notice that claimed that the Council had raised the bounty on the island to five-thousand gold coins.

“You don’t speak?” the other three asked incredulously.

She nodded and pointed at the flaming sword medallion hanging around her throat.

Tom sighed, and waved for her to come along. With the notice torn down, there was no reason for him to wait for others. He turned away from the tavern and headed for the Slums. The four of them would have to be enough.


“That was quick.” Jack said as Tom came in trailed by the others.

“Can you take us right now?” Tom asked.

“Sure. He’s coming with us.” Jack said, pointing to a portly, broad-shouldered man with a shaved head, dressed in plain brown robes. Tom shrugged his assent. Jack pulled down the glowing hammer and handed it back to Tom, informing him that it was a “loan”. He then closed up the shop and the six of them headed out of town.


It was dusk by the time Tom and the others reached the little fishing boat where it was stashed south of the city. It looked like it had been refitted and taken out a few times since Tom washed up on shore—by Jack doing some salvage no doubt. Tom had, but this point gotten acquainted with his new companions. The fat man was Enz, a wizard with a deep southern accent. The quiet girl was Ada (or Aaaeedaaaaaa as she pronounced it). The white-haired swordwoman woman was Hazel and her dwarven sidekick was named Olaf.

Jack shoved off and Tom and Hazel helped row. Tom filled them in on what happened in his last venture to the island It took close to two hours to cross to the island from this point, and night had firmly set in by the time they landed. Everyone seemed apprehensive about exploring the undead-infested ruins in the dark, but they were committed at that point. Jack tied off the boat to a large rock, and all of them made their way up the hill towards the keep with weapons at the ready and Tom leading the way with the hammer to light the way. Olaf in particular, seemed very uncomfortable.

The light of the hammer announced their presence, and the party came face-to-face with a small army of orcs as soon as they reached the gates. Or rather, a small army of ex-orcs. The shambling corpses moved very slowly, but steadily closed in a half-circle around the group.

Hazel’s sword suddenly flared with hungry, black flames. She smiled rather disturbingly and began to scream and shout, howling none-to-pleasant sounding epithets in a language none of the others understood. Olaf twitched and fired his crossbow at the nearest one, then ran for the nearest out-building.

Enz began laughing uproariously and conjured a ball of flame in the midst of the zombies, setting several on fire. The sphere then began rolling around, the courtyard, rolling over and running into a great many of the undead orcs. Ada walked calmly and quietly out into the courtyard and planted herself, as if completely unconcerned about her own safety. Tom rushed up behind her and threw the glowing hammer, striking the closest zombie full in the chest. The rest of them quickly closed on the girl.

The first orc to near Ada was struck under the chin by the edge of her shield, sending it toppling backwards into another. The next, approaching from the other side, had its chest ripped open by a sharpened, blood-red spike on her elbow. Tom backed off as a dozen of the creatures got closed. Ada stood impassively, shifting to avoid blows or interpose her armor, still seeming unconcerned as she was surrounded, blows raining down on her shield and armor, but not harming her.

With a much louder scream, Hazel suddenly ran forward, leaping over Ada and landing on one zombie, knocking it to the ground and hacking it limb from limb with her two swords. She was back on her feet a second later, spittle flying from her mouth as she screamed in the face of another zombie and headbutted it. As the circle of zombies tightened around the group, Jack, who had been lurking outside the gates, slipped in and attacked one from behind, hacking the thing’s head off with a short-bladed sword. Olaf, at this point, was no where to be seen. The ball of flame continued to roll around the courtyard, setting zombies (and a few small structures) alight.

For several minutes, the fighting was furious, with hammers, swords, spears, and shields lashing out at zombies in every direction. All of the group took painful hits, but spells cast by Ada previously kicked in and immediately began sealing cuts and mending bruises, keeping them on their feet. Between Enz’s ball of flame and Hazel’s relentless, screaming, fury, the undead orcs were eventually put to rest, with no apparent losses among Tom’s new companions. Though, even with Ada’s delayed healing and attempts to interpose herself, Enz had taken several brutal hits and was clearly on his last legs.

Once they had regrouped, Tom lead the others towards the tower/chapel where his last group had fallen. They looked around for Olaf, poking into all of the outbuildings that had not been burned down by Enz’s “bouncing bounding ball of burning breathtaking blazing blasphemous doom” (as he called it), with no luck.

When they reached the doors of the main tower, Enz was suddenly struck from behind and knocked sprawling (and unconscious) by a gigantic frog. A gigantic, rotting, mostly skeletal frog. Hazel, with slightly less screaming and gnashing of teeth, made short work of the frog, but they found that Enzebal was already dead. When they turned him over, they found his front to be covered with a glowing paste, one of his belt pouches completely rotted away, and massive burns on his side, as if he had fallen on acid.

Tom said a prayer for the strange man and splashed some holy water over him in hopes that he would not rise as one of the undead. He then walked into the vestibule of the old temple, hammer first, and looked around at the wreckage and rubble.

It was there that they found Olaf, lying on his back, his face black and blue, the broken and battered remains of Nat Wyler lying beside him. Nat’s hands were locked in a death grip around Olaf’s neck, though the second dwarf did not appear to be moving at all. Apparently Nat’s zombie had gotten the jump on Olaf, but the two had died together, with Olaf’s lead-bladed sword stuck in the zombie dwarf’s side.

Tom could hear clawing, scrabbling noises from under the debris, but saw no immediate threat. He knelt down to disentangle Nat’s fingers from Olaf’s neck. As soon as Tom touched him, Nat’s eyes opened and his arms jerked out unbelievably fast to fasten around Tom’s neck, cutting off his alarmed response mid-shout. Tom was gasping, but alive, by the time Hazel had hacked the undead dwarf’s arms off at the elbow with her enchanted blades.

They found Storm’s body completely drained of all fluids, but inanimate nearby. Tom made a point of grabbing the amulet that had allowed her to command the undead. He and Hazel lifted a fallen beam out of the way to find Kade’s animated corpse, which Tom quickly pacified with the amulet. Tom then stood back and allowed Ada and Jack free reign in looting his (and their) fallen companions.

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The Bitter Blades: Session 3: The End
In which only one of the party makes it out alive...

Storm sat breathless as she, Tom, Kade, and Nat sat listening to the carnage outside. Even the wailing haunts and spirits had stopped, their attention also apparently focused on the kobold’s heroic stand against the orcish invaders. Odd, she thought, that she had come to think of herself and her friends as among the keep’s defenders, rather than a band of misfit adventurers here to loot the place. She worried that she might be possessed by one of the haunts somehow, then realized that if she was able to have such worries, it must not be true.

Tom suggested that they should have been out there helping Gore, but Kade, apparently the pragmatist, was quick to point out that the kobold had shut the door on them, and was apparently quite capable of handling the orcs himself, judging by the sounds. Storm was too scared to even comment. After several minutes, the sounds of breaking bones, the screams of dying orcs, and the thunk of arrows into the side of the old barracks stopped. Of course, so had Gore’s triumphant war-cries.

With the sudden silence, Tom shoved Kade aside and tried to open the door, but found it barred. One swing of his hammer against the old hinges, though, and the door collapsed. Outside was a slaughter. Gore lay in the center of a mass of thirty dead orcs and piles of bones from smashed skeletons. Blood was everywhere and Gore had an arrow through his eye. Storm wanted to run to the heroic kobold’s side, but Kade grabbed her skirt and pointed at the pack of a hobgoblins who had just turned in their direction at the sound of the door being smashed open.

Kade grabbed a ceramic flask and an…egg?…from his pouch and tossed them at the hobos. The egg hit first, bursting in a cloud of dust at their feet. Then the flask hit, erupting with a gout of flame, setting one hobos on fire, then igniting the dust with a small explosion. The one hobgoblin died in the fire. The other hobos scattered, beating out flames from their clothing, then began firing at us. Nat smiled and pulled two more similar flasks out and threw them, scattering a few, and killing another with the resulting conflagrations.

Storm, having only a couple of knives left, ducked back into the barracks for cover. Tom threw the glowing blue hammer, caving in the skull of another hobgoblin, but took an arrow in the shoulder and was forced to withdraw into the barracks as well. The haunts began wailing again as the two of them dashed inside.

Nat and Kade charged. Nat took a couple of arrows, before he reached the hobos and managed to run one through with his cutlass. Kade’s avoided the barrage and quickly kneecapped another of the hobos. Five of the hobos were down, and, slightly scorched and faced with such opposition, the other ran away out of the gates and down to a longboat waiting by the shore.

Nat quaffed a healing potion. Storm and Tom caught up. Kade pointed to the old watchtower cum chapel at the center of the keep. Clearly they were done with the outbuildings and should get on with finding how to put the undead to rest.

The entry hall of the chapel was strewn with rubble with a few rays of light filtering down from above. The upper floors of the tower collapsed long ago. The dried husks of two orcs lay near the door, their faces twisted in fright and their bodies seemingly drained of all fluids. Kade whispered “Vampire?” in a way that made Storm turn around suddenly. There was no vampire behind them, but she did get punched in the face by a zombie that was lurking in an alcove right inside the door.

Storm reeled back, the zombie, wearing fairly fresh star-spangled robes, swinging at her wildly with its bare hands. She stumbled over some rubble and fell onto something wet, but Tom intercepted the zombie, shoving it away from her and pounding at it with the glowing hammer. Four more zombies rose out of the shadows, two armed with swords, the others unarmed. Storm reached for the amulet that would let her command the zombies, but found that she could not move. She tried to scream, but her mouth would not open and it came out as only a mumbled “MMMMMMMM!”

Nat and Kade struggled with a trio of zombies. Tom dispatched the zombie that had first attacked Storm, then turned to deal with the fifth. He brushed Storm’s cloak as he went by, causing it to open, showing a strange glyph etched into the hardened leather of her breastplate. The zombie looked down and there was a sudden, brilliant flash of golden light. Storm couldn’t even shout a warning. Everyone was blinded by the flash, and the zombie facing Tom was burned to ashes by the radiance.

Nat, Kade, and Tom flailed about wildly, as did the zombies. They stumbled. They tripped over rubble. They occasionally landed a blow on their targets. Sometimes they hit each other, though they soon learned to coordinate their attacks slightly by yelling. Nat and Kade took several harsh blows.

After a minute, at least, Storm was able to see again. She still could not move, and something was oozing up her body. When her vision fully returned, her legs were covered with a clear slime. She saw Tom swing the big hammer blindly at a zombie that he had backed against a wall somehow. The hammer hit the zombie, taking its head clean off, but his follow-through struck a support.

A rain of rubble fell from above. Tom was clipped in the shoulder by a piece of rubble, but somehow managed to stumble out the door. Kade’s legs were pinned by a falling beam. Nat, and the other two zombies were crushed under a collapsing wall. Storm was somehow missed by all the falling debris, but still could not move or cry out. Kade could though, he shouted for Tom to “Run!”

And Tom did. His right hand clutching the glowing hammer, his left arm hanging limply. Bumping into old buildings and rubble all the way.

Storm could not see what made Kade shout like that, but she did hear his screams afterwards. Horrible screams. Long screams. As if he were being tortured, or burned.

Her own screams remained stifled by her frozen jaw, but she watched in horror as the clear, slimy thing into which she had fallen slowly engulfed her.

Tom, kept running. After a few minutes his sight returned enough for him to navigate to the shore and find Nat’s small boat, He threw the hammer in and shoved off, knowing from the sound of the screaming that all of his companions were dead. He continued to run a few feet out into the water, shoving the boat ahead of him, then pulled himself in with his one good arm. He lay on the bottom of the boat and drifted into unconsciousness.


The little boat was found a few miles south of Phlan two days later by some scavengers from the Slums. They took the hammer, of course, but were nice enough to help Tom return to his hovel and his daughter. With time his shoulder would heal, maybe even enough for him to return to his work as a mason…

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Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 12
In which the party stops for a rest and Frantiska leaves the group.

Hrud

Despite the language barrier, Hrud is very familiar with the tone and volume being used by Dawn-of-Man. It is unwelcome, and very unlike any behavior the man had exhibited up to this point. Hrud didn’t like it. He especially didn’t like how he’d kicked Teldicia and made Lyra cry. Walking up to the bard, the barbarian taps him on the shoulder and, right as he turns around, lets fly with a punch …

Donovan

Donovan doesn’t even flinch as Hrud’s fist comes within inches of his cheek. “Barbarous fool! What did you think to accomplish by such nonsense. Did you really think you could harm a being of my stature?!”

Lyra

Lyra shakes Rant awake so he can speak with Hrud and keep the situation from escalating further.

Hrud

Hrud stares at his fist – then at Donovan – then back at his fist, unable to comprehend how he could have missed. His frustration deepening, as much at his failure to land the blow as Donvan’s continued blustering, Hrud reaches down and, in a reverse grip that keeps the blade downward while still making use of the shell guard, draws the Fang of Mace.

GM

Brother Rant is awakened by Lyra’s initial screams, but lies on the ground with his eyes open for some time, watching the teleportations, the shaking of clothes, the shrieking, the crying, Teldicia’s display of telekinetic prowess, and, most importantly, Donovan’s sudden and strange change in behavior. So long as his current charge, Amara, is safe, he seems generally content to leave the others to their own, often bizarre, devices. Seeing Hrud drawing a weapon, however, he decides that is is probably worthwhile to step in. He stands, pats Lyra on the shoulder, “Donovan is clearly disturbed in some way, do not take it personally”, then calmly walks over to stand beside Hrud. “Aja kenek Donovan karo gedhe pasukan. Piyambakipun sampun cetha ical gendheng. Aku pracaya kita duwe tool kanggo ngobati wong, yen sampeyan ana ati mung incapacitate Dèkné,” he says firmly.

Hrud

“«Fine.»” Hrud replies, “«But he is acting like a githbash1».” And with that the barbarian, reaches out with his free hand, grabs the bloviating bard by the collar, and swings – pulling his punch so as not to do any permanent damage, though not as much as Donovan would hope for.

1 githbash, n. in the Erakic language, vulgar slang for “a diseased cow’s taint.” As this is a loose translation at best, it is unclear as to what exactly is diseased – the cow, or the region on the cow being referenced. For their part, the Eraka aren’t telling.

Donovan

Donovan stands firm, confident that no mere barbarian could strike him through the impenetrable magical barrier he had woven. Sadly, the magical barrier was only in his mind. The metal hilt connecting with his jaw was not a pleasant experience…for the two seconds that he was awake to register the pain. Luckily he slipped into almost immediate unconsciousness, crumpling to the ground.

Lyra

Lyra takes a few deep breaths and tucks a stray lock of wet hair back behind her ear as she asks, “Donovan will be ok, won’t he?” With not much else she can do to assist, Lyra goes back to keeping an eye on the swamp, and looking out for more leeches encroaching on the camp.

GM

Rant nods to Hrud, then walks over to Donovan’s bedroll and takes a long, silver rod out of Donovan’s pack. “He’ll be fine Lyra.” He rolls Donovan onto his back, then presses the end-cap of the rod, which is shaped like an open hand, against his forehead.

Donovan

Donovan blinks and looks up confusedly. He wipes the drizzling rain from his face, and can just make out Rant’s face in the flickering firelight. “Rant? Why am I wet?” he asks. Not really waiting for a response, he hauls himself to his feet, looks around surprisedly at the lack of random colors dancing across his vision—though really, he kindof wonders what the sounds of falling rain looks like—then yawns and wanders back over to his bedroll. “Must have rolled off my pallet…Thanks Rant…” he says sleepily. Within moments he is snoring peacefully.

GM

While it takes some time for the rest of you, especially Lyra, to calm down after the incident with the leeches, the remainder of the night passes relatively uneventfully. The rain maintains a steady mist until just before dawn, when it is replaced by a light fog.

Bo

Bo stretches from the stump he sat on during the last watch. “Great night’s sleep. Uneventful watch. It’s nice travelling in a large group. You got any more of that cheese?”

He checks the cart for loose pegs/bolts/axles/etc.

Lyra

Lyra seems unusually sluggish and irritable as she checks over her sleeping bag, blanket, and clothes for leeches before putting her things up in the wagon. She becomes slightly anxious and restless just after dawn, and after eating breakfast in sullen silence, she curls up in the back of the wagon wedged between the chariot and Brother Rant’s usual spot.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit finishes clarifying the butter and pours the liquid off into a skin, collecting about 6 ouces worth of the finished product. He then curls up with Rast and falls into a deep slumber, waking up just before dawn, slightly more red-eyed than usual from staying up so late. He prays for a few minutes, then goes and begins unloading foodstuffs from the wagon to make breakfast. He grabs a chunk of cheese, some rice, sausages, eggs, and a tomato. He scoops up some water in his pot, stokes up a fire to bring it to a boil, then cooks the rice. While the rice is cooking, he waves his hands over the tomato and it immediately grows to twice its original size. He grabs the group’s pot from the wagon, and chops up the sausages and giant tomato into it, cooking them together on a corner of the fire. When the rice is fluffy, he pours the foam from the clarified butter over the top of it and cracks the eggs into the pot, stir-frying the mixture. He pours the sausage and tomato mixture into the rice and tops it with the wolf-milk cheese. “Breakfast, anyone?”

Donovan / Winona

Donovan yawns, stretches, and wakes up feeling better than he has in days, despite the dampness. “Good morning everyone!” he says. Hearing Yamtwit’s call for breakfast, he happily helps himself to the sausage and cheese fried rice. He sits back on his bedroll and scarfs the food while staring at the spellbook open across his lap. As he finishes eating he looks up to notice everyone looking at him warily and Teldicia practically glaring at him. “What?” he asks incredulously.

The two Sisters both wake up early also. They clean off the step on the back of the wagon and set up a small, makeshift shrine there, laying out a small white cloth embroidered with Tyr’s symbol (by Sister Ryesha of course), and setting up a small silver merchant’s scale on it. Brother Rant returns the rod of health, to Donovan without a word, then joins them. The three hold a short service—a prayer by Rant, a canticle in three parts, a recitation of the Laws of Hospitality of the Road from memory by Winona (as the most senior cleric present, since none of the three can afford a printed copy), and a final prayer squeaked out by Rye—before helping themselves to breakfast. As they eat, they discuss what blessings they should ask of Tyr for the road ahead.

GM

As you finish your breakfast and make preparations to resume your journey, you see a small, mounted band of men riding out of the swamp to the east. They are at least a half-mile down the road at the point where they exit the thicker vegetation, but the unmistakable glint of steel in the early morning light draws you eyes.

Lyra

Lyra rubs her eyes, sets Rant and Donovan’s loaded crossbows on the end of the wagon, then stands up, stretches, and strings her bow.

Bo

“Are there normally human patrols in these areas?”

Donovan

Donovan finishes reading and shoves his spellbook back into his bag. “Sometimes,” he answers, rising. “Some priests of Helm the Vigilant maintain an outpost in the swamps, presumably to keep the road between Phlan and Melvaunt safe, so it would make sense for them to send out patrols. Speaking of which, if we get moving quickly, we might be able to make it to Iniarv’s tower by nightfall and not have to sleep on the wet ground.” He climbs into the back of the wagon.

Hrud

Hrud finishes packing up his small collection of belongings and hops up into the driver’s bench, “«Road must be clear, if those men have come through. Let’s not waste the opportunity».”

GM

Hrud deftly guides the wagon back onto the road, the other animals and their riders falling in behind. The road is slick from last night’s rains, but does not seem to bother the oxen or the wide-wheeled wagon. As you near the tree-line of the deeper swamp, the wagon begins to bump, and you notice that the road has been overlaid with split logs as a crude form of paving, becoming almost a boardwalk. You cross paths with the armored riders about fifteen minutes after leaving camp. The five of them are clad in plate. Three of them have swords and shields strapped to their saddles, and short bows out (though not drawn or threatening). The other two wear the gold tabards and tall, sky-blue crests on their helms marking them as warrior priests of Helm of the Unsleeping Eye, with large two-handed swords strapped across their backs. The priest riding in the lead holds up a hand for their band to stop, then signals for you to do likewise.

Hrud

Hrud slows the wagon to a stop and nods at the armed and armored men, but otherwise says nothing.

Lyra

Lyra smooths her skirt and holds her bow primly across her lap.

Winona

Sister Winona, mounted on Thistledown, rides ahead of the wagon and greets the priest. “Heya Watchy! How’re things in the swamp?”

GM

The priest’s go wide at being addressed in such a fashion. He sits quietly for some time, his cheeks flushed, a vein pulsing on his forehead, leveling an icy glare at Winona, then finally answers through gritted teeth in a a level, monotonous voice. “The road ahead is clear for some miles, Lady Lawkeeper.” He lowers his head in a formal half-bow, and holds it for an awkwardly long time (especially considering the great weight of his armor and helm), as if waiting for Winona to pay him the same courtesy. When he rises, there is another moment of long silence before he continues in a similarly cold tone, “The Scything Claws have been unusually active of late. Be on your guard if you make camp in the swamp.” He nods again, “Lady Lawkeeper,” then snaps the reins of his horse harshly, causing it to speed off down the road. The others of his band sit their in surprise for a few seconds, then ride after him.

Hrud

Assuming it was all some formality between cityfolk, Hrud shrugs and snaps the reigns, prompting the wagon down the road and into the swamp.

Winona / Donovan

Winona shrugs as the stuffy Helmite rides off then turns the horse to follow the wagon.

Donovan leans over and whispers to Lyra, “Remind me to not let her make first contact with potentially friendly parties again…”

Lyra

Lyra’s eyes follow the group as they become visible as they ride past the wagon. “Unless someone else is riding in front and can intercept them first, I don’t see how we have much choice in the matter.”

Yamtwit

Yamtwit, riding close behind the wagon, pipes up. “I can take care of the negotiations, Whitehead. Rast and I have lots of experience at dealing with stuffy-nosed, close-pursed priests who can’t take a joke and don’t appreciate good cheese…”

GM

The ride through the swamp is slow-going, but uneventful. The road is well-maintained, clear of debris, and reinforced with wooden slats in the worst sections. Swarms of biting flies and mosquitoes buzz about, but seem more inclined to assault your livestock, which are sweating and breathing heavily with the strain of hauling your goods, than the party. Hrud points out several unusual tracks in the thick mud on the side of the road as you ride past, but you see no other signs of the creatures that made them. By the time you break for lunch, the heat and humidity have become downright oppressive. Shortly after midday it begins raining again, granting you a brief respite from the heat, but turning the board-walk slick and further slowing the wagon. By early evening, as the sun begins sinking behind the hills to the west, you see a three-story, white-stone tower, surrounded by a wooden stockade on a raised hillock just off the road. Banners bearing the Eye of Helm fly at every corner of the wall and the tower, but hand limply in the damp air. The gates stand open towards the road, guarded by two men in armor and regalia similar to those you passed in the morning.

Frantiska

Late in the day, Frantiska begins to stir again in the back of the wagon. Over the span of an hour her eyes flutter a few times, she groans, moans, and then finally opens her eyes fully. She tries turning her head to look around and lets out another moan, more from a stiff neck from lying on the floor of the wagon for so long than from any of her injuries. She smacks her lips, her mouth and throat both feeling very dry, then seeing the back of a friendly head croaks, “Lyra?”

Lyra

Lyra almost jumps when she hears her name. “Frantiska! Do you need anything?” She placed a hand on a statue to steady herself as she stood up, her back and legs protesting the change in position.

Frantiska

Frantiska coughs, then grits her teeth at the pain from the sudden movement, she lies there for a moment, then replies. “No, I’m fine….I’m just glad to see that you are well.” She attempts a smile. “Where…are…we?” Her voice begins to sound a little stronger as she continues to speak. "How long have I been out?’

Lyra

Lyra smiles, glad to hear Frantiska’s voice again. “You’ve been mostly unconscious since before I returned near midday yesterday. We have been on the road through the swamp all day, and are nearing the Tower.”

Frantiska

Frantiska tries to sit up, then thinks better of it. “What tower?” Her eyes go wide, “Wait? It’s not that tower again, is it?”

Lyra

Lyra’s eyes widen, then she shakes her head. “Oh! No, it’s the temple to Helm inside the swamp between Phlan and Melvaunt. Ivan’s Tower? No, that’s not right….”

Donovan

Donovan turns around, surprised to see Frantiska conscious. “It’s Iniarv’s Tower, Lyra.” He moves over near Frantiska, “Glad to see you up. How are you feeling?”

Sister Rye checks the bandages on the elf woman’s legs, “You look like you’re healing well.” She blushes and squeaks, “Oh, I borrowed your cloak. I hope you don’t mind. It looked like the two of you were not getting along. I’m Ryesha by the way, I don’t think we’ve officially met.”

Frantiska

“I could certainly be better, Mr. Donovan.” Frantiska looks at the halfling girl and smiles, “Keep him, we really didn’t get along.” Feeling a cramp in her leg from lying still so long, she tries moving, only to find that it hurts worse than the cramp. “Is there anything to eat?”

Lyra

Lyra carefully picks her way past the chariot, around statues, and over sacks of coins to crouch next to the food crates. “Bread, some of it slightly smashed, dried fruit, nuts, sausage, lots of cheese, and some fresh tomatoes. What sounds good?”

Frantiska

“Some bread and cheese sounds fine.” Frantiska squints her eyes against the pain and tries to settle herself back down.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit looks at the tower and gulps, «I guess we volunteered, didn’t we Rast?» The big wolf lopes up to the gate, “Good evening my fine gents! I am Yamtwit Cheeseater. My caravan and I are looking for a dry place to bed down for the night. Might we impose upon the hospitality of your fine tower here?”

GM

The two guards shrug and motion for you to enter the walled compound, surprisingly unbothered at being addressed by a goblin. Aside from the tower, which looks large enough to house close to a hundred men, you see stables, a smithy, a well, and a couple of other outbuildings inside the compound. There do not appear to be many people about, aside from the two guards on the gate, you see two more by the doors of the tower, another on watch at the top of the tower, a couple of grooms tending about a dozen horses in the stables, and a page fetching water from the well.

Bo

Bo wonders if there is a decent cook in the compound, as he slips off the back of the wagon. He’s gauging the age of the construction, and keeping an eye out for any other non-humans. Bo is also on the lookout for anything of dwarf make or manufacture.

Hrud

Hrud parks the wagon near a stable – hopefully out of the way, as no one has complained yet – and tends to the oxen and his own steed. He eyes the stalls, making note of which one he should calls dibs on, depending on how the sleeping arrangements turn out.

GM

The tower looks old, perhaps dating back as far as the earliest days of Phlan, though the palisade looks new. The tower is in good repair, the surface white with a fresh coat of lime and the chinks in the wall having been recently re-mortared. While the stones were likely dwarf-quarried, the tower is clearly not of dwarven make. The stable is clean and looks like it has room for twice as many animals as are currently present, and the grooms quickly move to help Hrud unharness the animals, smiling and saying things that he clearly cannot understand. As everyone disembarks the wagon, a few more guards and servants, all human, come and go from the tower.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit, dismounts from the wolf, unties Bobbers from the back of the wagon and leads the donkey into one of the open stalls of the stable. «Stay here and be good Bobbers. Rast, keep an eye on her while I go inside and greet our hosts.» He takes the saddles off both animals and tries to set them over the wall of the stall. Finding it too high, he leaves them on the floor of the stall, pats Rast on the head, and walks out to find Hrud. “Eraka, badhe sampeyan kaya kanggo nggabungake kula ing nemokake wong ing daya?”

Hrud

Curious, Hrud starts to follow the goblin, stopping long enough to grab the warhammer from under the driver’s bench of the wagon and sliding into his belt, opposite the green broadsword.

GM

The guards at the door of the tower sidestep to interpose themselves when they see the goblin and the well-armed barbarian approaching. They eye the two of you warily, “Relinquish your weapons,” they ask, none too politely.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit translates for Hrud, “Sing njaga ngandika sing ngirim uncalan Pethel lan pedhang ing lemah.” He places his club carefully on the ground in front of him. “We’re here to see your boss!” he says cheerily.

Hrud

Hrud watches the Yamtwit, then – understanding dawning as the others turn to look at him – realizes how uncomfortable the thought of leaving his weapons makes him. Stepping up to the guard who spoke, the barbarian asks the goblin, “Carane iki siji disebut?”

GM

As Hrud and Yamtwit discuss what to do, the guards look at each other for a moment then one disappears through the doors. He returns less than a minute later with a square-jawed, chisel-featured man in his early 30’s, bedecked in a full, suit of plate armor, of the sort that even most knights on reserve for ceremonial or display purposes. The man nods at the two visitors, though the gesture manages to show all the formality of a full bow (a maneuver which seems nearly impossible given the armor), then at the party around the wagon behind them. “Welcome to Iniarv’s Tower,” he says stiffly. The guards visibly relax in his presence and the guard who waited by the door whispers something in his ear and he continues, “Eraka, yen teka ing tentrem, panjenengan olèh kene. Aku takon sing ninggalake senjata karo titian Nanging. Yen luwe, kita bakal nyetel mangan bengi ing rauh.”

He nods again to Hrud and Yamtwit, then walks over to greet the others by the wagon. Several more servants than you have seen to this point come out of the tower behind him, quickly busying themselves with hauling water and firewood into the tower.

Donovan

Donovan decides against bothering Frantiska any further and climbs down from the wagon. Seeing the knight come out of the tower, he walks over and offers his hand. “Pleased to meet you. I am Donovan Phillips Leitch, until recently official herald for the Council of New Phlan. My companions and I are en route to Melvaunt on some errands for the faculty of the New Phlan Public Training Hall. We would be quite pleased if you would allow us to impose on Helm’s hospitality for the night.” He makes a sweeping bow, then quickly makes the necessary introductions and bona fides with the clear, practiced voice of a professional herald and crier. “The goblin is Yamtwit Cheeseater, of the Scabeater tribe, purveyor of dairy goods. The tall man is Hrud of the Eraka. These,” he says waving towards the three Tyrran priests, “are Brother Rant Harmell, Sister Winona Mdewakanton, did I pronounce that right, and Sister Ryesha, all of the Temple of Tyr’s Waiting in New Phlan. The girl is Amara, niece of Professor Aumry of Umbar of the New Phlan Training Hall. The three maids of elvish lineage in the wagon are Miss Lyrathwen Beragaion, daughter of the Council Underclerk, Dame Frantiska Sykora, Moon Knight of Selune and Aglarond, and Teldicia. And the dwarf is Bo.” Wow, there are a lot of us. I hope I didn’t miss anyone, he thinks to himself. He stops for breath, then looks into the back of the wagon. “Also, if you have any healers about, the Lady Sykora could do with their attentions. We had a run-in with some gnashers on the road which went poorly for her.”

Hrud

Hrud, more content to leave his weapons in the wagon than hand them over to armed strangers, takes his sword and hammer to the wagon, where he tucks them under the driver’s bench and makes his way back to where the goblin is waiting.

Lyra

After giving Frantiska some cheese, bread, and a waterskin, Lyra slips back across the wagon when she hears Donovan’s introductions.

Seeing Hrud leave his weapons in the wagon, Lyra leaves her sword near the bows, then carefully removes a dagger from each boot before stepping down from the wagon and greeting the Helmsman with a proper curtsy.

GM

The knight nods again, “Sir Justin Melenikus, at your service sirs and madams.” He turns back to the guards, “Watchers, there is a wounded woman in the wagon, please see that she is conveyed carefully to the chapel.” The two guards snap to attention, run inside, and return with a stretcher. Rant and Teldicia help them navigate the mess in the back of the wagon, and then remove Frantiska into the tower. “Our cooks are preparing dinner as we speak. I’ve already asked them to put a couple of extra kettles on. Our fare here is simple, but you are welcome to it.” Sir Justin pivots stiffly and walks into the tower, gesturing for you to follow.

Yamtwit / Frantiska

Yamtwit scurries off to the kitchens and begins expounding to the cook on how his dishes “don’t have nearly enough butter!” He manages to resell a block of cheese, which technically belongs to Donovan but he bought so much he won’t notice, then joins the others in the big hall on the second floor of the tower to eat. After dinner, he takes a bowl of stew and hunks of bread and cheese down for Rast. Then curls up on a pile of dry straw in the barn next to Rast and Bobbers to sleep.

Frantiska takes her meal in a room off the chapel which serves as an infirmary. She welcomes the priests’ care, but is disappointed to learn that they lack the power to heal her legs outright.

Bo

Bo explores the tower, inside and out, during the day, noting architecture and relative age of each building, wing, what-have-you.

At night he prepares to explore the cellars for anything forgotten and tucked away. It is truly an information gathering search only. If anything catching his attention was found, he would bring it up the next day.

GM

The tower is a white-washed, four-story, barrel-shaped, stone structure, with a conical roof, more than a century old but well maintained. The ground floor is a single room, used entirely for storage, with boxes and crates of supplies neatly piled against the walls. A wooden staircase in the back goes up to the second floor, then continues on to the upper floors in a series of switchbacks and landings. Each floor has a heavy wooden trapdoor that can be lowered over the opening to the stairwell, and the staircase itself appears to have been designed to be easily collapsible with a couple quick blows of an axe to a single support beam. The second floor is also a single room, a great hall dominated by a large table and fireplace, where the majority of the residents live, eat, and sleep, along with a number of big, red-furred hunting dogs (and where you are encouraged to spread your bedrolls after supper). The third floor includes a fair-sized chapel dedicated to Helm, with four side-rooms—Sir Justin’s private quarters (which doubles as an office/meeting room), two rooms which serve as dormitories for the twelve priests in residence, and combination armory and infirmary. The fourth floor is again, a single room, with eight broad windows (the only windows in the structure), and a large swivel-mounted ballista in the center. Thirty-nine men live and work in the tower: twelve priest of Helm, twelve guards, fourteen servants (grooms, pages, cooks, and a smith), and Sir Justin.

The compound is perhaps half an acre in total, surrounded by a wooden palisade made from water-resistant beetlebung trees harvested from the surrounding swamp. There are five wooden outbuildings: two large stables with room for fourty horses (with twenty-three present, not counting your own, including one impressively large destrier), a kitchen, a smithy, and the wellhouse. The kitchen and smithy are positioned half-way between the wall and the tower and opposite the stables to avoid fire spreading—and judging by the newness of their apparent construction and the blackening of the ground around them fires are something that happens relatively often.

Winona

Seeing Bo staring at the walls in a way that seems more meaningful than sheer boredom, Winona and Rye wander over in his direction. “Hey Beau, what’s so interesting?” Winona inquires.

Bo

“Not too bad for a human-built structure. Dwarf-made would have prevented those wall from chinking in the first place. The defenses are laudable, though I’d like to have murder holes to pour oil on the enemy…which you can then light. However, for an overnight stay, I’d feel relatively safe. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any artefacts kept herein. I guess that would be too convenient for my purposes.”

Hrud

Hrud stands around awkwardly, not sure what to do or where to go now that he’s inside the building – and feeling naked without his weapons. Hopefully, this tower wouldn’t be as dark and soggy as the last one.

Winona

Winona nods along as he talks about chinking and murder holes, though it is hard to tell whether her interest is actually genuine. “What sort of artifacts are you looking for, Beau?” She looks around for the others. She notes Donovan and the girls heading upstairs, Yamtwit heading outside, Rant sitting in a corner lecturing Rye on the legal definitions of personhood and whether it is possible to ‘own’ a sentient object (glad I don’t have to deal with that, she thinks), and Hrud standing around looking bemused. “Say Beau, any chance you speak barbarian?”

Bo

“I don’t speak barbarian, but I believe I heard the barbarian speak dwarfish. Do you need to communicate with him?”

Winona

“Not particularly, I just hate to see someone looking so out of place.” Winona shrugs and walks over to Hrud, putting a, still heavily mail-clad, arm through his and leading him to one of the big tables. She pulls out a set of dice and some coins and pantomimes rolling them. “Care for a game Beau?”

Bo

“Count me in.”

To Hrud: “De dame wil dobbelstenen. Kom bij de groep.”

Hrud

Hrud, comprehending the Winona’s actions, pulls 10 silver pieces from this belt pouch and sets them on the table before him. When the dwarf speaks to him, however, the barbarian can only reply to Bo’s comment with a confused look.

When Yamtwit wanders by, Hrud nudges him and says, “Aku ora bisa ngerti marang tanpa Pethel”

Bo

“Heh. The barbarian talked to me in perfectly accented Dwarvish when he first stumbled upon me. Looks like he gets the gist, regardless.”

Lyra

After dinner, Lyra rather hesitantly approaches Donovan. Her voice is quiet, and after initially getting his attention her eyes are rather fixed on her shoes. “I … I think something’s wrong. With me, I mean. The headaches are getting worse, and my powers are growing.” She wraps her arms around herself, though there is no chill this close to the fireplace. “Some of the things I can do now are … rather terrible. There are reasons I haven’t honed some of my talents. I didn’t want to admit it, but I’m scared. Both of this power, and what I might become were I to try and wield it.”

Donovan

“I’ve been a bit worried about that too. Yesterday I had the strange experience of somehow seeing sounds, like every tone, from the wagon wheels to Yamtwit’s barking had a color associated with it. Teldicia has been complaining too. Something has clearly been very wrong with all of us since we looted that tower. I haven’t had any headaches today, and the hallucinations seem to have stopped, but I can’t remember anything that might have changed what was happening to me specifically. " Donovan stands and heads for the stairs. “Come on…I’ve been curious about Frantiska’s running off and getting trampled the other day as well.” He taps Teldicia on the shoulder as he goes by, then hurries up to the chapel. “I don’t know what’s going on Lyra, but I trust you, perhaps more than anyone else here. We need you to trust yourself, since you’re the only one who might be able to teach the rest of us to control these abilities that have suddenly been thrust on us…”

Frantiska

“Oh good,” Frantiska says through the pain of recently broken ribs when she sees Lyra and Donovan come in, “I need to talk to you two.” She shoves herself to a sitting position, wincing. “Sir Justin has offered to allow me to remain here while I recuperate and I intend to take him up on the offer. In this state I am only a burden to you. I know you do not owe me anything, but I have a few small requests before you leave for Melvaunt.” She coughs, sits recovering her breath for a few minutes, then continues. “You will find a red candle in Thistledown’s saddlebags. A gift for Amara’s grandmother. Please make absolutely certain that it is delivered, and that the candle is lit before you leave the girl alone with the old woman.” Something in her eyes tells you there is more to that story, but she doesn’t expound. “Also, please have my gear brought up and have Thistledown stabled below. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I am well enough to stay in the saddle…”

Lyra

Lyra’s brow furrowed in confusion at Frantiska’s statement about the candle, then her eyes widened as she remembered Professor Aumry saying Amara was dangerous. Surely it was only to protect Amara from any illness that might spread?

Then the rest of what she was saying hit her. Frantiska was leaving. Or more precisely, asking them to leave her.

“It’s no trouble, truly!” Lyra’s voice cracked mid-sentence, and it was all she could do to hold back tears.

Donovan

“Red candle huh?” Donovan sits on the edge of the bed. “Frantiska, I know you’ve been unconscious for a while, but how are your headaches been doing? Aside from the headaches have you experienced anything…unusual? Visions? Hallucinations? This might not be the best time, but something weird, and probably much more sinister than ‘psionic static’, is going on with all of us. I brought Lyra and Teldicia up because I think we need to hash this out as quickly as possible before something horrible happens…”

Frantiska

“Yes, Mr. Donovan, I have been seeing things. Before I rode off yesterday, I saw white sparks or starbursts, which moved and congregated around Lyra, then Teldicia, then Hrud, as if I could see who in our group had power. I have no desire to explore that further.” Frantiska rubs her eyes. "I’m tired Donovan, and other than the risk of mental intrusion, which I believe we have already hashed out these strange senses we are exhibiting do not appear to pose any risk.

Lyra

Something about what Frantiska said bothered Lyra even more than her inflection when speaking of mental intrusion. “You said Teldicia and Hrud. What about Donovan?”

Frantiska

“As far as I can tell, Donovan was clean.” Frantiska opens her eyes again and a look of intense concentration comes over her face, “Seems to be so now as well…”

Donovan

“So what happened to me yesterday, and what made it stop?” Donovan sits thinking for some minutes, then, “Lyra…can you attempt to contact me again?”

Lyra

Lyra shifts uncomfortably and avoids looking at Donovan, not liking one bit where this was going. “Are you sure?” Waiting for Donovan’s assent, she closes her eyes and concentrates.

Frantiska

Frantiska watches closely as Lyra’s eyes close, holding her temples against the headache accompanying the sparkling motes that dance before her eyes. She watches as a stream of them seem to drift from Lyra and settle about Donovan. “There it is…” she says, blinking her eyes to clear the strange visions, “it certainly looks like the thing is spread by Lyra. Donovan? Any hallucinations or visions to confirm?”

Donovan

Donovan cries out as the headache returns full-force. “Yes,” he squawks. He watches fascinated as his own words seems to come out of his mouth as a spikey, dark-red cloud. He can’t help but be fascinated at the myriad of colors floating up the stairs from the people talking, eating, and working below. He sits for a while, eyes shut tight. Yes, he thinks to Lyra, mental contact with you is clearly the trigger. You can look through other people’s eyes right? You should see this…

Frantiska

“So,” Frantiska suddenly looks much more interested, “what happened to you between when I passed out and when you woke up this morning that didn’t happen to me, or Teldicia, or Lyra, or Hrud? Or since the last time Lyra attempted to contact you? What made it stop?”

Lyra

I’ve hardly slept, and if I lose focus, if I can’t control my new abilities, I might hurt you. I can’t risk that. Lyra breaks the mental connection abruptly, sinking to the floor and wrapping her arms around her shins, rocking slightly.

“Donovan was behaving erratically when he woke up after I found the psychic leeches last night.” She looks at Donovan, her chin resting on her knees. Do you remember anything of what happened before Brother Rant healed you?"

Donovan

“Brother Rant healed me?” Donovan looks genuinely confused. “How? Why?”

Lyra

Lyra fidgeted with the hem of her dress. “You … you were shouting at everyone and acting imperious and tried to kick Teldicia. He used the rod on you after Hrud tried to knock you out.”

Donovan

“The rod?!” Donovan practically yells, then kindof zones out as he watches the long, bright word bouncing off the walls. “Excellent. So, whatever this is, we have a way to get rid of it…and reinstate it. So now we just need to figure out how to control it…” He rubs his temples, “But given that this headache is back…that might be something to leave for tomorrow.” He stands and heads for the stairs, “I’m going to go find the quietest place I can and try to get some sleep.”

Frantiska

Frantiska nods, “Yes please. Also, can you bring that rod by before you all leave? I would rather not be stuck with the headaches for however long it takes you to return from Melvaunt.”

Lyra

Lyra squeezed her eyes shut and rested her head on her knees until the pain passed, or at least seemed to dull slightly with familiarity. She rose and smoothed her skirt. “«Rest well.»”

After settling in near the Sisters, Lyra awoke with a start and hazy memories of running up a seemingly endless staircase. Frantiska at the top of the tower like some storybook princess, to be rescued before the tower filled with rushing black water with the looming threat of the dragon’s return. It was both Iniarv’s Tower and the weir tower, yet neither.

Lyra lay on her bedroll for some time, consciously controlling her breathing until her heart stopped racing.

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The Bitter Blades: Session 2: Gore's Heroic Stand

Let Gore tell you, Gore is the greatest kobold hero of all time, and yet, even Gore is not immortal.

As Storm recorded previously, Gore went to the Isles of Thorns with a human girl, a very tall man, and a halfling, to save the humans from their undead problem on the island. Gore was quite surprised when the girl found the necklace that made all the skeletons be nice to us. Since they were not bothering us, we went to check out the buildings in the old keep.

The girl, Storm, lead the way to an old smithy. The tall man, Tom, seemed pretty excited by a big hammer that he saw as we walked up. It was big, and surprisingly shiny for a thing that was supposed to be several generations old. Anyways, Gore was more excited by the deep croaking noises that we heard as we got closer. As Tom got close enough to reach the hammer, there was a really bright flash. Gore was completely blinded, but the others told him that four frogs, almost as big as Gore, leaped out from the rubble, their skin shining to bright that their bones could be seen underneath. Gore heard lots of wet, smacking noises, and, by the time he could see again, the frogs looked more like an icky, oozing mess than frogs.

Storm had got bit by one of the frogs, not to badly though. Tom put a bandage on her arm and we went off to look for more shiny things. Gore hoped they were shiny like the frogs, and not shiny like the hammer. We were supposed to be being heroes after all, and real heroes have no need for shiny things.

Most of the little, old, wooden buildings around the keep were not that interesting. Kitchens, granaries, stables, storehouses. Slimes and mold everywhere. The skeletons kept following us unless Storm told them not to…then they’d follow us again until she told them again…and so forth. Gore did find some tasty mushrooms in one of the granaries that made him feel very brave, not that Gore didn’t feel brave already. Gore is very brave.

Then we came to an old barracks. Lots of beds in there, and lots of ghosts. Human and dwarf ghosts mostly. Transparent and whispy. Nothing you could hit, and nothing to hit us with either. The halfling, Kade, got scared and ran outside, but Storm held up her bronze necklace and said “Shestnik” to them. All at once they burst into a chorus of howls, moans, complaints, wails, and other lamentations over their fate and the fate of their families.

The ghosts were really loud, and didn’t make much sense, but eventually Tom understood enough of what they said to find a loose floorboard with a big emerald and a tattered, old book underneath it. The book told about the fall of the keep, armies of orcs and goblins assaulting the walls, and an evil spell that a guy named Ferran Martinez, a priest of the human’s Hammer-god, used to turn all the guards into ghosts and skeletons so they could keep guarding the keep even after they lost the fight. Gore had to read it out loud to everyone. Gore was surprised that the others were so dumb that they could not read a simple book. That’s why Gore is the hero and they are not I guess.

As we were walking out of the barracks, the ghosts still yelling in our ears, Nat, the dwarf who was driving out boat, came running inside the keep. The skeletons ignored him, since Storm had told them to let dwarves in. He was yelling something about orcs.

Sure enough, right on his heels came orcs. LOTS of orcs. Gore counted fourty before he stopped counting and started thinking about fighting instead.

The skeletons moved to intercept the orcs as they came through the gate. They killed a bunch of orcs, but were outnumbered and got smashed.

Tom threw the smith’s hammer at the orcs, smashing one’s head, then, surprisingly, it reappeared in his hand. Nifty. Storm threw a bunch of knives, hurting a few orcs.

Then some hobgoblins came in behind the orcs. They had bows. Storm yelled at Tom to bang his other hammer on the ground. We all thought she was daft, but Tom did it…

Tom banged the hammer three times. A bolt of lightning shot down from the clouds, hit the hammer, then went shooting into the orcs, burning a bunch of them to cinders. Not enough of them, there were still close to twenty orcs left, plus the hobgoblins, with arrows.

Arrows are not good, let me tell you. Tom kept throwing the smith hammer, but we didn’t have any other things to throw. So everyone ran back into the barracks. Not Gore though. Gore is a hero.

Once everyone else was inside the barracks with the screaming ghosts, Gore slammed the door, stuck a big stick through the handle, and turned to face the orcs. Alone. Because Gore is awesome like that.

Did I mention that Gore is really good at killing orcs. And that Gore is the son of Kurtulmak the Survivor, God of the Kobolds. And that kobolds are so much more awesome than humans.

Anyways. Gore put his back to the door, grabbed his trusty club, prayed to his father for luck, and waited for the orcs to come.

They came. And they died.

Gore smashed the orcs one after the other. Dodging their blows. Crushing their ugly orc heads with his trusty club. One. After. Another.

Gore fought and fought, and orcs died and died. Ten minutes later, all the orcs were dead. All of them. At Gore’s hands.

Gore forgot about the hobgoblins though. And their bows.

Bows suck.

The last thing Gore remembered of his great heroic last stand was how much it hurts to get an arrow in your eye. Gore thinks he heard Storm crying before he died. But it was hard to hear her over the screaming ghosts. Then Gore didn’t remember anything else. Ever. Because Gore was dead.

But Gore was a hero!

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Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 11
In which the party meets a dwarf and gets on the road again...

Lyra

“Cheese? Oh! Frantiska!” Lyra’s eyes go wide and she hops up into the back of the wagon. Seeing Frantiska lying there still unconscious, she gasps and puts a hand to her mouth, tears streaming down her face. Between sobs she manages to get out “I … I should’ve … been here. I remember it, I remember it like I was there. The pack … surrounding her, the way … her blood … dripped from its jaws … as it tore out her throat. The sound of … the wagon … as it…. I remember … the bump…” She was practically hysterical as she sank to her knees, the elven bow clattering as it slipped from her fingers.

Donovan/Winona

Donovan continues to play his hurdy-gurdy, staring off into space for some time, until he sees the tell-tale ‘pop’—like a flash of white across the entire field of his vision. He stops playing suddenly and looks up to see Lyra and the others. He starts to stand, but finds the continued dance of colors and shapes disorienting. He grabs one of the supports of the canopy to steady himself and stands, blinking and shaking his head for some time, trying to dispel the strange sensation.

The tall, heavily-armored, white-robed priestess sets her crate on the back of the wagon, then extends a hand to the goblin, noticing the golden wheat symbol hanging around his neck. “A Chaunteite? Pleased to meet you Cheesy. I am Winúŋna Mdewakanton of Tyr, but you can call be Winona, and little Bunny here is…”

The halfling cuts in, “…Sister Ryesha, also of Tyr. You may call me Sister Ryesha.” She shoots a Winona a withering look, as if to say I have to put up with my superior having a pet name for me, but no one else.

Donovan finally clears his head, the strange visions mostly stopping, as Lyra breaks down crying. He hops out of the wagon and puts an arm around the girl. “I shouldn’t have shown you that, huh?” he says quietly. “She’ll be alright. Mr. Yamtwit’s,” he makes sure to put the emphasis where the goblin did, “butter is amazing stuff. Rant says the bones in her leg are almost completely healed…” He gives her a hopefully reassuring, fatherly pat on the back and stands up, looking slightly uncomfortable, unused to the role of comforter. “The important thing,” he says a little louder, “is that we’re all together again. Let’s not go popping off by ourselves anymore than necessary, shall we?” He forces a smile.

Winona drops to one knee with a loud clinking of mail and hugs Lyra, “Oh Dearie, this violence is all very new to you, isn’t it. Mr. Donovan’s right though, your friend will be fine. Besides,” she says cheerfully, “there are demons out there to kill.”

Donovan clears his throat and tries to sound businesslike, “Anyways, everyone, we’ve got another fifty miles to our destination. I’m sorry that yesterday was basically lost travel time, and for…everything else…”

Rye looks at both the old man and her senior sister as if they are both daft and shakes her head. She reaches up as high as she can and rests the bolts of cloth on the back of the big covered wagon, then half-jumps, half-climbs up beside them. “Hi,” she says to Teldicia, presumably the only conscious one still in the wagon, “I’m Ryesha. I guess I’m going to be traveling with you guys for a couple of days…” She carefully picks her way past the chariot, the crates of supplies, and the statuary and finds a nook to stash the sewing supplies in.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit shakes the priestess’s hand, “Yamtwit Cheeseater at your service.” He then turns back to Hrud, «Your new woman is all weepy. I don’t think even rubbing down with butter will cure that one. Whitehair has a good idea, we should get going if we’re going.» He points at the city-walls, not a hundred yards distant, the spires of the old cathedral clearly visible. «Lots of thieves and orcs about over there. Best to get moving before they notice your wagon.»

Lyra

Lyra’s sobbing eventually subsides. She wipes the tears from her cheeks with the heel of her hand, and stands back up. She places the scroll case with the remaining artwork near the statuary, then carefully carries the crate up to the front of the wagon with the rest of the food. She takes out one bolt case and leaves it up front, and sets the box of trade bars with the sacks of coins before returning to the back of the wagon, where she puts the other case of silver bolts near Rant and Donovan, before sitting down with the new bow across her lap, and the quiver of silver arrows and her quiver of normal arrows within easy reach. “Fourteen gold bars left. I wanted to get silver in case more wights come. Brother Rant, please tell Hrud he’s welcome to half the arrows. There’s also a scroll with two Restoration spells and a few gems from the council for the information. We still have one painting, minus the frame. Oh, and the Xvimlar at the end of the bridge are afraid of me.”

Winona

Winona stands up and looks around at the huge, covered wagon, laden with goods, and the many animals. “You look like a proper merchant caravan, Donnie,” she says addressing Donovan as Lyra scrambles into the wagon. She peers into the back of the wagon, then turns to the big filly, patting her gently. “Looks pretty crowded in there. If the horse doesn’t mind, I think I’ll ride.” Donovan shrugs and Winona climbs up on Thistledown. She takes a moment to let the horse get used to her weight and make sure it is calm, then motions for Donovan to untie her. “Alright, I’m ready, let’s go,” she says.

Hrud

Waiting for everyone to get comfortably positioned for the journey – at least as much as their current situation will allow – Hrud retakes the driver’s bench and, taking the reigns, gives them a gentle-but-firm snap, urging the oxen into motion once again.

GM

The sun reaches its zenith as your band begins to move again, the oxen resuming their slow, plodding pace as they pull the heavy wagon. The track from the north joins the main road running due east out of the city. The road here is much better than that you have previously traveled, beaten hard, free of sinkholes, and slightly mounded in the center from regular use, and wide enough for two wagons such as your own to run abreast. Ahead of you, you can see a few tired-looking peddlers, mostly with donkeys or push-carts, making their way towards the city. From their perch in the back of the wagon, Donovan, Lyra, and Rant have a clear view all the way to the big bridge less than a mile behind you, and can see the spires of the Xvimlar cathedral peaking up over the crumbling walls of the old city. You can also just make out the beginnings of a ruckus of some kind about halfway between your wagon and the bridge.

Bo

Bo looked around to make sure he wasn’t being watched, although in his current state of exhaustion there could be someone standing directly behind him and he might not know it. The dwarf slid out his picks and made quick work of the lock on the door. He needed a safe place to rest, but no place was safe out here. Unnoticed behind a locked door, he should be able to sleep. His sanity depended on it.
Inside the abandoned outpost, he chewed on some jerky. It had been ages since he had tasted decent food. Longer since decent ale. He had pouches and sacks full of tools, equipment, and geegaws. However he had yet to find anything of actual value. The surrounds were tough alone, especially for a dwarf. If he could just find the old Dwarven implements he knew to be hidden in the ruins, the trip would turn profitable.

He needed something to show for the loss of most of his funds, much of his hair, and the better part of his pride. It would happen. There would be a breakthrough shortly. After he slept. Everything would be better after he slept.

He never saw the orcs who were tailing him from a distance.

GM

Lyra sees a dwarf, or what she presume to be a dwarf, based on his short, squat build, standing directly in front of the door to an old, brick building. He looks around furtively, then begins fumbling with the latch—in broad daylight no less. As he stands there working at the latch, she sees a patrol of four orcs, clearly Xvimlar by their matching bright green tunics, coming around a corner and bearing down on him. He doesn’t seem to notice the orcs or the “ruckus”—which is everyone else on the road moving away from the orcs as quickly as possible—or else is deliberately ignoring them in his haste to get inside.

As the wagon continues to roll along slowly, Lyra sees the short figure disappear into the old building. The ruckus continues as the orcs push their way through the people on the road, clearly intent on the dwarf.

Lyra

Lyra looks between Brother Rant and Donovan. “There’s a dwarf trying to get into a building over there, and a Xvimlar patrol heading right for him.” With their party up to three Tyrrans now, that he seemed to be breaking into the building is probably best left for later. She half turned and looked past them, at the still unconscious knight of Selune. “Frantiska would’ve wanted to stop to help. If we show the swords and tell them that that one’s ours to deal with and to keep moving, it may not even come to a fight.”

Donovan

Donovan sits on the back of the cart, his hat pulled low to keep the sun off and his eyelids drooping from a long, sleepless, and overly eventful night. “Lyra,” he says, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands, “I think I’ve got a problem…I appear to be able to see sound…”

Donovan starts as Lyra’s apparent non-sequitur. “Orcs?” He rubs his eyes again and looks where she is pointing, trying to make his eyes focus on the action, rather than dancing pink and green swirl of her words. “Why do we always have to rescue people from orcs?!” He fumbles through the pile of things beside him and pulls out the green-bladed broadsword, twin to Lyra’s. “Fine…do you have enough juice to get us there in a hurry?”

Rant

Brother Rant turns and translates Lyra’s pronouncement for Hrud, his voice raised to carry over the sounds of the wagon. “If you two want to step in, I’m here to help,” he says with an unusual note of eagerness.

Hrud

«I’ll go, but I don’t want to turn the wagon around if we can help it.» Hrud winces internally at the thought of running over another person, even if it’s an orc. «Maybe you priests should stay behind?», he adds, looking at Frantiska. Taking up the Dwarven hammer, along with his short bow and the third Fang of Mace, Hrud moves to join Donovan and Lyra.

Winona

Winona looks rather disappointed as Rant translates Hrud’s remarks. “The Eraka is probably right…if your plan is to use the swords to avoid a fight, Bunny, Rant, and I should probably stay here…” She climbs off of Thistledown and ties the horse off to the wagon again. “I guess we’ll man the fort until you get back.”

Lyra

Lyra shakes her head. “Too far. Too soon.” She looks at Rant. “They didn’t question the sword when I had two Tyrans with me earlier, but I’d rather not press our luck. You and the sisters should remain with the wagon.” She takes up her quiver of standard arrows, and the elven bow before hopping down from the wagon. She runs off towards the city, Donovan and Hrud in tow.

“Wait, seeing sound? Since when?” There’s a difference between contacting a psion and someone who’s not. Surely she would’ve been able to tell….

Donovan

Donovan runs after Lyra, panting as he tries to keep up with her younger legs. “Since…about…five…minutes…after…you…contacted…me…last…” he gasps out between strides.

Lyra

Lyra slows to keep pace with Donovan. “I don’t have time to teach you control properly, but we can’t afford you being distracted right now. So here’s the short version of what I was taught: Thought is power. Power is control. Control is focus. Focus on the sounds, and the way it interacts with the light. You have to understand that conversion, to be the one making it happen, before you can control it enough to stop it.”

Donovan

Donovan’s head swims, either from shortness of breath or from trying to make sense of what Lyra is saying. He looks behind him to see if Hrud is keeping up, only to realize that the barbarian had overshot them by a hundred yards. “Let’s…just…worry about this…later,” he wheezes.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit sits astride his warg as she jogs down the road, thinking cheerfully about all the money they are going to make selling art in Melvaunt and trying to figure out how to make sure he gets a cut. He is a few hundred yards away before he notices that the wagon has stopped. «Huh!» he says aloud, startled. He looks back and sees the Donovan, Lyra, and Hrud racing back towards the city. «Are they daft? Did they miss the part about the city being full of orcs?» He groans and taps the wolf on the head, «After them Rast. Someone is going to have to patch them up…» The big wolf pivots and races after them at top speed.

Yamtwit catches up to the others and pulls Rast into a slow lope, “Why are you running AT orcs?!”

GM

Bo is roused from his brief repast by the sound of hammering on the door. At first just a rattle of the latch and a knock. Then a louder thud lower down, as if someone kicked it. Then a loud, solid BANG and the sound of splintering wood, as more direct measures are taken. From inside he can see the old, heavy, oaken barrier rattle on its hinges and start to bow inward in the center as the banging sounds continue. One nail falls loose from the upper hinge—it seems unlikely that the door will hold long under the onslaught.

Without, Lyra, Donovan, Hrud, and Yamtwit close the distance to the old outpost as rapidly as they can. The street has mostly cleared—the residents of the area clearly more concerned with their own safety than with watching yet another gang shakedown, as they can only assume it must be, between the zealot orcs and their prey—with a few people rushing for the bridge, but most ducking into alleyways or out of the crumbling arch that marks the site of the ancient gate out of the city. As the party runs on, they can see the orcs testing the door, then one of the creatures takes out a large, two-handed mace and begins pounding away.

Between blows, one of the orcs leans in close to the door and shouts, “Džudže, zaee deka se tau! Mace, saka egovata koa azad. Ako go predade ro e vetuvae da počeka do posle ve ste rtv da go eba vašot očte dupk!”

Lyra

“Short version of the story, we have swords that belong to high ranking Xvimlar, so we might be able to scare them off just by showing up. The bridge guards were practically tripping over each other to stay out of my way.” As the orcs ahead begin yelling, Lyra looks shocked. “They’re asking politely, for orcs, for him to open the door, but they’re going to kill him and do highly inappropriate things to his corpse, even if he hands over what they want. It sounds like he took some sort of ‘icon’ from Mace.”

Hrud

Hrud’s brow furrows as his brain works overtime, «Maybe we can … claim the Dwarf for ourselves? Take him with us?»

Donovan

Donovan stops at a corner a block away from the orcs to catch his breath and double-check his weapons. “You know, Lyra, we don’t know anything about this dwarf. Are we really going to go running off to save people every time we see a pack of orcs picking on someone?” Without really waiting for an answer, he begins casting a sleep spell.

Lyra

Lyra ducks behind the corner after Donovan, panting. She keeps her back to the wall as she strings the elven bow. “They said that if he handed it over peacefully, they’d wait until after he was dead to … copulate with his eye socket.” Edging to the corner behind him, Lyra slips an arrow from her quiver, nocks and draws. “So, yes.”

Bo

Bo’s exhaustion coupled with his deep sleeping barely allows him to realize what is going on and grab his hammer before the door crashes open. The sight of orcs causes a small adrenaline surge, and he stands, mumbling “what in bloody blue blazes do you want?”

Yamtwit

Yamtwit raises an eyebrow, “Threatening to skull-fuck someone’s corpse is being…polite? Yep, sounds like most of the orcs I’ve met.” He hops off of the worg’s back. «Rast,» he points at the orcs up the block, «rip their throats out. If you wouldn’t mind, that is.» The wolf snarls and rushes the orcs, baring her razor-sharp teeth.

Hrud

Hrud had hoped they could contain any fighting that was almost certain to occur inside the house, lest they draw the attention of even more orcs … right up until he noticed Dawn-of-man starting to cast and Lyra readying her bow. Realizing that things had progressed beyond the tipping point, the barbarian draws his sword and charges the nearest orc, trusting his companions to provide cover.

GM

As the lead Orc continues banging on the door, the others begin to yawn widely. As the door finally caves in the one hammering looks back to his friends to congratulate himself, only to find them laying slumped on the ground, snoring peacefully.

The door crashes inward with a loud crash and a cloud of dust. Bo looks out to see a single orc, looking rather confused, standing in the doorway, with three others lying on the ground around him. A moment later a very tall, muscular, leather-clad human crashes into the bemused orc, bowling it over and running a three-foot-long piece of sharpened, green-coloured steel through the thing’s gut. The orc stares, dumbfounded at the sword sticking out of it, gasps, and slumps to the ground beside it’s sleeping friends.

A couple of stray arrows clatter onto the road outside the door, followed by an unusually large, red-furred she-wolf which leaps on one of the sleeping orcs and tears out its throat with one snap of her oversized jaws.

The two remaining orcs continue to snore obliviously.

Bo

To himself: ‘This must be a dream. Orcs slaughtered before my eyes, with me not lifting a finger.’

Aloud: “Nice puppy…”

Bo looks out the door, hopeful. You know what they say about the enemies of your enemy.

Hrud

Hrud pauses for a moment in the doorway and, holding up a curious dwarven hammer which begins to glow, says in perfectly accented Dwarven, “Kom met me mee als je wilt leven.” He then turns his attention – and sword – to the sleeping orcs …

Bo

Valuing his life more than even his sleep, Bo grabs his backpack and follows the barbarian…keeping back from the large wolf.

Lyra

Lyra strides over to the door, stepping over a sleeping orc to retrieve the arrows, keeping an eye out for reinforcements.

Yamtwit

A brightly dressed goblin comes scampering up behind the barbarian and the wolf. “Rast desann!” he says to the wolf, who immediately ceases masticating the orc and sits down on her haunches. The goblin nods appreciatively at the quickly dispatched humanoids, then walks up to the dwarf, swaggering a little and sticks out a hand. “Well met, Mr. Dwarf!” he says cheerfully, “You look hungry. Can I interest you in some cheese?”

Bo

Etiquette dictates returning a proffered hand, so Bo tentatively shakes with the goblin. “The name is Bo, of the clan…well, just call me Bo. At your service, and that of your clan…er…tribe? Cheese sounds wonderful, but I have to ask what is going on. Am I dreaming? Who are you people? Where did those orcs come from? Is that your wolf?”

Yamtwit

The goblin shakes the dwarf’s hand, “I’m Yamtwit Cheeseater, of the tribe formerly known as the Scabeater. That is Rast,” he says indicating the wolf. He pulls a brick of ripe-smelling, blue-veined yellow cheese out of a pouch. “The cheese normally runs 8 silvers, but since you seem to be such a fine upstanding dwarf, and appear to be having a bad day, you can have it for the low-low price of only 5 silvers, 4 coppers…”

He cocks his head curiously at the dwarf’s questions. He looks around at the city, or, more particularly, at the large number of orcs and other people making their way back into the street now that the fight is over. “I think you must be dreaming if you did not notice that this section of town is basically owned by the orcs, and some thieves, and some fanatical cultists…but mostly orcs. I am a merchant. I sell cheese. My friends are also merchants, selling works of art. We were just on our way to Melvaunt to get rich by selling my cheese at their art auction…I think.”

He lowers his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “As for where orcs come from. Well…when a boy orc hits a girl orc and holds her down to have his way with her…”

GM

Lyra checks out the orcs as she retrieves her arrows. The orcs are wearing matching green tunics, of much better quality than those worn by the orcs in the slums, and each has a black, leather hand hanging around their neck. You suspect that they are some kind of Xvimlay uniforms—perhaps lay-workers or the orcish equivalent of neophytes. Like most orcs, they do not wear anything below the waist save the skirt of their tunics and some hard, hob-nailed boots.

The one holds a large, two-handed, flanged mace. Two have broadswords, still sheathed across their backs. The last has a whip at its belt. All of them have daggers tucked into their belts—with no sheathes, such that you worry about them sitting down.

Lyra

Lyra turns back to the dwarf. “These orcs are from the temple of Xvim, and they were saying you took something their leader, Mace, wants back. That’s Donovan, and that’s Hrud, and I’m Lyra.” She gives Donovan a look. “Art merchants? Really?”

Bo

Bo politely declines the cheese. “Art objects? Do you have anything Dwarven? Are you on your way to Melvaunt presently? There were some texts there I thought I’d look into if I had the opportunity, and it seems I need help watching my back.”

Donovan

Donovan wanders over and looks at the orcs, shrugs when he does not see anything valuable, then nudges the tail of one’s tunic to cover its privates. Why do orcs never wear pants, he thinks. He bows, slightly, to the dwarf. “Pleased to meet you, Bo. I am Donovan Leitch, until yesterday the official herald to the Council of New Phlan.” He waves up the road leading back to the wagon. “Let’s start walking and we’ll try to answer your questions on the way. This isn’t the best place to hang out, obviously.”

He turns and starts walking, clearly expecting the others to follow, and begins explaining as they catch up. “Lyra, I mentioned to our Mr. Yamtwit that we were intending to sell our collected statuary in Melvaunt and pick up a shipment of other goods. Art merchant seems a reasonable summary of our current position. Officially, Mr. Bo, we are newly licensed and commissioned adventurers, working for the Council. Our current mission has us traveling to Melvaunt, presently, to take care of some business for a faculty member of the public Training Hall. The aforementioned artworks are some statuary, and an old chariot, that we obtained from what we presume to be a dragon’s hoard found in a tower north of the old city last night. I don’t think any of it is of dwarven make, but I am by no means an expert on the subject. As to what is going on…we, especially Miss Lyra here, have some issue with the orcs in town, especially those serving the god Xvim, and, seeing them nearing your position with clearly hostile intent, decided to step in and help. If you are going to Melvaunt, you are welcome to join us…” he looks at the goblin, and says, a bit more quietly, “we’re not exactly picky about traveling companions.”

Bo

“Pleased to meet you, Donovan Leitch. I would be happy to join your band of travelling merchants explorers. In my clan, I specialize in locks and other mechanics. I am on a search for lost Dwarven artifacts in the ruins of Phlan. Did you know they used to be quite the trade with dwarves in years gone by? Early Phlan was a trading outpost on the north shore of the Moonsea, set up to facilitate trade between the Elves of Myth Drannor (the most powerful elven capital of the time) and the tribes of Thar, Vaasa, and the Ride, as well as the Dragonspine Dwarves.

“I’m not sure how interested you are in all that. The info just slips out of my mouth sometimes.”

Frantiska

Back in the wagon, Frantiska stirs and groans softly, “Your fault…” she whispers. Images of the recent battle flash through her mind, the perspective is…off, somehow. She watches, as if over her shoulder, as the beast tears at her throat, but does not feel it, watches the wagon bearing down on her. Watches her body rolling and bouncing under the wheels. “It’s your fault…” she whispers again. Her cloak, somehow undamaged by the trampling, rustles, as if stirred by a breeze. “You made us go hunting…made us leave the others…” She moans, louder this time. An eyelid flutters. “Too rash…not right…you should find someone else…” An arm moves weekly, creeping towards her throat, fumbles with the clasp of her cloak, then stops. “You could have…saved me? Why didn’t you?” Her hand begins tugging at the clasp again, but is too weak to make any real progress. “I can tell you’re hungry…I’m no good for you like this…” She coughs. “Leave me alone…” Her eyelid flutters again, then she falls back into deep unconsciousness. As her arm slumps back down to her side, the clasp of her cloak comes undone.

Winona

Ryesha hears Frantiska stirring and waves excitedly to the other two members of her order from the back of the wagon, “Sister! Brother! Come, I think the elf-lady is waking up.” The three of them kneel around her anxiously, listening to the fevered ranting.

Winona touches her gently, “Frannie? Are you awake?” When he becomes clear that she is not exactly conscious, she turns to Rant, “Rant, what happened to her? Is there anything to be done?” As Rant explains, she looks back at the elven knight in horror. Ryesha begins crying.

“All that? The poor dear! It’s a wonder she’s alive,” Winona remarks. Rant goes on to explain about the goblin, the rub-down with butter, and the miraculous healing.

As he finishes the telling, Teldicia pokes her head in from where she’d been sitting, dozing on driver’s bench. “Everything okay back here?”

“Rant was just explaining everything that happened to you dears the last couple days…” Winona looks back at Frantiska’s body as she finally stops moaning and lapses back into unconsciousness. She fusses with the elf woman for a bit, trying to arrange the open cloak, the ragged remains of an ill-fitting dress, and the piles of junk in the wagon to make her more comfortable. “Bunny, these girls really need your help…” she says, waving a hand at the dresses Frantiska and Teldicia are wearing, or barely wearing as the case may be.

Rye, meanwhile, sits looking very closely at the heavy, black cloak that has just fallen from Frantiska’s shoulders. “What’s this?” she asks, gently pulling the edge out from under the unconscious woman as Winona tries to situate her. “What beautiful fabric…” she says softly and appreciatively, then gasps loudly as the cloak shrinks down to halfling size and lovely, black on black, rabbit-motif embroidery appears around the hem.

Hrud

Hrud glances around the room where the dwarf had intended to rest, looking for anything of interest that might have been missed. Then, following the others back to the wagon, he seems lost in thought, hefting the hammer in his large hands. Upon reaching the wagon, he asks Rant, «At your temple – do they teach the way of the hammer and the mace?»

GM

Rant sighs resignedly as Frantiska lapses back into catatonia and climbs out of the wagon. “Ya,” he says in response to Hrud’s question, “candhi bisa mulang sampeyan. Sampeyan uga bisa sinau ing sekolah. Aku uga aku bisa kanggo mulang sampeyan.” The last he says hefting his own heavy mace onto his shoulder.

Hrud

“Aku seneng apa sing arang-arang.” Hrud says, returning to the driver’s bench.

Lyra

Lyra carefully unstrings the bow and sits in the back of the wagon near Rant. “Four Xvimlar in matching tunics with black leather hands around their necks. Neophytes from the temple?”

GM

Rant nods, “Sounds right. We don’t have a whole lot of contact with the followers of Xvim, as you might imagine.”

Lyra

Lyra settles in to try to meditate, but only manages to nod off, before waking up with a start a few minutes later. “’s not … my crossbow…. Huh?”

Donovan/Winona

Donovan climbs into the back of the wagon, “Well, welcome aboard then Mr. Bo. We’re a little crowded in here right now,” he waves a hand at the unconscious elf, the crates, the statues, and the huge bronze chariot, “but if you know how to ride, you’ve got your pick of mounts.” He shifts some things around and sits with his legs dangling off the back, then offers Bo a hand up. “I’m glad to have someone else with an interest in history along. Here,” he says, handing Bo a block of cheese, “we already bought these from the goblin, they’re quite good.” He tries to make himself comfortable and then begins quizzing Bo on all he knows about Dwarven architecture and the old Griff-clan trade routes to pass the time.

Winona walks around the back, unties Thistledown, and climbs up on the warhorse. “Melvaunt Ho!” she yells, pointing up the road.

Rye settles down beside Frantiska, examining the cloak and running her hands over the fabric. “You want me to do what?” she whispers, her voice barely audible and seemingly directed at the cloak itself.

GM

A mile or two outside of town, the road begins to drift southward, away from the woods. Soon the road again bears directly eastward, running through open land near to the coast, with the waves of the Moonsea visible to your right and the woods growing more distant to your left. You pass a few peddlers and one mismatched band of armed men, most likely other adventurers, on their way to Phlan, and a couple of farmsteads, all with tall palisades and farmers who wave at your warily. Otherwise, the wagon bounces along undisturbed for hours as the sun moves in its courses above you.

As the shadows begin to lengthen towards evening, the ground grows wetter. The road is still raised and packed, but the land around you is spotted with numerous small, stagnant pools, and covered with clumps of sedge, milkweed, reedgrass, and sea oats. Runoff has dug small muddy trenches on either side of the road. The last farm you saw is at least an hour behind you. Clouds of midges and mosquitoes begin to swarm around your horses and oxen, occasionally scattering ahead of a darting hawker dragonfly or at the swipe of a tail. Stands of cedar, blackgum, and cottonwoods become more common as you roll along, and ahead you can see the dark line of trees marking the edge of the deeper swamp.

Lyra

Lyra jolts awake suddenly, for the dozenth time. Her heart was racing, and it took several long moments before she realized where she was. She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, and then stared at the little crescent indentations where her nails had bitten into her palms. Just a bad dream. They probably think me even more of a child than they did already.

She looked around, switching between her human and elven vision, wondering if they would be able to find a spot to camp for the evening that was dry, let alone safe. She was getting hungry and hoping they’d be able to stop soon. She concentrated, trying to get a sense for how far they’d already gone. “How much further before we stop for the day?”

Hrud

«Should we camp outside the swamp and head in tomorrow?»

Bo

“Aye, there’s nothing good in a swamp..unless you drain it.” Bo starts making some basic plans in his head for the kind of equipment needed to drain a swamp, considers its proximity to the Moonsea, and discards the notion.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit urges Rast up alongside the driver’s bench and yells up to Hrud, “Kita lagi wis ing menehi.” He waves at the pools, bogs, and marsh grasses, “Sangisore wit punika Samsaya Awon sanadyan. We ngirim turu kene. Kurang kewan.” He leans over and looks under the wolf, then back at the donkey, “Aku kudu susu Rast lan Bobbers.”

Hrud

Hrud nods, hoping to be spared the sight of the goblin at work until after dinner.

GM

It takes about an hour, and some rather wet boots, but you are able to find a raised and relatively dry hillock close enough to the road to be accessible by your animals and the wagon. As an added bonus, several cranberry vines, heavy with ripe fruit, can be seen growing in a bog just a little north of the hillock. The sun, by this point, is starting to sink behind the mountains to the west. The apeliotes begins to blow in off the sea, bringing a good supply of clouds and the promise of night-time rains with it (though it looks to be nothing compared to last night’s storm).

Yamtwit

Frantiska stirs a few more times during the hours of the journey, but remains unconscious.

Once a place to camp is located, Yamtwit quickly goes about unloading the donkey and getting his gear set up. He takes a short, three-legged wooden stool, a bucket with a spiggot, a half-gallon mason jar, a small cast-iron pot, and stoneware butter churn off Bobber’s back, and quickly gets to work milking. First Rast, who is starting to voice her discomfort at having been ridden half a day with swollen teets, then Bobbers. He goes about the work with practiced precision, quickly expressing the two animals into the same bucket. He sets the bucket of milk aside to rest while he “borrows” fodder for the donkey and tethers her to a nearby shrub-willow, then pulls out a large wheel of cheese which he gives to Rast. The wolf growls, “Genbèfla pito mwenta,” before settling onto the ground under the wagon to eat.

With the animals thus taken care of, Yamtwit takes the bucket and opens the spiggot, pouring the milk into the jar, leaving the cream in the bucket. He then pours the cream off into the churn and begins cranking. “Can someone start a fire?” he asks, as he cranks, “It needs heat to clarify.” He then continues cranking, chanting something under his breath as he does so.

Bo

Bo wishes to make himself useful to this group, so he helps unload the wagon and then starts the fire the goblin asks for. Surely the process the greenskin is in the midst of could be done more efficiently with some type of automated contraption, if only Bo knew more about it.

And maybe an adjustable tripod for the goblin to hang his pot from….

Lyra

Lyra looks between the goblin milking his wolf and the cheese Donovan had bought. She turnes to Donovan, whispering in elven. «"Is THAT what you bought from the cheesemonger?"»

Donovan

Donovan climbs down, grabs the tarp and some poles, and starts trying to put up a tent to keep the rain off tonight. «It’s actually pretty tasty,» he replies to Lyra, «and he was able to mend Frantiska’s shattered bones with butter, so who am I to judge what animals he chooses to milk.»

Lyra

Lyra sighs. It’ll be too wet soon to set up the archery targets and practice, nor did she relish the thought of hunting down errant arrows in the bog. At least the cranberries should go well with cheese. Or green beans. Lots and lots of green beans.

Winona

Seeing Donovan fumbling with the poles and the tarp, Winona grabs a couple coils of rope and shows him how to use tension to keep it upright. Donovan looks a bit chagrined at the display of his complete lack of wilderness survival skills, then, in order to save face, blurts out, “So who wants first watch?” He silently congratulates himself on remembering this very basic thing that Lyra had taught him only yesterday.

Sister Rye climbs out of the back of the wagon, sporting a lovely black half-cape (after it had taken some time to convince her that Frantiska really had no desire to keep it or wear it), her arms laden with cloth, needles, threads, scissors, and the other tools of her trade. She spreads a blanket out on the ground under the tarp, smooths it flat, then lays out the supplies she is carrying. She takes out a rope, marked at several points from where she had been measuring Frantiska while she slept (so much easier than wiggling, conscious people) and a piece of charcoal, and begins sketching a pattern for a dress onto the cloth.

Yamtwit

“I will have to be up for a while, so I can help on the first watch,” Yamtwit says as he finishes churning the butter. He lays a piece of cheesecloth over a bowl and squeezes the buttermilk out of the solids. He then takes the solids and puts them into the pot, which he hangs from a tripod over the fire, adjusting the chain to make sure the heat is not too high. He thanks the dwarf for getting the fire ready, then sits stirring the melted butter and chanting late into the night.

Donovan/Winona

“Alright,” Donovan says, “I need to get up early to study my spells, so I’ll double-up on the last watch with Bo.” He starts sorting through their food-stores trying to figure out what to cook.

“I’m going to be up working on this for a while,” Rye says, “so I can help watch too.”

Winona begins taking off her layers of armor, “Alright Bunny. I guess I’ll double up second watch then. Rant you can take middle watch with me and Hrud so the conversations don’t get too boring, and Telly can take last watch. That makes three on each shift, so hopefully no one gets snuck-up on.” She lays her mail pieces of mail in the back of the wagon, so they will be out of the threatened rain. “And Amara, Sweety, You look like you’ve been cooped up in the back of that wagon too long, so you can stay with Lyra, Bunny, and the goblin.” She winks, “Don’t worry, we won’t tell your uncle that you were up late…”

Lyra

About 40 minutes into first watch, Lyra suddenly stops pacing, her head tilted to the side. She shrieks and starts carefully but frantically checking her hair, boots, clothing. “We have a problem. Psionic leeches, and they seem to be all over. And they’ll explode with psionic energy if touched.” She carefully nudges Donovan and Hrud awake, since they seem to be the ones most likely to provide a satisfying meal. “Get up carefully, or they’ll explode. I think if I teleport a short distance, a couple yards maybe, we can get them off safely.”

Donovan/Winona

Donovan groans, rolls over, then sits up. “I know Lyrathwen,” he says lackadaisically, “I forsaw these events ages ago, but such minor pests cannot possibly bother us.” He yawns and stretches, “Now, if you will please excuse me, my vastly superior intellect needs it’s rest.” He lays back down, rolls over, and goes back to sleep.

Sister Rye looks up from her sewing. “Exploding leeches?! Ewwwwwwww!” She stands up and begins shaking out her clothes—both the ones she is wearing and the one’s she is making.

Winona continues to sleep peacefully.

Hrud

Hrud, comes to his feet groggily, wielding his sword at …. nothing apparently. He sees the panicky young woman, hears her incoherent words, then notices the leeches. It takes a moment, but the barbarian finally realizes that if leeches are on Lyra, then they’re probably on him as well. Looking down, he finds that he, too, is being made a meal of. Dropping his sword, he begins to reach for them …

Lyra

Lyra grabs Hrud in one hand and Donovan in the other, and concentrates on moving them, but not the leeches, two yards away.

GM

As Lyra teleports Hrud and Donovan away, there is a small shower of leeches onto the ground near where the two of them were sleeping. They burst as they strike the ground, with a small, harsh sound, reminiscent of a nail striking slate, and a splatter of indigo-coloured ichor.

Donovan

Donovan is jolted awake again by the teleportation, “What what! Lyrathwen! How dare you touch my esteemed presence without proper authorization!” He stands up spluttering, “I am not some common curr to be petted and carried about by a mere child. No one shall displace my magnificence in space or time without my express permission! Do you understand GIRL!”

Donovan harrumphs and stalks back to the fire, his hair becoming matted by the rain. He kicks the sleeping Teldicia, a little to hard, and stands there, hands on his hips, until she awakens. “Girl! Rise and serve!” He glares down at the green-haired tiefling. “I command you to collect these vermin, by which I mean the leeches, not your worthless companions, so that my superior intellect may study them at leisure…”

Yamtwit

Yamtwit sits stirring the melting butter, paying little attention to things further away than his pot. He skims off the foam that forms on the top, collecting this in a small bowl (good over biscuits for breakfast), then continues stirring and chanting. When Lyra suddenly freaks out about leeches, he stumbles over a word and shoots her a glare as if to simultaneously say, You almost ruined my spell and I can’t stop to search myself.

He tries hard to ignore the people jumping and shouting and stripping and continue his important work of making butter. He continues stirring and chanting, carefully reaches his free hand into his pack and pulls out a small pouch of salt which he holds up for anyone who might want to use it to de-leech themselves.

Lyra

Lyra is on the verge of tears between the goblin glaring at her and Donovan yelling at everyone. She delicately lifts her skirts and carefully steps back over to where Rant is sleeping, bending over and gently placing a hand on his shoulder to nudge him awake. “Could … could you please tell Hrud not to touch the leeches, or they will explode?”

GM

Teldicia is awakened by Donovan’s kick, rolling away from the blow and springing to her feat. “What the FUCK Donovan?!” Hearing stammered explanations from several quarters, her brow furrows and a small handful of leeches detach themselves from her flesh and fly through the air, just missing Donovan’s face, and burst on the ground behind him. She quickly looks around the rest of the group, growls, “افتضاح. شما می خواهم فکر می کنم که زالو اش بازمی گرداند که ذهن را بیشتر قابل تشخیص است,” and then numerous leeches begin pulling off of everyone’s skin and flying out of people’s clothing to land in a large heap beside Donovan. “House that for rising?!” she says as a rock lifts up from the ground then smashes down several times onto the pile of leeches. She storms over to the wagon, “If you will excuse me, that headache is coming back…” She looks angrily at both Donovan and Hrud one last time, climbs into the back of the wagon, and is soon fast asleep again.

Bo

Bo awakens groggily at the shriek, hears something about leeches, and falls instantly back into a deep sleep.

Donovan

Donovan stands there for close to a minute, mouth hanging open in complete astonishment, before finally bellowing, “GIRL! COME BACK HERE! HOW DARE YOU DEFY MY EMINENCE, SLAVE! I command you to put those leeches back together this instant!” He stomps over to the wagon and begins banging on the side, “And how dare you leave my esteemed presence without permission! And how dare you make me soil my magnificent hands by banging on this wagon to get your attention! When we get back to the palace I will have you flogged, GIRL! … FLOGGED!”

When it becomes clear the Teldicia is ignoring him, he spins and begins shouting at Lyra, “Lyrathwen! How dare you cry in our superlative presence! Your mother, the queen, would be utterly appalled to know that you were crying! Wipe that snot from your face and go back to bed! AND THE REST OF YOU! BACK TO WORK!”

Lyra

Yelling at Lyra for crying just makes her cry more.

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The Bitter Blades: Session 1: Storm's Musings
Picking up where the GM left off...

Storm clung to the side of the boat, heaving, as they crossed the bay. This was only the second time in her life that she had been at sea (the first was coming to Phlan to begin with a couple months ago), though Nat and Kade kept reminding her that the bay was protected by the island and “didn’t really count” as the sea. Whatever, she thought as she spit a bit of vomit from her mouth, it was close enough. Besides, Tom Builder didn’t look much better off.

The crossing to Thorn Island took less than an hour in Nat’s swift little boat. Across the bay, she could see the big, slow ferry still tied up at the docks. It looked like no one else was going to try the old Keep today. Not surprising given that two groups had failed to return the day before—though maybe that meant that they were just camping out on the island somewhere.

The kobold “hero” was the first to leap ashore. He sure was eager. Nat threw him a rope and he helped pull the boat up onto the pebbly beach, and tied it off to a knotty-looking tree. Up a low hill Storm could see the old stone walls of the keep. The walls were in serious disrepair and heavily covered with slimes, molds, and crusted dried salt. Aside from a few hardy reeds and salt-grasses able to withstand the corrosive salt-spray from the sea, and a couple of withered old trees, she could not see plant-life anywhere on the island. Rising behind the walls, she could just make out the crumbling remains of an old lighthouse and a pair of watchtowers. The state of the island came as something of a shock to one who had grown up traveling between the many lush orchards of the Dales.

Storm climbed out of the boat and practically kissed the shore. Kade asked if everyone was ready to go, so she stood up, straitened her clothes, and checked the many knives she had stashed on her body. She stooped on the shore and cupped some of the seawater in her hand, rubbing it over the front of the leather breastplate she wore under her cloak, anointing the sigil that would guard her against the undead—not good for the leather, but it was better than spitting on her clothes. A faint telltale glow told her it was ready.

She voiced her assent, then looked up at the sky before moving. It was cloudy and threatening storms everywhere this morning, but the clouds that hung over the island were particularly dark. “Well…I wanted some adventure…” she said.

They hiked up the hill towards the gates of the old keep—which were wide open. There were numerous tracks leading up there as well, too numerous to be just from the adventuring bands who had assaulted the keep the past few days. They encountered a brisk wind blowing from the south off the sea as they crested the hill. As they reached the gates, three people, a man, a woman, and an elf, came walking stiffly towards them. Storm waved, thinking they were one of the groups from yesterday looking for a ride back to town, then she noticed their wounds—large, gaping wounds, the kind of wounds which should have been mortal.

Storm was so startled that she almost opened her cloak. Luckily they were slow, really slow. Kade, Tom, and the kobold ran in swinging their clubs and hammers. Given how bruised and hard-looking their skin was, Storm wouldn’t have thought that blunt weapons would have hurt them much, but there were bones underneath and they broke just like any living man’s. After a few seconds of crunching and snapping, the three things fell to the ground, too beaten up to move any more.

Perhaps most disturbing about the dead adventurers is that whatever killed them did not bother to loot them. Actually, on second thought, the fact that all three were decked out as warrior-priests of Tyr was perhaps most disturbing, given the number of undead they encountered later. The three bodies were surprisingly well equipped, and Storm and Kade were quick to take advantage of that. Tom, who had already pointed out repeatedly that the only time he had ever killed anything was a man who stole a pig from him, seemed rather disturbed by their behavior, and the kobold just kept saying “Heroes don’t need money,” and other such nonsense.

Storm also found the body of another elf—not so fresh—just outside the gate after the fight. Just a crumbling skeleton (the non-animate kind) really, its weapons and equipment were badly rusted and corroded by salt, its leathers worm-eaten and crusted in dirt. BUT, it did have a bronze medallion around its neck, heavily patinaed of course, depicting two entwined cherubs, which Storm grabbed.

As they walked into the courtyard, Storm rubbed at the thing with the hem of her cloak, trying to shine it up (wary for genies of course). The wind blew mournfully and Storm could hear the banging of some shutter, sign, or door.

“Um Storm…” someone said.

She saw writing on the amulet. “Storm…” She rubbed harder, she could just make out the word.

STORM!” She looked up to see a small horde of skeletons charging on them. “What does Shestnik mean?” she asked, reading the medallion. The skeletons stopped, lowered their arms and just stood there.

“What did you say?”

“Shestnik. The amulet says Shestnik.” The skeletons saluted and stood at attention.

“Will they take orders?” someone asked.

Storm shruged, turned and said “Hey Shestnik, form ranks by the gates and don’t let anyone else in unless they are a dwarf…” and the skeletons quickly formed up. “Guess so.”

There were a number of buildings inside the walls of the keep—old rotten stables, a round grain silo, smashed storehouses. Storm put on the Amulet and walked boldly across the courtyard towards a partly collapsed, open-air stall which she figured must have once been a smithy, judging by the open hearth, the large anvil in the yard, and the rusting, crumbling tools lying about. Kade and the others followed, still casting wary looks at the skeletons.

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The Bitter Blades: Session 1
The Liberation of Thorn Island: Part 1

Based on the GM’s memory of a late-night session on 05/31/2014 and notes/character intros submitted by the PCs.

Tom sat at a low table, or rather the wooden pallet on the floor of the hovel that served as a table, with his ten-year-old daughter Martha. They passed a loaf of horsebread and a jog of weak beer and talked about her day at work. Martha was newly apprenticed as a shop-girl, working for Ian Cockburn, the grocer inside the walls—quite the good position, and it only cost Tom fifty silvers a week. In just a few years she would be a journeyman shop-keep and be able to actually accept payment for her work, and would be of marriageable age. For now though, Tom had to care for them both, a tough thing for a single father. He took the jug from her and downed the last of it in one long swallow. “Alright Martha,” he said, hugging the girl, “off to bed.” He stood up and gathered up his hammer and tools from the corner. “I have to go talk to a dwarf about a job. Remember to bar the door and not open it for anything but my voice.” He gave a hard look at the walls. Building the hovel had been hasty work, and the wood was all salvage from the ruins, but he was good at his job, and the walls were solid. He lifted the bar, a heavy thing set on a pivot (his own design), that Martha could just barely lift to let him in when he came back. He gave her one last hug, and said a blessing over her, asking Gond for the insight to know if she was in danger. “Good night, I should be back before morning.” He turned and walked out the door, rushing to get inside the city-gates before they closed for the night.

He just missed seeing the small, dark figure climbing over the wall, only five feet from his house.


Gore stood inside the walls of New Phlan, looking up at the rough wooden palisade. He almost laughed at how easy it had been to bypass them. He looked twenty yards to his left at the gate. The guards had refused him entry and even made disparaging remarks about his musk, beloved by kobold women everywhere. He was tempted to go break all their kneecaps, but he reminded himself that that was not his mission here. Shrugging, he turned into an alley and began searching for a bar. Bar’s were always the right place to find hero-work , or so he had been told by that old goblin in the Slums. He thought again of the guards, poor saps—the humans of Phlan must be quite desperate, or so he had told them, waving the flyer that he had found tacked to a tree outside the city. How sad, he had said, that they had to put up posters seeking heros, but how great for them that Goremeyan, Son of Kurtulmak, the great hero of all kobold-kind, had come to save them. Still, they had turned him away at the door. No matter. He had got in by himself and now he just had to show these humans how great of a hero they truly had at their disposal, and for that, he needed to find a bar.


Storm placed two more beers on the table for the dwarf and the halfling, then swept off to take orders from another table. She couldn’t help but hear them talking about the port being closed, but then, everyone was…albeit, usually in less-hushed tones. It had been three days since the last ship of settlers had come in and the Council had declared that the port would be closed, completely, until the things on Thorn Island were dealt with.

She danced around the room, taking and delivering orders, putting a little extra sway in her hips to ensure good tips. Working at the Bitter Blade wasn’t what she had in mind when she came to Phlan, but was a huge step up from picking apples for pennies a day, which she’d been doing since she was a small child, and the rooms over the inn were infinitely better than the migrant camps where she had been raised. She sauntered over to the bar, and handed Gene, the barkeep the next order. Then she heard a loud bang on a table, the dwarf again, she thought.

The dwarf who had been drinking with the halfling was a sailor, judging by his mouth and his garb—rude, but a good tipper. She grabbed her tray and made her way over. The two of them were now sitting with a tall, very very tall, man—a mason probably, judging by the gray dust clouding his beard and the wheezy way he breathed. She walked towards the table, adjusting her dress to show a little more cleavage, not that she had much, and making sure she had her best smile on.


Kade sat listening quietly to all Nat had to say. He knew his work well, and the biggest part of it was making sure to listen attentively when someone who might pay you was talking, and to always laugh at their jokes—even when it was a painful mix of dry, dwarven humor and fish stories. Seeing Tom walk in, he waved him over to the table. Kade and Tom had just met the previous day. Tom was the biggest human he’d ever seen. He was also lot smarter than his tall, muscle-bound frame would let on—Kade had been able to see that from the way Tom dealt with the foreman on the worksite where he had seen him. It was clear that Tom knew more about stone, and measurements, and construction than his employer, and it was a shame to let that go to waste—especially when that knowledge came attached to such long reach and powerful-looking arms. So, Kade had invited Tom on the spot to come with him to meet Nat.

Tom sat down and Nat banged on the table, his way of signalling for more beer. The barmaid who came was a young slip of a thing, probably not more than fifteen or sixteen, slender, and narrow-faced. She clearly tried too hard to make her money, Kade thought, waggling her hips, pulling down her shirt, and smiling too much (always with her teeth closed). Then there were her fingernails, more brightly painted than any he’d ever seen, and the strange sibilant quality to her voice. Kade always prided himself on his observation skills.

As the girl laid another round of drinks on the table, Nat began explaining his plan to Kade and Tom. He wanted to take Thorn Island, he told them. His ship was stuck here as long as the port was closed, and with it his livelihood, so he was prepared to take them across the bay to the island, and even wait for them to return, without expecting any cut of the two-thousand gold the city had put up as a bounty on the monsters inhabiting the old keep there. He, and his captain, had even promised Kade a stake in their next voyage as an added bonus if he was able to put a team together and free up the port again. Kade, of course, had not mentioned this last bit to Tom.

The plan seemed simple—for Nat’s part at least. The port was closed, but he knew a fisherman who had an old sail-boat he would lend Nat to take them across the bay. Just a small thing, unlikely to be noticed by the port authority, and much faster than the ferry which the port authority was using to carry the competition. Most groups going to the island had to go through the council commissioning process, have to deal with piles of paperwork, roster checks, chartering the official ferry from the port authority, and, of course, waiting for the ferry to return to get them off the island. The last part, was what Kade was most concerned about, since, so far as he had heard, none of the groups that went to the island survived long enough for the ferry to pick them up. Nat’s promise to wait, with the boat, for them at the shore of the island meant that they at least had an escape plan if things went south.

Tom seemed interested. He made a point of mentioning that he had never done the adventuring thing before, several times in fact, but yesterday he had told Kade about smashing in the head of a man in the Slums who had stolen a few silvers from his daughter. He was big, smart, and desperate for a better living—and having kin would make him cautious, of himself at least—so Kade was confident that he was the man for the job. Kade just needed a few more sword arms, and maybe a mage if he could swing one.


Storm stayed close to the dwarf’s table, partly because he kept calling for more drinks and laying down extra silver every time the beer appeared quickly, and partly because the talk of the island intrigued her. A lot of adventurers had tried the island in the last few days, none of them returning, but this dwarf seemed to know a lot more than even the Council was admitting to. The halfling asked all the right questions too—coming off as a cool professional as far as killing-monsters was concerned. The dwarf went into detail about the layout of the island’s coastline and the walls of the keep, told stories about the old temple and the fall of the keep, and regaled them with tales about orcs, undead, giant frogs, and scorpions…but mostly undead.

A patron tugged on her skirt and she realized she had not been moving for a few minutes. “Right, what’d’you want?” she asked. Just then Gene shouted and she looked up to see a man running for the door. While she didn’t quite register his words, one look at the barkeep’s eyes told her that the man was rushing to leave without having paid. She pivoted away from the inquiring patron, hiked up her skirt all the way, and produced three knives which went sailing towards the running deadbeat in rapid succession. All three blades sunk into the door, one pinning the man’s sleeve to the door, the other two landing right at head level in front of him. Gene smiled and went to collect the tab.


Kade’s calm professionalism was broken by the barmaid’s display of weapon prowess. He immediately hopped up and grabbed the girl’s hand. “Excellent marksmanship!” he said, “How ’bout you go get us another round of drinks, and then come have a seat, and make sure to bring one for yourself. I see better things in your future than trying to show off your hips for a few extra coppers…”

As Gene led the deadbeat patron away from the door to suffer a drubbing at the hands of the entire staff, the door swung open. Standing in the door, backlit by the dim flicker of a street light, was a small figure, not even as tall as Kade, dark, or at least it seemed so in the dim light, and striking the most ridiculous pose—arms on hips, chest thrust out, chin thrust up in profile—like some kind of penny-novella action hero. Judging by the canine jaw the creature displayed, it was a kobold. “Humans!” the kobold called out, "Have no fear! I, Goremayan son of Kurtulmak, Hero EXTRAORDINAIRE has come! "

Roars of laughter echoed around the tavern. A few patrons shouted disparaging remarks about the kobold’s parentage, some pounded on tables, other threw lewd gestures in the kobold’s direction, one employeee went so far as to yell “Get out of here, we don’t serve your kind, we don’t want you here.” Tom, surprisingly, though, stood up and walked over to the little creature. “You can sit with us,” he said softly. Kade gave the big man a quizzical look, he simply replied, “He claims to be a hero, maybe he could help.”

The barmaid tossed her towel on the bar to indicate she was off duty and returned to the table carrying a tray with five foaming mugs. “So what did you have in mind short-stuff?” she asked, pulling a chair up beside Kade.

“We’re going to go clean out Thorn Island,” Kade replied. “The Council has put up a bounty of 2000 gold for any group that clears it out. Nat here has got a boat and promises to give us transport in exchange for getting the port open again, and actually says he’ll provide rapid evacuation, unlike the Council. The island is known to be used as a staging area for some of the orc groups in the ruins, and the keep is home to a fair number of undead, or so they say. I’ve got plenty of experience with traps, locks, weapons, tactics, and infiltration, so I’ll be leading the operation. Tom here knows a lot about buildings and fortifications. You look like you know your way with a knife, if you’d like to be cut in.” He looks at the dog-faced creature on the other side of the table. “What about you kobold? What sort of Hero are you? The deal is one share each, that’s five hundred gold plus one-fourth of any treasure we find. Which is more than you’ll make in a year of tips working in a dive like this or from slinging stone on the old houses around here.”

The kobold piped up, “I’m Goremayan son of Kurtulmak, great hero of koboldkind! I wield mighty magic and have killed many, many orcs! If the orcs from this island trouble you, look no further than I to vanquish them!”

Storm sipped the glass of beer, listening to the four of them, then set it down and offered the halfling her hand to shake. “Alright, I’m in. When do we sail? I’ll need a few hours to get ready if undead are involved…”

“Meet at the west-end of the docks in the morning,” Nat said. “I’m not going to that island at night.” He adjourned quickly, as they all appeared to be getting light-headed from the kobold’s stench.

Kade nodded and shook hands with each of them, then excused himself and headed for the door. Nat also left. “I have to get back to work,” the barmaid said. Tom rose to leave as well, but the barmaid stopped him, “Hey, can I see that hammer? I’ll give it back in the morning. I might be able to make it work a little better.” Tom shrugged and handed the hammer over, then left.

The kobold sat alone at the table for a long time, slowly sipping his beer (and finishing the dregs of the others’ mugs), before Storm finally had to come by and ask him to leave—the smell was disturbing the other patrons.


Thick stormclouds were massing in the sky as the group reassembled by the docks. Nat was waiting for them by a small, single-masted, cat-rigged lobstering boat, just large enough for the five of them, with a broad beam, and shallow draft. As they were boarding, Storm handed Tom his big hammer back, now etched with a complicated, lightning-like rune in triplicate. “Just bang it on the ground three times if things get hairy,” she told him.

To be continued in Storm’s Musings

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Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 10
Splitting the Party: A fight in the woods...

Frantiska

Frantiska’s muscles tense reflexively as she rides, something in her is itching for a fight. Once they are about 500 yards ahead of the wagon, she slows Thisteldown to a canter and begins looking around expectantly. Trying to ignore the dull pain still persisting in her head, she focuses her mind, seeking for signs of evil in the forest.

GM

Frantiska hears a low growl nearby. She looks around trying to detect evil and her wariness is rewarded. From the woods to her right…and up, she senses something, or multiple somethings, desiring to murder her, quite particularly, a savage, ravenous kind of evil. Thistledown neighs and shies away, then Frantiska spots it…them. A half-dozen or more creatures stalk through the woods towards her. Looking like some horrible, black-furred cross between a wolf and a hyena with large bat-like wings sprouting from its forelegs.

Frantiska feels a strange sense of excitement coming from Kisakhavar, which seems to squeeze her shoulders like a reassuring hug—though not quite that reassuring given that it is coming from her garments. Her mind fills with images of her standing triumphantly atop a pile of dead flying wolf-things, her cloak flapping dramatically in the wind.

One of the creatures, waiting perched in a tree above the road, lets out a loud howl and springs at her.

Frantiska

Frantiska tugs on Thistledown’s reins, turning the horse headon to the lunging creature and draws her longsword—not her first choice of weapons in most situations, but better reach than the spoon. She watches the thing’s movements, preparing to stab as soon as it is within reach and clicks her tongue, commanding Thistledown to be ready to lash out with her hooves if the ones on the ground close.

Donovan

Donovan sits in the back of the wagon, staring at the ground rolling away behind them. Hearing the howl, he stands up and leans out to look around the side of the wagon, holding onto the canopy to keep from falling out. “Frantiska just rode that way,” he yells to the others, “how far away do you think that sound was? Should we go help?” He grabs one of the loaded crossbows, “Rant, can you ask Hrud if he can safely make this thing go any faster?”

Hrud

“«Hold on!»” Hrud slides his bow and spear out from under the seat, placing them in easy reach; he then snaps the reigns, urging the Oxen to close the distance between them and Frantiska.

Donovan

As Hrud begins to whip the oxen, Donovan realizes that maybe asking him to go faster wasn’t such a good idea. He clutches onto the canopy poles for dear life, hugging the loaded crossbow tight to his chest.

GM

With much howling and snarling, the creatures on the ground charge Thistledown snapping at her legs and hindquarters. The horse manages to dance away from most of their snapping jaws, even sending one flying into the underbrush with a well-placed rear-kick, but two of the creatures get through, one latching onto her foreleg with its jaws, the other tearing a great gash in her rump, ripping away a large chunk of flesh and hair and spraying Frantiska with her horse’s blood.

The winged one, meanwhile, flies strait at Frantiska, but misses as Thistledown dances sideways, avoiding the pack on the ground. The thing whips past Frantiska and she manages to slice deep into its side with her sword, cutting a jagged scar and causing it to careen into a tree. It comes up growling and begins to circle slowly, clearly waiting for an opening to get at the rider when the horse goes down.

As Thistledown screams in pain, the sound has a strangely deep, rumbling quality to it. A second later you realize that the rumbling is not coming from the injured horse, and is getting louder, much louder, and fast. Frantiska, and the pack of gnashers, look up to see the wagon barreling down the road at full speed, bouncing wildly over even the smallest rocks. There is a yelp of terror from the pack as they realize that nearly four tons of wood, steel, muscle, hooves, and horns are headed their way.

Two of the pack break off their attack and run for the woods.

Donovan

As the wagon bears down on the pack of creatures, Donovan leans out of the back and fires the heavy crossbow at the largest of the creatures. As the shot goes sailing off into the woods, he tosses the useless thing into the back of the wagon and grabs on tighter against the inevitable impact.

Frantiska

Frantiska screams almost as loud as Thistledown as the horse’s blood soaks into her cloak. She jumps off the horses back into the middle of the pack of ravening beasts and begins slashing wildly about with her sword, trying to drive them away from her horse. She then grabs Thistledown’s reins and tries to guide the horse off the road, keeping it behind her. As she does so, she begins praying fervently to her goddess: Selune! No, please! I can’t lose Thistledown. Not after everything else. Please Lady, if I have done anything to displease you, let them take my life instead, but please spare Thistledown.

GM

Two of the creatures vanish into the woods, running as fast as they can. Frantiska swings wildly, with her sword, keeping the beasts back just long enough to complete her prayer. She suddenly feels an upwelling of power and blue-white light spills out of her, surrounding Thistledown and curing her wounds completely.

As the wagon nears, Teldicia climbs up on the drivers bench, creeps out to the side, and takes a flying leap through the air towards the winged beast which has positioned itself so as to cleanly avoid being hit by the wagon. It cannot avoid Teldicia however, who lands on the thing’s back, her hands crackling with electrical energy and punches the thing several times in rapid succession.

Howling in pain and rage, the thing rolls to the side, pitching the green-haired girl and her stinging fists off of its back, then turns and sinks its fangs into her forearm.

The four remaining members of the pack, apparently too stupid to be concerned about the wagon bearing down on them, lunge past Frantiska’s defenses, piling onto her. Three leap up and bear her to the ground, while the fourth snaps at her, tearing open her throat with its powerful jaws.

As the beasts pull Frantiska down in the middle of the road, Hrud tries to turn away, but cannot. The wagon jolts as the oxen, plow into the gnashers, knocking them in every direction, then run right over Frantiska, crushing her. One of the gnashers is similarly caught beneath both hooves and wheels, and is trampled with many a horrible cracking noise.

As the wagon passes, Brother Rant rolls off the back and lays about with his mace, finishing off one of the creatures wounded by the charging oxen, and landing a solid blow on another. Thistledown, terrified by the passing wagon and enraged by the attacks on her and Frantiska lashes out with her hooves, beating the third one into the dirt.

The last remaining member of the pack, severely injured by both the wagon and Brother Rant, backs away wimpering—incapable of running due to a broken hind-leg.

The winged pack-leader continues to worry at Teldicia’s arm with its vicious fangs.

Donovan

Seeing Frantiska’s mangled body bounce out from under the wagon wheels, Donovan’s heart leaps into his throat, followed closely by his breakfast. He half-leaps, half-falls out of the back of the wagon, catches himself, then pukes a little. Oh gods! What have we done?! He tries to think, he could maybe help her with the rod of health, but there is that giant, winged dog-hyena thing tearing Teldicia’s arm off, and another one of the things still standing, if only barely. The sword? No, I suck at sword-fighting, I just got lucky with that zombie. A sleep spell? That’s only guaranteed to get the smaller one, which won’t help Teldicia. The scrolls?! He fumbles in his pack and tears out the shroud he took off the wight.

He rushes to stand over Frantiska’s body, hoping against hope that she isn’t dead, then looks at Teldicia. I can’t lose two friends in one day. Donovan growls out one of the incantations written on the shroud, his voice barely recognizable through the rage and the unfamiliar syllables. He finishes the last word then shouts, “Go to hell! You can’t have either of them!”

Hrud

“Frantiska!” Hrud, sick with rage and fear at seeing the elf dragged under the wagon with the beasts attacking her, leaps from the wagon and charges, determined to kill the large winged beast still attempting to savage her bloody, battered – and disturbingly still – form.

Yamtwit

A small creature watches from the woods as everyone leaps off of the wagon, leaving only Amara inside, drying out in terror with the oxen still charging down the road. «Rast look, a wagon, and cows,» the creature remarks to his companion, «and they’ve abandoned it. What a stroke of luck! Poor girlie though.»

The small creature turns and ties his donkey to a nearby tree, «You stay here and be careful Bobbers, there are beasties about.» He then climbs onto his companion, clearly unconcerned about the wagon outdistancing them. «Alright Rast, after them, and try not to run too bouncy this time, I don’t want to mess up the spell.»

There is a flash of fur as something large and canine, not too dissimilar from the creatures attacking the party, bursts from the underbrush, a small, brightly dressed humanoid on its back. «Right Rast, up alongside the driver’s bench, then keep it steady, and no snapping.»

The large wolf does as commanded, racing ahead to catch the wagon, the slowing its pace to match it, running alongside, just out of reach of the bouncing wheels. The rider on its back yells, “Girlie, we’re here to help!”, then stands up in the saddle and begins a calm, steady chanting.

GM

As Hrud leaps off the wagon and begins charging the winged creature, a massive wolf, a goblin on its back, springs out of the woods and races after the wagon. At the same time, Donovan complete’s his spell.

The winged beast opens its mouth, as if readying to snap at Teldicia’s face, then stops, its eyes and mouth both widening. It turns, as if fleeing, then springs at a tree, biting and snapping. It attacks the tree viciously, slamming into it with it’s whole body, again and again and again. By the time Hrud reaches it, the creature has smeared the tree with its own blood and brains, beating itself completely senseless, and is easily dispatched with a single blow of Hrud’s sword. Across the road, Rant drops the cowering one with a swift blow to the back of it’s neck.

When the goblin on the wolf finishes it’s chanting, the oxen immediately calm down and slow, to walk, and then to a stop. The beasts are breathing heavily and sweating, but do not seem the least bit concerned about the predator now circling them.

Yamtwit

«Thanks Rast,» The goblin hops off the wolf, «go keep an eye on Bobbers.» He walks over and pats the oxen, talking soothingly to them and checking to make sure they are not injured. He then turns and walks back to take a look at the owners. He eyes the crushed and manged body of the she-elf on the ground, the other she-elf with the torn arm, and the three well-armed men standing surrounded by the bodies of the wolf things. He waves, both in greeting and to show that he is unarmed, and walks up to the big barbarian. «Nice cows, but your women look like they need some help,» he says in Erakic.

Hrud

Hrud sees the goblin talk to the wolf, and then, to his utter surprise, come sauntering over and speak to him! The barbarian points his sword at the diminutive figure, then to the bodies of the dead wolves surrounding Frantiska. “«Yours?»” His muscles tense, anticipating the answer.

Yamtwit

The goblin’s eyes go wide, «What? No. I’m a simple farmer. I have no business with monsters like that?» He rubs the palms of his hands together, as if wiping something off. «But your women. I can help.» He turns and starts walking back to the edge of the woods, «Let me get some butter and I’ll see what I can do.»

GM

Brother Rant rushes over to Frantiska, he carefully shifts her onto her back, checks her breathing, her pulse, and carefully straitens her limbs, checking for breaks. He shakes his head sadly on seeing her knee, then quickly gets to work—washing the wounds with alcohol from a small hip-flask, and bandaging the worst of the scrapes, cuts, and bites.

Yamtwit

The goblin returns moments later, followed by the wolf and a donkey, and carrying a pair of water skins. «Rast, wait here.» The wolf steps in front of the donkey and sits down. The goblin then walks over to where Rant is working, «No, no, no!» he says in Erakic, presuming that everyone would be able to speak with the barbarian. «Don’t pour that slop on her. Use the butter!» He hands one of the wineskins to Rant. «Rub it all over. Only on the skin, mind. And don’t worry if you use it up, I can make more.» He walks around, bending down and looking at her closely. «You’ll probably want to take that dress and armor off of her in order to get to the wounds properly…»

Hrud

“«She’d probably rather die.»” Hrud mutters in reply, half to himself.

GM

Brother Rant looks at the goblin, eyes wide and face turning red. «You don’t treat abrasions and breaks with butter…» He harrumphs, turning back to the work of bandaging her wounds. «If she had dry skin, or a burn maybe….» He shakes his head, clearly flustered by the suggestion. «Thanks for catching the wagon, but please do not waste my time…»

Donovan

Donovan stands there for a moment, so amazed at the sight of the wolf-beast beating itself senseless against the tree that he completely misses the goblin until it is standing right in front of him. He steps away from Frantiska as Rant rushes up, and only then does he notice the goblin, animals in tow, walking around like he owns the place and speaking in what sounds like Hrud’s language. Since the small creature is not immediately attacking, and Rant seems to have Frantiska in hand as much as possible, Donovan rushes over to Teldicia. “Are you okay?” he says, looking at the bite marks on her arm.

Yamtwit

The goblin looks back and forth between the healer and the barbarian, clearly confused. «You want her to die?» He looks completely appalled. «She is your woman. Why would you not treat her properly. You are no better than gnolls if you do not treat your women well!» He stomps around and points towards Donovan, «White-head knows how to treat his woman at least…well…mostly.» The goblin throws his hands up in exasperation and walks over to Donovan, noticing that the man is clearly not paying attention to what he is saying. “Whitehead,” he says in common this time, “your barbaric friends are refusing to give your other woman proper treatment. Can you please explain to the one with the mace that he needs to tear her clothes off and slather her with the butter.” He looks appraisingly at Teldicia’s arm. “This one is fine. She just needs me to put my hands on her, no butter. Go help the other one.”

Donovan

Donovan’s eyes go wide as he realizes what the goblin is implying. He splutters a few times, clearly unsure of how to react, shakes himself, then finally says, “You actually think that would do some good? Not that I object. It just sounds impossible.” He looks at Teldicia and nods, “Heal her first. If you have power, show us, then we’ll take your recommendations into consideration….” Yeah, that sounds reasonable and authoritative, he shakes himself again. Crazy goblin. Butter? He looks over at Frantiska’s body. It’s worth trying anything at this point…and if it doesn’t work, there’s no harm, right. She’s not even conscious.

Yamtwit

“Okay.” The goblin whispers a quiet prayer and gingerly touches Teldicia’s arm. The wound mends instantly and completely. “Now,” he points at the battered body of the elf, “the butter, and quickly!”

GM

Teldicia smiles at the goblin and examines the clean, pink flesh on her arm. “Wow, that’s good work.” She saunters over the Brother Rant, “This goblin knows his stuff, do what he says.” She kneels down by Frantiska, “Here, you’ve probably never done this have you?” She begins removing Frantiska’s armor and clothing. As she opens the front of Frantiska’s dress, she looks up at Donovan and Hrud, “Rant’s the healer…but there is no reason for you two to stare. Avert your eyes!” She carefully pulls the tattered and bloody dress over Frantiska’s head, piling it under her head as a pillow. “Alright…what’s your name…come show us how to use this butter of yours.”

Yamtwit

The goblin saunters over, looking very pleased with himself. He stands over Frantiska, being careful not to touch her, “Just pop the top on the skin and squirt it on her, then make sure to rub it in good, there,” he points at the shattered knee and the surrounding area, “and there,” he points at her neck, “and there”, he points at a large bruise on her chest which might indicated a cracked sternum. He pantomimes rubbing her chest, “Make sure you rub it in reeeeeeal good, or the magic won’t work.”

Donovan

Donovan shrugs and turns away, I’d rather not see her like that anyways, he thinks. He walks over and looks at the dead, winged, hyena-wolf-thing, poking it with a stick. “Anyone know what these things are?” Hearing the goblin’s instructions he can’t help but peek back over his shoulder, more curious about how Rant will react than what Frantiska’s trampled body looks like under the dress.

Hrud

While the sight of a naked woman, especially an attractive elf, might normally trigger a physical response within Hrud, seeing the damage done to her first by the wolves, then by the wagon – a wagon that Hrud himself was driving – only brought pain to the barbarian. Emotional turmoil didn’t make things any less awkward, however.

Hrud liked it when the course of action was obvious: Is there an enemy? Hit it. Are you hungry? Get food. This situation was … a lot harder to figure out. He didn’t totally trust the weird little goblin standing before him, rubbing himself in a weird way. He didn’t feel comfortable standing over them as they worked to save Frantiska, either. He did trust Rant and Teldicia – or, at least, given the amount of time they’d been together, he trusted them enough to save Frantiska’s life. Besides, he could walk a few feet away and still be close enough to help out if treachery was afoot.

Following Donovan, he eyed the wolf that had appeared with the goblin. Maybe it was different than the ones that had attacked. Or, maybe, it was even more dangerous …

GM

The wolf that came with the goblin, now sitting very calmly right in front of the heavily-laden pack donkey, looks quite different from the creatures that attacked you, now that it is sitting still at least. Whereas the creatures that attacked you have taller shoulders and more muscular forequarters, reminiscent of the hyenas that occasionally appear in the grass sea, and dark, almost black fur—not to mention the bat-like wings on the leader—this one is sleek, muscular, and distinctly canine, with none of the confusion of the other beasts. It’s coat is tawny red, and it is large, much larger than any normal wolf that you’ve seen, almost as big as your pony. There is a spark of intelligence in its eyes as it stares at you intently.

Rant looks back and forth between Teldicia, Donovan, Hrud, and the goblin. “Whatever…” he says under his breath. He takes the skin, squirts a thick stream of the clarified, almost liquid butter onto Frantiska, lovely even in her battered state, and begins to rub the stuff all over her skin, with the practiced firmness of a trained physician. He works as efficiently as possible, keeping his head down so that his companions might not notice the redness suffusing his face on handling Frantiska in this way.

As Rant finishes, Frantiska’s skin is left oiling, golden, and gleaming, good enough to eat. For a while, nothing more happens, Teldicia and Rant both look at the goblin with an expression that says “okay, now what?” Then, ever so faintly, there is a creaking, crackling sound. Everyone looks back at Frantiska to see something moving beneath the skin of her leg. The leg straitens and the flattened knee begins to fill out, slowly resuming its original shape. Within about a minute, the wound on her neck has closed and the leg looks almost strong enough to walk on, almost.

Yamtwit

The goblin smiles and does a little self-congratulatory dance at his handywork. He then kneels down and lays his hands on Frantiska, healing the last of her cuts, scrapes, and bruises. «I’m Yamtwit,» he says in Erakic as he finishes his work. «Can I interest you fellows in some cheese?» There is an entrepreneurial gleam in his eye as he asks this. Frantiska lets out a groan and her eyes begin to flutter. The goblin steps back and admires his handiwork, or the person his hands were working on, not that it makes a difference.

Donovan

Donovan walks over, removes his cloak and lays it over Frantiska, hoping she doesn’t immediately notice the state she’s in when she wakes up. “Brother Rant, can you and Hrud move her to the wagon?” He turns to the goblin and offers him a hand to shake, “If your cheese is as good as your butter, Sir Yamtwit, then I would be glad to have some. So, what brings a skilled healer like yourself out into the woods? And with such animals in tow?” He looks at the wolf and donkey, only just now noticing the bulging saddlebags.

Yamtwit

Yamtwit scurries over to the donkey and opens up the saddlebags, taking out several large bricks of a ripe-smelling, pale yellow cheese. “Well, the cheese won’t heal you like butter, but it is delicious and filling and keeps well, perfect for travelers such as yourselves. You can have as much as you like for six silver pennies per brick.” He smiles broadly, and holds up one of the bricks of the cheese to donovan, waving a hand over it and pantomiming inhaling the aroma. “Smells nice, yes? You should just be able to detect the slight nutty undertones of the rennet.” He waits patiently for Donovan to examine it with the attentiveness of an experienced salesman.

Donovan

Donovan looks carefully at the cheese, then at the goblin’s face. “Six silver, for that rot? You must be mad! Look, it’s moldy! I’ll give you two for a brick.” He smiles broadly, clearly enjoying a break from the killing and the drama.

Yamtwit

“Two? Two?! Are you trying to insult me? Me, with a poor dying grandmother? Two?!” Yamtwit’s face also breaks into a giant, ear-to-ear grin, clearly in his element. “Two?!”

Donovan

“Twenty-five coppers then.”

Yamtwit

“What?! Two and a half? I’ve got a village to feed. Fifty three coppers.”

Donovan

“FIfty three?” Donovan’s voice rises slightly, with a note of feigned incredulity and anger. “I could buy a whole sheep for that! Three silvers a brick.”

Yamtwit

“Three?! It cost me four. I’d be ruined if I give this away for three! I’d starve. My village would starve. My POOR DYING GRANDMOTHER would starve.” The goblin throws up his hands, “Look at this again, this is high quality stuff. The best cheese north o’ the Moonsea. Hand crafted by poor goblin artisans from the finest, organically produced warg’s milk. And you want me to give it away for THREE?!”

There is a growl from the wolf, «Laying it on a little thick aren’t you?»

«Shut up Rast, I’m working here.»

Donovan

“Warg’s milk? Four then, and not a copper more.” Donovan rolls his eyes, “Teldicia, are you hearing this? Warg’s milk. who would milk a warg?”

Yamtwit

“Four? Are you joking? A goblin’s got to make a living.” He walks over to the wolf and lifts one of her hind legs. “Look, Rast here sprained an ankle trying to save your cows and you’re only offering us four?” The wolf makes big puppy-dog eyes and makes a clearly fake whimpering sound. “I could get better than four from an tongue-dead Orc. Five, final offer, I won’t take a penny less or may Lord Argentus strike me dead!”

Donovan

Donovan laughs out loud as Yamtwit brings the wolf into it, “Fourty-two coppers a brick.”

Yamtwit

“Done,” Yamtwit yells triumphantly. “One-hundred bricks of cheese, at fourty-two coppers a brick…” He begins unloading the saddlebags.

Donovan

“One hundred bricks?!” Donovan’s eyes go wide, “No one said we were buying in bulk. I’ll take one brick of your smelly wolf-cheese. Thank you.”

Yamtwit

“Just one brick? You haven’t even tried it yet. Once you taste this delectable dairy delight you will be begging me to sell you the other ninety-nine. Then, of course, I won’t. I’ve got customers from Phlan to Thentia lining up for this stuff! I’m back ordered for three years!” The goblin struts around, waving his arms dramatically. “This is your last chance to get in on this DEAL OF A LIFETIME! Act now and I’ll throw in six doses of MAGICAL healing butter for ABSOLUTELY FREE!”

Donovan

Donovan looks at the goblin steadily, “You already gave us the butter.” He sighs, “But you make a good point, you helped our friend, so I guess I’ll buy all of your stinky cheese…” He opens his backpack and shuffles through it, “Actually, I’ve only got 1 platinum, 3 gold, 1 electrum, and 5 silver pieces to my name.”

Yamtwit

“Fine, fine, fine. I’ll take the 9 gold as a down payment. You can have the rest on layaway…” The goblin takes the donkey’s reins, leads her over to the wagon, and begins stacking bricks of cheese in the back of the wagon. “That’s one hundred bricks, at fourty-two coppers a brick, minus the nine gold down. You owe me thirty-three gold, plus twenty-seven per cent annual interest. Plus a ten gold lending fee. Plus Phlan sales tax…” The goblin looks back at Donovan with a gleam in his eye, “Rast, Bobbers, and I will just have to stick with you guys until you pay up…”

Donovan

Donovan sighs again and mumbles, “Lending fee?” under his breath. “Alright Twit,” he walks over to the wagon, checks to make sure Frantiska is comfortable and climbs up, “welcome to the team I guess.”

Yamtwit

“That’s YAMtwit.” The goblin ties off his donkey to the back of the wagon, then goes and climbs on the wolf’s back. “So…where are you headed with your wagon and your cows?”

GM

Rant collects Thistledown and ties her off to the back alongside the donkey and Hrud’s pony. He then climbs up on the driver’s bench alongside Hrud, «So, the crazy goblin is coming with us I guess…»

Hrud

“«He just happened to be wondering in the woods when those wolves attacked?»” Hrud replies in a conspiratorial whisper “«Someone will need to keep an eye on our money, lest we get gobbed.»”

Donovan

Donovan stands in the back of the wagon, hanging onto a pole and sticking his head out to talk to the goblin. “We’re headed for Melvaunt. We’re carrying a shipment of statuary and other objects d’art from Phlan to sell there, and then picking up a shipment of alchemical reagents and spell components to take back for the Training Hall students.”

Donovan begins rubbing his temples as the headaches of the past day resume. Then screams, suddenly overwhelmed by bizarre sensations. Every creak of the wagon, bump in the road, neigh of a horse suddenly sends cascades of multi-colored light across his vision—pulsing in time with the sounds. The many background noises crash upon each other, like waves of color colliding, mixing, parting, growing and shrinking. He screams again and ducks back into the wagon, unsure of whether to close his eyes or cover his ears. He tries the later and finds that it makes no difference, save to make the colors have less of a reference. He tries the former and finds a brief respite.

He opens his eyes a little and looks around, this time in amazement rather than fright. Oh my gods…I can see sound! He sits down on the floor of the wagon and tears through his backpack, coming out with the hurdy-gurdy. He begins cranking and watches as the deep, steady drone appears before him as a solid line of dark blue emanating from the instrument. This is awesome! He begins to play and sits, completely fascinated for several minutes, experimenting with various tones, pitches, modulations, and melodies, watching the play of colors he is controlling. He pulls a bit of wax out of his component pouch and stops up his ears—coming to the realization that he can still experience the music without even hearing it. So, so awesome! He then brakes down crying, realizing that his audiences will probably never experience this…

For a while, at least, he is so caught up in the experience that he completely forgets the pain in his head, the presence of his friends around him, or the news from Lyra that he should be conveying to them.

Hrud

Hrud hears the music and glances back, only to notice Donovan’s … unusual preoccupation with his instrument. Leaning over to Rant, he asks, “«Dawn-of-man didn’t eat the goblin’s butter, did he?»” Glancing back again, he sees Donovan stuffing his ears while continuing to play.“«Possibly a mushroom from the side of the road?»”

Yamtwit

“Art dealers,” the goblin practically beams, “excellent! Fine cheeses and art go hand in hand, all we need now is a vintner and we could make a killing!” He rides along beside them happily, contemplating all the money he could make selling cheeses at fine art auctions…until he realizes that he just sold his entire stock to Donovan. “Hey! You played me! You just wanted all the cheese so that you could mark it up and resell it yourself, didn’t you?!” There is more admiration than anger in his voice.

GM

Once you are moving again, the going is easy. The path through the woods is hard-packed and relatively clear of debris, save for a few smaller branches knocked down by yesterday’s storm. About a mile from your campsite, not far past where you encountered the gnashers, the road turned almost due south, and now, judging by the smell, is beginning to veer back towards the river. Signs of travel increase as you travel further south, especially to Hrud’s trained eyes—the road becomes muddier and develops a distinct hump in the middle, the beginning of ruts from other wagons, their are more, recent boot-prints in the mud, and even the odd humanoid bone or piece of discarded, broken armor along the side of the road, indicating the site of raids by bandits (or worse). As the sun climbs higher, the day become hot, and muggy, the trees shelter the road from the sun and the worst of the heat, but last night’s rain turns into oppressive humidity.

Yamtwit

The goblin, riding alongside the wagon, begins fanning himself. “This is no good,” he says, “I feel like I’m in a dwarf’s forge or something.” He rides up parallel with the driver’s bench, «Do you smell that, Horse-man. We’re getting close to the river, which means we’re close to the Orc Temple. There is a bridge into the city there and lots of orcs. Can your cows walk not on the road?»

Hrud

«A field maybe, if it’s not too wet. A forest would be impossible with this huge wagon». Hrud thinks for a moment, «Are these the Orcs who shoot arrows into the city?»

Lyra

There is a sudden pop of displaced air near the back of the wagon. Lyra releases her grip on the two women in Tyran white robes, one a dark haired woman with a massive flail strapped to her back holding a crate, and the other, much shorter, priestess holding bolts of cloth. “My apologies for the delay. You might remember Sister Winona from when we arrived back at the city, and this is Sister Ryesha.”

Yamtwit

A colorfully-dressed goblin, riding a large red-furred wolf, circles the wagon and stops beside the three girls. «You have a lot of women!» he calls over his shoulder to Hrud. “Pretty Ladies,” he says addressing the new arrivals, “could I interest you in some cheese?…”

Hrud

«Apparently, they pop out of thin air around here.»

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Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 9
Splitting the Party: Lyra's Story

GM

Lyra appears with a small popping noise of displaced air in the middle of the women’s dormitories beneath the temple of Tyr. She hears a muffled “My! People come and go so quickly here!” behind her, and turns to see a surprisingly young novice, or, on second glance, a halfling novice, seated at the table between Winona and Theymr, looking at a large legal tome. Theymr looks up from the book, appearing only slightly surprised, “Miss Lyra, welcome back.” She rises and walks around the table, “What is all this?” she gestures at the pile of paintings Lyra is holding.

Lyra

“My apologies, sisters. My companions are well, but I have dire news for both you and the council.” Lyra shifts the paintings in her arms. “And a few other errands while I’m at it.”

Lyra takes a deep breath, steeling herself for the account of the previous day. “We rescued a girl in the slums from rapers yesterday morning. The orcs were carrying these, apparently signs of favor from Mace. The swords are forged from an alloy native to Baator that gives it its green tint.” She gestures to the broadsword at her hip. “Secondly, we were attacked by undead in the night. One zombie, one skeleton, one wight. Despite the removal of its arms and head, the zombie spoke. ‘We are for you. We’ll be back’. I’ve not known zombies to be capable of speech, but it is most unsettling, as is what the lady Frantiska had to say of the graveyard itself. No signs of life, not even insects or graveworms. Upturned earth. A sense of pervasive evil, as if the entire grounds were plotting.”

Winona

Winona’s face lights up, “Baatorian iron!? Really?” She practically springs over the table, “May I see it?”

Lyra

“With the symbol of the Xvimlar on the guard.” Lyra carefully unsheathes the sword and, if there is enough room for it, places it on the table for inspection.

Winona

Winona adjusts her glasses and leans down to examine the blade closely. “You said you found more than one of these? I’ve never heard of so much of the stuff in one place….though, I guess you did mention finding a gate to Baator in the slums.” Her arms twitch slightly, as if she is trying to restrain herself from clapping. “You always find the most interesting things,” she pauses, “Well, interesting and also quite frightening for the people of this city.”

She lifts the blade and looks at it again. “Sister Theymr, please inform the Bishop that Rye and I are going to have to engage in some field work.” She hands the sword back to Lyra. “You’ve found more signs of fiendish activity in the area in two days than I have in all the months I’ve been here, Lyra. Let me run to the armory and get my things, then Sister Rye and I are coming with you…”

She turns to the short novice, “Ready Rye?” The halfling’s eyes widen and her face goes start white.

Lyra

“Coming with me? I can tell you where we’d found them, but I hadn’t intended to return there. Of the orcs in the warehouse next to the fortune teller’s stall in the slum market, three had these green-bladed swords. I have one, Donovan and Hrud the others.”

GM

Sister Theymr moves closer to Winona, “While investigation of diabolical influence is your vocation, and the Bishop has offered you much freedom in that area, I am the mistress of novices and I do not believe Sister Ryesha is ready for the the kind of encounters you are implying.” The old woman’s otherwise kindly face looks quite stern as she says this. Ryesha, for her part, withdraws a little, her tiny frame allowing her to easily hide on the other side of the table, just her eyes and ears peaking up over the edge, looking very much like a hare peaking out of a tuft of grass to watch for predators.

Winona

Winona splutters slightly, then smiles, “Sister Theymr, I am entirely within my rights to request an aid for my fieldwork and I can think of no sister better to take along than our little bunnykins here. Her skills will be particularly useful, and she needs some real-world experience, and both Brother Rant and I will be there to watch out for her.” She turns as if that is the final word on the matter. "Lyra dear, we don’t have to go back to where you found the things. The fact that you’ve stumbled upon all of this, apparently by accident, and keep coming back to us can’t be a coincidence. Tyr has lead you to me to guide me to his work. Even that thing you claim the zombie said “We are for you. We’ll be back.” Clearly whatever demonic forces at work in this area are seeking you out Dearie, and I need to be there to stop them."

She pushes her glasses back up her nose and heads out into the hall, “I need to go get my things and we’ll meet you by the main doors. Come on Rye, it’s time to go have some fun!”

Lyra

Lyra carefully sheathes the sword once more. “While her enthusiasm is appreciated, I’m not sure she realizes that I will be rejoining my companions on their way to Melvaunt. Once again, I apologize for the disturbance, Sister Theymr. Aside from some mud and bruises, Brother Rant is well. He was very brave against the undead, and we are glad to have him accompanying us.”

GM

Sister Theymr watches Winona walk out, “Well Ryesha, it seems that you have your first mission, however unorthodox it’s assignment. Please remind Winona that her ability to hold you to sisterly service is limited to two weeks, after which time we will need you back here to resume your studies.” The halfling girl gives a small, almost frightened squeak, hitches up the hem of her robes, and runs after Winona. “It is no disturbance, Miss Lyra, Winona knows her mandate from Bishop Braccio well. Please make sure the Council and the Bishop are acquainted with your findings. Also, while you appearance here today is fine, Vicar General Walleran has informed us that, with the closing of the harbor, we are to limit our hospitality to those in a state of legitimate suffering or who are here on business of the faith in the future.” She bows, “May Tyr watch over your travels,” and returns to her reading.

Lyra

Lyra carefully picks up her stack of paintings again. “Do I need to request an audience with the Bishop, or simply pass on an account of what we have uncovered?”

GM

“The Bishop sits on the Council,” Sister Theymr says. “If you wish to speak with them, you should petition the clerk.”

Lyra

“Thank you, Sister Theymr.” Lyra decided it would be best if she found a buyer for the paintings before waiting for the council to deign to become available.

Lyra proceeds upstairs to wait on Sister Winona and Sister Ryesha, so she could at least inform them that she was heading to the temple of Sune. As she headed to the main doors to the temple, she looked around for any sign of the sister from Half-a-Loaf yesterday.

Winona

Winona and Rye head into the armory and begin suiting up. Winona dons a full suit of double-linked chainmail, along with steel bracers, boots, and an open-faced helm. She then throws her robe and holy symbol on over the armor. She looks around at the weapons hanging on the walls and takes a huge, two-handed flail, the head made of silver and shaped like a pair of intersecting axes. She straps this 25-pound monstrosity to her back, then grabs a pair of metal bars linked by a chain in the center and stuffs this into her belt. She stretches a bit to make sure she can move in the armor, then, satisfied that she is ready to go kick some devil butt, turns and looks at her diminutive companion.

Rye stands looking at her agape, still dressed in just her white robes and ceremonial coif. “Rye,” Winona says, “you should probably make sure you’re ready for a fight. There are devils out there to deal with.” The halfling women makes another frightened squeak, walks over to a weapons rack and grabs a harness with numerous sheaths attached to it. She takes off the robe, dons the harness over her similarly white chemise, then grabs handfulls of knives and begins stashing them everywhere. Finally she takes a large hunting knife, almost a sword for the small woman, and sticks this in a sheath attached to the back of the harness at the waist, then puts her robe back on over all of it, concealing the many weapons. “Ok,” she squeaks, “ready as I’m going to get.”

Winona looks at her incredulously, “You know the quarter-master will let us take our pick of armor, right?”

“Yeah, it’s all just too heavy.” She looks around nervously, “Besides, armor just makes it take longer to get dressed again if I have to…you know…”

“Alright Rye, lets go find Lyra and see what Tyr has in store for us.”

“Oh, Sister Winona,” the small woman squeaks again, “Theymr said to make sure I’m back within two weeks…”

Winona sighs, “Yes Sister. We mustn’t break the rules, musn’t we?”

Winona and Rye come up the stairs into the main entry hall, accompanied by much clinking from the former. Winona waves a mailed fist at Lyra, “So where are we off to first dearie?” She looks at the stack of paintings, “Becoming an art dealer?”

Lyra

Lyra kept her voice quiet. “Among the things in the tower on the weir, these seemed like the easiest to get here. And with funds from that I can replace our ruined food stores and bow. First, finding a buyer, then making my report to the council, or at least an appointment to report to the council. Then shopping.” Lyra perks up visibly at that last part. “Let’s start with the Temple of Sune, they like art, right?”

Winona

Rye pipes up, “Yep.” She pushes hard on the large doors, opening them wide to let Lyra through with the paintings. As they walk out she pipes up, “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Ryesha Whiteears, I was just transferred here last month from the Neverwinter diocese. I just finished my training.” She walks along beside Lyra, with a strangely exited, springy stride—almost bouncing across the square between the temples. She looks closely at Lyra’s dress, “Your clothes are pretty nice, but they’re not in the best of shape, are they? Your dress could use hemming…”

Winona smirks and mumbles, “Don’t be rude Rye. A few days of adventuring and I’m sure our robes will look even worse.”

“Not with me around!” Rye squeaks.

Lyra

Lyra smiles at the young priestess. Her enthusiasm was contagious. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Ryesha. I am Lyrathwen Alethiel Beragaion, originally from Waterdeep. This dress is actually one I bought just recently as a spare. Although I do think this shade of green favors my coloring.”

“Sister Winona, how are things in town with the harbor closed? Given what I’ve seen less than a day out of Phlan, I imagine relying on land trade routes is impeding quite a bit.”

The square and the temple to Sune were just as she remembered them. “Would one of you mind getting the door for me?”

GM

You wander across the square, getting some add looks from various passersby, presumably because of Lyra’s unusual burden. The doors of the Temple of Sune are open this morning. Several priestess and celebrants lounge on the steps and you can hear the sounds of a string quartet coming from inside. As you walk up with your pile of paintings, one of the lounging priests, a bare-chested, well-oiled, red-haired man dressed only in a kilt springs. “Ladies,” he says with a sweeping, perfectly executed bow, “what brings you to Sune’s house this fine morning?” He glances at the painting on the top of the stack approvingly, “What a lovely piece, it goes with your eyes…”

Lyra

“I had heard that the Temple of Sune might have an aesthetic appreciation—” Lyra’s eyes drift downward and then snap quickly back up to his face as her ears start turning redder than his hair. “—for such things. As it happens, these are available for the right offer. Some of them are quite striking.”

GM

The priest seems completely nonplussed by Lyra’s embarrassment, instead giving another sweeping bow and gesturing towards the temple entrance. “Excellent,” he says. “I’ll show you to the gallery and we shall see if the Procurator is interested. Follow me.” He pivots gracefully and leads the way with a practiced swagger, flexing far more muscles than should be necessary for the simple motion.

Through the doors you find a large, opulent domed atrium. Beautiful furniture, clearly selected for both comfort (especially when lounging, which seems to be a popular activity around here) as well as for aesthetic value, sits clustered in several groupings designed to facilitate intimate conversations for twos, threes, or fours. Every available nook is filled with statuary, with a particular preponderance of tastefully nude humanoids, or beautiful potted plants. The walls are hung with paintings and tapestries in all manner of styles, as well as with silk curtains, which you can only assume lead to the other areas of the temple. The centerpiece is a large, bubbling fountain depicting a multitude of nymphs and cherubs. The base of the fountain is engraved with the words “Beauty issues from the core of one’s being and reveals one’s true face to the world.” The string quartet you heard earlier sits just beside the fountain playing a minuet. The performers are all priests by the look of them and are surrounded by a group of about a dozen congregants (easily recognizable as such by their not being perfect physical specimens and their inconsistent fashion sense).

The priest who led you in gestures for you to take a seat on a nearby settee and excuses himself to go look for the Procurator.

Lyra

The beautiful music and impeccably dressed and coiffed clergy make Lyra acutely aware of the fact that she is probably a bedraggled, travel-stained mess. Perhaps she should get cleaned up before trying to speak with the council.

Lyra perches on the edge of the settee, carefully setting the paintings down next to her.

Winona

Winona and Rye sit down beside Lyra. Winona looks around at the various artworks, “Sunites have fine taste,” she says quietly, “but not much between the ears. Still, I bet we could get a nice glass of wine out of the deal if you asked politely and fluttered those eyelashes of yours.” She adjusts her glasses, looking her most prudish, then says in a conspiratorial whisper, “Actually, knowing Sunites, you could probably get half-again as much for those paintings if you were showing a little more leg and some cleavage…”

Sister Rye makes a sound that is half tsk and half giggle, “Sister Winona, you shouldn’t say such things.” She hops off the settee and looks around, “Everyone looks so pretty here, though. I wonder who makes their clothes?”

“Why? Are you looking to undercut the kilt market?”

Lyra

Lyra looks moderately scandalized at the suggestion, but then seems to consider it for a moment. “I don’t suppose that would help up speak to the council any faster, would it?”

She looks around at the fine curtains and statuary. “Does most of this come from the ruins, or is it imported?”

Winona

Winona shrugs, “I’m not an art critic. I presume most of it comes form the ruins though. Some of it might also be new. The Sunites usually try to show off the works of local artists whenever possible.”

Lyra

Lyra observes the clergy with their practiced courtesy and easy flattery. “A proper young lady remembers her courtesies, and dresses in a manner that is both flattering and appropriate. A well educated young lady is able to converse on nearly any topic, and can both appreciate, play, and compose music. A dutiful young lady helps those in need, and is mindful of her elders.” She turns back to the Sisters. “I’m sorry, I was just reminded of one of my tutors in Waterdeep, though I could scarcely imagine her in such outfits.” She put a hand to over her mouth, stifling a giggle.

GM

The priest returns, followed by an older woman, perhaps in her early fifties, but still the epitome of grace and elegance. The priest makes his sweeping bow again, “Ladies, allow me to introduce Priestess Poise, Chief Procurator of Sune’s gallery here in Phlan.” He sweeps one more bow for good measure, then excuses himself. Poise, living up to her appelation, stands perfectly tall and strait, looking down her nose at Lyra. “So you are an artist?” she asks, with just a touch of incredulity.

Lyra

Lyra self-consciously sits up straighter, shoulders back, head high, hands folded on her lap. “It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Lyrathwen Alethiel Beragaion, and I am no painter, but I sing and play the harp, and hope to continue my training with Professor Loughgren. These paintings were recovered from the ruins of the tower on the weir near Veljevo Castle. Some of them have been slightly damaged by the moisture, but I am sure there are none more suited to restoring them to their former glory.”

GM

The woman gives Lyra a distasteful look, “Oh, an adventurer,” she says quietly, and none too politely. “From near the castle you say? Well lets have a look at them.” She picks up the first piece and begins examining it carefully. She stares and mmhms for several minutes, then sets it aside and begins examining the second. This process repeats with each of the four, taking close to half an hour, during which she neither looks nor speaks to any of you. Finally she carefully sets down the last one and looks Lyra in the eyes, “You have a good eye for looting at least. The first painting is exquisite. The man with the parrot is discolored, but in such a way that it actually adds to the composition, one which I am sure Priestess Joy will especially like.” You take a second look at the painting she is indicating and realize that the muscular, bare-chested sailor would fit right in with the rest of the decor. “This one,” she says indicating the tiger, “is more damaged, but represents a style I’ve not seen before, so I’ll take it for the novelty. I can give you fifteen-hundred for the three of them. The whip,” she says the word like it is something obscene, “I have no use for.”

Lyra

Lyra saw no point in haggling with someone who so closely remembered her etiquette tutor. But of course she didn’t want the biggest one. I’ll be lugging it around town all day at this rate. She smiled politely. “I accept your offer.”

GM

“Very well,” Poise makes a small golf clap and the priest from before practically appears beside her. She waves her hand at the paintings, “please take all but the largest of these to the archives.” The priest makes his sweeping bow again, “Ladies,” then scoops up the paintings and disappears with them behind one of the silk curtains. “If you will please follow me,” she says, “we’ll see to your payment.” She pivots gracefully, her long skirt twirling behind her, and heads for another of the silk-disguised side-rooms.

Lyra

Lyra whispers to the Sisters “Any idea who would be interested in procuring a painting of a whip?” Lyra once again carefully picks up the large painting, and follows the priestess.

Winona

Winona looks at the painting tucked under Lyra’s arm, “Actually, dearie, I believe that painting is an archaic holy symbol of Loviatar…”

Rye hops around to Lyra’s other side and looks at it too, “I’m pretty sure Sister Winona’s is right, Miss Lyra. It’s a good thing you pointed out that you didn’t paint it…”

Lyra

Lyra sighed. I_ hope the others are having better luck than I am._ “I suppose that explains her tone. If that’s the case, I’m not sure a motivated buyer is someone I’d be interested in dealing with. Let’s try Aylaran’s Silver Shop then. I need to see if there are any bows there. And of course the clerk’s office. Do you know how long it will take to speak with the council?”

Winona

Winona shrugs, “I guess that depends on what you have to say, dearie. The council should be in session, but sometimes the waiting list can be quite long to see them. You might have to part with some coin if you’re in a hurry.”

GM

Priestess Poise leads you through a bright red curtain into a small, well-appointed office. She gestures for you to have a seat on a divan, then kneels on a cushion in front of a small chest, carefully opening each of three locks. “Do you have a preference of gold or silver?”

She stops and looks back at you, again with that head-held-high, down-the-nose, appraising quality. “Nevermind. You’ll want to carry it,” she puts a rather distasteful emphasis on the word carry, as if that is something that should be beneath Lyra, “so it will have to be gold.” She takes a small, hardwood box from a shelf next to the chest and carefully counts out fifteen gold bars, each about five inches long, and places them in the box. “Thank you for your contribution to our gallery,” she says, standing and handing the box to Lyra. “May you find love and beauty in all your future endeavors.”

Lyra

Lyra carefully sets the painting down, facing away from the priestess as she accepts the box and tucks it carefully into her backpack, and then once again picks up the painting. “Thank you.”

Winona

Winona and Rye duck back out of the curtain. “She didn’t even offer us drinks,” Winona complains once they are out of earshot. She heads for the door, “Silver shop next? So what are you going to do with all that gold dearie?”

Lyra

Lyra nods. “Yes, the silver shop. Frantiska needs a new bow after she fell in the river and hers was ruined, and then we need to replace some of our food in favor of something less … fragile. Then I will split the remainder with my companions once we catch up to them. Beyond covering training costs and getting some extra clothes since I seem to keep having to give mine away, I hadn’t really thought about it…”

Winona

Winona heads out of the temple and leads the way across the street to the silver shop, holding the door open for the others. Rye walks close by Lyra, “If we’re going to be coming with you, I could take care of your dresses. It’s a lot more economical to buy fabric, and needles, and thread than pre-made, cheap, crappy dresses. Not that you have problems with money…”

“…I could make such pretty dresses for you…” Rye’s gets a wistful, far-off look in her eyes.

Lyra

“I’ve half a mind to get breeches, tunic and jerkin if I’m going to be an adventurer.” Lyra grinned, mimicking the procurator’s distasteful tone. “I can only imagine the look on Mother’s face. But I’m rather sure she scries on me, so I should probably refrain. She despairs of creating a proper lady out of me enough as it is.”

GM

As you walk into the silversmith’s shop, the first thing that catches your eye is a beautifully carved, recurved self bow, a full six feet in height and reinforced with silver bands hanging on a display rack on the back wall. Silver goods of all kinds, ranging from mundane plates to brightly polished swords and shields, are lined by on shelves and racks around the room. The center of the space is a workshop, with a small forge, and numerous molds, punches, hammers, vices and other tools. The proprietress, an elven woman with dark short-cropped hair, stands at a bench, armed with a magnifying glass and a pair of small pliers, carefully assembling on a very fine chain.

Lyra

Lyra gazes longingly at the exquisitely crafted bow, trying to remember all of the points Frantiska had made when evaluating bows at Jerome’s. But it’s clearly more than she can afford. She sets the painting down carefully, leaning it against the counter. “I don’t suppose you buy artwork?”

GM

The woman sets down her tools and looks up at Lyra, “I’m sorry miss, I generally do not buy things from people who walk into my shop, but I will take them in trade. If you need to liquidate something you found in the ruins, your best bet is Jerome’s Pawn Shop on the other side of the wall.”

Lyra

Lyra nods. “Very well, then how much would this piece be worth to you in trade? We’ll have need of silver weapons where we’re headed. I suspect the bow is more than I’m willing to part with, but what are you asking for it?”

GM

The lady smiles, “The bow will set you back seven thousand, five hundred gold pieces. It belonged to my late husbands and you’ll not find a finer one in all the north.” She looks at Lyra’s arms, “Though I doubt you’d even be able to string it.” She walks around the workbench, "May I?’ she says, indicating the painting.

Lyra

Lyra props up the frame so she can better see the painting. “Of course. Do you have any other bows, perchance?”

GM

The woman takes her magnifying glass and begins examining the painting, though she seems to spend more time looking at the frame than the actual artwork. “Yes,” she says, still staring through the glass, “I have a couple more bows in the back. I am also friends with a fine bowyer in Eleventree if you would like something specific—though with the harbor closed it may be some months before I could have it here.” She places the glass back on the workbench and finally looks at Lyra again, “I can’t say that I’m a fan of the painting, though I suppose I might be able to find a buyer. The framing is very nice though.” She steps away from the workbench and heads towards a small back room, “Let me get the bows for you to look at and we can discuss trade.” As she goes, you notice that she walks very erect and that you can still see her eyes, reflected in numerous mirrors, shields, and plates set on shelves around the room—and you are sure that she can also see everything going on in the shop.

Winona

Winona yawns and leans against the workbench and looks around the shop, “You know dearie, just judging from the short time I’ve known you, you spend way too much of your life shopping…”

Lyra

Lyra shrugs. “If you’d prefer to travel to Melvaunt with a bowless archer and past wights in the woods without enough silver, I’d rather not stake our lives on the hope that a talking severed head is an oathbreaker as well as a zombie.”

Winona

Winona laughs, “I was kidding dearie. It never hurts to be prepared…and well armed.” Rye’s eyes, meanwhile, get very large, “Did you say wights?!”

Lyra

Lyra nods. “We just saw the one, but I assume there are more. I’m thinking silver arrows, silver crossbow bolts, a dagger for me, a replacement bow for Frantiska, and …” she looks down at Sister Rye. “Do you have something silver, or shall I add something to the list?”

Winona

Sister Rye looks terrified at the thought, “Umm…no,” she squeaks. “You don’t need to buy me anything…I don’t think I could fight a wight regardless…”

“Yeah,” Winona says, “our little Bunny here isn’t really the fighting type.”

Lyra

Lyra concentrates, reaching out to Donovan. After a false start, she manages to find him. “Mr. Donovan? I’m at the silver shop. The Sunites took three paintings for fifteen hundred, and she’ll take the other in trade. I was thinking we’ll need more silver arrows, and maybe some bolts just to be safe. Could you ask Frantiska what sort of bow she’d like?”

Donovan

At the mental mention of Frantiska, Donovan starts crying, No, he thinks. Images of the fight with the wolf-things and of Frantiska’s crushed and mangled body play in his mind for Lyra to observe. We have a new companion tagging along. A goblin cheese-merchant. He was able to repair Frantiska’s leg, though she is still unconscious. We’re trying to make her comfortable. Rant says that she’ll still need several weeks to recover.

Oh, Donovan thinks, we also owe the goblin fourty-ish gold pieces, so don’t spend it all.

Lyra

Donovan gets the sense that Lyra is clearly in shock, and several seconds pass in silence as she fights to keep enough focus to maintain the link. “If I’d been there…” Lyra cuts off abruptly as wherever that thought was going was not being transmitted. More seconds pass in silence. “Two of the Sisters of Tyr have insisted on accompanying me. I won’t be able to come back the way I came, between them and the weight of the bullion. If I rest up, I should be able to take us past the worst of it, and catch up on foot. Elsewise, I might be able to dream travel to catch up where you camp in the morning. I still have to meet with the council. As for your cheesemonger, there’s platinum in the box we recovered from the ruins, and I think some coins from the tower in the extra sacks. If you need me before I contact you again, Hrud should be able to find me, if not actually establish a connection, and I think I should be able to tell he’s doing it.” The thoughts came quickly, almost running into one another, as Lyra tries to get it all out while she’s able to maintain her composure. Donovan feels an almost crushing wave of disbelief and sorrow just before the connection breaks.

GM

Lyra comes to her senses to find the owner of the silver shop standing right beside her, three bows held in her arms, looking very concerned. “Miss? Miss? Are you well?”

Lyra

Lyra’s eyes slowly begin to focus on her surroundings. “I … I’ll be fine, just give me a moment. What do you have in silver daggers and crossbow bolts?” She couldn’t even stand to look at the bows right now.

GM

The woman sets the bows on the workbench. “How many are you looking for?”

Lyra

Lyra places a hand on the counter to steady herself. “One dagger. How much for a case of bolts?”

GM

She places a dagger on the workbench, “Five gold for the dagger, and five gold per case for the bolts.”

Lyra

Lyra nods. “And what can I get in trade for the painting? It did have a lovely frame.”

GM

“Tell you what, you can keep the painting. I’ll give you one of the bows, the dagger, and a case of bolts for the frame.”

Lyra

“Deal. I’ll also take an additional case of bolts and a quiver of arrows.” When did it get so dim in here, everything’s reflective. Lyra rubbed her temples, as if that would stop her head from swimming.

GM

The silversmith gathers up the indicated items, “That will be ten gold for the additional ammunition.”

Lyra

Lyra shrugs her backpack off of her shoulder and carefully removes the heavy box from her bag, and then removes one bar from her box and places it on the counter, before carefully closing the box and returning it to her pack.

GM

The smith suddenly looks much more attentive, “Is there anything else I can get for you, Miss?”

Lyra

Lyra’s eyes scan over what little jewelry is in the shop. “I might be interested in commissioning a gemstone pendant when I get back from Melvaunt, but this will do for now.”

GM

The smith nods, looking a little disappointed. She walks around the workbench and takes out a set of scales, calipers, a diamond-tipped scoring pen, and an axe. She carefully checks the stamps of mint and purity on the gold bar then weighs it. She then measures out one-tenth of the length of the bar, and scores it deeply with the pen, reserving the scrapings. Then makes one clean cut along the score with the axe, the sharpened steel easily cleaving through the soft metal. She then weighs the bar, weighs the piece she cut, weighs the scrapings, weighs them all together, and then weighs them all again. “Would you like to verify, Miss?” she asks, offering the scales for you to look at.

Lyra

Lyra had already decided she liked the silversmith, but looked at the scales and then nodded at her, only vaguely trying to recall what she’d heard about what you’re supposed to be watching out for.

GM

The woman takes the scrapings and the smaller piece and sets them aside, then hands the rest of the bar back to Lyra. She takes her gold and walks back into the back room, this time turning a corner to where you cannot see her in the mirrors. She returns to view a moment later, sans gold, and brings a bundle of silver-headed arrows and bolts from the back room. “Here you are. Did you decide on a bow you like?”

Lyra

Lyra removes the case from her backpack and places the remainder of the bar inside. She chooses the bow that seems most appropriate for Frantiska, strings it, and tests the draw. “This one.”

Winona

Winona smiles, “Great, let’s go kill some demons!” Rye looks considerably less enthused.

GM

The smith then turns over the painting, carefully opens the frame, removes the canvas, and hands it to Lyra. “Please come back any time, Miss.”

Lyra

Lyra places the bolt cases in her backpack, but keeps the bow and quiver easily accessible. At Winona’s outburst, she recalls a winged hyena throwing of Teldicia as the pack surrounds Frantiska, knocking her to the ground and tearing out her throat. Lyra fights back tears as she rolls up the canvas and heads out the door. Outside, she pulls her hood up, no longer able to contain the wracking sobs, but not wanting the Sisters to see her like this.

From the silversmith’s, it was a short walk to the clerk’s office. Too short, Lyra thought. She stood outside for a moment trying to regain her composure before opening the door and heading inside.

Winona

Winona and Ryesha stop on the way out to look at a few pieces of jewelry, “Come on Bunny, we need to keep an eye on that girl. She has a way of coming and going quite suddenly.” They jog out of the store and across the street to the Council Hall. “Hey Lyra dear, were there any other errands you needed to take care of after talking to the Council? Rather than following you around all day, maybe we could knock a couple things off your list?”

Lyra

Lyra sniffles again and looks up, her eyes red and watery. “Oh. Yes. Um.” She focused on her breathing. Deep calming breaths. “We need food that travels a bit more … safely … than glass jars of pickled vegetables. Maybe some dried mushrooms and dried vegetables? At least two sets of extra clothing. Maybe a scroll case we can put this canvas in. And a boot sheath for the dagger. Is there anything else you can think of that we’d need? I’m not sure how long it will take us to catch up to the cart on foot.”

Winona

“Well, dearie, I think I can remember all that. Would you like Rye and me to go fetch those things for you? We could just ask Ian to open a tab.”

Lyra

“I … yes, that would be good.” Deep breaths. “I’ll meet you there as soon as I can, then I can pay and we’ll be on our way.”

Lyra shrugs off one backpack strap and fishes out the box. Leaning over it so her cloak obscures it from passersby, she takes out the gold bar, and places the box back in her backpack. “This should cover most of it.” She slips the heavy bar to Sister Winona. Three more slow, deep breaths, and she opens the door to the clerk’s office, hand trembling. Time to face the council, and likely, her mother.

Lyra was almost relieved to see her mother sitting at the clerk’s desk. She waited quietly as a haggard man with a bandage wrapped around his head and over one eye and a makeshift sling on his left arm finished his paperwork. After he left, she approached the desk. “I have a report for the council regarding the undead in the area.”

Faelana finished writing a note in the large book in front of her. She looked her daughter over head to heels, noting the fraying edge of her cloak, the dried too-dark mud on her boots, her tangled hair, her reddened eyes, the elven bow and quiver of arrows, the sword at her hip, and most importantly, the protective spell still in place. “A written report is sufficient in such cases.” She hands her daughter a form to complete. “I presume this is regarding the matter you mentioned this morning, Lyrathwen?”

“Yes, Mother.” Lyra took the form and sat down to recount the events from both passing the graveyard and the attack on their camp.

“Mr. Leitch’s position as Herald is unfilled if you wish to reconsider this nonsense.”

Lyra hesitated. “No. I’ve accepted a commission and I will see it through.”

“Very well,” Faelana replied, although her tone indicated it was anything but. “You will need another form for reporting the Baatorian iron swords.” Faelana narrowed her eyes disapprovingly at the sword on her daughter’s hip. “I shall examine it to confirm your suspicions.”

Lyra carefully drew the sword, and handed it to her mother hilt first, then picked up the indicated forms. Faelana’s brows furrowed as she turned over the sword, not at all liking what she saw. “You said there were two others?”

“Yes, Mother. It’s all in the report.” Lyra had to keep pausing her writing because her hands were shaking too much. Lyra placed the completed papers on the desk, and resheathed her sword.

Faelana took both sets of papers, and made some notes in her tight, precise handwriting. “There is a reward for information regarding the undead. Wait here.” With a swirl of skirts, she disappeared into the other room. Not long after, she returned with a few gems and a scroll.

Lyra accepts the bag of gems and the scroll. She checks its contents before tucking the bag of gems into her belt pouch. A fire opal, two agate, and a chunk of jet with pyrite inclusions. “Do you know what’s on the scroll?”

Faelana raised an eyebrow as she returned to her seat at the desk. “Two Restoration spells. Do make an effort not to need them.”

Lyra could only nod in agreement. “I will make every effort to return from Melvaunt safely, Mother. I … I should be going. We’ll want to be well past the graveyard before it starts getting dark.”

The door was closed and the sound of the chime fading before Faelana could ask who ‘we’ happened to be.

Winona

Winona and Rye hurry across the plaza and behind the Training Hall to Ian Cockburn’s Grocery. A small bell rings as they enter, barely audible over the clanking of Winona’s armor. Rye bounces into the store behind her. The face of the young man behind the counter goes white at the sight of the heavily armed and armored priestess. “Sisters!” he says with false cheerfulness, “What brings you in today?” He wipes his hands on his apron and starts to come around the counter, “Surely you’re not holding last night against me…”

Winona glares at him over the rim of her spectacles, “Don’t worry Ian, you won fair and square last night. We’re here to give you more money, not take it back.” She walks up and lays the partially chiseled gold brick on the counter. “So, can we get some service?”

Rye looks at him a little sideways. “I don’t know Sister Winona,” she squeaks, “I still don’t believe he just happened to pull that king…” She crosses her arms and furrows her brow, trying, quite unsuccessfully, to look intimidating instead of just cute.

Seeing the gold, the grocer immediately snaps to attention, all business, and not wanting to anger the volatile priestess. “Of course, what can I get for you?” he says, completely ignoring Rye, who was obviously the more attentive card-player but the less obvious threat.

Winona leans against the counter, clearly expecting to be waited on when flashing that kind of cash. “Just a few things Ian. Some vegetables for the road, dried, not canned, a scroll organizer, a boot sheath for a dagger, and…”

Rye cuts in, “And scissors, needles, thread, four yards of silk, the dark blue stuff there, ten yards of canvas, ten yards of linen, ten yards of flannel, and a yard of lace,” she says decisively. “Oh, and four yards of Santolin if you have it.”

Ian grabs a crate from the stack beside the counter and begins gathering up the listed items, “What sort of provisions did you have in mind, and how much?”

“Oh,” Winona follows him around the store, “How much for those mushrooms?”

“Eighty gold a pound,” he says.

Her nose screws up and she adjusts her glasses, “Eighty? Well, how about the beans, those green ones? I think there are eight of us that will need fed.”

“Three gold a pound.”

“Give us all of those then.”

Ian raises an incredulous eyebrow, then shrugs, thinking better than to question someone with a flail with a head larger than his own, even if it is obvious that they have never cooked in their life. He bags up all of the green beans, almost five pounds worth and puts them in the crate, with the other smaller items.

“Oh,” Winona says, pointing at a large, round red thing amidst the fresh produce, “What are those?”

“They’re called tomatoes.”

“Can I get a pound of those too? They look delicious.”

Ian carefully stacks a few tomatoes on top of the other things in the crate, then sets it on the counter. He and Rye disappear down one of the isles and, after a few minutes worth of snipping sounds, return with his arms loaded with several bolts of cloth. “Anything else I can get you, Sisters?”

“Rye?” Winona asks.

“Nope.”

Ian begins pointing at the items collected, whispering under his breath as he counts and calculates, then says, “That will be eighty-seven gold and four pence.”

Winona looks at the mostly intact gold brick on the counter. “Keep the change,” she says, gathering the crate in her arms. “Rye can you handle all that cloth?”

“Yep!” The halfling squeaks happily, scooping up the stack with her arms.

As they exit, Rye, barely able to see over the tall stack of cloth, says cheerfully, “I’m going to make Miss Lyra the prettiest dress EVER!”

Winona and Ryesha come hurrying across the square with their burdens. Seeing Lyra exiting the Clerk’s Office, they make their way there, “That was short, Dearie,” Winona observes. “Council session let out early? We were all set to find a bench and wait a few hours.”

Lyra

Lyra shakes her head. “Apparently intelligent undead aren’t worthy of the council’s considerations in person. I had to file a report. Did you get the … food?” Lyra trails off as she looks at the giant pile of canvas, silk, linen, and … is that lace peeking out?

Winona

Seeing Lyra staring at her, Rye peeks over the pile and pipes up, “They didn’t have any nice dresses, so I bought stuff to make you a few…”

Lyra

“I’m surprised you could afford all that given how much the mushrooms ought to cost. I don’t suppose there’s any change back from that gold bar? Do you have the scroll case and boot sheath? Once I get these put away, we can be on our way. If we follow the river, I … know a shortcut … that would get us past the graveyard and castle safely.”

Winona

Winona looks sheepish, “No change, sorry, and we couldn’t afford the mushrooms, but I got these toe-may-toes, which look tasty. Why would you head by the graveyard anyways?” She says, quickly changing the subject, “That’s on the west side of town. Aren’t you headed to Melvaunt?”

Lyra

Lyra tried to visualize the path they’d taken the previous day. “We left on that side of town. Is there a better route to overtake the cart?”

Winona

Winona points to the east, “There is the bridge right at the end of Old Wall Road. We’d have to go by the Temple of Xvim, but that’s the way most people go.”

Lyra

The Temple of Xvim. Lyra wasn’t looking forward to seeing what kind of reaction they would have to the sword at her hip. “Then let’s take that way. Just stay close to me. If there’s trouble I don’t intend to linger.”

Lyra’s eyes went wide as she considered the implications of the sword — and how it was acquired. “Brother Rant publicly executed one of the Xvimlar yesterday morning. And you both look very….” Her hand gripped the bow tightly. Both priestesses looked splendid in their white robes. And obviously followers of Tyr. “They likely won’t be happy about that. You’ll be in danger, moreso than usual. I … I can get us past the temple, and probably past most of the rest of the way out of the city.”

Winona

Winona shrugs, “Whatever you like Dearie. They may be evil bastards, but they are less aggressive around here than one might think. The Council keeps a heavy guard on this side of the bridge, and the Xvimlar keep their own on the other. Merchants come in and out that way all the time, as do adventurers, and even a few of our order who want to proselytize to the people living on the other side of the river. The worst that happens to most of them is just having to pay a bribe to get across the bridge. Actually, to tell the truth Dearie, the Xvimlar are something of a civilizing influence over there, a little on the ruthless and tyrannical side, but they keep the orcs mostly in check.”

Lyra

Lyra’s eyes narrowed, her anger almost palpable. “There’s nothing civil about the orcs we took these swords from. The only thing we arrived in time to save Ellen from was death. Let’s just get this over with.” She spun on her heel and strode off before stopping abruptly. “Er. Which way to the bridge from here?”

Winona

Rye points a shaking finger, “That way,” she squeaks. Winona hefts the crate and leads the way.

Lyra

Lyra follows close behind the two priestesses, entertaining thoughts of how best to deliver a Xvimlar bribe when she wasn’t carrying much besides trade bricks. Most involved acceleration due to gravity.

GM

The walk to the bridge is short, only three blocks north of the Training Hall and a block east of the Parkside Gate where you first made your way into the slums. The bridge is a large and ancient-looking affair—a single high arch of heavy stone five-hundred feet long, spanning the river with room for a large barge to pass beneath it, and decorated with crumbling statues of long-dead lawmakers. The river-side wall, a remnant of the old town, is breached by a massive iron-latticed gate, and guarded by ten soldiers bearing the crest of Tempus, god of war, whose temple lies just across the street from the bridge. Towers on the temples of Tempus and Gond sport large catapults that are aimed towards the bridge, ready to repel any assaults from that direction.

As you approach, laden with goods, the guards eye you warily. One, seeing the sword at Lyra’s belt snuffs distastefully and moves to open the gate, apparently much less concerned about those going than those potentially coming.

Winona

Winona smiles at the guards, “Having a nice day boys?” She walks through the gates, not really waiting for a reply. Sister Ryesha bounces along at her heals. “So, miss Lyra,” the halfling jabbers, “I’ve never made an adventuring dress before. Santolin seems the ideal fabric, but are their any special features you would like? Should it have pockets? Split skirts? Maybe an armor-plated bodice?”

Lyra

Lyra smiles at the energetic halfling. “I’ve never needed an adventuring dress before. Pockets sound like they would be useful. I don’t think I’d need armor, with the spell Mother cast. A split skirt might be useful, but…” Lyra blushed. “I’m not sure my mother would approve. The color is lovely though.” Lyra tensed as they crossed the bridge. “There were shrieking fish in the river at the weir. They knocked Frantiska in, and we were barely able to save her.”

Winona

“Llamhigyn-y-dwr? Waterleapers. Yeah, they show up pretty often in the river, or so I hear. I’ve only seen them once or twice, but I’ve never heard of the jumping up as high as the bridge here.” Winona walks calmly over to the edge of the bridge and peers over the side at the black water running beneath it. “All sorts of weird things come out of that water, and nothing friendly or edible. No one has detected any magic about it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some old gate to the Styx or worse up on Sorcerer’s Island. Especially given your recent findings.” She spits into the water far below, then resumes walking across the long bridge, keeping her eyes open for stray arrows—though it is early in the day for such. “It is already clear that diabolists were out in force here in Phlan at some time in the past.”

Lyra

“Yet you’re following me to Melvaunt. The cart is slow going, so we should be able to catch up. Unless we’ve gotten ahead of them by going this way….” But they’d had to stop. Tears started welling again. “I can look for signs of the wagon on the road, but it … it looks busy enough that might be futile.” Foot traffic on the bridge was busier than she’d imagined. But the ports were closed, and trade must go on. She looked over the far end of the bridge, trying to judge how quickly people got through the far side.

GM

A make-shift barrier has been constructed at the far end of the bridge, a felled, coniferous tree, it’s needles long gone but with a few branches still intact, has been laid across the entire breadth of the bridge, supported by the two of the statues. A pair of orcs stand in front of the barrier, hauling it aside to allow travelers to pass. A man clad in banded armor covered with a tabard depicting the green and black fist of Xvim, his face hidden by a large helm, stands in the center of the bridge, just ahead of the barrier, taking coins and other offerings from those passing through the crude gate. Already today they seem to have acquired a substantial amount of goods from the passersby—weapons, cloaks, foodstuffs, metal ingots, and other items—which have been heaped in a pile to one side of the bridge.

Lyra

“Should I be worried about how they’ll react to the sword? You should probably do the talking when we get to the gate. Xvimlar have been nothing but trouble since I arrived.” Given her youth, Lyra looked more petulant than angry.

Winona

Winona rattles the flail across her back suggestively, “We’ll just have to see how it goes, Dearie. There are only three of them. If they cause any trouble I’m sure we can trouble them back.”

“Ummm, Sister,” Ryesha squeaks, “is getting in a fight with them really a good idea? There is a law against brawling in the streets…”

“That law ends at the gates behind us, Bunny. I don’t intend to pick a fight, but if the Xvimlar are bothering Miss Lyra, then we’ll be sure to make them stop, one way or another.” Winona smiles at Rye, then walks on towards the make-shift gate.

Lyra

Lyra shook her head. “I wasn’t the one in danger. We kept having to stop them from hurting people. Did Brother Rant tell you how we met? He was lying in the street in the slums, his robes almost as much red as white, with orc lepers holding bloody knives standing around him talking about Mace. Even after receiving healing he could barely walk.” So I did what was necessary. Shaddup and Donovan couldn’t carry him. Lyra tried not to think about how handsome he’d looked in his armor and robes the next morning as they approached the gate guards.

GM

As you approach, the two orcs barely look at you. One stands up strait by his post, clearly trying to look officious, but yawns widely. The other leans casually against the make-shift barrier, munching on a pear taken from their pile of “tolls”. The mail-clad Xvimlar, however, turns to look strait at you, his eyes barely visible through the visor, scan over the three of you, finally settling on Lyra’s green dress, dark cloak, and then the sword at her waist. He waves a hand and says something unintelligible to the two orcs, who immediately jump to attention and slide the gate open. The three of them stand out of your way—in fact they stand well out of your way—and wave you through.

Winona

Winona walks cautiously past the orc guards and gives Lyra an appraising look, just now really noticing her choice of clothing. “See, perfectly reasonable…” She tries to look casual, but slightly quickens her pace to get off the bridge faster. “The road goes strait out of town from here,” she says, “but this section of town is crawling with thieves, orcs, and Xvimlar, or so I hear. The last, it seems, are the ones we should be the least concerned about.”

Ryesha follows quietly on their heels, her normally bouncing step considerably more sedate, her face ashen, and casting furtive glances at the heavily armored man twice her size.

Lyra

Lyra barely had to break stride as they scrambled to clear her path. They’re not afraid of me, they’re afraid of what the sword means. Once they were well past, she looked around for a likely spot out of sight.

“I intended to bypass most of the town, although I’d rather be slightly less obvious about it. Here, around that building and we should be fine.” She put a hand on each priestess and steered them towards a likely piece of rubble.

View
Chapter 2: Handle With Care: Part 8
In which the party learns to cope with the adventuring lifestyle...

Lyra

Less than an hour after going to bed. Lyra drags her sleeping bag and blanket out of the wagon. She laid out her sleeping bag and sat down on top of it, huddled under the blanket with her back to the flames, watching the forest.

GM

Staring into the darkness, the fire warming her back, Lyra nods, then begins to doze off.

Lyra jolts out of bed. Her bed. In her room in Waterdeep. Tall, strong walls around her. Her door locked. She looks around in confusion.

Not bothering to pull her dress on over the chemise she’d slept in, she strides over to the bookcase. Her favorite is still there, with its rich illustrations. She takes the book and sits on the bed, flipping it open. The illustration of a dragon is so detailed its eyes seemed to follow her.

She throws the book across the room.

As the book hits the wall, there is a heavy thump at the doorway. And then another. No, no, this was home, it’s supposed to be safe. At the third thump, she runs over to the bookcase to tries and push it in front of the door, but only manages to knock the books off.

Thud.

Thud. The door creaks with every strike. She puts her back against it to brace it, but black water begins to seep in from underneath. She can’t remain there, lest it touch her.

There are the curtains but no high window where there should have been, only strong stone walls. She tears down the curtains and throws them down to staunch the flow of water under the door.

The wood begins to crack with each strike. She crawls under the bed, as she did as a child.

With a final mighty crack the door gives way. Black water pooling around the figure standing there…

With a stifled scream, Lyra snaps awake and stares into the darkness, breathing hard, her heart racing. The air is still and cold, quiet save for Donovan’s snoring echoing from under the wagon. The fire has burned low without her tending it, and everyone else remains asleep. Three battered corpses lie by the edge of the clearing, unmoving…

Lyra

A calm, disciplined mind is your armor, Lyrathwen. Concentrate. Think of the safest place you know and picture yourself there. It felt like an eternity before her breathing slowed, the panic rising again with each tiny sound. No one else stirred. Had she fallen asleep on her watch?

Lyra rubs her eyes and gets up to stoke the fire, still half keeping an eye on the undead as if they might rise again at any moment. Before sitting back down, she paces around the camp twice, once with her human sight and once with her elven.

Donovan

About an hour before dawn there is a thump, followed by a groan, as Donovan wakes up, once again forgetting that he is underneath a wagon. After another minute of groaning, he crawls out from under the wagon, dragging the tarp, his bedroll, and his pack, which he had been using as a pillow, behind him and mumbling, “Well that was a bad idea!” He drops the tarp as close to the fire as he can get with Hrud, Rant, Teldicia, and Lyra already there, then goes to the back of the wagon, extracting the shield, scrolls, and other suspected magical devices as quietly as possible. Returning to the fire, he sits down with the collected junk laid out in front of him and wraps his bedding around himself against the morning chill. “G’morning Lyra,” he mumbles, “I’ve got this watch, you should try to get another hour or two of sleep before we head out.” He pulls his spellbook from his pack and begins flipping through it, looking for the spells he will need today.

Lyra

Lyra’s eyes looked red and tired as she nodded at Donovan in greeting. She wrapped her blanket more tightly around her shoulders before addressing him in elven. «I’m not sure if I nodded off and had a nightmare, or if something tried to attack my mind. I remember my safe place from my defense training, something pounding at the door as black water seeped in beneath it. Just as the door shattered to splinters, I found myself back in camp. I patrolled but saw nothing, yet I can’t quite shake the memory of it.» Huddled beneath the blanket trembling, Lyra looks far younger than her sixteen years.

At precisely dawn, the wind picks up abruptly. “Lyrathwen Aletheil Beragaion, I have been sick with worry.”

Lyra stirred, her eyes red and tired, memories of a tower with a dragon painting, its lower level full of black water full of skeletons fading. She covered her mouth to stifle a yawn. “Good morning, Mother.”

“Are you safe?”

More whispers on the wind. “Did you sleep well?”

“Hardly at all. We saved a girl in the slums from rapers, bought supplies and weapons, crossed the black river, raided a dragon’s tower, and were attacked by undead during the night.” Lyra straightened, trying to compose herself. “I have important information that the council needs to hear. Would you be able to convey it? Firstly, Mace is arming the Xvimlar with swords of an alloy originating on Baator. And secondly…

There was no sign of life in the graveyard as we passed, not even insects and grave-worms. Lady Frantiska insists that it is full of pervasive evil, as if the ground itself is plotting ‘foul deeds’. The grass is blackened, and the ground mounded as if things forced their way out of the ground. We were attacked in the night by a skeleon, a zombie, and a wight. Even after the zombie had its limbs and head chopped off, the head rolled up and said “We are for you. We will be back…” Donovan smashed it to bits in panic after, and I’d felled both skeleton and wight. I dropped the skeleton right on its evil smirking face.”
For the first time in her life, Faelana did not know what to say to her daughter.

Hrud

Hrud woke, sooner than he wanted, to the sound of the others stirring around him. He felt like his old self; if the barbarian were given to introspection, he might have realized how disappointed that made him feel.

Rolling up his bedding and securing what little belongings he had to his horse, Hrud sat down on the low wall surrounding the campsite and ate his breakfast in silence, avoiding eye contact with anyone, for fear that they felt like talking.

The events of last night kept playing over and over in his head: Frantiska kissing him had been completely unexpected and thrilled him, even as it robbed him of his newfound abilities, leaving him feeling … impotent. But she had use some kind of healing magic on him, meaning that the source of that power – the river? – was harmful in some way.

But the kiss … Hrud had only been kissed once or twice in his life; occasionally one of the women in his people would find him amusing for a little while; soon enough, though, they wanted him to disappear. It was like people could only stand to be around him for a little bit before his very presence became an anathema.

And then Lyra’s words echoed through his thoughts. The accusation, and the look on her face as she said it, haunted him. The worst part was, Hrud knew she was right, despite his ignorance of the boundaries he’d overstepped at the time. Hrud was not a man of subtlety, nor did he have much grasp of propriety. This was why he’d been sent to live with Skadi outside the city, this was why he wasn’t allowed among his own people – he was too stupid and too dangerous, even without the river-sludge poisoning his brain.

Hrud felt the sting of tears again, but willed them away. He’d been too tired and surprised and unprepared to resist them last night, but today was a new day.

New, he suddenly decided, in more ways than one. Every Eraka needs a tribe, he thought, and he was determined to prove he belonged somewhere.

Frantiska

Frantiska rises much later than usual and quietly goes about the business of perusing her spellbook, and brushing down and saddling Thistledown. When finished, she walks her horse to the edge of the clearing, stopping briefly by Donovan, where he sits examining the various items they have collected. “Mr. Donovan, I am sorry about the disruptions yestereve. I was planning on scouting ahead and wondered if I might take possession of Sir Guy’s sword and the scroll which contains the spell of whispering winds.”

Donovan

Donovan hands Sir Guy’s Spoon and the scroll up to Frantiska, keeping his eyes respectfully down, “If you’re riding ahead, just be careful, we’ve already established that this is not the safest place to be…”

Lyra

Lyra sullenly eats her breakfast before carefully folding her blanket and rolling up her sleeping bag and putting them in the wagon. She still has dark circles under her eyes and and keeps stifling yawns. After Teldicia wakes up and has a chance to eat breakfast Lyra approaches her. “I … something’s been bothering me since last night.” She stops and takes a deep breath before continuing. “Hrud said something that made it sound like you knew, or at least suspected, that he was a telepath.” And you speak Baatezu in your sleep, but this is more important.

GM

Teldicia goes about packing up her meager possessions and smiles, “Yes, I’ve been monitoring him since we met. Not being able to understand what someone is saying is quite annoying, so I had to make a work-around. While I was listening, it became abundantly clear that he was the source of the mental static that has been affecting all of us. It was also pretty clear that he was too dense to be broadcasting it in any intentional or malicious way, so I thought it better to not mention it,” she shrugs as if to say, my bad.

Lyra

“I’d noticed the mental static, but couldn’t pinpoint the source other that it seemed to be moving with our group based on the reactions of others in town. It seemed to go away after Frantiska had been de-cursed, so I hadn’t even thought to associate it with him.” Lyra blinks, not sure she heard correctly. “Monitoring? Listening?”

GM

“Yeah, I can’t ‘mind-talk’, as Hrud calls it, like you can, but I can listen to people’s thoughts. Only surface-thoughts, mind you,” she says apologetically. “I can’t probe anyone, but it does let me get the gist of conversations, tell how many people are around, recognize when something weird is going on in their heads, that sort of thing.”

Lyra

And with no spell components, no less. Handy. Lyra smiles, but looks genuinely concerned. "Please be careful with it. I’ve heard using it around things like that— " Lyra gestures to the shattered ruin of the wight “—can be highly unpleasant or even dangerous.”

GM

“Yeah, my progenitor drove a few people insane that way, or so I hear.” She gets up and throws her bag into the back of the wagon, climbing up after it.

Frantiska

Frantiska takes the items and leaves. As soon as they are out of the clearing, Frantiska turns Thistledown towards the south-easterly road and gallops away at top speed. “What do you think Thistledown?” she says outloud as they ride, as much to herself as to the horse. “Was it a mistake to come to this place? Was joining these people the right decision? Can we really trust them?” She ducks her head to avoid a branch and rides on, letting her body be lulled into relaxation by the familiar rhythm of Thistledown’s stride. “The little girl, Amara, is clearly up to something, though I can’t imagine what. The barbarian, while seeming honorable enough, and apparently curious about Selune, has no respect for personal boundaries, and clearly doesn’t understand his own powers. Mr. Donovan is level-headed, but I dislike the way he looks at Lyra, Teldicia, and myself, or really any woman for that matter—he has a wandering eye about him.” Feeling she is sufficiently away, she slows Thistledown to a canter. “Teldicia is clearly hiding many things. She is definitely no elf. The Tyrran should be a known quantity, as Tyr is said to be very narrow in whom he will accept in his priesthood, and yet he has shown no inclination to rein-in the others. Lyra seems to be the best of them, at once competent and naive, but she is still young, and therefore unpredictable.” She pulls the horse to a stop and looks around cursorily, “At least these people show an interest in our quest, but they are also clearly motivated by profit. We were almost killed three times yesterday, Thistledown, does it really serve our queen and the goddess for us to be here?”

She tugs unconsciously on the reins, turning Thistledown in circles, mimicing her own indecision. “What do you think, Thistledown? We saved a girl from death yesterday, but not from her worse fate, we almost drowned, and our valor broke in the face of the walking dead. I’ve spent a century training for the life of the quest, but one misstep nearly killed me, and one look at that those rotting corpses scared me enough that I abandoned my new companions.” As her rage mounts she pulls harder on the reins, making the circle tighter and faster, and pounds angrily on her leg with the other hand. “Damnit Thistledown! What do I do!” She finally notices what she is doing, relaxes her grip on the reins, and begins to sob.

Donovan

Donovan climbs up into the drivers seat of the wagon after putting away his books and hitching up the team. “Ok,” he says, sounding exasperated, “can anyone else here Not read minds?” He wiggles around a bit to try to get comfortable on the bench. “Do we need to set some ground rules for interaction?” he uses his herald voice, as he likes to think of it, projecting to be heard by everyone in the clearing. “I know we all just met and we’re new at the adventuring thing, but certain baselines of trust need to be established. Getting at least verbal consent before reading people’s thoughts, talking in their heads, or otherwise violating their privacy seems like a healthy minimum…” He sighs and whips the oxen, and tugs on the reins a little too hard to turn them around, almost falling out of his seat when they jerk into motion. Once the team is steadied he continues. “I know we were all a little traumatized by yesterday’s events, but I suspect that’s going to be our new normal. We should at least make sure we feel safe with one another. So, do we need to have an airing of grievances when Frantiska get’s back? Are there any other ground rules that need to be established in order to have a smooth working relationship?” he looks around expectantly.

GM

Brother Rant grabs his bag and leaps on the back of the wagon as it turns away. He hurriedly translates Donovan’s concerns for Hrud, then chimes in. “Phlan is a dangerous place, you all knew that before you came. For my part, I am grateful to you all for my life, and offer that in your defense. You have learned quickly to fight well together and have defended each other, despite your youth or inexperience, and there is little more that I could ask for from comrades in arms.” He stows his bag and sets his mace and one of the crossbows, loaded, near the back opening of the wagon. “For my part, I have no grievance with any of you, and you are free to use whatever means you think is appropriate to communicate with me. Likewise, as invasive as it may be, given the nature of our work, I welcome the use of any tools you may have to aid in our coordination. I also thank all of you for considering these things, many wouldn’t. Your concern for each other’s feelings does you justice, and Tyr smiles on that.” He sits down, his feet dangling off the back of the wagon, looking relaxed, but with the weapons in easy reach. “I pray that the rest of our journey goes more smoothly…”

“Yeah…what he said.” Teldicia shrugs apologetically again, “I’ve got no problem with you being in my head, Lyra, or you Hrud, and I’ll try to stay out of your heads unless necessary. I do ask that you make sure not to let me sleep through another fight…it sounds like I missed all the fun…”

Hrud

Hrud returns Donovan’s pointed look with a blank one of his own until Rant translates, at which point the barbarian rolls his eyes. “«The mind-talk is gone. Frantiska took it.»” Turning his pony around to take up a rear-guard postion, the barbarian mumbles something that only the cleric manages to hear, “Sing wong iku cemburu.”

Lyra

Lyra curls up under her cloak, hugging her knees and staring at the tips of her boots. Her voice is strained and quiet, as if she’s holding back tears. “This is why I’m not supposed to let people find out I’m a telepath.”

GM

As Donovan yanks on the reins and whips the oxen they try to turn quickly as indicated, only to realize that the harness does not allow anything nearing that level of maneuverability. The wagon lurches and starts to tilt sideways, rocking off of two of its wheels…

Lyra

“However, Hrud pretty clearly has latent abilities. I sensed psionic interference in town last night, although I’d misattributed it to other sources, and that well predates the river incident.” Lyra paused as the wagon lurched into the turn. “I might be able to help teach him to control…” Lyra yelps in surprise as the wagon suddenly tilts and scrambles for purchase as she starts to slide down towards the other side of the wagon.

GM

There is much rattling and crashing as the wagon upsets, the carefully stacked statues and goods topple from their purchases, crashing into the canvas sides of the wagon and ricocheting around the hold. Lyra, grabbing hold of one of the bows, finds herself briefly dangling above the debris as it crashes past her. Brother Rant is thrown from the back of the wagon, landing face-first in the mud. Amara goes hurting in the opposite direction, right past Donovan and Teldicia to land on the tongue between the two yoked beasts. Luckily the tongue and yoke hold without breaking, and the wagon settles back onto all four wheels as the oxen complete the turn. Amara and Rant sport some minor bruises, but there are no injuries otherwise. The only significant damage is to the jars and crates which held your stores of food, which have been almost completely smashed by falling statuary.

Lyra

Everything was ruined. Lyra starts sobbing.

Donovan

Donovan curses under his breath, lets go of the reins, and reaches down to help Amara back up. “Ok,” he says with a sigh, “does anyone know how to drive for real?” He sets the brake and goes into the back to help clean up as best they can. He grabs the shield and uses it like a shovel to start scooping up chunks of broken glass and spilled vegetables and dump them outside.

Lyra

Where it had fallen near the food crate, the Simbul seemed to be lying in a pool of strawberry blood. Lyra was thankful the vials of holy water were still in her belt pouch. “Since we have ropes and tarps, we might be able to secure the statues a little more effectively. Is there anything else fragile for which we need to more carefully consider storage?” Lyra looks concerned as the muddy cleric climbs back in the wagon. “Are you alright, Brother Rant?”

GM

Brother Rant shrugs, “I’m fine.” He grabs the statue of the Simbul and heaves it upright. “Donovan,” he says, “if we don’t know how to drive, we might take turns walking ahead of the animals to lead them…”

Donovan

“Sure, It’s not like Mr. Brisket and Sirloin can move that fast anyways.” Donovan tosses another shieldfull of junk outside and then starts looking at the statues. “If we can push all the statuary up against the sides we could lash them to the poles that hold the canopy.”

Hrud

Hrud walks his pony over to the wagon, “«Maybe I should drive».”

Donovan

Donovan listens to the translation then yells, “Sold!” He gestures for Hrud to take the driver’s seat, then goes back to cleaning up,

Hrud

Hrud stows his gear under the driver’s seat and ties his pony off at the back of the wagon. “«Whenever you’re ready.»”

Frantiska

As everyone works to clean out and right the wagon, Frantiska comes riding back into the clearing. She shakes her head as she looks at the clearly upset oxen and the mess and activity in the cart. Seeing Hrud climbing into the driver’s seat she rides up beside him, “Hrud, aku minta maaf tentang semalam. Apa yang saya lakukan adalah sebuah kesalahan. Mari kita tidak pernah membicarakannya lagi.” Hoping that she conveyed her meaning properly she turns Thistledown back towards the road. “Lyra, the road looks clear for the next few miles,” she looks at the sky, “it should be a clear day today, hopefully we will make better time.” She rides out a head and waits for the others to be ready to leave.

Hrud

Hrud is so shocked when Frantiska speaks to him, that he utterly fails to glean the meaning behind her words. However, her tone was not one of animosity, but reminded the barbarian of a focused merchant, ready to do business. If elves were anything like his own people, Hrud doubted they would be discussing the insanity of the previous night anytime soon, which he was perfectly fine with.

Lyra

Lyra looks up from the knot she’s tying, sweat beading on her forehead. “Thank you for checking, Frantiska. We should be nearly done securing the cargo.”

Frantiska

As Frantiska waits for the others, the throbbing pain in her forehead returns. She rubs her temples and looks around impatiently. Not again! she thinks. As the throbbing builds, her vision blurs slightly, small white dots, like tiny starbursts, dance at the edge of her vision, along the horizon. She blinks, rubs her eyes, and looks around. Strangely, the dots move, seemingly of their own accord. She looks around, trying to follow them, and sees them collecting around Lyra, as if attracted to her, until Lyra is entirely outlines by the things. She blinks again—the specks disappear and the pain subsides slightly.

Shaking her head in confusion, she stretches, pats Thistledown’s side, and checks the many swords now collected on her person, making sure everything is ready to leave for real. As the pain and the dots return, she looks around, trying to watch how they move and wondering if they mean anything…

GM

Frantiska sees the dots congregate again around Lyra, but also around Teldicia and Hrud. The specks around Hrud seem fainter than the other two, but also seem to pulse in time with her headache.

Donovan

Donovan tosses one last egg shell out of the cart, double and triple checks the new moorings on the chariot, and takes a seat on the back of the wagon by Brother Rant. “I think we’re all ready to get moving,” he looks up at the sky, “and only two hours or so behind schedule.”

As the wagon jostles back into motion he pulls out a couple of the items he was identifying. “Brother Rant, Frantiska, Hrud, which of you would like this shield? It has the power to turn anyone who strikes you into a friend. This ring is also pretty neat if anyone wants it. It can allow you to move without leaving tracks and to see invisible creatures and objects. It also appears to have some other abilities that could be unlocked if you were willing to shove your hand into a burning funeral pyre…not that I would recommend such actions. I’ll probably hang onto these other scrolls.” He holds up Yargrund, bathing the interior of the wagon with light, “Also, this hammer is awesome, it lets you speak dwarvish. I have no idea how to fight with something like this though. I think everyone has a magic weapon already, so whoever wants the hammer can have it. Otherwise I’ll just stash it up front in case we meet a dwarf.”

Hrud

Hearing Rant’s translation of Donovan’s descriptions, Hrud asks if he could carry the ring. “«Sounds useful for hunting.»” They ride along for a few minutes more before another idea finally germinates within his skull, “«Anybody here speak Dwarf – without the hammer?»”

Lyra

Lyra rubs her head. Of course they’d all stop not talking to each other just as a headache was coming on. Everything seemed so loud. “I can pick out bits and pieces, but not necessarily the whole meaning.”

Donovan

“Sorry, I have a few friends who are dwarves, like Jerome, but I never got around to learning their tongue.”

Frantiska

Frantiska rides ahead of the group, trying to keep pace with the much slower-moving wagon, though this clearly bothers Thistledown. The spirited filly occasionally shakes her head in frustration and prances nervously. Frantiska finally gives the horse its head again, letting her run forward several hundred yards, then turning back and riding around behind the wagon. As the sun moves higher into the sky she finds that she has to squint, the light only adding to the pain in her head. Despite it turning into a warm day, she pulls the hood of the thick black cloak up over her head and suddenly finds herself rearing for a fight as the cloak sends images of glorious battle into her already compromised mind. Still, the mental noise of the cloak’s intrusion is less painful than the light, so she keeps the hood up. Overhearing Donovan’s talk of magic items, she rides a little closer and speaks up, “Mr. Donovan, I usually prefer to keep my hands free for shooting, but, lacking my bow, I could certainly make use of the shield. If I am going to be fighting hand-to-hand, I would not frown upon the added protection.”

Lyra

Lyra peeks her head over the chariot. “I could make a supply run for replacement food, clothes, and another bow if needed, but I’d have to find the wagon again, which would probably involve getting that information from someone here, unless I wait for us to stop. I could turn in the information about the undead to the council while I’m there, I suppose. And unload as much of this stuff as I can carry with me — which isn’t much, maybe twenty pounds.”

Donovan

Donovan nods, “That doesn’t sound like a bad idea. So what do you need to get a fix to come back?”

Lyra

Lyra looks sheepish. “It would require mentally contacting one of you, then either using Mindlink to ask you to send me a mental image of your current surroundings, or Sight Link to see what you see directly. Then based on that, I calculate where I’d need to come in based on the position of the wagon at the instant of translocation. Mindlink is significantly less intrusive, since the recipient only transmits what they wish to.”

Donovan

Donovan sits pondering as the wagon rolls along, “You can link with me, in any way you like.” He says this with a a strait, matter of fact tone, but with a slightly playful, suggestive gleam in his eye. “Having you able to travel at a whim and communicate at a distance is extremely useful, so I have no intention of hindering that.” He stands up and walks around the back of the wagon, holding onto the poles for support. “You should take the paintings, they’re pretty light and should fetch a decent price. Make sure you stay in the walled part of town, not the slums, and stay away from Jerome’s if you’re alone, his guards can be surly. You should try the Temple of Sune first for unloading the paintings, as the priests tend to be art-lovers. If that doesn’t work, try the school (the instructors are well-paid), Aylaran’s Silver Shop (she sometimes deals in art, but mostly metalwork and sculpture), or the market by the docks (look for the fattest most ostentatiously dressed shop-keepers). I don’t think there is a proper Bowyer in town but Aylaran also deals in some decent weapons, so you might check there for a bow—don’t trust Petroff’s, his stuff his mostly junk—cheaply and quickly made for hotheaded youngsters fresh from the training hall. You might also ask the Gondsmen, they’re good at crafting all kinds of things. Just don’t let them sell you on any improvements.”

Lyra

Lyra rubs her head again, completely missing the innuendo. “What would be the best place to enter town but not startle anyone? I’m most familiar with the temple to Tyr, but I wouldn’t want to impose.”

GM

Brother Rant speaks up, “If you transport yourself to the women’s dormitory I am sure Sister Theymr would not mind.”

Lyra

Lyra stands up and straightens her dress and cloak. She takes the strange green broadsword, but not the bow and quiver, and carefully picks up the stack of paintings. “I’ll contact you when I have concluded my business in town and am ready to return, or if there is an unexpected change in plans. I assume if I will be reporting on the undead to the council, I will be delayed for some time.”

Frantiska

Frantiska starts to say, “Wait, about the bow…” then sees Lyra vanish. She sighs. “I’m going to ride ahead again and make sure things are clear,” she says to no one in particular, though Donovan and Rant are closest. She gently snaps Thistledown’s reins and the horse shoots ahead down the road, mane, tail, and Frantiska’s hair streaming behind them.

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