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View Full Version : Journal Drouganti Chronicles, Year 876: A Campaign Journal



AverageSparrow
2013-09-10, 05:58 PM
Well, I just started my first campaign and after reading some campaign journals, I thought it might be fun to keep track of what happens in it. The campaign is set in the same world as Doomriders (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=125072) and Adanar by Cometlight (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=166176), with three of the players from those campaigns returning for this one. Chronologically, the campaign takes place after Doomriders, but before Adanar. It's not necessary to read those campaigns to understand this one, however.

At this time, the campaign has no official title and no actual plot. Both of these things may change, but we'll see. Okay, let's get to it.

Aelron Firemind: A fire genasi mage and a priest of the Mother of All Dragons. He has bright red hair that, when touched by sunlight, turns gold. Wears robes in the style of the Ruby Tower (military robes that allow for easy movement), divided in the colors of the other 3 Towers: Sapphire, Emerald, and Diamond. On his belt are three translucent spheres; they are not technically glass, and at the heart of each is a glowing spark; two red, one blue. These are arcane grenades, known as Indar’s Incendiaries. His elemental heritage is such that he can pass for human under most circumstances. Played by Dawnflame.

Flynn: Connish (human) fighter who specializes in archery. Conns tend to fall along the same lines as the Irish in appearance. He works for a Lady in Drougant. He is slightly above average height, on the slim side of average weight. He has red hair, facial hair somewhere between stubble and a goatee. Overall, it wouldn't take much effort to imagine him or make him look like a thug, but he's cleaned up just enough and dressed just a little too nicely. Played by Cade Rentyr.

Olaf Hollow-Chest: A Dhar Raider (human). Dhar tend to resemble Vikings if you add some height and girth to them. Olaf is rather short and scrawny for a Dhar. He seeks wisdom so he might earn a two-bladed weapon, which are typically only held by Dhar women. He owes a life-debt to Seeker, and is 1/16th elf. Played by The Wearbear.

Miaoyu: Human rogue from the ultra-lawful Qen. She is a priestess of Gilgadar, the god of thieves and defying fate, though she does not advertise this – it’s not illegal nor inherently evil, but it is frowned upon. She is short and plain-looking, with typical Qennish (Asian) features. Played by AverageSparrow.

Seeker: A wolfman (gnoll) mage and priest of Larlon, god of healing, wisdom, and longevity. Although wolfmen are generally seen as evil, he wears the robes and stole of a Purifier of Larlon, and this grants him respect and some trust, and a fair few double-takes. He has pure white fur. He has taken vows against harming creatures in addition to his oaths of office (he’s basically a doctor). Seeker has a real name, but it is unknown to the party. Played by Fayd. Drawing of Seeker here (http://drownmysorrowsintea.tumblr.com/post/62096351763/).

Sir Gavin of Tidehollow: An Aurbeski soldier that joins the party in chapter 21. He is a selkie and a (reluctant) priest of the Ocean Witch. Played by TheWerebear.

Nüwa: A Qennish mage/rogue who grew up with her mother in the circus and went to the Capitol in search of money. There, she fell in with her uncle's private investigator office. Images of her, courtesy of DollDivine, can be found here (https://scontent-b-ord.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn2/v/1528038_3829182504038_1527980375_n.jpg?oh=165af0bc b6a977f7f002719d536cae5d&oe=52C86975) and here (https://scontent-b-ord.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn2/v/1508293_3829182744044_726522345_n.jpg?oh=0960f79d1 b2e4f40bb8931d29ca78124&oe=52C85150). Appears in chapters 13 & 14. Played by vulpinedramatist.

Tsarae: A fighter/rogue cave elf, and Miaoyu's girlfriend and fellow Gilgadarite. Introduced in chapter 18; joins the party in chapter 22 until chapter 30.
http://i251.photobucket.com/albums/gg313/Senrei_yume/Worldmapannotated-1.png
Because the forum automatically resizes images, the labels on the map became illegible. I typed out the most significant ones. If you want to know more about a particular region, check the Geography notes.
http://i251.photobucket.com/albums/gg313/Senrei_yume/Drougant.jpg
http://i251.photobucket.com/albums/gg313/Senrei_yume/OldDrougantCityEnvironsredrawn.png
The original scanned image was too faint to make out properly, so I redrew most of it in photoshop.
This is an overview of countries and continents. It's not comprehensive, but it should at least cover the major regions that will be mentioned in the journal. Many of the countries listed here have a real world counterpart, from which culture and phenotypes are based upon. Argonath is correlated with Ireland, Aurbeski with Germany, Hatalom with Hungary, the !chanar peoples are based on the Zulu, Illians are loosely equivalent to the Italians, and Qen is equivalent to China.


Argonath: The southwestern continent and homeland of the Connish people, and host of the Tentacled Jungle. Conns have a reputation for being skilled at deception.
Aurbesk: A country in southeastern Illias. It was once larger, but due to the events of a previous campaign, a large portion of it sank underwater.
Berengia: The easternmost continent, where the countries of Adanar and Udanar lie. Homeland to the Dhar and !chanar. Dhars are infamous for their raiding and pillaging have spread all over their neighboring continent of Illias. The !chanar are still waging the First Faerie War.
Drougant: The western neighbor of Aurbesk. It is notorious for its civil wars and short-lived dynasties. The campaign begins here.
Hatalom/Lovas Kingdom: The Lovas were once nomads who have since made their home in the northern corner of Illias. They are known to be the best horsemen in the world.
Illias: While Illias technically only one country in the eastern corner of the northernmost continent, the entire continent is referred to as Illias. In the past, their empire ruled a third of the world, but has since fallen. Illias is the origin place of the Huroc, a cult of Kurush who believe that civilization is weak.
Kadarash: A country that sprung up during slave trade between the Varaz and Illian empires. The Kadarashi are descendants of slaves and have turned away from the gods, who they view as uncaring, and have instead taken to worshiping beast totems.
The Peri Isles: An archipelago in the southeastern sea. The Peri are notoriously lazy and infamous for their hallucinogenic flora.
Qen: The southeastern continent and longest-standing empire in the world. The Qennish people are notoriously law-abiding and conservative.
Varaz: The Varaz were once an empire that stretched over northern Illias. They were eventually brought down by a dracolich, Azurebones.


Beastfolk are humanoid creatures with animalistic features. Most beastfolk were made by the gods with spare parts left lying around. Although there is a large variety of beastfolk, the prominent ones are boarfolk (similar to orcs) and attercops (spider people, similar to ettercaps or chitines). The exception is wolfmen, who were once male elves. Who cursed them and why is a mystery, and these days they carry a bad reputation of stalking elves.
Dwarves are similar to most interpretations of their species, but a little more… insane. They’ve been described as ‘dwarf fortress’ dwarves.
Elves are now an all-female race since the males have been cursed to live as wolfmen. Most elves have a strained relationship with their male counterparts since they’re not big fans of being stalked and kidnapped, and these days mostly pair with humans. Only two subraces of elves exist that foster a positive relationship with wolfmen: cave elves and low elves. Both are noted to live in harsh environs: the Underdark and Tentacled Jungle, respectively. Drow elves have taken to genetically engineering their males so that they still resemble elves, although their success has only been partial.
Hobgoblins are foot soldiers for the fey and are a mix of elf and dwarf blood. They determine hierarchy by skin color, with yellow-skinned hobgoblins being the lowest ranking and red-skinned hobgoblins being the highest ranking.
Humans, of course. There are a great variety of human cultures. See the Countries section for more information.

Listed here are the most prominent gods and goddesses in the setting. It is by no stretch a complete list.

Most sovereign nations follow the Laerosian pantheon, and it’s about as close to an ‘orthodox’ church as you’ll get. They are opposed to the Kingdom of Hell, though more for political reasons than moral ones--Nunatii wishes to displace Laeros.


Brigii: Goddess of fire, horses, loyalty and speed. Her priests, the Roan Riders, deliver messages. Married to Turmlar, sister (and one-time lover) to Farkas.
Laeros: God of civilization, humanity, nobility and order. The central god of this pantheon. For a nation to be recognized by other powers, it often needs the blessing of Laeros. Married to Rihissa and Sanselie.
Larlon: God of healing, life, longevity and wisdom. Husband to the Mother of All Dragons; formerly wed to Igela.
Rihissa: Goddess of punishment and revenge. Married to Laeros, sister to Sanselie.
Sanselie: Goddess of maps, strategy, tactics and vigilance. Married to Laeros, sister to Rihissa.
Turmlar: God of courage, knighthood, obedience and valor. Married to Brigii, brother to Nunatii.
Ylsilar: God of betrayal, libraries, madness and poison. Son of Tykanria and Ashur.

The second-most popular religion is the Femtan religion, followed mostly by dwarves, though not exclusively. Worship of the Femtan pantheon and the Laerosian pantheon overlaps greatly.


Femta: Goddess of creation, magical craftsmanship, mining and smithwork. Mother to Olanorn, Phoraduk, and Waerdun. Estranged wife of Gilgadar.
Olanorn: God of battle and home defense.
Phoraduk: God of death.
Waerdun: God of commerce, labor, travel and wealth.


The Lady of Lightning: Goddess of lightning and self-determination. Does not recognize herself as a goddess and does not grant spells to her priests.
Lo-Tenger: God of the seas and earthquakes.
The Mother of All Dragons: Goddess of dragons, art, and natural beauty. Married to Larlon.
Tykanria: Goddess of darkness, secrets, and lies. Patron goddess to elves. Sister to Igela and one of her killers; mother to Ylsilar.


The Bright Queen: The Seelie queen and goddess of love.
The Dark Queen: The Unseelie queen and goddess of vanity and illusions.
The Ocean Witch: Seelie goddess of the oceans.
The Princess of Spiders: Unseelie goddess of spiders.


Ashur: God of slaughter and predatory undead. Revered by cannibals.
Farkas: God of wolves, cold, and assassination. Patron god to the wolfmen. Brother (and obsessive stalker) to Brigii.
Kurush: God of might and sunlight. Patron god to the Huroc.


Gilgadar: God of thieves, luck, gambling, and defying fate. Estranged husband to Femta.
Nunatii: The King of Hell. Seeks to overthrow Laeros. Brother to Turmlar.


Igela: Goddess of magic. Slain by the Dark Queen and Tykanria, her sister.
The Iron Lord: God of iron and vengeance against the fey. Slain by mortals.
Seseg: God of the sun and dragonslaying. Murdered by Ashur and Kurush.


Church of the Perfected Self: Benign meditative monastic atheism, geared towards transcendence.
The Peri Ideals: Benign social atheism. There are three ideals: Health, Hope and Love, which should be balanced against each other.

The system we use is a homebrew made by Tam O'Connor and is constantly being updated and altered, although large overhauls usually don't happen until the party has reached the next level. What's covered here is only what is likely to remain true throughout all incarnations of the system.

There are only three classes: fighter, rogue, and mage, and they can all be multiclassed. Each class has a set of skills unique to them, and there are four skill levels: non-proficient (no ranks), proficient (one rank), specialized (two ranks), and mastery (three ranks). While anyone can put skill points in any skill, the skill can only be 'mastered' if the skill is a general skill or if it belongs to their class. However, skills can only be mastered from third level and on. For example, a mage can put ranks in stealth, but can never master it. Conversely, both a fighter and a mage could master lore, because it is a general skill. Fighters have a unique relationship with skills. As they progress in ability with their chosen weapon focus, they may also choose a trade that reflects their approach to combat and it will progress alongside their weapon skill, with no additional cost in skill points.

One of the general skills (that is, a skill that anyone can master) is Initiate of x. This is, effectively, our cleric 'class'. Once a person choses a god, meets the requirements of becoming their priest, and begins putting ranks into Initiate, they gain access to spells unique to their god, and also gain their divine favor. To learn a little more about divine magic and divine favor and disfavor, see Dawnflame's post (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17609725&postcount=99) on the matter.

Another feature of the system are traits, which are roughly half as powerful as feats. These traits fall under several different groupings including racial, combat paradigm, general, and heritage. Racial traits are what you would assume: things that most people are born with, or at least have absorbed from their culture. Combat paradigms are meant to make things more interesting on the battlefield, heritage traits often tie back to one's specific bloodline or backstory, and general traits are everything else.

AverageSparrow
2013-09-10, 05:59 PM
Near the beginning of the spring of year 876, five travelers enter a tiny village in Drougant. The region itself is in constant upheaval as sworn fealty is to an individual, but not to their successors or higher-ups. The village consists of about seven to ten town houses and has no inn. Asking about gets several different answers as to the village’s name: “The Village”, “Here”, “Name?”, and “Rustplow”.

The villagers immediately approach Seeker despite the fact that he is a seven foot tall wolfman; he wears the robes of a Purifier, a priest of Larlon, god of healing, longevity, and wisdom. Purifiers are renowned for their healing abilities. The villagers ask for his aid in healing minor injuries, tell him where to find the local herbalist, and the like. He is eventually led to a house where one man was kicked by a cow and broke his floating rib, lodging it under his other ribs and dangerously close to puncturing a lung. Olaf, Seeker’s companion and bodyguard, gets bored and starts a small campfire near the house, and begins to warm a pastie, balancing it on his bronze dagger.

Aelron becomes curious about local lore and sits down with a couple of elderly folks, who tell him the history of the town and how it earned its official name: Rustplow. They were, apparently, originally a farming community, but in a local scuffle a while ago, leadership of the barony and the county changed hands and they were told to raise cattle (a lot of cattle) instead and their plows were left to rust. It's not a thrilling story. He is in the area looking for magical components and the like, and the town is rather close to the Corpse Copse, a rather distressingly-named forest. Eventually, he makes his way into the hut where Seeker is working, and as he has some healing powers himself, he offers to help; his spells allow Seeker to move the rib a little more forcefully than he could have ordinarily, speeding up the procedure.

Flynn has been sent to find a tin’s worth of the ground bones of an undead creature. He has entered the town with the intention of heading to Corpse Copse to the north, where, shockingly, there have been rumors of the undead. He sets about looking for a healer to aid him in his travels and hunt and when seeing this hubbub developing around a single hut, decides to investigate. Flynn finds Seeker and Aelron and watches, but is kicked out due to his snarky remarks and ribbing. His puns were getting distracting.

Miaoyu, bored and looking for a bit of work, uses her Locate Object spell – one she receives from Gilgadar, but passes off as a bit of arcane magic – to help a farmer find a bull that ran off by focusing on its collar. In her head Gilgadar quips, “Yes, I found the bull. What do you want me to look for next? Bull****? There’s plenty of that around here too!” She eventually finds it trapped under a collapsed tree, which is far too heavy to lift by herself. The angry bull is also a bit discouraging. She returns to town and stumbles across Olaf. She asks him for his help, which he agrees to at the price of five Luna (silver coins; a bit foolish on my part; one silver is standard pay for a day’s work, but the DM was in the other room when we were doing this and I got cheated). Olaf binds the bull’s legs and lifts the tree, setting it safely aside. He wishes Miaoyu good luck in untying an angry bull. Miaoyu shrugs, leaves the bull bound, and returns to the farmer, tells him where it is and that it’s tied up at the moment but safe, and she breaks even on her venture. Olaf follows her around, for lack of anything better to do, and asks her if she does anything besides find bulls. She quips that it’s her life passion. (Olaf makes a detect sarcasm save - and passes!)

They return to the house where Seeker, Aelron, and Flynn have gathered; Seeker and Aelron successfully manage to put the rib back into place. Seeker advises the man to be careful with the rib. “Don’t breathe too hard for a couple of weeks.” Seeker is rewarded by the man’s wife with a package of foods: meats, spices, and vegetables, perfect for a stew. Aelron similarly receives a loaf of freshly baked bread.

The five greet each other and introduce themselves, and Flynn asks if they would be interested in helping him find the undead. Seeker agrees almost immediately, wishing to stem any diseases that undead tend to spread, and Olaf and Miaoyu perk up when they’re told that undead bone powder (and other remains) fetch a nice price. Olaf suggest that they do an “elder brother share”, splitting it equally, and they agree. Olaf scoffs, “I don’t fear the dead; they simply need to be reminded.”

The group makes camp at the edge of the village, and Olaf offers to make stew, which Seeker remarks is fabulous. Flynn says, “Let’s stew it!”, to the dismay and anger of every one but Miaoyu, who is fascinated by puns outside of her native language. (Miaoyu hates puns as much as anyone else in Qennish, but in any other language she finds them clever.)

As they make camp, Miaoyu notices that Seeker has no tent, only a bedroll, and comments that he’s going to get fleas, to which he counters that his robes are enchanted to never get soiled and certainly not allow fleas. Aelron prestidigates fleas of off himself and begins to shoot at the fleas with magic for practice. Olaf demands to know if Aelron can fight, to which he responds by calling his staff to him from the opposite side of the camp and releasing a bolt of fire. He then asks Miaoyu and Flynn if they can fight, and seems unimpressed by Miaoyu’s response of, “I have a crossbow. And daggers.”

Olaf finishes the soup and the group eats. During dinner, Olaf shares how he earned the name Hollow-Chest. Some time ago, he was in a battle that left him stranded and he was hit with a spear to the chest. Somehow, it missed anything critical and he survived. (Seeker tells a slightly different story: the spear hit Olaf’s lung, and he healed it. The finer points, however, are hardly important.)

After, Olaf wants to spar, but Flynn declines, even after Seeker mentions that Olaf tends to get bored easily. Miaoyu, miffed about his attitude regarding her crossbow, suggests that they play a game: she shoots the crossbow at him, and he tries to dodge. He agrees and grabs his shield for blocking, rather than dodging, starting off at 100 feet away. Miaoyu fires off her crossbow carelessly and goes a little wide, though Olaf manages to catch the bolt with his shield. Olaf taunts, “I bet you can’t hit me before I get to you,” as he approaches, and Miaoyu becomes focused at the challenge. Their game finally catches the attention of Aelron and Seeker, who seem mortified. (“Oh, there’s no way that could end badly.”) Seeker prepares a healing spell, which thankfully for Olaf is unneeded. The townspeople have noticed the game too, and have taken to watching the small entertainment. After a couple more misses, Aelron casts a spell about Olaf to catch any stray bolts, mitigating harm to any bystanders. Finally, Miaoyu manages to hit Olaf squarely, but shallowly, in the chest. Olaf insists that she didn’t play fair, but returns the bolt.

Wishing to further amuse the townsfolk, Seeker and Aelron begin a non-lethal dual. Aelron begins by casting sparkling rockets that fly about; Seeker’s ward blocks the rockets from the front, but not from the ones that fly around the back, singeing him. Aelron then attempts another spell, but Seeker intervenes and dispels it into a fizzle. Aelron sends a path of frost towards Seeker, which steadily grows into spikes as it approaches him. Seeker is so impressed that he manages to comment on how cool it is, before being struck in the chin. Aelron then casts a fireball, but it bounces off of Seeker’s ward and up into the sky before falling upon them both in a shower of sparks. Aelron wins the battle by casting a gust of wind, which pushes Seeker back several feet. The commoners applaud, and shortly later night falls and the townspeople return to their homes.

As they settle down for the night, the group hears marching approaching the village. Olaf pulls off his cloak and snuffs the fire with it, fearing they are raiders of some sort. (Considering he is one himself, perhaps it is not completely unfounded). Seeker points out that the army may be passing through with no intention of harming anyone, and Miaoyu says that she was trained as a scout, and offers to investigate. Aelron casts Acute Senses on her to aid her vision in the dark. She crests the hill they are camped under and finds a bush to hide behind while observing. She checks her Imperial Blessing – a ‘blessing’ on every Qennish person to know when they are about to break a law – to see if it is illegal for her to observe these people undetected. ‘No crimes are being committed at this time. You are still wanted for…’ She tunes the long list out. She sees about twenty troops arranged in columns, with an insignia of a yellow four leafed plant or tool on a green background.

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Obviously, the insignia that Miaoyu sees lacks a convenient label.

She is unfamiliar with the insignias associated with the area, and returns to the group, describing it. Flynn, from a nearby county, confirms that it is the symbol of Forscyth, which technically rules the area, but Drougant is in tumult regarding rulership almost perpetually. Flynn and Olaf both hide, while Aelron and Seeker go to alert the village’s authority; Miaoyu follows behind in the shadows. Aelron and Seeker notice that the village leaders seem anxious, but not afraid. Satisfied, they return to camp.

The commanding officer speaks with the leaders and the conversation remains polite. Houses in the village are searched, and Miaoyu remains in the village, hidden in the shadows with her crossbow should any fights break out. The commanding officer approaches Aelron and Seeker at camp, asking them what they are doing. Aelron tells him they’re only passing through to Corpse Copse, and the officer warns him, “Don’t want to go into there: bad country.” Aelron quips, “I’m a bad man,” which lands him in a bit of trouble and gets a lecture from the officer. The officer notices Flynn’s horse and asks if it’s Aelron’s, to which he replies no, tipping the officer off that he has more companions. (Seeker is far too big to need a horse. Or fit on one.) Flynn returns just then, acting as if he was in the bathroom. He gets the same warning of Corpse Copse as Aelron, and the officer suggests that Seeker visit his men before finally leaving.

Olaf has wrapped himself in his cloak and spent some time pretending to be a rock, but when it becomes clear that the soldiers will be spending the night in Rustplow, he slinks further into the shadows after grabbing his bedroll. Miaoyu, satisfied that the soldiers won’t be attacking the villagers, returns to camp. Seeker and Aelron, meanwhile head down to see to the soldiers, Aelron specifically because he wants to get on the officer’s good side. The wounds are fairly minor, and Aelron is able to treat most of them, aside from a handful of cases of “cantering groin rot”, which Seeker easily cures with his god’s power. Seeker gathers up the soldiers who were afflicted and gives a lecture on how to avoid such a problem in the future for a good long while.

The next morning, they wake before dawn to avoid the soldiers, enjoy a breakfast of re-heated stew, and walk most of the day. Although the humans are walking briskly (or on a horse, in the case of Flynn) it’s a merely leisurely stroll for Seeker, who stops to enjoy the flowers and scenery. Flynn’s horse licks at him a few times; his robes are enchanted to smell of an elven flower. This reaction is… rather unusual. His horse doesn’t tend to enjoy the company of dogs, let alone seven-foot tall wolfmen.

Eventually, the group spots the border crossing between Claque and Forscyth. Miaoyu’s Imperial Blessing pings when they avoid it, and Olaf asks if it’s illegal to impersonate a member of the Purifiers; he wants to hide his Dhar heritage while around the Drouganti and has noticed that Seeker basically has carte blanche to travel. Miaoyu concentrates on doing such a thing, to which her Imperial Blessing responds, ‘Impersonating a member of clergy of an approved faith is illegal. Unapproved faiths include the Kingdoms of Hell, the Beast Lords, or being an Agent of a Fae Court.’ They decide to forgo that strategy and move on into the forest and ignore the checkpoint; it’s a fairly minor violation all things considered.

They notice that animal life has become scarce and Olaf suggests finding a barrow of undead to kill. Aelron, as a Priest of the Mother of All Dragons, attempts to determine if there is a dragon in the forest but is still too far out to perform a Draconic Introduction, one of the spells his deity grants. However, as the trees are alive and as dragons tend to be proponents of life, they can determine that the dragon itself, if present, is not undead; in fact, if there were no dragon at all, the situation would likely be much worse.

To aid their search for undead, Miaoyu attempts a Locate Object on eaten bones – for human deers. (DM: “What kind of eaten bones? Human, deer…?” Me: “Yes. A human deer.”) Gilgadar is puzzled but curious about the request and locates one on the opposite side of the mountain range. He asks if she meant to put a comma in there. Miaoyu notes her discovery to her companions, but they seem uninterested and she amends her search to the eaten bones of humans and gets a ping nearby. At the same time, Olaf notices some humanoid tracks leading in the same direction as the bones, and we follow them. Olaf prepares for battle and bangs his sword on his shield while shouting challenges in hopes of attracting undead. Along the way, he notices torn leather on a thorny bush, and notes it’s not hardened, and thus is fairly recent. Seeker detects a bit of sweat on it, but it’s too old and used to determine whether the sweat was from exertion or fear.

The trail eventually leads to the bone pile in a gully. Olaf finds some torn clothes, a broken spear, and a coin purse with a few Luna. Seeker determines the body belonged to a young man in his late teens or early twenties and died from trauma to the head and collarbone. He draws upon the orison of Phoraduk, god of Death and Dreams, Detect Life, just in case, and determines that he’s definitely dead. Seeker says a few words for the dead man.

They decide to make camp outside of the woods and prepare for a possible attack by the undead. Olaf begins speaking in broken elvish to throw off any eavesdroppers. Seeker understands his plans, but Flynn and Aelron are mostly lost. Miaoyu understands elvish, but only to the extent that she needed to while coordinating with her previous travelling companion. So for this conversation, a surprising amount: when Olaf mentions killing the undead, she agrees emphatically.

After Aelron points out that the undead aren’t likely to comprehend them anyway, everyone switches back to the local dialect and they hash out a plan. Olaf finds a sturdy but dead tree and brings it to the campsite. He places it at the front of the camp, facing the treeline, and digs a trench just past it, filling it with Miaoyu’s caltrops, forcing any attackers to either jump over it and injure themselves, or go around it. They leave choke points and protect the sides of the camp with some gathered brush, with the intention of setting them afire when the undead attempt to go through them. Finally, in back, they leave a collection of twigs and leaves to alert the group to any attempts to ambush from behind. Miaoyu mentions that although she isn’t sure how much the undead rely on eyesight, she can cast a spell to call up some mist if need be to give them cover for their escape, should it come to that. Seeker realizes that Locate Object and Obscuring Mists are spells that a priest of Gilgadar would have, but he cannot be certain as they are certainly other possible explanations for her abilities.

Flynn mounts his horse and takes up position in the rear. Miaoyu stays at one chokepoint, with Aelron at the other; he gives her one of the Incendiaries on his belt to ignite the brush. Olaf stands at the edge of the pit, ready to finish off any undead that might jump the log, and Seeker stands in the middle of everyone to provide quick and easy assistance to any who get injured. Aelron casts Acute Senses on Miaoyu once again so she can see in the dark.

As the last bit of daylight disappears, the group notices four ghouls attempting to conceal themselves at the edge of the treeline. They’re humanlike in body structure, but slink about on all fours (not unlike Gollum). Their skin is dry and pulled taught along their body, and they wear no clothes. They have, as near as the group can tell, absolutely no extraneous flesh.

The ghouls, however, do not attack. Instead, they wait and the entire group gets a sense that they are being hunted. The feeling is to get unnerving. Six minutes later, the ghouls begin to make unintelligible chattering sounds and scrape their nails together, making a metallic noise. The party realizes they’re sharpening their nails. Finally, the ghouls charge.

Aelron casts a spell called Friendly Wind to aid Miaoyu’s crossbow, and Seeker preps a spell. The spell gives his allies additional range on their ranged attacks, and can be controlled later to perform other functions. Miaoyu fires her first shot and hits one ghoul right in the eye. It falls over, twitching. Flynn then attacks, raising his hand in a pointing gesture at one of the charging ghouls, yells “Bang!” and a ghoul falls over, twitching. He summoned an Eldritch Heavy Crossbow, and solidly hits another ghoul as it crosses the stream.

Seeker drops his widened Circle of Protection just as a ghoul approaches the log and Olaf, too eager to wait, jumps over the log, and onto the ghoul, both his swords impaling the ghoul and pinning it to the ground. If he fiddles with the swords a bit, he can make the ghoul move!

Miaoyu dashes to a better angle to shoot the last ghoul and the force of her bolt takes its head clean off (critical hit!), and Flynn does his special trick again, this time creating an Eldritch Longbow, and his arrow flies just behind hers, pinning the head to the ground. The group looks about, but cannot see any more ghouls, and Olaf sets about collecting the bodies and depositing them at the campsite. Flynn fires off several more blasts from his…hands? Bow? … into the heads, torsos, and limbs of each ghoul, taking no chances. Everyone but Olaf asks him about his bow and how he can summon it. “I don’t honestly know,” he says. Miaoyu announces that someday, she’ll find a way to do that too (which will likely happen, as I plan to eventually take the feat that makes her capable of it as well). “You act like you’ve never seen an energy weapon before,” Olaf chuckles. (“I haven’t either,” he adds, “but killing is killing.”) Aelron in particular is keen to learn about this technique, and presses for more detail; Flynn’s only answer is that it was “The first of many errands.”

Miaoyu inspects the ghouls’ hands, finding that not only are the claws metal, but that they extend to the metacarpals, about halfway up the hand. She cuts one hand off of a ghoul with the intention of having it fashioned into a weapon and notices that after the metacarpals, there are no bones in the hand. She shows it to Seeker and Aelron, and they inspect the hand. Seeker detects a bit of magic in the hand, but it is fading. Aelron considers attempting to preserve the magic, but it would require Onyx Tower magic, which is illegal. (‘Warning: The use of necromancy is illegal.’)

Olaf insists on rites for the ghouls and after a bit of resistance from Flynn and Miaoyu, Seeker complies and performs a quick, simple prayer. Olaf moves the bodies to outside of camp and begins to debone them. He begins to sing, “Your thigh bone is connected to your hip bone, *rip* your hip bone is connected to you back bone *rip*…” in Dhar.

Seeker is rather off-put by the anatomy of the Ghouls. Olaf doesn’t notice anything wrong, but… these creatures, skeletally speaking are stick figures (no visible joints, the radius and ulna are completely fused, and bones are the wrong lengths) and have only one internal organ: the stomach. These creatures are horrifying on a number of levels.

Once finished, Olaf asks Miaoyu if she still has the Incendiary so he can set the boneless carcasses on fire. The group points out that would be excessive, and Aelron asks Miaoyu for the Incendiary back. Miaoyu stammers that she doesn’t have it anymore, but after an unamused glare from Aelron, she sheepishly returns it to its owner. Olaf takes another look at the skins and realizes that they are very thick. He decides to keep the ghoul skin to sell to a tanner when he reaches the next town. He also takes one of the hands as a trophy, but no one has a nail for him to hang it on his shield. Wishing to wash after the messy business of deboning, Olaf has Seeker use his robe’s ability to disinfect whatever he touches before cleaning up in the stream. The companions all go to bed, with Olaf taking the first watch, and the night passes uneventfully.
Chapter 2: The Well-Hung Trees (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16036326&postcount=10)
Chapter 3: Reply Hazy, Try Again Later (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16150078&postcount=16)
Chapter 4: Ruminatrix Reloaded (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16218306&postcount=19)
Chapter 5: I <3 NDC or Thesauri Magnus Extinctum (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16231098&postcount=20)
Chapter 6: Bush-whacked. Also, Bush-stabbed. (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16266259&postcount=21)
Chapter 7: The C*ckblock of Destiny (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16331608&postcount=23)
Chapter 8: CAPital Offense (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16431525&postcount=24)
Chapter 9: Dangerous Loonies or Three Rules (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16503824&postcount=29)
Chapter 10: Metaphorgotten (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16523076&postcount=31)
Chapter 11: The Origin of the Doom Pigeon (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16715519&postcount=33)
Chapter 12: Burninating the Trogdorlytes (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16715533&postcount=34)
Chapter 13: The Honey Badger Incident (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16856557&postcount=35)
Chapter 14: The Tide of Brain Damage (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16856592&postcount=36)
Chapter 15: The Knights of the Bloody Pastry (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16916398&postcount=38)
Chapter 16: The Red Hand of Doom (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16993124&postcount=44)

Chapter 17: On Ashurite Cults, Sun Dragon Eggs, and Finger Painting (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=17172824&postcount=48)
Chapter 18: Camp Trollstank (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17255003&postcount=50)
Chapter 19: Marked (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17262448&postcount=54)
Chapter 20: The Doom of Hollowchest (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17357067&postcount=57)
Chapter 21: The Fall of Hollowchest (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17375957&postcount=62)
Part Four
Chapter 22: The Return of Hollowchest (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17396269&postcount=69)
Chapter 23: Gob-dammit (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17437910&postcount=81)
Chapter 24: ArachNOphobia (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17473515&postcount=85)
Chapter 25: Don’t Taunt the Vampire Necromancer Werewolf (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17540016&postcount=91)
Chapter 26: Textual Tension (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17594394&postcount=95)
Chapter 27: My Big Fat Aurbeski Wedding (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17594638&postcount=96)
Chapter 28: ArachNOphobia: Reprise (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17619058&postcount=101)
Chapter 29: Bigby’s Aggressive Plot Hook (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17653394&postcount=110)
Chapter 30: Dead Ends (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=17850183&postcount=111)
Chapter 31: Dunderheads and Dragons (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=18040445&postcount=115)

Fayd
2013-09-10, 06:00 PM
As one of the players, I can say I am excited for seeing where this goes!

Feichi
2013-09-10, 08:02 PM
As a person who has played in this universe, I'm also looking forward to seeing where this nonsense goes. :P

Cade Rentyr
2013-09-10, 10:53 PM
Looking good Sparrow! :smallsmile:

For everyone else, she forgot to mention that Miaoyu got BOTH of the only crits of the session --that 'square hit' she got on Olaf? Yeah, that was a nat 20 to hit and a nat 1 for damage, a cherry tap perfectly timed right when his taunting got the most obnoxious. Flynn was too lazy to participate in any of those shenanigans but he (and I) was impressed. :smallbiggrin:

That second crit on the last ghoul was just as amusing. My (Flynn's) shot only managed to turn the head she tore off into a projectile of its own --which our aiding wind spell faithfully carried almost all the way back into the forest.

In Adanar and especially back in Doomriders we developed a pattern of our lady players being crit-happy, especially when vengefully appropriate. Nice to see the trend living on. :smallwink:

Dawnflame
2013-09-10, 11:19 PM
And as the player behind Aelron, I can say I'm also excited to see the record unfold! I'm new to this group and to the world, but I've heard much about it and looking forward to getting to help shape it. :smallbiggrin:

The_Werebear
2013-09-10, 11:19 PM
I admit it, Olaf deserved that crossbow bolt. It was perfect.

Drakefall
2013-09-13, 03:05 PM
Ooh, aah...

Watching with interest! This journal seems entertaining and terribly well written so far, and if it's anything like Doomriders I'm sure it'll turn out riveting.:smallsmile:

Fayd
2013-09-16, 05:42 PM
Distinction between Arcane and Divine Magic:

In the Drouganti Chronicles, we are using a custom homebrew system that makes spells (as distinct from magic which is yet more broad but not the topic of discussion today) a little more accessible for ordinarily non-magical characters. One of the primary methods comes from the distinction between Arcane and Divine magic. Our system has three classes: Fighter, Mage, and Rogue. You will notice: no cleric. This is, in part, because “cleric” is more a societal role than an active combat role. Mages (and to a lesser extent rogues and fighters who have invested for it) sling around Arcane Spells.

Anyone who has invested Skill Slots in the priestly skill (Initiate of X; one can only be an initiate of one deity, though) has access the Divine Spells that their tier of investment allows: Non-proficient allows for Orisons, Proficient for Blessings, Specialized for Mysteries, and Mastery for Miracles. Divine Spells can be cast without limit on number of times per day, so long as the deity allows the spell to happen. This means that anyone can cast any Orison, so long as one is not out of favor with that deity that grants it. By way of example, Seeker has attained Mastery in Initiate of Larlon, god of healing, longevity, and wisdom, and as such has the ability to cast all of the spells Larlon grants. They are:

Age Without Wisdom
Miracle of Larlon
The target instantly ages 5d6 years. They suffer all the physical penalties from aging, but gain none of the mental bonuses.

Cursed Wound
Mystery of Larlon
The target cannot benefit from natural healing. They can still be healed with healing spells.

Diagnosis
Blessing of Larlon
The caster discerns in general terms what ails the target. This could be a disease, poison, hit point loss, a curse or any number of other negative effects. This blessing will not discern a cause, only identify symptoms.

Disease Marker
Orison of Larlon
This orison inscribes a faintly glowing broken white disk on the touched object, and is used to denote the possible presence of infectious diseases. Purifiers of Larlon can sense the placement of this orison, to a distance of ten miles.

Longevity
Miracle of Larlon
The target has their physical age reduced by 5d6 years, to a minimum physical age of their physical prime (around 20 for humans and elves, 15 for beastfolk and 30 for dwarves). They do not lose any benefits from aging, but do lose all penalties.

Quarantine
Blessing of Larlon
This blessing creates a filmy white barrier that settles around the touched structure. The barrier allows for the slow transfer of air, but for anything else to pass through the barrier, it must first be broken. Despite the translucent appearance, the barrier is as tough as seasoned wood, and must be hacked open. The caster is informed when the barrier is damaged or breached and where.

Restoration
Mystery of Larlon
This mystery removes most negative effects. It cannot remove the negative effects of mysteries, miracles or 3rd level spells. This mystery could remove a person's cataracts, but it would not prevent the formation of new cataracts. It could not regrow a person's eyes.

Speed Recovery
Blessing of Larlon
The target's natural healing rate is increased by 2 hit points per recovery interval.


As you can tell, powerful Divine Magic can be quite awesome (in the classical meaning of the term), but it requires having the deity on board with it, which may not always be easy.

AverageSparrow
2013-09-16, 06:20 PM
Thanks for the kind comments, everyone! At the suggestion of one of my fellow players, for each chapter I’ll include a ‘reader’s digest’ version of the session as well as a detailed one – this way you can just take a quick glance if you want.

Also, consider checking out Fayd's post on Divine vs Arcane magic (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16036091&postcount=9) and my post that lists the divine spells (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16036496&postcount=11) available to our priests.

Chapter 2: The Well-Hung Trees

Reader's Digest:

The group heads to Hangtree for their reward and future employment. En route, they have a run-in with a dryad and compose a lovely song.
They meet Flynn's ailing Lady, who employs the group to stage some counter-raids, with Olaf as commander.
A counter-raid is staged and an overwhelming victory is had. And there is lots and lots of money.


Full Story:
The group wakes up to realize they are being watched by strange owls – strixes, which feed on the flesh and blood of humans. Olaf's first instinct is to find some way of turning them into a profit and after a couple of ideas are tossed around, including trapping them, Aelron tells Olaf that the strixes would likely attack and eat their companion were it to become ensnared. Olaf decides it's not worth the effort, and the group moves on.

The group gets to talking; Seeker and Aelron discuss the Gemstone Towers and Aelron tells him about the competition between the Towers. Apparently, none of them have a very high opinion of each other. Olaf asks Miaoyu if she left Qen to bullhunt and after once again snarking that yes, she did, she admits that she left Qen to find a different way of life.
"You're going to hang in Qen, aren't you?"
"I never broke any laws back in Qen!"

Aelron tells Seeker a bit about his past: as a child, he burned a barn down with eye lasers, and a villager assumed he was a demon and attempted to burn him at the stake. (Olaf insists that there can't really be a difference between an elemental and a demon anyway, since they're both associated with fire, but Aelron just sighs and continues his story.) He got the rough equivalent of a sunburn as a result of it and the villagers nearly attacked him with cold iron, assuming he was fey, before a passing Tower mage put a stop to it and the villagers shoved the supposed abomination on him.

Flynn directs the group the Hangtree, where his employer lives, and the group follows him; the journey takes roughly a week. As the group travels, they notice that the patrols in Forscyth are unusually close to the border: a bit worrisome considering the state of the region. Finally, the pass into Deepspring county, a significantly better county - it lacks the smell of cow.

As the group discusses politics of Drougant, Flynn mentions that about half the region was in passive rebellion: they weren't paying taxes. Olaf suddenly says, to the horror of the party, "I have a great idea!"
Miaoyu groans. "What, pretending to become tax collectors?"
"That's an even better idea!"
"What was your original idea?" Aelron asks.
"Actually becoming tax collectors."
The idea of 'tax collection', banditry, and such are tossed around, and Miaoyu's Blessing pings. 'Possession is nine-tenths of the law. The other tenth is royal authority.' Seeker is less than pleased with the discussions.

After a day of traveling in Deepspring, the group passes an odd grove of pomegranate trees. While it's clearly natural, it seems to have sprung up out of nowhere. Aelron attempts a Draconic Introduction, but he finds no dragon present. The group notices a scantily clad young man with no weapons lounging about the orchard, and Aelron realizes that the man is a dryad. Flynn, however, firmly does not care and continues on his way while the rest of the party stays behind to investigate/watch in aghast horror.

Despite attempts to stop him, Olaf asks the dryad about the pomegranate and if there are any ready to eat. The dryad responds that they're still only flowers, but Olaf is quite welcome to stay. (Olaf then rolls a will save of 5 against a DC of 20 and is promptly charmed.) The grove becomes more and more appealing to Olaf, and he suggests making a fire to get comfortable. The dryad becomes a bit flustered and insists that he'll be quite comfortable without it, but then Miaoyu suggests that Olaf makes some pomegranate soup. The dryad becomes angry and attempts to shoo the group off, sulking very prettily. Seeker casts Diagnosis on Olaf and confirms he is charmed and attempts a 'cognitive recalibration' (read: hits him upside the head). (Olaf makes a will save of 11 this time, but still can't resist the charm.) Olaf sulks; the dryad wouldn't hit him - they were practically best friends! Finally, Seeker casts Restoration and Olaf is free from the dryad's Charm. Olaf concedes that while the dryad is quite fit, he spends, "Too much time flexing, not enough stabbing." The group moves on and manages to catch up with Flynn.

Finally, the group arrives in Hangtree. It's a large town, not quite big enough to be a city. There's a palisade of stone and a foundation for a wall, but it doesn't seem to have seen active construction for some time. The guards at the gates have an insignia divided into fourths, each depicting an image. One is all black, another is a back hangman's tree on yellow, another is a yellow crown on pink, and the last is a red chalice on white. Flynn obviously knows the guards, and the group is let in with only a cursory check.

Once inside the city, Olaf, Miaoyu and Flynn go to find rooms and drinks once Flynn confirms that the apothecary would have retired for the evening. Seeker and Aelron head to the barracks to see if any healing is needed. As they work, Seeker asks Aelron how he came to worship the Mother of All Dragons. He responds, "Natural beauty deserves to be preserved, no matter its place." Not exactly the most... illustrative of descriptions, but Seeker leaves it at that.

The inn is called The Yellow Trout, and Olaf gets two beds in the common room, while Miaoyu gets a bed in the attic, which should have enough room for her to lie down. Mostly. Flynn has a couple of drinks while Miaoyu and Olaf begin to gamble. Although Miaoyu asks Olaf if he'd like to play a game with her, he's fully aware that she has some sort of magic ability and promptly says no. He carefully counts out his money for gambling and sets the rest of it in a safe place. Miaoyu sets to hustling; she deliberately loses her first few games before casting Cheat (one of the spells granted her by Gilgadar; essentially everything will go as she dictates) and hitting a winning streak. Once she notices other players getting fussy, she loses a couple times and heads off with a fair bit of extra coin. Olaf also finishes the evening with a small profit as well, and Flynn heads home when it gets late. Seeker and Aelron arrive not long after and Aelron gets a bed for himself.

The next day, the group meets up and heads to Wallace's Alchemy Stores. They are greeted by an aggressively friendly wolfhound named Gromit, who has had some patches of fur singed away. There are alchemic alembics, motor and pestles, and so on, on every surface and ingredients hanging everywhere. Wallace, rather apparently, has a few screws loose. Flynn gives the apothecary some of his undead bones and says that he'd like them ground up the usual way, which prompts the group to balk at notion that this is common. He shrugs it off by saying that his Lady has a condition, and leaves shortly afterwards. Olaf and Miaoyu trade their bones in for healing pills, and Aelron takes money for his set, and Seeker just gets his ground, in the event the powder could come in handy. Seeker is worried about Wallace's health and mental state; however, Wallace insists that nothing to be wrong. Seeker, ever dutiful, offers him cheese to let him use Diagnosis. Wallace accepts and Seeker finds he has both low level lead and mercury poisoning. He uses Restoration to remove the worst of the effects, but it only delays the inevitable.

The group goes to the Lady's manor, where Flynn answers the door. When asked if he does everything he responds, "I'm an et cetera kind of guy." Flynn attempts to shirk his duties by making one of the other servants deal with the Lady, but they all find excuses not to, so he's forced to lead the group to her. He leads them to the sitting room and although he constantly attempts to run off, Flynn cannot escape the ensuing discussion. (Miaoyu scolds him for not showing more respect and Olaf says, "You are Qennish, aren't you?") Baroness Hangtree and is in her early 40s with red hair and clearly of Connish descent. Most notably, she has rather lividly green scaring from her chin down to her neck, and it disappears under her high collar. The left side of her body seems unresponsive, and the left side of her mouth is slack. Olaf is able to determine the scaring is not from a wild animal, and Aelron and Seeker both suspect that it's from some sort of magic, but what kind exactly is unclear. Aelron further recognizes her as the Knight of the Bloody Chalice, who won years upon years’ worth of tournaments and then suddenly vanished from the tournament scene ten years ago. Miaoyu can't make any assumptions of her condition, but she can tell that the Baroness is not to be trifled with.

After a bit of discussion, the topic of commissions comes up, and Olaf works out a deal in which he coordinates counter-raids for the Baroness, with Flynn as his second-in-command (much to Flynn's dismay). Olaf manages to convince Seeker to join by pointing out he'd be able to be his moral compass, and Aelron joins as artillery and tactical support. Olaf turns to Miaoyu and says, "We're going to get rich."
"That's it? You think I'd join for just money?"
"Yes."
"Just so we're clear, money won't always work - but I'm in."
The Baroness gives Olaf twenty men at his disposal, as well as a not inconsiderable sum of money for supplies. Seeker offers to examine or bless the Baroness, but she declines. He also says that he does not require money for his services, but would rather have information. The Baroness agrees. When the group leaves, Flynn lingers behind and asks permission to discuss her condition with Seeker, and she agrees provided that Seeker does not fuss over her.

The group then heads out and starts making plans. Miaoyu suggests getting dog whistles to communicate with Seeker; if they get separated from him and get hurt, they can call him without alerting enemies, and she can communicate with him while playing as a scout. Seeker agrees, but only after making the group swear on their lives not to abuse the whistles. (Those high-pitched sounds HURT.) The group plays with some group names and two suggestions come up: "The White Company" (from Olaf) and "The Well-Hung Trees" (from Flynn). They decide to just forgo the names and banners and go under Olaf's name for the time being.

When Aelron asks why Olaf is so willing to fight other Dhar, Olaf explains that he's only loyal to his clan, not his people. If he were to fight against his clan, he'd need a slightly better reason to do so. Olaf also lets the group in on a secret: Dhar boats are covered in pitch to waterproof them. This has the unfortunate side effect of making them highly flammable. Miaoyu identifies six potential bases that the Dhar raiders might be using and the group makes plans to get the Dhar to join them. Apparently, Seeker’s influence has been rubbing off on Olaf; in the meanwhile, Olaf has concocted a plan to capture a number of the Dhar pirates, turn them into privateers, and use them to counter-raid the temporary Dhar kingdoms that have been set up on an adjacent continent. However, such a plan would require money. The party goes back to the Baroness to present the plan and ask for additional funds. Olaf presents this in a moving and eminently logical fashion, clearly tailored for the Baroness’s best interests. Seeker and Aelron stood there, mouths nearly agape (which is quite impressive on Seeker, I might add), as Aelron whispers “I hadn’t realied the Dhar were master political manipulators” and Seeker whispers “I’ve been underestimating him...” However, when Olaf explains the plans, impressive and compelling as they are presented, the Baroness ultimately declines, wanting to make a very clear statement.

The group travels to the first possible base with their soldiers a half-day behind, beginning in the southeast corner of the barony. Although they look around, they are unable to find any signs of Dhar raiders, and the next day they continue on to the next possible site. En route, they encounter a mounted patrol of ten men and manage to recruit them to their cause. The next possible base is in a cave along the coastline that has a man-made side tunnel. It was used, some time ago as a smuggler base, a non-Dhar pirate base, and a home for other mostly illegal activities.
Miaoyu heads in alone, after working out whistle signals. She finds two longships in the cave, one half-sunk and the other a bit scarred, but intact. The tables are filled with people, with additional people working on the sunken ship - twenty-three in total. Miaoyu resists the urge to throw the Indar’s Incendiary (essentially a small spell-grenade) Aelron gave her into the middle of them. Instead, she slinks back and reports what she saw. The group waits for the last of the army, alert for anyone who might leave the cave, and prepare an attack. Aelron and Flynn go to the mouth of the cave, which opens out to the ocean, along with the cavalry men, intending to pull in the ship should anyone try to leave on it with grappling hooks and chains. Miaoyu slinks back into the cave through the man-made tunnel and prepares to take out the closest raider, with Olaf, Seeker, and the linemen at the mouth of the opening.

Miaoyu gets into position and whistles. Seeker hears it and signals to Aelron, who puts an enchantment on one of Flynn's arrows. Flynn fires at the functional ship, and a small fire begins burning on its deck. Upon seeing the fire begin, Miaoyu levels her crossbow at the back of the raider's head and fires, killing him instantly, then hides behind the corner to avoid immediate detection. When a group gathers around the man's body, she steps around again and throws an Incendiary at them, but it lands in the fire and she doesn't manage to kill anyone. Miaoyu begins running to the outside, but one of the raiders catch up to her and she takes an axe to the back, dropping her, but not killing her. Olaf springs past her and shouts, "Nunatii take you!" in Dhar. Nunatii was apparently listening, because he avenges Miaoyu's wounds in one swift stroke, with a critical hit. (Nunatii, the Pitchfiend, is the current King of Hell.)

The raiders who were tending the sunken ship begin running across the bridge to help put out the other ship, but Aelron and Flynn coordinate once again and the walkway explodes. They then separately target the first and last raiders reeling along the walkway; Flynn's is pinned to the wall, and the other gets a blast of arcane energy to the face. The two remaining raiders jump into the water and quickly board the ship, dumping water on it and keeping their heads low to avoid meeting the same fates as their comrades.

Despite seeing his friend killed in one hit, the next raider Olaf encounters is quite brave and manages to hit Olaf solidly in the gut. Olaf retreats and Sergeant Galloway pulls Miaoyu out of the cave. Seeker heals his companions and they regroup. Olaf takes a few men with him to the mouth of the cave to swim in and attack from the inside. Seeker had enchanted a set of prayer beads with a Cure spell, and he uses one on Miaoyu and heals up the last of her wounds. She leads Seeker and the men back into the cave and attempts to bounce another Indar’s Incendiary off of the wall and into a group of raiders. It fails horribly. She tries again, however, and the bomb lands in the center of a group of raiders and does some minor damage to them. Galloway and the soldiers move forward.

Olaf slides one of his healing pills under his tongue before wading into battle. One of the soldiers is immediately speared in the gut, and a raider rushes to aid his friends. Olaf takes a fair share of damage, but remains standing. Barely. He moves around to cover his fallen comrade, draws out his shield, rather than fight with two weapons, and takes his healing pill. He manages to fend off simultaneous attacks. One of the other soldiers has his head cloven in half, but the other manages to continue fighting, despite his injuries and fear. (Seeker’s Side Note: As a healer, this situation was REALLY stressful; meta-knowledge-wise, I knew he was on the ropes, but I had no line of sight and no way to know he was in trouble.)

Aelron and Flynn, meanwhile, are trying to get a good angle on the raiders repairing the ship but have a hard time from the ledge they are standing on. Aelron tries to brace Flynn so he can get a shot, but isn't quite strong enough to manage it. They decide to switch, and Aelron manages to kill one of the raiders attacking Olaf, who was still wrenching his blade free of the soldier's head.

Olaf kills the raider attacking his last standing soldier, and the soldier kills the raider attacking Olaf. Olaf tells him that if he survives this battle, he'll make him sergeant. The enemies shuffle about, some from the ship gaining courage and attacking Olaf, while some attacking Olaf decide to make for the ship. Despite this, Flynn and Aelron coordinate again and drop two more near Olaf. Olaf scoffs at the last remaining enemy and kills him as he rushes to the entrance of the cave, his last soldier close behind.

Galloway attacks the first Dhar he sees and is immediately speared and thrown to the side. The Dhar lets out a mighty cry and taunts the soldiers. They become frightened, and the tunnel is too cramped to surround and flank the Dhar. Miaoyu attempts to shoot the Dhar with her crossbow, but can't quite injure him. Another soldier goes down and the remaining soldiers begin to push out of the tunnel. Seeker drops a Circle of Protection, and when he sees Olaf and how injured he is, he burns some of his energy to heal him from a distance. (Seeker’s Side Note: We’re using the Reserve Hit Point System from Unearthed Arcana, and each class has an ability called Inner Reserves that works off of it; in the case of mages, we can burn them to cast spells or apply metamagic effects.) Olaf and Miaoyu begin to work on the Dhar leader together, but both can't seem to hit him, and Miaoyu manages to jam her crossbow. Getting impatient, she decides to fight dirty and lets the leader think the jam is worse than it is, getting the advantage over him.

Meanwhile, the raiders on the boat manage to get it to launch, but Aelron keeps suppressive fire on them to slow their progress. Eventually, the ship maneuvers out of the cave, but the cavalry are waiting and they pull it ashore. The raiders surrender immediately.

Olaf whaps the apparent leader lightly on the face, and he jerks suddenly, as if shot. Olaf feels pretty good about such a strong reaction to his attack, until he realizes the leader was shot, with a bolt between his shoulder blades. Still, the leader won't go down. Not long later, the leader jerks again and he collapses with a bolt to the back of his head. Olaf compliments Miaoyu's shooting, and if she was still bitter over the five luna and his remarks about her crossbow, she forgives him instantly. Olaf turns to the soldier who had been covering him and asks his name. It's Ranolf, and he gets promoted to acting sergeant. Seeker begins healing the injured and bodies from both sides are collected. He also apologizes to the corpse of the soldier he was unable to save; he feels some guilt about not casting Circle of Protection earlier. Ultimately, the raiders suffered twenty losses, while the group lost only two men; Sergeant Galloway survived, although barely.

Olaf approaches the Dhar raiders, asks for their weapons, and tells them to invoke the Oath of Truth, Orison of Turmlar (God of Honor), ensuring they cannot lie. He commands them to swear never to raid again, and they do so. The three are taken prisoner, and the group sets about looting the cave. Most of the items are marked and can be returned, but they do come away with a fair amount of money each. They then set about making an example of the raiders. Olaf puts some of the raiders heads on pikes, and Flynn finds a chalice in the loot. He places it under the heads so it can collect blood and be a symbol of his Lady. Aelron uses an altered version of the spell Memory Print to inscribe ”Pirates Know Your Fate” in as many languages as he knows (a not inconsiderable number indeed) across the wall cave. Under it, he etches an image of a sinking, burning ship.

Everyone but the patrol heads out to Hangtree to report. Olaf kept the Dhar leader's head, and he puts it in a jar with some preserving fluids. When you tell a Dhar you want someone’s head, they tend not to take it figuratively. They all head to the manor, where Flynn once again attempts to shirk his duties, but again can't quite manage to. Flynn gives a summary of what happened at the cave, and Olaf presents the leader's head to the Baroness. She seems unimpressed, but accepts the gift and notes any commendations Olaf gives out. The Baroness gives out a notable sum of money to everyone, and when Seeker sees it, he manages to partially justify it to himself - until Miaoyu makes some unhelpful remarks. The Baroness then serves everyone some rum while the finer points of the counter-raid are discussed, and she says that she wants to wait for word of the counter-raid to get out, and the group will effectively have a month of free time. Seeker requests space in Hangtree to set up a clinic to pass the time, and decides to ask the Lady Hangtree with assistance finding what he Seeks. Which will, unfortunately have to wait to next session to say exactly what that is.

There'll be no session next week since apparently people have lives outside of D&D and will be busy.

And now, a bonus song. We composed this during a break in play because apparently we’re THAT kind of nerd. Enjoy!
Seeker the white-robed werewolf
Had a very binding oath
He wouldn't let poor Olaf
Join in any raiding games
Then one sunny afternoon
A stranger came to say
'Seeker with your robes so bright
Won't you smite some undead tonight?'
Then how poor Olaf loved it
And he shouted out with glee
'Seeker the white-robed werewolf
These foes won't have time to flee!'

AverageSparrow
2013-09-16, 06:48 PM
For reference's sake, I'm posting a list of all the spells that our priests have (or will have) access to. Some gods are more powerful than others, and the stronger the god, the more spells are offered to their priests. Because the Mother of All Dragons is comparatively weaker than Larlon and Gilgadar, she offers less spells. Check out Fayd's post (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showpost.php?p=16036091&postcount=9) for more information on divine magic in general.

Gilgadar's Spells
Cheat
Blessing of Gilgadar
An otherwise random factor in a game of chance turns up the way the caster desires.

Locate Object
Blessing of Gilgadar
The caster knows the precise location of an indicated item ('In the chest at the foot of the bed in the master bedroom at 37 Hospice Street, Bene, Aurbesk'). If there are multiple items matching the description, the closest one is indicated.

Obscuring Mists
Blessing of Gilgadar
If cast on an item, the item cannot be detected by spells of less than 3rd level. If cast on an area, it is filled with impenetrable mists, such that anyone in the mist can only see to a distance of one foot.

Odyssey
Miracle of Gilgadar
The target can never find their way home, no matter how hard they strive. They are consumed with homesickness, which may lead them into increasingly irrational attempts to get home. This curse cannot be broken by mortal means, except by the caster.

Plague of Thieves
Mystery of Gilgadar
The target is continually harassed by thieves. If they own anything of value, thieves far and wide will flock to take it from them. They can't so much as leave the house without an attempt being made to pickpocket them. This curse doesn't guarantee that the individual thieves will be successful, but sheer numbers are likely to accomplish that. The curse is broken when the target owns nothing (but not if all of their items are being held in trust).

Repurpose
Orison of Gilgadar
A held tool becomes better suited for a task at hand.

Sunder Fate
Miracle of Gilgadar
The target is freed from all curses and negative effects, as well as from all responsibilities. Kings lose their crowns, soldiers are removed from the chain of command, and prophecies must find a new chosen one.

Unbound
The caster is immune to immediate consequences from breaking the laws of the land. A person under the effect of this mystery could murder someone in broad daylight and not be pursued by guards. This spell does not offer immunity to personal or emotional consequences. So if the person the caster is murdering is right next to their best friend, the best friend would be able to object.

Larlon's Spells
Age Without Wisdom
Miracle of Larlon
The target instantly ages 5d6 years. They suffer all the physical penalties from aging, but gain none of the mental bonuses.

Cursed Wound
Mystery of Larlon
The target cannot benefit from natural healing. They can still be healed with healing spells.

Diagnosis
Blessing of Larlon
The caster discerns in general terms what ails the target. This could be a disease, poison, hit point loss, a curse or any number of other negative effects. This blessing will not discern a cause, only identify symptoms.

Disease Marker
Orison of Larlon
This orison inscribes a faintly glowing broken white disk on the touched object, and is used to denote the possible presence of infectious diseases. Purifiers of Larlon can sense the placement of this orison, to a distance of ten miles.

Longevity
Miracle of Larlon
The target has their physical age reduced by 5d6 years, to a minimum physical age of their physical prime (around 20 for humans and elves, 15 for beastfolk and 30 for dwarves). They do not lose any benefits from aging, but do lose all penalties.

Quarantine
Blessing of Larlon
This blessing creates a filmy white barrier that settles around the touched structure. The barrier allows for the slow transfer of air, but for anything else to pass through the barrier, it must first be broken. Despite the translucent appearance, the barrier is as tough as seasoned wood, and must be hacked open. The caster is informed when the barrier is damaged or breached and where.

Restoration
Mystery of Larlon
This mystery removes most negative effects. It cannot remove the negative effects of mysteries, miracles or 3rd level spells. This mystery could remove a person's cataracts, but it would not prevent the formation of new cataracts. It could not regrow a person's eyes.

Speed Recovery
Blessing of Larlon
The target's natural healing rate is increased by 2 hit points per recovery interval.

The Mother of All Dragon's Spells
Draconic Introduction
Blessing of the Mother of All Dragons
The caster learns the titles and name of the local dragon (if any). This spell then informs the dragon of the caster's titles and names.

Life of Unrewarding Drudgery
Mystery of the Mother of All Dragons
The target can no longer see color, and can no longer appreciate art and beauty. They usually sink into a deep despair given time, though some may be more resistant to the effects of the curse. The target also loses any color in their appearance.

Regenerate
Mystery of the Mother of All Dragons
A lost limb, eye or other extremity regrows of the course of a week. Generally, relearning how to use a limb takes a week after that.

Unspoilt Totem
Blessing of the Mother of All Dragons
The caster turns a natural item into a minor magical totem. The totem could be a plant sprig, an uncut gem or any number of items, so long as it is emblematic of unspoilt nature. The totem grants the bearer a bonus depending on what manner of item it is. Uses range from the practical (various plants giving bonuses on saves against certain diseases) to decorative (dye sources coloring the hair of those that bear them).

Vision of Color
Blessing of the Mother of All Dragons
The target can see color to a greater degree. Creatures that see in black and white can see in color. Creatures that already see in color can see slightly outside the visual spectrum, as well as having a much better sense of different colors. Someone affected by this spell can see as well as an elf, and see heat.

The_Werebear
2013-09-17, 09:43 PM
As I get more skills, I hope to make Olaf more social in nature. The idea is to make him a skilled fighter, but also with a strong political bent.

Trying to persuade the Baroness to give him a pile of money to make himself a pirate king on their first meeting might have been a bit of a stretch though.:smallbiggrin:

Cade Rentyr
2013-09-19, 12:17 PM
I feel obliged to highlight the Vengeful Banshee moment: Miaoyu takes a hit hard enough to drop her into negatives and the very next action is a fatal crit against her attacker; the variation this time around is that, Miaoyu unable to respond directly, it is delivered by proxy.

I'm starting to believe that this setting just has some inherent patron ghost-in-the-machine of adventurers, and she is quick to anger and not subtle at all.

The_Werebear
2013-09-19, 10:24 PM
Kinda worried about invoking Nuunatii and it working. Really hoping Seeker conveniently forgets it.

Cade Rentyr
2013-09-22, 01:10 AM
No new journal this week because Fayd (Seeker) and I (Flynn) are both out of town. Hopefully a short hiatus --as far as I know we'll be right back at it next week. Furthermore, Tam asked us what we'd like to do next, and the party decided on a good old fashioned dungeon crawl. So that's something to look forward to... :smallbiggrin: ...or not, depending on the number of falling rocks or eldritch horrors involved. :smalleek:

AverageSparrow
2013-10-03, 05:22 PM
Chapter 3: Reply Hazy, Try Again Later
Reader's Digest:

Seeker tells everyone that he's been looking for his disappeared wife for the last ten years.
We discuss how to break the curse on Baroness Hangtree and find out we're incredibly picky about quests, and possibly abusing the Locate Object spell.
We meet up with our dryad acquaintance and after a bit of 'negotiating' he gives us some information about the Fey Lord who cursed the Baroness and where to get more information.
Many goats and nighttime encounters later, we reach our destination and shed all traces of iron.

Full chapter:
While still enjoying rum in the Baroness's office, Seeker decides to share his story with his companions and the Baroness. He casts an Illusory Plane cantrip, effectively creating a movie screen for him to project his memories upon. Below is the story as he intended it. (Seeker’s sidenote: I totally botched the delivery of what I intended in-game)

In my youth, I was like any other wolfman. Bloodthirsty, hungry, lusting after elves… the usual. One day, in spring, I heard singing. I’d just killed my lunch, but I was entranced by the sound. I followed it into a clearing, where I found the most beautiful elf I’ve ever met, sitting in the clearing, singing and gathering flowers. I fell in love with her instantly. And it was real love, not the carnal lust of my Brothers. I stepped out into the clearing to greet her, and she screamed and ran away. I looked down, and saw my claws, still dripping from the blood of my kill... my muzzle stained red... I grew disgusted at myself; at the monster I was.

I vowed to win her love and to truly deserve it.

So, I cleaned myself well for the first time in... a very long time and left to find her. Our next meeting was disastrous, to say the least. Over the next few months I attempted to earn her trust enough for a conversation. I tried everything I could think of: Gifts of fruit and flowers, paintings I’d rather forget, so on. To prove my peaceful intentions, I dedicated myself to the cause of life, took my oaths of peace and service, and became a Purifier of Larlon.

Changing one’s nature is not easily done. I could not have done it without her help. She was… an amazing woman; A priestess of the Mother of All Dragons, an artist, and she had considerable magical talent.

Eventually, we fell in love, and in time, we were married. We were very happy for a time…

(Side-note; some marriages in this world are blessed by two of the gods, and it creates an empathic link between the couple. This same spell is sometimes used between a knight and their horse.)

And then everything changed. Unbeknownst to my wife and I, darkness was brewing in her sister's heart. She plotted against us, and late one night, nearly 10 years ago, she and her accomplices struck. What motivated her, and why she did what she did I do not believe that I will ever know...

We were attacked and dragged out of our home in the middle of the night. I was beaten severely and left for dead... I do not clearly remember the events of that night and I do not care to recall them in detail. I recall hearing her scream at least once.

When I regained consciousness, I did not recognize my surroundings and I could no longer sense anything from the empathic link to my wife. I was not feeling that she was dead, but a feeling more like that the link had never been made.

I have been looking for her… or her grave… ever since.

Olaf is aghast that Seeker hadn't told him before and immediately suggests searching for his wife - something he acknowledges as more important than dealing with Dhar raiders. Seeker assures him that it isn’t lack of trust, it’s just a tale he doesn’t like to tell often. He points out that he's been looking for his wife for ten years with little success, and any trail he's picked up has gone cold; there's little Olaf could do that he hasn’t.

The group has a bit of free time for the next five days. Seeker, with Aelron's help, runs a clinic, but it is fortunately slow-going. Seeker rounds up some soldiers and teaches them first aid. Miaoyu gets in on some gambling and cheats her way into a handful of coins and buys some proper armor to avoid another axe to the back. Olaf asks the Baroness to spar with him and is soundly defeated, even with her left side paralyzed and while sitting in a chair. Rather than becoming foolish or angry, Olaf immediately asks her to teach him. She agrees, and drags a reluctant Flynn in to join the training.

During this time, the group finds out, one way or another, the Baroness's story: Before she was a baroness, she was the Knight of the Bloody Chalice. She used to be one of the best knights in Drougant, and the tournament champion for near on a decade, and was eventually charged by the king to deal with the fey and hobgoblins in one of the forests. In the battle, the foot soldiers on both sides were entirely wiped out, leaving only the future Baroness and a Fey Lord left. She managed to kill the Fey Lord, but not before he stabbed her with a bronze sword and some pieces broke off in the wound. She was eventually found and brought to a nearby city where she was healed as best as could be done and given the title of Baroness.

Eventually, Seeker's request to examine the Baroness is approved. He casts Diagnosis on her and finds she is suffering from poison, a curse, and disease. Which ones, the spell won’t say. When Olaf points out that most fey and fey-related things are weak to iron, the Baroness picks up an iron letter opener and places it against one of the green veins on her left arm - it immediately snaps, to the shock of everyone. It wasn’t a violent snapping; more that it loses all consistency and just falls apart in shards. She shows them an image of the Fey Lord's insignia:
http://i251.photobucket.com/albums/gg313/Senrei_yume/insignia.png
Description: A stag skull with something coming from the lower half of the jaw, perhaps snakes, worms, or tentacles. It was engraved on a bronze shield, some detail was lost. (Please forgive my sloppy photoshopping.)
The group discusses a whole variety of different ways to cure the baroness. The theory is that we have to cure all 3 of the ailments simultaneously or some of them may reassert. Most prominently amongst them is the use of a unicorn horn and how to obtain one; it’s a well known cure for pretty much any poison. Aelron and Seeker were somewhat reluctant to kill a unicorn. As fey, they are not inherently good - and often can be quite vicious - but they do protect forests, have some healing properties, and there is some debate amongst the Mother of All Dragons' clergy as to whether or not unicorns are in some way draconic. Morality aside, killing a unicorn would be difficult; in battle, they are essentially berserkers. They are friendly to virgins - which includes both Flynn and Olaf (everyone else is out) - and can also be made docile with a golden bridle, made from either the hair of a blond virgin or gold. Miaoyu locates a golden bridle in a treasury in a nearby city, Brand, but Aelron threatens to report them to the authorities if anyone tries to steal it. Finally, the group simply asks the Baroness if she'd be willing to arrange for a golden bridle to be made. She agrees, saying that it will take about a month.

Amber is suggested to counteract the disease. Once again, Miaoyu attempts to locate the nearest fist-sized sample and finds one in one of the Peri homelands, on an altar to a dragon. The group is intimidated by the mere suggestion of a dragon and decide to avoid such a possibility for the moment.

The alicorn takes care of the poison, and Seeker is as good as anything they’d get for disease, so that leaves the curse. A possibility is finding an iron dagger consecrated by the Iron Lord (the deceased demigod of iron and vengeance against the fey) to counteract the curse. Miaoyu tries to locate one and Gilgadar finds one nearby - then immediately insists that Miaoyu forget he said anything. He doesn't have many priests and she has potential! He'd rather not lose her - she can ask again in about a month. (Originally we were going to do a dungeon crawl, but when the DM started prepping for it, he realized it would be MUCH better suited to Halloween gaming.)


Ultimately, the group decides to talk with the dryad they met on their way to Hangtree and see if he has any information on the Fey Lord before continuing onto the battlefield where she was injured. Olaf suggests cutting through Old Drougant, which has been consumed by a variety of unsavory powers. Aelron balks and casts a slideshow of all the horrible things that could happen to them should they go through Old Drougant: the group being eaten by demons; a black ooze from which no one emerges; a chamber filling with water and no escape possible; so on and so forth.
"I didn't think number fourteen was so bad," Olaf says. Number fourteen was being a love-slave to a lich. Regardless, they decide to cut around Old Drougant and after a few days arrive at the grove.

Aelron approaches the grove first and the dryad comes up to him, grinning. "Hi!"
Aelron instantly fails his will save.

Seeker rushes up to cast Restoration on him and is also promptly charmed. Knowing that the dryad's charm spells have been used up, Olaf runs after the three as they head into the woods and tries to snap Seeker and Aelron out of their charmed state. Olaf tells Aelron that he's being 'Onyx Towered' and Aelron manages to get back in control, and Seeker comes to his senses when he's reminded of his wife. At this, the dryad is heartbroken - he just can't seduce anyone anymore. He begins to sulk. Aelron points out that if he didn't just charm people right away, maybe they'd be interested in him, but the dryad just huffs and turns away. Finally, Aelron offers to bless the grove for fertility and give the dryad a kiss in exchange for some information about the Fey Lord they're seeking. "With tongue," the dryad demands. "Is there any other kind?" Aelron retorts, and the dryad capitulates.

Looking at the insignia, the dryad confirms that the Fey Lord is associated with the Horned Lord, the Hunter of the Bright Court, the Summer Court, the Seelie court. The dryad asks if the things coming from the lower jaw are worms; if they are, they could represent returning from death or injury stronger than before, not unlike a hydra. When asked if it has any associations with curses, he explains that there's a death curse that, when the cursed one dies, the lord would be reborn. If they’re roots, it means he’s a colonial expansionist, if it is tentacles, that’s just bad, and so on. When pressed for more information, he directs the group to a daoine sidhe, a fey of the hills, who practices heraldry further north. He should know more about who this Lord was.

When the dryad asks for a kiss, Aelron offers a different deal: twenty minutes in the forest in exchange for a lock of his hair. The dryad happily agrees, and the group moves off a bit to give them some privacy, except for Flynn, who starts to ride off. They want to make sure it’s only twenty minutes; the fey have a legendarily bad sense of time. Seeker is, however, still within smelling range. ("…Pomegranate juice?") Twenty minutes later, the two came back, both looking quite pleased. Aelron also gets the Dryad's Favor, which gives him some nice bonuses.

The group moves on and passes into Forscythe where they pass by the border patrol this time. When one of the guards asks what the group is up to, Olaf responds, "We're going to find a sidhe to tell us about a curse, then travel downriver to New Drougant, hire some prostitutes, get a golden bridle, and kill a unicorn."
"A funnyman, huh?"
Then Olaf invokes the Oath of Turmlar to prove he isn't lying and repeats everything he said. The guard looks impressed, confused, nods and says, "Well, enjoy your stay in Forscythe," and lets the group continue on.

One night, while Seeker is on watch, he smells something sweet with a sour pang on the air, accompanied by the sound of buzzing. He immediately wakes everyone and has them all pile into the same tent. Aelron casts Sealing Ward on it, ensuring nothing can enter. Not long later, the tent is swarmed by tiny, flying, humanoid shapes that Aelron identifies as miasma pixies. When the pixies find they can't get through the tent, they eventually depart. The group comes out of the tent finding their horses slightly sick and decide to move camp. The next day, they cross into the Barony of Tappen.

A few nights later, Olaf notices some ghouls approaching the campsite while on watch. He snuffs the fire, draws his swords, and watches as they enter a crevasse and realizes the party had set up camp on top of a ghoul den. Fortunately, night passes without incident and come morning, he tells the rest of the group what he saw. Miaoyu squeezes into the crevasse, her eyesight improved by a blessing from Aelron. The crevasse is large enough for the group to enter single-file before widening into a cavern. She gathers the group and they enter with Olaf first, then Flynn, Aelron, Miaoyu, and Seeker last (Seeker has a much larger frame than the rest of the party so it is much harder for him to move in the crevasse). When they reach the mouth of the cavern, Aelron illuminates Olaf's buckler and lights up the cavern. Six ghouls flinch at the sudden burst of light and hiss.

Olaf throws a dagger into one of the ghouls, and Aelron begins handing Indar's Incendiaries to Flynn and he manages to kill one. The ghouls rush forward to swarm Olaf. Miaoyu displays a hitherto unknown power: She vanishes from where she is and reappears in the shadow of one of the ghouls. From there, she shoots one, taking it down. Flynn throws an ice-flavored Incendiary, freezing and killing three more of the ghouls, and then kills the last one with a critical hit from his magically conjured bow. The group skins the ghouls for the bones so they can be sold later, and Aelron asks Miaoyu about her teleportation ability, both out of curiosity and to know how to help her use it. She explains she needs to be standing in shadows and must see the shadows she's teleporting to. She can also create a doppelganger from shadows.

The next night, Olaf hears something odd: the sound of a voice shouting, albeit unclearly. The group is woken to investigate it, and Olaf shouts, "Are you okay?" This was immediately followed by a frantic response, leading everyone to the source: a pit filled with dead bodies and a crying, living woman. It seems the ghouls were attempting to turn her into a ghoul as well; someone who dies with humanoid flesh in their stomach tends to rise as a ghoul. Meanwhile, Miaoyu becomes aware that they're being stalked by a ghoul and takes a potshot at it, but misses and it runs away. Olaf calms the woman and lowers a rope for her, pulling her up. She startles when she sees Seeker, but he calms her down and looks her over for injuries, but she is largely unharmed, but hungry. She is offered hard-tack, which she accepts (she adamantly refuses to eat jerky. No great surprise there). They make camp where they are, and come morning the woman is brought to a nearby town where she has some family.

Eventually, the group reaches the last leg of their journey: the Wolf Woods, where they immediately encounter the exact kind of creature you'd expect. Seeker attempts to speak Pack, the language of canines, to tell them "go away, not prey", but it's too late - Olaf has leapt down from his horse and attacks the nearest wolf. Everyone else also attacks the rest of the pack until one has died and the rest run off. Olaf gives pursuit, but they quickly outrun him.

The group spends a couple of days in the woods, noting that they've managed to arrive just in time for the full moon. Seeker takes to marking territory when setting up camp, and Olaf builds three fires in a perimeter every time.

One day, they come across the desiccated corpse of a beheaded stag, which looks as if it was killed from above. After considering a few possibilities, Aelron performs a Draconic Introduction and gets the following response: Greetings from Shadow of the Moon, Alpha of the Wolf Wood, Favored of the Horned Lord, and Holder of the Least Sun of Femta.

Sufficiently intimidated, everyone agrees to try to leave the forest as soon as possible, and Olaf inexplicably makes a hat from the stag's skull. That night, Olaf sees the camp surrounded by a circle of glowing yellow eyes, but when the rest of the group wakes, the wolves slink back. The last day in the Wolf Woods, they are warned away from their route by a wolf who is protecting her den. Seeker, to the protest of all, offers healing for it and its pups, but the wolf refuses, saying that Farkas, the god of assassins, cold, and wolves, would provide. Seeker moves the party around the area.

Finally, they exit the woods and shed every bit of metal they can, leaving their equipment with Miaoyu, who will stay behind to, ironically, make sure nothing is stolen. The others continue on to speak with the daoine sidhe.
I'll be gone next week, hence why Miaoyu was left behind. Fayd, Seeker's player, has agreed to cover the journal in my absence.

The_Werebear
2013-10-04, 09:20 AM
I can only explain the stag hat by noting that it was nearly 3 in the morning by the time we found it. I think my logic was something along the lines of paying Homage to the Horned Lord or trying to disguise myself as a fey.

I'm trying to play Olaf as a young man full of ideas. Not all of which are good, safe, or practical.

AverageSparrow
2013-10-04, 09:37 AM
I'm sure the skull hat is actually quite fetching, once you get past the fact that it's a skull.

You'll have to let me know how the fey react to that.

Fayd
2013-10-14, 08:16 PM
Chapter 4: Ruminatrix Reloaded
For this session, AverageSparrow was absent, and I took up the reins. Special thanks to Dawnflame, who didn't so much edit it as completely rewrite it for quality. And I appreciate that.
We meet the Daoine Sidhe’s servant gnome, who is strange and uses so many malaprops he needs a stage manager just to keep track of them all. The Sidhe gives us a little information, but refuses to aid us directly for political reasons. His gnome, however, offers us information if we help with ‘the cellar.’ We had to clean a bunch of imislime (http://umzamo.tumblr.com/post/63643959082/monster-imislime)out of the Daoine Sidhe's wine cellar, which involved mirrored frying pans, eldritch pillows, ice grenades and a Dharric People's Elbow. The gnome provides at least some information in return for our thrilling heroics, and we bid our farewells and make our way to New Drougant City. Along the way, we help a group of tax collectors and learn of a mysterious figure known as the “Cunctator,” whose tag line is “Taxes have been deferred. Indefinitely.”


As cautioned, the party divests itself of all gear containing iron. For some, this involves a lot more sacrifice than others. Seeker and Aelron have to drop their backpacks and that’s basically it. Olaf unbuckles his belt and, while clutching at his pants to keep them from falling, removes three boot daggers, a thigh sheath, the blades under his shirt, his sleeve knife, and his boots. Aelron, watching, shakes his head and hands Olaf a length of string--”Hairy string: binding force of the universe”--with which to secure his dignity. For a moment, the party discusses what it wishes to gain from a conversation WITH the Daoine Sidhe, and what information (if any) they should reveal to him. To guard its weapons and other possessions, the party leaves Miaoyu behind (with her player gone, we couldn't very well bring her IN with us). Aelron gives her an Indar’s Incendiary—ONLY in case of emergency, you understand--and Olaf sets up some campfires to keep the wolves at bay. It's the Wolfwood. Of course there are wolves.

As the party sets out to approach the hill, Olaf shows his blatant disregard for Aelron's, Seeker's and Flynn's fears of the fey with an offhanded, “Come on, what’s the worst that could happen?”

“Oh don’t say that.” Seeker replies.

“Do you WANT another slide show?” Aelron asks.

It is around noon when the party arrives at the mound. Despite the time of day, the morning's fog and mist have yet to burn off. The hill at whose feet the party finds itself is covered with trees, and appears to have a small clearing at the top; likely an observation post or veranda for the Daoine Sidhe. The mist makes Olaf's sailor's instincts distinctly uncomfortable, but the party proceeds anyway. Aelron's Fire Gensai blood is supremely unconcerned about mist, and Flynn might agree with Olaf's suspicions but won't let that deter him: “First of many bad signs. Bring it on.”

On the way up, Aelron and Flynn notice what appears to be a front porch; the hill's slope levels out briefly before surging back up and continuing its gentle slope, almost as if someone cut a small divot into the hillside. Sunk into the hill against the back of this divot is a round stone door, about five feet tall, plated in bronze. Wanting to be polite, Flynn knocks on the door. Despite his relatively soft knock, the door lets loose a cacophonous clangor, echoing for some time. Olaf REALLY does not like this, but again Aelron's supreme unconcern and Flynn and Seeker's resolve keep him steady. Five minutes later, the door opens, and out springs the strangest little man—well, not man, really—that most of the party has ever met. The being is short, perhaps a bit over four feet in height. He is of dwarven proportions—nigh as broad as he is tall—but with so little muscle and flesh as to appear emactiated. His eyebrows—large and bushy and green enough to be mistaken for actual bushes when he holds still—are the only visible hair he has. His skin is a warm, pastel brown, and he wears a what is either a short robe, a long tunic, or an outsized pillowcase of slate gray with a crossed bar of sky blue. According to Seeker’s sensitive nose, he smells like old shoe leather. Aelron recognizes him as a gnome; the lowest of the low in the ranks of the Seelie Court. They were dwarves who fought alongside the faeries during the Fey War and were ‘rewarded’ for the sins of the REST of dwarvenkind—the ones who joined the filthy humans— with a myriad host of strange compulsions and weaknesses. He greets the party with a single word: “Yeeeeeees?”

This is the most mercifully short-winded he will ever be with the party.

Flynn is the first to speak: “We are seeking an audience with the Fey Lord of the region.”

The gnome enthusiastically responds, “OH, you mean his splendiforousness, the greatestest speaker of signs and sigils, my luridly lord of langorous lugubriosity...” From there the gnome’s speech is too riddled with impropriety and assaults on the Drouganti tongue to make out more than a few snatches of sensibly-arranged words. He runs on for several minutes in this vein, praising the Daoine Sidhe with homonyms and antonyms until Aelron's player starts bleeding from the ears. Flynn’s player quotes Iron Man 3 (“I’m feeling better, but I tend to end sentences with the wrong cranberry”), and finally the gnome finishes his introduction and asks why the party seeks an audience (though the question takes him another minute or so to communicate adequately).

In response, Flynn offers the sigil he received from Hangtree. “This was cut from the shield of a Fey Lord who fell in battle in the forests east of here some years ago. We seek more information about the being who bore it.”

The gnome takes the sigil and ponders for some time. At least thirty seconds out of game. Then he rotates it one hundred and eighty degrees in his hand and an “A-HA!” expression lights up his face briefly. Alas, it fades, and he ponders it for a while longer. Finally, Olaf gets bored: “Can we go inside? The mist is a bit... drafty.”

“Oh, yes yes yes!” The gnome beckons to the party, and they all start forward. Then the gnome shrieks “HALT!” and everyone stops. “We must deteriminate something first.”

“We have disavowed ourselves of that already” Flynn replies, anticipating the demand for a removal of any iron.

“Duveted, you might say,” Aelron drawls. Fortunately, the gnome appears oblivious to sarcasm.

“I am free of ferrous felonies.” Olaf states proudly. Aelron wonders briefly where a Dhar comes by the word 'ferrous', but decides not to ask.

“I have lost myselves in your words,” the gnome states, apparently content that his statement meant something. “We shall refrain from altercating the flow of time.” With that warm reassurance, he beckons the party inside. All have to stoop to clear the sill of the Hobbit-hole—uh, I mean doorway (Seeker nearly has to crouch), but the hall itself appears to be of normal human height. In fact, the party, upon conferring, notes that the ceiling appears to be at a different height for each person; each has a comfortable amount of room between the top of their head and the ceiling, despite vast height disparities AND cultural gulfs between architectural norms. Looking back, the door, too, appears to be Individually Sized for Your Comfort!

At least it's not ribbed.

The party is led to a cloakroom, where the gnome entreats them to “Divulge your selfs of coats, caps, cloaks, deific superpowers, cheese wheels and the unlike.” Flynn drops his cloak off, but Olaf declines, arguing that without it, he would be mostly naked. Seeker notes that Olaf fingers the cloak's clasp protectively as he makes his polite refusal; it would appear he places more value on the clasp than on the cloak. No one else has anything LEFT to leave behind.

Ever onward the gnome leads, eventually to a room that is part showcase, part sitting room and part trophy hall. Mounted animal heads, predominantly wolves, adorn every wall; there is a buck to the right of the door with so many points Flynn wonders how the poor thing held its head aloft.

As the party takes its ease, the gnome offers refreshment, gesturing at a small bar laid with several varieties of delicious-looking snacks, a crystal decanter and four glasses: “The sideboard has been embiggened for your pleasure.”

Olaf, having been warned several times to accept no food or drink from the Fey, is straight-to-business. He fixes the gnome with a direct stare and says pointedly, “We were hoping your ruminatrixes would bestow upon us pontifications.” Seeker and Aelron glance at one another. Where does a Dhar learn to speak Gnome?

The gnome makes a few obeisances, bows several times, and says, “I go then and now and will go to fetch his Spendiforousness, the greatestest speaker of signs and sigils, my luridly lord of langorous lugubriosity...”

At least he's consistent with his mangling.

After an interminable and indeterminate wait, (one minor divine magic spells tells the time in 15 minute intervals, but returns the equivalent of a 404 error while in the Fey hold—which leads to some speculation between Aelron and Seeker; has time ceased to pass within the hold? Is the hold outside the flow of time? Is the hold EXEMPT from the flow of time? How then is any Fey realm impermanent? Are Fey realms coterminous only at specific locations AND times with the mortal realm?... and on and on) the door opens and the gnome lurches, crawls, and scrapes into the room. He makes a rather splendid bow (bending to flatten his nose to the floor) and declares, loudly enough that we can hear him despite the floor's muffling effect, “My lord Blazon!”

Through the door after the gnome strides a magnificent figure of a fae; a humanoid with long dark hair, long flowing blue robes and lily-white skin, richly bedecked with silver rings, amulets, bangles, bracelets, and more. He is a commanding presence, obviously a being of great power and not to be trifled with.

He is, however, only 2 feet tall.

The party shows respect race dictates (bows for the humans, a raised chin to show the throat for Seeker), and Flynn makes the introductions.

Blazon greets the party and asks, “What brings you to my home?”

Seeker’s player’s cell phone chooses this most opportune moment to ring, and Blazon sends the gnome to deal with “that bell.”

As the gnome scuttles out to deal with a ghastly ringing that seems to permeate the entire fey hold, Flynn opens with “My lord, let me thank you for seeing us on short notice.”

Blazon smiles blandly. “Of course. The country life can be so boring.”

Flynn blinks, then continues undeterred. “We would like to know more about the fellow who used this crest.” He offers the crest to Blazon while the party feeds in more helpful information—it was found on a the shield of a fey lord after a battle to the northeast, its bearer fought Baroness Hangtree, etcetera, etcetera. Blazon indicates that Flynn should place the insignia on a side table, which is just below waist height for Flynn. Flynn complies and steps back from the table, confused. As Blazon steps forward, he picks the insignia up, and Aelron's, Seeker's and Flynn's eyes go wide. The table, without appearing to have shrunk at all, is ALSO just below waist height for the two-foot-tall fey lord.

We're still not sure if this means that size really does matter, or that size really doesn't matter, or that size is more of a guideline than an actual rule, in the realm of the fey. Maybe all three at once!

Olaf doesn't seem to notice. Or perhaps, care.

“This insignia is Seelie,” Blazon informs the party, “And of an interest aligned to my own. I would know your cause before I give you any further information.”

At least he doesn't speak gnome.

Flynn attempts to obfuscate by making vague statements about how the party seeks to aid a servant of the monarchy.

“I assume you are speaking of the human monarchy.” Blazon induces tartly, eyebrow raised.

“Yes,” Aelron rallies to clarify. “Our apologies, my Lord. We meant no disrespect.”

Realizing that obfuscation will not work, the party agrees to attempt the PC's last recourse: honesty. Flynn, Aelron and Seeker relate the important facts of the narrative: we're attempting to cure Baroness Hangtree, who suffers a fey curse sustained while battling the house associated with the sigil in question.

Blazon harrumphs, thinks for a short time, and states “Well, I am afraid I cannot bring myself to aid someone who is an enemy of my state. I trust the gnome can see you out.” He turns and glides out the door. We are left alone and disappointed, and ponder our next move.
After a time, the gnome reenters. “I hate that bell,” he mutters, apparently oblivious to the room's other occupants.

Olaf, sensing weakness or a way to get further access to the fey hold, asks why he hates the bell. The gnome is obviously reluctant to talk about it, as his master has all but decreed us enemies of state. After some skillful negotiation through a language barrier so thick with malapropisms as to be opaque, Olaf manages to gain the gnome's confidence, and he discloses that the bell is in the wine cellar. It turns out there is an infestation of some sort down there, and the gnome has been tasked with clearing it out. He tells us, in his own, broken, inimitable and—thankfully--unrecorded way, that he has attempted to take a broom in and sweep the creatures out, but when he tries, the creatures either become brooms or grow brooms (either he's not sure or he can't tell the difference) and they sweep HIM out. We offer to take care of the problem for him.

“If it is what I think it is,” Aelron says warily, “This should be fairly simple.”

“If you help me with my broomeriffic broomlemma,” the gnome proposes, “I shall renumerate you by providering the informasticon of this crestfallen thingomobober. Have we an accordion?”

“I bleat we have an acolyte.” Olaf proclaims.

“We will sweep them away.” Flynn agrees.

As the gnome leads the party toward the cellar, Olaf comes up with A Plan: he'll show the creatures a mirrored surface! If a mimic sees itself, it won't know what to become, and will either sit docilely or paradox itself out of existence. Foolproof!

The gnome leads the party down a long passageway into a bustling kitchen with slightly more uplifted fey. Well, maybe “uplifted” is the wrong term; they're less emaciated than the gnome, and look to be better capable of speaking in complete sentences. Olaf asks one for a saucepan.

“What do you need a pan for?” she asks suspiciously.

“Magic” Olaf responds.

The kitchen brownie glances at the gnome, who nods vigorously. She shrugs and produces a shallow bronze saucepan for Olaf, who promptly hands it to Aelron for “magicking”.

Aelron gives him a quizzical look. “What, do you want a flaming saucepan? Self-heating? That'll scare whatever-they-are.”

Olaf shakes his head. He knows of a minor divine spell, Vanity; his grandmother used to use it occasionally to turn a small silver platter into an actual mirror when she needed it. Aelron thinks about it for a moment, agrees that a mirror might be useful in this situation (or, at least, probably won't kill anyone), and casts Vanity into the pan. As its inner surface goes reflective, the nearby kitchen fey recoil in horror; Vanity is the orison of The Dark Queen, the queen of the Unseelie fey.

Oops.

Fortunately, the gnome decides to cover for the party. “Mortals!” he cough-laughs loudly in a voice that clearly indicates he is terrified and trying not to show it. “Ha-ha-ha-HA-ha-HA! Silly crazy mortals. Best not dwell on it. On we go!”

The party is chivvied out of the kitchen and down a small hall to the wine cellar's door; it is a broad double-door easily ten feet wide, made of solid oak and inlaid with golden tracery shaped like grapevines. Apparently this is where Blazon keeps all his best vintages. It would seem there's some sort of big event coming up soon that the wine will be needed for, and the gnome has been told to clean out this cellar or suffer the consequences. Most of the party chooses not to think about what those might be.

“How valuable is this door?” Olaf asks.

Funny he should ask. As a Dhar, he has a racial ability (and he's used it numerous times) to estimate the market value of any given item.

The gnome waffles, not wishing to offend Olaf's sensibilities (such as they are, and what there are of them), while simultaneously not wishing to see the finely traceried door bashed down. Olaf seizes upon the gnome's lack of immediate rejection as permission and attempts to kick down the door. Thankfully for the gnome, Flynn guesses Olaf's intention, and manages to unlatch the door just before Olaf's bootless heel comes crashing down upon it.

“Eat reciprocating justice, mirrorbeasties!” Olaf yells, brandishing the Vanitied saucepan as one might a shield.

With the door open, we can see pretty much all of the “cellar”, and it turns out “cellar” may be a misnomer. No one is surprised. (The gnome used a misnomer, get it? A misgnomer! Oh, god, now he's got me doing it...) There is a broad, roughly rectangular room carved directly out of the stuff of the hill—dusty stone floors and walls with a few roots poking through here and there. Six large brass-hooped barrels, each nearly as tall as Seeker while sitting on its side, are spaced two per wall. Several small bronze brackets hold torches that have long since guttered out. Despite this, the room is well lit; it appears the entire building has some sort of soft ambient lighting coming from… somewhere. The walls perhaps?

The... creatures... in the room resemble nothing so much as a piles of glowing ochre slime. As Olaf bursts into the doorway, they sprout heads that look... well, sort of like Olaf himself, if Olaf's face was hurriedly carved from warm honey. Olaf hides his head behind the mirrored pan, and stays in the doorway.

(We feel we must point out that our DM likes to use miniatures for combat representations. Each player has their own, though Seeker's is the coolest; it is his current OOTS forum avatar, printed on a small page, and arranged as a miniature like one of the ones available from the OOTS reprint drive. To represent the slimes, Tam O'connor was using gummi bears. He started with eight on the map.)

The party collectively wins initiative. (In this system, initiative is rolled by groups, so the party acts together, and its enemies and allies act as groups.) Aelron's player carefully reads the text of the Vanity orison, then asks the DM, “Hey, the floor's covered in slime, right? That mans it's sort of shiny, maybe a bit reflective?”

The DM warily agrees, and Aelron, without relinquishing his place on the party's back line, reaches around Flynn to touch the floor of the “cellar”. Then he casts Vanity, turning the floor into a fun-house mirror, or maybe a roller-rink. The rest of the party readies defensive actions and waits, not wishing to brave the slimy floor's difficult terrain.

At the beginning of their turn, the oozes see their own reflections twice (once in Olaf's saucepan-shield and once in the floor). Each time they see their own reflection, they split in two. Suddenly there are thirty-two of these oozes in the room, and all of them are bearing down on Olaf and Flynn.

The mirroring appears to have been a less-than-brilliant idea.

Flynn attempts to blast one of the oncoming slimes with his Eldritch Crossbow (his Eldritch Weapon feat allows him to manifest any weapon type at will; there are some caveats with reloading ranged weapons, but it’s otherwise quite handy); he misses his target, and then the oozes are upon them.

Two of the slimy buggers sprout oddly flinty-looking arrowheads and stab Flynn with them; they drop him to exactly 0 HP. Seeker heals him back up to 5 HP with a spell, then hands his rosary to Aelron and indicates a particular bead. Aelron uses the indicated bead and casts Circle of Protection, granting everyone +2 AC so long as they don’t move overmuch.

On the party's turn, Olaf attempts to kick one slime back into another slime to force them to... well, even Olaf admits he wasn't exactly sure what he thought would happen. And all he accomplishes anyway is to get his foot slightly soggy, so nobody wins.

Flynn grimaces and lets out fierce battlecry of “WORST! IDEA! EVER!”, punctuating each word with a swing of an eldritch... pillow. (“I can manifest ANY weapon with this, right? Even if it's a really crappy weapon not on the gear list and that I know won't hurt my target?”) Lovely downy Eldritch feathers burst among the surging ooze. Little else occurs.

The oozes attacking Flynn attempt to mimic the Eldritch Pillows, smacking him wetly but dealing no damage. The oozes attacking Olaf attempt to swing at him with clumsy imitations of his mirror-pan, but apparently cannot get past the ACTUAL pan. Oh, and they double again. Now there are 64 of them, and Tam is out of gummi-bears. Aelron's player unveils his secret DM-bribery weapon: a box of Mike-and-Ikes, which is immediately pressed into service as more ooze markers.

Thankfully for the party, each time the oozes split, they lose mass. It appears that there is a maximum quantity of goo, and every time they divide, they become smaller and weaker. They have gone from the size of a human torso to the size of a human head. The last ooze to attack on the round flings itself at Flynn, strikes his torso, deals no damage, and disintegrates on impact. Tam tosses the gummi bear to Flynn's player, a reward for his kill.

The oozes are beginning to pile up, making Aelron’s day (and Aelron's player's; his sweet tooth is probably more accurately modeled as a sweet black hole). The DM has, in fact, created a small mountain of Mike-and-Ikes and Gummi Bears on the table in front of Flynn's and Olaf's miniatures. Aelron hurls an Indar's Incendiary (a small explosive spell frame, this one containing a brief burst of elemental ice) into the pile, destroying at least ten oozes. Tam tosses Aelron's player a handful of candy, which almost instantly disappears. Flynn throws two more Eldritch Pillows; he critically hits one square and hits another. Eldritch Feathers fly everywhere as pillows tumble through ooze-piles.

On its turn, the ooze-horde attempts to multiply again but fails; they appear to have reached the opposite of critical mass, but will not oblige Olaf's original plan by simply willing themselves out of existence. Instead, they attempt to hurl themselves at Flynn and Olaf; half of them splatter on Olaf, soaking his undergarments in a most unpleasant manner (for the rest of the party as much as for Olaf) but not actually harming him. The rest of them pile up just inside the room.

On the party's turn, Olaf attempts to give the ooze the People’s Elbow. (“You know those giant leaf piles you dove into as a kid during autumn? I want to do that, but with ooze.”) Alas, he rolls a nat 1 and instead sinks to the bottom of the pile. Now he is actually in danger of DROWNING in slime. Aelron casts Burning Hands (metamagicked to deal cold damage, as it would do no one any good to clear out the cellar if the wine barrels burn to ash) and takes out almost all of the remaining slimes. Aelron's player makes a pouty face when the DM does not hand him the rest of the candy. Olaf takes some damage from the burst of cold, but Seeker fixes it nigh immediately.

Olaf manages to capture one of the last oozes in his cloak, and Flynn's Eldritch Pillows squash the last remaining one into soggy oblivion. Olaf asks if anyone has a jug to put his ooze in, and the gnome immediately reappears with a crockery jug. Olaf seals the ooze inside. It appears that he wants to keep it as a pet. He names it Scuzzbucket. It uses Tam O'Connor's “adorable falsetto” to mimick the last syllable of anything said to it. (“IT!”)

“The cellar is clean.” Flynn tells the gnome.

“'lean” mutters Scuzzbucket from his urn.

“For a given value of the word,” Aelron mutters.

“Oh broomjus day!” the gnome proclaims, and leaps into the room. Unfortunately, the floor is still coated with an apparently frictionless slime, and the gnome becomes a pinball. After several minutes of fighting to extricate himself from the sickly-sweet mess, the gnome attempts to obtain a second audience with Blazon for the party; he leads them to a washroom first, however, as they are... less than presentable.

Olaf is the only one who actually bathes; only he and Flynn were slimed, and Flynn has Aelron and Seeker simply Prestidigitation him clean. “What?” Olaf asks a cynically disinclined Flynn, Aelron and Seeker as he shucks his slimed clothing and dives into the bubble-covered bronze tub. “It's not like I'm gonna drink it.”

The gnome returns, a bit crestfallen. Blazon will not see us again, but he revealed some information to the gnome. Aelron and Seeker wonder idly, after leaving, whether Blazon knew the gnome would share it with us and simply used the gnome to get around his promises from earlier not to share information, or if he genuinely did not know the gnome would betray his trust. It may have become apparent that this party thinks in circles within circles.

“To quote my lord,” the gnome tells us, his voice dropping into a spot-on imitation of Blazon's much deeper baritone: “What fool told them this was a sign of an individual? It is the sign of a HOUSE! The House of the Hunt Reborn. They make some claims to the secrets of restoring the dead to life. Hogwash, if you ask me. I have no need of your services. Go away, gnome.”

As he finishes his recitation, the gnome bows deeply, again mashing his nose flat against the floor, as if his master really had been in the room dismissing him.

The gnome reaffirms that his master cannot—or will not—give us any further information about what is technically an allied house.
.
Exasperated, Seeker asks, “Who could we ask that would be able to tell us?”

“Oh, I could!” the gnome excitedly proclaims.

Aelron facepalms.

What we learn: The House of the Hunt Reborn still controls the same forest they held before the Baroness fought her duel. They have approximately one hundred lancers (fey of essentially the same rank as the one she killed). We ask about the symptoms that Hangtree is suffering from, and all the gnome can say is, “That is completely maleficent. Dastardly. I have no idea, but it sounds absolutely demoniacal.” Between the phrase “Hunt Reborn” and some of the other information the party has picked up, however, it is beginning to seem likely that if Baroness Hangtree dies while still under the effects of the curse, the fey who killed her will be “resurrected” in some form.

The party leaves the fey hold by way of the cloakroom, and Flynn picks up his cloak; it has been ‘blessed’ with gnomish magic, and will better conceal him in woodland areas.

The party decide to head out of the woods as quickly as possible. When you're in a place called The Wolfwood, and you've come across evidence that a dragon called Shadow-of-the-Moon, Favored of the Horned Lord hunts in the area, “Get the **** out” seems like the best idea. We have to camp in the Wolfwood for several nights before we're clear, and on one of those nights the party is awakened by a dramatically lower-pitch howl. All of the wolves who have been howling all day long abruptly go silent as the deeper, bass howl reverberates around the countryside. Olaf’s guess is that if a bear could howl, this is how it would sound; a distressing mental image, but thankfully the deeper howl is moving further away, and eventually normal wolves resume their calling and everyone goes back to sleep. On the last day in the forest, we find a deer carcass that has been hung up and cleaned. Obviously the work of hunters with bows and knives, but we can’t tell much else.

The party has a spectacular and spectacularly circular debate what to do next once they clear the Wolfwood and ultimately settles on going to New Drougant. It is the largest city in the region, the approximate capital of the Kingdom, and a decent place to find more information, either independently or via experts, that will aid us in our quest. We might also be able to obtain magical components and other resources that will aid in curing the Baroness. The country immediately south of the Wolf Wood the Isti Valley, and it is gorgeous; a broad river of glacier melt runs languidly and sinuously down the valley floor, winding around small hills and dales, some of which appear to have villages set into them in the dwarven style.

As the party nears the halfway point of its journey to New Drougant, an odd thing happens. During Seeker’s watch, a voice calls out from the darkness, hailing the camp and asking permission to approach. Seeker welcomes them, and out of the night march thirteen soldiers in the battered, broken remains of armor. All of them are limping; six of them are so heavily wounded as to require either heavy support or outright dragging to move. Normally even a light patrol would consist of twenty soldiers. Someone hurt these men badly.

Seeker, and Aelron once he's awake, work to heal the worst-injured soldiers first while their commanding officer speaks to Flynn. The acting-Sergeant (he was a Corporal, but he was the highest-ranking 'officer' they had left) said that they were tax collectors. They had gone to several local villages, collected loads of grain to return to New Drougant, and set out, but that they'd been ambushed barely a day out of town by vicious bandits. Apparently this is not exactly new; Drougant as a region is not known for stability and loyalty to the crown, and there is a legend in the Isti Valley that when tax collectors become too oppressive, the “Cunctator” returns to drive them off and return the villagers their rightful property. Apparently the children in the towns they'd collected from had been throwing rocks at the soldiers and saying things like “The Cunctator will get you!”, but the soldiers paid it no mind. The village headsman said that that was just a local legend, and nothing to worry about.

Aelron recognized the name; Cunctator means Delayer in a planar dialect. Most peasant children do not know words in ANY planar dialect, let alone the dialect of the Plane of Law and Earth. Something is quite strange.

What is most distressing to Seeker is that some soldiers have injuries wholly inconsistent with the wounds they've taken. An arrow wound in the calf with a shattered shin, for example. Both Aelron and Seeker question the soldier, who can provide no adequate explanation himself. He remembers feeling the arrow enter his calf, he remembers feeling a sharp burst of pain and falling to the ground, and he remembers waking up with his leg broken. Aelron deduces that the arrows were enchanted, and that a properly trained mage could, in theory, produce such an effect relatively easily.

Once the soldiers' worst injuries are taken care of, the party returns to its watch rotation and goes back to sleep.

In the morning, one of the soldiers notices an arrow stuck into one of the nearby tree trunks. The arrow's shaft pierces a piece of paper, pinning it to the tree. Seeker somehow didn’t notice during his watch, and his growling grumpiness with himself is enough to scare several of the soldiers. The note reads, “TAXES ARE DELAYED UNTIL WE CHOOSE TO PAY THEM. – CUNCTATOR” and is written on REALLY NICE parchment. Aelron expunges the ink and keeps the parchment for himself.

We travel with the soldiers to their local capital of Isti. Olaf, looking around on the march, decides that the Isti Valley would make an excellent Dhar kingdom with him as its king, and tries to get information from the soldiers about their patrol routes, strongholds in the region, army strengths, etc. They are... understandably wary of discussing such things with a Dhar.

The Upper Isti River empties into a wide, deep azure lake just east of the city of Isti itself. The party, travelling on the North side of the river, hikes along the lakeside trails and into town on a crisp, clear day. Aelron picks up a pebble washed clean and smooth by the glacier melt river and magnifies its magical essence to provide some protection from cold damage (Mother of Dragons spell Create Totem). Now he has Fire Resistance AND Cold resistance and he feels somewhat paradoxical.

The city of Isti is on the west end of the lake into which the Upper Isti River empties. The Lower Isti divides the city into two sections, a northern and a southern, as it drains out of the lake. On the southern side of the river is a large and motley collection of dock-lands, warehouses, and a few wretched hives of scum and villainy; it appears to be where most of the river trade on which the city thrives occurs. On the NORTHERN side of the river is an organized, thoughtfully-laid out maze of streets leading through a forest of buildings of varying height, all surrounded by a 30-foot curtain wall that extends some distance into the river and lake. There are barges plying across the lake mouth, and both the lake and the river within ten miles of Isti's keep are required by the Isti Tourism Board to be described as “teeming with fishing boats, barges and rafts.”

From our local guides, we learn that Far Isti, the walled northern part of the city we are approaching, is the primary hiring place for mercenary forces in the region. Apparently several unfriendly kingdoms to the north and west like to begin raids on the Kingdom of Drougant here at Isti; it is a relatively rich port with a low population and only a small standing army. The folly of underestimating Isti is readily apparent as patrol leads the party through the city and up to the keep; this place is a fortress, and looks to be a dwarven-made fortress at that. Seeker is mildly uncomfortable as the ceilings close in, but the architecture is sound and includes plenty of lovely choke points and arrow slits.

The soldiers Aelron and Seeker saved greet the guards watching the gate, and make introductions. The party is escorted into an antechamber, a fairly minor hall of some kind. We are left to make ourselves comfortable, and about an hour in, Olaf orders snacks. What arrives is river fish, cleaned and deboned, with the head and tail removed; the entire thing has been filled with spices and a leek, the fish has been sewn back together with a green onion, and the entire concoction has been slow-roasted. The lot of them steam slightly as the valet enters with a tray. Flynn dubs them “Leeky Boats”. Aelron glares at him. Seeker, with his muzzle, does not quite know how to approach this food without making an utter mess. Realizing his robe cannot be stained, he suddenly cannot care.

An hour after snacks, the Count of Isti, a man broad-shouldered enough to be part-dwarf, joins us. He thanks us for rescuing his patrol of tax collectors and for notifying him of the Cunctator. Flynn offers, as a vassal of Hangtree, another Crown loyalist, to inform the king about the Cunctator, but the Count assures him that won't be necessary; he seems confident he can deal with it on his own. Olaf requests us a boat to New Drougant, and the Count agrees to grant the party a writ of free passage. Rewards agreed upon, he departs, leaving the party again alone in their side room. While waiting for the Count's writ to be prepared, Olaf finds out that Aelron doesn't drink mead, and assumes that Aelron doesn't know how to party. Aelron, scoffing at such childish assumptions, relates a story about one of the wild parties during days at the Gemstone Towers (“This was during the Solstice holiday, so a lot of students had gone home... but everyone who HADN'T was part of this party. The Ruby Tower initiates were doing flaming shots out of the Sapphire initiates' bellybuttons, one of the Emerald initiates persuaded a broom to catch updrafts, and SOMEHOW the conservatory burned down. We're still not sure exactly how that happened, seeing as the conservatory was made of stone…”). Eventually the valet returns and presents Flynn with a purse stitched with Isti’s mark, containing a not inconsiderable sum of money, a letter of passage to New Drougant, and a small personal note of the Count's thanks.

As the party headed for the docks, Seeker asked Aelron what might be able to break an Empathic Bond of Brigii or Turmlar (two deities who can help their followers form empathic bonds that will forever link the minds of those followers, typically used for weddings or paladin mounts) as if it had never been made. Aelron, unknowing, provides the worst answer after a moment's consideration: Farkas, the god of wolves (and of wolfmen) grants an ability that can sever such bonds. Seeker digests this new information with some dismay; the bond between him and his wife was, in all likelihood, sundered by one of his own.

AverageSparrow
2013-10-16, 04:54 PM
Chapter 5: I <3 NDC or Thesauri Magnus Extinctum

Reader’s Digest:

The party travels from Isti to New Drougant City, where Miaoyu and Olaf promptly get into a bit of petty theft, and we learn that Seeker has been attempting to solve a riddle that should lead him a step closer to his wife. It turns out that the riddle was likely directing him to Miaoyu.
Seeker does his healing thing, Aelron does his research thing, and Olaf and Miaoyu try very hard to do less law-breaking while still earning money. They cease breaking most laws, but also do not earn any more immediate cash.
At Seeker’s request, Miaoyu Locates a dragonscale amulet he had given to his wife. She also Locates an alicorn within the city and begins to do a bit of plotting


Full Chapter:
Prior to the actual start of the session, we ran a mini-encounter to see what Miaoyu was up to while everyone was off adventuring. She was attacked by an incorporeal spirit, later identified as a Curious Strangler, that insisted on asking questions while trying to crush her windpipe. The thing... well, appeared isn't the right word... arrived in her camp as she kept watch over the party's iron goods, and began by asking what she was doing in the woods and what her name was. Miaoyu lied by reflex.

“My name is Hong Xiao. I'm just here to watch some stuff for my friends, we'll be out of the woods by tomorrow at the latest.”

“Whyyyy don't you STAYYYYYY?” the creature asked, and suddenly Miaoyu found spectral hands wrapping around her throat from behind, attempting to strangle the life out of her.

The creature proved impossible to spot at first, and just as impossible to harm. Its voice seemed to be coming from in front of her while its hands were definitely wrapping around her neck from behind. After several rounds of dodging out of the hands' grip and attempting to stab both the hands and the voice to no avail, Miaoyu asked frustratedly, “Why won't you just get stabbed?!”

The creature paused momentarily, becoming slightly more visible as an outline in the air, and responded with, “Why wasn't I buried?”

Realizing that questioning it would lead to improved corporeality and therefor stab-ability, Miaoyu continued to pepper the spirit with questions (not that it ever provided answers, you understand; it always responded with yet another cryptic query) until she could finally slide a knife between its... um... well, it didn't actually have ribs. It just had lots of ectoplasm. And boy, was Aelron's player sad to watch THAT stuff spilling all over the ground.

In all, Miaoyu actually took more hit point damage from that fight than she had hit points available. She had to burn something like three healing potions just to stay alive. The minor trachea damage, however, nicely explained her quietness last session.

While on the ship to New Drougant, Seeker to explains one of his methods of searching for his wife: a spell called Seek. (For all that he's thinking outside the box as a Wolf-man Purifier, he's not terribly imaginative when it comes to naming spells. Seeker’s Sidenote: They’re totally right! :smallbiggrin:) Seek gives its caster a riddle to solve that will bring him slightly closer to his goal. The most recent riddle granted to Seeker was ‘find jade in the iron throne’.

A bit of background for those not familiar with it: there was once a minor deity or demigod known as the Iron Lord. He began his existence as a mortal Drouganti tasked with prosecuting the war against the Fey, and eventually ascended to godhood (whether through sheer badassery or by absorbing the powers of the myriad Fey he slaughtered or by some other means, no one is precisely certain anymore). As a former Drouganti, the Iron Lord kept holds and fastnesses all across Drougant, and had supporters throughout it in even the smallest communities. The short riddles he created to help commoners remember how to defeat or avoid Fey creatures are still used, despite the fact that the Iron Lord himself hasn't been seen (and hasn't granted any prayers, so presumably he's been dead) for at least a hundred years. The Iron Lord maintained a tower bastion, called the Iron Tower (yet another non-imaginative namer; you’d think a demigod could do better! Even Ferrous Tower or Iron Citadel, come on people, use those thesauruses!), but that sank into the sea upon his supposed death and ALSO has not been seen since.

Surmising that the phrase 'iron throne' referred to Drougant as the general seat of the Iron Lord’s power, rather than to the tower lost to the trackless seas a century ago, Seeker made for Drougant, which eventually led him to be sitting with his party on a ship, trying to figure out what ‘jade’ could refer to. Everyone eagerly offers possibilities, from the most literal to the more metaphorical; at one point, Miaoyu and Olaf even begin plotting to travel to Qen and invade the Emperor’s Palace, arguing that if jade cannot be found in Drougant, they must bring some back with them from elsewhere and then “find” it to solve the riddle. Eventually, everyone lists off the word ‘jade’ in every language known to them. Aelron lists several in various human tongues and dialects, none of which is helpful. Seeker gives all the elven variations he knows, but again none prove enlightening. Flynn puts up his hands in a gesture that says, “Well, don't look at me.” Olaf admits that the Dhar tongue has no direct translation for “jade”, but gives the words for some similar gems. Miaoyu finally says it in Qennish: ‘yu’. Things finally click in everyone’s minds as they realize that ‘jade’ refers to a person, not a thing, and specifically to Miaoyu herself; the full meaning of her name is, apparently, ‘Clever Jade’.

Further clarification for those who may be interested: Seek is a divination spell that provides hints for Seeker’s goal in the form of a riddle; it is purely divination magic, however, and not prophecy. As a priestess of Gilgadar, Miaoyu is not bound by fate; prophecy cannot foretell her actions, predict her presence or take her into account in any way, but she IS subject to divination spells. There was a huge 'discussion' over this after the session ended, and we wish the DM's word to be known.

The sense of the request to 'find Jade in the Iron Throne' becomes clear when the party remembers that Miaoyu can ask her deity to locate any single item anywhere in the world. Seeker asks if Miaoyu would be willing to locate something for her, and Miaoyu agrees. Seeker, realizing that he will need to fine-tune his request to make sure that what he asks for is truly something only his wife would have, asks to Miaoyu to speak with him later, and everyone goes about their business on the ship. (Seeker’s Side Note; there was also deciding between an item and a slightly more…grim request that was not ultimately asked.)

Also aboard this particular ship is a band of mercenaries; scouts and map-tappers, they call themselves, led by a Lovas chieftain named Horvath. Seeker notices a young wolfman that Horvath identifies only as Pup; all attempts to speak with Pup, including those made by Horvath himself, result only in a low, threatening growl that Seeker can translate as “F*** off or I bite you.” Seeker decides to talk with Horvath for a while, but learns little of use beyond that the mercs are returning from a mission for a little R&R in New Drougant City and are likely not as benign as they claim to be; eventually Seeker excuses himself.

Seeker notes Pup’s unease; being near an elf (and there is an elf named Kat in the mercenary band; Horvath needs to work on his hiring processes) is apparently quite... frustrating for Pup (remember the curse that split the elven race into female elves and male wolfmen?) and being forced into cramped shipboard quarters with a physically fit elf is driving Pup to pacing. It's like watching a teenaged boy in a lingerie shop, except that every time Pup tries to make a move he gets a brutal slash from one of Kat's daggers. His muzzle is rather bloody by the time everyone beds down for the night.

The mercenaries’ captain, Horvath, decides to inspect the group’s horses and Aelron goes to speak with him; giving a Lovas—especially a shady Lovas about whom you know next to nothing—unfettered access to your horses is an excellent way to make them not your horses anymore. Unfortunately for Aelron, the only distracting tactic that readily presents itself (Aelron's not exactly the dissembling type) is getting Horvath talking rather than inspecting, and the easiest thing to get any Lovas to talk about is horses. Horvath goes on at length (one might even say ad nauseum, except Aelron doesn't get seasick much) about horses, horseback riding, horseback tactics, horse breeding, horse training, showmanship and even maintenance. Aelron doesn't necessarily mind learning about horses, but he's also aware enough of his comrades to realize that Miaoyu and Olaf are making use of Horvath's distractedness to plot something.

Upon Seeker's return to the group from his conversation with Horvath, Olaf notes offhandedly to Miaoyu: “You know, if they're returning from a job, they probably just got paid.”

Watching Miaoyu's eyes light up is both adorable and terrifying. “Are you thinking what I'm thinking?”

“I'll cause a traffic jam at dockside. Hit 'em as they're trying to disembark.”

“It'll be a pleasure.”

The ship finally arrives in New Drougant and the group takes in its towering walls and the castle on the cliff overlooking the river. All but Miaoyu are suitably impressed; Qen is fortunate enough to not be constantly torn by wars, and in comparison to her homeland's, these walls are rather small. When the ship docks, Olaf leads the horses off the ship first and deliberately makes Flynn’s horse stumble. He calls Horvath over for 'help' with the horse and quickly engages him in a discussion about how such a terrible accident might be avoided in the future, effectively blocking the gangplank and causing something of a pileup on deck. Miaoyu waits for the group of mercenaries to become restless before she begins pushing through them, casually liberating everyone but Horvath, Pup, and Kat of their heavy purses. Once Olaf notices Miaoyu push through to the gangplank, he breaks off the conversation with Horvath, clears the gangplank, and lets the mercenaries off the ship and into the city. Olaf and Miaoyu split their stolen gold while sharing a high five. Miaoyu, of course, decides to pay a proper tithe to the church of Gilgadar. Which is, by happy coincidence, herself. (“Ah, the many perks of worshipping Gilgadar!”)

At customs, the group are asked if they wish to declare any illegal or regulated items and to peacebind their weapons. A peacebind spell, the orison of Laeros, keeps a weapon bound in its sheath while it remains in a city. Utterly ineffective on weapons like clubs and staves that cannot be sheathed, and exclusive as it is of extremely small knives that might be considered tools or eating implements, it nonetheless helps ensure the safety of urban populations. Although a peacebind can be forcibly broken, an initiate of Laeros can determine down to the minute WHEN it was broken, which means the authorities can usually determine who drew first when a bar brawl goes bad.

Seeker and Flynn pass through customs without incident and are welcomed into the city. Larlonites with oaths of peace don't tend to have much to declare, and Flynn (hilariously) carries no weapon. To the shock of all (DM included), Miaoyu actually has no contraband, barring her stolen gold. To all appearances, she is the picture of a law-abiding Qen. Tension between Olaf and the customs officer is thick enough to cut with any of Olaf's baker's dozen blades, but the customs officer shies away from confrontation, either not noticing or ignoring Olaf’s urn full of Scuzzbucket. (Miaoyu’s Imperial Blessing reminds her that Olaf is breaking the law: “Oozes are illegal within city limits.” When she ignores it, she is then reminded that by doing nothing she is an accessory. She continues ignoring it. This seems to be a theme.) Aelron surrenders his Indar’s Incendiaries to the officer, sealing them in a case that will detonate if anyone but Aelron himself attempts to break its seal (possibly setting off the case's contents, and whoever sets it off better HOPE he has Improved Evasion), allows the officer a quick look through his kit full of random enchanting materials (“Is that a lock of hair?” “It's from a dryad. A really cute one, at that. I wonder how he's doing these days.”), and the group is finally released to go on their way.

Flynn finds an inn and stables the horses. (Flynn’s player was absent for this session, so alas he does not get to participate in our hijinks for the time being.) The others begin to walk to the major temple in the city.

“Better stay on your toes,” Olaf warns as they set out. “Cities can be dangerous.” Aelron and Seeker, by now aware of his and Miaoyu's antics during the disembarkation process, glare at him.

“Yeah,” Miaoyu adds with a cheerily innocent smile. “Definitely watch out for pickpockets. They could be anywhere!” The two of them burst into a fit of giggles and even Aelron’s player grudgingly admits it’s funny.

The party takes Bank Street through the city and finds it fittingly (if again unimaginatively) named; it is on a riverbank, at the foot of an embankment and lined with banks. As they pass by one, Miaoyu attempts to Locate an alicorn and gets a result! “That bank there,” Gilgadar tells her, “Used to be Old Drougant Bank and now it's... ok, where'd I put that notecard? Heck with it. Name doesn't matter anyway, you're standing right in front of it. Vault Two in that building.” She files the information away for later use.

The party eventually arrives at the NDC's main temple complex, which, in addition to the temple itself, contains a small seminary, apartment housing for many of the temple's staff and clergy, and offices for various church officials. Seeker arranges an audience with the city’s Regenerator, the head Purifier of the city. He also warns the resident priests of the disturbing number of ghouls the group has encountered (less disturbing once you factor in their recent proximity to the Corpse Copse) and then turns himself into a walking Red Cross, making his way through the city providing healing to any who he might find in need. (For the duration of this session, he earned himself the nickname “Sesame Street” from the DM.) Aelron, in conversation with various well-connected Temple residents, locates experts on unicorns, the Iron Lord, the House of Reborn Hunt and the Relentless Pursuer (the Unseelie Court's counterpart to the Horned Lord), as well as a vendor in the Foreign Quarter who might have some amber for sale. Olaf stays in the temple itself, leaving small offerings on the tray for every god in the Laerosian pantheon while he waits for the rest of the party. The temple guardsmen watch him like hawks, but thankfully for them (and him), Olaf is merely waiting for his party members. He's far too wary of the gods to make trouble in a major temple.

Miaoyu wanders out of the shrine area and into the temple dorms. Once she starts to see man-made holes in the walls – ideal for snakes to slither through – she begins knocking on doors until she finds a priest of Ysilar, the god of knowledge, betrayal, poison and—of course—snakes. The priest has a somewhat unnerving demeanor, by which we mean he hisses whenever he pronounces an 's', but he is willing to sell poisons, so Miaoyu is willing to overlook any of his odd proclivities and/or pronunciations. Unfortunately, poison requires a license to carry. Reluctantly, Miaoyu buys one, knowing that attempting to carry it illegally would be more trouble than it's worth, mostly because Aelron would just make her get a license anyway.

As the priest of Ysilar fills out the paperwork for Miaoyu's license, he asks what sort of use she's going to put the poison to. “Issssss thissssss for the dissssposssal of… vermin?” he asks, leaning rather heavily and unsubtly on the last word.

Miaoyu winks. “In a manner of speaking.”

Apparently finding that a satisfactory response, the priest permits her to purchase some rat poison. She asks about non-lethal poisons—knockout drugs and paralytics—as well, saying it is for her wolfman friend who has difficulty sleeping in cities and tosses an turns destructively enough to break bedframes, but the priest cannot assist her there; he directs her to an alchemist's shop. He is about halfway through giving her directions when Miaoyu nearly jumps out of her skin; what appears to be a fur-lined snake is slithering up the priest's arm, nipping him in what is either an affectionate manner or an attempt to kill him. The priest absentmindedly strokes the snake as it circles his neck and shoulders, then extends an arm toward a nearby peg mounted a few feet off the wall; the snake slithers along his proffered limb to coil on the peg and hang, observing. As Ysilar is the patron god of librarians, it isn’t uncommon to find snakes in libraries, offering companionship for the librarians, poison for the disciples of Ysilar, ratcatchers, and serving as unorthodox backup guards for the library. Miaoyu decides it's time to go see those alchemists, yes, those alchemists that she's sure are going to close soon so she'd better be on her way bye haveagooddaybyeleavingnow.

On his way out of the temple, Aelron spots Olaf loitering in the gallery and asks him to check the Foreign Quarter for amber. “It'll probably be Dhar selling it, and they'll respond way better to your presence than to mine,” Aelron points out. Olaf agrees and, seeing a perturbed Miaoyu returning from her poison-licensing expedition, proclaims that if he and Miaoyu together can't find any amber for sale over there, there must not be any to be found. Aelron rolls his eyes, briefly considers alerting the city authorities, then puts the whole thing out of his mind and begins his day of research by seeking out the scholar recommended to him for information on unicorns.

The scholar, Aileen, is a cheerful woman with a plump face and bright smile whose apartment is furnished with unicorn pictures, statues, stuffed animals… if it has a unicorn on it, or bears a resemblance to a unicorn in any way, she undoubtedly has one. She more than eagerly shares her knowledge with Aelron, explaining what she knows of finding and tracking unicorns, demonstrating how to properly remove an alicorn to make it a poison removal tool, pointing out how the horn's removal leaves you with a clear shot at the creature's brain (and once you remove the alicorn, killing the creature is basically a mercy), how certain pieces of the unicorn can be harvested for components in later magical rituals once the creature is dead, and what those components are useful for. In thanks for her aid, Aelron sets about crafting a gift for her. First, he asks her for a bowl of water, which she provides easily. He purifies it with the orison of Lo-Tenger (the god of the sea and the earth), making it crystal clear. Then he pulls out a silver coin and, using some borrowed tools, chips and grinds it into silver flakes, which he dumps into the water. Then, using a spell of his own devising, he shapes the water and the silver contained within it into a small (roughly foot-tall) statuette of a rearing unicorn with silver hooves, eyes, horn, mane and tail. There are just enough silver flakes left over to flutter about prettily within the unicorn's body, similar to flakes in a snowglobe. The statue has a texture akin to glass, but Aelron assures her that the enchantment which solidifies the outer surface of the water is quite durable, and that the little flakes will stir like that when the statuette is either shaken or heated. She calls it “Quite possibly the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me!”, hugs him in thanks, and tells him that if he ever needs anything more to do with unicorns, she will gladly assist.

While Aelron discusses prancing ponies and fairy horses, Olaf and Miaoyu browse the richer side of town for sleeping poison, but find little to their satisfaction. They decide, since Aelron has asked them to head there anyway, to head to the poorer districts of New Drougant, specifically the Foreign Quarter, to see if they can covertly acquire controlled substances such as amber and knockout poison, or otherwise acquire work, possibly from the local thieves’ guild. Unfortunately, upon entering the Quarter, Olaf encounters people from his clan, Bronze Elbow, and learns that his family, at least locally, has been wiped out. Although the conversation is only in Dharric, Miaoyu pats him on the shoulder in sympathy when Olaf turns ashen in horror. Olaf decides to focus on the living before seeking vengeance, and refocuses on finding amber to help the Baroness. They find a Dhar Clanchief named Orika who runs a shop in the Foreign Quarter and ask if she has any amber for sale. When Orika asks what this amber might be used for so as to know which of her pieces might best suit his needs, Olaf explains that if he can lift the curse on Baroness Hangtree, he will be rewarded a position of power, allowing him to employ more Dhar, ultimately improving the lives of the Dhar as a whole. Impressed with his ambition if not with his ability to stay on-topic, Orika offers him a large chunk of pure amber at a discount price. Despite the kindness of her discount, however, once Olaf and Miaoyu have scraped together enough to afford it, their purses have largely been emptied.

Seeker, having done what he can in the temple, proceeds to the Foreign Quarter as well, suspecting that their needs have likely been neglected. He meets up with Miaoyu and Olaf and learns of Olaf’s clan’s fate. Seeker offers his sympathies, but is pleased to learn that they found a most suitable chunk of amber for the ritual. Miaoyu and Olaf discuss employment options to recover the gold they've just spent, entertaining the possibility of working for the local thieves' guild (Miaoyu is reluctant to steal in the city without their blessing; an angry thieves guild is not to be underestimated). Seeker makes them promise not to target the poor, which they do without hesitation. After a bit of work in the Quarter, Seeker returns to the temple to meditate. For the sake of making Aelron and Seeker more comfortable, Olaf and Miaoyu decide to check out the adventurer’s guild first. They find a rather dingy building called the Hero’s Guild, rather optimistically named if still not imaginatively, and head inside. Taxidermied heads are the only form of decoration within, the furniture is stained and sagging and the staff appear to be invisible. A few other ruffians, presumably also adventurers, practice their combat skills on dummies. Miaoyu and Olaf investigate the bulletin boards looking for job postings, but find little in the way of profitable margin. The most promising jobs (and here we use 'promising' in an extremely liberal sense) are a couple of requests for escort and delivery of goods. The requests do not detail WHAT goods are being delivered, and specifically forbid the opening of the containers, but they DO specify that the material to be delivered must be kept within a certain temperature range at all times. Coincidentally, one of the deliveries is to Brandt, not far from Hangtree, which makes it a perfect stop before heading back for the golden bridle.

While Miaoyu and Olaf are looking for ways to replenish their coin purses, Aelron is depleting his own. The scholar recommended to him for information on the Iron Lord also happens to be a low-ranking noble and a dean of New Drougant's royal college. He does not share his time with just anyone, and insists on payment of a rather large sum of money up front before he gives any information. Aelron grudgingly hands over enough to satisfy the man, and he turns over an hourglass, seats them both at a dining table, and says in the most artificially cheerful voice Aelron has heard in weeks, “How may I assist you today?”

Aelron describes Baroness Hangtree's condition and the party's attempt to cure it. A rather sharp individual in his own right or he probably wouldn't be a dean, the scholar realizes that what Aelron is really after is some sort of artifact consecrated to the Iron Lord before his disappearance, and those are... difficult to find these days. He shares a list of seven locations with Aelron, each of which is the site of a ruin or temple once dedicated to the Iron Lord. The most promising in Aelron's opinion is a small temple ruin once known as the Iron Stele, which, by happy coincidence, is also the closest to Hangtree's barony. Legend has it that any person who goes to the temple and bespeak a need to fight the Fey will be directed to something that will aid them. Aelron doesn't know if such an enchantment would still function, but is certainly willing to give it a shot. He thanks the dean for his time and takes his leave, heading back to the inn as it is getting rather late.

Miaoyu and Olaf go to the inn and Olaf finds the sickest, lamest looking urchin he can find and sends him to Seeker with a message to meet with them at the inn. The urchin delivers it and is rewarded with Restoration cast upon him, which heals the worst of his maladies; Seeker isn’t sure whether to be cross with Olaf for taking advantage of the child or grateful that he sent the boy his way. Before going, Seeker speaks with the Regenerator, who calls Seeker ‘a credit to his race’, and overall approves of Seeker’s actions and plans to cure the baroness. Regardless, Seeker meets with the others at the inn, along with Aelron. They discuss the caravan job and Seeker asks Miaoyu to Locate a green dragonscale amulet he had made for his wife. (“What the heck,” Gilgadar says when she asks, “I’m a sap.”) Miaoyu tells Seeker the approximate location of the amulet, in the forested mountains far to the north of New Drougant. It’s in the middle of hillfolk (orc) territory, but that’s a rather broad term. Seeker thanks her and considers his next course of action. Miaoyu also asks Gilgadar for the location of the key to that one bank's Vault Two, and she learns that it is in the Gilderoy mansion. Now she just needs to prove to Aelron that Gilderoy deserves to be stolen from and she'll have herself a caper.


Special thanks to Dawnflame for helping with the chapter.

AverageSparrow
2013-10-22, 08:06 AM
As of now, about half of the group is contributing to the journal in some way. Dawnflame is co-writing with me and Fayd checks the lore. Assume this credit stands for every chapter hereafter, unless otherwise noted.

Chapter 6: Bush-whacked. Also, Bush-stabbed.

Reader’s Digest:
-Miaoyu and Olaf acquire a mysterious jar for delivery to Brandt that is not to be opened under any circumstances. So, naturally, everyone tries to figure out what’s in it.
-Aelron spends his time working on a spell for Seeker to let him heal from range.
-Flynn arranges an audience with the Gilroy family, but they deny having an alicorn.
-Olaf sells his inheritance to his clanhold.
-The entire party, bar Seeker, is soundly thrashed by an angry rosebush. They come back later and teach it a lesson.

Full Chapter:
Miaoyu asks Flynn what he knows about the Gilroy family. Flynn recalls that they are royalists, a powerful family whose support for the king is a large factor in the military and economic success of his kingdom. Lore Gilroy (that’s not a typo, that’s his first name) heads a far-reaching, highly-profitable mercantile guild and has married off a daughter to a man named Haddon (who took the name Gilroy when he married in). Haddon commands Haddon's Eagles, a mercenary outfit primarily consisting of medium cavalry. He is the king's right hand on the battlefield; while the Eagles are not great at holding conquered territory, they excel at driving militia-based enemies (which is about 90% of what the Independent Counties can field) into disastrous retreats.

Flynn decides to speak with his contact in the city, Calli, and asks about the general state of affairs in the region and the Gilroy family in particular. Calli tells him that the King is currently in residence (the royal banner can be seen fluttering over the castle's central tower in the half-hearted breeze), though he plans to leave in the next week for another military excursion into the Independent Counties. She has no news to offer about Hangtree or any of the counties in its region. When Flynn asks if the fact that the Gilroy family holds an alicorn is common knowledge, Calli does a double take. (“They have a what?”) Flynn insists his source is reliable (“She's not an official source, but she's not been wrong yet...”) and asks Calli to inquire around, see if any more information can be uncovered. The next day, worried that the rumor of an alicorn might draw other, less honorable parties, Flynn stakes out the First Governor's Bank of Bene, looking for anyone else who might be casing the joint. All he manages to find is a couple of tiffed nobles storming out of the bank to duel on the grass, so he heads back to the inn and makes a tidy sum of money playing at cards with a dwarven deck (“Wow. Another Magma Flush. This must really be my night.”).

Aelron decides to wrap up his research and meets with Sidhe (pronounced “She”, bloody Irish pronunciations), an expert on Fey houses, who will hopefully have more information on the Hunter Reborn. Sidhe is a royal adjunct rather than a university professor, and (thankfully for Aelron's rapidly thinning purse) doesn't charge for her time. They discuss for a while; Aelron lays out the particulars of Baroness Hangtree's case and what the party has learned so far of the House of the Hunter Reborn, and asks if she knows anything more about them. Unfortunately, Sidhe isn’t able to give him any new information; the House of the Hunter Reborn is more of a military organization than a true Fey house, and has no diplomats of its own. If Fey under the banner of the Hunter Reborn are nearby, it's probably because they want you dead. She can, however, confirm what Aelron learned from the Daoine Sidhe. Aelron thanks her for her time and departs.

He moves on to speak with an elderly chandler for information on the Relentless Pursuer. Here, again, unfortunately, he already knows about as much as the person he is sent to see. A bit more, in some ways. He confirms that the Relentless Pursuer was once a Qennish man (very tall, with anger management issues and a single-edged sword taller than he was) who had one of his eyes taken by a goblin tribe. He later ascended to immortality, returned to wipe out all the arboreal goblin tribes in that particular forest, and became a patron of bounty hunters and the servitor of Rihissa, goddess of revenge. As the Relentless Pursuer, he is the Hound of the Unseelie Court, counterpart to the Horned Lord (Hound of the Seelie Court). Any artifacts of the Relentless Pursuer would be valuable in a ritual to break a curse wrought by the Horned Lord or his allies (and the House of the Hunter Reborn is definitely under the auspices of the Horned Lord), but sadly the chandler does not know where any artifacts might be found.

Miaoyu and Olaf decide to check into the job posting they found in the “Heroes'” Guild. The posting slip leads them to a dark alley in the middle of town where a makeshift hut has been constructed in a gap between buildings. Their knocking prompts a shifty-looking man to crack open the door, and ask, “Yeeees?”

“We're here about the delivery to Brandt,” Olaf informs him, holding up the slip. “You posted this notice at the Heroes' Guild...?”

At that the man opens the door much wider and smiles. “Oh, yes, excellent! I wasn't expecting a response so soon...” Apparently the “Heroes'” Guild is not famous for low turnaround times; he informs the party that the notice was posted nine days ago. The man brings out a large (chest-sized, and that's only if you have a really big chest) urn that has been sealed and waxed shut.

Miaoyu and Olaf ask a few clarifying questions about the contents: will carrying them cause them direct harm, will the cargo draw bandits or other violently interested parties, and so on.

“I just want to know if we’re transporting arms,” Olaf finally states flatly.

“Oh, no, no,” the man assures him. “Arms would spoil!” The man laughs heartily, and Miaoyu gets a good chuckle. Olaf takes a moment to catch onto the joke, and then just scoffs. Still, their curiosity is not quite sated and there’s a bit of poking, tapping, and careful listening. Finally, their contact tells them that this shipment is made every year and that nothing bad seems to be happening to Brandt as a result, so it must not be all that bad; it’s what soothes his moral concerns, anyway. Olaf suggests that he might need a little something to quell his moral concerns (“I need a little more monetary justification.”) and the man passes Olaf and Miaoyu a few coins. This seals the deal, and they are warned that they’ll need to get the jar past both customs and the captain of whatever ship they’re taking, if they decide to go by boat.

From there, Miaoyu and Olaf part ways, Miaoyu giving Olaf a benediction to preemptively discourage any mugging attempts. Olaf heads back to the inn while Miaoyu finds a hall in which to gamble. She does pretty well at Dwarven poker (as is only to be expected from someone who has access to a spell called “Cheat” and no compunctions about using it), until she gets dealt a joker. There is no joker in Dwarven card decks, and this joker has all the iconography of Gilgadar himself. She takes it as a sign from Gilgadar that this is where she should call it for the night, pockets the card and heads back to the inn. (Her Imperial Blessing chimes in, “Cheating is not technically illegal. It is, however, dishonorable.”)

Back in the room, Aelron and Flynn conduct their own inspections of the mysterious cargo. (At this point, Tam puts a folded piece of paper, taped around the edges, on the table and says that by opening it, we’ll open the jar and find out what’s inside.) Seeker stops by to see if he can detect any diseases on it, but when he cannot, he is content and returns to the temple, where he continues to delight the sick and the orphaned. Aelron tries a few minor divinations and determines that the contents are not sealed in with a spell or other magical device, but is still not completely satisfied. He goes to the shack where the jar was acquired and attempts to bluff his way into getting the contact to reveal more information, but isn’t able to inveigle anything out of him. (I don't have the dissembling ability and Aelron lacks the skill ranks for that sort of discussion, sadly.)

Olaf, meanwhile, heads to the Foreign Quarter to see if he can speak with the local Dhar chieftains, ignoring the street “performers” he sees along the way. Unfortunately for Olaf, the building that the chieftains usually meet in alternates between serving as a poorhouse and serving as the cheiftains' meadhall, and tonight it is a poorhouse, so the chiefs are not in residence. Fortunately for Olaf, there is a merry bar brawl already in full swing, so at least there's SOME entertainment to be had. Olaf sits down for a drink and to watch the fun, then promptly gets picked up by another patron (he's not terribly bulky, is our Olaf, despite his rather beefy mindset) and used as a projectile. Upon being flung into the midst of the confused, violent free-for-all, Olaf proceeds to “win” the brawl, winding up outside the bar, conscious, bruised and battered and missing a tooth, but in possession of the coin purses of the unfortunates who are no longer conscious, and carrying at least four teeth, one of which he's sure must be his missing incisor.

When Olaf returns to the inn, Aelron looks up from his books and curses eloquently. “What on earth happened to you?” he asks. “You look like you tried to hit on Rihissa!”

“I won the brawl!” Olaf declares proudly. “Can you put my tooth back in?”

Aelron blinks at him, shakes his head, and holds out a hand. “Gimme the tooth.” Olaf gives him four. Aelron studies them for a moment, then asks, “Um... which one is yours?”

Olaf shrugs. “One of those, for sure.”

Aelron sighs, examines the teeth he's been given, and compares them to Olaf's. Olaf's, once you get past the blood currently drying on them, are actually quite white and well-maintained; three of the teeth Aelron is holding are decidedly smoke-browned. Aelron takes the white one, which looks to be the right tooth, and pops it back into place, sealing it with a bit of Sapphire Tower magic.

“OW!” Olaf says as the tooth re-anchors, his hands going to his cheeks.

Aelron scoffs at him. “Don't be such a baby. I thought you Dhar were supposed to be tough.”

“We ARE tough,” Olaf pouts. “But I wasn't ready for that, and you STABBED my gums, which are already rather sore.”

Aelron rolls his eyes. “Well, win the brawl better next time and maybe it won't hurt so much.”

The next day, Flynn is pleased to see that the rumor about the alicorn is spreading quickly. Aelron settles in to continue work on the spell for Seeker, asking not to be disturbed. Olaf goes outside the city walls to visit the Lizardfolk Enclave, (a small collection of burrows and shacks on the south side of the river, just to the east of the walls) to learn how to train Scuzzbucket. The lizardfolk have been domesticating oozes since time out of mind, so Olaf figures that if anyone can help him, they can. The language barrier is a bit of a problem; most of the Lizardfolk speak passable Drouganti, but their ooze trainers don't know the appropriate vocabulary for most of the finer points of what he needs to do. Olaf manages to get around the language barrier by asking the Lizardfolk to demonstrate basic care and feeding for him, and they get him some clay tablets with more detailed instructions that he can hopefully find a scholar to translate later.

Miaoyu, for lack of anything better to do, goes to the slums. She does run into a cabbage merchant, a storied profession in Qen (“My cabbages!”), but one that is taken for granted in the northern countries. Sympathetic, she gives him a luna out of the kindness of her heart; he does not comprehend. She then comes across someone tossing items out of a second story window – she can hear the telltale sounds of a heart-wrenching, rip-snorting, possession-throwing breakup in progress (“I LOVED YOU! WE WERE GOING TO GET MARRIED!”) wafting out of the window between volleys of material belongings. Then an expensive-looking vase hurtles out over the street and Miaoyu scrambles to catch it before it can shatter on the cobblestones. Managing to save it from THAT horrible fate, she scurries off with it and finds a pawnshop that will buy it for a decent price. (“It’s an heirloom,” she insists. Ah, the advantages of the Qen heritage.) Miaoyu stops by the inn to poke at the jar, but manages to refrain from opening it, before deciding to go out gambling again (“I'm going gambling,” she tells Aelron. “So, cheating?” he asks sarcastically. She looks at him like he's suddenly sprouted a third arm. “Right. Gambling.” Aelron shakes his head.). Flynn, meanwhile, is already gambling away and hears a story about a fisherman being attacked by a spider the size of a small dog somewhere in the docklands.

The next day, Flynn asks Calli to get an informal audience with Lore Gilroy set up. She agrees, and says it will take some time to arrange. Flynn is fine with that, as Aelron still wants another day or three to finish his research.

Miaoyu does a bit more gambling, but she's quickly running out of people who won't simply walk away from the table when she sits down. (“It's so hard being an honest Gilgadarite in this day and age. There's just no trust.”)

Olaf attempts to investigate the rumor of the giant spider that Flynn heard while gambling. He heads over to the docklands and asks a few dockworkers (who of course by now have all heard the story) if they know where the attack might have taken place. They don't know exactly, but they give him a decently narrow range of streets in which to search, and he goes tromping through alleys looking for trouble. He finds no arachnids, but he DOES come across five Drouganti peasants attempting to mug a Dhar boy.

Now, when you're a Dhar noble whose family has all just been killed in a raid gone bad and whose clan hold has been overrun by foreign mercenary scum, watching five bigoted foreign morons gang up to beat a child is going to make you mad. When you're Olaf, it's going to drive you into a screaming rage.

Olaf pulls daggers (peacebind doesn't hit blades under about four or five inches in length, and he has at last three of those on his person at any given time) and sprints at the muggers, shouting, “Stop right there, criminal scum!” The five of them wisely decide that this little one isn't worth the trouble and take off at a dead run. Olaf picks one at random, runs him down, and body-checks him into a stone wall. He ends the man's attempts to escape or fight back with a solid thump of his dagger hilt to the back of the man's skull, then pulls him up and shoves him against a wall.

“What did you learn about mugging Dhar?” he growls, pressing his dagger against the man's abdomen.

“Not when there's another Dhar around,” the mugger slurs. His eyes are glazed and unfocused, not actually seeming to SEE Olaf; he sounds almost as though he's reciting a catechism.

Olaf shakes his head sadly. “Wrong answer. Care to try again?” Then he picks the man up bodily, slams him against the floor and the alley wall again, and re-pins him in place.

By the time Olaf has his hold re-established, the mugger has slipped fully into unconsciousness. Olaf nabs his purse, listens to it jingle and clink when he tosses it lazily into the air, and smiles. “Ah, the sweet proceeds of justice.” (Somewhere, for reasons he does not understand, Aelron winces.)

Olaf puts his unconscious mugger in a fireman's carry and heads out, returning to the scene of the crime to make certain the Dhar boy is okay; the boy won't say much, but he nods vigorously, demonstrates that he doesn't have a scratch on him (well, at least, none left by the muggers), and scampers off with a brief chirp of thanks. Olaf drags the mugger to the meadhall and asks to speak with a clanchief. (“AHA! I have an in!”)

One of the local Dhar chiefs comes forward, glances down at the mugger, and looks up at Olaf. “Where'd you find this lout?” he asks.

“Attempting to mug a Dhar boy in the alleys near the docks. Him and four of his buddies. I ran 'em off, but I could only catch the one.”

The chieftain waves away Olaf's contrition. “I'm just glad the boy's safe. You did good work. You have our thanks.”

Olaf smiles. “Might I ask a boon, then?”

The chieftain nods warily. “Ask.”

“I seek an audience with the chieftains regarding my inheritance and the fate of the Bronze Elbow clan.”

The chieftain shrugs. “I cannot guarantee full attendance, but I will be there, and I will tell everyone to be there.”

Olaf gives a bow. “That will be wonderful.”

“Come back later this evening, and I'll have everyone here who will listen.”

Olaf nods. “And in the meantime, what do you want me to do with this one?” He hefts the weight of the now-drooling thug.

The chieftain considers for a moment. “Dump him in the drink,” he replies. His smile does not reach his eyes. Olaf complies with gusto, although he takes enough care in doing so that the man wakes up spluttering, floating face-up along the surface of the water, rather than waking up facedown with a lungful of river sludge.

Flynn contemplates bringing Aelron and Miaoyu along to his audience with Lore Gilroy, but ultimately chooses to ask only Aelron; having more petitioners on hand would lend more weight to his questions and any proposals he might make, but if Gilroy were to discover Miaoyu’s allegiance to Gilgadar, he would likely become significantly less likely to help. By the time Calli contacts Flynn about the meeting, Aelron's vision is starting to swirl from staring at spell formulae all day, and he agrees to accompany Flynn.

Miaoyu, bored and curious about what will happen, follows Flynn and Aelron from the inn. She tries to remain unnoticed, and manages to elude the notice of authority figures and her party members alike until Aelron and Flynn are shown through the gate of the Gilroy estate. She begins looking for a way around when she recalls two things: the line carved into the headstone of an old Qennish friend and fellow rogue who died attempting to rob a Qennish noble (“Who would put poison on the top of their gate?”), and a warning she's received multiple times from Gilgadar himself in the past (“Always check for dogs.”) She definitely hears dogs, and the spikes on that gate look NASTY. Deciding that Drouganti nobles are a little too paranoid for her taste, she heads over to a nearby park to frolic/skulk, instead.

Unfortunately for Miaoyu, she isn't the only one who's decided to “frolic” in this particular park. She stumbles across a couple hidden among the shrubberies who are... um... going at it, shall we say, with gusto. Her first instinct is to leave them to their fun, but the Church of Gilgadar is always accepting donations, and there's always a chance they left their purses somewhere the Church can find them... As Miaoyu paws cautiously through their hastily discarded garments, the young lady notices her. With a highly unprofessional yelp, Miaoyu casts Obscuring Mists and rushes out of the park, heading back toward the inn. (Cade: “Why did you drop Obscuring Mist?” Sparrow: “I just want them to feel comfortable.” Werebear: “Yeah, dropping a lot of cold and dampness on their exposed skin is going to do wonders in that regard.” Dawnflame: “Aaaaaaaand there goes his boner.”)

Flynn and Aelron have a less embarrassing encounter. After brief introductions, Flynn explains that he represents Baroness Hangtree, and that he and his companions seek to cure her condition. Aelron provides some more involved detail on their plan, stating that they will need to counter the disease, the poison and the curse that afflict Hangtree at the same time, and pointing out that an alicorn would be practically ideal for neutralizing the poison. Flynn states (technically truthfully) that we heard a rumor that the Gilroy family had an alicorn, and that we would like to borrow it specifically to aid in the ritual to cure Hangtree. Gilroy denies having an alicorn, but does say that he is willing to help Baroness Hangtree and will see what he can do about acquiring one, although he makes no promises.

Returning to the meadhall that evening, Olaf tells the chieftains what happened to his clan, and suggests that, as he does not have the support needed to return to claim the clanhold in a timely manner or properly avenge his family, someone who DOES have a chance of garnering that support might buy the claim to his title off him. In essence, he offers them his place in his family's line of succession if they are willing to pay him for it up front and ensure that his family gets the vengeance they need. He also requests that he be offered position as a guide and point man in any expedition they launch so he can participate in the vengeance to some degree. They make him only a modest offer, not having enough money to pay more immediately, and he accepts.

Back at the inn, the innkeeper is looking for the party. “Aye, glad you're back. It appears your horses have been stolen. I've already flogged the stable boy, but if you'd like to have another go at him....”

The group troops out to the stable to talk to the stable boy and confirm their guess as to who stole the horses. The stable boy is at first reluctant to talk, flinching whenever anyone asks him a question, but eventually Miaoyu and Flynn reassure him that no one is there to beat him and they only want to talk. He answers their questions, and their guess is confirmed.

“I should have robbed Horvath too,” Miaoyu laments. “He’s a horrible person.”

Olaf is consumed by rage. “This cycle of vengeance must be ended,” he says.

“What are you talking about?” Aelron demands. “This isn't a cycle of vengeance, it's a cycle of thievery.”

“Well, it's a cycle of vengeance as soon as we make it one,” Miaoyu points out, “And I have a Plague of Thieves curse with Horvath's name on it.”

“So you want to escalate it?” Aelron asks.

“No,” Olaf growls, “I want to KILL HIM.”

There is vociferous debate on whether or not to go after the horses: Miaoyu can track their bridles; they're not far out of town, and Olaf and Miaoyu want to see the wretched horse-thief receive his “due punishment”. Aelron and Flynn point out that the thieves in question are, in fact, racing north out of town, the opposite direction from where the party wants to go, and Horvath and Co are 'riding like they stole it', which means the party definitely can't catch them on foot, and probably won't be able to even on horses (“He's a Lovas! Do you really expect to catch him when he's mounted and fleeing across flat, open ground?”). Eventually they decide there’s no real practical way to retrieve their mounts and decide to simply buy new horses. Olaf goes to Rihissa’s temple and prays in lurid, graphic detail for all the most horrible punishments he can think of to befall Horvath.

The next morning, Aelron is reasonably confident he'll be able to wrap up his research, and says he just needs one more day. Olaf and Miaoyu team up to look for the great spider of Flynn's rumors, but still it eludes them. Instead, they come across a dead-end alley overrun with a giant, bramble-like plant growing out of its far wall. Intrigued but cautious, Miaoyu finds a wooden plank in a pile of nearby construction debris and tosses it into the brambles. It sticks in the brambles and does not fall to the ground; close inspection reveals that it is, in fact, impaled by no less than three spines. Olaf takes a knife and starts attempting to cut off a thorn, but the brambles resist the blade ferociously. Frustrated, Olaf breaks the peacebind on his sword and attempts to hack into the plant. This time he gets results: with the sword he can make notches in the plant-thing. Miaoyu notices the bramble beginning to move almost imperceptibly, and lights a torch, thinking that either she's imagining it and needs better light, or she's not imagining it and she needs to burn this thing PRONTO. Upon brighter examination, the plant is definitely moving (if slowly); she thrusts the torch at and into the bramble, but it won’t catch fire like it should. That's when Olaf looks down and sees the thing that sends him running back for Flynn and Aelron: one of the brambles appears to be growing OUT of the ribcage of a small, humanoid skeleton.

With Aelron and Flynn in tow, the party returns to the alleyway and everyone turns to look at Aelron. Aelron steps forward, carefully keeping his staff between himself and the brambles, and examines them closely. After a while, he nods.

“I've never seen this before myself,” he tells the rest, “But I've read some accounts that sound like this. It looks like a Bramblehaunt.”

“A bramble-what now?” Olaf asks.

“Bramblehaunt,” Aelron repeats. “Remember that dryad we met on the road outside of Hangtree?” Everyone nods. “Well, if you were to find his particular tree, the one tree to which his life is tied, cut down that tree, drag it into a city and build a mantelpiece or a dresser or something out of its heartwood, this is what would happen. The spirit of the dead dryad haunts the heartwood, and is decidedly unhappy about what's been done to it. It will use the twisted remnants of its charm ability to convince people to simply lie down and die near it, and from their corpses will grow... these.” He gestures at the spined vines before him, poking one gently with his staff. “They're highly resistant to damage from non-magical sources, so they can be tough to get rid of without a mage.”

Deciding to investigate the actual building the bramble haunt has taken over, the group navigates the streets until they manage to find front of the afflicted building. It's an old, rundown house; the front door is locked and the windows have been covered over with oilskins that have seen better days. Visible through the windows are a large group of the thorn-vines, at least eight of them growing from separate skeletons. Hoping to ask for permission rather than forgiveness, Aelron and Flynn head off to find a guard to alert them to what’s happened (“There's a bramblehaunt in this building here.”) and offer to fix it (“We can get rid of the thing, but it might get noisy, and we don't want to get into any trouble with the authorities.”). The guards seem apathetic at best (“This is the docklands. No one's gonna care what happens to an old building that isn't even being lived in anyway.”).

Miaoyu and Olaf investigate the building, peeking into one of the windows after slitting the blind. Inside, they can see patches of brambles. Miaoyu restrings her crossbow, breaking the peacebind, and tries to pick the lock on the door, but doesn’t have any luck. Aelron and Flynn return about then, though, and Aelron temporarily enchants Olaf and Miaoyu’s weapons, as he and Flynn both have magical armaments ready to hand (in a manner of speaking).

Flynn summons an eldritch heavy crossbow, which counts as a magical weapon, and shoots a bramble through the window. Olaf kicks down the door and slashes the nearest bramble, while Miaoyu charges past him and puts a crossbow bolt into the next one she sees. Things turn sour when Olaf and Miaoyu fail will saves and suddenly get the urge to take a nap—right on a bramble-covered bed. The bramble-vines are moving all over the room; the skeletons from which they emerge appear to be dragging themselves along the floor toward the party while the plants lash and writhe, bloodying anyone foolish enough to remain close to them.

When Olaf sees the bed is, in fact, still covered in sharp thorns, he reconsiders his urge for a nap and attacks the unmoving body of the bramblehaunt deep in the house. Miaoyu isn’t so lucky and curls up on the now-vacated (read: the corpses crawled out of it) bed. Olaf notices her lying down as he turns away and, remembering the charm effect the dryad used by the roadside, tries to frighten her out of her trance with a warning shout:

“Miaoyu, that bed’s filled with spiders and inquisitive customs officials!” Unfortunately, it’s not enough to rouse Miaoyu out of her trance and she rolls over in annoyance – right into a bramble that impales her abdomen, reducing her to a negative hit point total and DEFINTELY snapping her out of the charm.

Just outside, Aelron and Flynn aren’t doing much better. The vines that Olaf barreled past in order to attack the Haunt itself are swarming them, and Aelron especially is unsuited to close combat. He's crit in the second round and dealt 14 damage, a whopper of a hit since he only had 8 to begin with and was already down 4 of them. Reduced to -10 hit points, Aelron has exactly one action (and one round of his allies' actions) left before he dies outright. Flynn pulls Aelron out of harm’s way, then takes a stand in front of him to hold off the vicious weeds. Fortunately, Aelron has Seeker’s prayer beads, which have healing spells infused into them; ordinarily he'd use his own spells, but he spent everything he had on enchanting Olaf and Miaoyu's weapons. Aelron heals himself (it takes him two rounds to get out of the negatives, stupid unhelpful d6s), and returns to the fight just in time to heal a desperate Flynn, who has been fighting off two MORE of the plants with nothing but ranged weapons.

Miaoyu, joining Flynn in his desperation, jumps from the bed onto a nearby staircase despite her wounds. She's bleeding heavily (losing 1 HP a round unless she doesn't move), and the effort costs her, but she's clear of the vines for the moment. Unfortunately, the Haunt itself has her now; she barely manages to swallow her last healing pill before tendrils reaching out from the central growth wrap her ankles and begin to pull her down the stairs.

Olaf, the last standing target in the house, finds himself swarmed by at least three vines and the Haunt, and he decides to take desperate action. (“What's the difference between heroes and dead adventurers?” Tam quizzes us. “Knowing when to retreat.”)

“Miaoyu,” he calls, “I’m going to grab you and throw you out the window.”

Woozy from blood loss, Miaoyu smiles. “That’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to me.” (“This might be the first example of heroic defenestration,” the Werebear notes.)

Olaf hurls the meat in his rations at the Haunt, but gets a vicious slash across his back from one of the vines while doing it (yet another crit). Fortunately, the Haunt can't distinguish very well between the dead animals Olaf has caught for stewing and Olaf himself; his distraction works, winning him and Miaoyu a bit of breathing space. Unforutnately, wounded as he is, Olaf can no longer cavalierly toss Miaoyu out the window. (“Chivalry is dead. It got stabbed to death by an angry rosebush.”) Miaoyu wriggles free of the Haunt, gracefully falls facefirst off the stairs and lurches through the window, Olaf close behind her.

With the entire party in retreat, the brambles return to the house. Everyone huddles a safe distance away and Aelron, the only one who no longer has to actively work to keep his innards IN his torso, rushes off to find Seeker.

While he's gone, a hawker happens upon the rest of the party. In the most convenient turn of events this session, he's selling—you guessed it—healing potions. Olaf buys one and tests it. When it works, Miaoyu throws all of her money at the merchant and buys ten, although she decides to save them for later. Flynn buys the remaining five. Olaf tells the merchant what happened and the merchant decides to stick around for some entertainment. Round Two ought to be good, right?

Aelron, meanwhile, interrupts a charming moment between Seeker and several children; he darkens the doorway, and when Seeker looks up, he seeks the normally impeccable and unflappable Aelron bruised, battered and covered in blood. Seeker’s eyes go wide. “What happened to you?”

“We got in a fight with a rose bush and lost,” Aelron replies cryptically. Seeker quickly heals Aelron and rushes back to the others. The group begins to plot how to properly take out the brambles (“Because no way am I letting a zombie thornbush with a crawl speed WIN.”-Werebear) and Aelron wonders if he can get the guards to give him his incendiaries back. Miaoyu offers to help him steal them back, and Aelron glares at her. “The entire point of asking is to avoid angering the guards in the first place!”

Afraid of setting the entire district on fire, and realizing that the enchants on Miaoyu's and Olaf's weapons have worn off, they decide to have the melee party members hold the brambles down with pitchforks while Flynn and Aelron pick them off at range (“Are we seriously gonna go all 'Grab your torch and pitchforks!' on this?”). Aelron leaves to find pitchforks, heading for the nearest stable he can find.

“Excuse me,” he asks the man who's busy mucking out one of the stalls, “Do you have a few pitchforks my friends and I can borrow?”

“I might,” the man responds cautiously, gesturing to a tool rack near the stall door that holds three of them. “What for?”

Aelron, knowing that his answer is going to sound utterly insane if he doesn't, takes the Oath of Turmlar to prove his honesty and says, “My companions found a Bramblehaunt—a dangerous plant-monster that has already killed quite a few people and will continue to kill them if left unchecked—in a nearby abandoned building. We want to get rid of it, but its vines are quite dangerous, and we need a way to keep them at bay. Pitchforks should be able to hold them off us long enough for our limited supply of magical weapons to take them all down, and then we'll return your pitchforks with our profuse thanks.”

Impressed, the stablehand not only gives Aelron a couple of pitchforks, but closes up the stable and trots after him to help, as well. “This'll make for one heck of a good story,” he says, smiling.

Miaoyu offers to spot for Aelron and Flynn while the commoner and Olaf pin down targets. Flynn and Aelron focus their fire first on the Haunt itself, and one of Flynn's eldritch bolts blasts a hole through the back wall of the house, disintegrating the majority of the Haunt. From there, the rest of the fight goes quickly; the vines are slowly falling apart without the Haunt's magic to sustain them, and the last three going down with little trouble. Olaf plucks a thorn from one of the brambles and threads it through one of the stablehand’s buttons, naming him “Bramblebane”.

Miaoyu takes to exploring the house while Flynn begins shooting all the planks of the rear wall just in case. There are a few chests in the attic, filled with clothes, which are passed off to Seeker so he can distribute them to the poor. Seeker busies himself offering last rites to the Haunt’s victims. Aelron thanks the stablehand and sees him home while Miaoyu finds a loose stone in the fireplace. Upon further investigation, the stone hides a rather large cache of coin. She also does a quick scan of each of the Haunt's victims as Seeker lays them out for the last rites and finds a little more coin on each one, a tidy sum altogether. (She, of course, donates all to the church of Gilgadar, generous and devoted person that she is.)

Miaoyu and Olaf then get to talking about the Sunder Fate spell she will have access to when she becomes a high priestess and he grows a bit curious about becoming a cleric of Gilgadar.

“Being cut from fate isn’t all that bad,” Miaoyu reasons. “It worked out for me.”

“Yes,” Aelron interjects sourly, “look at her. This is what you’ll be like.”

“You’ll become Qennish,” she lies blithely by way of agreement, “and Qen are the best.”

“Yeah, and that voice in your head telling you whenever you do something wrong probably builds one hell of an inferiority complex,” Olaf returns with a grin.

Miaoyu visibly wilts and a tear appears in her eye. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she mutters.

After all that ordeal, Olaf and Aelron manage to level up! Flynn is 160 experience points away and Miaoyu is, frustratingly, only 70 points away. Seeker, sadly, is still well behind the party. Tam taunts Miaoyu with the little paper representing the jar, promising XP if she opens it, but then snatches it away at the last minute and says she can open it next session.

The_Werebear
2013-10-23, 12:05 AM
Poor horses.

Also sad - Olaf's inheritance was worth less than three horses.

For an idea of what Olaf wished on them - He wanted Bandits to steal all Horvath's clothing, leaving him naked in the snow. Then wolves would bite his legs off. Then, a Larlonite would heal his legs up, but leave when he learned that Horvath was a terrible horse thief. Then Brigii would laugh at him and bar him from Horses forever.

Then he would get struck by lighting.

Olaf was quite upset. When we find Horvath again, there will be a reckoning

AverageSparrow
2013-10-31, 08:22 PM
Chapter 7: The Cockblock of Destiny

Reader’s Digest:

We kidnapped a child. For justice!
We fought a red bull. Contrary to what you may have heard, red bulls do not give you wings.
We got a golden bridle, then delivered a Mysterious Jar and watched XP literally burn away.
We killed a helpless, innocent unicorn. Also for justice!


Full Chapter:
Prior to the session starting, there were some changes to the rules, mostly in terms of skill point distribution. In Tam's system, there are a total of twenty-six skills divided among four categories: General, Warrior, Mage and Rogue. Each individual skill can receive up to three “ranks”, with each rank representing a level of proficiency; no ranks being completely untrained, one rank representing basic proficiency, two ranks for specialization and three ranks denoting mastery. Only Rogues can master Rogue skills, only Mages can master Mage skills, etcetera, but anyone can reach mastery level in General skills, as the name might suggest, and everyone can at least reach specialized in cross-class skills. Originally, everyone got seven skill points to spend (modifiable with the feat “Multitalented” for an additional two and a high Wisdom score) and that was it. When Tam realized that 4 people had taken Multitalented and the fifth was planning to, he adjusted the skill system slightly. Post-revamp, everyone automatically has one point in their class skills, freeing up MANY of those original seven points to go other, more diverse places. He also decreed that fighters who have mastered a weapon style automatically get mastery in a trade skill. Olaf has mastery of Swordsmanship, and chose Trade: Sailor for his complementary free skill, arguing that Olaf equates the rythyms of rowing to the rythyms of combat. Flynn, after much deliberation, chose Trade: Barrister to go with his mastery of missile weapons: he knows the laws of Hangtree's Barony and the Kingdom of Drougant inside and out, having learned how to circumvent them at some point in his still-shrouded past, and now selectively enforces them on Hangtree's behalf.

As a result of the changes, the entire party was able to specialize to a much greater degree; Aelron, for instance, now boasts mastery in both Spellcraft and Ruby Tower magic (evocation and war magic), which gives him bonuses to hit and damage with spells. He also specialized in Lore (he's even BETTER at looking at random monsters and identifying them on the fly) and became a more devout priest (cultist?) of the Mother of all Dragons, which means he can now use the spells Regenerate and Life of Unending Drudgery.

Somewhere in the midst of this bedlam, Tam ordered us to switch our seating arrangements. Aelron and Seeker were sitting at opposite ends of the table, talking across it while having a conversation about spells and healing magic, while Miaoyu and Olaf, ALSO at opposite ends of the table, plotted yet more skullduggery and intrigue with the DM. Finally fed up with the cross-conversations, Tam suggested that Aelron and Mioayu switch seats. This put Olaf and Mioayu together at one end of the table, a distressed Flynn in the middle, and Seeker and Aelron at the other end of the table. Someone (I do not recall who) noted that we now had a decent alignment scale going down the end the table: Aelron at Lawful Good, Seeker at Neutral Good, Flynn at Lawful Neutral, Olaf at Chaotic Neutral, and Miaoyu at “Neutral Good” *cough*. (Sparrow’s Note: Miaoyu’s unofficially Chaotic Neutral, but she likes to think she’s better than she is.)

Tam also had a brief makeup encounter for Seeker so he wouldn’t be quite so drastically behind the rest of us:

During the day, sometime before a bruised and battered Aelron darkens his doorway, Seeker is in the slums, finding unfortunates who need healing and providing it to them. As he turns onto a new street, he is approached by four sneering men.

“’Ey!” their leader demands harshly, “Waddaya think you’re doin’ here?” He's a thuggish man: heavily muscled, forehead like a slab of granite, with enough shivs and blades “concealed” on his person to make even Olaf envious. His hair and beard are both long, somewhat unkempt, and scraggly; his teeth appear to have been stained a deep red by whatever substance he's chewing on as he slurs at our favorite wolfman.

“Healing the sick,” Seeker replies, pointedly glancing at his own stainless Purifier robes.

“We don’t like that,” leader states. “We don’t like your kind around here.” We're not quite sure if he's referring to wolfmen or Larlonites, though we have to guess Larlonites; he certainly looks like he'd fit right in with a pack of wolfmen.

Seeker narrows his eyes in a glare, but, undeterred, the men all draw knives. Seeker sighs and says, “Are you REALLY going to take blades to a priest of Larlon? You know that you'll never receive healing from one of the temples again if you do.”

The leader just scoffs and practically spits the words, “Who’s to say you’re a priest of Larlon?” as he steps toward Seeker, dagger raised in his right hand while his left reaches out to grab and pin one of Seeker's arms.

The thug's entire approach is based around coming to grips with weaker, smaller opponents who do not have weapons, or who do not know how to use the weapons they have. He moves in too close for their weapons to be effective, pins as many of his target's limbs as he can, and stabs them with the hand that he's currently holding high, out of reach of any interference by the target. Against your average street urchin or peasant, it's actually quite effective. Against what is essentially an upper-priest of Larlon, it is nothing short of a disastrous mistake.

Seeker wins initiative. The thug's outstretched left hand encounters Seeker's right paw, and Seeker's readied spell goes off: Age Without Wisdom, a Miracle-level Larlonite spell, instantly ages the thug seventeen years. He gains quite a bit of weight, his hair starts graying and receding, his beard grows and grays until its ashen length trails on the ground, and he shrieks and hunches uncomfortably as he stumbles back, retreating from the horror this wolfman has inflicted on him.

The rest of the thugs are leery and deterred, but not deterred enough. They charge Seeker, attempting to pin his arms and prevent him from casting further. “Change him back!” one of them demands as he attempts to grab Seeker's arm.

Remarkably calm given the circumstances, Seeker simply replies, “When he learns his lesson,” and allows the speaker to grab his arm. Twenty-one years pass by in a flash and the second thug screams in terror and rage. Terror wins, and the rest of the thugs break off, attempting to put as much distance between themselves and the bizarrely tranquil wolfman as they possibly can. Seeker yells after them, “Find me when you’ve learned your lesson!”

And that, my friends, is why you should never make a pacifist angry.

On to the session proper:

When Miaoyu reached for the Mysterious Jar, intent on opening it to level up, Tam told us that if someone opened the jar, only the person who opened the jar would get XP, but if it was delivered, the XP would be shared. The group reluctantly agreed not to open it, for the good of all. Now that we think about it, it might have been a better idea to hand the jar to Seeker, as it might have helped him catch up. Hindsight is 20/20, we suppose.

After the ugly fight with the bramblehaunt, the group decides they need some drinks to celebrate. They return to their inn and Aelron hands the bartender a jingling coin purse, asking for the finest drinks in the bar and access to the bar itself to mix them. The bartender opens the coin purse, expecting a pouch full of copper stars, but curious because he doesn't exactly BOAST fine drinks, nor mixers. The purse is, in fact, full of silver coins, Luna, and not copper stars, and is worth more than enough to reserve his entire bar for the evening. Leaving Aelron briefly in charge behind the bar, the bartender makes a quick run to some of his suppliers and returns with a selection of fine wines, brandies, mead, rum, whiskeys, liquors, gin, mixers, chasers and sundry “extras”.

Aelron begins mixing drinks from his days at the Gemstone Towers and challenges the entire bar to a drinking contest. Miaoyu, Olaf, and a handful of sailors, grinning as they size up the rather frail-looking mage standing behind the bar, accept his challenge; Aelron pours a group of seven shots, then smiles and snaps his fingers. All of the drinks are suddenly merrily aflame; Aelron grabs his, taps the shot glass once on the bar, and downs its contents, flames and all, in a single practiced gulp, then grins wickedly at the sailors. Seeker asks for one that won’t burn the fur off of his muzzle as the sailors realize this might be more than they bargained for. Flynn sits back and keeps a bucket of water handy for any accidents. Miaoyu takes the first couple of drinks well enough, but once Aelron begins mixing stronger ones she, naturally, begins casting Cheat. While ordinarily this spell only functions for games of chance, Gilgadar is happy to accept free booze, and begins taking the effect of the drinks—and the taste—from Miaoyu. Though Miaoyu makes no mention of it to anyone else, Gilgadar is apparently rather impressed by Aelron's drinks. Olaf begins to become a little suspicious when Miaoyu seems almost completely sober after her fifth drink and challenges her to drink five of Aelron’s drinks in a row. She agrees, and Aelron, now somewhat suspicious himself, whips up five fearsome-looking concoctions. One is, like the previous editions, on fire; one features tiny glaciers bobbing away on its surface; one bubbles furiously; one features constant concentric ripples and vibrates on the table when set down; and the last sparks and fizzles, crackling with excess energy. Flynn prepares his bucket of water for whoever loses the bet.

Miaoyu Cheats her whole way through, of course, and Aelron is able to prove that she’s done so: each of the drinks he mixed was enhanced with a bit of Emerald tower magic to inflict an effect on the imbiber: trails of smoke from the ears, blue lips, steam from the nostrils, a ceaselessly grumbling stomach and flickers of lightning around the eyes, respectively. As Miaoyu displays none of those markers, she did not, in fact, suffer any of the effects of the drinks herself, including their alcohol content.

Flynn then challenges Olaf to the same series of drinks; Olaf, already quite drunk, accepts manfully and manages all but the lightning shot by himself. Miaoyu, smiling mischeiviously, helps Olaf line the last glass up with his lips and drink it down, completing his array of magical effects. Flynn then dumps the bucket on Olaf, saying that the stakes of the game were pride, and he lost. With this, the party is winding down, so Aelron puts away the drinks and the party heads to bed.

Olaf wakes in the morning shivering and looks down at his clothes. “Why am I moist?” he asks.

“It rained,” Flynn says innocently. “You might say it poured.” The rest of the party attempts, with varying degrees of success, to hold their laughter in check.

The group packs up and Seeker and Aelron for the city gates, thinking to practice Seeker's new ranged healing spell in a somewhat less crowded environment to work out any bugs it might have. Olaf and Miaoyu, however, decide to speak with the stableboy who had been on duty when their horses were stolen. He’s an eleven year old boy, and he flinches a little when the two approach.

“Hey stableboy,” Olaf says. “What’s your name?”

“Keegan,” he squeaks, looking like he’d rather run away than talk.

“What's your last name?” Olaf asks.

The boy just blinks at him. Apparently, in Drougant, last names are only awarded when either a) you do something important or noteworthy, or b) (as Flynn puts it) someone important decides you need one.

“Okaaaay,” Olaf forges on gamely, “What do you earn working here?”

This is met with a burst of laughter from Keegan. The boy's eleven; he's lucky to have an apprenticeship. He sleeps in the barn and gets leftovers from the inn's kitchens as his meals. The concept of “payment” is a foreign thing.

“How about you come with us,” Olaf suggests. “We can teach you to fight, we’ll never beat you, and you’ll get a cut of the fabulous wealth we find.”

Aelron, Seeker and Flynn, standing outside the city gate, all cringe for reasons they don't quite understand.

Miaoyu holds up her bag of silver (everything the party found in the Bramblehaunt's lair) and it jingles merrily; that and Olaf's successful deception check earn an eager agreement from Keegan. The moment they step away from the stables, Miaoyu gets a sweet reminder in her head: “You are currently stealing an indentured servant. Please return the indentured servant and turn yourself in.” If you can't guess what she does with that warning by this point, there's no hope for you.

Since Keegan does not even technically own the clothing he has on his back, Miaoyu and Olaf take him to an armorer near the city gates for some gear. They pick up extra provisions for him, a couple changes of clothes, a wooden staff for self-defense, and a gambeson. While they're attempting to supply him, Tam is rolling up his stats, and at one point swears inventively and points at the dice on the table. He was rolling 3d6 for each of Keegan's stats (Twitch, Toughness, Wits, Wisdom), and Keegan now has an 18 Toughness (think D&D 3.5's CON score, plus any STR-based efforts to endure or overcome pain or pressure); he’s tougher than Olaf, or will be once he gets through adolescence. Olaf and Miaoyu eventually agree to train him as a fighter/rogue. They also consider themselves his foster parents. They’re definitely kidnappers at this point. Maybe both?

They hurry to leave the city before the innkeeper notices Keegan's absence. Keegan is excited to learn, once they're out of the city, that he gets to ride a horse too; he's not stuck walking, though he IS riding double with Olaf.

“…When did we get a kid?” Seeker asks as they mount up and begin to ride away.

“He was the stableboy,” Aelron sighs, recognizing Keegan.

“He was an indentured servant and he was being beaten,” Miaoyu protests. “He wanted to come with us.” The matter is dropped for the moment. Instead, Aelron and Seeker convince Keegan to try out the strange idea of ‘cleanliness’.

“But I'm already clean, sirs!” Keegan protests, when Aelron first asks if he'd like to get cleaned up.

Seeker raises an eyebrow, no mean feat with canine facial features. “Look at your hands,” he instructs the boy. “Caked in mud and dust.” Keegan wilts a little as he realizes it's true, especially in comparison with Seeker's or Aelron's utterly clean (if somewhat calloused) palms. “Look at your clothes. Worn, ragged, dusty, stained...” Again, especially when compared to Seeker's stainless white Purifier robe.

“I like dirt, though!” Keegan proclaims meekly.

“Well, just give being clean a shot,” Aelron suggests. “If you don't like it, there's some nice mud right there by the roadside, you can just go get yourself right dirty again.”

“Oh, all right,” Keegan agrees, thinking that he'll have to take a vigorous bath the next time they're in town. Suddenly both Aelron and Seeker snap their fingers, and two Prestidigitation spells go off. Seeker's targets the boy's clothing, leeching out the dirt and mud and stains and returning it to uniform coloration, while Aelron's targets the boy himself, removing all traces of dirt under the fingernails, all smears and smudges, and cleaning the grime out of his hair. Poor Keegan shudders in discomfort and nearly jumps off Olaf's horse in surprise as the spells brush him quickly clean.

“You all right?” Olaf asks, shooting Aelron and Seeker a cross glare.

“Feels... weird,” Keegan replies.

“Not terrible, though, right?” Aelron prompts.

Keegan doesn't answer, but he ALSO doesn't jump immediately into the roadside mud, so... progress?

At camp that night, Olaf shows Scuzzbucket to Keegan, and teaches him how to take care of the small imi-slime. Noting the boy’s fascination, he warns him not to overfeed it, or it will grow too large. (TheWerebear: “Yes, I know what I did, and how it's going to end.”)

Keegan is ALSO fascinated by Seeker’s soft-looking fur and asks, “Do you want... to be scratched behind the ears?”

Seeker gives a long-suffering sigh. “Oh, I suppose.” Keegan eagerly and happily sets to rubbing his head; Seeker enjoys it more than he’s willing to admit, though the occasional thump of his twitching tail is evidence enough for the rest of the party.

The travel to Hangtree passes mostly uneventfully; Olaf discloses that he plans to create a hole in his chest for the storage knicknacks, to the horror of Seeker. (“What? I took a spear through there before! Obviously I don't need ALL those organs. I'll just pull out the ones I don't need to make space!”) Miaoyu shows Keegan her ability to jump between shadows, and Aelron and Seeker show off their magical abilities. Flynn begins to lose hope that there will ever come a day when he doesn’t wake to the sultry sounds of Aelron and Olaf arguing pointlessly. (“Why do you always kick me in the mornings?!” “Because nothing else wakes you up! Everything short of kicking you just results in you mumbling something about your grandmother and rolling over. Would you prefer I hit you with my staff, or maybe put a literal fire under your ass?” “Of course not! Have you lost your mind?!”)

After almost a week and a half of following the coastal road toward Brandt, the group spots a giant, violently red, vociferously angry bull that appears to be snorting fire. It stands almost directly on the road just around its next bend. Fortunately for the party, this section of the road is carved into a very steep hillside, and the rapidly-rising slope of the hill blocks the them from the bull's line of sight until they choose to come around that bend. After ordering Keegan to hide with the horses, the party springs into action. Wisely deciding to stay uphill from the bull so as to avoid being thrown off the road and down into the ocean, the party begins climbing the near side of the hill. Aelron casts Elemental Negation on Olaf, granting him the ability to completely ignore two fire-based damage effects, then begins using the orison Snuff to put out some of the smaller flames the bull's presence has set in the nearby brush, clearing Olaf's and Miaoyu's way up the hill.

Olaf climbs the ridge until he can look down its far side and see the bull itself, then bangs his sword on his shield to draw its attention. The bull looks up, realizes it can't really charge him at the top of that slope, and opts to breathe fire at him, instead. A massive, 30-foot cone of hungry flame blasts from the bull's nose and mouth as it bellows in rage. Aelron's Negation spell summons a cool wind from behind Olaf that diverts the flames around him, and he suffers no damage. Which is good, because that was a lot of d6s worth of fire damage.

Miaoyu, who had been skulking along the side of the ridge, fires her crossbow at the bull; she hits it, but the bolt deflects off its hide. She shadow-walks up to a safe height before attacking again. Olaf, seeing no point in standing where he is to get barbequed, rushes down the hill to... take the bull by the horns.

Meanwhile, Seeker has cast a spell called Battle Precognition on Flynn, which can have a variety of effects. The most important in this case is that it will maximize the damage from one successful attack. Flynn steps up and fires twice at the bull in successive rounds; both shots miss. Aelron manages to hit with a single spell in that time, and an explosion of frost damage under the bull's hindquarters greatly confuses and hurts the creature, but doesn't kill it. Then Aelron gets an Idea. A wonderful, horrible, beautiful idea. Seeker puts another spell on Flynn that will give him the ability to roll 2d20 on his next attack roll and take the better result; Aelron enchants Flynn's next arrow with an Empowered Indar's Ice Grenade to deal an extra 3d6+1 cold damage. It takes several rounds of setup time, during which Olaf bravely stands his ground and gets repeatedly gored, but finally Flynn takes his fateful shot and hits the bull in the flank. He triggers Battle Precognition to maximize damage done, then totals it all up. His eldritch arrow, fired from a heavy crossbow, deals 15 damage after all modifiers are included. The explosion of ice deals another 21, for a massive total of 36 damage in a single shot. The bull's hindquarters are encased in ice; Olaf, somewhat amazed, steps back out of range to watch the creature's death throes. (Although our DM let us get away with it this time, he’s since nerfed BP so that only the weapon itself does max damage, not any enchantments or empowerings.)

Olaf cuts off the bull’s horns to fashion into drinking horns; drinking from one of them will, once per day, give the imbiber a fiery breath weapon about half the size and damage potential of the bull's. Drinking from BOTH will grant the full monty, a whopping 30-foot cone of 3d6 fire damage. Aelron eagerly takes one of the horns, as what elemental mage worth his salt DOESN'T want a breath weapon? The rest of the bull is butchered for steaks, though cooking them proves difficult; Aelron and Olaf have to fashion a makeshift bellows out of Olaf's backpack just to get the fire hot enough to sear it. Olaf sacrifices the offal to Kurush (god of might and the sun). Despite his bruises and aching muscles, Olaf is filled with a rush of power, the endorphin-infused feeling you get after a hard workout where your muscles are screaming at you to STOP MOVING DAMMIT but you feel fantastic, even proud of yourself. The party sits down to a hearty meal of freshly-cooked steak, which turns out to be ridiculously spicy; Flynn raises a toast to the “extinguishing of the Combusti-Bull.”

A few evenings and many miles down the road later, while Miaoyu is on watch, she hears a lovely baritone voice singing from the coastline. Lamenting her poor luck, Sparrow readies her d20 and says, “I NEVER make will saves! The rest of the party's asleep and I'm going to get enchanted to my death by some sort of siren!” As if through sheer bloody-minded contratriness and a desire to prove her wrong about its nature, her die rolls a natural 20 on the save; Miaoyu listens to the haunting song until it fades from audibility, and continues her watch.

When Olaf wakes for his watch, she warns him of the strange song. “You were almost lured to your death by an operatic, aquatic sociopath,” he tells her. As a sailor, he is more than a little familiar with merrow (mermen) and their dangers. He goes down to the ocean, followed by Miaoyu, and makes a modest sacrifice—a few odds and ends from his pack, all of which might be of use aboard a ship or under water—to the Ocean Witch, a capricious sea goddess.

In the morning, before the party sets out, Olaf and Miaoyu return to the beach. Somewhat suspicious, Flynn, Seeker and Aelron follow at a distance, and wind up observing from the top of the bluff upon which the road winds past the beach. Olaf finds that his sacrifice has been accepted and that a twelve foot merrow is waiting for them – a fairly small merrow, really, as merrow really never stop growing and can easily reach “sea giant” proportions. Olaf chats with the merrow a bit and tells him of the fight with the CombustiBull. The merrow nods in understanding and appreciation; he has wrestled with that particular bull before, and though he will miss his wrestling partner, he must admit that Olaf's bravery was impressive. When Olaf asks, the merrow gives Olaf a sounding pattern that serves as his name and will allow Olaf to call him in time of need; Olaf captures the pattern in a conch. It sounds a bit like “unlok” when given any sort of voice out of water. Likewise, Olaf tells the merrow that if he ever needs help, to beach himself on the shores of Hangtree and shout for a man named Olaf; it’ll reach him eventually. (Flynn, upon learning this, was more than a little dismayed, fearing for the citizens of Hangtree who might be lured to their death's by the merrow's bellowing, which will probably sound beautiful despite its content.) With that, the merrow goes on his way, likely to chase after some cute mermaids or lure hapless travelers to their deaths.

“That’s how you deal with the servants of the Ocean Witch,” Olaf says proudly once he returns to the group. “You bribe them.”

Later that day, the party comes across a shepherd standing under a tree by the roadside, staring across his flock with unseeing eyes. Olaf approached him (it seems to be a theme, Olaf approaching people he has no knowledge of) to see if he had anything to trade, and wound up hearing his story: the poor shepherd is hopelessly in love with his feminine counterpart from the next valley over, but cannot work up the courage to approach her. He spends his days pining wistfully for his secret love, longing for the day when they might be together at last.

“Why don’t you just tell her how you feel?” Olaf asks once his woeful tale is done. The shepherd looks at him agape, obviously more terrified of the mere suggestion of talking to this girl than of the approach of six armed and deadly-looking strangers with unknown intent.

“Oh no, no. I couldn’t possibly—” he cuts himself off as Olaf suddenly picks up a sheep and starts walking away with it. “Wait, what are you doing?! That's my sheep! Bring it back! Where are you going?!”

“If you want it back,” Olaf shouts back over his shoulder, “you’ll have to talk to your girl.” He marches over to the next valley, the rest of the party trailing behind in amused pursuit, and plops the sheep down in front of the startled shepherdess. It doesn't take her long to recover.

“Y-yes, good sir? How might I help you today?” She's batting her eyes at him, all but openly flirting, apparently thinking this sheep is Olaf's idea of a gift.

Olaf, oblivious, simply explains. “The shepherd in the next valley is too afraid to talk to you. Keep this sheep until he gathers his courage.”

The girl, disappointed that Olaf wasn't bringing the sheep as some sort of backwards dowry gift, brightens again at the mention of the original shepherd, and sighs dreamily.

Olaf opens his mouth to continue, but the girl is obviously lost in a daydream and clearly isn’t listening anymore, so the group carries on, secure in the knowledge that the pair's romance has been accelerated by at least five years.

Each night when pitching camp, the party has to roll for two factors: the camp's security and its comfort. Security affects any encounters that stumble upon the party at night, and how much warning the party has OF those encounters; comfort affects how well used spells regenerate or can be prepared, and can have effects on saves during combat in the dead of night. The Werebear has been placed in charge of rolling for security while Flynn rolls comfort.

The next night, Olaf rolls an abominably high number for security (16, if memory serves), and Flynn manages a respectable 9 for comfort, meaning that the party will be comfortable enough for all spells to return to the casters and secure enough to see just about anything coming. We set up camp in a stand of trees not far from the road, at the top of a small rise, surrounded by clear grass. Olaf, taking advantage of his high roll, declares that he has set a trip wire around the edge of the stand of trees to put off any attempts to sneak into the camp. Flynn and Aelron predict that it'll be more hindrance than help in any attack, but don't have the will to argue long enough with Olaf to convince him to take it down.

Just as Flynn is falling asleep (he has the middle watch and needs all the sleep he can get), there comes a calamitous crash of metal and leather from the edge of camp, as well as a shout of surprise and alarm. Olaf, not yet bedded down, springs into action, drawing his sword and rushing toward the disturbance. Aelron, Miaoyu and Seeker follow more sedately to find Olaf holding his sword on an unarmed man carrying a large sack full of pots and pans who appears to have tripped over the trip wire and fallen flat on his face into camp. Olaf is convinced the man is a bandit; the man, terrified, shows that he has no weapon and is merely a wandering tinkerer and peddler.

“Oh, leave off with the sword, Olaf,” Aelron scolds, helping the man to his feet. “He's no threat to us, and you're terrifying him.”

“But he could be a bandit scout!” Olaf cries in protest.

“Once!” Flynn's tent growls. “JUST ONCE without an argument!”

Once Olaf is calmed down, the group asks the peddler to take a look at the Mysterious Jar’s seal. The peddler doesn't think he can duplicate the seal if the party breaks it, but he CAN determine with fair accuracy what went into CREATING the sealing wax. Seeker, now trained in Awareness (Perception), is able to use his keen sense of smell and his keen mind in concert, filtering out the scents associated with the wax to try and smell just what is in the urn. He can't smell it exactly, but he is able to determine whatever's in there is acidic; his best guess is that it is, in fact, a slime, probably procured from the lizardfolk living near New Drougant.

Olaf purchases a sealable pitcher for Scuzzbucket from the peddler, and then everyone beds down for the night.

On the last day of the journey, Aelron and Seeker offer to teach Keegan to read and, despite his belief that letters are magic, he accepts. He does incredibly well with his letters in the first week, considering he's never more than glanced at a printed page, and appears to be making great progress. Seeker actually has experience in training acolytes to write, and Aelron is familiar with plenty of different teaching techniques from his time as an apprentice and his years at the Gemstone Towers; between the two of them, they make a formidable team.

Olaf and Miaoyu also begin Keegan's combat instruction; Olaf knows the Muay Thai fighting style fairly well, and Miaoyu knows quite a bit about crossbows, daggers, and sundry other... tools. Olaf begins Keegan's instruction by telling him explicitly and eloquently that although they will hit each other, if Keegan ever asks him to stop, he will, and that he EXPECTS Keegan to hit back with the best force he can muster; how can one learn to fight if one isn't actually fighting?

It is at this point that Tam remembers that Seeker and Aelron have been testing Seeker's new ranged healing spell each night, attempting to work out the bugs. Each night, each of them attempts to cast the spell twice, with Olaf volunteering as the target. Over the course of the trip, they encountered the following bugs in the spell:

First, it caused rampant and accelerated hair growth. Olaf, still only 16, had a full beard, at least briefly. Next, it continually hooked left. This pissed Miaoyu off for the entire evening; she hadn't agreed to being the experimental target and kept getting hit with it anyway. At one point it induced vomiting in poor Olaf, and at another point it entirely lost him his appetite even as he set the evening's stew in bowls out for the rest of the party. Once it turned his skin translucent, making him the ultimate in anatomical models. (Keegan got a kick out of examining the muscular scarring from Olaf's old chest wound, and Olaf got a kick out of being able to watch his biceps while he flexed.) Once it caused Olaf's veins to bulge dangerously near his skin, which Aelron and Seeker had to work feverishly for an hour to reverse. Once it created an odd, ominous aura around Olaf himself, so that anything Olaf looked at, touched or remarked on seemed strangely... important. Realizing the powerful effect of the enchantment, Aelron took a copy for further study. Tam handed Dawnflame a small scrap of paper with the words “Spell Seed: Ominous Musical Cue” written on it. On one of the party's last day's of travel, Olaf got hit with a healing spell and started burping uncontrollably; with each belch he expelled a cloud of purple fumes that trailed away on the wind. By time Aelron and Seeker managed to reverse the effect, Olaf was belching eloquent sentences and blowing purple smoke rings, much to Keegan's delight. Aelron saved that effect for study, too, though no one is quite sure why. On the last day Seeker's spell BLINDED Olaf, but gave him the ability to echolocate, and Aelron's made his hair a shining, iridescent tangle of rainbow hues. Aelron saved both those spell seeds, too, for more obvious reasons.

The party arrives in Hangtree at last. Seeker sells the last of the ghoul bones gathered ages ago to the apothecary, while Olaf finds an eager buyer for the rest of the CombustiBull's steaks. (“Oooooh! Oh! OH that's hot!”) When combined with their earnings from the Bramblehaunt encounter, these earnings are enough to push the party up to the next level of economic prosperity. In Tam's system, a person can have a wealth of Destitute, Poor, Mediocre, Well-Off, Rich or Decadent. Each level of wealth denotes a certain standard of living: how much spending cash do you have, how well-maintained is your clothing, what do people see when they look at you? Olaf, Aelron and Miaoyu were all at Destitute, meaning they had to spend hard-earned money tracked on their character sheets for even the most minor purchases; Seeker was technically poor, but only by virtue of being able to rely on charity from any town he stopped in; he could write off very minor expenses like basic food and lodging, but not much beyond that. Flynn was, and remains, at Mediocre; he is on Baroness Hangtree's payroll, which means he can write off quite a few minor purchases without actually having to track them against his available funds. He actually sponsors further equipping Keegan without having to blink at his character sheet, and, once we've all upgraded lifestyles, Olaf hands Keegan a handful of spending cash that is easily more money than Keegan has ever seen in one place and tells him to stay out of trouble.

Baroness Hangtree summons the group to her keep once she learns they're in town. The golden bridle has been prepared, and the Baroness has a new handmaiden named Ida, her blond hair now worn in an adorable pixie cut. The Baroness presents the party with the bridle, and with that, they are ready for a unicorn hunt.

“I hate to be crass,” Olaf says, “but I have ask. Have we determined that she is indeed…?”

Ida, nearly six feet tall and towering over Olaf, leans close and smiles viciously. She's a young girl, roughly Olaf's age, which makes it all the more stunning to the rest of the party when she asks him, “Why? Would you like to find out yourself?”

Olaf becomes a bit flustered, and insists that he simply doesn’t want to risk their chances of getting the unicorn. The Baroness assures him that Ida's pedigree is unassailable, and Seeker diverts the discussion deftly by asking the Baroness if he might examine her; he wishes to ensure there are no more fragments of the cursed blade still in her side. The two of them, along with Ida, leave for a more private room. After the matter is handled, the group returns to the inn and meet with Keegan, who reluctantly shows the group that he had spent all of his money on an impressive amount of shish kebabs: probably more meat than he's ever been allowed to eat, barring the CombustiBull steaks, which were a little spicy for his tastes.

Aelron, with help from Baroness Hangtree's maps, is able to pinpoint a likely location for a unicorn hunt: the Wolfhead Woods, so named for the bandits that frequent the area. They lie a few days' travel north and east, not far from Brandt and, in fact, between Brandt and the Rusted Stele, the location that Aelron believes will most likely yield an artifact of the Iron Lord for their ritual.

The next day, the party heads to Brandt, a relatively short journey along yet more coastal roads. During the travels, they come across what looks to be the site of a bandit raid on a caravan camp: a large circle of blood-muddied ground studded with the remnants of weapons, armor and crates, ringed with shallow graves. Seeker says a few prayers for the departed and they move on to find a different campsite.

The last night before arriving in Brandt, Aelron is on the morning watch, getting ready to wake his travelling companions, when he is approached by a patrol of guardsmen wearing Brandt's insignia in patches on their shoulders. They exchange pleasantries, and Aelron mentions the battle site the party passed during their travels from Hangtree. He gives the commander its location, and the commander promises to investigate; bandits from the Wolfhead Woods have been a problem recently, and this may give some clue as to their intentions, he hopes. Aelron also warns of the merrow, and, upon further consideration, gifts the commander the glaciermelt pebble totem he made back near Isti. When the other players ask why he would do such a thing, Dawnflame simply responds, “If you were to meet a tower mage who asked you to investigate a couple of strange disturbances in the area, wouldn't you want to have something to remember the conversation by?” Everyone then realizes that we are (or in this case, Aelron is) as much that guard patrol's random encounter as they are ours. A very brief but lively existential crisis ensues.

The city of Brandt is surrounded by stone walls and shanty towns, but the party goes directly inside the city to deliver the Mysterious Jar. The house is marked by the blue vase in the window. Seeing no obvious signs marked “Deliveries in Rear,” the party steps up to and knocks on the front door. A woman greets them at the door and, when shown the Mysterious Jar, invites them inside. She pays them a hefty chunk of money, nearly enough to recover their losses from the “lifestyle upgrade” they paid for back in Hangtree.

“So,” she says. “Would you be interested in any future work?”

There is a pause as Olaf glances at Flynn for an indicator of what he should say, and Flynn slowly gives a curt nod; Flynn is concerned as to what this woman might be up to, and would like to know more; doing more work for them might eventually let the party piece together what they're up to. Olaf agrees and tells the woman that quiet inquiries made around Hangtree for Olaf the Dhar will get back to him eventually. She thanks him and sees them out.

The group immediately gets into a hushed discussion of whether or not they should go right back in and open the jar. Olaf, however, is unnerved by the woman’s willingness to open her door to armed adventurers without any apparent support, and it is agreed upon to leave the matter alone.

At this point, Tam picks up the little paper representing the jar and a pack of matches, marches out to the front porch, and lights it on fire. We really will never find out what it was we were transporting; at this point even Tam has forgotten what he wrote, though rampant player speculation has decided that he must at least have SOME idea what we were transporting.

Everyone decides to focus on getting the alicorn as fast as possible. Aelron tells the group that unicorns are, apparently, drawn out when virgins play a musical instrument or sing by their lonesome in the unicorn's natural habitat. Olaf decides he can use his shield as a drum well enough, and the party leaves for Wolfhead Wood.

When the party finally arrives in the woods, Olaf prepares for his task. He loops the bridle over his neck and places his shield and his dagger in his hands, tapping them together for a beat, and begins dancing across a small clearing. Miaoyu, who has perched in a tree, manages to stifle her laughter. Seeker and Aelron watch closely, imprinting the image of Olaf's tribal dance as firmly in their memory as possible, to be recalled as blackmail material at need. (Both of them have spells that can replay memories as holographic video.)

Olaf doesn't have to do his routine long, thankfully; before more than a few minutes have passed, a shining silver horn protrudes from the brush ahead of him, followed by a head that looks to belong to a crossbreed between a goat and a horse. The unicorn has a coat of luxuriant, pure-white hair that lengthens into a sort of beard around its chin and each of its knees and hooves; its main and tail shine pearly white and beautiful, and its eyes are limpid pools of the deepest, silvery blue. It is easily the most beautiful, graceful creature Olaf has ever seen. (Aelron would argue for the Dryad, but he's biased.) It moves slowly out of the brush, revealing itself, and its native magic attempts to entrance Olaf. Olaf manages his will save, thankfully (we're not sure who Tam's god of Will Saves is, but that's two we owe them), but pretends to be entranced anyway. He switches from his drumming and dance to a murmured, comforting Dharric lullaby and drops his weapon and shield to cradle the unicorn's head in his hands. It approaches and allows him to pet it, then lays down on the ground and places its head in his lap. Olaf carefully places the bridle over the unicorn’s head, and then reaches for the dagger in his boot.

By this point the party can see what's going on, and Aelron, Flynn and Miaoyu start cautiously, quietly forward, trying to stay close enough to offer support if Olaf should need it.

Olaf attempts to keep running at least elbows across the poor unicorn's neck while he retrieves his dagger (as a Muay Thai fighter, it's an excellent thought for a way to keep the creature calm), but his deception roll cannot match his stated goals. The unicorn catches sight of the blade and startles, attempting to flee. Olaf, already grieving for what he is about to do, grabs the bridle and shoves it to its knees; he gets the feeling that, without the bridle, it would have thrown him into a nearby tree. “I’m sorry,” he shouts, and as soon as he thinks he has a solid hold on the bridle, he snatches up the dagger and plunges it into the unicorn’s skull. The unicorn screams, sounding frighteningly like a human in its agony. Aelron and Flynn both start forward at a run to aid Olaf, and both make will saves (that's four we owe) to resist the urge to help the creature. Seeker turns Keegan away from the gruesome sight, to the boy’s dismay.

With careful maneuvering of his dagger and properly applied force, Olaf pulls out the alicorn, and the animal that was once a unicorn begins to twitch uncontrollably. Olaf tosses the alicorn aside and picks up his dagger, the plunges it down into the alicorn's socket in the skull, striking the brain over and over, crying, “I’m sorry,” as he puts the beast out of its misery.

Almost a full two minutes later, the unicorn finally dies; Flynn, Aelron, Miaoyu and Seeker stand by as Olaf weeps. “It trusted me and I killed it. I lied to it and I betrayed it and it died because of me.” No one can think of anything even remotely comforting to say. Sometimes it's easy to forget that Olaf is still rather young, but this isn't one of those moments.

For killing a unicorn in such a vulnerable, trusting state, Olaf has effectively lost his status as a virgin. Aelron quietly collects hair from the unicorn's mane and has Seeker (an accomplished Elven Weaver) braid it into small cords. Miaoyu replaces her crossbow string with unicorn hair for some bonuses; everyone else wears it as an anklet or bracelet for a five foot per round movement speed increase. Olaf refuses to take any at all out of a feeling of guilt.

With that, everyone but Seeker has reached level two. Next week we’re playing a slightly-late Halloween game. Apparently something went wrong (or right) recently at the Rusted Stele, as Gilgadar has told us that it's our best bet for a place to find an Iron Lord artifact, and that it WON'T kill us anymore just to set foot there! Fingers crossed for eldritch horrors!

AverageSparrow
2013-11-15, 04:49 PM
Chapter 8: CAPital Offense

While Olaf is mourning the unicorn, the others quietly discuss what should be done with the animal’s body. Finally, it’s agreed that as little of it should go to waste as possible, and Aelron steps over to Olaf.

“We're done here. Why don't you go back and scout the paths out, make sure no bandits have gotten between us and the edge of the woods? We'll be right behind you.”

Olaf stands and begins moving toward the edge of the clearing. When he notices that no one else has budged, he stops and crosses his arms. “You're going to butcher it, aren't you?” he asks, waving in the direction of the unicorn's corpse.

Aelron regards him steadily. “If I answer that, you'll have to know the answer and live with it. Are you sure you want that?”

Olaf shakes his head. “If we’re going to butcher it,” he says, “I should be the one to do it. The rest of you would just do a hack job.”

Aelron, stunned, simply steps aside; given Olaf's grief this was the last thing he expected. Olaf is the party's best suited to butchering an animal and preparing its meat for consumption or preservation, but Aelron had hoped to spare Olaf the burden of butchering a friend. Olaf, for his part, has decided that the best way to honor the unicorn's sacrifice is to make sure that none of the unicorn goes to waste.

Olaf sets about quickly and effectively skinning the unicorn and packaging the meat, although there’s a definite angry edge to his movements. (TheWerebear: “I’ve moved from denial into anger. Soon I’ll get to bargaining, when I try to sell the meat.”)

The hide is kept to present to the baroness, as is the skull. Figuring the bones might come in handy, Olaf shoves what remains of the body into a bag. The sight is gruesomely macabre. Once everyone gets their stomachs under control, the party heads out for the Rusted Stele.

As the party clears the Wolfhead Woods and is relatively certain of its safety from bandits, Miaoyu steps up beside Olaf to speak with him.

“You know,” she says, not quite quietly enough, “I could sunder your fate for you.”

Seeker's ears prick up, then lie forward.

Olaf gives her a look somewhere between longing and confusion. “What would that do?” he asks.

“What indeed?” Seeker asks ominously, stepping forward as well.

Aelron and Flynn hastily fall back. What this party needs is a dedicated rear-guard action, and they're the men to do it, by the gods.

Miaoyu puts on her best proselytizing game face and looks sternly down at Olaf. “Fate binds all men, constrains their free will. Fate dictates where you'll go, what you'll do, and when you'll die. When you are fated, you are locked into a path chosen for you by uncaring gods. But, by the grace of Gilgadar—” she smiles wickedly, raises a hand to sweep in an all-encompassing gesture across the horizon, “—I can set you free.”

Seeker glares at her. “That is deliberately misleading and you know it,” he growls. “If fate bound men so thoroughly as all that there'd be no such thing as free will. And yet, free will exists; men make their own decisions every day, choosing without regard to fate or destiny what their actions will be.”

Miaoyu glares right back at Seeker. “How can you prove free will? How do you know fate isn't just deceiving us into selecting the actions it requires of us?”

“Because only a bunch of mortals could be dumb enough to form a travelling band like this one?” Flynn mutters aside to Aelron.

Aelron nods sadly. “You'd think fate would be able to do better than a motley crew like this if it really wanted to get something done.”

One of Seeker's ears flicks back toward the two of them, but he seems to ignore their comments. “If you are that determined to believe in fate as an all-controlling force,” he says instead to Miaoyu, “I cannot disprove it to you, and I won't attempt to. It'd be a waste of my breath.” He turns to Olaf. “I can, however, share my views with you.”

Olaf nods. Miaoyu fumes but holds her tongue for the moment.

“Fate dictates the flow of the universe. Which nations will rise and which will fall, in which directions the world will grow and in which directions it will wither. But men still have free will. Fate cannot compel them, no matter how hard it tries. Fate brings men to confluences, to cruxes, to choices. Men must decide. Even fated mortals can wreck the plans of gods with a single word, if they choose it carefully. You control yourself, your own decisions. Fate exerts pressure, pushes you toward conflicts and controversies, but it is always your choice how to resolve them.”

“Like all the choice he had in dealing with the unicorn?” Miaoyu asks sharply. “What choice was there in this?” She taps the sack that Olaf carries, full of the remains of the unicorn's body. Olaf winces.

Seeker looks across Olaf at her, saddened. “There is always a choice. Perhaps we are fated to cure the Baroness. We have certainly set out to try. But we CHOSE to procure an Alicorn, we CHOSE to ask Hangtree for a golden bridle, and Olaf CHOSE to be the one to attract the unicorn.”

Olaf looks away from Seeker. “I... need to think about this,” he says quietly.

Miaoyu smiles. “My offer stands,” she says, before falling back toward the middle of the column.

“Time heals all wounds, child,” Seeker says softly, before he, too, falls back to give Olaf space.

Flynn shakes his head. “I've got a bad feeling about this.” Aelron can only nod.

Travel to the hills surrounding the Rusted Stele takes only a couple of uneventful days. The hills themselves appear to be sandstone bluffs thrust up through a grassy plain by a fault line somewhere nearby; there are huge, beautiful rock formations of all shapes and sizes that the party must wend its way through, surrounded by low scrub and dry grass. Following the directions Aelron received from the scholar in New Drougant, the party wends its way into the hills, but sunset is fast approaching and the Stele is still nowhere in sight. The party makes camp and beds down for the night, planning to resume its search in the morning.

That night, Flynn hears the sound of metal being sharpened. A bit perturbed, he nudges Aelron and Miaoyu awake. Once she finishes cussing him out in Qennish, Miaoyu observes that the sound is rather brief; most likely whatever’s being sharpened is a short blade, an axe or a knife. (At this point, our DM left the room and came back with a small axe that he apparently just has lying around and started sharpening it with a honing steel AT THE GAME TABLE. This went on for pretty much the entire session. You have NO IDEA how unnerving that sound can get.)

“There’s a psychotic axe murderer out there,” Miaoyu informs Flynn helpfully, and goes back to sleep.

Aelron shrugs, listening carefully. “It sounds like she's right. Fortunately for us, the source of the sound doesn't seem to be moving. If it DOES move, especially any closer to us, wake us immediately. If it doesn't move, we'll hopefully be able to find the source tomorrow and take care of it.” He hands Flynn an incendiary (“Just in case, mind you.”) and goes back to sleep as well.

That morning, while frying up some unicorn sausage, Olaf tells everyone about his dream. “A unicorn tied me to a tree and spent all night sharpening its horn. I don’t even know how it did that….” Seeker pulls out the alicorn, which is a pair of rounded bone growths wound together into a spiral. There is no edge to sharpen. Dreams are weird like that.

The party gets underway. Flynn insists on riding in the middle of the formation, but everyone is feeling extra peppy today; unicorn meat is essentially caffeinated. This is a fairly new experience for everyone except the raised-on-tea Miaoyu. Olaf and Seeker break formation a couple of times to frolic, but the day passes uneventfully until they reach the Rusted Stele.

The stele itself is a giant iron rectangular prism stuck lengthwise into the reddish dirt. As the name implies, it has been exposed to the elements for far too long. There is a coating of wind-and-rain pitted rust over the surface, though some of the pits expose entirely unrusted iron. Apparently the deific magic that protects this thing has not entirely worn off, it's simply reduced.

The word ‘challenge’ is engraved on the side of the stele, and somehow the rust has not managed to eat it away entirely. (In Miaoyu’s head, Gilgadar pipes up. “Oh yeah, that’s the consecrated dagger I told you about. I mean, it’s a bit bigger than most daggers, but you know….”)

Because this mission is entirely to aid Baroness Hangtree, the party suggests that Flynn appeal for aid. He steps forward.

“'Oy. We're out to break a really nasty Fey curse. Whatcha got?” he says, and the word ‘challenge’ changes to ‘follow’. Suddenly, footprints appear in the ground and begin leading the party away; each step is filled with an odd, rust-colored slush. Aelron examines the footsteps with spellsight, but finds only Diamond Tower divination magic; wherever this path leads, it should be relatively safe.

Eventually, the footprints lead the party into a grassy valley. The ground here is much wetter and greener than in the surrounding valleys, there are a few trees growing here and there, and there's a gorgeous meadow at the bottom of the valley centered around a small stone well. The well has no covering, though the rotted remnants of a small wooden roof-and-winch are the first thing Olaf finds as he approaches.

The party immediately becomes very suspicious of this well and its contents, and Aelron improves Olaf’s sight with a spell and he peers down into its depths to find it—completely normal. Yep, a normal well, stone walls as far down as he can see, about 45 feet in depth.

Not yet willing to give up on their paranoia, the party lowers a bucket and hauls it back up filled with the most shocking of substances: Water!

Olaf removes his chunk of amber and takes a long draught from the bucket. Nothing happens. He shrugs and pronounces the water safe—then lets out a gasp of pain and collapses, seemingly dead. Aelron and Miaoyu both sigh at what is obviously Olaf pretending to be dead of poison, but Flynn perks up immediately. Almost skipping, he retrieves a shovel from his horse and sets to work digging a shallow grave. When Aelron kicks Olaf back into motion (“HEY!” “What?! You were DEAD.”), Flynn heaves a sigh of disappointment and tosses his shovel aside.

Suddenly, Olaf is asked to make a fortitude save, and he fails. It was the most delayed-reaction brain-freeze anyone in the party had ever encountered.

Seeker casts Diagnose on Olaf, but, aside from his assorted scars, he is perfectly fine. The party has yet to give up on their determined belief that the well will kill them, however. A plan is concocted to lower Olaf into the well to investigate; should he need to be hauled out of the well, he is to turn the rope purple using Gilgadar’s orision, Repurpose. Olaf strips down and, with nothing other than a pair of daggers, he is lowered down slowly.

The stonework of the well, he finds, is stunning; either master-artisan human craftsmanship or dwarves of considerable skill. The entire wall of the well is unmortared fitted stone, and not uniformly sized cut stone, either; someone just found a lot of rocks and stacked them JUST SO to make this well. Olaf doesn’t stop to study it, however, and soon reaches the waterline. He plunges in and swims to the bottom; thankfully, the water is fairly shallow and he finds himself rifling through the sand. He pulls out the handle of the winch and, figuring it might be important, slides it through his belt. He swims back toward the surface water and is about to signal to be pulled up when he notices something... off about the stonework on one side. He moves closer to investigate and realizes that the wall there isn't a wall at all but a cleverly concealed passageway. Viewed from almost any angle except below, the stones of the passageway present the optical illusion of being perfectly in shape with the wall around them. Olaf returns briefly to the surface, sucks in a deep breath, and dives back into the water to enter the passage. He follows its shallow upward slope to just above the water's surface before the rope pulls him up short. The tunnel widens above him into a carved-stone hallway. Bingo. He swims back and signals for a pull up. Once clothed and no longer shivering, Olaf tells the group what he found. Aelron and Seeker set about using magic to lower the water table in the well to make the passage accessible. Olaf sticks the winch in the ground next to the well, like a tiny but very proud flag, before leading the group back down.

Before entering the well, the party briefs Keegan. “If anything should come to the camp without warning, your best bet is to remain hidden,” Olaf tells him. “Run if you have to. There's some sort of settlement north of here; we'll look for you there if we don't find you back here.”

Aelron retrieves his incendiary from Flynn and hands it to Keegan. “This is a magical explosive. When you press this little red button here—no, don't press it now!—it will count down from six and then detonate. This one is lightning flavored; it'll make a lot of noise and a lot of light when it goes off. If someone's after you and you need a distraction, this ought to do the trick.” Keegan nods, reverently accepting the spell grenade. “And this,” Aelron says, holding out a small totem, “will help you hide and spot others attempting to hide in woodlands and grasslands. If we get separated, it will ALSO allow Miaoyu to locate you, so hang onto it!” Miaoyu inspects the small totem briefly to fix it in her mind, and nods.

“If anything comes at you,” Olaf advises as a last note, “send Flynn’s horse at it.”

Flynn becomes indignant: “No, send Olaf’s horse!”

With a sigh, Miaoyu turns to Keegan. “Send the horse you hate the most,” she advises. Keegan sheepishly glances at Aelron’s horse and gives Aelron an apologetic look.

“It’s nothing personal, it’s just that… well, it bites.”

Aelron offers a long-suffering sigh and glares at his horse. She nickers at him. Is she laughing?

With that settled, the group descends the rope to the secret tunnel in the well. Miaoyu takes point to look for traps (having to push everyone aside to do so; she was the last one in the tunnel). Eventually, the tunnel splits off into three paths and the group goes through the unnecessarily difficult process of trying to pick which tunnel to take.

Olaf turns to Miaoyu. “How does Gilgadar feel about bending the laws of the universe?”

She manages to keep a perfectly straight face. “I don’t know. He’s usually pretty strict about that.”

After everyone finishes snickering, Olaf explains his idea: they play a card game and bet low stakes, assigning the players to represent each tunnel. Then, Miaoyu casts cheat and Gilgadar will choose who to let win, presumably the one who wins being the one that represents that tunnel that will lead to the ‘right’ place.

Miaoyu gapes and blinks, then sits back to consider. “It… could be possible. He might just send us down the most exciting path….”

Flynn, however, has grown bored and turns down the north-northeast tunnel. Everyone scrambles to catch up with him. Flynn starts shooting arrows into the tunnel wall as they walk to mark their way; if there is fey influence in the area, the ground could shift unexpectedly. He glances back every so often to ensure the holes in the ground haven’t vanished.

Unfortunately, the tunnel yields nothing of interest before the party must turn around to be able to return to the well—and Keegan—before sunset. Camp is set quickly, but because it was already raining when they emerged from the well, their tents are soggy.

Back on the surface, Miaoyu and Aelron notice something strange: they haven’t noticed animal life. No birds, squirrels, or anything else one would expect to find in an entire valley in which the well is located, or for that matter throughout the hills surrounding the Iron Stele. Barely even any annoying insect life. Fortunately, some of Gilgadar’s favored creatures are rodents, and Miaoyu took her studies a bit too seriously: she deduces that if there is no animal life to be found, something must be killing them off. But what would bother to kill off EVERYTHING?

That night the sound of sharpening iron begins again (and by that we mean that the DM has resumed sharpening his hand axe under the table), and the party (read: Olaf) decides to investigate; the sound is only 200 yards away or so; it shouldn’t be hard to find. Thankfully, Flynn is a light sleeper; when Olaf stomps off into the hills, he wakes up and manages to delay Olaf's departure long enough to wake the others. When they set off again, Olaf is in the lead with Flynn and Seeker accompanying him; Miaoyu slips into the shadows. Aelron keeps Keegan at his side, making a modest effort at stealth. Flynn sulks behind the group, grumbling unhappily at the rain. Soon, the 200 yard distance is covered—but the sound is still 200 yards away.

“Let’s just go back to camp,” Flynn says, pulling up his hood to keep water out of his eyes.

“Nonsense,” Olaf says. “We’re almost on top of him. We can get him.”

Bickering ensues, but eventually it’s agreed to go back to camp and get some rest before trying the tunnels again. Come his watch, Olaf, slightly unnerved by the sharpening that has apparently been going on through four watches of the night, begins sharpening everything he can find, starting with his own weapons. By the time his watch is done, all his blades have fresh, finely honed edges, Miaoyu's daggers have been sharpened, the hand axe Keegan carries for chopping wood glitters viciously in the moonlight, and even the frying pan has an edge that could take a man's hand off at the wrist. Olaf wakes everyone by shouting angrily at the source of the mysterious sharpening sound, and since they weren't going to get much more sleep anyway, the party just decides they might as well start their day.

They debate on whether to bring Keegan with them into the tunnels. Some fear that there may be monsters hiding down there, others fear whatever has been sharpening the axe. In the end, though, Keegan becomes unsettled by talk of his grisly demise and meekly says he’d rather stay on the surface.

Once again, Aelron and Seeker lower the water level of the well and the party makes their way down. This time, they decide to try Olaf’s idea in hopes of reaching an interesting place more quickly. Miaoyu, Olaf, and Seeker all sit down for a game of cards while Gilgadar carefully chooses the victor. As in, he rolls a die to decide who wins; he’s probably not even paying attention. The wager: Sausages.

Seeker wins (or Miaoyu/Gilgadar lets him win? It’s not clear, and he doesn’t care, he got a sausage. Some things really are universal) and the group travels down the north-northwest tunnel until they come to a small chamber. A number of small alcoves dot the chamber; it looks to be some sort of dormitory, possibly for acolytes of the Iron Lord. Regardless, the chamber is in poor shape, the furniture in varying states of abject disrepair and disintegration. Flynn manages to recover a handful of scrap items to sell, but beyond that there is nothing worth noting.

The group decides that looking for a chapel is in order, and Miaoyu casts Locate Object on an altar stone, getting a ping from the east. They choose the northeast tunnel branching off of the chamber… and find themselves at an intersection they had visited the day before. They take another branch, going north-northeast, and find a natural-looking cavern, filled with gorgeous white-and-red marble. Aelron takes a pebble from the cavern and makes it into a magic totem. As it grants two hit points, he passes it along to Olaf, who takes it gratefully.

Deciding that they’ve spend enough time in the tunnels the group returns to the surface, where they find it raining once again. Keegan is dripping wet and miserable-looking.

“I tried to build a shelter for the horses,” he says. “But it kept falling over.”

“Do you want help?” Aelron asks, but Keegan shakes his head.

“Isn’t there a town where we can go and rest…?”

Taking pity, the party heads north; there was a small column of smoke up visible in the northern hills a few days ago, and they make for that. Soon, they arrive at the Lamppost Inn, a small two-story structure with one stone wall and three wooden walls, a thick thatched roof, double-doors of stout oak planks banded with iron, detached stables, and a small smithy in the yard. Keegan goes to stable the horses, and a quick glance reveals that the inn is already quite busy; there are over a dozen horses already stabled.

The party knocks on the door and is greeted by a Dhar man named Christoff, a tall, muscular man with a walrus moustache and biceps the size of Christmas hams. He is, apparently, the one who uses that small smithy. He rents the sole room in the inn out to the party and ushers them to a table near the bar. On the other side of the inn is a group of twenty, clearly adventurers of some kind, comprised mostly of hillfolk (also called boarfolk (http://umzamo.tumblr.com/post/66856773131/monster-a-day-bonus-1-boarfolk), the same race as orcs (http://umzamo.tumblr.com/post/66855092966/monster-a-day-12-orcs), although 'orc' itself is a culture in this setting). Once the group is seated, Christoff calls out, “Thrall!”

A woman in an iron collar steps out from the kitchen; behind her, a man, also in an iron collar, can be seen tending to a stew. In Dhar culture, thralls are something similar to indentured servants or slaves. Through war or debt, they become the property of another and must work until they can gain their freedom (which can be never, if their master is capricious about it). Olaf is unperturbed, but the rest of the party experiences varying levels of discomfort, Flynn more so than anyone.

The thrall takes everyone’s orders and carefully avoids eye contact before disappearing back into the kitchen. Keegan joins the party at the table, and Olaf takes to telling him traditional Dhar bedtime stories: “... took off his entire arm, yeah! And he was the Aurbeski king, so when his men saw it they turned and ran! But you can't run from Dhar; they sailed around the marching army and turned up in front of them at a river crossing.... So the Dhar had them surrounded, and that's how two boats beat 10,000 men.” Flynn and Aelron, muttering in something like disgust, get up and head for the bar.

When the female thrall arrives again with food, Flynn intercepts her on her way back to the kitchen and quietly asks her, “War or debt?” She simply shakes her head and carries on with her duties, apparently afraid to even look like she's talking about it.

Another Dhar woman enters from the kitchen, though this one is clearly not a thrall. She approaches gracefully, confidently, and smiles warmly. “Hello, travellers. My name is Fiona and I’m the hostess of this inn. The oaf over there is my husband, Christoff. I hope you find everything to your satisfaction. Is there anything I can get you?”

“Do you have any chocolate?” Aelron asks eagerly. After a day like that, something warm and sweet to drink sounds fantastic to his mind.

Fiona denies having any such luxury goods, but gives him an expectant look all the same. Realizing he’s supposed to offer something in return, and stumbling internally over the word 'bribe', Aelron struggles to come up with something that would interest her. These clearly aren't high-class accommodations, so any decorations or art he might provide would probably have little value here. No one seems to need healing or any form of enchantment, so...

Olaf, realizing that Aelron is in need of help, swoops in. “Have you ever had unicorn meat?” he asks, suddenly a salesman. He offers Fiona a sausage and, after Christoff dutifully fries it for her, she takes a bite. Her eyes widen.

“I didn’t know it would be so… zesty!”

A few moments later, Aelron is clutching a steaming mug of hot chocolate, enjoying the scent and letting the steam waft around his eyebrows.

Olaf goes to the bar and asks Christoff about the sharpening sound they heard in the woods, but Christoff evades the question. Olaf pesters him about it a bit more, but eventually gives up. (Other players also tried to eavesdrop on the conversation and try to figure things out and at this point our DM was sighing pretty heavily at our paranoia.) Once the party finally mutually decides to drop it, Olaf accompanies Christoff out to the smithy to help him pack up some supplies for shipment the next day.

Meanwhile, Flynn starts shuffling a deck of cards to attract other potential players. Miaoyu promptly sits at his table and he deliberately ignores her. Eventually, she pulls out her own deck of cards and shuffles them aggressively. Strangely, no one approaches either of them for a game.

Finally, activity begins to wind down and the hillfolk bed down on their side of the room and the party, except for Olaf, goes upstairs to their rented room. There's actually a four-poster bed up there, and it's big enough for at least two. Aelron takes one side; Miaoyu beds down on the floor, Flynn props himself up against a wall, Keegan curls up in his bedroll near Flynn, and Seeker literally curls up at the foot of the bed.

Olaf stays up until the firepit burns low and then quietly sneaks upstairs. Flynn wakes instantly, wondering what Olaf is up to trying to sneak through the bedroom, but the mages and Keegan don’t even stir. Olaf prods Miaoyu, who is already awake, and asks her to come with him. Thinking there will be some sort of fun mischief, Miaoyu readily agrees and they sneak out quietly. After a moment of aggravated indecision, Flynn follows.

Olaf and Miaoyu are at the door of the inn when Flynn catches up with them. “Are you really going out in the pouring rain, alone, at night to find a creepy murderer?” he asks quietly, trying to avoid waking the inn's other patrons.

“We’re just scouting…” Olaf protests.

“Come back upstairs and go to bed,” Flynn says quietly. “This is reckless and stupid. Going out there just the two of you, especially on a rainy night like this one, is a great way to get yourselves killed.”

“We won't go far, I promise,” Olaf says. “We'll stay within sight of the lantern!”

Flynn and Miaoyu both narrow their eyes at this. What does Olaf expect to find within sight of the lantern, exactly? Puddles?

“Why even bother to go outside, then?” Flynn asks. “You can see all of that from here.”

“The lantern light is interfering with my night vision,” Olaf points out. “Until I'm past the light I can't see clearly what's on the other side.”

Flynn fumes, unable to see the point of this, until Miaoyu touches his arm briefly. “I think,” she says softly, “There's a reason he asked me for help.”

Olaf's lips compress to a fine line, but he doesn't deny it. Flynn looks back and forth between them, and lightning flashes daylight-bright. “Fine,” he growls. “But promise me you'll stay in sight of the inn, you'll keep each other safe, and you won't try to rob the inn or the inn's other guests.”

“I do so solemnly swear,” says Olaf, Turmlar's Oath binding him. Miaoyu pointedly does not take the Oath, but Flynn is satisfied enough.

Still certain they're going to their dooms somehow, but satisfied that he can't really stop them without violence, Flynn returns to bed.

Olaf and Miaoyu step out into the pouring rain. Water is falling by the bucketload, drenching and clinging. Olaf paces a bit in front of the lantern; Miaoyu watches, letting him work up his nerve. Finally, he takes a deep breath. “I want you to sunder my fate,” he says in a rush.

Miaoyu raises an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

Olaf offers a crooked, sad smile. “Not really, but time won’t change that.”

Miaoyu considers this for a moment, nods, strikes a quick pose, and casts Sunder Fate. Lightning strikes and thunder rumbles. It’s not part of spell, but Miaoyu congratulates herself on her timing all the same.

Olaf feels disconnected for a moment, but afterwards feels the same as before. “So that’s it, then,” he says wonderingly. “Nothing making my decisions but me.”

“Yep.” Miaoyu grins at him. “Want me to buy you a drink?”

“I could really use one.”

They head for the door to the inn, but Miaoyu stops when she spots something. Was that some sort of movement over by the woodcutting block the innkeepers have set up back there? She slinks along the side of the inn for a better look. Olaf follows close behind her, not sure what she saw. He follows her gaze, but all he notices is a chopping block and a rock. Wait, no. Oh, that’s not a rock. That’s a headless human body slumped across the chopping block.

“We need to get the healers,” Olaf says, and they both rush back to the room. Olaf clambers over to the bed where Aelron is sleeping.

Waking up with an anxious, armed Dhar jostling you is not a pleasant experience.

“What?” Aelron asks sleepily, brain still trying to catch up with full awareness. There's probably a reason he should be worried that Olaf ISN'T arguing with him right now, isn't there?

“Can you regrow a head?” Olaf asks.

Fully awake now, Aelron just gapes at him for a moment. “I... but... wha...No. Of course I can't! The head's not a limb or a finger or... Wait, why are you asking?”

“Someone cut the head off of one of the thralls. Through the iron collar.”

“Through the collar?” Aelron echoes, but Olaf is already shaking Seeker awake.

“One of the thralls is dead!” he whispers urgently.

“Well, then I can’t help him anymore,” Seeker growls. (DM: “You’re grumpy when you wake up!”)

Soon the entire party is awake and discussing what’s happened, and Miaoyu shoos them all out of the room to avoid waking and panicking Keegan.

Aelron heads to the firepit and begins to work it back to a full blaze. Olaf and Seeker leave to find the innkeepers—or they try to. The doors, they find, are stuck. Locked and held fast by something.

Miaoyu and Flynn approach the female thrall, who is still asleep. Miaoyu gently wakes her.

“Did you hear the other thrall leave?” she asks, but the thrall just anxiously shakes her head no. After a couple more questions, Miaoyu is satisfied that she won’t get any pertinent information from the thrall and tells her to go back asleep.

By this time, the firepit is at full blaze and the hillfolk begin to stir. “What's the big idea?” one of them asks. “It's the middle of the night! Haven't you got any bloody thing better to do?”

Aelron, still magically enhancing the fire, takes a moment to glare at the man asking the questions. “As a matter of fact, I don't. One of the thralls has been murdered and all doors to the inn have been sealed shut. We're trapped in here.”

Suddenly the man is all business. “Right, well, that's a problem. Lads, up and at 'em. Kit out, lively now. We've got trouble. Groups of two, take the doors, check for windows, search this place. Find me any entrances and guard them, then report back.” He kicks his men to wakefulness and begins organizing them.

Olaf runs upstairs and grabs Keegan. Once Aelron finishes with the fire, he turns to a returning Olaf. “We need Christoff and Fiona in here. We can't get out through the door, but this wall,” he taps a wooden wall near the fire pit, “should adjoin their bedroom if I understand the layout of the building properly. I don't care if you have to bring this wall down to do it; wake them up. If they DON'T wake up, find out what happened to them.”

Olaf grins. “With pleasure.” He begins slamming the hilt of one of his swords against the wall and shouting. “Oi! Christoff! Wake up! We've got trouble! Can you hear me in there, man?”

For a moment, nothing happens. Then suddenly there are two distinct, sharp feminine screams of terror, a grunt of effort, a meaty THUMP of wood on flesh, a barked, derisive laugh, and the scrambling of feet on a wooden floor. The sound of axe blows against the rear door follows; someone is trying to break in through the kitchen. Miaoyu pulls Keegan back a safe distance and readies her crossbow. Olaf and Flynn rush to the door and prepare to fight whatever comes through it.

After many tense moments, an axe finally breaks through the door and a pair of hands rend a hole through the wood. Olaf and Flynn catch a glimpse of Christoff’s face as he shouts, “Keep her safe, dammit! Keep her safe!” He shoves his daughter Nora through the hole, pushes his wife in after her, then turns back, hefting a lumberjack's axe.

“GET IN HERE!” Olaf bellows at him, but Christoff shakes his head.

“Won't fit!” he shouts back.

“Then we break the damn door down!” Olaf cries. “Get back here!”

“Can't!” Christoff yells, and then he bellows incoherently and charges out of view. One meaty thunk later, Christoff's voice cuts off with a gasping gurgle. Flynn ushers Nora and Fiona over to where Keegan and the other thrall are seated; Olaf grimly sets about barricading the door. From outside, a menacing voice laughs, and suddenly the sound of a rasp on metal returns at full volume. Whatever is out there is the same thing that was sharpening his weapon near the Rusted Stele the other night, and it's angry.

The group returns to the inn's common room and Olaf hands Keegan a dagger. “Hang on to this. It's a warrior's weapon and we need you to be a warrior tonight. Fight only if you have to. Keep Fiona and Nora and the thrall safe, that's your first priority. This is more than we've asked of you before, but I know you can do this. It's OK to be afraid, but don't let your fear control you. We'll make it out of this yet.”

Fiona, strong as she is, has been reduced to an incoherent mess at losing her husband. The sound of the weapon sharpening out there is terrifying her, and it takes nearly ten minutes to obtain any useful information from her. Apparently, the Lamppost Inn is a hideout for a group of bandits, and Fiona is their fence. The man who Aelron spoke to earlier turns out to be Tilo, the most fearsome bandit of the king's road. “But don't tell anyone.”

According to Fiona, someone managed to enter the family's quarters, and was standing over their bed with an axe and a murderous smile when she woke to Olaf's pounding on the walls. She screamed, her husband threw a bedside table at the thing, and then they all ran for the back door of the inn. The door was sealed, but Christoff had just enough time to chop a hole in the door for his wife and daughter before the thing, whatever it was, found him again.

“Can you describe the man who attacked you?” Aelron asks.

She shudders. “He was... ugly, but that's not a strong enough word. Hideous. Misshapen. Malignant. Looked like he might have been a dwarf, maybe. Metal boots the size of tree stumps. Enormous axe. Red hat.”

Together, Aelron and Olaf know exactly what's attacking them: a redcap. Redcaps are a sort of fey—Unseelie, mostly, but not usually tied heavily to either court—that murder travelers who stray too close to the Redcap’s home. Sometimes they attack openly or from ambush on a road. Sometimes they take off their caps for a bit, pretend to be normal dwarves or people, and lure travelers off the roads and into danger before murdering them. They dip their caps into their victim’s blood to gain strength, and it’s said that they are impossible to outrun. (As Tam put it, their move speed is ‘yes’ when chasing potential victims.) They are also immune iron and highly resistant to magic.

Naturally, this doesn’t do much to boost morale, and Tilo’s bandits begin to get anxious. Flynn and Olaf take to bandying verbal abuse back and forth with the redcap through the doors; it happily taunts them back, threatening to turn them into redcaps and eventually bursting out into a rather colorful song in dwarven. The bluster helps Tilo and his men a little, and knowing exactly where the redcap is from his colorful string of invective is actually rather calming. Plus, once they insult him enough he leaves off sharpening that stupid axe.

Aelron: “If you spent less time sharpening that axe and more time honing your wit, we might be suitably terrified.”

Flynn: “I know an old woman with one arm and one leg who’s stepped on bigger bugs than you!”

Plans of all varieties are thrown about: everything from everyone running at once to an elaborate trick to straight-out fighting. Tilo is unimpressed by nearly all the plans. “Let’s just run for it,” he says. “If you die, I’ll drink to you… as soon as I learn all your names… and if I die, I hope you’ll drink to me.”

Amidst all this, at Aelron’s request, one of the bandits cuts a hole into the floor of the inn, down to the cellar. They hope to find supplies that might make the fight with the Redcap easier, but there isn't much besides trade goods and booze down there. The bandits pour drinks for everyone to take the edge off the nerves. Miaoyu forbids Keegan from having any. “Sure, sure,” Tilo says as he quaffs his third drink, “let the kid die sober.”

Finally, a plan comes together. Miaoyu, who has spent the past few minutes removing the iron tips to her bolts and whittling them to a point, gives half to Flynn. Because his eldritch weapon is considered magical, using the arrows or bolts it produces will have no effect on the redcap: he has to use makeshift bolts instead. Most of the bandits are also armed with iron weapons; Aelron gets an inspiration when Tilo, now 1d6+3 sheets to the wind, sets his second empty wine bottle down on the counter. Aelron picks up the bottle, conjures a tiny cantrip of flame to his fingertip, and carves the bottom off the bottle, then cuts jagged edges into it and sharpens them as best he can before moving on to the second bottle. Once Olaf and Tilo realize what he's doing, they line up empty bottles next to him for conversion; at least this way Tilo's men will have a weapon they've all used before that might actually have some effect on the Redcap. Aelron, to his frustration and chagrin, is relegated to a supporting role; his magic is useless on the redcap, and he can only provide magical support. The most he could do is hit the redcap with his staff, and that would require being in melee with it. And that axe has got to be sharp enough to go through Aelron in one hit by now. Will that sharpening EVER stop?

As Seeker, Flynn, and Olaf shout insults to the redcap from the front door, Tilo, Miaoyu, and Aelron sneak around to the back door and quietly remove the barricade and the hinges on the door. Aelron uses a bit of magic to dampen as much sound as possible, to avoid alerting the redcap. Once the door is unhinged, a chair is used to prop the door up for the time being, and they return to the main group. Aelron and Olaf instruct Keegan to lead Fiona and Nora around the back to the stables, to take horses and to ride off to the north until they reach the road; the party will come and get them once the redcap is finished off. No one talks about the other possibility. Aelron asks Keegan to send any horses he can—especially his particularly feisty horse—around to the front of the inn to cause confusion for the redcap.

Seeker casts the spell Communal Mind, which allows the five affected people to read general emotions, transmit one-word thoughts, and to keep track of one another’s injuries. Most of his magic is based on internal processes and mental actions, and so this is a specialty of his. Olaf elects not to be included in the spell, as he is most likely to die in the fight, being on the front lines, and his death would cause damage to everyone else caught up in the spell. The ones included in the spell are Flynn, Keegan, Miaoyu, Aelron, and Seeker.

Olaf, Tilo, and the bandits gather around the front door and Aelron dispels the Hold Portal that has been keeping it closed. They all charge forward and are greeted with the delighted laugh of a short, ugly man in a bright red cap.

Olaf leads the charge at the redcap; Tilo and his bandits follow and attempt to surround it. It doesn’t take long to see how strong the redcap is: in one round, he kills two bandits and wounds Tilo. The rest of the bandits scatter in fear. Olaf, Tilo, Flynn, and Miaoyu do what they can to hurt the redcap, but landing a hit on him is rather difficult. Thankfully, Olaf manages to avoid being hit by the redcap, thanks in no small part to his shield.

Seeker, noticing that the redcap is fighting defensively and giving the front line a hard time, digs out another one of his mental spells: Suggestion. This is technically considered Black Magic in the setting (literally as well as figuratively: illusion, charm and necromancy are collectively referred to as “Onyx Tower” spells). No one seems to pay much heed to the Larlonite's casual use of black magic.

Seeker shouts out to the redcap, “I suggest you fight less cautiously!” Fortunately for Seeker, he penetrated the redcap’s innate spell resistance. Unfortunately, the redcap makes his save, shrugging this off and laughing again. “Naw, this is too much fun! I want to make it last.”

Not long into the fight, Tilo came to be (as our DM put it) ‘beside himself’. The redcap sliced him in half in one smooth stroke. (To represent this, our DM cut his cardboard marker neatly in half before placing it back on the map.)

Olaf shouts out to Aelron to toss him his magic drinking horn and pulls out his own horn. “I said I’d drink to him!” Olaf shouts, then drinks deeply of the horns and lets out an impressive breath of fire. The redcap just laughs cruelly, singed but still not seriously wounded by the magic flame and only smoking slightly.

“Oh, burning hair!” Olaf snarls. “You smell better now!”

The redcap only laughs.

Miaoyu uses Dirty Trick, a feat that forces an opponent to make a save of her choice, and should they fail anyone targeting them gets advantage on to-hit (meaning they roll 2d20 and take the better) for 1d4 rounds. The redcap fails his reflex save, and Miaoyu rolls a four. Four rounds of 2d20, take the better, all around.

Aelron hits Flynn with Battle Precognition, and with the combined force of the to-hit advantage, a critical hit for double damage, and maximized damage from Battle Precognition, the redcap takes a satisfying total of 14 damage.

Just as this small victory is being celebrated, a surge of emotion comes through the empathic bond: panic, coming from Keegan. Aelron rushes around the stables, Miaoyu close behind him to provide cover, should the redcap take interest in their movements. Rushing to the stables, Aelron and Miaoyu are shocked (no, wait, they aren't, once they think about it) to find that all the horses seem to have disappeared. Through the bond, Aelron asks, Location? Keegan replies, Barn, and Aelron and Miaoyu sprint as fast as they can to the far end of the barn, where Keegan, Nora, and Fiona have gone in hiding. Aelron sets about soothing Keegan’s nerves while Miaoyu uses Locate Object on her horse’s bridle. She gets a ping for it in the stable—right where Keegan left it.

Meanwhile, Olaf's and the Redcap's weapons lock together and the Redcap begins using his overbearing strength. If Olaf can't break the bind quickly, that axe is going to smash through his guard and then his neck. Luckily, Olaf has the favor of Kurush, the god of sun and strength, from his offering of the Combusti-Bull's offal. He calls upon Kurush’s favor and divine strength surges through his arms and back; the redcap's eyes widen in surprise and then alarm as Olaf forces him back, back and over, shoving the axe out of his way and clearing a path for his bronze dagger. The dagger rises and falls, rises and falls, as Olaf hacks into the creature's neck. The redcap topples backward and Olaf rides him to the ground, intent on hacking his head clean off.

Feeling the emotions of satisfaction and relief from those in the bond, Miaoyu, Aelron, and their charges come to the front of the inn, where they find Olaf desperately trying to decapitate the redcap. Unfortunatley Olaf's dagger isn't up to the challenge; but when it hits bone, it snaps at the hilt. Offended, Olaf, angrily stuffs the red cap into the redcap’s neck.

Aelron is wary. Bloodying the cap is how redcaps gain strength in the first place. Dipping it in the redcap's own blood seems sort of like dividing by zero, but still, better safe than sorry. A successful Lore roll reveals everything Aelron remembers about redcap caps: they have rather powerful magical properties when worn—mostly strength-enhancement—so long as they are fresh with blood.

“Does it need to be human blood?” Miaoyu asks. (From the evil smile the DM gave Sparrow when she asked, the answer is definitely a yes.) “We… fight bandits sometimes,” Miaoyu reasons, attempting to justify keeping the hat. At the disapproving look she gets from Aelron, she sighs. “Could we sell it?” Again, the idea is met with disapproval: whoever would want it would no doubt be evil, and probably immediately kill the party after acquiring the cap.

“Oh!” Miaoyu snaps her fingers when an idea strikes her. “We could offer to sell it, and if anyone tries to buy it, we know they’re evil, so we’ll just kill them and take their money! It’s justice!”

Flynn shakes his head. “If anyone found out we had it, they’d think we’re murderers, and it might attract more redcaps.”

Giving up on her dreams of riches and twisted justice, Miaoyu finally agrees it’s best to destroy the cap. Unfortunately the cap is immune to magical fire, so nothing Aelron conjures can do the trick; Flynn and Aelron return to the fire pit in the inn, pick up a stack of torches and set about burning the thing methodically. It takes a long time and far too much fire, but eventually the cap burns. The redcap’s axe is also inspected and, although much heavier than normal battleaxes, it clearly has powerful enchantments. It’s agreed to sell the thing when possible; none of the party has any expertise in using hewing weapons.

Fiona becomes insistent on seeing her husband’s body, despite Aelron’s warnings that it is a sight she likely wouldn’t want to see. Olaf leads her around to the side of the inn—where he finds that the thrall’s body is gone, no longer slumped against the chopping block. There is a stain of blood not far away, likely where Christoff fell, but no body can be found. Olaf, upon returning to the entrance of the inn, also notices the cart he helped Christoff load up the night before is now gone.

The group reconvenes to the front of the inn while Aelron sets about burning the cap and redcap with non-magical fire until they are nothing but ashes. It’s agreed that someone must have been working with the redcap, although who and why are anyone’s guess. Deciding the put aside the tunnels under the well for a short while, the party sets out to find whoever took the horses, cart, and bodies.

As it turns out, burning the redcap’s body was a very good idea; after the session, our DM revealed that if we hadn’t the redcap would have gotten right back up for round two. You might say we have a nasty penchant for overkill, but sometimes it saves lives. Ours, in this case, and most definitely NOT the redcap's.

Edited 11/26/13 for an notable error in dialogue/characterization.

Cade Rentyr
2013-11-22, 02:54 PM
A'ight, I'm not going to be that guy who points out every inaccuracy in the journal (especially since it's all in fun and perspective-biased anyway) but I do feel compelled to point out there was no 'reluctance' at the stele. We arrived on the scene and the party was warming up to our usual 5- or 10-minute debate on how to proceed when Flynn walked right up to it and said, "'Oy. We're out to break a really nasty Fey curse. Whatcha got?"

It's tempting to stereotype and forget about him as the lazy bum who never wants to do anything (which is largely how I play him, admittedly) but he IS capable of motivation. In particular I like to use him to prod us along when we get bogged down in the aforementioned course-of-action debates. As seen next chapter, this has started to come back and bite him, although not too hard yet. :smallbiggrin:

AverageSparrow
2013-11-22, 05:22 PM
Oops, sorry Cade :P

I couldn't remember exactly what happened, so that's what I wrote, hoping that Dawnflame would catch it if it was wrong. Usually, between the two of us, we get things smoothed out, but I guess we just weren't giving Flynn enough credit that time :)

The_Werebear
2013-11-23, 11:45 AM
And the prodding is needed every once in a while. We're properly paranoid, so, on occasion, we've been known to debate a half hour before taking a very simple action (usually to Tam's facepalming for the entire, extended conversation).

Dawnflame
2013-11-26, 03:29 PM
Sorry, Cade. I'm doing my best to present accurate representations of each of our characters, both through dialogue and actions, and sometimes it's easier than others. Also, yeah, I completely forgot the sequence of events at the stele itself (probably because they were over so quickly :smalltongue:), and when Sparrow provided me with something that sounded like exactly what we'd do... I ran with it. Whoops.

For anyone else who's reading this... sorry for the delay between journal posts. Sparrow and I have fallen a bit behind, but we're catching up quickly. Should be back on posting schedule of one a week by Thanksgiving.

AverageSparrow
2013-11-26, 06:39 PM
Chapter 9: Dangerous Loonies or Three Rules
With the battle done and the redcap’s body disposed of, the survivors all huddle in the inn, drying off near the firepit. Fiona and Nora are in a corner, shivering, with Seeker attending to them. Aelron channels a slow, cantrip-level stream of magic into the fire, building it slowly. Olaf pulls an old rag from behind the bar and returns to the fire pit, methodically wiping the Redcap's ichor from his armor and weapons. Keegan stands between the two of them, still adrenaline-fueled, shifting his weight from foot to foot, but doing his best to match their apparent calm. Flynn stands opposite Olaf, staring quietly into the fire. Miaoyu leans against the fire pit, keeping an eye on the door and an ear to the rest of the party.

“This is just a thought,” Flynn starts, breaking the heavy silence and looking up at Olaf, “and I don’t care what we do. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the redcap happened to attack right when we stayed at the inn. I think the redcap was a distraction; someone wanted to keep us away from that well.”

“It IS possible to bargain with most fey,” Aelron notes. “Even Redcaps will strike deals.” He gives Flynn a curious glance. “This seems unnecessarily pessimistic, even for you, Flynn.”

“Three rules I live by,” Flynn explains gruffly. “Rule one: Nothing is simple. Rule two: Plan for the worst, and that way life's only surprises will be the pleasant ones. Rule three: Someone is always out to screw you. This is simply a combination of rules two and three. If the House of the Hunt Reborn really IS out to get my Lady, then they'd be trying to screw US as well by leading us astray. We tipped our hand when we visited the Daoine Sidhe; he knows, and may have informed the House of the Hunt Reborn, of our intentions regarding the Baroness's curse.”

“Redcaps aren't typically aligned with Seelie or Unseelie Courts,” Aelron points out, frowning.

“Doesn't mean one of the Courts can't buy their services,” Flynn counters coolly, and Aelron nods grudgingly.

“So what?” Miaoyu asks. “What does it matter who the Redcap was working with?”

Flynn sighs. “If the House of the Hunt Reborn knows what we're trying to do, and they're trying to delay us... well, what if they're trying to keep us away from the Baroness? After all, the curse she's under, it's only a matter of time. What if they have assassins on the way? What if they know they only need to keep us away for so much longer before the curse breaks her? If that's the case, we should get back to her as soon as humanly—” he glances at Aelron “—or elementally possible.” Aelron gives a sardonic nod. The fire gutters, flares and stabilizes.

Olaf growls a Dhar curse. “Are you forgetting? We don't have horses anymore. If you're interested in speed, our best bet is to go after whoever was collaborating with the Redcap, get back our horses, and THEN get back to our mission. At least then we'll have our maximum mobility.”

“WILL we be able to catch them, though?” Flynn asks. “If the collaborators ARE fey, they could lead us on a wild goose chase for DAYS. Hell, they can bend time itself, if we get close enough to them.” He glances at Aelron. “Right?”

Aelron shrugs. “In the hill-fort of the Daoine Sidhe, our perception of time didn't seem to mean a blessed thing. I imagine that powerful enough fey could duplicate that outside their holds, though if they have that kind of power... why employ the Redcap?”

“Look,” Olaf says, resting his hands on the edge of the fire pit, “I find it unlikely in the extreme that whoever took our horses can bend time. They also took a cargo wagon loaded down with ironmongery, so whoever they are, they won't be travelling quickly. We SHOULD be able to catch them if we start moving NOW.”

Fiona steps up to the fireside. Her face is still tear-stained, her hair matted and ragged, but she seems relatively calm for the moment. “What about us?” she asks, gesturing at herself, her daughter and the remaining thrall. “If you leave, what becomes of us?”

“The Redcap is dead, miss,” Aelron assures her. “He will trouble you no more.”

“Are you sure there was only one?” she asks.

Aelron opens his mouth to reply, hesistates, closes it again. He can guarantee no such thing. And nor can any other member of the party; Miaoyu had searched for other redcap hats, but her spell is not infallible.

“The Redcap's collaborators have probably gone to the Redcap's lair. Find it, and you'll probably find them. And I'll feel a whole lot safer here.”

“The Redcap's collaborators are leaving a very clear trail if we leave soon enough to follow it,” Olaf points out. “Easiest way to find the lair would be to follow the horse-and-cart track.”

“Is this about the horses?” Flynn asks Olaf, impatient.

“No! This is about Christoff! This is about avenging him and putting him to rest. He was a good man.”

Fiona clams up again at the mention of Christoff, eyes going dewy, and returns to her seat across the bar.

“How about we follow the horses for one day; if we don’t find anything, or if we sense we're being led, we head back to the well?” Miaoyu suggests.

More debate sparks up—but everyone finds themselves exhausted, the adrenaline having long since worn off. Miaoyu finds herself nodding off in the middle of the conversation, and it’s agreed that they sleep on the matter.

As the party trudges up to their room, Flynn pulls Seeker aside. “Listen,” he says. “Olaf and Miaoyu were up to something last night, before we were attacked by the redcap. Either they were having a tryst or….” He shrugs and continues up the stairs, leaving Seeker to draw his own conclusions.

Come morning, the party wakes to find Olaf making a hearty breakfast for everyone. Rain is still coming down outside and despite some concern about it washing away the trail, the party agrees to Miaoyu's one-day-chase compromise.

Aelron casts a sort of magical umbrella to stay dry, a cantrip-grade elemental water spell that turns the air above his head hydrophobic. Miaoyu sees him staying dry and pushes her beloved crossbow into his arms for safekeeping. “I don't want to carry this!” he protests, and Miaoyu hastily takes some of his gear to even the distribution. Ordinarily he wouldn't mind, but mechanically speaking he was already riding the unencumbered weight limit.

Despite the torrent of rain, following the trail of the cart is fairly easy and by twilight the party spots the cart and its small herd of horses. Whoever's driving the cart has tied most of the horses to the back and is walking them sedately away. He's not paying any attention to the road behind him, so he fails utterly to notice the party walking calmly up behind him, Seeker hunching over to look a bit less distinct.

As they approach the cart itself, the party splits up to deny the cart driver any way to escape. Olaf and Seeker take one side, Aelron, Miaoyu, and Flynn take the other. Keegan is ordered to stay safely back and to the sides, in case the horses panic.

The group finally gets a good look at the cart driver as Olaf and Miaoyu draw level with him: it’s Christoff.

“Nothing's ever simple, and someone's always out to screw you,” Flynn murmurs.

“You look pretty good for a dead man,” Olaf comments casually, his words and tone a thinly calm veneer over sudden fury.

“Oh, ****,” Christoff says. We'd say he exclaimed it, but he really didn't. It was more him bemoaning our presence than actually being surprised by it. “How did YOU get here?!” To his credit, Christoff does not attempt to escape and pulls his horses to a stop. Olaf pulls Christoff off of the cart and, with a length of strong rope and a nearly maximum Trade: Sailor check, binds his hands behind his back, his legs at the knees and the ankles, and then ties all the bindings together. Miaoyu grabs Christoff’s hand and casts Rihissa’s orison, Mark of Guilt. The orison places a mark on the target’s hand; anyone touching the mark is mentally informed of the crimes they have been accused of, and which they have been proven guilty. Miaoyu puts the following list of crimes into the Mark: aiding and abetting murder, horse theft, violation of hospitality, and being an *******.

Olaf, Seeker, Miaoyu, Aelron and Flynn loom threateningly over Christoff's bound form, glowering down at him. “Tell us a story, Christoff,” Flynn prompts.

“It wasn’t me!” Christoff sputters quickly. “It was Fiona! The entire idea was hers. She made the deal with the redcap. I just went along with it.”

“How?” Aelron demands.

“I don’t know. Ask her! Probably one of her strange women’s ways.”

“It’s true,” Miaoyu deadpans, “We can summon fey at will.” Christoff nods eagerly, apparently oblivious to her sarcasm.

“You had a deal with the Redcap,” Flynn says. “Fine. Why?”

“That inn is a bandit trap. Once we get enough bandits in, the Redcap comes in and kills them. We take their supplies and horses and sell them to maintain the inn.”

Seeker's jaw drops. “You INVITED that thing in?!”

Christoff gives him a skeptical glance. “Of course. I can't kill twenty bandits by myself.”

“Why not just report them to the lawful authority?” Flynn asks.

“WHAT lawful authority?” Christoff spits. “No one cares this close to Old Drougant.”

“So you jumped to murdering them in your home?” Olaf asks. Christoff just glares at him.

“And how many people who aren't bandits have been caught in this trap of yours?” Aelron asks, gesturing to himself and his companions. “People like us?”

Christoff just shrugs. “You seem to have done fine out of it.”

Olaf growls at him. “You stole our horses, sicced a psychotic fey killer on us all, and have the nerve to lie there and tell me 'Oh, you're fine, what's the problem?' You violated hospitality, you jackass!”

“And you didn't answer my question,” Aelron hisses.

Christoff sighs. “I don't know. I have no idea how many others have died. But so what? We've been doing the world a service by getting rid of bandit scum. You seem the heroic type. What exactly is the difference between you meeting them on the road or in the field and our inviting them to our inn and taking care of them there?”

Aelron glares down at him, then raises a hand and begins ticking off reasons. “Violation of hospitality,” he begins, nodding to Olaf, “Deals with psychotic fey, loss of innocent bystanders, conspiracy to murder and theft of our property. And that's just off the top of my head.”

Christoff glares back. “Well, you haven't killed me yet, so I don't suspect you're going to. So what ARE you going to do with me?”

Aelron steps toward Christoff. “You're right, we don't have the authority to simply execute you. A laundry list of crimes that long can't just go unpunished, though.” He catches Miaoyu’s eye. “What do you say we curse him?”

Miaoyu’s face lights up. “Can we? Should I cast Plague of Thieves or Odyssey?”

“Odyssey,” Aelron decides. “That ought to see to it he never gets back to Fiona to continue this charade.” Then he raises his own hand, glowing with unearthly green light. “Life of Unrelenting Drudgery ought to do for all the people he's offed 'by accident'—”

Fear touches Christoff's eyes as Aelron and Miaoyu step forward.

“Wait,” Seeker says.

The two stop and turn to face him. “What?” Aelron asks.

“Think about this for a moment, you two.” Seeker looks around Miaoyu and growls at Christoff. “And you might want to give them a REASON to think about it.”

“Y-you can take the cart... the iron, the horses, all of it!” Christoff stammers quickly.

Weregild has a long and storied tradition in Drougant. Olaf estimates that, in terms of the hardship the party has suffered, Christoff is actually overpaying by offering all that. Aelron feels like Christoff is buying his way out of justice, but can't find a way to argue it that doesn't sound self-absorbed and naïve, and so holds his tongue.

“Do you want a ride back?” Olaf asks Christoff. “We have to see to something at the inn.”

“Sure,” Christoff grumbles, and Olaf picks him up and plops him in the cart. “Though Fiona's long gone by now, I assure you.”

“That's fine,” Olaf says cheerfully.

At camp that evening, Flynn takes first watch and undoes the painful bindings on Christoff, altering them to something a little more humane. He attempts to chat a bit, but Christoff is clearly in no mood for conversation.

During Miaoyu’s watch, she takes every annoying thing she’s ever learned from Gilgadar and repeats it to Christoff. Anything Gilgadar has ever just randomly told her, she parrots back to him cheerfully.

“Will you please shut up?” he whimpers. She just smiles and carries on.

Finally, Seeker takes his watch and takes pity on Christoff, casting a healing cantrip that induces drowsiness. Christoff finally gets some shut eye.

The next day, the party arrives at the Lamppost Inn, and sure enough neither Fiona or Nora can be found. The surviving thrall cannot be located either. Miaoyu and Olaf look around for any worthwhile loot, and Christoff is cut free. The cart is too cumbersome to take with, so Olaf cheerfully lights it on fire. All the horses are taken, and one is given to Keegan. Soon, they set out for the well.

“You know,” Olaf says to Flynn as they ride off, “you said that we shouldn’t go after the horses, but look at how well this turned out.”

“Actually, I said that I don’t care what we do. I just made my preference known. In this case, you were right.”

Olaf scowls. “You take all the fun out of being right.”

Flynn smirks.

Once Aelron and Seeker lower the water table, the party clambers down into the well and follows the northeastern most passage, the one that Flynn chose the first time they entered the tunnels. Eventually, they reach the end of the tunnel, where they find a door of polished hematite with no handle. Inscribed upon it are the words ‘prove your worth’ and next to it is a small spike jutting out with what appears to be some sort of sacrificial dish below it. The intent of the contraption becomes even more obvious with the knowledge that most fey don’t have blood.

Flynn shrugs and presses his hand against the spike. A drop of blood splashes into the bowl. Seeker immediately takes his hand to heal the wound and counteract the tetanus, because it's a rusty iron spike; of COURSE there's tetanus. When Flynn looks up, he sees the door has opened. From the lack of reaction from the rest of the party, he gathers that they don’t see what he sees. After a moment’s deliberation, Flynn goes through the door and vanishes from sight. Aelron goes next, Seeker also healing him. Olaf uses his knife to cut his hand and avoid tetanus, and Miaoyu follows his lead. Seeker is the last one in. He turns to Miaoyu and attempts to cast Femta’s orison, Stanch, on her. Unsurprisingly, the spell is not granted; Femta is Gilgadar’s enemy (and ex-wife), and being a priestess of Gilgadar places Miaoyu out of her favor. Seeker then turns to Olaf to cast the same spell—and once again, it is not granted. Severing his fate and taking Gilgadar as a patron deity apparently made Femta less than happy with him.

“Huh,” Olaf says with a shrug. Miaoyu quickly turns away and pretends she didn’t notice anything, missing the cool glare Seeker sends her way.

The room the party finds themselves in is entirely made of polished hematite. An altar stands in the center of the room that appears to have been slept upon recently, with the dais and altar stone carelessly discarded on the floor. Scattered about the room are a variety of weapons.

The party sets about examining the room. They quickly discover that one bit of wall is hollow and after a bit of tinkering, they find it opens up a small tunnel that leads to the surface, the perfect size for, say, a redcap. Amidst the scattered weapons, Aelron finds a rusted dagger and, upon taking a closer look at it, realizes that it is a dagger consecrated to the Iron Lord. “Jackpot,” he murmurs, turning the weapon over and over in his hands. The group lets out a small cheer at finding their objective.

As Aelron is scanning the room for anything else of note, his eyes keep coming back to the altar stone. It takes him a moment to realize that the altar stone is drawing not his eye; it is actually drawing the spell he is using to scan for magical objects in the room. It's almost as if the altar stone is... drinking in the magic. He steps closer, but then realizes exactly what this thing might be capable of. “Don’t touch it,” he warns the party.

Before he can continue, Flynn steps forward and picks it up. “Why not?” he asks, turning the stone over in his hand.

Aelron sighs. “Because it eats magic, and I don't know how hungry it is.”

“Guess I’m not magic,” Flynn replies with a grin.

“Will save, Flynn,” says the DM.

Roll. Failed.

“Try to draw your weapon, Flynn,” Aelron suggests sadly.

With a look of horror dawning slowly on his face, Flynn hastily puts the stone down and attempts to summon an eldritch bow. Nothing happens. He tries an eldritch sword, and eldritch pillow, an eldritch halberd.... all to no effect. Concerned, Seeker casts Diagnose on him; the DIAGNOSIS spell has trouble finding Flynn as a valid target, but after several attempts it manages to land and informs Seeker that all magic in Flynn's possession (magic items, magical abilities, spellcasting, divine power) has been effectively drained by that brief contact with the stone. It is slowly regenerating and should recover in about a day. “Nothing's ever simple, is it?” Flynn laments.

Curious, but deciding to exercise proper caution, the party sets about testing the stone. Olaf, as the only party member with no innate magical powers of any kind, discards his magic items and picks up the stone. Miaoyu attempts a Benediction on Olaf, but it seems to have no effect on him; he doesn't seem to exist as a spell target. Not yet satisfied, Seeker attempts Restoration on him, but once again, nothing seems to happen. It takes several repeated castings for the Restoration to break through the stone's effect, but when it does it simply returns “Target found, but under no effects Restoration can cure.” Eventually Aelron and Seeker attempt to heal Olaf and it’s determined that the stone provides 50% reduction to incoming magic, protecting you from damage AND hindering friendly spells, while also negating any other magic items the wearer might don.

To the dismay of Aelron, whose very essence is magical, Olaf decides to keep the stone for the time being. Aelron is in fact part fire elemental, technically classifiable as a magical creature, and frankly terrified of what might happen if he touches that stone. (When Tam creates a small piece of paper with a description of the stone written on it and offers it to Dawnflame, Dawnflame reaches for it briefly but stops just short of grabbing it. “No, I'm NOT going to touch that. I've seen how that movie ends.” Paranoid? Maybe a bit, but better safe than sorry.)

Deciding that they’ve gotten what everything they need out of this old concealed fort, the party departs. In the span of a couple uneventful days, they return unmolested to Hangtree.

Aelron immediately sets about preparing for the ritual. He has to figure out how to channel magical essences from Seeker, the Iron Lord dagger and the Alicorn into a central focus, then apply all three at once to Baroness Hangtree. It is an ambitious and difficult undertaking. After a few die rolls and some quick math, he figures out that he will be researching for the next 8 weeks solid just to finish the spell; he's stuck in town until it's complete. The party decides to skip ahead through most of that time, barring a few vingettes.

Olaf presents the unicorn hide to Baroness Hangtree, who accepts it (and, once it’s cured, will probably truly appreciate the trophy). He also returns the golden bridle to Ida, who donated her hair to its creation.

“Did you have to get blood on it?” Ida asks quietly, but loops the bridle over her neck all the same.

Olaf just sighs and shakes his head.

Olaf also visits Wallace the crazed alchemist, where he learns that Gromit the Dog changes breeds once every... oh, three or four months, on average. After he finishes wondering how many Gromits there have been, he sells about half the unicorn bones in his now-bloody bag to the alchemist; it's about all Wallace can afford, and fetches a hefty sum.

After a couple days in town, Seeker sends Keegan to invite Miaoyu and Olaf to dinner. When they arrive, they find the table set for three and Miaoyu immediately surmises what Seeker is planning. She begins to sip her wine nervously.

“When are Aelron and Flynn getting here?” Olaf asks.

“They’re not coming,” Seeker says coolly. “It’s just going to be the three of us.”

Olaf blinks in confusion and Miaoyu becomes even more jittery. Seeker gives them a long look before finally opening his mouth to speak. Miaoyu pulls out her ever-handy deck of cards (for emergency gambling) and begins an anxious game of solitaire.

“Olaf, Miaoyu,” Seeker begins, “I am quite disappointed in the both of you. What you did was foolish and inconsiderate, and I had believed you were better than that. I have heard what you two were doing in the woods before we were attacked by the redcap—”

“Yeah,” Olaf interrupts casually, “Miaoyu sundered my fate. What of it?”

Seeker shakes his head. “Olaf, do you realize what you have done? Have you grasped the full weight and consequence of your actions? I do not think that you do. Did you ever once consider how sundering your fate affected people besides yourself? To say nothing of your living relatives, you have insulted and hurt me. Do you realize that you broke your life-debt to me when you sundered your fate?”

Olaf attempts to say something, but Seeker holds up his hand. “Please, no interruptions. Let me finish what I have to say. I do not particularly care about the life-debt, not in and of itself anyway. I walk the borderlands; I am not truly welcome in either the forests of my birth or the cities that I serve. People either look at my face and judge me a Savage, or look at my stole and judge me a Savior. You were the first person in quite some time who took the time to know me as a Person. Having a loyal friend meant a great deal to me. Disregarding my advice and sundering that connection between us hurt. Knowing that you never even thought about the possibility of breaking that connection hurt more. You are now free from fate, for what that is worth. More now than ever, you are responsible for your actions and their consequences.”

Seeker turns to Miaoyu who keeps her eyes focused on her cards. As he speaks to her, she pauses from time to time. Whether she is grudgingly admitting he has a point or internally mocking him—or simply contemplating her cards—is unclear.

“Miaoyu, I cannot fault you for serving your god and fulfilling his goals. However, I take issue with your methods. You found a young man in a vulnerable state and enticed him with a solution that did not address his problem. It served your ends and your ends alone. Do you not believe in the virtues of freedom and choice? With your arguments and your timing, you imposed your will upon him as surely as if you had decreed it. You made a Law: break your fate, and bade him to follow. Had you realized this? Had you realized the effects that sundering his fate would have? Did you think about who would be affected? Had you made him aware of the possibilities? Did you give him the information he needed to make a truly free choice? Please, both of you, go back to the inn and think about what you have done. You both need to learn to think your actions through—”

Olaf suddenly slams his hand against the table and both Miaoyu and Seeker jump. “Seeker!” he shouts. “Shut up!” Miaoyu finally looks up from her game to watch Olaf shout at Seeker. “You should be happy for me! I can make my own choices and my own path! Don’t talk to me like a child!” He lets out an angry breath. “You care about the life debt? Fine!” He pulls out a knife and, quicker than anyone can react, chops off his left pinky. Miaoyu jumps so hard she drops some cards and Seeker’s mouth falls open. Olaf throws the severed pinky at Seeker. “I pledge my life to you until we find your wife, living or dead,” Olaf says. Then he storms out, right hand attempting to staunch the bleeding of his severed left digit.

A moment of silence settles over the room while the two remaining occupants process what just happened. Then Miaoyu hurriedly picks up her cards, turns to Seeker and says, “Thank you for the dinner,” and rushes out after Olaf.

Once she catches up to him, Miaoyu asks, “So what do you want to do now?”

Olaf holds up his bleeding hand. “I was thinking of getting this bandaged.”

Soon they’re standing in front of Aelron’s room at the inn. Aelron answers the door groggily—he's been staring at spell formulae all day and was about to go to bed—and then gapes at the bleeding stump. “We’re in a friendly town,” he stammers, running a phantom-twitching left hand through his flame-red hair. “How did you—” he breaks off, looking up at Olaf and Miaoyu. “No, no, I don’t want to know. With the kinds of trouble you two get into—” He hits the stump with a brief healing spell—NOT Regenerate, which would grow it back, but just a small heal to stop the bleeding—and shuts the door. Miaoyu vaguely hears him mutter, “Brandy.”

Miaoyu and Olaf shrug and head off into the night to pointedly not think on Seeker’s words, for the time being at least.

Flynn goes on a patrol through the barony, which has the unintended effect of leaving a gap in group dynamics. Olaf says something that leaves the perfect opening for a pun, but when he realizes that Flynn isn’t there to take advantage, he’s left with a strange discomfort. Suddenly, an eldritch arrow zips through the air and lands at Olaf’s feet. It vanishes immediately, but leaves behind a tiny slip of paper. The rest of the party gathers around to read it for Olaf: Flynn, through some sort of strange pun-sense, somehow knew to write this particular pun at an utterly random moment of the day, and—still more improbably—managed to loft an arrow far enough and accurately enough to land it at Olaf's feet from an unknown number of miles outside of town with the note fluttering from it the whole way. No one in the party is quite sure how to take this, least of all Flynn.

After Flynn returns, he, Miaoyu, and Olaf take a boat to Brandt to get Olaf’s bronze dagger reforged. Olaf asks about setting the spell draining stone into his dagger, but the bronzesmiths don’t have the necessary knowledge to do so.

While Flynn is off gambling (and very quickly realizing that he has two choices: winning or keeping his life), Miaoyu asks Olaf about the tablets he got from the lizardfolk on care for his imislime.

“We could get them translated,” she suggests. “There’s a library here.”

“What’s a library?” Olaf asks bluntly. Miaoyu sighs.

“It’s a magic place where people go to read.”

“You can read?” Olaf asks, mystified.

“Yes. And so can Flynn. And Aelron, and Seeker. They taught Keegan to read, too.”

“So… I’m the only one who can’t read?” And with that, Olaf decides to learn. And, to express his new enthusiasm, as soon as he enters the library, he promptly steals a book on lizardfolk language. Miaoyu attempts to stop him—she spent enough time in libraries in her youth to know to respect and fear Ylsilar, god of knowledge—but Olaf manages to evade her. She hides her face in her hands as she follows Olaf out the door, and everyone gets a good laugh. (“Did Miaoyu just facepalm at the thought of someone stealing something?”)

When the three return to Hangtree, Olaf decides it’s time to speak with Seeker for the first time since dinner and finds him in his clinic. There's a long, awkward pause after Olaf enters, and then Olaf just decides to come right to the point. “I’m sorry for throwing my finger at you.”

“I wasn’t sure what to do with it,” Seeker confesses, dispensing with pleasantries of any kind. “So I just tried to keep it preserved.”

Olaf nods. “You hold onto it until the life-debt is fulfilled. Then you bury it and I have Aelron grow me a new one.” Seeker nods and there’s yet another awkward moment hanging in the air. “Will you teach me to read?” Olaf asks, and soon Seeker is teaching him the basics of Elven script. Miaoyu helps what little she can, having a basic understanding of Elven and its written form. She writes out Qennish folklore to provide Olaf with something to practice reading; every story seems to either include or outright end with a lawbreaker being flogged.

After speaking with a few more smiths about finding a way to control the altar stone’s spell-drinking power, Olaf is forced to admit that he won't be able to contain its effect without either a lot more money or a lot more talent, neither of which he's likely to find any time soon. He places the stone at the center of a collection of nested jars and, with the baroness’ permission, buries it deep in her backyard for safekeeping.

About a week after the library incident, Olaf notices something disturbing: he’s contracted scalerot. Humans don’t get scalerot; it requires having scales. He seems to have grown some for the express purpose of having them rot painfully away. He rushes to go visit Seeker.

“You might want to return that book,” is all Seeker has to say on the matter.

Olaf takes the next ship to Brandt, returns the book, and gives the church of Ylsilar a considerable donation. After that, the scalerot clears right up.

Unfortunately for poor Olaf, his suffering is not yet done. One day, he comes to visit Seeker, when he finds Seeker and Miaoyu discussing something in low tones. Seeker perks up when he sees Olaf.

“Hey!” he says, “why don’t you stop by later tonight? I have something to give you for your reading.”

Olaf nods slowly, suspicious. “You two are planning something,” he accuses.

Seeker just looks smug. “You might say we’re as thick as thieves.”

Miaoyu scoffs. “You’re not a thief, Seeker.”

“Oh really? How many diseases have I stolen?”

Miaoyu makes an annoyed sound, but Olaf says, “I don’t know, I thought it was pretty clever. I still don’t know what you’re talking about, though.”

Miaoyu just smiles and rushes off to the baroness’ house to fulfill her end of the plan.

That evening, Olaf stops by Seeker’s home, and moments later Miaoyu arrives with Ida in tow. (By this time, Olaf’s player is well aware of what’s happening and is making regular insight checks to see if Olaf himself can figure it out. He’s not having much success.) Before he knows it, the four of them are enjoying a dinner, with Miaoyu and Seeker sneaking the occasional conspiratory glance at one another.

Finally, Seeker gives Miaoyu a nod to indicate, Initiate Phase Two. Miaoyu panics momentarily, trying to find a decent excuse to leave, when suddenly Flynn opens the door. Flynn apparently has a special, magical property: when the party is in Hangtree, he can appear anywhere, at any time, that it is comedically appropriate for him to do so.

“Wallace’s shop is on fire again,” he says.

Olaf leaps out of his seat. “I’ll help!”

“No, no!” Seeker says hurriedly. “Stay here and enjoy your dinner. I can put out the fire with my magic.”

“And I have to teleport the dog out,” Miaoyu says, an especially blatant lie considering she can’t take other living beings with her when she shadow-walks.

“Is the shop actually on fire?” Miaoyu asks once they’ve escaped.

Flynn shrugs. “Just a little.”

Finally, the true intention of the dinner dawns on Olaf. At this point, our DM said he was drawing the line at awkward flirting and we skipped to the end of the dinner. Olaf walks Ida home and gives her a chaste kiss on the cheek. She gives him a decidedly unchaste kiss in return. They wish each other a good night and Olaf stomps off to punch Seeker.

Olaf finds Seeker at Wallace’s shop and introduces his fist to Seeker’s face. Not far away, Miaoyu begins snickering, enjoying the show with Flynn.

“What the hell?” Olaf cries. “Do you remember what I said about making my own choices?”

Seeker rubs his jaw. “Sometimes opportunities need to be made.”

“Did it occur to you that I can’t look at her hair without seeing the dead unicorn?”

Seeker’s face drops and Miaoyu stops chuckling long enough to feel a twinge of guilt. “No,” Seeker admits, “it didn’t. I’m sorry.”

“Good. Thank you.” Olaf takes a deep breath. “Now where’s Miaoyu?”

Flynn reaches to push Miaoyu out of hiding, but his hands close only on air—she’s managed to sneak off while everyone else was bickering; attempts to find her are fruitless. (There are certain perks to being the only rogue in the party.)

Olaf quickly accepts he’ll never be able to catch Miaoyu and storms off to the inn. The only indication he has that Miaoyu is in the area at all is the occasional phantom giggle coming from the shadows, which he pointedly ignores. He's very good a pointed ignoring, is our Olaf.

He goes up to the inn’s room and grabs several torches and Miaoyu’s bag. He takes them all outside and creates a circle of torches, then stands in the center with her backpack held aloft.

“Matchmaker, matchmaker, find me a match,” he taunts, holding her bag over a torch.

Miaoyu’s head suddenly appears, peeking over the roof of a nearby building. “I already found you a match,” she says impishly. “Her name is Ida.”

Olaf seethes and lowers the bag closer to the flame.

“W-wait!” Miaoyu stammers. “My stuff’s in there! There’s poison! The fumes will make you sick.”

“I’m friends with a healer,” Olaf says with a shrug. “Apologize.”

With great difficulty, Miaoyu finally manages to grumble, “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Olaf says, and places the bag safely on the ground. Once he’s gone a safe distance away, Miaoyu scrambles to get her bag.

Meanwhile, the local townspeople shake their heads and wonder how their town came to host a bunch of dangerous loonies.

“I’m not DMing D&D,” Tam sighs. “I’m DMing a soap opera.”

Next session we’ll be performing the much-anticipated ritual to (hopefully!) cure the baroness. Also, Seeker leveled up this session! (The reason he was so far behind the rest of us? He was gone for the session that we fought the rosebush from hell, and humans also get a 5% XP bonus. There are plans to change this XP bonus in the future so the gap between party members isn’t so glaring.)

The_Werebear
2013-11-27, 10:16 AM
Really, it's Tam's fault for not having more prepared than "finish off the Redcap issues."

He let us have free time when we're not getting mauled by things, so of course we're going to be Soapy -

Next Week on Hangtree 90210, we discover that the Baroness is pregnant with the Unicorn's Baby, and that Olaf's evil twin was the one who really kidnapped Seeker's missing wife. Or Olaf might have been hanging out in the Potion shop too long. Poor Gromitt IX, you will be missed until Gromitt X shows up and starts rolling in magnesium.

AverageSparrow
2013-11-30, 02:57 AM
Chapter 10: Metaphorgotten

Out of Baroness Hangtree’s generosity, the party has been granted a clubhouse for their own personal use. Aelron, Seeker, Olaf, Keegan, and Miaoyu have elected to live there, while Flynn decided to continue to live with the Baroness.

Once Aelron finishes his plans for the ritual, he calls for a meeting at the clubhouse and lays out how the ritual will work.

“The magic inherent in each of the items we have gathered should be enough to neutralize the disease, the poison and the curse,” he begins matter-of-factly. “Unfortunately, it appears that the fey lord who cursed the Baroness IS in fact going to be reborn if she dies, meaning that his consciousness is inside her body somewhere, and it is HE that continually reasserts all three effects. I've tried to locate him with all kinds of scanning and sensory magic, but can't, so we'll have to do this the hard way: Our consciousnesses will enter the Baroness' body as well. The fey lord will recognize us as a threat and begin attacking us, trying to force us out, the same way he's doing with the Baroness. We follow those attacks back to the source, find the fey lord, neutralize him, and once he has been taken out of the picture, trigger the curative portion of the ritual, which wipes all of the negative effects out of the Baroness for the last time.”

“Go back to the part where he attacks us?” Miaoyu asks uncertainly.

Aelron nods absently. “The fey lord's consciousness—spirit, soul, essence, call it what you will—resides somewhere in the structure of the disease-curse-poison construct that is slowly permeating the Baroness' body. The beginning of the ritual will announce our presence in a way he can't possibly miss. He'll try to force us out, we'll follow him back to wherever he's hiding, and finish him off.”

“Right,” Miaoyu says, “But... attacking? How? Is he going to try and stab us?”

Aelron shrugs. “It'll be mental combat. His mind against yours. Human minds tend to cling to their own physical forms, so some of the easiest ways to attack them ARE in fact to attack their forms. You'll probably perceive his attacks against you much the same as you would perceive attacks against your body in normal space; if you get struck with a mental weapon, it will cause pain similar to what you would experience being struck in your corporeal form with that same weapon.”

Olaf raises a hand. Aelron blinks at him. “If we 'die' during the ritual, if he manages to fight us out... what happens to us?”

Aelron shrugs. “Depends on how he manages to force you out. If it's with sheer mental trauma, blunt-force attacks, there is a possibility that trauma will carry over much as if you had experienced his attacks physically. That is to say, there's a chance you'll wind up brain-dead. It's a relatively small chance, especially since there are five of us and only one of him, and we'll be in Hangtree's body, which should recognize us as a friend and offer us aid where it can.”

“I don't want to go insane!” Miaoyu cries.

“Would anyone notice?” Flynn murmurs. Miaoyu pointedly ignores him.

Aelron sighs. “Chances of such damage are slim. Look at it this way—the only thing being attacked will be your mind. Even if he does manage to force you out by brutally attacking you, your body will be fine. You'll just need to remember that it wasn't your body he hurt, only your consciousness, only your mind. Cling tightly to life, and you will keep it, should it come to that. You only die if you choose to let go.”

“Think about this, too, Miaoyu,” Olaf offers. “We've risked our lives for far less worthy causes. This is actually a LESSER risk than, say, the fight with the Bramblehaunt, since it probably can't kill us, whereas the Bramblehaunt almost killed us twice.”

Seeker raises a hand next. “What happens if we fail?”

Aelron locks eyes with him levelly. “Two possible outcomes. First, a zero-sum: the ritual magic will neutralize the curse, but if we fail to remove the fey lord, he'll re-assert it and the Baroness will experience no change in her condition.” Aelron takes a deep breath to continue, but grimaces for a moment and looks away, exhaling softly.

“The second outcome?” Flynn presses.

“If we do enough damage to the Baroness,” Aelron says without looking up, “she'll die. If she dies, the fey lord has free reign. At that point...” he draws a slender finger across his own neck. “We lose.”

“Right,” says Olaf, “So we don't fail.” Flynn nods once.

Aelron turns back to Seeker. “You will not be able to use your divine powers once the ritual begins. I'll be engaging them with the ritual, and if they should become disengaged, the ritual will go haywire, and THAT will kill the Baroness in short order.”

Seeker bares his teeth in a decidedly predatory smile. “I anticipated that. I would ask that I be allowed to consecrate the ritual site to Larlon before we begin, but aside from that I have no qualms. Once we are within the dream, I get to join you all in dealing out justice to our opponents.”

Olaf raises an eyebrow at him. “But... you're a pacifist!”

Seeker just keeps on smiling. “I've looked over Aelron's ritual. The only things we'll be fighting are psychic projections of a fey lord who has turned himself into a terrible disease. If you turn yourself into the one thing my deity demands me to destroy on sight, and then try to assault my mind in the course of my duties...” he lets the sentence hang. None of the others around the table have ever seen Seeker look like a wolf-man ready to go on the hunt. It's a very strange expression on his face, especially as he's still wearing Purifier's robes.

Miaoyu looks absolutely unenthused. Olaf leans toward her. “Look at it this way,” he says. “We could steal her memories.”

“I’m not stealing her memories!” She turns to Flynn. “He’s trying to steal her memories!”

“You’re a tattle-tale,” Olaf grumbles. When he sees Flynn glaring at him he says, “You need to be more enthusiastic.”

“I'm more than enthusiastic enough already, thank you,” Flynn replies loftily.

Olaf stands suddenly and leaves the clubhouse. A few moments later, he comes crashing back through the door wielding a shovel, charging Flynn and screaming, “EXCITEMENT!”. Flynn jumps out of his chair and draws his eldritch bow in an attempt to shoot the shovel out of Olaf's hands, but Olaf holds onto it and takes a swing. The bladed spade whistles down and thunks into the heavy oaken table, shattering Flynn's plate and scattering his lunch across half the table.

“Olaf!” Aelron calls out.

“What?” Olaf replies, wrenching his shovel out of the table.

Before Aelron can phrase a suitably weighty “WTF?!”, Flynn reclaims his seat, grabs Olaf’s un-chopped plate, reclaims his food and reorganizes it on his new plate, and continues eating. Just another day at the clubhouse.

At Miaoyu’s suggestion, some of the party creates wills, should they die during the endeavor. The general jist of them is, ‘If I die, the party gets my stuff. If the party dies, Keegan gets my stuff.’

After Aelron and Seeker explain the procedure to Hangtree, the cave where the party exterminated some Dhar raiders (see Chapter 2: Well-Hung Trees for more details) is chosen for the site of the ritual. “If the ritual should go awry and the fey lord escapes, his only quarrel will be with myself and the five of you,” Hangtree points out. “If I have guards waiting, or he's in the middle of one of my towns when he awakens, he will remember it, and my people will suffer. I won't have that.” Fey beings are VERY good at holding grudges.

Once the party arrives at the cave, the final preparations begin. Seeker consecrates the ‘operating’ table to Larlon.

Olaf takes Keegan back outside the cave to wait with the horses. “Keep these here for us. No matter who comes out of that cave, if it's us or some faerie being... if it asks for a horse, give it one.”

Keegan gulps and nods. “Yes, sir.”

Once he's done reassuring Keegan, Olaf returns to the cave and strides over to the ritual table. He grasps his belt buckle firmly, looking like he's ready to remove it. “So,” he asks abruptly, “Is this a naked dancing ritual, or a holding hands ritual?”

Aelron just stares at him for a moment, then sighs. “Neither.”

Looking a bit confused, Olaf rebuckles his belt. “Oddest mage I ever met...” he mutters.

Hangtree looks back and forth between Aelron, who appears to be nursing a headache; Olaf, who is hiking up his pants; Miaoyu, who is munching nervously on what looks suspiciously like a bag of cookies; and Seeker, who was meditating until Olaf's odd query.

“He has some superstitions about magic,” Seeker explains, waving offhandedly toward Olaf.

Hangtree snorts quietly, shakes her head and reaches for a hip flask.

Olaf glowers at Seeker, then shakes it off and begins doing warm-ups; stretching, flexing, going through a few practice strokes with his weapon. When both Seeker and Aelron stop to stare at him, he pauses, thinks about it, then imagines himself doing warm-ups instead. Aelron rolls his eyes and lights a circle of ritual candles with a snap of his fingers.

Miaoyu crunches into a particularly loud cookie a moment later, and one of Seeker's ears twitches around toward her. “Where did you GET those, anyway?” he asks.

“I bought them,” Miaoyu says. Then she reaches into a pocket and pulls out a receipt, brandishing it at the party. “Look! I have a receipt.”

“She probably stole the receipt,” Aelron mutters to Flynn. Miaoyu pouts.

Baroness Hangtree is done messing around. She empties her hip flask and downs it all in one powerful slug. She DID just ride a couple of days' journey through considerable pain, and alcohol makes a decent short-term painkiller... or maybe she just doesn't want to remember entrusting her life and the fate of her barony to these dangerous loons.

Finally, the time comes for the ritual to begin. Hangtree lies down on the operating table and sets aside her walking stick/spear (which Flynn quickly places out of immediate reach, in case the fey lord does possess her). Aelron murmurs a few words, closes the ritual circle around them all, his hands begin glowing... and suddenly the world goes white.

The party is still standing roughly in a circle, but everyone looks a bit different. When one's consciousness is forced to represent itself in a dreamscape, it usually idealizes its form, and no one in the party is any exception. Flynn looks like a lowlife, quite similar to the thugs that attacked Seeker: burly, ill-dressed and scraggly, with bruising around his neck that suggests he was recently hung. Olaf is eight feet tall and muscle-bound, hair whipping around his ears in heroic fashion despite a lack of anything like wind. Seeker no longer wears his stole and looks more aggressive, wilder, but he still glows with a divine inner light. Aelron suddenly appears as a male elf—not a wolfman, but as male elves presumably looked before they were cursed: slender, lithe, pale-skinned, pointy-eared. Miaoyu’s appearance constantly flickers between a well-off adventurer and a grubby runaway. Dangerous loons, indeed.

They find themselves standing at the edge of a bog that stretches on for about two hundred feet before it reaches a small lake, which itself spans another hundred or so feet before reaching a solid tree line. Seeker smells rot in the air, and it's not all bog-rot; some of it is definitely the reek of putrefying flesh. Miaoyu and Flynn both notice strangely colored logs that dot the landscape, then realize that the ‘logs’ are actually snakes.

Moments later, Flynn spots someone in the far trees, a figure in camouflage clothing pointing a crossbow at them.

“That’s a crossbow,” Flynn remarks blandly, and a bolt whines into their midst to makes its home in Aelron’s innards, dropping him to -3 hit points.

Aelron glances down at the bolt protruding from his belly, says “Oh,” and collapses in a heap.

Olaf steps in front of Aelron protectively, readying to try and catch the next bolt on his shield. Seeker rushes to heal Aelron, yanking out the crossbow bolt (which simply melts into mist in his hand—very creepy) and applying a healing spell. Aelron's eyes snap open and, without getting up and risking another shot from that crossbow, he casts a spell called Friendly Wind, which creates a strong breeze to blow against the crossbow and make their opponent's shot more difficult, as well as giving Olaf's hair something to flutter heroically in. Flynn and Miaoyu both begin to return fire. Miaoyu gets in a couple of solid hits, and is rewarded for it with a bolt to the shoulder. Seeker rushes to heal her as well.

Olaf discovers, much to his own chagrin, that he can't cover the entire party by standing in front of them with his shield braced. He decides to adopt a more aggressive solution and takes off into the bog, trying to hop over anything that might be hostile. He’s tripped by a snake and attacked about thirty feet in, but once it has bitten him, the snake goes quiescent. Olaf decides to use a bit of parkour and leaps about the bog, avoiding the ground as much as he can. Eventually, he has to stop for a moment—and lands right on top of a snake. A snake wraps around his thigh and squeezes.

“Oh, excellent!” Olaf growls at it as he forces it from his leg. “The library express!” He extends the snake's length along the dimly demarked path between stretches of bog and tall grass, stands atop it like a skateboard, and digs his spurs into the snake. “Wait, spurs? I don't wear spurs! WHOAAAA!” The snake takes off at a rolling, lurching slither, attempting to veer off into the grass every ten feet or so. Olaf manages to keep the unfortunate reptile on the path and moving forward for an impressive sixty feet before it finally wriggles away and retreats in shame. He finds himself ankle-deep in filthy water that is clearly infested with snakes and he shouts for Aelron: “Oy! I need a water table lowered over here!”

After Seeker hits Flynn with a Battlefield Precognition, he and Aelron hurry to catch up with Olaf, and after a moment, Miaoyu follows, pausing every now and again to take a shot at the figure in the trees. Flynn, needing to spend significantly more time reloading his heavy crossbow, remains behind. Still, they both get decent shots, with Miaoyu getting a full-damage critical. The bolt hits the figure right between the eyes, and it falls to the ground—before immediately springing up and continuing to attack. Miaoyu lets loose a string of obscenities.

Just as Aelron and Seeker are about to catch up with Olaf, Seeker steps on a snake and it prepares to attack. As the reptile rears, Aelron's mind receives a small ping from the magic of the ritual that is supporting this projected dreamscape. The ritual has pinpointed the strand of corruption into which the party has been injected, and knows exactly which piece of the infection is represented by that snake. With help from the Baroness' immune system, the Alicorn and Seeker's power, the spell can eradicate that small piece of the corruption and prevent it from harming Seeker. It informs Aelron of all this in the fraction of a second before the snake strikes, and asks without words for permission to act. Aelron grants it.

The snake, a constrictor with massive fangs that appear to be dripping some sort of toxin (“Oh, that's just not fair!” the Werebear proclaims), begins to glow as it starts its strike. Larlon's power shines through it, all around it, and then into it, and it disintegrates into mist. The spell shows Aelron a small image from his own eyes: a single tendril of green corruption on the Baroness's shoulder withering, curling, and falling away from her body. He smiles grimly and pushes his attention back to the conflict.

Now at the edge of the water, Aelron has a better look at the figure who’s been shooting at them. It seems to be wearing some sort of suit made out of a plant—or perhaps it's a plant-person. Difficult to say. “What on earth could that be?” Aelron murmurs, wracking his brains for a possibility.

“A hunter reborn?” Olaf suggests, and Aelron can't really dispute the answer.

The mages set about finding a solution to the snake-filled water. Since they don’t have ten minutes for a ritual to lower the water, they decide skating would be a better answer. Seeker gives Olaf the ability to water walk by making him hydrophobic (intending the physics definition of the word and not the psychological…though you never know with Olaf) and Aelron enchants his clothing to freeze any water it encounters, creating shields that should help deter snake attacks.

Olaf begins his journey across the water, snakes pestering him all the while. Aelron manages to save him from being grappled and bitten by willing two from existence, but he ultimately still takes some damage before reaching the other shore.

By this time, Miaoyu has caught up with the others, with Flynn right behind her, both having decided to ignore the hunter for the moment. Seeing that Olaf is in trouble, she takes Seeker’s healing beads and shadow walks to him. She’s bitten by a snake upon arrival, but she quaffs a potion and uses a healing bead on Olaf, who immediately jumps at the hunter—and vanishes. Before she can process this, Miaoyu is hit by the hunter and dropped to -3.

Flynn, Seeker, and Aelron begin their own journey across the pond, moving as quickly but carefully as they can, especially since Seeker can be dropped by a single hit. Both the group and Miaoyu know they’ll never get to her in time, so with a quick prayer to Gilgadar, she crawls out of the pond and vanishes as well.

Eventually, the remaining three reach the other shore, Aelron at 0 hit points, and join Miaoyu and Olaf in a brief moment of oblivion.

Aelron receives another communication from the spell powering their journey: it has identified the Fey Lord's location, but there is a problem. Unable to stop the party's advance directly, it has opted to attack the Baroness instead; the tendrils of the illness are probing into her mind, and will cause irrevocable damage if left unchecked. The spell has no weapons with which to stop this intrusion, and wants to put the party in the way to defend her. Aelron agrees, and the group's consciousness is redirected to the Baroness's mind.

Baroness Hangtree's mindscape is represented by a starkly lit room with a floorplan shaped like the mutant spawn of a kite shield and a heart: slanting, slightly curving walls at odd angles to one another in a roughly diamond-ish shape. The room is made of a pearly material with the texture and brittleness of thin sheets of marble; its outer walls are an ominous dark red. A single unbroken wall divides the room into eastern and western halves and has the appearance of frosted glass; permeable by light, but one can see only shadows and suggestions of movement on the other side. Another set of similar walls fails to completely divide the room into northern and southern halves, merely limiting access from northern to southern spaces. If examined from above, the room looks something like a quartered shield, if the lines separating upper and lower quarters were incompletely drawn.

http://i251.photobucket.com/albums/gg313/Senrei_yume/ca8bd645-e2cf-41b2-ad6d-1d0bab1fdca5.jpg

There are three entrances to the room: one in the northern wall of the northwestern quarter, one in the floor of the northwestern quarter, and one in the eastern wall of the northeastern quarter. Flynn stumbles in through the eastern wall while the rest of the party clambers through the northwestern door. Upon entering the room, each player receives a rejuvenating boost from Hangtree's slumbering consciousness, which recognizes them as allies: everyone regains 1d6 hit points. Miaoyu rolls a 1 and swears vengeance upon the hawker who sold her the potions. Seeker heals Miaoyu and she drinks another potion (rolling 1 again), and then the party sets about taking a closer look at the room.

Each quarter of the room contains a pedestal with a beautifully wrought relic resting upon it, protected by a frosted-glass casing. Flynn, on the eastern side of the room, can see a finely carved statue of horses with golden manes and tails, as well as a silver chalice three-quarters-full of something thick and deep red. The rest of the party can see a crossed pair of miniature wooden tournament lances, one banded in silver and one in gold; and a gem-studded crown upon a purple pillow.

Flynn informs the group that the shield-room is not a reflection of Hangtree’s personal coat of arms. At least one of the quarters of her coat of arms is a blank black field, and none of these is blank. Aelron recognizes the crossed lances as symbols of Turmlar, god of honor, and the crown as being specifically Drouganti. Flynn identifies the horse as representing Brigii, goddess of horses and loyalty. The chalice clearly represents the Baroness herself; she is the Knight of the Bloody Chalice. Seeker notes that the entire room smells exactly like Hangtree.

Suddenly, Aelron receives another prompt from the spell: the Fey lord has readied his attack. The ritual presents him another brief glimpse through his own eyes as three tendrils of corruption begin to burrow into the Baroness' mind: one at each temple and one from the base of her skull. From behind the partitions covering each door, the tromping of many, many boots can suddenly be heard.

“Look alive, people, we've got company!” Aelron calls out. “Defend the relics!”

Flynn takes a stand before the relic of Brigii, barring the way out of the only door on his side. Miaoyu shadow walks to join him and takes up position in the doorway leading from northeastern to southeastern chambers, preparing to snipe. Olaf charges to the northern doorway.

“Aelron!” he calls as he draws his daggers. “Horn! Cover the grate!”

Aelron nods, unslings his Combusti-Bull drinking horn, and lobs it underhand to Olaf. When he reaches the grate in the northwestern floor, he uses Sealing Ward on it to make it tougher to break through, hoping to buy Olaf enough time to finish off whatever comes out of his door.

The door Flynn is guarding breaks first. A tide of goblins, the cannon fodder (and literal fodder; they're bred to be edible) of Fey armies, crashes through the barrier in a rush. Flynn is waiting for them. “You are not welcome here,” he says, poking the first one through the barrier right between the eyes with his forefinger. “Back to your hole.” The goblin goes cross-eyed trying to find the end of Flynn's finger to bite—but then an eldritch heavy crossbow bolt explodes through his sinuses, lodges at the back of his skull, and shoves him back out the opening and into his fellows. The second goblin through gets a similar treatment from an eldritch light crossbow, and the third from an eldritch longbow. (The goblins are level 0, which means warriors get up to their own level in free attacks against them. As long as he hits with each shot, and doesn’t move, Flynn can kill three in a round. He can't do it with the heavy crossbow, as reloading that actually takes time, but swapping between eldritch weapons is a free action, and normal bows have a negligible reload.) The rest of the goblins attempt to swarm past Flynn, and he's forced to take a step back, but that opens up a shot for Miaoyu, who takes out a fourth goblin with her light crossbow.

Olaf's door breaks next, but he's waiting for them: as the first goblins squeeze through, he raises both Horns of the Conflagration high and calls out, “To the Baroness's health!” Then he takes a deep draught from each, smiles at the goblins before him, and belches out what should be a 60-foot cone of flame. (“Goblin barbeque, everyone!” Dawnflame calls. “Orderly line now, there's enough for everyone!”) Unfortunately, the goblins are packed so densely (six of them to a five-foot-square while they're still in the entryways) that the Horns can't function at full effectiveness. The front rank of goblins roasts to a mouth-watering crisp, but those behind them are protected by a wall of seared flesh. Olaf DOES manage to seal up the entryway again with a wall of goblin corpses, but that won't last.

Aelron gets another ping from the spell. With help from Larlon's power and the consecration of the Iron Lord, the Baroness's body can throw barriers in the way of the Fey Lord's attacks. He has only to designate where to place those barriers, and the spell will prompt Hangtree appropriately.

Flynn finds himself surrounded by goblins and puts his back to the Relic of Brigii. He's taking occasional hits, but he doesn't seem to care; he's firing with wild abandon at any goblin that looks like it might want to smash the covering over the relic, and appears to draw strength from every goblin he slays. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Miaoyu; when she comes forward to defend the relic, a small group of goblins detaches to swarm her.

Aelron smiles wickedly and reaches for his belt as his magically-braced doorway becomes a spiderweb of cracks; a moment later he holds out a pair of spell-grenades, ready to drop one into the first hole that opens up large enough to fit it. “Olaf!” he calls. Olaf drops the drinking horns and reaches a hand back almost without looking, catches the tossed spell grenade, and steps back a bit, keeping himself between the Relic of Turmlar and his wave of goblins.

It takes a moment of frantic shoving and hacking, but eventually the charred mass of goblin-flesh topples forward and the still-living goblins of Olaf's batch surge over it; Olaf is waiting. “CATCH!” he orders thunderously, and the first goblin obeys instinctively. (That's the trouble with creatures bred to be obedient; enemies can take advantage of that obedience too.) The goblin and its four companions in the front rank glance down in confusion at the solid-not-solid spell construct in its hands just before the spell detonates in a spectacular electrical discharge. With daggers flashing, Olaf steps forward and gleefully dispatches one, two, three more, and grins maniacally at those that attempt to surround him. Seeker, confident in his allies’ abilities, and lacking the resources or talent to do much else, conserves his energy for the time being, keeping an eye on the situation as a whole and watching for anyone in need of healing.

Miaoyu fires her crossbow one last time before being overrun by goblins. They reduce her to -9 hit points, one away from death, and she is forced to shadow-walk to safety, abandoning Flynn and leaving the Chalice Relic exposed. The goblins swarm toward it as Seeker rushes to heal Miaoyu. Flynn fights on, gunning down any goblin foolish enough to strike at the covering protecting Brigii's Relic, but the covering is starting to weaken.

Aelron's reinforced floor grating crumbles. Aelron drops his spell grenade into the writhing mass of goblins below. The front row panics, seeing what is coming, but cannot back away. Aelron takes a quick step back as the spell detonates, freezing the front rank solid. He prompts the ritual: here, now. Another barrier, this one a dome of the same material that makes up the relic casings, forms over the hole where the grating used to be. Aelron gets a glimpse through his own eyes of one of the tendrils of corruption at Hangtree's temples recoiling and flailing, and then--

Goblins break the shield around the Chalice Relic. Miaoyu thanks Seeker for his healing and Shadow Walks back across the divide. Unfortunately for Miaoyu, Shadow Walk consumes 1d6 reserve hit points every time it is used; she has 4 remaining and rolls a 5, so she loses a real hit point too as a small portion of her is left behind by an imperfect jaunt. Her crossbow thrums again, though, and one of the goblins around the Chalice Relic falls. The rest turn toward her and growl. She offers a meek wave of her hand before they swarm her again, dropping her again into negative hit points. She feigns death (and maxes the Deception roll to do so; even Miaoyu almost thinks she's dead, until she remembers Aelron's advice to NOT LET GO) and palms a potion. She rolls yet another 1 on the potion healing, bringing her to zero hit points: not an active combatant, but not bleeding out either. (At this point AverageSparrow was detailing vivid revenge-porn about what Miaoyu might do to the poor potionmaker if she ever found him again.)

Flynn has thinned the swarm around the Relic of Brigii to a paltry few goblins by this point, and easily dispatches the few remaining attempting to attack the relic, keeping himself between the relic and the rest. He is battered but still standing, and whatever inner reserve he was drawing on to rejuvenate himself appears to be exhausted.

Olaf is likewise laying about himself in a frenzy, dispatching goblins left and right; none manage to break past him for Aelron or Seeker, and only very few manage to make even a single attack agaisnt the Relic of Turmlar.

Unfortunately for Aelron, the goblins below the grating choose that moment to shatter the secondary covering he created for it, and they come pouring out of the opening, spreading out to surround Aelron and move toward the Relic of Turmlar as they go. Aelron steps back to stay clear of the mass of goblins, and Seeker, no longer occupied treating Miaoyu, charges back into the fray.

“Shall we?” Aelron asks, tendrils of fire already licking around his fingers.

“With pleasure,” Seeker growls.

The two of them unleash a firestorm upon the goblins crawling from the grating, one Burning Hands spell apiece. Both of them nearly maximize damage just on the dice rolls, and much of that wave of goblins falls writhing in flames.

It is, unfortunately, Seeker's last spell.

Olaf is forced to fall back to defend the Relic of Turmlar from goblins approaching from two directions. The goblins approaching from the grating swarm over Seeker and force him down, beating him into negative hit points. Flynn takes another pair of hits from goblin weapons and grunts in pain, but refuses to yield an inch of ground around the Relic of Brigii. Aelron, cornered by the last survivor of the wave he and Seeker just incinerated, takes a hit and falls to one hit point. Miaoyu palms another healing potion, still successfully deceiving the goblins in her room into thinking she's dead, and nearly cries out loud as it heals yet another single hit point. Seeker himself falls to the wave of goblins, forcing him into negative HP.

Seeker looks about him, sees his allies falling slowly, fighting a losing battle against attrition, himself bleeding and out of magic, and desperately starts to pray. “O Larlon, do not fail me in my hour of need!” Apparently desperation is a good tone to use, as Seeker gets a nearly maximum roll on his religious skill. Suddenly, the ritual's magic touches HIS mind: Larlon appears to be reaching through Aelron's ritual magic to grant Seeker the ability to provoke Hangtree's intervention.

Aelron swings his staff desperately at the goblin before him, connects solidly, and sends it tumbling back through the grating. Flynn strikes down the last of the goblins still anywhere near the Relic of Brigii and moves to the doorway between northeastern and southeastern to begin taking down those that threaten the Chalice Relic. Olaf finishes off the last of the goblins around the Relic of Turmlar, dashes into the southwestern relic room, and hurls himself against the wall between western and eastern quarters. A section of the wall comes down in a shower of shards and Olaf tumbles through into the midst of the last few standing goblins--

And suddenly, the world fades again, this time into blackness. The party realizes, a bit too late, that this was not a mission to destroy all the goblins; it was a timed defense, with the goal of keeping as many relics alive as possible for ten rounds (one minute). In that time, the party amassed a stunning kill count of ninety-two goblins. Aelron has a brief vision of the tendrils that had been attacking the Baroness' mind shriveling and falling to dust, and then his vision reorients. He can see the profile of the Baroness's body; the influence of the spell, its healing and curative powers, is a blue aura that appears to have scrubbed much of the Baroness' body clean. Only a small patch of red remains directly over the baroness' heart: the Fey Lord's last bastion. Their last remaining target.

While floating through darkness, waiting for the spell to present their next challenge, the party starts chatting.

“If that last room represented bits of herself and her fear of being destroyed by the fey,” Olaf speculated, “then that bog was probably how she saw the disease. You know, it slowed her down, always bit at her ankles.”

Seeker gapes at him. “How did you get that?” It’s easy to forget, amidst all of Olaf's enthusiasm, joie de vivre, and seemingly brutish cultural roots, that he is sometimes quite perceptive.

Olaf shrugs. (Probably. Floating through blank, dark oblivion makes reading body language difficult.) “Flynn probably got it too, but he didn’t want to blather his lady’s secrets all over the place.”

“Thanks for doing that, by the way,” Flynn tells Olaf, his voice desert-dry. Miaoyu punctuates this by munching on psychic manifestations of her cookies.

Before Olaf can respond, the party finds themselves floating in a small well of some thick liquid. In the dimness it appears red. They lever themselves one by one out onto a small ledge surrounding the well and attempt to take stock.

“Okay,” Flynn says as soon as he has his feet under him. “Sound off: who’s alive?”

One by one, everyone responds in the positive, except for Olaf. Olaf simply licks the liquid off one of his fingers and says, “Is this blood?”

The party decides not to investigate that question terribly much; when you go into the mind of someone who styles themselves “the Knight of the Bloody Chalice,” it’s reasonable to assume they’re a bit scary. Everyone goes about healing up (which mostly means chugging healing potions, as Aelron has one spell left and Seeker has none) and taking in their surroundings. They seem to be standing on a small platform of obsidian or basalt that encircles a small pool of blood. A single walkway of the same dark substance leads away from the pool, terminating in a stone archway draped with a deerhide and lit from behind. Around the stone path is... empty blankness, void, gaping absence. To all appearances, the blood well and the walkway around it are simply floating in the midst of a vast field of... nothing.

“So, if we’re given the opportunity, should we try to negotiate with the fey lord?” Olaf asks.

The party begins joking nervously about transplanting the fey lord into someone else, ideally someone they don’t much care for: Christoff, Horvath, or that damned potion maker. Ultimately, however, they agree that they’re there to kill the fey lord. They form up and move down the hall in single file: Olaf, Flynn, Aelron, Miaoyu, and finally Seeker.

Only a few steps later, Olaf reaches the deerhide-draped arch. A stag skull sits atop the arch, shrouded in shadow, worms crawling about its eyes and dropping from its jaw to wriggle eerily on the floor. Olaf pauses for just a moment before he enters the door and projects a thought toward it: Ready or not, you fey bastard, here we come. He reaches out, slides the curtain aside, and steps through the archway.

Before he can cross the threshold, a haunting voice rings clearly in his mind. How much of your past will you forsake?

Olaf's answer forms over a long moment in which his body seems suspended in time, still on its course but unmoving until he gives answer. After careful consideration, he replies, I do not forsake it any more than the sword forsakes the anvil and blacksmith that forge it. They part ways, perhaps never to see one another again, but the sword does not forget who and what made it what it is.

Flynn is next through the door. What did you do that’s so horrible that you’re still running? a voice hisses in his ear.

I was born. he grinds back at it. I lived, at any cost. I did terrible things. I should have died. I would have, until the Lady. She picked me up. She made me Good. My life is worth something in her hands. And now hers is in mine and I will preserve it. Bite my shiny metal ass, Fairy Princess. Sincerely, Flynn

Aelron, at the center of the line, grasps the deerhide curtain and has just enough time to realize that he doesn't see any of his other party members on the other side before time slows and an unfamiliar voice rings through his consciousness. Are you so consumed with hatred for your own race that you worship overgrown lizards?[i]

He shakes his head sadly at the voice—or would, if his head was responding. [i]I revere beauty in whatever form it takes; hatred is no part of what I must do. If I must take life to save what is good and beautiful, I shall do so, but I take no joy in the act.

Miaoyu is next. How could you abandon your little brother? the voice asks her plaintively.

Miaoyu flinches, but does not respond. After a long moment, time resumes for her and she steps through the curtain.

Seeker is last. The voice calls him by his real name and whispers his wife’s name as well. Was she ever truly happy with you?

After a moment’s pause, knowing he’d never told those names to Hangtree, Seeker bares his teeth in challenge. Yes, demon of doubt.

(At this point, Tam called each player away from the table in marching order: Olaf, Flynn, Aelron, Miaoyu, Seeker. Each player was presented with a choice. As soon as their character chose, they were returned to the table and the next player called away. The wait was killer, let me tell you. And the Werebear took for freakin' ever!)

Olaf steps through the curtain and finds himself alone. No party members come through at his back. When he glances over his shoulder, he sees, not the stone arch hung with deerhide, but a portal; it is as if he is looking through Baroness Hangtree's eyes at his own body. He has an instinctive understanding that he can step back through that portal at any time and return to his body. Turning back around, he finds himself in a small room carved from granite. Upon a small pedestal before him is a green egg, vaguely draconic-looking. He leans down to examine it. The egg is glowing with an inner light, and a silhouette, barely visible through the shell, shows a humanoid form with pointed ears and slender limbs recumbent within the shell.

“Huh,” Olaf says, mostly to himself. “Well this must be our friend the fey lord, then. Guess I'm supposed to whack him.” He reaches for a dagger, then pauses. “Unless... is he an innocent? An infant? Am I supposed to carry him out?” Olaf ponders for a moment. “No, he was a full-grown Fey Lord who chose to regenerate himself in this manner. He bears all the guilt of his actions in the life he lived before becoming this, and even Seeker wants him dead for what he's done to the Baroness. Time to die, faerie.” And he brings his dagger crashing down hilt-first upon the fragile shell, shattering it.

Flynn steps through the curtain and finds himself alone. Olaf is not here, and Aelron doesn't appear to be coming. Flynn becomes a bit paranoid when he sees the egg. If it's the fey lord, obviously it has to die... but what if this thing is tied to the Lady's life somehow? What if I kill her by harming the egg? Can't take that chance... but can't leave it here. Maybe if I take it with me, I can take the curse upon myself, spare her the pain.... Flynn picks up the egg and steps backward, vanishing.

Aelron steps through the curtain and finds himself alone. This is... not what I expected. With a wan smile, he reaches for his staff. I trust my ritual to guide my hand where it is needed. Hatred will be no part of what I do. In a single blow, he shatters the egg's thin shell.

Miaoyu steps through the curtain and finds herself alone. Well, that's just wonderful, isn't it? She glances down at the egg glowing on its pedestal. This looks interesting! She picks it up and retreats.

Seeker steps through the curtain and finds himself alone. Where is everyone?. Then he looks down, sees the egg, and looks curiously at what grows inside it. He pauses for a moment, seeing the small creature in front of him. Then, remembering that this is the manifestation of the disease, and insulted by the question he (assumes) it asked him, he looks down at his hands, thinking I’ve got nothing left but these. He offers the egg a soft growl before tearing it apart with his claws.

(What Tam didn't tell us until after the session ended was that we had been casting votes with our choices: leaving the egg alone and walking out was a vote to leave the Fey lord and his infection inside Hangtree. Destroying the egg was a vote to complete the ritual and save her. Taking the egg would have cured Hangtree, but may have infected one of us. Destroying the egg won with Seeker, the party pacifist, casting the tie-breaking vote by crushing the egg, reaching into its broken shell, and tearing its resident apart with his bare paws.)

Slowly, everyone returns to consciousness around the consecrated table. Flynn checks to see if he still has the egg, but it is gone. They find Baroness Hangtree unconscious but healthy looking; the corrupted green tracery that formerly patterned her entire left side is gone. Seeker casts Diagnose on her and finds her perfectly healthy.

“So,” Olaf asks, “did anyone else hear a question when they went through that stone arch?”

“No,” Miaoyu says at the same time everyone else says, “Yes.”

“Oh,” Miaoyu stammers. “That’s weird.”

Seeker gives her a cool look. “Say what you want, we know the truth.”

“I deny everything,” she says stubbornly.

The rest of the party compares notes on what they heard and saw, with the exception of Miaoyu, who begins anxiously eating her cookies again. “I heard it call me by my real name,” Seeker says. “And use my wife’s real name. It asked if she was ever really happy with me.”

“What is your real name, if you don’t mind me asking?” says Aelron, not daring to touch the answer to the question itself.

“Guarion. It means 'werewolf’s son'. It’s a fairly common name.” It is, in fact, the Elven equivalent of naming your child 'Bastard'.

Olaf calls Keegan in.

“How do I know you’re not tricking me?” Keegan asks, wary. Olaf ponders this question for some time, until Flynn sighs.

“Ignore him,” Flynn says. “We’re fine.”

Apparently satisfied, Keegan enters the cave and the party makes themselves comfortable while they rest and wait for the Baroness to wake. The night passes uneventfully as the Baroness slumbers away and the party posts watches as usual. She begins to stir in the early morning hours, and Seeker wakes everyone early to witness her return to consciousness.

She sits up after a moment and finds herself surrounded by those same dangerous loonies who put her to sleep what feels like a few minutes ago.

“How do you feel?” Seeker asks.

“Good,” Hangtree says, carefully standing and testing her left side. “I feel... healthy. For the first time in years, I...” She looks around, caught up in the feeling for a moment, then catches the eyes of each member of the party in turn, lingering for a moment on Flynn. “Thank you,” she says huskily.

“One more thing,” Seeker says, holding up a paw. “He took ten years away from you. Now you’ll get them back.” He casts Longevity and de-ages Hangtree thirteen years (“She's earned a little interest.”), bringing her to her late 20s.

Hangtree looks down in surprise at her younger body and gives Seeker a smile. “Thank you,” she says again. She reaches for her spear and says, “If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to ride my horse.” Flynn begins to follow, but she waves him off. The party watches her ride off into the sunrise.

“There goes one happy baroness,” Olaf remarks, more for something to say than because anyone might have missed it.

She returns sometime that afternoon, looking happy and glowing with health. Flynn is still somewhat reeling from the idea that she’s now almost his age.

“What are you going to do now?” Olaf asks Hangtree as she dismounts. “Bring the righteous fury of the Crown down on rebels?”

She gives him a wicked grin. “The thought had crossed my mind.”

“Well, if you need any help pillaging—uh, I mean dispensing royal justice, let me know.”

The Baroness lifts an eyebrow at him; Aelron rolls his eyes and Flynn buries his head in his hands.

The party saddles up and heads back to Hangtree. Once they arrive, all but Flynn head for their clubhouse. Flynn returns to the baronial manor to discuss his arrangements with Hangtree. By the time Flynn joins the rest of the party, Aelron is serving drinks and a small celebration is underway. Keegan appears to be attempting to practice his handwriting while getting completely sauced. Once Flynn has settled in (read: gotten a drink in hand), Seeker gathers everyone’s attention.

“Now that the Baroness is cured, I thought we should talk about what we want to do next. I have a divination spell called Seek that I can use occasionally to provide me with clues to help me find my wife, and it has just revealed a new clue: The course of true love never did run smooth. Larlon, Farkas – Who would lie with a wolf?”

Speculation springs up immediately, and it’s more-or-less agreed that they likely need to find a priest of Farkas to find Seeker's wife. Seeker also reminds the group of the dragonscale amulet that Miaoyu located while they were still in New Drougant City.

“It’s almost winter,” Flynn points out, “and we want to go after a priest of a god of cold?”

“How about we wait until spring?” Miaoyu suggests.

“No,” Olaf interjects. “This is perfect! Imagine how heroic it’ll be!”

“I believe,” Seeker says, “that it would be wise to do some intelligence gathering. And we can start with looking for the amulet.”

Miaoyu begins drinking a bit more eagerly and Aelron follows her lead. Olaf mistakes this for party drinking and joins in as well.

“By the way,” Flynn says. “I need to talk to you about Hangtree’s... material expression of gratitude for your services rendered. It’s… me.” He says it reluctantly, as though he is vaguely embarrassed to have to say it. “I’m to travel with you and give each of you a favor of your choice.”

Flynn is lying by body language and omission. Earlier that day, when he escorted the baroness to her manor, he made a specific request of her.

“So Lady, about my future.” She raises an eyebrow but says nothing, simply waiting. He smiles. “As always, my life is yours; if you asked it of me, I would challenge the gods. I wouldn’t get far, and I’d die horribly I’m sure, but I’d do it.” He smiles sadly. “So if you have any plans for me, I’d hear them first…” She shakes her head. “...But if the choice is still mine, I’ve a thought.” She waves her hand in a small circle, a gesture designed to convey Well, come on, out with it already! “These oddballs did you a great service; I would be the repayment in kind. I will go with them, and do one great favor for each. Then I will return and enter knighthood, or whatever will serve best at your right hand. Sound about right, Lady?” At that she laughs and nods, and waves him off.

“Come back safe.”

“Nothing's ever simple.”

Once Flynn has completed his announcement, Olaf attempts to order Flynn to loosen up a little, have a drink, enjoy himself! We won a great victory today! It's time to party!

He is rebuffed with a firm, “NO.”

The party discusses other, more immediate plans as well. Aelron wishes to return to New Drougant City; the scholar who provided information on the Iron Lord will pay good coin for a dagger still consecrated TO the Iron Lord, and even if the man was an unmitigated prick, coin is coin. Miaoyu raises concerns about returning to a city from which they stole an indentured servant, but Keegan makes it clear he has NO desire to speak to his former master or cause trouble, and he'd much rather just stick with the party. Everyone ultimately agrees to travel to NDC and then head north to the amulet’s location.

They later find that the baroness has provided them each with a war horse in addition to their riding horses. Ridiculous naming ensues; Flynn and Miaoyu name their riding horses Minion and Expendable respectively. Their warhorses get more respectable names: Redemption for Flynn and Rizhao (“Sunshine”) for Miaoyu. Aelron's steeds are Dawnrunner (warhorse) and Flametongue (for his ill-tempered riding horse). Olaf's horses are Groni (for his riding horse) and Slepnir (for his warhorse).

The party decides to take some downtime for the rest of the month, so Aelron can work on his spells and the others can attend to their own affairs.

We’re taking a break for Thanksgiving and will begin our new adventure afterwards. For those of you wondering, the relics in the shield arena represented an aspect of the baroness’s personality. If one had been destroyed, it would have had some ugly effects. Fortunately we kept them all intact, and a poor innocent Fey lord met his end. Again.

Fayd
2013-11-30, 06:18 PM
I'm...rather glad this all worked as well as it did. It got ...hairy... there for a while.

Also BOY HOWDY are we slow on the uptake with some things.

AverageSparrow
2014-01-02, 08:24 PM
Chapter 11: The Origin of the Doom Pigeon

The party finishes out the rest of the month in Hangtree, hemorrhaging money at a rate that would make a Kardashian blush, restocking on magical consumables and 'decorating' the clubhouse. Seeker continues to run his clinic, although only in the most formal sense; he’s long since eradicated all sickness and disease in the town, and his duties mostly consist of caring for minor injuries. He also crafts magical healing items for his companions. Seeker learned magic from an Elven Weaver, so much of his spellwork takes the form of braids, knots, and woven cloth. The items he creates are short lengths of knotted rope which, when unraveled, will heal 2d6 hit points. Miaoyu notes how much better they are than a certain potion maker’s goods and loads up on as many as she can carry.

Aelron spends most of the rest of the month pursuing his definition of ‘fun’: creating and researching spells. First on the list is the 'Ominous Music Cue' cantrip. While it doesn’t have any practical applications at cantrip level, it is quite impressive: every time the subject of the spell performs an action or rapidly shifts his attention, the cantrip recreates the sounds of a small string-and-brass orchestra playing a brief “intense moment” musical cue. Aelron also manages to work up a spell to grant echolocation, but as a first level spell, it renders its recipient blind. Not as useful as one might hope.

Olaf decides to clean up a bit. According to Olaf, in Dharric culture, a boy grows a beard until he passes a test of manliness by besting a worthy opponent. How boys are expected to grow beards that look even halfway decent BEFORE they come men is beyond the scope of this narration; this is Dhar culture, people, just try not to think about it too hard. Having racked up three kills to his name that Olaf figures could count as “worthy” – the unicorn, the redcap, and the fey lord – Olaf briefly repurposes his newest dagger as a shaving instrument. He also braids his hair a bit—one braid for each kill—and invests his free money in semi-precious gems for easy transportation and fashion.

Aelron can't quite wrap his head around it. “You mean to tell me he just shaved, braided his hair and bought a bunch of jewelery?” he asks Flynn. “And he called me effeminate?”

Worried that an explosion from Wallace’s alchemy shop will harm the clubhouse – which is, of course, immediately adjacent to the alchemy shop; why ELSE would there be a free building so conveniently standing empty? – Olaf decides to build a retaining wall between the two structures. Unfortunately, Olaf has no idea how to build a wall. He ends up gathering up a large collection of bricks, dipping each one in mortar, and stacking them up. The end result is definitely a wall. It may not be the most traditional representation of a wall, what with the leaning and wide base that tapers in towards the top, but it looks fairly solid, all things considered. Aelron takes to practicing the dramatic music cantrip on Olaf during the construction project, which turns the already-entertaining sight of a Dhar building a wall into the sight of a Dhar building a wall with what sounds like the Jaws theme in the background.

Flynn soon finds himself slogging through mountains of paperwork as the Baroness shoves her usual duties onto him so she can enjoy her newfound mobility and youth. She’s often seen riding majestically through the plains and valleys of the barony, giving orders to her soldiers and guards.

Getting a bit restless from staying in one place so long, Miaoyu takes to mostly harmless pranks. There are a few singes here and there, but no major injuries and all buildings remain standing. A good time is had by all, as soon as the burns stop smarting. She does take a break in her antics to purchase a chain shirt to hopefully almost die a little less.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, Olaf suggests that Keegan is old enough to become a man.

“All we have to do is tar and feather him,” he says amiably. No one is quite certain how Olaf got from “shaving” to “tarring and feathering”, and they're not wasting time finding out. Seeker launches into a frantic speech about all the medical dangers of tarring and feathering and Flynn and Aelron point out that in addition to all the ways it could kill you, it’s very illegal to dump hot tar on someone, especially a child. Miaoyu pulls Keegan further away from Olaf.

“I think you need to stay away from Keegan for a really long time,” she snaps.

“I guess his mom and dad are having a disagreement,” Seeker snickers, having recovered from his brief bout of horror. Neither Olaf nor Miaoyu blink at the labels given to them.

On the first of the eight month, and official start of winter, the party prepares to leave for New Drougant City and prays to Brigii for safe travel. Everyone except for Flynn, that is, who refuses on the grounds of not caving into peer pressure. Outside of Hangtree, they almost immediately find bear tracks and, at Olaf’s eager suggestion, decide to go hunt it.

Olaf tracks it to its cave and turns to the party. “Usually when hunting a bear, you have hunting dogs distract it while you shoot it. Since we don’t have any dogs, I’ll take be the distraction.”

Flynn catches Seeker’s eye and Seeker huffs. “Stop looking at me, Flynn.”

“Dogs, not wolves,” Olaf corrects offhandedly. “Wolves are too smart.”

“You and I know very different wolves,” Flynn says with a shrug.

Olaf takes up position at the mouth of the cave while the rest of the party slips back a safe distance. Olaf shouts loudly and repeatedly into the cave, earning some disgruntled chuffing in response. The rest of the party joins in with some half-hearted, snarky comments until finally Olaf sees movement in the cave. A bear squeezes through the entrance of the cave and rears up – it’s a full eleven feet tall when on its hind legs, and it's apparently not yet full-grown.

Olaf takes a look at the sheer mass of the bear and its giant, deadly claws and decides some dodging is in order. He manages to get in a couple of hits on the bear while trying desperately to stay out of the way of its claws, but his daggers are too small to do any significant damage. The rest of the party begins peppering the bear with ranged attacks. Miaoyu shoots off its ear, Flynn puts a few holes in its hide, and Aelron, naturally, sets it on fire. The bear lets out a horrible roar, bloody froth at its mouth, and collapses on top of Olaf.

With some help from a slightly grudging Flynn (“Why don't we just leave him under there?”), Olaf wriggles free of the bear's massive weight. He pats out a couple of flames and cheerfully sets about skinning the bear. Flynn ducks into the bear’s den to see if there’s anything worth salvaging from less-fortunate adventurers.

There’s a short flurry of concern when the party realizes the bear was female. “What if we just orphaned adorable bear cubs?” Miaoyu asks, looking panicked. “We can't leave adorable bear cubs to die in the wilderness!”

Fortunately, Flynn reports no signs of offspring, or any valuables. Olaf makes offerings to Kurush and Farkas, the gods of might and hunting respectively, and the bear skull in turn earns their blessings: a +2 to saves vs cold when held.

As the party makes their way back to the road, Olaf points out that now that they’ve made advances as a group, they should pick a group name. (“I don’t think we should go around calling ourselves the Dangerous Loonies.”) A few tentative ideas are passed around, some more serious than others, until Seeker suggests The Breakers.

“It’s perfect because it suits everyone,” he says. He points to himself and each member of the party in turn as he says, “I break fevers, Olaf breaks faces, and Miaoyu breaks fate, Flynn breaks grammar, and Aelron breaks the laws of thermodynamics.” Of course our characters know about those. Shut up.

Everyone agrees that this is all true, but they decide to hold out on a group name a while longer. As they continue on their travels, they pass the grove of Aelron's favorite dryad and find it barren and dusted with snow. No dryad comes out to cast Charm on any of them, and Aelron informs the party that many dryads are dormant during the winter. This prompts Olaf to check up on Scuzzbucket and find that he is dormant as well, and does not respond to anything. Aelron uses a translation spell and scans the clay tablet Olaf got from the lizardfolk and tells him that imislimes should be kept away from temperature extremes; a cold imislime will go dormant as it freezes and may become vulnerable to shattering, whereas a hot imislime will become soupy in consistency and may lose coherence entirely.

The party eventually comes to a fishing town in the midst of a rather late harvest festival. The townspeople happily allow the party to mingle in festivities. Soon, everyone is making ‘life of the party’ checks. Aelron decides to liven things up by creating fireworks, which Flynn shoots at with his eldritch bow. Olaf becomes the focus of the party for a while leading Dhar drinking songs and traditional dances, but Aelron steals it away again when he busts out the booze he had left over from their previous stay in New Drougant City and begins mixing drinks. Seeker enchants the musical instruments to play themselves. Miaoyu contributes by not robbing people and enjoying a cup of mulled wine. (Sparrow actually spent this entire scene silently convincing herself not to roll ‘death of the party’ checks using Miaoyu’s assassin skill. It was a difficult struggle.)

The next morning, the party wakes up while the rest of the villagers are still recovering from their hangovers, and heads out. Miaoyu, although not vocalizing her discomfort, does spend quite a bit of time glaring hatefully at the snow and ice that has begun to cover the landscape.

“What was the weather like where you come from?” Flynn asks when he notices.

“Warmer,” she grumbles.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Olaf says, “how many winters have you spent here?”

Miaoyu shakes her head in response, but when the others turn away, she mutters to Olaf, “Going on six.”

Before long, the party comes to area where they defeated the Combusti-Bull. To their surprise, the area is untouched by the snow and grass is continuing to grow. Aelron plucks up a strand of grass and turns it into a totem. It provides a +2 resistance to fire. Given that he’s a fire genasi, this isn’t entirely helpful for him, but because each person is only allowed so many magical items at a time no one else can take it. Aelron decides to hold onto it for the time being and now he’s extra fire resistant.

Further along the road, the party finds a stretch of sand where eleven whales have beached themselves and begun rotting. The party investigates the corpses for a while and Olaf begins telling a Dharric folktale about whales. Aelron scoffs at it.

“Come here, Aelron, there’s something I want to show you,” Olaf says. Aelron narrows his eyes.

“What is it?”

“I think there’s a magic item under the whale. Come here and I’ll show it to you?”

“How about you show it to me now?”

Giving up on his ruse, Olaf grabs a chunk of rotting blubber and throws it at Aelron. Aelron lets out a cry of dismay, but does not retaliate. There is a gleam in his eyes, however, that suggests that is only the beginning of a prank war.

That night the party finds an abandoned camp. After a quick inspection, they deem it safe and settle in for the night. During Flynn’s watch, he hears a strange, keening sound in the distance. The animal life around him – the hoots of owls, the scurrying of mice – falls absolutely silent. Flynn fails a fortitude save and is overcome with a bout of nausea, but after a moment it passes. Once he’s regained his bearings, Flynn sets about making sure that everything is in order, with no one missing and nothing stolen. A couple of horses have startled, but are calming quickly. Flynn shakes Aelron awake and describes what he experienced.

Aelron shrugs. “Could have been a pixie,” he says. “Maybe a demon, although they tend to be more malicious.” After a moment of deliberation, they agree to remain vigilant, but that there is no immediate threat.

The next night, the party finds another town and decides to stay at the inn there. In the morning, the party crowds around a table, eating some porridge, when a burly woman approaches them.

“I heard you were all traveling to New Drougant City,” she says. “Would you mind if I came with?”

Having learned from the Lamppost Inn to never trust anyone ever again, the entire party immediately rolls insight checks (which are functionally similar to sense motive). She comes up clean all around – but Olaf has no need for insights. He begins to glower at the woman, but being positioned behind everyone else, the rest of the party does not immediately notice. When someone in the party mentions they’re riding horses, the woman holds up her hands.

“Never mind then, thanks.”

“What, did you piss off Brigii or something?” Miaoyu asks.

“No, I just don’t have a horse,” she says.

“We have extras,” Flynn says. “We can loan you – ”

At this point Olaf menacingly puts his dagger in front of him, balanced on the hilt, blade pointing straight up. He growls at the woman.

“I’ve decided to reconsider,” she says and begins to back away.

“Sorry,” Miaoyu sighs, “it’s just that we’ve had our horses stolen a lot.”

“Perfectly understandable. I’ll just be on my way.”

Once she is out the door, Flynn rounds on Olaf.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

“Statistically speaking, she was a horse thief!”

“Statistically?” Aelron echoes, unable to believe his ears.

“Yeah. The Maptappers, the bandits, the innkeepers.”

“That does not constitute a statistic! That's three people!”

Flynn begins listing off all the people who haven’t attempted to steal the party’s horses. It's actually a fairly long list, and it's just off the top of his head: Hangtree, all of the citizens of Hangtree's barony, all the villagers in the town whose harvest festival they livened up recently, the Daoine Sidhe... Hell, even Miaoyu hasn't stolen them. The bickering goes on for some time, until Seeker places his hand on Flynn’s shoulder.

“How about we let this go?”

“How about you don’t touch me?” Flynn snaps, and Seeker withdraws his hand.

Shortly later, the party finishes breakfast and mounts up. They pass the woman on the road and Olaf makes an insight check to see if she’s cold and miserable. All he manages to observe is that she has adopted a stoic façade. Flynn points to his riding horse and says, “This is Minion. You can ride him.”

The woman shakes her head. “I think I’ll walk, thanks.”

The party pushes onward, reaching New Drougant City before nightfall. Seeker immediately heads to the temples and Olaf goes to the Hero’s Guild to see if there are any interesting listings. Miaoyu and Flynn head out to find a casino, leaving Keegan and Aelron to find a stable for their herd of horses and an inn with a few free rooms. Aelron, deciding to avoid not just the last inn they stayed in but the entire district in which that inn resides, selects a relatively upscale establishment in the merchants' quarter, pays for rooms and stables, and leaves Keegan to get the horses settled in while he goes to join Seeker.

As Flynn and Miaoyu join the line to get into the casino, they observe the bouncers asking each person to cut their finger and cast Femta’s orison, Stanch, which will stop the bleeding. If a person is out of Femta’s favor, they will be unable to cast the orison and are denied access. Although there are many ways to lose her favor, one such way is to be a follower of Gilgadar, and the casino is very motivated to keep such people out of their establishment. After a moment of panic, Miaoyu grabs one of her healing pills and tucks into the corner of her mouth. When asked to perform the orison, she swallows the pill. The bleeding stops and she’s waved in. Somewhere in the godly realm, Femta screams in frustration.

Flynn and Miaoyu part immediately upon entering. Flynn finds a nice, quiet game of cards. Miaoyu goes to the roulette tables and immediately proceeds to make a big win. The casino employees get suspicious. Miaoyu makes another big win, but feigns surprise and earns quite a few congratulations. She starts buying drinks for others, and notices the steely looks the employees are giving her. Having a sudden vision of them following her back to the inn, taking her earnings, and bashing her knees in, Miaoyu decides to call it quits. She’s grown very fond of her knees, after all. She spends the rest of the evening socializing and drinking, buying Flynn’s table some drinks, and patiently waiting for Flynn to finish.

Meanwhile, Olaf is perusing the notices in the Hero’s Guild, looking for work the party can distract itself with until winter is over. He comes across three jobs with at least some potential: working as an outrider for the crown, capturing a live griffin, and clearing out some mines. He takes tabs for each of the jobs, nods to the other ruffians hanging about in the Guild's lobby, and sets back out into the city to try and figure out where Aelron has rooms reserved. It’s not that hard; all he has to do is ask random passersby, “Hello, did you see a young boy and a man with red hair and a convoy of horses go by here?”

Seeker, by this time, has long since made his way to the Larlonite wing of the city's sprawling temple complex. He makes a report directly to the Larlonites' ranking priest, the same man with whom he discussed his and Aelron's initial plans for the ritual to cure Hangtree.

Something has been bugging Seeker for a while: he has an oath to do no harm, and yet he participated in—aided and abetted, even—the murder of a unicorn. He details both the events themselves and his concerns to the high priest, who offers a few words of reassurance and justification: “Honestly, unicorns? They're kind of *****. Don't worry about it too much.”

We may be paraphrasing slightly.

At this point, Aelron catches up with Seeker. Together they walk the High Priest through the details of the ritual they performed to cure the Baroness. Aelron hands over copies of his final notes on the ritual's preparation and casting. On the off chance that the temple's initiates ever run into something like this curse again, they'll at least have an idea of how to deal with it. Aelron and Seeker also demonstrate the ranged healing spell they devised and painstakingly debugged, noting that, for combat clerics or in areas of extreme peril, the ability to heal at a distance can be a godsend. The High Priest thanks them both profusely, and gives them permission to take one item from the Larlonite reliquary. Aelron smiles ruefully at Seeker. “This one's all you, my friend. I don't think they have the sort of things I really go in for.”

After a bit of haggling with the DM, Seeker selects a braided cord, to be worn around the wrist. Once per day, it will allow him to cast Cure without expending a spell slot. (Cure being the standard touch range 2d6 HP heal spell). As any mage will tell you, more spells per day is better.
Everyone returns to the inn at roughly the same time. The party enjoys a hearty meal and then Olaf heads straight up to bed. Aelron blinks and chases after him, determined to check for fever or other illness, but Olaf has locked him out of his room. Eventually the rest of the party drifts away to their own rooms and settles in for the night.

Over breakfast the next morning, Aelron interrogates Olaf over his odd behavior. “No brawling? No mad schemes? Are you sure you're feeling all right?”

“I was just tired,” Olaf insists. “We did a lot of riding.” He rolls his eyes, bats away Aelron's fussing, and pulls out the slips he took from the Hero's Guild job board. “I found some work before I turned in, though.” He summarizes neatly for the party. The outrider job is quickly shot down; the risks are too high and the rewards too low, and the Army is hundreds of miles or more away in the wrong direction. The griffin job is given some consideration, but with so many complications and the need for the griffin to be returned alive and in relatively good health, it doesn’t look immediately possible. The job of clearing out dwarven mines is more promising, as is the promised share in the mine once that task is completed.

Meanwhile, in the godly realm, Femta is eagerly awaiting Miaoyu’s first bite of breakfast. Since incident at the casino, Miaoyu has fallen even further from her favor and Femta has cursed her to find all food bland and uninteresting. As far as Miaoyu is concerned, however, Drouganti food is already bland and uninteresting, and this breakfast seems no different than the other ones. The Drouganti really need to learn to use spices properly.

Aelron excuses himself to visit with one of the scholars who may be interested in the consecrated dagger. As soon as he’s gone, Miaoyu and Olaf exchange conspiratory looks.

“Shall we engage in secret Gilgadar business?” Olaf asks.

“What?” says Flynn, eyes narrowing.

“We’re going to feed pigeons,” Miaoyu says, face serious.

“Secret Gilgadar pigeons,” Olaf agrees.

Flynn sighs, decides to drop the issue, and once he finishes his breakfast, he returns to the casino for a bit of friendly gambling.

Aelron finds the dean's room easily enough and knocks on the door. The scholar greets him—rather tersely—a moment later. “Yes?”

“My name is Aelron. We spoke before some weeks back. You gave me information about the Iron Lord. I have something you might be interested in.”

The scholar raises an eyebrow, then steps back to let Aelron inside. “Ah, yes, I recall. Did you visit one of the sites I mentioned?”

Aelron grins and, with a flourish, brings forth the consecrated dagger. The dean leads him to a nearby table under a window for better light and closely examines the dagger's ancient blade. Aelron describes the party's trip to the Rusted Stele, the finding of the dagger, and its use in the ritual. The scholar asks how much Aelron wants for the dagger. Aelron contemplates this briefly; the blade has little value as a holy artifact since its deity is dead, and even less value as a weapon, but it is certainly a piece of history and, for maybe the next century or so, still technically sanctified. After a while, he and the scholar agree upon a hefty sum of money and shake hands. Aelron takes the proffered coin purse with a smile and departs.

Also seeking a bit of money, Miaoyu and Olaf discuss the possibility of contacting a thieves' guild in the city. The more elite thieves will be harder to contact, but more capable. The lower class, more thuggish thieves would be easy to find, but have all the finesse of a blunt hammer. Regardless, they only have one day to do anything and ultimately decide to abandon their quest for something more immediately profitable: petty theft.

Since Miaoyu never did get the sleep potions she wanted last time she was in New Drougant City, they decide to scope out a potion maker’s shop. They find a middle class one and Olaf goes in after removing any distinguishing items.

“Do you have any sleeping potions?” Olaf asks the old shopkeeper. “My old man has trouble sleeping these days.”

“Does he drink?” the man says.

“Well, sure. He’s a Dhar, isn’t he?”

“Well, I have a stronger tonic that shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol, and a milder one that can be taken with alcohol.”

Olaf contemplates it for a moment while surveying the shop for anything worth stealing. While it has a variety of alchemical components and unlabeled potions, it doesn’t seem to have anything of particular value.

“I’ll take a couple of both,” he decides. “I’m sure I can get Dad to stop drinking, and if he doesn’t, well, I’ll get my inheritance early.”

The two share a good natured chuckle and Olaf hands over the coins for the potions. He attempts to watch where the man puts the money… but gets distracted by his most amazing jowls. They’re mesmerizing, almost majestic. Are they even real? Olaf fights the urge to touch one, and by the time he snaps out of his trance, the money has been safely stored away in some unknown location. He thanks the shopkeeper and leaves, meeting with Miaoyu in an alley.

“I don’t think this guy is worth it,” Olaf says. He and Miaoyu ponder what to do for a while and Olaf finally says, “Want to feed some pigeons?”

Moments later, they’ve found a bench and some stale bread and have begun earning the affections of the local birds. On a whim, Miaoyu decides to cast Sunder Fate on the nearest one. It suddenly stops eating and makes strange clucking sounds. She reaches out to pet it, and it bites her finger viciously before angrily flying off. Surely, it has sworn bloody revenge upon her for this deed.

“I wonder what would happen if I cast Plague of Thieves on one? Or Odyssey?” Miaoyu muses.

Olaf’s eyes gleam wickedly. “What do you think the chances are of the king using homing pigeons? What do you think would happen if you cast Odyssey on them?”

Miaoyu’s face lights up. Most conspirators against the crown spend months of careful planning in dark rooms, plots filled with assassinations, betrayal, and loss. Olaf and Miaoyu settle for making pigeons get lost, on a whim, in a public park. Their wickedness truly knows no bounds.

They rush back to the inn, where Flynn has returned with a few more coins from his gambling efforts.

“Flynn,” Olaf cries when he sees him. “Does the king use homing pigeons?”

Flynn’s eyes narrow. “No,” he says. They’re not sure if he’s telling them that the king doesn’t use homing pigeons, or if he’s outright refusing to have anything to do with their schemes, but either way they’re pretty sure he’s telling the truth.

Soon, the party is packed up and headed out of New Drougant and to the city of Isti.
Sorry for the delay in chapters; we were all enjoying the holidays. A quick note: there is a slight retcon to be made in the previous chapters. The Fey lord, previously described as being part of the Seelie court, is in fact Unseelie. It doesn't have any major impact on the way things turned out, but it's something to note. Previous chapters will be edited to account for this change.

AverageSparrow
2014-01-02, 08:27 PM
Chapter 12: Burninating the Trogdorlytes

The party decides that it may be wiser to wait to investigate the disappearance of Seeker’s wife. A Farkasian priest may be involved, and their spells are stronger during the winter. Seeker, despite his eagerness to find his wife, agrees that, “The trail can’t get any colder.”

As such, the party agrees to look into the jobs Olaf found and head towards Orshariton, the dwarfhold that put out the notice for the invaded mine. The journey takes a couple of days, with snowfall increasing enough that one morning a snowball fight ensues. It starts with a few innocent snowballs, but before long it devolves into a vicious battle with Olaf, Miaoyu, and Keegan on one side, and Flynn on the other. Flynn, being a master of missile weapons, defeats everyone soundly. Aelron stays out of it by virtue of standing IN the campfire.

“Before we get to the dwarfhold, there’s something we should consider,” Seeker says, slanting a glance at Miaoyu and Olaf. “You both worship Gilgadar.”

Miaoyu shrugs. “So I won’t go around shouting, ‘I worship Gilgadar!’ I think it’ll be fine.”

Olaf, however, frowns. “Why? What’s the problem with that?”

“It’s like this,” Miaoyu says. “Gilgadar and Femta got divorced, and the dwarves are like their kids caught up in the middle of it, and they sided with their mom.”

Olaf nods like he understand, but then asks, “So why doesn’t Gilgadar just take back everything by force?”

Miaoyu says, “Because he’s not a direct attack kind of guy,” at the same time that Flynn says, “Because there’s only about two of you against a religious majority.” Both are valid points.

Before long, the group comes to an abandoned watchtower and decides to poke around for a bit. Flynn investigates the outside while Miaoyu goes inside and discovers a trap door. She calls the others in and the door is opened. Flynn uses a stick to poke around in the cellar from a safe distance, but there are no signs of life and the floor is solid dirt. Olaf jumps in with a torch, being as there are no stairs, and investigates. The cellar is empty, aside from a few cobwebs and a skeleton, still holding a broken spear shaft. Olaf relays what he sees and Seeker comes down to perform funeral rites. Olaf returns to the first floor, courtesy of the rope the party sent down, and finds Flynn lying down and making himself comfortable while he waits.

Miaoyu’s curiosity overwhelms her and she drops down into the cellar to investigate. Immediately intrigued by the fact that the upper half of the spear has remained intact, she reaches to grab it. Olaf, watching from the trap door, cries out, “Don’t take that! She needs it to fight her way through Hell! If you take it now, she’ll be weaponless.”

“I don’t think it works like that,” Miaoyu grumbles, but manages to pull herself away for the moment. Aelron, finding himself intrigued by the possible enchantment on the spearpoint, casts Identify; in addition to the standard enchantments to prevent the spearpoint from becoming dull, it also has an enchantment that drains the strength of those struck by it. Once this is relayed to the party, Miaoyu wavers again. “Is anyone going to stop me?” she asks.

“I will,” Olaf grumbles.

Miaoyu shrugs and pulls herself through the trapdoor. “Fine, but someday you’re going to wish I had a strength-draining dagger to backstab an enemy with and I hope you’ll remember this moment.”

Seeker finishes his funeral rites, Flynn is poked awake, and the party sets on its way.

The next day, the party finally arrives at Oshariton, a dwarfhold with a stone wall encircling cottages and a great hall built into the mountainside. The party approaches the gate and Olaf shouts out, “Hey! Anybody there!”

From atop the gate, a dwarf pokes his head out. “What do you want?”

“Are your mines still infested?” Flynn calls.

The dwarf's face lights up. “Oh, you're here about Darrow’s Delving? Come in!”

The gates open, and Keegan goes off the stable the horses. The party is led to the hall entrance where Aelron, agreed to be the party’s most charismatic (least objectionable?) member, takes the lead. Once he explains the party’s interest in clearing the mines, they’re lead through a series of long halls. As these dwarves are hill dwarves, they stand about five to five and a half feet tall, and the party can fit into the tunnel with ease, although Seeker’s head brushes the ceilings. The dwarf-hold is a beautiful place, in a very geometric sort of way. The interior of the hilll is mostly marble, and the halls have been carved directly into it. The walls are covered in geometric patterns and designs that occasionally give way to bas-relief carvings of dwarves or goats. The walls themselves slope slightly outward, providing just enough slant that goats can climb the wall carvings. Oh, boy, are there goats. As the party travels through the halls, they see goats everywhere, of all sizes. Some are the size of a teacup, and will fit in the palm of your hand; others come up to the waist. Some are adorned in armor, some are singing, and some simply observe.

“How much do those cost?” Miaoyu asks when she passes a particularly cute one.

“Interested in buying one, eh?” their guide asks knowingly. “Well, it depends on what kind you want. There’s the kind for eating, the attack goats, the alert goats, the singing goats….” He continues on for some time about the various breeds and their uses. He's still not done listing distinct breeds when the party arrives at Mayor Onol’s chamber. The mayor dismisses the guide and sets about telling the party about what happened at Darrow’s Delving.

“The colony of Darrow’s Delving was a limestone mine, established some time ago. About two or three weeks back, the miners there were extending the main shaft deeper into the hill when they broke into a natural cavern. From within that cavern, something awful swept through the hill, killing everything it met. No one inside the mines escaped; the survivors that reported what happened were outside at the time, and fled when they heard screams and saw shadowy figures slaughtering their brethren. The creatures—we think they were troglodytes—did not pursue anyone out of the cave.”

Aelron nods. Troglodytes are a subterranean variant of beastfolk common to the Underdark and are sometimes described as monkeyfolk. They are primitive, tribal beings; tool users, if only barely, ruled by the strongest of the tribe more often than not. This is certainly about how you'd expect troglodytes to respond if you breached their home cavern with a mining operation.

Once the party has satisfied themselves with information, they set about discussing the reward, eventually settling on receiving a lot of money each year in addition to four goats per year, with one in advance as a sign of good faith. Flynn discusses setting up a trade route between Orshariton and Hangtree, to the benefit of both. With these rewards, the party will effectively no longer need to pay upkeep on their lifestyles, with the exception of Flynn, who already earns a wage from Hangtree; instead, he can use his share directly. Mayor Onol agrees to let the party keep anything that cannot be claimed by the survivors.

The dwarves provide rooms and a dinner for the party, where Miaoyu once again fails to realize that Femta has cursed her. She balks at the praise the rest of the party showers upon the chef’s skills.

“How can there be food better than this?” Olaf asks her, bewildered.

“If I wasn’t desperately avoiding her,” Miaoyu says, “I’d have you try my mother’s cooking.”

“Avoiding her?” Seeker asks. Miaoyu doesn't talk about her past much.

“There are thirty-six ways to say ‘I’m ashamed of you’ in Qennish.” Miaoyu sighs. “I’m pretty sure she can say all of them to me, even the ones that don’t make sense.”

“I’m sorry,” Seeker says, and Miaoyu just shrugs before nibbling at her tasteless steak.

Come morning, the party sets out for Darrow’s Delving; it takes a couple of days and one evening Aelron hears explosions in the direction of the Wolf Woods. Although he cannot be certain, he suspects the origin is the dragon of the woods, Shadow of the Moon.

The party arrives at Darrow’s Delving come morning. Keegan and the horses are left a safe distance away from the entrance. Peering into the mines, they see only blackness; not a surprising revelation considering the troglodytes’ home, but an inconvenient one for our surface-dwelling heroes. Aelron blesses each party member with Vision of Color and Olaf eagerly volunteers to be set a-glowing.

The party checks the map that Mayor Onol provided for them. Darrow's Delving enters the hill at an odd angle, takes a ninety-degree turn left, and then bores straight into the earth. The main shaft is perfectly square and fairly wide, with a mine cart track running down it to facilitate the removal of valuable minerals. The first two branches off the main path lead to storage rooms and living quarters; the next two branches to more storage; and the last two branches to small, cramped tunnels where dwarves excavated limestone. The party plans to go through each room one at a time, clearing each before moving on. Once the plan is settled, Miaoyu takes the lead to scout out the area.

The first thing Miaoyu hears is quite a bit of noise coming from the first branched room on the right, as well as echoes from further down the hall. She moves to get a better look in the first room, but Olaf is too close behind her, glowing bright as a torch. The troglodytes flinch at the light and shout out, bashing their weapons against the ground and baring their teeth.

Turns out all of the storage rooms and living quarters are full of troglodytes, and they're angry! With zero desire to be overrun by angry neanderthal-ape-things, the party retreats to the entry hall. Flynn and Olaf form a line, standing ready to defend the rest of the party. Miaoyu and Aelron are just behind them, with Seeker in the back. Seeker casts a Circle of Protection to boost everyone’s AC, and Aelron readies grenades.

The hallway quickly fills with troglodytes. Most are unarmored, wearing little more than loincloths and wielding clubs or crude bats. A few are clad in what looks to be uncured hides and actually have metal weapons. One, near the back, appears to be leaning on a staff, but it's awfully tough to tell in the darkness.

The bigger, better armed troglodytes hang back, growling and snarling and driving their weaker comrades forward. Olaf, seeing this, grins and takes out his Combusti-Bull horns. “Cheers!” he calls to the advancing troglodytes before taking a deep swig from each horn. Flynn doesn't bother with greetings; eldritch arrows hurtle down the narrow corridor to embed themselves in the first two troglodytes of the advance. The first creature in line falls, arrow lodged in his skull, and trips up the one beside him; he's still getting back to his feet when Flynn's second arrow whizzes over his head and goes skittering down the tunnel wall ineffectively. Moments later the horde is upon the party, pouring in from every branching path in view.

Olaf finally exhales as the hallway before him clogs with troglodyte bodies. A blast of fire devastates the troglodytes' ranks. Only one remains unharmed: the one that Flynn missed in his first strike, which ran directly up to Flynn, managed to avoid the blast. It has just enough time to wonder at its good fortune before Miaoyu puts a bolt into its eye, dropping it. One grenade and a little dagger-and-arrow work later, the lower ranking troglodytes are dead at the part's feet, and the bigger ones are advancing.

Just before the biggest of the troglodytes can come to grips with Olaf, a troglodyte in luminous robes steps out from behind a corner and casts Magic Missle at Flynn.

Miaoyu attempts to use Dirty Trick on the enemy caster for combat advantage, and summons up her convenient shoujo sparkles. Unfortunately, cuteness does not translate well across species, and she only earns a glare for her efforts.

The troglodyte soldiers reach Olaf, who has readied for them. His daggers weave and whirl, tracing bloody arcs through their ranks as they fail miserably to hit him. Miaoyu leans around Olaf for another shot at the nearest soldier while Flynn returns fire against the shaman.

The trog shaman attempts another Magic Missle, but Aelron has been wisely keeping an eye on him and disrupts the spell, to the shaman’s fury.

It doesn't take long before the troglodyte leader realizes this is more than he bargained for. Two trog soldiers rush up to delay the party while the rest, including what appears to be their general, rush away down the mine's main shaft. Once the soldiers are dispatched, Olaf charges down the hall after the shaman and the trog general.

“What are you doing?” Aelron shouts. “You’re going to get yourself ambushed and killed!”

“I’m fateless!” Olaf calls back. “I’m invulnerable!” Next to Aelron, Miaoyu sighs and the party gives chase.

Olaf runs to the next set of rooms and finds himself flanked by two trog soldiers. He dispatches one while a flurry of magical bolts from Aelron's staff burns through the other, and charges off again down the hall.

The troglodyte general, hiding down one of the tapped-out mine shafts, sees Olaf go running by and leaps out to ambush him. “Told you!” Aelron calls. Unfortunatley for the trog, Olaf's armor turns the blow completely. Olaf whirls to face him, grinning, and the general again attempts to flee. He can't get far enough. Olaf buries a dagger in his spine and Miaoyu, having nearly caught up after reloading her crossbow, puts a bolt in his forehead when he spins to make a stand. Olaf immediately sets about checking the trog general for valuables.

“So I can’t loot dead people, but you can?” Miaoyu pouts.

Olaf shrugs. “He was an enemy.”

With the battle having died down for the moment, Aelron and Flynn set about searching the rooms the party passed for anything of note, including lingering trogs. Nothing is found except one room full of lumber and another with a pile of uncut gemstones. There are, however, a few bloodstains, but no bodies in sight. Aelron recalls that, although it is not common, some troglodytes do practice cannibalism (the Underdark is a vicious place), and Olaf takes the general’s axe and starts chopping the heads off of all the troglodytes, dumping them outside when he’s finished. Keegan raises an eyebrow, but Olaf just smiles and says, “Don’t worry! We won!”

While Olaf is on ghoul prevention duty, Seeker approaches Miaoyu for a conversation. “Let’s talk about religion,” he says. Miaoyu immediately turns on her heel and begins to walk away. “Wait, wait,” he says, rushing after her. “I’m sorry. How about philosophy?”

Grudgingly, Miaoyu stops and frowns. “How about the philosophy of sandwiches? They’re delicious.”

“So I hear,” Seeker says, deciding to take what he can get. “I can’t eat them. I have to swallow them in chunks. Humans have it easy.”

“We are pretty nimble,” Miaoyu agrees.

“Yes. Elves are very nimble, too.”

In the dim light, Seeker sees Miaoyu smirk. “Yes, they are.”

Seeker’s eyes narrow in curiosity. “So how did you learn Elvish? Not many humans do.”

Miaoyu puts an innocent look on her face. “Really? That’s a shame. It’s a beautiful language.”

“Stop flirting, you two,” Flynn says as the rest of the group approaches. Seeker and Miaoyu make unimpressed noises at him. With the party regrouped, Aelron refreshes the glow spell on Olaf and they continue down the last stretch of hallway. They can soon see the opening the dwarves made into the natural cavern and Olaf steps through the opening.

He sees a room filled with various troglodytes, two shaved cave bears, and an enormous idol with three ruby eyes, clutching a flaming bowl that casts no light. Does the idol sound familiar? It should.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/09/PlayersHandbook8Cover.jpg
Olaf steps back into the hallway, and the troglodytes let out taunts and jeers. Curious, Aelron steps around him and gets a glimpse of the idol. “It doesn’t look like a god,” he says. “Although it may be a troglodyte aspect of one. Could be a demon, or a rakshasa.”

Flynn steps towards the opening and takes shots at some troglodytes, but two beams of red knock his arrows off course. One of the troglodytes lashes one of the bears and it comes running at the party. The party opens fire on it as Olaf struggles to fend it off. It takes a solid swipe at Olaf, and in desperation Olaf stabs the bear’s face until it dies, twitching. Olaf pushes the bear away. The party descends into a quick discussion and decides to attempt to reason with the troglodytes. Olaf heals up and Aelron hits him with Translate. Olaf steps into the cavern again.

“We’ve already killed your chief!” he cries. “You can run now. Take your god and leave!”

Laughter erupts amongst the troglodytes. “You not kill chief!” one calls.

“Then let him duel me under the gaze of your god!”

The shaman hisses, “You’re barely worthy to die here! Why should we battle you?”

Olaf draws himself up and says, “We slew half your clan already! Now you hide from a group of five. Are you going to hide under your god’s skirts? Does your god approve of cowardice?”

A new voice rings out, twisted and evil. “You do not speak for gods!”

Red rays of light shoot out from the idol's eyes and converge on Olaf. As the rays coalesce, they explode, forcing the party to make a reflex save. The damage is fire, and, with a made save, Aelron laughs at the blast, but Seeker is hit badly and collapses. Olaf and Flynn find themselves singed, but still standing. In the back of the group, Miaoyu avoids the explosion altogether. Flynn and Aelron set about healing Seeker and the group quickly retreats a safer distance away.

It’s quickly agreed that attempting to immediately fight the remaining troglodytes would be too risky; Seeker and Aelron are running low on spells, and Flynn and Olaf are hurt. The party discusses the possibility of attempting to collapse the cavern, but Aelron warns them that it could destabilize the entire complex. Eventually, it’s decided it would be best to simply rest and return the next day. Aelron begins a ritual to seal off the corridor to the cavern and Olaf gets lumber from one of the rooms to make supports.

The party retreats to the stables outside and fortifies the area as best as they can. Olaf builds ramparts and Miaoyu lays a few simple tripwires.

“I want to go on record that staying this close to the mine for the night is a stupid idea,” Flynn says.

Noted.

One uneventful night later, the party returns well-rested and mostly healed. Aelron unseals the corridor, Seeker casts Pierce Illusion on Miaoyu and she sneaks up to the cavern. She finds it entirely empty, with only the afterimage of an illusion where the idol used to be. She waves the rest of the party over and they set about exploring the cavern. There are two passages out of the cavern, one winding quickly to a dead end in what looks to be a troglodyte chieftain's lair and another that winds through a short series of warrens and stone caverns before descending into what the party can only assume is the Underdark.

Aelron decides he doesn't like open passages to the Underdark. He gathers string, a few pieces of timber from one of the dwarven mine's storerooms, and his trusty ritual magic kit, and sets about shaping five stone walls across the passage, sealing it off. He runs a single string through all the walls, enchanting the thread so that, should it ever be broken, it will trigger an alarm and warn anyone in the cavern above that the passage to the Underdark has been breached. He also rigs one of the five stone walls to collapse down the sharply sloped passageway should the one in front of it be breached. Finally satisfied, he returns to the rest of the party.

Meanwhile, Olaf has collected his bags and started filling them with the uncut gems and begun hauling them back to the horses.

“What are you doing?” Flynn asks, the tone of his voice suggesting he already knows the answer.

“The mayor said that we could take anything claimed by survivors. There are no survivors to claim this.”

“That’s not what she meant,” Flynn insists. “If you take them, you’ll sabotage the entire contract and those are worth less than what we’re being paid.”

Despite this and various other protests, Olaf cheerfully ignores every one of them and brings the gems back to Oshariton. Olaf triumphantly dumps his sack full of gems before the mayor.

“Are there any survivors that can claim these?” he asks with a smug grin.

Mayor Onol stutters. “That’s really not what I meant at all,” she manages before directing her guards to take the gems away. Before anyone in the party can react, the gems have been safely tucked away in the depths of the dwarfhold and Mayor Onol is smoothly moving onto business as if nothing happened at all.

The party recounts the events at the mine and Mayor Onol is pleased to have had the troglodytes driven out and is intrigued by the possibilities an entrance to the Underdark represents. In addition to the contract offered, she allows each party member to pick an item from the armory. This offer is especially generous as dwarven-made armors are superb enough that their penalties to skill checks is reduced. Miaoyu and Olaf trade their armors out for dwarven equivalents and Flynn upgrades to partial plate. Seeker and Aelron both decide to take some light armors, although Seeker’s takes some time as it must be crafted by hand. Aelron buys a handful of cut gemstones. Miaoyu selects a miniature personal defense goat and names it Lajiao (Paprika). Olaf buys it some leather armor. It turns out personal defense goats are quite intelligent and Lajiao responds when spoken to. It’s a rather terrifying animal, if one can get past the cuteness: it has horns as big as its head and, despite its size, is as strong as the average human. (A sketch of what it more-or-less looks like can be found here (http://friendlyneighborhoodmadscientist.tumblr.com/post/70246757067/).)

Once Flynn’s and Seeker’s armors are made, the party continues on their way, heading to Isti before continuing on to find a griffin for a few nobles.
Now that we’ve all returned from the holiday, sessions will resume. We also have a special guest star for the next few sessions: Fayd’s fiancée and Sparrow’s old roommate.

AverageSparrow
2014-01-24, 08:58 AM
The party arrives in Isti five frigid but blessedly uneventful days later. The city is split by a river running north to south through its center, and the party briefly debates on which side of the river to seek lodging: east of the river, Isti is populated by the city's more permanent residents, while west of the river are inns, barracks and parade grounds that serve the city's vast and ever-changing mercenary and adventurer population. The royal standard flaps and snaps in the biting breeze above the towers surrounding the southern portion of the city; it seems that the King of Drougant and his army have taken up residence in Isti for the winter. Flynn (whose player was absent for this session) leaves the party to meet up with his contacts in the royal court and hob-nob with local nobility. Seeker is hesitant to find an inn on the west side of town, as he expects to be swarmed by mercenaries looking for healing.

Miaoyu is skeptical. “It's the middle of winter, and they're all camped in a friendly city. Only maniacs like us are actually out on the road. By this point wounded mercs should be pretty thin on the ground; either they made it back to the city before the snow stopped and found healers from among those already in the city, or they didn't, and they're probably frozen somewhere. I doubt you're going to have THAT much trouble.”

Seeker raises an eyebrow at her. “I'm not worried about battle wounds,” he clarifies. “It's the... uh... infections you frequently find among camp followers that concern me here. I'd rather not spend all day counseling mercenaries to be more careful about whose bed they share.”

“So charge them,” Olaf interjects gamely. “Larlon is about learning lessons, right? Mercenaries have to risk their lives to make money; they’ll learn a lot faster if their philandering costs them cold, hard cash than if it doesn’t. And if they can’t pay, make them go to lecture where they have to share their embarrassing stories.”

Seeker concedes that Olaf might have a point and agrees to stay on the south side. “As long as we can find someplace clean to stay.”

That turns out to be easier than expected; Isti was a clean and prosperous place the first time the party saw it, and with the King in residence it's only gotten further prettied up. The party holes up at an inn called the Skinned Hare. Aelron is quietly thankful that there isn't an actual skinned hare, or even a depiction of one, hanging outside the inn to mark it. After getting the horses to the stable and their heaviest belongings settled in their rooms, the party goes out for some shopping. Aelron takes Olaf to help him pick out some sapphires for an armor enchantment, Miaoyu goes shopping for new daggers, and Seeker looks for some wool to weave into his own enchantment recipes. Apparently he needs white wool from the first shearing of a young sheep.

While Miaoyu is picking out shiny new daggers, she notices another Qennish woman wandering through the marketplace. Not thinking much of it, Miaoyu carries on until the other woman approaches.

“Miaoyu?” the woman asks.

Miaoyu frowns, studies the newcomer for a moment, and decides, “I’m ignoring you.” With that she returns to browsing a display of throwing knives.

Unfortunately for Miaoyu, this woman is not so easily deterred. After a moment's bafflement, the stranger begins peppering Miaoyu with questions, telling her that her brother has sent her a message from Qen. Alarmed, Miaoyu flees, hurrying down the street, right past the jeweler's shop from which Aelron and Olaf have just emerged.

“What do you make of that?” Olaf asks as the pair watches the two Qennish women dodging through the crowd.

“I have no idea,” Aelron replies, “But it can't be good. Shall we go introduce ourselves?”

“Oh, indeed.”

Whoever the strange woman is, she notices the moment she picks up a tail. She makes no effort to lose Olaf and Aelron, simply concentrating on staying with Miaoyu. Unfortunately, a moment's distraction is all Miaoyu needs. She vanishes into the crowd and is off down a side alley before anyone can pursue.

The strange woman stops in the middle of the road, looks around briefly, and sighs. “Lost her again,” Olaf and Aelron hear her mutter tersely as she turns to face them.

Olaf walks up to the woman. “Why are you chasing Miaoyu, who I’ve never met and do not know?”

The woman brightens. “You know Miaoyu? I’m Nüwa. I was hired by her brother to bring her back to Qen.”

“Brother?” Aelron echoes.

“You didn't know she had a brother?” Nüwa asks.

Aelron shrugs. “Miaoyu isn't exactly talkative about her past. We've gathered that she has a mother who has thirty-some ways to say 'I'm disappointed in you' and motivation to use them all, but other than that...”

Nüwa smiles. “Indeed. Well, she does have a brother, and he's hired me to bring her home. I need to find her and get her back to Qen.”

Aelron shakes his head, choosing his words with care. “I don’t mean to rain on your parade here, my lady, but I don't think she wants to go back to Qen. And to be perfectly frank, if we want to accomplish our current objectives, my friends and I need her help. She has... useful talents.”

Nüwa's knowing smile becomes ever so slightly more cynical. “Her family paid me an awful lot of money to bring her home. Perhaps, for the right amount, you could persuade me to simply return a report, instead?”

Aelron begins negotiating a bribe, but Olaf pulls him aside. “Why are we negotiating with this woman?” he asks in Elvish. “We can just walk away from her, or kill her. Miaoyu’s family.”

“If we simply walk away from her, the problem doesn't go away,” Aelron explains patiently. “She'll keep coming after Miaoyu until she gets what she wants, and ignoring her doesn't incline her to think well of us.”

“So you're for killing her, then?” Olaf asks eagerly, reaching for his daggers.

“Of course not!” Aelron says hurriedly, grabbing Olaf's arm. “Look, if we kill everyone who wants to talk to Miaoyu about something or other, we're going to have to go back and put down pretty much everyone who's ever gambled with her, including that casino she raided back in New Drougant. I like Miaoyu, but I'm not going to fight entire crime syndicates, thieves' guilds, gambling houses, or Qennish families for her.”

“Qennish families?” Olaf asks, thrown off by the non-sequitir.

“Yes, Qennish families,” Aelron snorts. “This woman was sent by Miaoyu's family back in Qen. If we just drop her, it WILL get back to them, and then we'll have a pissed-off Qennish clan after us. And I am just NOT going to deal with that. I want to resolve this properly, here and now.”

“Fine,” Olaf says, “You handle it, then. I've got shopping to do.”

Aelron turns back to Nüwa with an apologetic smile. “I'm very sorry for the interruption.”

“So glad you're done being rude,” Nüwa replies. “Where were we?”

Aelron finalizes the bribe: he pays Nüwa an utterly ridiculous amount of money, in return for which she will NOT attempt to take Miaoyu back to Qen. It is also agreed that Nüwa will be allowed to travel with the party and, at the very least, make a full report for Miaoyu’s brother.

You may have guessed by now that Nüwa is not an NPC. She's a guest PC played by Fayd's fiancee, who will be making appearances here and there throughout the campaign as her schedule permits.

Unfortunately, neither Aelron nor Nüwa has any idea where to find Miaoyu. Thankfully, Aelron remembers the hunting technique that worked so well for Olaf: he leads Nüwa to the Skinned Hare to sit on Miaoyu's possessions, for which Miaoyu will undoubtedly return eventually. At the inn, Nüwa meets Seeker and sits down to discuss theology with him while making herself lunch. Noting the distinct smell of the spices she's cooking with – and boy does she have spices of every variety imaginable – Aelron gets an idea: Miaoyu has been complaining of Drouganti food for their entire time together. Perhaps a bit of added temptation can hasten Miaoyu's return. Aelron grabs a few of Miaoyu's hairs off her saddlebag to provide an anchor, then casts a modified version of a spell called Friendly Winds. In its original incarnation, Friendly Winds either extends friendly range increments on ranged attacks or hampers enemies; Aelron anchors the far end of the wind to Miaoyu and the close end to himself and just has it circulate, then goes to stand near Nüwa while she cooks.

Miaoyu, having fled across the river, is attempting to find a card game that will let her play, but everywhere she goes, she gets nothing but stares and cold shoulders; no one here wants anything to do with an outsider. She wanders around Isti, snow falling, looking in windows and watching warm, happy families enjoying meals. Sad Qennish music begins playing in the background. No, really: the DM has a soundtrack for Matchstick Miaoyu.

Eventually she finds an innkeeper who isn’t aggressively unfriendly and settles in for another bland, two-copper Drouganti meal. Just as she's raising the first forkful to her lips, she catches the scent of something delicious. Something spiced. Something... Qennish. Gathering up her little goat, she begins following the scent. It leads her on a winding path down streets to the dock, and directly up to the same ferry that carried her across the river an hour ago, as though the wind is carrying the scent on a path she can walk easily. She is absolutely certain it's a trap by the time it leads her to the doorway of the Skinned Hare. She sets down Lajiao and instructs him, “Go inside and bring me some food.”

Slipping indoors, Lajiao prances over to where Nüwa is putting the finishing touches on something honest-to-god saffron in it.

“What a cute goat!” Nüwa exclaims, and reaches out to pet it. Lajiao butts her hand away with a glare, then gathers up a stray shawl and hurries back outside to Miaoyu. Realizing she should have been more specific when she asked for ‘food’ – how is that dwarven keep even still STANDING with that many goats running around in it, anyway? – Miaoyu pats Lajiao on the head appreciatively and heads inside herself.

Fortunately for Nüwa, Aelron and Seeker warn her that that is Miaoyu's goat. She casts Detect immediately after Lajiao leaves, and it’s just enough to beat Miaoyu’s stealth check. Sure enough, she turns around and finds Miaoyu standing innocently behind her, clutching a bowl of geng. Aelron hurried casts Seal Portal on the door Miaoyu went through.

“I have a message for you from your brother,” Nüwa says to Miaoyu.

“I don’t have a brother,” Miaoyu snaps.

“Yeah, well I’m telling you anyway.”

“I don’t have a brother! If I did, why would he take so long to try and find me? I’ve been here six years—”

“Look, it can’t be helpe that your brother was too stupid to hire me when you first left.”

“My brother is not stupid! And he was twelve!” Miaoyu snaps, then sulks upon realizing her mistake.

Nüwa grins triumphantly. “Would it better if I said it in Qennish? You do still speak Qennish, don’t you?”

“Don’t patronize me!” Miaoyu fumes. “Do you think I speak this backwards language because I want to? Of course I speak Qennish!”

“Well,” Nüwa says, “This is what your brother told me to tell you.”

你觉得了什么 ? 你告别了我和妈妈孤身!我们需要了你可是你告别了!我不知道你觉得做现在可是你得回来此刻!

What the hell were you thinking? You just left me and mom! We needed you but you just left! I don't know what you think you're doing but you need to come home now!
“I’m not going back to Qen,” Miaoyu says, unflinching.

Nüwa waves a hand dismissively. “Your friend Aelron already paid me off to let you stay here. But I am going to bring back a full report to your brother. Now I just need the party to promise to make you stay with them.”

“What if I don’t want to? What are you going to do? Tie me up?”

“If I have to,” Nüwa replies. Miaoyu takes a menacing step forward, reaching for one of her daggers and Nüwa does the same, but Seeker hurriedly rushes between the two.

“Why don’t we all just calm down for a second?”

Suddenly, the sealed door is kicked down and Olaf enters, the faint smell of burnt leather in the air. Aelron’s jaw drops. “How did you do that?” he asks. “You can’t just kick—I sealed that door, and then you—the only person I know who can open those is Miaoyu and even that takes time!”

While Aelron interrogates Olaf about his magic-defeating boots, Miaoyu takes a bite of the geng. Slow horror washes over her when she realizes that it’s just as tasteless as Drouganti food. Dots finally connect and Miaoyu realizes she’s offended Femta a little more than usual.

“I have to go do… things,” she says and rushes out the door, Nüwa close at her heels. Miaoyu finds the local orphanage and places a bag filled with nearly all of her money in the donation box and ties it with a bow and a tag reading ‘Happy Midwinter!’ When she returns to the inn, she finds the geng filled with flavor and she scarfs it down in record time. Nüwa eagerly offers to cook more for Miaoyu and makes bao, and she accepts while carefully watching Nüwa prepare the food to make sure no suspect ingredients slip in.

Nüwa gets to know the party a bit better and agrees to help them find the location of a griffin for their next job; she has a number of spells that allows her find or otherwise track creatures and items. In fact, she’s been tracking Miaoyu for a year and a half; she hadn’t caught up to her earlier due to Miaoyu’s tendency to move around and her frequent interaction with various interfering magics.

At midnight, Seeker, Aelron, and Olaf begin distributing Midwinter gifts to the party. Olaf gets a nice bottle of liquor for Aelron, a warm, tailored hood for Seeker, a hollow crossbow stock for Miaoyu, and for Keegan he has resized his old partial plate to give the boy his first real suit of armor. He also purchases nice dice for Flynn, but as he isn’t with the party at the moment, Flynn’ll have to wait to get them. Aelron enchants Keegan’s staff to throw arcane bolts, gives Olaf some explosives, and presents Miaoyu with a glass globe that shows the stars as they are seen from Qen. At this point, he runs out of money and promises to get Seeker and Flynn proper gifts later. Seeker gives Keegan a toy horse that lights up with faerie fire, and for everyone else he gives them memory bands, which supposedly help them recall pleasant memories when they sleep.

The next day, Nüwa begins an eight hour ritual to locate a griffin. She has a unique method of spellcasting called qigong, wherein she performs a ritual dance while dressed in traditional Qennish attire. They party watches the ritual, Olaf enjoying the cultural experience—at least until it starts getting repetitive—Aelron and Seeker studying a different form of magic, and Miaoyu making various disparaging remarks in Qennish.

Once she finishes the spell, she pulls out a map and indicates a mountainous region to the north. “There are griffins in this area,” Nüwa remarks.

“Can your spell find people as well?” Seeker asks.

“Of course. I found Miaoyu, didn’t I?” she says. “Anyone you’re looking for in particular?”

Seeker explains the situation with his wife and Nüwa, a big fan good love stories, gives him a discount. After a brief rest, she starts her scrying ritual again.

Miaoyu and Olaf, getting bored of watching Nüwa dance for hours on end, decide to do a bit of charity work. Olaf masquerades as a beggar and any cold enough to ignore him gets their purse cut by Miaoyu. Sometime during all of this, they notice the royal procession and, after a moment of debate, Olaf decides to test the king’s character. He approaches the procession as close as he can—quite a few spears are lifted in his direction—and he shouts out, “I have raised a sword in the king’s name, and it’s a cold night out.” A few coins are thrown his way before the procession moves on and Olaf shouts his thanks. Satisfied with their work, Olaf and Miaoyu find the most pathetic-looking beggar that they can and give him their earnings.

At around 9pm, Nüwa finally finishes her scrying spell and gets a vision of a room, filled with nobles. Among their number is an elf woman matching the image Seeker conjured up for Nüwa’s benefit. The people are all standing around the table, looking at maps and Nüwa glimpses four banners hanging in the room: a griffin atop a mountain, a pine tree, a string of pearls, and a tower. Before she can glean more details, though, or make sense of what is being discussed, an anti-scrying spell shatters the vision and leaves Nüwa reeling for a moment.

After she stops cursing out whatever mage was responsible for breaking her spell, Nüwa gathers the group around her and they discuss what she saw. It doesn’t take long to determine the obvious: Seeker’s wife is working with the rebels. The banners in the room seem to represent Pinehollow, Griffon Peak, Pearlrun, and Losttower, all baronies in rebellion. However, Nüwa was able to indicate the general region of the conference, which is, coincidentally, in the same area as the griffins.

Olaf pulls Aelron aside and asks him to use one of his divine spells, Regenerate, to regrow Olaf's missing finger. Because they’ve found Seeker’s wife, Olaf's blood oath has been fulfilled, and his hastily-removed digit can be regrown.

Seeker’s face betrays the relief and confusion he is feeling. He now knows for certain his wife is alive and to all appearances does not seem to be in any danger. If that’s the case, however, why hasn’t she sought him out?

Such grim musings are swept away, however, when the party decides that drinking is in order. Aelron breaks into his bottle of Illian whiskey and Nüwa and Olaf seem to get into some sort of drinking competition. Only Miaoyu, who is still untrusting of Nüwa, and Seeker, who is too distraught, refrain from drinks.

Soon, Nüwa and Olaf are delightfully drunk and debating the importance of spices in cooking. Somewhere amongst various drunken proclamations, Olaf once again declares that, being sundered from Fate, he is invulnerable.

“That’s not what that means,” Aelron insists, “just because you’re not tied to Fate doesn’t mean bad things can’t happen.”

“Sure it does! It means I’m not fated to die. Therefore I can live forever.”

“If that were true,” Miaoyu says, “then we’d only ever need me in a battle.”

“And Miaoyu’s nearly died several times,” Aelron adds.

“Exactly. Nearly. Obviously you can be hurt, but you can’t die.”

“Look,” Miaoyu says, staring levelly at Olaf across the table, “You’re sundered from Fate now. That means Fate can’t affect you. But it does mean that your life is ruled by luck now. If you disrespect it, it’ll screw you over.”

Olaf gives Miaoyu a skeptical look. “So if you can’t live forever, then what’s the point of sundering your fate?”

Miaoyu shrugs. “Freedom of choice. Your life isn’t written in stone.”

“Of course,” Seeker cuts in, “some people believe that Fate doesn’t determine what happens, just what sort of choices you need to make.”

“That’s bullsh*t too,” Miaoyu says. “Being forced to make a choice?”

“So you can take a third option?” Olaf asks, and Miaoyu nods. Olaf contemplates all of this and finally shrugs and says, “Whatever, I still think I’m invulnerable. I don’t see why I can’t go charging off down the hallway after a troglodyte general.”

“Okay, well look at it this way,” Miaoyu says. “If you go charging off, you leave your squishy friends unprotected and they might die.”

Olaf’s face turns serious and he nods. “You’re right. Makes sense.” With that, he turns back to his drink.

Aelron and Miaoyu breathe a sigh of relief. “We’ll see how much of this he remembers in the morning,” Aelron says with sigh, smiling in spite of himself.

Come morning, Aelron leaves to tell Flynn of the party’s plans and to get official papers. Seeing as the party will be passing through royal territory crawling with soldiers and that soldiers are often little better than bandits, Aelron makes arrangements to have the group recognized as scouts for the royal army.

Soon, the party is headed north, guided by Nüwa’s Find the Path spell. Unfortunately, snowfall is brutal and soon Aelron is making igloos every night, one for the horses and another for the party.

One day, while traveling, the party notices a strange wind, kicking up snow in a thick flurry. As it approaches, the party realizes that it’s taken the shape of a worm and Aelron identifies it as a snow elemental. Olaf jumps off his horse and immediately wades into battle, and Keegan begins gathering up the extra horses to clear the road should the party need to flee. Miaoyu fires her crossbow and misses. With a twist, she leaps into the air and jumps from her riding horse to her less-flighty warhorse—all while reloading. She takes another shot, but crossbow bolts, it seems, are only minimally effective on creatures made of snow.

Olaf engages the snow elemental in melee, but soon finds that he and his horse are being forced to make fortitude saves against cold damage. Seeker quickly drops a circle of protection around Olaf to boost his AC, and Aelron casts Elemental Negation on Olaf to protect him from the cold, and Olaf himself takes the Combusti-Bull horns and breathes fire on the monster. He manages to quite literally melt the monster's face off, but it remains standing, and contorts its body to encompass as much of the party as it can; the creature is so cold that starting your turn next to it forces saves against damage. Nüwa rushes over to Aelron and they perform simultaneous castings of Burning Hands. Fire washes over the creature's midsection with a ferocious sizzle, melting most of the creature's body on contact. Its ends disintegrate, and suddenly Olaf is pile-driving his daggers into a snowdrift. A few high-fives later, Aelron sifts through the remains. He fiddles around with some magical components and enchanting spells and before long he’s created a scarf that provides cold resistance and has a single use to unleash a burst of cold damage.

That evening, cozied up in their igloo, Aelron and Seeker began chatting in fluent Elvish.

“So how did you come to learn Elvish?” Seeker asks, switching to Common.

“My mother was an elf,” he says. “My father was a wolfman, a priest of Farkas.”

“A priest of Farkas?” echoes Seeker, his ears twitching in curiosity; his own father is a priest as well.

“Not the same one. At least, I don’t think so. My mother... got pregnant in the usual way. She escaped my father and fled to the City of Brass, because where better to hide from a priest of the god of Winter than on the elemental plane of Fire? I was born there. Being exposed to the elemental plane during the pregnancy... apparently turned me into a half-elf. At any rate, the plane's native magics overwrote the wolfman curse somehow, and... here I am. I lived with my mother for a few years, but eventually she figured I'd be safer living anonymously among humans in the mortal world. She taught me a spell to hide my ears—they're actually pointed if I let them grow out—and found me a foster family in a farming community hundreds of miles from anywhere important. I lived there, safe and sound, right up until the part you already know about, with the accidental barn-burning and the adoption by a Tower mage.”

After a few moments of silence, Miaoyu asks, “So, you’re half-baked?” At Aelron’s unimpressed glare she holds up her hands defensively. “It’s a joke, Aelron. Lighten up!”

“Yeah, Aelron,” chides Olaf. “Don’t be so hot-headed.” He and Miaoyu share an indiscreet high-five to celebrate their bad puns. Flynn would be ashamed.

In the morning, the party resumes their travels and finally cross into rebel territory. Miaoyu hides the royal papers in her bra, the safest place she can think of, and, aside from a small border tax demanded by the Pinehollow patrols, the party suffers no trouble.

Before long, however, the umpteenth blizzard kicks up and the party is forced to hide in yet another igloo. Just after everyone’s settled in, the party hears a faint, female voice crying out for help. Cautiously, the party looks outside and Olaf shouts out, “Where are you?” Miaoyu and Nüwa can make out some of what she’s saying; she is, apparently, lost and hurt.

After a bit of discussion, the party ties all their rope together—easily 200ft worth—and Olaf and Nüwa volunteer to head out in the direction of the voice. Miaoyu memorizes Olaf’s bronze dagger should she need to use Locate Object to find them again. The party establishes a few signals should things go wrong, and the pair head out.

Before long, they find a young woman in the snow, her legs bent under her at odd angles, as if they’ve been broken.

“What happened to you?” Nüwa asks.

“I-I slipped and fell. Please help me!” the girl responds tearfully.

Despite Nüwa’s disbelieving remarks and his gut telling him that the girl is not what she appears to be, Olaf sheathes his dagger and picks her up, wrapping his cold-resistant scarf around her. He and Nüwa begin to return to the igloo, Nüwa positioned behind Olaf so she can quite literally watch his back.

Just as the igloo begins to appear in the distance, Nüwa watches the girl suddenly vanish, as if her very essence had been blown away, scarf and all. The party quickly ducks back into the igloo and Aelron surmises that the woman must have been a Lady of the Snowstorm. These women are supernatural creatures who sometimes lure travelers to their deaths or curse those who do not help them. Some, however, will bless those who aid them despite the personal risk. This Lady was clearly in the latter group: Olaf now has the ability to bring one blizzard to its end at will.

In the morning, the party finds the snow at chest height, but continues to push on, however slowly. As the party approaches the river, they notice a sort of gathering on the other side. They can’t make out much, but it does appear to be some sort of hunting party. Seeker immediately becomes nervous; while it could easily be just a normal group of hunters, it could also be the Wild Hunt, which is definitely something our intrepid heroes don’t want to be caught up in. Seeker suggests using an illusion to hide the party, but Olaf shoots it down:

“If we act like prey, then we’ll become prey. Let’s just ride casual.”

That evening the Nüwa is feeling particularly chatty and decides to share her life story: she grew up in the circus with her mother, but never really knew who her father was. In her search for him—and a better source of income—she wound up meeting her paternal uncle and joined his private investigation business.

A couple of nights later, while Aelron and Seeker are on watch, the camp finds itself surrounded by what appear, at first glance, to be wolves. They're definitely canine creatures, but on closer inspection, they are lower-slung than most wolves, lacking a high shoulder, their eyes glow, their fangs drip ectoplasm. These are planar hounds, potentially remnants of the Wild Hunt.

Aelron and Seeker retreat inside the igloo and wake the party. Olaf and Miaoyu rush out in their pajamas to attack, while Aelron offers magical support from inside the igloo and Seeker casts his trademark Circle of Protection.

“My uncle called this the honey badger style!” Olaf shouts, planting himself in the door and brandishing his daggers, “Because the honey badger DOES NOT CARE!” He attacks any wolf that comes into reach... and misses. Every time. Fortunately, he plays distracting meatshield well enough for Miaoyu, Aelron, and Nüwa to bat the hounds around with nigh-impunity. Eventually the hounds decide they’ve had enough and retreat altogether, whimpering in pain.

Once the battle is well and truly over, Aelron finds that a planar hound's skull can easily be enchanted to point in the direction of the nearest portal; not something immediately useful, but definitely valuable.

The next day, the party covers the last bit of distance to the nearest village. En route, they find the body of a trader with a cart full of otter pelts. The party performs a burial for the trader (not an easy task, considering the frozen ground) and promptly liberates the pelts. As adventurers do.

Finally, the party arrives on the outskirts of Splitshade, a small village nestled in the shadow of a towering, mysteriously cloven rock formation.

AverageSparrow
2014-01-24, 09:07 AM
The party eagerly makes its way across the frozen-solid river and into Splitshade, eager for a hot meal and glad to be sheltering in something other than a hastily-shaped igloo. The town of Splitshade rests on an isthmus of land where two rivers flow together; docks extend into the ice on either side, giving Keegan fits as he attempts to guide the party's horses past the pilings without snagging or tangling any ropes. To the northeast, a large rock formation looms over the town, neatly cloven as if a wrathful god melted it buttery, sunk an axe into it, and then flash-froze it again and yanked the axe. The formation blocks access to the town from the only landward facing it has, effectively sealing the community between itself and the rivers. It looks to be a very defensible location.

The party finds and agrees upon the Happy Otter Inn, though the name must be something of a joke; inside, the décor is rather dour, walls of dark wood barely lit by gas lamps, with pelts dotting the walls and half-covering the frost-glazed windows. A stout woman of Dharric extraction stands stoically behind the bar, polishing mugs with a rag and a scowl that looks like it could SCARE away any lingering contaminants. Just as the party is shaking off their coatings of snow—Miaoyu and Nüwa daintily and precisely hanging their coats next to the door, glaring daggers at each other; Olaf vigorously stomping his boots clean, Seeker shaking like a wet dog to clear his fur, and Aelron flash-drying himself—and warming up, they realize that Flynn is casually lounging by the only source of true light in the room—the hearthfire.

“What took you guys so long?” he drawls, waving laconically. “I’ve been waiting for you for days.” As it turns out, Flynn did the smart thing: he hired a transport sled and went right up the frozen river. “I thought you guys would have had the sense to ask the scouts for the fastest route,” he says, shaking his head as they all sputter incredulity.

Olaf gapes, slams a fist down on the couch nearest him. “Why would you think we’d have our $#!% together? You're the brains of this operation.”

Aelron: “Hey!”

Olaf waves him off dismissively. “You're the book smarts and the artillery.” He points again to Flynn. “YOU should know that I'm the plucky hero, she's the daring rogue—” this pointing to Miaoyu, “—he's the moral compass—” waving to Seeker, “And you're the street smarts and savvy.” Finally, almost as an afterthought, Olaf points at Nüwa. “Besides, we were following her!”

“Yeah, see how useful she is?” Miaoyu grouches, tugging off her shoes and releasing a clutter of icy shards. “Let’s just leave her here. I can find the keep through Locate Object on one of the banners.”

Olaf nudges her, asks under his breath: “Did you just admit you’re a priest of Gilgadar in front of a private investigator hired by your mother?”

Miaoyu sighs and looks directly at Nüwa, done pretending. “By the way, I worship Gilgdar, and I’m a thief.” Nüwa’s jaw drops in shock. “And I cheated on a test.”

Nüwa staggers back, clutching her heart, face pale. “You’re going to kill your mother with this!”

Miaoyu shrugs. “That’s up to you.”

“Do you even have to tell her everything?” Olaf asks Nüwa. “She hired you for good news about her daughter. Wouldn’t some lies make her happier than the truth?”

Nüwa shakes her head. “I was hired to find Miaoyu and bring her home. Failing that, I need to come back with a full report. There’s nothing about the client's happiness in any of that.”

And with that, Flynn is caught up on Nüwa's presence, reason for being with the party, and relationship with her target.

The party retires in ones and twos to their individual rooms. Olaf requests Aelron's help drawing and warming a bath. Aelron agrees, provided he gets to use it as well. Ere long, three enchanted tubs are steaming away in various rooms, sinking heat into muscles long resigned to frost.

The next day, Aelron investigates the rock formation and casts Draconic Introduction. He gets a response now that they're within the dragon's domain: the Lord of Sundered Rock, the Joiner of the Rivers, Splitter of the Stone, Baron Splitshade. That last title gives him some pause; it sounds Drouganti. Is this dragon hold rank as part of the aristocracy? He decides to seek an audience with the dragon and sets up his art supplies; it is customary, when dealing with a dragon, to offer some sort of treasure and to request their aid on some sort of quest. (It’s also customary to have an escape route if things go badly, but that’s not spoken of in polite company.)

Seeker casts Seek in an attempt to get another clue to finding his wife. He receives the response: The rivers have divided, and even if they meet again, are they the same rivers? Taking this to mean he may meet her again in Splitshade, Seeker decides to search for his wife in the village.

Nüwa goes off to report to Miaoyu’s brother. She tells him that she’s found Miaoyu but there have been ‘complications’ and will report back later.

Olaf decides to teach Keegan basic survival training and takes him out to the edge of town. He starts showing Keegan how to cut down a tree safely, but Miaoyu decides at that moment to work on Keegan’s awareness training and bombards the two with snowballs. It's a wonderfully happy, sweet scene that almost makes the three of them seem normal.

Flynn, meanwhile, decides to chat with some locals and see what he can learn. He gleans a bit regarding the war, but only that morale is good. He does learn, however, that there is a wizard in the Baron's council and asks around trying to learn more about her. After some time, the townspeople reluctantly admit that the Baron is actually the local dragon.

Seeker, getting no results in town, decides to investigate the possibility of a dragon and stumbles across Aelron in his search. The two of them begin searching together, soon joined by Flynn who is of the same mind. They decide to try scaling the rock formation in search of an entrance. After a difficult and unpleasant journey, however, they can find no cave entrances or any other opening that might lead to a dragon's lair, and decide to head back to the inn.

The next day, the party decides to continue following Nüwa's Find the Path spell and ride their horses along the frozen river. The travel is smooth enough, the going much quicker than cutting along snowed-in woodland paths. They've already made better distance at midday than they were making in entire days on the roads when suddenly something slams the ice from below, sending fissures spiraling out over the surface. The party hurriedly makes for the shore as further slamming shatters the ice in the middle of the river—right beneath where Olaf was riding when the attack began—and long, hairy, well-muscled arms begin shoving ice floes out of the way as they drag their owners quickly and easily from the already-refreezing river.

Before the party has reached the shore, five ice trolls have clambered from the river's freezing maw, clubs in hand, growling and trumpeting their hunger. Their skin is a frigid blue, the ridges of bone on their foreheads and at each joint (elbow, knee, knuckle, shoulder, and ankle) glitter like icy daggers, and their breath coalesces in frozen clouds as they advance.

Keegan, Miaoyu, and Flynn fall back, pulling the horses with them. Nüwa stands her ground long enough to hurl a dagger at one, but the whirling blade glances off a bone ridge with no apparent effect other than to enrage its target; Nüwa darts after the retreating horses, clambering up onto the shoreline. Olaf, never one for caution, rushes the troll nearest his end of the line, while Aelron, still mounted on his warhorse, begins gathering energy for a spell. Seeker grabs Aelron's riding horse and attempts to retreat to a safe distance, but predators give chase by nature; two of the trolls follow and attack Seeker, reducing him to -7 hit points. Another troll charges after Flynn, but Flynn is waiting for that; a loud BANG from his eldritch weapon and suddenly the troll is down on one leg, all momentum lost as it tries to keep its face out of the snow and dirt of the riverbank.

Seeker and Aelron lock eyes just as Aelron is about to finish casting. Aelron looks a question at Seeker. Do you need my aid? A grim shake of Seeker's muzzle is all the answer Aelron needs. Burn them.

Aelron releases the energy he spent the entire first round of combat gathering, augments it with a bit of his own energy, and hurls all of it into an already-prepared explosive spell. A small, glassy projectile with a heart of purest flame flies from his fingertips, landing ten feet from Seeker. Seeker smiles grimly up at the two trolls towering over him and waves goodbye. The trolls have just enough time to wonder what that means before Aelron's grenade erupts in a burst of searing pain and scarlet fire. The grenade strikes on of the trolls full-on and it staggers, burned and howling, out of the cloud of smoke the grenade leaves behind, only to fall to a hail of arcane bolts from Aelron's enchanted staff. The other troll, just barely out of range, stumbles away from all the firey death, and right into a well-placed shot from Miaoyu's crossbow, right through the eye and into the brain.

Olaf, meanwhile, is still engaged with two trolls. He provokes one troll into swinging at him, then ducks in hopes that it will overreach and hit the other troll, inciting a brawl between the two. The plan works better than even Olaf could have expected; the troll swings too wildly, and when it fails to connect with anything it unbalances itself, slips on the ice, and cracks its head on a frozen root protruding from the shoreline. Stunned, it dies easily to a flurry of Olaf's daggers.

The two surviving troll decides it prefers hungry life to grisly death, and retreats back under the ice.

After Seeker heals himself and is back on his feet, the party continues on and comes to one of the four villages surrounding the large keep that is their destination. They acquire lodgings in a small inn near the edge of town, and Flynn goes scouting around for a bit of information.

When he returns, he tells the rest that rebellious baronies are holding a war council in the keep, and that the Wizard of Sundered Rock is present representing her barony. As the party talks they come to surmise that Seeker's wife is likely the the wizard. Unfortunately, with the war conference on-going, getting Seeker in will be somewhere between insanely difficult and impossible. Seeker simply approaching and asking to speak to an elf would be suspect; wolfmen have gained a reputation for stalking elves and such an approach would be more likely to have him viewed as a threat rather than a husband looking for answers.

After much debate (with Miaoyu frequently suggesting ways to get Nüwa thrown in prison or otherwise killed), Olaf offers to run a message himself and promises to deliver it personally, if possible. Seeker writes up a letter and seals it with Brigii's Seal so only the intended recipient can read it. Olaf rides to the Keep and is greeted by the gatekeeper, a guard named Gibbon.

"What can I do for you?" the guardsman asks.

"I've been asked to deliver a message to the Wizard of Sundered Rock," Olaf responds, and when the guard holds out his hand for the letter, Olaf shakes his head. "I swore that I would deliver it personally, if it is possible."

After a moment of consideration, the guard opens a small door inset into the heavy gate with a shrug. "Who am I to stand in the way of an oath?"

Olaf hands over his weapons belt as a sign of good faith and Gibbon leads Olaf through a maze of corridors. Olaf tries to memorize the layout and to count heads so he can sell the information to the king's army, but it's too complicated and he soon loses track. After a while, he's led to a door and Gibbon knocks on it.

The door is opened by an elf. Olaf feels his stomach doing flips and jumps and spins like Nüwa ritually casting: this elf doesn't match the images he's seen of Seeker's wife. This elf has mousy hair and dark eyes, where Seeker's wife has blond hair and blue eyes. He remembers how to breathe when the elf tells Gibbon that her Lady is still at the war council and will be for some time. Gibbon offers again to deliver the letter for Olaf, but Olaf stands his ground.

“I can wait,” he says. “I don't care how long. I swore an oath.”

Gibbon, being a sucker for honor, agrees to let Olaf wait and leads him to what is little more than a cell with a bench. Olaf sits on the bench and waits with a vague smile fixed on his face. Without so much as fidgeting. For hours. Either a small piece of him died on the inside while he did this, or he lied to us when he told us about it.

Back at the inn, Flynn starts up a game of friendly gambling – to which Miaoyu is not invited. After a bit of sulking, she invites Nüwa to drink with her.

“Are you friends or enemies?” Flynn asks incredulously, and Miaoyu simply shrugs before downing her first shot.

Seeker, desperate to find a bit of patience when so close to his goal, contents himself with listening to an elderly townsperson tell stories. The man, among other things, claims to have skinned beavers with his teeth in his youth. Nüwa and Miaoyu, overhearing, exclaim that he should join the party, but they're both soundly ignored.

Four hours later, Gibbon finally returns for Olaf. “Hey Dhar! War conference is over.” He leads Olaf through the maze of corridors once again – although Olaf suspects he is being taken down a different path than before – and once again arrives before the wizard's room.

Olaf is ushered in by the elf maid and is greeted by another elf, one that fits the images Olaf has seen of Seeker's wife. He holds out the letter to her.

“I have a message for the Wizard of Sundered Rock, and I can deliver a return message, if desired,” he says. She takes the letter, and Olaf takes a couple of discreet steps back.

The wizard opens the letter and pauses for a moment to read it:

Firi, I am in the village at the fork in the river. I would very much like to speak with you.
-Guarion
The wizard closes her eyes, inhales a deep, shaky breath. When she looks up at Olaf, her eyes smolder with suppressed emotion. She crumples the letter like so much trash—and is that smoke curling at the paper's edges?—as she gives Olaf a formal, warmthless smile that does not reach her eyes. “No response,” she says, and Gibbon leads Olaf out of the room and back to the gate. Olaf takes a moment to inquire about potential employment and Gibbon, impressed with Olaf's discipline throughout the whole affair, tells him that recruits can sign up at The Archer and the Axeman. Olaf thanks Gibbon for his help and returns to the party's inn.

Seeker approaches Olaf immediately upon his return and the party crowds into Seeker's room to hear what happened.

“She didn't just crumble the letter,” Olaf says. “She looked furious.”

Seeker contains his anxiety and says, “Then I'll keep a vigil and wait for her.”

Nüwa, ever the fan of love stories, finds herself a seat in Seeker's room, eager to see what will happen next. Olaf and Aelron also volunteer to keep Seeker company. Flynn and Miaoyu return to their rooms, but sleep lightly should things go badly.

The night passes, but there are no signs or messages or long-lost wives. Come morning, Seeker dismisses those who kept him company and lies down for some sleep.

While the rest of the party eats breakfast, Olaf rushes about suspiciously, as if getting ready to leave, yet remaining unarmed and unarmored. When he begins looking over his will and saddling his horse, the party realizes he is getting ready to leave.

“I can't just let things go like this,” Olaf says when the party asks. “I'm going to talk to her and make her listen.”

Before anyone strong enough to actually hold him back can be found, Olaf is off, plunging through six feet of freshly-fallen snow. Aelron, with a frustrated sigh, saddles his own horse.

“What are you doing, now?” Miaoyu asks, incredulous.

“Well, I can't very well let him freeze to death out there,” Aelron says crossly, gesturing after Olaf, his sweeping arm encompassing the stable door where they can all see the beginnings of yet another blizzard closing in.

“If you don't mind me asking,” Flynn asks quietly. “Why??”

“Don't you dare tell him I said this,” Aelron mutters back, flames flickering a menacing warning around his fingertips, “but I kind of like the crazy bastard. Plus, he's right. If I let this end here, it'll bug me forever.”

As Aelron leaves, Miaoyu passes him three healing braids – just in case.

While Aelron and Olaf are rushing off to the keep, Nüwa decides to redouble her efforts at convincing Miaoyu to come home.

“What's keeping you here anyway?” she asks, frustrated.

Miaoyu steps a bit closer and says, “Do you know what kind of job I was going to have, before I left?” When Nüwa shakes her head, bewildered, Miaoyu smiles bitterly. “I was going to work for the government. Before they hire you, the last step is to take a test. A psych test. The kind that establishes what sort of temperament you have. How you respond to stress, how well you'll obey orders and whether, for example, you might go gallivanting off into the sunset, abandoning country and family to adventure on your own for six years.”

Nüwa can't even muster the muscular control to gasp. She simply stands, choking on air, gaping at the madwoman before her.

“Remember that I said I cheated on a test?” Her bitter smile takes on a sharp edge as Nüwa's eyes widen in horror. “Yeah. That one.” Miaoyu shrugs. “They were going to find out sooner or later, and when they did, they'd probably take all my earnings retroactively and that would screw over my family even more than leaving.”

“Oh.” Nüwa sits down, hard, on the nearest object. Thankfully it is a chair. After a couple of halting starts, she manages: “I've got to say, you kind of screwed yourself over there. I guess it wouldn't do to bring you back to Qen, then. I was supposed to find you, not get you arrested and disappeared more.”

Soon, the two of them are drinking again.

Olaf arrives at the keep's gate and Gibbon immediately opens up for him. “Are you crazy, riding in this weather?” he demands. Snow is falling in earnest now, looking to bury the keep before sunset (assuming anyone can actually figure out when sunset IS through all this bleeding SNOW), and the wind keens and moans as it whistles over the battlements above. Olaf leaps from his horse, sweeps a bow to Gibbon.

“I'm sorry, but I need to talk to the Wizard of Sundered Rock again,” he says, contrite.

Gibbon shakes his head. “She doesn't want any more messages from your friend.”

“It's not from him,” Olaf insists. “It's from me.” When Gibbon looks uncertain, Olaf sighs and shakes his head. “Kurush forgive me, but—I cannot believe I'm saying this—love is on the line!”

(At this point our DM rolled Gibbon's reaction check and when it came back positive he muttered, “I can't believe I'm doing this.” We're still not sure if he was speaking for himself or for Gibbon.)

Gibbon ushers Olaf into the Keep. “The war conference is having another meeting. I don't know how long its going to be and I can't guarantee she'll want to meet with you. So how about you sit down and I'll give you some paper to write on, just in case?”

Olaf agrees and is brought to the same cell he sat in the day before and begins writing his letter:

I plead, in Brigii's name, give him closure. I can not and do not beg for you to take him back; I know not what you have had or lost. I know only that a friend has spent a decade looking tirelessly. Please, tell him in person if it is over. An effort such as he made deserves finality, not merely more silence.

My name matters not.

The rivers divided, even if they meet again, may not be the same rivers. They do not need to be, but they should meet.
Not long later, Gibbon catches sight of another traveler approaching the keep. “What's wrong with you people?” he cries as he opens the gates for Aelron. “You're going to kill your horse!”

“I can protect Flametongue here from limited exposure,” Aelron says, patting the horse, which he warded against cold about halfway up the hill. “I am sorry to press demands, but I came up here following my friend. Dhar, thick-skulled, idealistic, thinks he's invincible. Has he come through this way? I need to make sure he's all right.”

Gibbon groans, but—without asking for any further description—leads him to Olaf and leaves the two of them sitting alone. Awkward silence hangs for some time, Aelron working on spell-forms to augment his armor and Olaf scribbling and scratching to perfect his letter, until Olaf asks Aelron to look over his letter for any spelling mistakes.

Nine hours later, Seeker wakes up and comes downstairs to find the common room missing two of his companions.

“Where are Olaf and Aelron?” he asks.

Nüwa, happily drunk, begins explaining the situation in a combination of Qennish and birdcalls; she happens to be fluent in Sky, the language of birds.

“Olaf and Aelron went to talk to your wife and are probably going to get killed,” Miaoyu translates.

Seeker lets out a cry of concern, and opens the inn's door to follow after them – only to be greeted by a literal wall of snow: it's snowed three more feet so far—and it's still coming down out there—and the entire first floor the inn has been swallowed up. Seeker promptly closes the door, sits down, and begins waiting anxiously for Olaf and Aelron to return.

Back at the keep, Gibbon finally returns for Olaf and Aelron. “She won't see you,” he says, “but she will accept the letter.”

Olaf snorts. “I've walked into more certain deaths for far lesser causes,” he tells Gibbon as he hands over his letter, along with a handful of coins for Gibbon's trouble.

A short while later, Gibbon returns. “She accepted your letter, but offered no immediate response. Now, I'll show you to the bunkhouse so you two can wait out the storm.”

That night, Olaf sleeps like a rock, having stayed awake for well over 24 hours. Come morning, Gibbon presents Olaf with an oilskin envelope, unsealed.

“She's decided to provide a response. Apparently she's not in a good mood: her maid says she was up all night working on that.”

Olaf thanks Gibbon again and pointedly does not open the envelope. He and Aelron don the snowshoes given to them by Gibbon and make arrangements to get their horses later, after the snow has melted.

Upon their return, they find the two-story inn almost completely buried. They have to dig for half an hour just to uncover a window enough to slide through it. The party gathers up and Olaf presents Seeker with the envelope. Seeker quietly returns to his room to read the letter. (Nüwa is forcibly pulled away by Olaf; she does love a good romance story).

Seeker opens the envelope and finds a piece of silk with a cottage embroidered into it. As he touches it, the cloth tears in two, splitting the cottage in half. The threads shift; one side reads, “I'm sorry”, the other, “Leave me be”. The cloth disintegrates into a mass of brightly colored threads.

Seeker casts a spell to send a brief message to his wife: As you wish.

Seeker returns downstairs to find that the rest of the party has set about distracting themselves.

“Let's play a game,” Miaoyu suggests to Nüwa. “We line up a bunch of shots but one of them is filled with poison – and you drink all of them!”

Nüwa gives Miaoyu a skeptical look. “That doesn't sound like fun.”

“It'll be fun for me,” Miaoyu insists.

Eventually, Flynn, Olaf, Miaoyu, and Nüwa begin playing a game of darts: each time someone misses the bullseye, they have to take a drink. Olaf and Nüwa find themselves drinking frequently, while Miaoyu only has to take a drink every now and again. Flynn doesn't have to drink a drop. Aelron reluctantly mixes drinks for the group, and together they wait out the snowstorm.

The End!

Or is it?

It's not. We've still got plenty more hijinks. That was Nüwa's last session for the time being; her player will probably return sooner or later. Also worth noting: Olaf gained the favor the Bright Queen, the fey goddess of love, and can now reroll reaction checks once per session. Unfortunately, since he didn't storm the keep, he gained the disfavor of Kurush, god of might, and now has to make raw strength checks at a disadvantage until he pleases Kurush again.

IslandDog
2014-01-25, 04:42 PM
Woo! Two new updates!
This is really really awesome - players, DM, campaign world, everything. I can only hope that someday I get into a group as good as this :)
Keep up the good work!

AverageSparrow
2014-02-02, 07:22 PM
The first session of the new year was mostly spent tweaking and rebalancing the home-brewed system Tam has implemented. We added a bunch of new traits (“Bedeviled”, “I Read It In a Book”, and “Deliberate Actor” among others) and modified some existing traits. We switched to party XP, so now everyone is at level 3. Players can now only master skills starting at level 3, and only one skill can be mastered per level, meaning some people’s skills got a bit weaker (Aelron, for instance, lost mastery in Ruby Magic and Lore). The only notable effect on the plot is that Miaoyu, having lost mastery in Initiate of Gilgadar, couldn't have cast Sunder Fate on Olaf or that one pigeon. But apparently Olaf's fate was sundered, so... what happened? We’ll find out... eventually. Probably.

There were plenty more changes, but most of those were mechanical enough that their details won't enter into any of these recountings, and thus we'll forgo any further mention of them. On to what you're actually here for.

Following the escapades attempting to communicate with Seeker's wife, the party ends up snowed into their cozy little inn for the next eighteen days. Most of these days are spent drinking (pretty much everyone), playing board games (Keegan, Flynn, Miaoyu and Nüwa), studying language (Keegan and Olaf), meditating (Seeker), researching spells (Aelron), and casually attempting to murder Nüwa (Miaoyu. Duh.). Aelron spends enough time poring over his armor to enchant it further, and Olaf decides to regain Kurush’s favor by fasting for three days, stripping mostly naked, picking up a really heavy rock and attempting to carry it up a hill (while, mind you, rolling at disadvantage—rolling twice and take the lower result—on all brute-strength checks). He fails heroically. The party finds him, passed out facedown in the snow, three-quarters of the way up his target hill. The boulder apparently slipped from his grasp and rolled all the way down. Kurush, mollified, removes the disadvantage from Olaf as the party carries him back to the inn, where his frostbitten fingers are lopped off and regrown with Aelron’s divine spell, Regenerate. (His frostbite could have been cured by one of Seeker’s spells, but the DM deemed casual dismemberment ‘funnier’, and ruled it canon.)

Nüwa leaves when the weather clears, off to make her formal report. “Wait!” Miaoyu calls after her. “I made you a poison cake. Don't you want some?” Nüwa rudely refuses Miaoyu’s farewell gift, and as Nüwa turns away, Miaoyu snatches a packet of saffron from her spice rack. She’ll likely be miles away before she realizes one of her more expensive spices is gone.

That night, the party pours some drinks and sits down to plan.

“I have one last thing to ask of you all,” Seeker says. “I want to find my wife’s amulet.”

“Seeker, as your friend,” Olaf prefaces delicately, “I advise against retrieving the amulet. It’s toxic. You need time to heal.”

Oh, if only Olaf knew how right he was.

This sparks up a bit of a debate amongst the party, although it’s ultimately agreed that if Seeker wants to get the amulet, they’ll support him.

“You’re the best of us,” Olaf tells Seeker, “and I don’t want to see you change.”

“And I trust you to stop me if I start acting strangely,” Seeker says. Then, an afterthought, “Oh, I’ve decided to go back to my real name. Guarion.”

Aelron raises a flame-red eyebrow. Miaoyu spills a bit of her drink. Olaf just stares.

“Why?” Flynn asks.

“I’m not seeking anything,” Seeker says reasonably.

“So? I’m not ‘flynning’ anything. You’re Seeker to us.”

“Besides which,” Aelron puts in, “Having us call you something OTHER than Seeker will simply be a constant stream of reminders of why you changed your name. I suggest you stick with Seeker, and find something new to seek. Find a worthy goal and pursue it, and it will help you keep your mind off your loss.”

Seeker agrees, however reluctantly, and proposes something interesting: “What if we were to find a way to reverse the wolfman curse? Turn wolfmen back into elves.”

There is a long moment of silence as the rest of the party stares at Seeker, dumbfounded.

Flynn breaks the silence: “Seeker, what exactly is inspiring you to suggest something that crazy?”

“They're called 'feelings', Flynn,” Olaf interjects harshly. “Jeez, have a little compassion.”

“Oooh,” says Miaoyu, “Harsh burn.”

Flynn laughs. “It's fine, I deserved that one. I've been hammering Olaf with dumb Dhar jokes since we joined back up in Splitshade.”

Aelron, aside to Miaoyu: “Flynn can hammer me any time he wants. He's kinda cute.” Aelron smiles conspiratorially at Miaoyu's blank stare, then turns back to the group.

“It's not TOTALLY unreasonable, Flynn. My mother has been working on this for... well, basically my whole life. If we can contact her, she'll be thrilled to have help.”

“Well, where's your mother, then?” Olaf asks, all business.

Aelron blanches a bit. “Uh... the City of Brass.”

The City of Brass is the home of the djinn: a great city of towering brass and gold buildings in the midst of a vast plain of fire, on the edge of a lake of lava, located on the elemental plane of fire.

“Nothing's ever simple,” Flynn mutters to his tankard.

“How do we get there, again?” Olaf asks.

Aelron sighs. “Volcanoes. Volcanoes serve as sites at which you can open portals to the City of Brass. Find me a volcano, I can get us there.”

Miaoyu produces Nüwa's map (“What?”) and unrolls it on the table. The easiest volcanoes to reach from their present position are probably on the Peri Isles, though there MIGHT be something near their position in a continent-spanning mountain range that's just not marked on the map.

“One other thing,” Aelron warns. “Volcanoes, especially active ones, are sometimes inhabited by dragons. If we find an occupied volcano, we'll have to get the dragon's permission to use the portal. However, if we can GET permission, we might also get assistance, which would make the whole task much easier. The problem is that dragons tend to take their temperament from the region they inhabit; dragons of glacial mountain ranges are icy and aloof, river dragons are bubbly and chatty...”

“And this dragon is likely to have a volcanic temper, aye,” Olaf finishes. He shakes his head. “What about visiting the Underdark? Dark elves have been able to return their males to elven bodies, haven’t they?”

Aelron shakes his head violently. Miaoyu throws her drink away in horror. Seeker bares his claws.

“Good thought, Olaf,” Aelron says, fighting panic out of his voice, “but I really don't think dealing with the dark elves is a good idea. They're not known for their hospitality, first of all, and their methods of curse-reversal are... brutal in the extreme. Think animated elf-shaped flesh-golems and transferred consciousnesses. All the stuff you learn about in Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. If a volcano is a bad idea, a visit to the dark elves is worse.”

“There are other things to consider,” Flynn points out. “Farkas would probably be a bit peeved to lose the lion's share of his followers if we broke the curse. And,” he glances sidelong at Miaoyu, “Just breaking it at all would likely involve sundering a chain of fate or two, and Femta, being the creator and binder of fate itself, would probably be similarly unamused. On top of which, the reason for the curse is still unknown; we have no idea whether the wolfmen became violent as a result of the curse, or were cursed because of their violence, or were cursed for some other, equally important reason. Plus the true question: can mere mortals reverse a curse of deific proportions?”

Aelron and Seeker are confident that, with the right tools, they COULD reverse the curse, but without more information the point is moot. The party agrees to make a decision regarding what plans to pursue AFTER retrieving Seeker's amulet and a griffin, then retires for the night.

Come morning, Miaoyu Locates the amulet again, to make sure it hasn’t moved. After consulting the map, the party realizes that, from where they are, they can go through some nearby hills where griffins might live and wrangle one while going to or from the amulet’s location. While Seeker has the components to sedate a full-grown griffin, transporting one is a different story. The party decides that getting a cart should be sufficient, but as it will slow them down quite a bit, they decide that they should buy it in a town close to the griffin – if there’s a town in the area nearby at all.

Miaoyu, deciding the show off her shiny new trait, I Read it in a Book, which lowers her DC for untrained skill rolls, speaks up. “I read this book once, where a dragon flew out of a volcano and fought the local baron. The whole thing was right in this area, if I remember the maps right, and if there was a baron, then there must be a town for him to rule over, right?”

“A volcano?” echoes Flynn. “Why didn’t you mention that last night, when we were talking about sailing to another country in search of one?”

Miaoyu shrugs. “I was drunk.”

The party sets out on the road, planning for a roughly 15 day trip to reach the amulet, possibly longer given potential complications and/or griffin wrangling.

One evening, the party settles into camp and Olaf takes out Scuzzbucket and encourages it to jump through a hoop. It succeeds, in that it sort of pours itself through the hoop. Its linguistic skills have increased to that of a three year old. Its shapeshifting skills have also improved; when Miaoyu sends Lajiao out to play-fight with Scuzzbucket (yes, there was a Pokemon battle in the camp that night), Scuzz takes on a goat form that only droops a little bit.

“I just feel like we have a special connection,” Olaf says proudly. “Like he’s a...” Olaf glances at Aelron. “What do you mage-types call them?”

Aelron gives Olaf a skeptical look. “Familiars?”

Olaf nods and smiles. “Yeah, that's it! He's my familiar!”

Aelron rolls his eyes, but Seeker, intrigued by the possibility, watches Olaf play with Scuzz for a little while.

“There’s definitely some sort of bond between them,” he says after a time. “Olaf, did you do something with Scuzzbucket? Something that might bond you with him?”

Olaf things for a moment. “Oh! I’ve been using him to brush my teeth.”

This isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might sound. Most toothpaste in this world does contain slime or ooze. However, it isn't usually semisentient imislime. Olaf has managed to ingest some of Scuzzbucket, who might think that Olaf is just another part of itself.

“You’re telling me that Olaf has a profound bond with a slime?” Flynn asks, chortling. “Makes sense to me.”

“HEY!”

As the party travels, they notice the weather improving ever-so-slightly and realize spring will be upon them in a few short days. They decide to make an appropriate sacrifice to Brigii, which would involve baking an apple pie. Unfortunately, the party is in severe shortage of apples.

Fortunately, they happen across a village composed of temporary housing and Olaf and Aelron decide to stop in. Seeker elects to stay behind; elves are sometimes nomads and he doesn’t want to risk startling them by barging into their village.

He needn't have worried; the village is human. Aelron knocks on the door to the largest house and, after polite greetings and requests for trade, is invited in by what appears to be one of the village elders. They exchange pleasantries, and Aelron pays for a small bushel of apples, some flour and sugar. The villagers provide friendly warnings of dangers on the nearby roads, including warnings of a type of fey called Fingerlings, inch-tall creatures that drop down onto travelers and cling to them until they arrive at the traveler’s home. They then murder the traveler and eat their food. Fortunately, they can be easily washed off by a bit of water and speak in high-pitched voices easily heard by, say, wolfmen. Aelron and Olaf thank the man for the apples and information and return to the party.

The next night, the party gets to pie baking, with Aelron conjuring up a set of wards over the fire to contain and stir hot air (think convection oven) and Olaf using a bit of the cinnamon that Nüwa gave him. The pie smells absolutely delicious, but as Olaf sets it on a plate and grabs a knife to slice it, Miaoyu and Flynn whip around to face the trees.

“Someone's coming,” Flynn warns. “Sounds like lots of someone.”

Miaoyu hurries stealthily off into the trees to get a better look. She returns out of breath and wide-eyed. “Boarfolk,” she says. “I counted at least eleven. I'm getting my stuff, it's time to go! They looked dangerous.”

“Hold on!” Olaf says. “We can't leave the pie behind! This is a sacrifice to Brigii! We have to defend our ritual and complete it! This is our pie!”

Miaoyu's face flickers between horrified, frustrated, resigned and cross, then settles on blank as eleven boarfolk stomp into their campsite. Snouts, tusks, rippling muscles, beady little pig eyes, and hefty-looking clubs abound. Their chief looks the party up and down.

“Give pie,” he says, directing his words to Olaf, who appears (in his estimation) to be the strongest, and therefore, leader. “We not kill.”

“Why don’t we share the pie?” Aelron suggests. “We can cut you a few slices and sit down for a friendly meal, and you can share in our sacrifice for Brigii.”

The leader thinks for a moment and after a moment of struggling with Common makes some gestures to indicate that he and his men get a double-share of the pie: two slices for every one that the party gets.

“No,” Aelron says, scoffing. “We made this pie, we get an equal share. Besides, there are more of you anyway. You're already gonna get more than half the thing even at equal shares. Now, will you sit with us, or no?”

The leader smiles. “You right. There more of us, anyway. Get 'em!”

And thus, the Great Pastry War begins.

Seeker uses his new trait, Leader, to great affect by warning the group to “Be careful of charges!” granting the party a bonus to AC against Charge attacks. Flynn also makes use of his new trait, Deliberate Actor (also affectionately termed Properly Paranoid), which grants him advantages on readied actions: he and Olaf ready actions to attack the first of the pie-thieves to charge the group. Miaoyu takes a shot at the leader and Aelron, sighing resignedly, slings an incendiary into the thickest concentration of boarfolk.

“We could have had a friendly dinner,” he mutters sadly.

Two of the boarfolk charge Olaf. One dies with an eldritch arrow in his throat after barely a step; the other meets Olaf's countercharge about a pace from the fire and goes down with a bronze knife in his eye.

Two of the raiders split off from the main group and circle around to where Keegan is tending the horses. Keegan is apparently rather jaded to armed battle breaking out in the camp, as he is still trying to keep Minion, Flynn's riding horse, from chewing on his own tack.

Flynn pivots and readies an action to shoot any boarfolk rude enough to target the horses or Keegan. Olaf, also taking note of this new development, shouts out, “Keegan! Unleash the warhorses!”

Keegan, evidently prepared for this circumstance, pulls a single knot, scuttles out of the way, and gives one of the warhorses a fierce slap on the rump and a shout of “Hai!” The ropes holding the warhorses to their post come neatly undone, and all four warhorses rush to intercept the Boarfolk. Unfortunately, one of the raiders takes a heavy swing right at Slepnir, Olaf’s horse, and kills it in a single blow. Flynn fires at him, but misses, his arrow grounded to avoid hitting any of the warhorses. The puff of dirt and sod draws the attention of the other circling raider, who heads toward Flynn.

The other raiders swarm the campsite from the front. One goes after Aelron, but his club meets an arcane ward about a foot from Aelron's armor that stops it cold. Another takes a good swing at Miaoyu, but he doesn’t live to regret it: she leaves a crossbow bolt rattling around in his piggy cranium and shadow walks to behind just behind the raider attacking the horses. The rest swing en masse at Olaf, who parries and dodges frantically. He takes a couple glancing blows from clubs, but laughs in the faces of the boarfolk surrounding him. “I've had worse wounds from a rosebush!” he shouts as he ducks under another swing.

Aelron smiles at the boarfolk attacking him. “You like the wards? I just put those in.” Then he steps up beside Olaf, trying to help even the odds against the Dhar, and begins mustering energy for a spell.

Miaoyu frowns at the raider behind whom she has just appeared. “You killed our warhorse! That's just not nice!” She plants her crossbow between his shoulder blades and pulls the trigger, and he drops instantly. Flynn smiles at the raider who is raising her club to smash him as the warhorses, spurned by the disrespect to Brigii and the loss of their friend, charge her from behind and stamp her into the dirt.

Olaf spends another frantic round parrying and dodging as the boarfolk leader wades into the melee. With Aelron beside him, Olaf isn't quite alone, but Aelron's not exactly a top-notch warrior; he's busy with some stupid spell, so he's not coming to Olaf's defense, and then...

“OI!” Olaf bellows.

Aelron unleashes a tide of flame: Burning Hands, triple-empowered. It washes over Olaf, eliciting the aforementioned bellow, and then barbeques four of the raiders, including their leader. Aelron follows up with Ashen Cleanse, his specially devised spell specifically designed to heal elemental damage. It neatly patches up all the damage his flame did to Olaf, leaving the Dhar unharmed.

Seeing most of his men dead around him and Olaf apparently unharmed by the flames, the raider chief calls out, “Run away! The pie defense is too strong!”

Unfortunately, in his attempt to flee, he runs right past Miaoyu – possibly not seeing her standing in the shadows – and she robs him of his last hit point. (“You're not using that, are you?”)

Olaf, not willing to let the insult to his horse or his pie go unpunished, chases down one of the other fleeing raiders and cuts him down before throwing himself after the last escapee.

The raider notices she’s being followed and she falls to the ground, squealing in terror and clearly surrendering. Olaf hesitates for a moment, then gestures for her to stand. As soon as she's up he rabbit-punches her into unconsciousness and begins dragging her back to camp.

The rest of the party, having already heaped the raiders’ corpses into a pile, look up as Olaf approaches. He’s too late for the pie; it’s meant to be eaten hot and only a few cool scraps are left for him.

“What are you doing with... her?” Aelron asks as he swallows his last bit of pie, studying Olaf's captive.

“I’m taking her as a thrall,” Olaf says simply. He rummages around in his pack for rope to bind her. For those of you who don’t remember, thralls are a part of Dhar culture wherein the victor takes the defeated as something of an indentured servant. There’s a certain expectation for the master to treat his or her thralls with some degree of humanity and honor, and the thrall is to accept their position with humility until they are released from service.

Aelron struggles for a moment and eventually says, “I hate to admit it, but boarfolk do have a roughly equivalent concept in their culture.”

The party discusses the matter for a bit – with the exception of Flynn, who stays dead quiet. He’s aware that he has no grounds to object to a concept that exists in both cultures, but he’s not happy about it.

Seeker suggests keeping the girl with them until they can, at the very least, take her somewhere that’s not in the middle of a potentially dangerous forest. The rest of the party agrees and Olaf patiently waits for her to wake up. When she begins to stir, Seeker casts a Translate spell to speed the process.

“By my right as victor in battle,” Olaf says once the boarfolk girl is alert enough to understand him, “I take you as my thrall.”

The girl looks displeased about this, but grunts her agreement and introduces herself as Hhon-Harn. Seeker checks her over for scratches and Miaoyu passes her some rations. Olaf takes her club away as a safety measure; although it would be a violation of protocol for a thrall to attack her master, the group agrees that for the first few weeks, it’s a reasonable precaution.

Hhon-Harn isn’t as upset as one might think. While it’s clear she’s resentful of the party, it’s generally understood that when one goes out raiding, people might not come back. She’s not happy, but she’s not broken by the loss of her comrades either.

At this point there was a (mostly out of character) discussion of naming the group Knights of the Blood Pastry, or something similar. Olaf’s player argued particularly hard for their banner to be a pie because no one will mess with a party that has so few %*#$s to give that they have a pie for their symbol. It was, tragically, shot down.

Come morning, the group sets out again. Aelron begins teaching Hhon-Harn Common, but given that she has a Wisdom of 4, it’s a slow process. Fortunately, Aelron is a patient teacher. For the sake of keeping up with the party, Miaoyu gives Hhon-Harn her riding horse; she’s recently taken a trait that boosts her speed and can keep up with the party on foot when her war horse needs a rest. It’s probably good that Hhon-Harn can’t speak Common at the moment: she might take offense to being given a horse named Expendable.

Eventually, the party pulls out Nüwa's map again, and notices a patch of forest not far ahead marked by a large spiderweb. Seeker, who has been interested in collecting spider-silk under moonlight so he can craft elven chainmail, perks up. The possibility of such armor is definitely of interest to the non-fighters of the party and eager planning begins immediately. The main concern is the possibility of attercops, spiderlike humanoids who often cohabitate with spiders and will likely take offense to a bunch of obnoxious adventurers stomping into their home, stealing their silk, and maybe even killing their prize spiders. As Olaf put it, “It would be like breaking into someone’s barn at night, shearing their sheep, then walking off, talking about how it’s such great quality, and when the owners try to stop you, you take potshots at them.”

Unfortunately, attercops are not particularly given to bartering and are reclusive. The best the party could hope for is cool tolerance, if they provide a gift to resident attercops first.

But do you think any of those complications would stop our noble adventurers? Of course not! There’s promise of cool stuff!

The only thing that might stop them would be, say, finding the indicated area literally covered from top to bottom in spiderwebs. And that’s exactly what they find: the entire stand of trees is almost invisible for the webbing. Everyone very quickly they agrees that it’s best to collect the silk under a full moon, and that’s a while off—may as well come back for it later. They adjust their path to go around the densely-webbed forest.

While on watch that night, Olaf is overcome with a sense of something watching him. He discreetly nudges Miaoyu and Flynn awake, as they are both have the highest training in awareness. All they can determine, however, is that there’s definitely something watching them. They just don’t know what.

Olaf devises a quick plan: he’ll ‘wake’ Flynn for the next watch, then he and Miaoyu will pretend to be asleep while actually waiting to spring a trap should the mysterious observer attack.

For better or worse, nothing happens, and come dawn, the party continues on.

As the group rides through the forest, they distinctly become aware of something... scuttling. A few glances around and they see a giant spider tending to its web. It seems to be minding its own business, but the party decides to be cautious. Olaf hands Hhon-Harn a dagger for self-defense should the worst happen, and then he takes point to knock down any webs that might bar their path. Miaoyu, having arachnophobia-induced hyper-awareness for all things spider-related, helps him. Eventually, the spider and its web pass out of sight.

“You handled that spider pretty well,” Olaf says to Miaoyu. She gives him an empty look.

“What spider?” she asks, and carries on, memories of giant, horrible mandibles carefully repressed.

The day passes uneventfully after that. The night, however, is a different story.

After the party has set up camp and night settles in, the feeling of being watched returns and, although no one can see them, the party becomes aware that, just outside the reach of the firelight, a mass of spiders surrounds the camp.

Aelron has thankfully studied a bit of arachnid behavior and informs the party that they’re likely waiting for any signs of weakness, or for someone to wander off alone. The fact that they’re staying out of the light suggests they fear it to some degree, but there is so much variation in the species that it is difficult to say with certainty.

Olaf suggests that Aelron make the fire flare up so they can get a better look at their visitors, but decides to help his eyes adjust first. He gazes into the flames for a long moment and Miaoyu, figuring that the sight of spiders will be seared into her memory (until she represses it), decides to give it a try as well. At Olaf’s signal, Aelron flares up the fire.

The spiders flinch back from the light, and everyone makes an Awareness check, with those who didn’t take time to adjust their vision suffering a disadvantage. Miaoyu, appropriately, rolls a 2 on a 2d6, and shrieks at the sheer mass of spiders she sees before covering her eyes. She’s not sure what she expected.

As it is, none of the party members rolled particularly well, so all they they managed to get in terms of a count on the spiders was “many lots”. The light, however, did seem effective, and Aelron, Olaf, and Hhon-Harn carefully leave to chop down some lumber and line their camp with firepits. Back at camp, Seeker clutches his alicorn protectively, just in case anyone should need an antidote for poison soon. Miaoyu has her crossbow in a death grip and Lajiao is in her customary spot in Miaoyu’s coat, trembling, with only her horns visible. When the other half of the party returns, Olaf checks in on Scuzzbucket, and the little slime looks up at him with a goat head. “Baa,” it tells him, then suddenly it manifests mandibles from its goat mouth and chitters at Olaf.

Once the additional campfires are built, the party agrees to do double watch shifts and, aside from the horrible knowledge of arachnid monstrosities just out of sight, the night is peaceful.

Come dawn, the area is clear of any sign of spiders and the party packs quickly. They assume something is watching them, but they have no real way of knowing. Eventually, they pass in what must be safe territory.

In fact, the rest of the journey passes in relative peace, although both Keegan and Miaoyu seem more than a little on-edge and jumpy. “You just have to repress it,” Miaoyu tells Keegan. “Then you’ll never have to remember it... except in your dreams.”

Sympathetic, Olaf passes Miaoyu a bottle of strong alcohol and she takes a hearty swig before passing it to Keegan. Seeker begins to protest, but too late: Keegan has already downed a mouthful. On the bright side, the two of them don’t flinch at every sound now.

Near the middle of the day, at Olaf’s request, Seeker once again casts Translate on Olaf so he can speak with Hhon-Harn. Unfortunately for Olaf, the spell lasts three hours, and spring is boarfolk mating season. And the party is right in an area densely populated by boarfolk. Olaf spends his afternoon hearing the wild, lascivious yells of boarfolk rutting, hearing about hot, hot tusk-jobs. Seeker seems a little more amused by this than he should be. As a small mercy, the party does not need to worry about Hhon-Harn trying to find herself a mate: she’s too young to be in heat.

Finally, the party arrives where Miaoyu Located the amulet: a strange, ancient stone structure. The architecture is too blocky and square and above-ground to be dwarven, but too old to belong to any Drouganti who might actually live in the region. It's also enormous, a large dome at least five stories in height and about a hundred and fifty wide. “What IS that thing?” Olaf asks, looking over at Aelron.

Aelron opens his mouth, tilts his head to the side, stares at the structure for a moment, then finally says, “I have no idea.”

That can't be a good sign.

The_Werebear
2014-02-03, 10:00 AM
Having that translate spell cast on Olaf was probably more emotionally scarring to him than the spiders.

And the spiders were TERRIFYING. This was about the most nervous I've seen my fellow players at the table since the Redcap. Flynn's player, of course, is the exception, because as far as I can tell, he's absolutely unflappable.

Fayd
2014-02-03, 03:07 PM
I dunno, I think the most charged was when you were delivering messages to the Keep. But then again I had a bit of a vested interest there so maybe I'm not ENTIRELY unbiased.

The_Werebear
2014-02-03, 03:19 PM
I wasn't too nervous delivering the messages. There is fear of physical harm, yes, when you bother a wizard. But, in a public setting when she had to be diplomatic, it might have been...uncouth...to incinerate me over it.

The spiders though. We couldn't get a good count of them against us, had been pursued during the day, had been hyping up how xenophobic the attercops were, and Tam put us all on the battlemap. All we knew were "Lots and All around."

Fayd
2014-02-04, 02:24 PM
Fair point.

ReaderAt2046
2014-02-06, 03:48 PM
I like Olaf's version of an Atonement!

I'm really beginning to get a sense of how the gods behave in this world. It's an interesting concept, very pagan and mythic in feel.

AverageSparrow
2014-02-13, 08:48 PM
Miaoyu, Olaf and Seeker share nervous glances. “Are you sure you don't know what this building is, Aelron?” Olaf asks for them all.

Aelron shrugs. “Know why it was built or what for? No, I have no idea. Whatever it is, it's ancient. By the style of the architecture it's at least several hundred years old, possibly as many as a thousand. It wasn't built by any Drouganti, I'll tell you that. Nor a dwarf; they have their own styles, none of which are in evidence here. All I can tell you is really tall, ancient stone dome.”

With that information in mind the party decides—surprise, surprise—to head right in. Hhon-Harn and Keegan are left behind with the horses, as usual, and the party begins up the hill toward the structure. As they walk, Miaoyu and Flynn realize that the structure has seen foot traffic as recently as a week ago, and Seeker notices the scent of blood: lots of it, and fairly fresh.

Worried that this could mean slavers or cultists, Olaf gestures Keegan and Hhon-Harn back into the forest for some cover. Hhon-Harn gives him what he's pretty sure is the boarfolk equivalent of a single-digit salute, but the two comply and are soon out of sight. Once they are safely ensconced in the woods, the party makes its way up to the entrance of the structure and peers inside.

The structure's purpose comes a little clearer on first inspection: it appears to be an arena. The dome is merely the cap on a hundred-foot-deep cylindrical hole in the ground. The floor at the bottom of the pit appears to be sand. An oculus in the dome lets in a shaft of sunlight, providing the massive room's only direct illumination. A single ramp runs from the door, which appears to be the southernmost point on the structure, around the western half of the arena, terminating at the northernmost part of the arena floor, one hundred feet down and roughly a hundred fifty feet across to the pit's other edge, in a small stone ledge. Two darkened archways yawn wide at the western and eastern points of the compass down at the bottom of the pit; no sunlight seems to reach them. At the center of the sands, bathed in direct sunlight, shines a small pool of thick, red liquid. The coppery tang of fresh blood is horribly strong on the air.

Aelron studies the pool, searching for spells, and sure enough, there's a preservative: the blood is being kept fresh by the will of a god. Although the party can’t be sure at the moment, likely candidates would be Ashur, god of slaughter, or Kurush, god of might and sunlight.

Never let it be said that our adventurers are not intrepid. The party descends slowly and cautiously into the structure, following the ramp down to the floor. Seeker and Aelron immediately head for the blood pool, determined to study it; Olaf accompanies them, ready to protect against any threats. Miaoyu finds a nice patch of shadows to hide in near the base of the ramp. Flynn takes a stand a few meters up the ramp, watching the archways warily.

Just as Aelron and Seeker kneel near the pool and Olaf takes up a guard posture, a low, female voice rings out, seemingly without source. Even in a chamber so large as the arena, it does not echo. Is it coming from all the walls at once? “Welcome, welcome! Let the testing begin! The strong will survive. The weak... well, who cares?”

Two large figures, still cloaked in shadows, betray their presence in the archways with motion.

Flynn, who was waiting for exactly this, raises an arm and lets loose an eldritch bolt. Olaf spots the same enemy and sprints across the sand to meet it as far from the mages as possible. His daggers and Flynn's arrow sink home to an angry squawk and a burst of feathers. A gryphon, a regal creature with the head, wings and talons of an eagle and the body, rear paws and tail of a lion, steps from the shadow in each archway, loosing fierce battlecries. Even in the midst of this mysterious ‘test’, everyone has a moment to think Score!

“How convenient!” Olaf cries merrily as his gryphon attempts to rake him with its talons.

The rest of the party springs into action. Olaf stays engaged with the first gryphon while Aelron, currently much better-armored than Seeker and the only person in position to keep the second gryphon away from the squishy wolfman, turns to face the second. Miaoyu fires at one of the gryphons, but, in her excitement, forgets to actually load a bolt. She blushes and hurriedly loads one up, hoping no one saw that. Flynn takes careful aim at the gryphon Olaf is not engaged with, readying a shot at its wing in case it attempts to lift off.

And it does indeed. As Aelron nears it, the creature spreads its wings, crouches back onto its hind legs and prepares to leap into the air. Flynn's arrow catches the base of its right wing on the downstroke. It cries out, falters, and crashes back to the sand, then moves toward Aelron. At the same time, both Aelron and Olaf have the same idea: try to mount the gryphon. Unfortunately, neither do well: Olaf is at too bad of an angle to hoist himself up, and while Aelron thinks to use his staff to polevault over the creature's head and onto its back, watching that beak snap at him makes him reconsider at the last moment.

Aelron’s gryphon isn’t about to let that insult slide: the idea of someone trying to ride it made it angry and it viciously attacks him. Flynn manages to distract the gryphon with an arrow, but even so, Aelron gets a nasty claw to the side and takes 11 damage. Better armored he may be, but Aelron only has 15 hit points. Seeker rushes forward to heal him and stop the worst of the bleeding.

Miaoyu picks up some loose stones and starts throwing them at the gryphons, putting them at a combat disadvantage. Olaf takes his gryphon’s momentary distraction and stabs until it stops twitching, then sprints to engage Aelron's target. “Capture that one!” he shouts.

Unfortunately, the gryphon seems to have recovered from Flynn’s earlier hit and has become wary of the Dhar that just killed its partner. It takes wing, and lifts twenty feet into the air. It begins circling the area at an uneven height, a lack of updraft and its injuries keeping it from rising too fast. Eventually, it attempts to dive-attack Seeker, but the wolfman was waiting for it and dodges out of the way. The gryphon's claws rake only sand, it loses precious speed, and for just a moment it has to flap hard to try and regain lost altitude.

Olaf gets an idea so terrible it just HAS to work. “FLYNN!” he calls, pointing at the sand behind the gryphon. “BOOST ME!” Flynn blinks once in incredulity before leaping from the ramp ledge and sprinting forward. He weaves his fingers together into a stirrup for Olaf's boot. Olaf, running from opposite direction, steps into the proffered hands and hurls himself upward with all his might, while Flynn heaves with everything he has. Aelron, seeing what Olaf plans, summons some of his own inner strength to create a Friendly Wind that will help keep Olaf on the gryphon's back. Miaoyu contributes with a hail of sand and stones sailing over the gryphon's head.

It works. Perfectly. Olaf's leap, Flynn's modified shotput hurl and Aelron's gentle breeze are just enough to leave Olaf clinging desperately to the gryphon’s back. When it shies from Miaoyu's barrage, Olaf has a short moment to establish a grip at the base of its wings, and suddenly he can almost steer! He tries to direct it into a wall, aiming to bash its head against the fitted stone of the arena's construction and concuss it enough to bring it out of the sky. He only succeeds in giving the gryphon ideas, though, and as it gains more height, it attempts to scrape Olaf off of its back by ramming its side into walls. Down below, the rest of the party alternates between worrying about Olaf’s well-being, laughing, and shouting encouragement.

Finally, the gryphon has some success and manages to dislodge Olaf. The only thing that keeps him from plummeting forty feet is Aelron’s Friendly Wind; it delays his fall long enough for him to grab onto the gryphon’s tail. Slowly, he struggles onto the gryphon’s back again, even as its leonine rear claws rip gouges in the flesh of his arms.

Seeker casts Mending on the gryphon, a minor healing spell that, if the will save is failed, can cause drowsiness. And failed it is. The creature plummets a couple of feet before it remembers to keep flapping its wings. Olaf might have screamed a little.

“This isn't getting us anywhere,” Flynn calls. “Olaf can't bring it down like this.”

Aelron moves to Flynn's side, pulls out a coil of rope, and grins. “No, but he can steer.”

Flynn tosses the rope to Miaoyu. “Lasso!” he instructs her. Then, to Olaf: “Force it downward and hang on! We're gonna try and rope him!”

Olaf grunts, still wrestling himself back into steering position. “Oh, sure, force it down, no-engh!-problem!” The gryphon runs him up against another wall, and he has to cling for dear life.

Flynn and Aelron rush up the ramp. The rope isn't long enough to lasso the gryphon from the floor, but it's circling toward the ramp as it attempts to buck Olaf, so they should be able to reach it if they can get set in time. Miaoyu clambers directly up the wall to deliver the lasso once Flynn selects his firing point. Aelron and Miaoyu grab the rope and brace. Flynn holds the lasso, readying to throw once the gryphon is in range. Seeker, the only one left on the floor, edges closer to where the gryphon will be, and as the gryphon races past, Mends it again.

For just a moment, the gryphon's flight goes ballistic. Flynn hurls out the lasso, grabs at the end of the rope and hangs on for dear life. Then all the people anchoring the rope have to make strength checks.

Between the three of them, they—barely—have the strength.

The gryphon reaches the end of its leash and jerks to a violent stop. Olaf slumps forward against the creature's neck and clings, shouting obscenities. The gryphon, stunned and gasping for breath, plummets toward the sand. It has thirty feet of rope, but the people holding it are suspending it forty feet off the floor. It swings like a pendulum, choking and gasping. Miaoyu urges the party down the ramp, letting the gryphon come to rest before it strangles or snaps its neck. After a few moments of struggle against the lasso, it falls limp, unconscious. Olaf disentangles himself from the gryphon, unties the lasso and takes a deep breath.

“That was fun!” he says, out of breath, injured, and energetic as ever.

Seeker settles down next to the unconscious gryphon and prepares to perform his ritual: he’ll be able to keep the gryphon in stasis for at least a month. Unfortunately, his ritual will take about an hour to complete, and there’s a chance that the gryphon will wake up in that time.

As the party begins to tie up and restrain the gryphon, Miaoyu suddenly begins laughing. Flynn and Aelron glance at her inquisitively. She doubles over, barely able to stand, and points vaguely at Olaf. “We bought sleeping potions.”

“Oh yeah!” Olaf chirps, and out come the sleeping potions. Given the size of the gryphon, every last drop is used. Feeling certain in the fact that the gryphon will be subdued long enough for Seeker to work on his ritual without interruption, the party takes a few moments to relax.

“Did you record all that?” Miaoyu asks Aelron when she's done laughing.

He gives her a grin. “Of course!”

While they wait for Seeker’s ritual to finish, the entertain themselves with magical memory playbacks of the gryphon desperately attempting to shake Olaf off.

After a little while, they look for something else to do. Miaoyu, Aelron, and Olaf investigate the pool of blood. “It could be a holy site to Ashur, given the blood,” Aelron says, “but I think it’s more likely to be Kurush, given the sunlight, and the fact that it's in an arena.”

The three of them glance at each other, each thinking the same thing: could this be where the amulet is hidden? Miaoyu takes a moment to cast Locate object on the amulet and soon hears the voice of Gilgadar in her head.

“Yeah,” Gilgadar hedges slowly, “See, I can’t really give you an exact location on this one. It’s shielded, see, but it’s definitely around here somewhere.”

Olaf hurries off and gathers up a bit of blood from the dead gryphon and pours it into the pool of blood. “I offer this sacrifice to you, Kurush. Please grant me a boon.”

The pool ripples—more than it should have—but nothing seems to happen.

Olaf reaches into the pool of blood and feels around. Unexpectedly, he finds the pool rather shallow. He roots around in the pool for a while, but can't find Seeker's amulet. He pulls his arm out and Aelron casts Prestidigitation to clean the blood off, but it doesn't work. Olaf's hand has been stained red. It looks to be covered in a thin layer of fresh blood. Miaoyu and Aelron exchange a glance, then look weakly back at Olaf. At that moment, Seeker finishes his ritual, and the matter of Olaf's bloody hand must be set aside to haul the gryphon up the ramp and outside.

They set up camp on the northwestern side of the dome, horses neatly corralled in an adjacent grove. Miaoyu takes first watch while the others settle in and start cooking dinner. Eventually, she notices someone approaching, a feminine figure with one hand on a staff and the other trailing along the wall of the dome. Miaoyu calls out to the other party members and they gather around.

“Good evening, ma’am,” Olaf says when the figure draws closer. “Anything we can do for you today?”

It’s only when she pulls back the hood of her robe to reply that everyone gets a better look at her. She looks to be in her forties, and the staff in her free hand is topped with a yellow and orange stone that flickers oddly in the light of the campfire. Her hair is dark and does not seem to acknowledge the light of the campfire in any way. In the center of her forehead is a single, unblinking dark eye. Miaoyu and Aelron both recognize her as a cyclopean augur, a priest of Kurush who can see what will be.

“I do believe you’re the ones I’ve been looking for,” she says, with the same voice that ‘welcomed’ the party to their test.

“Looking for?” Olaf grumbles. “Sounds like a prophecy to me.”

“Do not worry, king, I speak not of prophecy, only destiny,” she tells Olaf. “Will your ships be ready?”

“Really?” he says and turns a cold glare upon Miaoyu. “I have a question for you,” he tells her.

“No refunds,” she says hurriedly.

“What? No. I want you issue a summons to Gilgadar. If he refuses to meet me, then all oaths I’ve sworn to him are void.”

Miaoyu gives him a cool look. “No offense, but I don’t think he’s going to care that much.”

The party turns their attention back to the woman and they catch her shooting a similar cold glare. As soon as she notices the return of the rest of the party's attention, the woman pointedly ignores Miaoyu's presence. The few times she does glance at Miaoyu, she gets a haughty look on her face that plainly says: ‘you’re not supposed to be here’. Considering that the augur can see Fate and Miaoyu is essentially a blind spot in Fate’s field of vision, it’s not a surprising reaction.

The augur tosses Seeker something and he snatches it out of the air—the amulet he’s been looking for. “Here is your trinket, dog.”

“Why do you have this?” he asks.

“I needed a way to bring you here,” she tells him matter of factly.

“Then what do you want with me?” he presses, a bit of growl in his voice.

“Not you, singular, the wolfman. You, plural, all of you. Especially that one.” She raises a finger to point at Olaf.

“What am I to you?” Olaf asks.

She blinks at him. “You are the King. You are the one who will lead my people unto their promised land.”

“And what of my companions?” Olaf hisses. “Are they as nothing to you, mere roadbumps in your precious destiny?”

The woman scoffs, waves offhandedly at Miaoyu. “That one I have less than no use for. The hanged man shall be your advisor, your guide through Drougant.” Flynn stiffens. “The dog will keep you on your feet despite yourself.” Seeker's hackles rise.

“And what of Aelron?” Olaf asks, indignant.

Aelron smiles sadly. “Don't be silly, Olaf, my role is what it has always been. I am your auxiliary brain, and your artillery.”

The augur smiles thinly. “So wonderful when someone knows his place.” Aelron's knuckles whiten where they grip his staff, but his smile does not waver.

The augur looks directly back at Aelron. “I advise you all to give up your current quest. The wolfmen are better off the way they are, and there are more temporal concerns at hand. The people of the dawn will come here across a river and you, king, will provide a fleet of ships to bring them to their promised land.”

The phrase “people of the dawn” refers to the Huroc, a group of people considered heretics by Seeker's church. They believe that Laeros, the god of civilization, is a lie, a false front; that the leader of the Laerosian pantheon is, has always been, and ought to be acknowledged as, Kurush, the god of might and sunlight. This causes understandable friction between Laerosian priests, who value rule of law and civilization, and Kuru****es, who view strength as the only measure of worth.

“And how many will burn as the sun passes by?” Seeker asks. The augur simply looks up at the stars, the blood of the last god of the sun. Translated into regular common, that question is, 'how many will the Huroc kill as they migrate through these lands?' The answer would appear to be, 'everyone'.

From her robes, the augur pulls out a sunstone in the shape of an egg and hands it to Olaf. “It should hatch presently,” she says, and then turns around and goes back the way she came, hand still trailing along the wall.

As soon as she’s gone, the party gathers together to discuss the prophecy (or destiny, or whatever, we’re not debating semantics here). Olaf is surly at having been roped back into a preordained life. Miaoyu is distressed. Seeker is outraged at being pressganged into abandoning his own quest to help violent heretics. Flynn seems mildly irked, and Aelron is quiet, simply staring into the campfire, which can't be a good thing.

After a long and ultimately fruitless discussion, the party decides to put their concerns about the prophecy aside for the moment: they have a live gryphon they need to worry about transporting, and they’re exhausted from fighting it and its friend. They carry about camp as usual.

That night, Miaoyu has a dream of a nice, fireside chat with Gilgadar.

“So here’s the thing,” he says, casual as always and with no pleasantries to be bothered with, “when you sunder someone’s fate sometimes it takes a while for everything to be cut off. But that’s not the point. The point is: she wasn’t happy to see you. See, you’re not supposed to be there, your brother’s supposed to be there. And then you were supposed to murder him and then that would cause a whole bunch of other stuff to happen—thing is if you just keep going on with the group, you’ll just end up taking your brother’s place and then you’ll be killed—probably by Nüwa, or maybe your brother, or maybe your mother—and then what point is there in you not being your brother? So what I need you to do is step it up a little. He’s already missed one destiny point – a chance meeting on the road – so good job, but keep working at it, okay?” Suddenly, Gilgadar flinches, looking at the fire and apparently hearing something. “Oh, crap, she’s here. Okay, I’ll talk to you later, bye!”

The dream ends, and Miaoyu wakes up to the sounds of the rest of the camp stirring. Olaf is talking to Hhon-Harn in her native tongue, having requested a Translate spell from Seeker, asking her about her religious views. She worships the Beast Lords—Kurush, Farkas, and Ashur—and believes that civilization is weak, but couldn’t be called a Huroc; her beliefs aren’t extreme enough. Still, it gives Olaf a bit of insight into the ideals of someone who worships Kurush. Before the spell ends, he asks Hhon-Harn to direct him to the nearest boarfolk village and instructs her to ask for a cart. If the villagers deny them a cart, he instructs her to point out whoever needs to have their head bashed in to make a point.

For the first time, Hhon-Harn smiles. “I like you,” she tells Olaf.

She, Seeker, and Olaf travel together to the nearest town... which is entirely empty. It seems the boarfolk are too busy mating to mind their things, and Olaf makes off with a cart without seeing a living soul. It would have been the perfect crime, had Seeker not felt obliged to lay down a few coins in payment. Still, Hhon-Harn is pleased by her master’s skill at raiding and gives him a friendly slap on the back.

Back at camp, the gryphon is secured to the cart and two very reluctant horses are harnessed to it. Once camp has been packed, the party starts heading toward one of the southernmost points in Drougant, to the house of Marshtide.

The travel isn’t terribly eventful; there was a very exciting spotting of some centaurs (who the party avoids), and a sighting of Angry Hills (mercenaries employed by the rebels, also avoided), and Olaf casually mentions he’s going to become a priest of Laeros.

He seems to be forming some sort of plan involving turning the prophecy on its head, but the specifics haven’t been fleshed out. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons this is going to be a monumental task for him. Laeros does not hand out priesthood easily. One must be a member of the nobility, and while Olaf is the son of a king in Dhar lands, his title isn’t recognized in Drougant. Furthermore, he’s barely literate, and Laerosian priests are expected to be well-read and intimately familiar with religious texts. He also does not yet have the love of the people and on top of all that, he’s a Dhar, and while Dhar are probably not explicitly denied priesthood, being associated with a culture that has been raiding the country in question is probably not going to be a bonus.

Olaf, of course, comes to the natural conclusion: he’s going to ask the Marshtides to adopt him as payment for the gryphon.

One day, while traveling, the party notices a group of riders setting up a camp in a fairly secure location. While the others don’t think much of the camp, Miaoyu notices something the others don’t: there’s a wolfman among them.

While wolfmen aren’t terribly uncommon to see with other travelers—look at their own party—Miaoyu does have a flashback to a group they ran into once that had a wolfman with them. A certain group that she and Olaf robbed and had the all their horses stolen in retaliation. A group Olaf might have sworn revenge on.

“Oh look,” she says, “a very boring group of people who we should not bother at all and we should just keep going, okay?”

Olaf narrows his eyes at her and stops to study the group’s campsite. Fortunately, he rolls only moderately well on his awareness check. “Yeah, they look like regular people. Why are you making a big deal out of it?”

“I’m not! You are!” Miaoyu huffs at Olaf and sulks a little.

“Well,” Flynn says, “I want to get a closer look at them, see if they’re rebels.”

“Oh! Scuzzbucket, turn into a patch of grass and go up to the camp.”

Soon enough, there is a strangely mobile bunch of grass crawling towards the encampment. Internally screaming, Miaoyu skulks off to do her own recon.

While waiting for information from their scouts, the party busies themselves with pretending to change a cart wheel. Olaf concentrates on interpreting the feedback he gets from Scuzzbucket, which our DM describes as ‘having a seizure at a disco club’. Slimes only see the world in two, sometimes three, ‘colors’: food, not food, and self, and getting more information than that takes a bit of adjustment.

Meanwhile, Scuzzbucket and Miaoyu arrive at separate locations to spy on the camp. And, yep, that’s Horvath tending to one of the horses, and Cat sharpening her blades, and over there is Pup, looking constipated with his sulking.

Right about that time, Olaf manages to decipher what Scuzz is showing him and suddenly drops the side of the cart he’d been holding up, almost crushing Seeker in the process. He takes in a deep breath.

“It’s time for a friendly chat,” he decides, and begins ambling towards the Maptapper camp.

The rest of the party, not sure what’s going on, decides to follow after him, worried of impending doom. Miaoyu, already knowing what’s coming, braces herself for a potential fight.

Eventually, Olaf and the rest of the party come into sight of the Maptappers and an archer and Pup break off to meet with them.

“Just move on,” the archer advises them. “This isn’t an open camp.”

Olaf ignores him. “Hey Pup, ever get any with Cat?” Pup growls at him, a low, threatening roll in the back of his throat, and Olaf continues blithely. “I’m here to speak with Horvath.”

Horvath emerges from within the camp with a smirk on his face. “Oh, it’s you!” he says. “It’s been a while. You know, the weirdest thing happened when we last saw you: all of our pay went missing.”

“Really?” says Olaf. “You know, someone stole our horses. You ever find out who took your pay?”

“No, no. You ever find out who took your horses?”

“Not at all. So... given that neither of us can figure out who robbed the other... we good?”

Horvath’s smirk becomes more of a genuine smile and he says, “Yeah, we’re fine. Well, I’d offer you camp, but we’re on contract and we can’t have outsiders with us right now. Safe journeys.”

“Hey,” Flynn calls out to them as the party begins to depart. “We saw the Angry Hills to the north about two nights ago. Watch out for them.”

Horvath seems to be genuinely pleased to get the intel and thanks Flynn.

The party regathers at the cart and they continue on for a little while longer before settling in for the night. Olaf stays up the entire time, looking for the slightest sign that someone might attempt to take their horses. The night passes without event. The next day, Olaf sleeps in the cart, and Keegan drives.

On their travels, the party passes into the new year, 877. Those who don’t know their birth dates—specifically anyone who’s not Miaoyu, Aelron, and Olaf—celebrate surviving another year. Something vaguely resembling a cake is made in Aelron’s arcane convection oven and the party rings in the new year in the closest thing you can get to 'style' in the middle of a beastfolk-ridden forest.

Before long, the party nears Isti once again. They make two stops outside the confines of the city, first with a royalist field commander, and second with the Youngbloods, nobles that Flynn has ties to by way of Callie, his contact. To each, the party sells some information regarding the rebels. To the field commander, they sell general troop movements and to Callie they sell the general political situation. After obtaining a modest sum of money, the party continues on to Isti.

Olaf spends some time trying to find offers from other interested parties for the gryphon. While he still intends to sell the gryphon to the Marshtides, having proof that others would pay more may let his request to be adopted seem more reasonable. Unfortunately, he can’t find much on the legal side of things, and the underbelly of Isti has too many unsavory offers; just because he tried to ram the gryphon into a wall a few times doesn’t mean he wants it to live in a gladiator ring.

Miaoyu decides to put her forgery skills to good use and ‘acquires’ a few quotes from some nobles that the Marshtides are unlikely to have heard of. She passes them onto Olaf just in case he needs them.

En route to the Marshtide manor the party encounters a wrecked boat in the river. While no one is in immediate danger, the party spends the afternoon helping out. When they saddle up to leave, Aelron stays behind to continue helping. He catches up the next day.

Finally, the party enters the swampy area of Drougant, where the Marshtides live. On their way into the manor, they notice a jawless skull: a symbol of Ashur. It appears a clan of Ashurites has taken up residence, which is definitely an area of concern given that Ashur is the god of predatory undead, slaughter, and violent death. The party makes note of it before finally reaching the manor.

Flynn and Seeker go off to find an inn in the small village surrounding the manor and Aelron and Olaf knock on the manor door; Miaoyu waits at the cart with Hhon-Harn, leery of conveniently arriving gryphon thieves.

As Aelron and Olaf approach the manor, they notice something odd: no one has hailed them. Usually, guards will ask the business of any who approach the gates of a manor, but none seem present. When they knock on the door of the manor, it’s answered by a little girl.

“Hello,” Aelron says to her. “We’re looking to speak to the lord of the house.”

She nods and gestures for them to follow, eventually coming to a well-dressed man.

“Yes? What can I do for you?” the man asks.

“Well,” Olaf says, “we saw your request for a gryphon and, uh, we got one for you.”

Lord Marshtide raises a single brow. “Really? Well do show it to me, then.”

They lead him back to the cart and Lord Marshtide looks suitably impressed. “It really does appear to be in exquisite condition. Very well, come with me. I’ll show you where its pen is.”

Soon, Hhon-Harn and Olaf are carrying the gryphon into the pen and Aelron asks for more information about its living conditions. The lord shows him around and displays adequate knowledge on the care required for an animal like this; it’s clear either he did the research personally, or had someone do it for him.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Olaf huffs as he finally hauls the gryphon’s hind legs into the cage, “why did you want a gryphon?”

“Oh, my daughter asked for one,” Lord Marshtide says with disinterest, as if this was as normal as asking for a puppy.

“She’s not going to try to ride it, is she?” Miaoyu asks, eying its wicked-looking claws.

“Oh heavens, no. It’s just for show. Now then, onto payment. I’ll return in a moment—”

“About payment,” Olaf cuts in. “I have a request for you. I want to become a priest of Laeros, but I need a title. Back home, I’m the son of a king, but that doesn’t mean anything here. If I could, I’d like to be adopted. I wouldn’t require any inheritance, just a title.”

Lord Marshtide gives it a moment’s thought and finally nods. “I do have a few titles I could dust off for you, and it’s the least I could do to reward someone who brought me a gryphon in such pristine condition.”

Olaf eventually picks out the title of Sir Faraway (pronounced fara-way, not far-away; it’s an important distinction), and commences a brief knighting ceremony.

“So, Lord Marshtide—”

“Malcolm, please, my vassals always call me Malcolm.”

“Right. Malcolm, we noticed that some Ashurites had set up a territory not far away. Do you want us to clear it out?”

“Oh, goodness, I hadn’t heard that such cretins were fouling up my home. Yes, do please get rid of them. Thank you.”

And so this chapter ends, filled with intentions for a bit of religious cleansing. Yay?

ReaderAt2046
2014-03-13, 11:12 AM
Is this still happening?

The_Werebear
2014-03-13, 12:30 PM
We're still playing, and Dawnflame was having me recollect some details from past sessions a few days ago. I'll check in and see how the wordsmithing progresses

AverageSparrow
2014-03-13, 01:32 PM
It is still happening. A new chapter should be up in just a little bit, actually, and hopefully the next few will be not far behind.

AverageSparrow
2014-03-13, 02:11 PM
Olaf, having received instruction to clear out the Ashurites, suggests that the party get right down to business. Aelron begs off briefly, wanting to ascertain for himself that the gryphon's habitat will be entirely safe and satisfactory for both the gryphon and its keepers. He ducks out briefly, promising to catch up as soon as he can.

The rest lay out their attack plans for the Ashurite cult's compound. “I will ask them to recant,” Seeker asserts, “and if they don’t, then we kill them. Ashur is a god of disease; I am bound to put an end to his influence.”

“I'll take point,” Miaoyu volunteers. “We could do with a bit of recon.”

Flynn chuckles. “Sounds like a fantastic idea. I'll shadow you and be ready to provide cover if they spook.”

Miaoyu glares at him. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Flynn.”

With the closest thing they ever have to a plan in place, the group heads back up the road to where they saw the Ashurite cult's totems. Seeker leaves his robes behind; although they are enchanted to never stain, if blood that Seeker has shed himself touches them, it will leave a mark. Olaf, Seeker, Hhon-Harn and Keegan hang back with the horses, none of which want to advance into this particular section of swamp. Miaoyu cautiously picks her way forward, Flynn a few paces behind her and keeping to high ground wherever he can.

Eventually a small palisade-walled structure comes into view tucked between a few short hillocks, mostly hidden from outside view by trees. Flynn climbs one of the trees for a better angle as Miaoyu advances. The logs making up the palisade are sharpened to blackened spikes at the top, and some of them have had once-living bits mounted on them: preserved heads, mostly-rotted skulls, and hands, among other things. The smell is nearly enough to knock Miaoyu off her feet in a swamp; it's doing wonders for the resale value.

The palisade is a rough square with a single entry gate on the near side, currently shut and probably barred. There are two archers visible in the towers, which suggests that the cultists, while brazen, are not stupid, and are watching for intruders. Miaoyu guesses that the wall encloses enough space to hold ten to sixteen people, depending on how good they are at wedging in bunk space.

Satisfied with her work, she begins retreating the way she came and, after collecting Flynn, joins the main group and tells them what she saw.

Olaf looks to Flynn. “I was thinking we storm the gate.”

Flynn raises an eyebrow at him. “As opposed to what, tunneling?”

Olaf sighs. “I dunno, ladders? There are only sixteen of 'em in there, if we can hold the gate, we should be able to take them down a few at a time. About how wide was the gate, Miaoyu?”

She shrugs. “Call it ten feet? Fifteen at the outside.”

Olaf gestures at himself and Hhon-Harn, speaking mostly to Flynn. “So, the two of us hold the gate with you and Seeker and Miaoyu behind us, and Aelron whenever he deigns to grace us with his presence. Sounds solid to me.”

“Actually,” Miaoyu says thoughtfully, “That camp was a pretty dark space. I think I can get in behind them and wreak a little havoc in their backfield, keep them from bringing their full strength to bear on the gate.”

“Sounds great, if it's not too risky,” Seeker says. “I won't be able to heal you if you get in trouble.”

Miaoyu pulls a healing potion out of a seemingly ordinary fold in the fabric of her coat. “I'll be fine,” she says, waving it briefly before disappearing it into her garments again. No one is quite sure what pocket it's in, or if it's even IN a pocket.

Olaf instructs Hhon-Harn (who by now has learned the basics of Common) to stay at his side during the battle (for mechanical reasons; fighters gain a bonus to AC when standing next to each other). He takes a couple of practice swings with his new sword and shield—adopted as the weapons of his new liege lord—attempting to ascertain his reach and optimum swinging power. As the group approaches the front gates of the complex, Olaf sets Scuzzbucket on Miaoyu's shoulder so she can signal the group via the familiar bond when she’s in position.

Miaoyu slinks to the far side of the base easily enough and takes up residence between the two rear watch towers, now occupied by archers as well. Kneeling behind the wall of the tower, she racks a bolt in her crossbow and taps Scuzzbucket twice.

Outside the compound, Olaf nods to Hhon-Harn, who sets her shoulders, marches forward, and with a bellowing grunt, attempts to batter down the gate. She doesn’t have much success; the gate is closed with a crossbar and refuses to budge. She has, however, gotten the Ashurites’ attention.

“Who goes there?” a wheezing, croaky voice calls from within the complex.

“I am a Purifier of Larlon!” Seeker calls back. “Recant now and be spared!”

The voice from inside croaks a wicked laugh. “A Purifier, eh? Let him in, boys!”

The bar on the gate draws back and the gate itself flings wide in one smooth motion. Say this for the Ashurites, they've got some style. Four men in what appears to be leather armor stand in the open gate with terrible, blood-stained grins plastered across their faces and weapons in their hands. The archers in the forward towers are nocking arrows and drawing. At the courtyard's center, a large lizard of some sort hisses impatiently as it catches the scent of fresh prey. Flanking the lizard are a pair of men who appear to be priests of Ashur—one young and robust with a large, wickedly spiked blood-caked mace, the other aged and desiccated-looking with what appears to be a ritual dagger clutched in his nigh-skeletal hands—cackle with delight.

“I've got your recantment right here,” the younger priest calls, hefting his mace like a bat.

Not waiting for any further invitation to battle, Olaf cries out “For Laeros!” and charges in with Hhon-Harn, swinging his sword into the head of the nearest Ashurite. Flynn takes a stand behind Olaf, levels his finger at one of the cultists and puts an eldritch bolt between its ribs.

From her hiding spot in the brush, Miaoyu joins in the battle and takes a shot at one of the enemy archers in the rear towers. She misses. Her shot goes SO far wide, in fact, that none of the cultists have any idea she’s there. She takes a moment to wallow in shame and misery. (To put this into full context, Miaoyu rolled 2d20 to hit her target from stealth and would take the better of the two rolls. She rolled natural ones on both of them.)

Ashur's priests, meanwhile, have started some sort of chant; their lizard scrambles forward and lunges at Olaf, opening wide to reveal a maw of sharp, shredding teeth and yet ANOTHER disgusting scent to add to this lovely swamp potpourri. Olaf manages to get his shield up in time, if only barely, and the lizard bites down on its rim, hissing in fury, its forked tongue lashing around the shield's rim. The four Ashurites as the gate crowd in on Olaf and Hhon-Harn, and the priests, finished with their chant, move forward to join them.

Seeker feels a spell, the result of the priests' chant, settling over all the cultists. He has a very, VERY bad feeling about this.

Seeing ALL the cultists converging on them, Olaf and Hhon-Harn take a step back and Olaf drinks from his bull horns, unleashing a 30-foot cone of fire. The front-line cultists immediately fall, blackened and sizzling, and Olaf shouts triumphantly. The elder priest, however, simply laughs scornfully, unfazed by the wash of fire. The younger priest and the lizard escape the fire entirely, having moved to one side to get around the crowd at the gate.

Once she has subdued her shame, Miaoyu takes another shot and lands a hit this time. The tower archers whirl around, abandoning their shots on Olaf and Flynn to find this new threat. Seeing only darkness, one of the rear archers (the one WITHOUT arrows in their shoulders) shrugs and returns to his attacks on Flynn. The other, spooked, drops prone and abandons his companions below. The other archer quickly comes to regret his choice of ignoring his companion’s distress—he finds an arrow in his back as well. He decides his buddy has a good idea, and drops to the floor of the tower as well.

Olaf's triumph is short-lived: one of the burnt corpses clambers back to its feet, wheezes, and swipes suddenly clawed hands at Hhon-Harn.

“Of course we had to attack right after dinner,” Olaf grumbles. Ashur is an undoubtedly evil god; he espouses cannibalism, extends his protection and blessings to predatory undead, and encourages wanton slaughter. Why does he espouse cannibalism, you ask? Why, because if you die with the flesh of a fellow sentient in your stomach, there's a chance you'll become a ghoul after you die! Ordinarily the transformation isn't quite so immediate or guaranteed, but considering that's an altar to Ashur over there and those priests just threw some unknown spell on all the cultists... it's actually totally believable.

Rule 1: Nothing is ever simple.

The older priest steps closer to the party and those in his presence are forced to make a fort save versus poison. Seeker and Hhon-Harn fail it. Hhon-Harn is reduced to -3 hit points and retreats. Hhon-Harn, as a boarfolk, is in no immediate danger of bleeding out: she has the trait Too Dumb to Die, so she auto-stabilizes when reduced to negative hit points (though she still dies at negative ten). Fortunately, Flynn steps forward to take Hhon-Harn’s place next to Olaf and they both begin working on cutting down the priests and their ghouls. The two of them start off with solid hits on the elder priest, who dies in the middle of a wheezing laugh and crumples atop the already-twitching corpses of his comrades.

Miaoyu gets tired of this sniping business and shadowwalks to one of the rear towers, where the archer she hit last round is cowering. He has enough time to let out a terrified shriek before Miaoyu puts a bolt through his eye socket.

His friend in the other rear tower catches a glimpse of her and starts shouting, alerting all the cultists and particularly the other remaining archer—the one in the other front tower—to her presence. The two front archers leap from their towers and sprint toward Miaoyu's rear tower, attempting to catch her and end her rampage. Unfortunately for them, Miaoyu isn't out of temporary hit points yet; she shadowwalks over to the newly abandoned front tower at the far end of the compound and puts a bolt between the shoulder blades of the archer who was, a mere moment ago, charging straight at her. She manages a quick snap shot at the last remaining archer, but only tags his upper arm. He drops his weapons and continues running, squeezing through a gap in the rear wall, and Miaoyu decides not to give chase. Only one archer remains, but he had been looking rather pale last she saw of him, so Miaoyu decides to let well enough alone and turns her attention to the battle at the gate.

Meanwhile, Seeker casts Suggestion on the lizard, points at the corpse of the elder priest and says, “Doesn’t that look tasty?” One failed will save later, the lizard has clambered on top of his body and quite literally ripped his face off. Olaf and Flynn finish off the last of the ghouls that have risen up and begin to focus on the younger of the two. Right about then, Aelron comes jogging up the complex (or, more accurately, his player arrived just in time to help wrap up the battle) and squeezes past Olaf for a better vantage point. He takes a look at the lizard and calls out: “Oh, lovely. An Ashur Lizard. Their mouths are festering pits of disease. Don't get bit.”

By that time, the lizard has finished snacking on the former priest and Seeker's Suggestion has worn off. The creature decides that Flynn would make an excellent dessert, especially since he isn't wielding a shield.

Fortunately, the party is on top of things: Aelron casts burning hands at the same time that Miaoyu takes a shot from the tower. Seeker, of all people, finishes off the lizard with a magic missile. At the same moment, Olaf decapitates the last remaining priest, and the complex seems to be cleared of threats.

Miaoyu takes advantage of her perch and scans the complex for signs of anything the party might have missed and notices something odd around the central area where the shrine to Ashur is located. After a moment, she realizes that it’s a concealed pit trap and alerts the rest of the party.

Olaf tosses a corpse onto the trap cover and the ground crumbles inward, revealing a pit of spikes and waist-deep mud populated by ghouls that rush forward to eat the body. Aelron hands Miaoyu a couple of incendiaries. “Those should handle the ghouls,” he says, shuddering, “WITHOUT requiring us to go wading in the spike pit.” Miaoyu has Olaf drag over a couple more cultist bodies, pops the grenades in their mouths, triggers them, and hucks the bodies into the pits. The ghouls rush to the corpses to feed, and the spellforms explode. End of ghouls, end of rotting cultist corpses. Efficiency.

Miaoyu then heads out to find Hhon-Harn. The boarfolk girl hasn’t gone far, only to the road, where she’s calmed down and Keegan has given her some bandages. Miaoyu informs them both of the party’s victory, passes Hhon-Harn a healing pill, and heads back to the complex.

Olaf takes inventory of the items the Ashurites had on them and offers a chain shirt to Hhon-Harn. Flynn, meanwhile, looks around the complex until he find an unconscious archer, the one that Miaoyu shot. He’s quickly bound up and his wounds are tended to and while the party waits for him to wake, Seeker desanctifies the altar and the rest of the party sets the towers on fire. Olaf takes Young and Robust’s head, just in case there was a pre-existing bounty on him.

Eventually, the archer wakes up and, taking in the apparent death of his comrades and his obvious capture, looks a little less than pleased.

“Will you recant?” Seeker asks patiently.

“Well, it seems like a good idea right now, doesn’t it?” the archer snaps back.

Seeker asks him to take the Oath of Turmlar to ensure he isn’t lying and to solemnly swear to renounce his worship of Ashur and to seek redemption. The archer does so without hesitation, even as he glowers at the party. It’s important to note here that the Oath isn’t infallible. While he is definitely being honest in renouncing Ashur and seeking redemption, word choice can be important—like all spells, it is unintelligent and does not understand nuances. His definition of redemption may be different than Seeker’s, and renouncing Ashur doesn’t guarantee he will worship a more socially acceptable god. Additionally, there is nothing to stop him from going back on his word later, although doing so would earn him the disfavor of Turmlar, and might get a Turmlarite sicced on him.

The party returns to Malcolm with their prisoner and a lovely decapitated head. “Just... bury the head in the rose garden, would you? As for the prisoner... I’ll leave his fate up to you.”

With that, the party voted for the prisoner’s fate. Miaoyu chose to abstain, Seeker voted to spare him, and Aelron and Flynn chose to execute him as justice for those he’d killed.

“If I had known it would come to this,” Olaf tells the prisoner, “I would have killed you before you woke up.”

He gets an eyeroll in response; when Seeker offers to perform his last rites, he gets a glower that seems to say ‘no’ in the most impolite way a glower can.

Not long later, his head is buried in the rosebushes. The other head is fed to Scuzzbucket, who actually takes on the head’s appearance while eating it. It’s horrifying.

That evening, the party discusses its next course of action. Everyone is universally interested in the Huroc presence in Drougant, though each for their own reasons, and it’s agreed that the party needs more information. Since the Huroc will apparently be entering Drougant from the east, the party makes plans to head in that direction, stopping at Orshariton, then Hangtree, and then onto Brand for various supplies and spell components before moving on to reconnaissance.

The party sets out the next morning for Orshariton, and the conversation mostly consists of Olaf asking Flynn questions about Drouganti politics. It ranges from mind-numbingly boring, to deeply amusing, but by the time the party arrives at Orshariton, Olaf has a decent grasp of how Drougant functions as a political entity (not very well, but better than some).

The party is welcomed into the Dwarven hold of Orshariton, offered beds to sleep in and food to eat. Miaoyu is looking forward to enjoying dwarven food this time around—until she realizes that all the meat is goat and temporarily becomes vegetarian. (“Don’t eat that!” she tells Lajiao when she tries to eat roast goat. “I won’t have you be a cannibal. Here, have this table cloth.”)

Before they set out, they go about choosing their quarterly goat and decide that it’s Olaf’s turn to pick one out. He eagerly asks about heraldic goats and is presented with a goat with a beautiful baritone voice. Unfortunately, as impressive as it is, the party finds they cannot justify having one, and settle for a watch goat instead. This one is normal sized, not tiny like Lajiao, and has normal sized horns. It also doesn’t seem to blink—at least, not when anyone’s looking.

At Hangtree, the party decides to stay for just a couple of nights: they don’t want to wait too long to start investigating the Huroc threat. Olaf grabs some cheap paints from Wallace the alchemist and sits down to paint his shield with his new coat of arms: the symbol for the Knight of Faraway (a curved green arrow on a white field), the symbol for Hollowchest (a red heart on a white field with a black hole in the heart), a steaming pie on an argent field, and a black field.

Aelron finds him sitting on the clubhouse floor with cheap paints all around him and sighs. “That paint won’t last, you know,” he says.

“Wallace said these were water resistant!” Olaf protests, gesturing at the paints around him.

Aelron nods. “They are. I've worked with those. There are two problems. The paint is oil-soluble, which means any time it contacts your skin or an opponent's, it'll smear. And the water-resistant trait means that when it's not properly oiled and cared for, it dries out horribly and chips and looks awful. What you want for a wooden shield like that is some nice stains; those just color the wood and can't be gotten out with much short of bleach.”

Crestfallen, Olaf looks down at his shield. “I don't think Wallace has any of those.”

Aelron smiles. “I've got some. Let me get them and show you how to work with 'em.”

In a matter of minutes, Aelron has retrieved his wood resins and stains, laid out a new, more intricate pattern for each of Olaf's insignia, and begun staining the detailed imagery while Olaf works on the background colors. He throws in a bit of magic as well, both protecting against weather damage and animating the images so that occasionally the hollow-chest heart beats, the wafting steam above the pie shimmers tantalizingly, and the Faraway arrow flashes brighter.

On their first full day in town, Flynn is approached by Baroness Hangtree. “The garden out back,” she says. “A localized cluster of plants is dying.”

“Oh. Right,” Flynn says. “Olaf buried some antimagic out there. I’ll get him to take care of it.”

Soon, Olaf is digging up his stacked jars and pulling out the tiniest one with tongs. Then he tries to tie the jar to the tongs before Miaoyu, who has been enjoying his efforts, throws up her hands and says, “Oh, I’ll take it!”

“But your magic!” Olaf protests, but Miaoyu’s already snatched up the jar without a care. After a bit of deliberation on where to take it, Olaf and Miaoyu go on a day’s journey to Dead Man’s Cove, where the party slaughtered a good many Dhar raiders so many months ago.

Seeker, meanwhile, has retrieved the Sunstone egg that the party received from the Kurushian augur and cast Identify on it. He learns that its function is ‘to hatch’, its name is Promise of Dawn, and that it is not cursed. He casts Phoraduk’s Orison, which tells the user if its target is dead, alive, or undead. It comes back as ‘alive’. He then begins casting Detect over and over again, each time with a different query. He learns that it is, in fact, a dragon egg. Since he knows that there are two categories of dragon, water and earth, he casts detect for eggs of water and dragon eggs. Both come back negative, to his puzzlement. Detect Kurushian Relic comes back positive and then, on a whim, he casts Detect Sun Dragon Egg. It comes back positive. He casts Detect Destiny and it, along with everything else in Seeker’s line of vision, comes back positive. Olaf and Miaoyu would presumably be negative, but they’re still out of town with the anti-magic trinket. Seeker throws around a few more Detects, but nothing comes back positive. (He does cast Detect McGuffin, but, alas, he gets only a spell failure. We all know the truth, though.)

Olaf and Miaoyu return the next day from the Cove, and Olaf draws a treasure map to the antimagic stone, stashing it in his pack. “It’ll be a great joke if someone kills me and decides to follow it,” he reasons.

As the two pass Seeker’s clinic, Miaoyu and Olaf overhear Seeker and Aelron talking about the egg. Olaf nudges Miaoyu. “Can I ask you something? I might not be too happy with you and your god right now, but I take it you still want to stop this prophecy?” At Miaoyu’s nod, he continues. “So do I. So can I ask you to not do anything with this egg? I think I can turn this prophecy on its head.”

Miaoyu gives him one of her smiles that don’t reveal a thing. “I’ll think about it,” she says.

Sorry for the long delay between updates! A combination of real life and procrastination has been slowing down your dear writers, but we'll do our best to get everything caught up soon!

The_Werebear
2014-03-31, 02:29 PM
Now that everything's back up, just want to say we're still running and major things (MAJOR) are developing.

Stay tuned.

AverageSparrow
2014-04-05, 04:12 AM
Tam instituted a few minor changes to the system’s rules at the start of this session. Reloading times for crossbows have increased: it now takes a half action to reload a light crossbow (previously a free action) and a full action to reload a heavy crossbow (previously a half action), but to balance this out, both get a significant boost in damage. Additionally, when ranged combatants are attacked by someone wielding a melee weapon, the attacker now gets an advantage. Miaoyu, liking her shoot-and-run tactics, switches out her crossbow for a regular bow (although she swaps out its string for the unicorn hair bowstring she was using with the crossbow), and Flynn lends her his rapier, as he has little use for it.

As the party prepares to move onto Brand, Miaoyu gathers them up at the clubhouse table. “We should talk about what we want to do with this egg. We shouldn’t just do nothing.”

“I assume you have a suggestion?” Olaf asks.

“We could use the anti-magic shard. Either smash the egg open with the shard or bury them together.”

Olaf nods thoughtfully. “Well, let’s go back to the cove—”

“Actually,” Miaoyu says, reaching into her pocket. “I have it here.” She holds the shard out to Olaf. He glares at her and snatches it out of her palm.

“You brought it back with you? Well then what did we leave at the cave?”

“An empty jar.”

“And here I trusted you,” he snaps.

Miaoyu shrugs and turns back to the rest of the group. “Alternatively, we could put it on another plane. Maybe give it to the Mother of Dragons?” She glances at Aelron.

Aelron ponders it for a moment. “Just getting to her—whatever plane she's on—would be difficult. Even if we could manage it, I don’t know if she would take this. It already belongs to a different god.”

They brainstorm for a while, trying to think of some other satisfactory resolution, but get nowhere.

“I guess I should be upfront about this,” Miaoyu says. “If we don’t do anything now, that’s fine, but when that thing hatches, I’m sundering its fate. And this isn’t up for debate. It might kill me, but I’m doing it.”

“You’re willing to die for this?” Flynn asks. “Why?”

Miaoyu rolls her eyes. “It’s almost like I worship the god of defying fate.”

Flynn raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, but this seems a little extreme, even for you.”

Miaoyu just shrugs.

Aelron muses quietly: “You know, I have to wonder what would happen if you tried to sunder the fate of something quite that tightly wrapped in prophecy.”

“Does it matter?” Miaoyu asks.

“Well, it could. Imagine for a moment wrapping this egg,” he holds up the sunstone egg, a glittering gem nearly the size of his own head, “in layer after layer after layer of silk. Wrap it tightly so there's no slack in the fabric and it can't escape. Tie it with several sheets and suspend it in the air. Now, cut all the fabric at once. What happens?”

“It... falls?” Olaf guesses.

“Silk everywhere,” Flynn supplies. “Snarled and wound and probably knotted.”

Aelron nods. “The egg will be dropped immediately out of fate's web, but what happens to that web which was bound so tightly about it? All that potential energy has to go somewhere. I'm guessing there would be quite a bit of backlash, though I have no idea what form it would take.”

“I’m doing it,” Miaoyu repeats.

“Warn us first, please,” Aelron says quietly.

The party soon drifts off after that, finishing their packing. Aelron takes possession of the egg, and Olaf wraps his red arm in bandages, binding the anti-magic metal to his arm. The next morning sees them back on the road, headed to Brand.

That first evening, while on watch, Seeker notices a strange scent on the air: something searing and acidic. He sniffs carefully, trying to sort it out. It takes a moment, but finally he discerns two scents: one the sickly sweet of rotting flesh, the other the pungent bite of sulfuric vapor. He peers around, wracking his brains; this isn't like anything HE's ever smelled before. He moves back to the center of camp and nudges Olaf awake.

Olaf lunges upright with a mumbled “Who 'zer?” and a feeble swing of a dagger.

Seeker puts a finger to his lips. “Smell that?” he asks.

Olaf looks up at Seeker, tests the wind with his nose, and stands. “That is awful. What IS that?”

As if in answer, two hulking creatures lumber into the dim firelight. They're each between seven and eight feet tall, and appear to be large, bloated corpses. It looks—and smells—like someone killed a frost troll, and then animated its corpse, and then had that corpse run around decaying and putrefying in the noonday sun. Pustules, gaping holes in flesh... it's not pretty. And it reeks clear to the dome of the sky.

Seeker lets out a howl that startles the rest of the party awake. Everyone scrambles for their weapons and springs into battle. Aelron and Hhon-Harn peel off to fight one monster, while Olaf, Miaoyu, and Flynn focus on the other. Seeker, as always, stands in the center and lays down a Circle of Protection. Keegan scrambles away from the combat zone and hides near the horses.

“They’re some kind of undead,” Aelron calls over his shoulder as he whirls his staff to keep it between himself and the... shambling thing. “Not ghouls. Rot trolls, I think. Servants of Ashur.”

It turns out that killing a god’s followers and desecrating his altar makes a god cranky. Who knew?

Miaoyu opens the fight with a crit on one of the trolls and the others pepper the trolls with damage. One of the trolls sucks in a huge breath and lets it out as a noxious gas. Everyone has to roll a fortitude save—only Flynn and Aelron succeed, and how does the damn mage with a +0 toughness keep making these rolls, anyway?—and those who fail lose a half action until they either make the save or move out of the gas.

Aelron and Seeker both immediately cast Friendly Wind. Aelron keeps his blowing in his troll’s face to keep it from using its breath weapon again and Seeker simply clears out a patch of untainted air for the rest of the group to stand in.

Unfortunately, around this time the party realizes that the trolls are regenerating. None too surprising: trolls traditionally can only be damaged by fire or acid. Aelron takes this as his cue to break out Burning Hands, but the other part of the group has to settle on just holding out until he’s no longer preoccupied; Olaf's Combusti-Bull horns have been rendered useless by the anti-magic shard he carries, and Seeker doesn't have any fire spells prepared.

Aelron follows up his Burning Hands spell by punching the troll before him. The troll glances down, confused, only to find Aelron smiling beatifically as he withdraws his hand from the pus-oozing wound he forced it into, leaving behind a spell-grenade half-embedded in the creature's flesh. Aelron himself has fire resistance and so suffers no harm when the spell detonates savagely, but Hhon-Harn wasn't prepared. She gets more than a little singed, but bears through it stoically. She takes a brave swing at the troll and lands a crit—only to roll a natural one on damage. It was a valiant effort, though.

It’s around this time that a troll lands a crit on Olaf for 20 damage. This is also the moment that Miaoyu and Seeker both become dedicated healers; because Olaf is holding the antimagic shard, their healing is reduced by 10 points or 50%—whichever is more, so it requires both of them just to keep him barely in the positives.

Keegan starts panicking; between the suddenness of the attack, the noxious fumes, the gouts of flame strobe-lighting the night, and Olaf's grunts of pain, he can't take it anymore. He grabs his horse, Booky, and takes off.

The battle continues on for a while longer. Aelron grimly barbeques his troll while Flynn and Olaf chip away at theirs, Seeker and Miaoyu play medics, and Friendly Winds gust around and change direction every so often. Eventually, Aelron’s troll collapses into an ashen heap and ceases trying to regenerate.

The other troll goes down... but doesn’t quite die. Its pieces keep skittering back together, and it’s at this point that we learn that all of the trolls' hit points need to be depleted by fire damage in order to kill them. Aelron grabs a torch and begins beating the mostly-subdued troll pieces into embers while Olaf, still venting excess wrath, continues hacking them apart whenever they try to reassemble into something dangerous. Olaf eventually has the idea of stabbing the still-wriggling pieces with the anti-magic shard, which does in fact kill some of them. Between the two of them, the troll remains are in for a rough night.

Trusting that the situation is under control, Flynn and Miaoyu leave to find Keegan. He hasn’t gone far, but he’s flushed with embarrassment for running.

“It’s okay to be afraid,” Flynn tells Keegan. “Fear is just your body's way of telling you that it thinks something is a horrible idea.”

“Running isn’t bad,” Miaoyu adds. “Sometimes it’s the best you can do.”

It’s around this time that it’s agreed that Hhon-Harn should get a share of experience so she can continue being useful to the group. To commemorate this, Olaf collects himself, pats her on the shoulder, and says “Good job, friend.”

Once Keegan, Flynn, and Miaoyu return, camp is moved. It’s during this move that Olaf realizes that an old totem that Aelron gave him broke. The small chunk of enchanted marble gave Olaf an extra two hit points, which had been recorded on his character sheet; its effect should have been lost when he took up the anti-magic shard. He forgot about it, though, and thus, when the error was discovered, it was deemed that the amulet shattered under a hit from the troll, its magic intervening just enough to save Olaf's life as it crumbled.

Unfortunately, even after the party has moved camp, the smell of the trolls does not diminish. Instead, the party gets to enjoy the lingering, sickly-sweet reek of putrefying flesh. No amount of scrubbing, Prestidigitating or clothes-changing can remove or even mask it. The stink is thoroughly embedded in the party's collective hides, and refuses to come out.

Seeker takes a moment to cast Diagnose on each party member, and finds that Flynn and Olaf have been infected with a disease that will necrotize their flesh. Seeker heals Flynn immediately, but Olaf refuses to let him attempt it.

Seeker's disease removal tool, for those who may not remember, is a divine spell granted to him by Larlon. In order to use it, Seeker has to sacrifice 3d6 reserve hit points. After the battle, which drained him, and after curing Flynn, Seeker is nearly in danger of dying from another casting. Olaf, still under the effects of the anti-magic, will be resistant to even friendly spells cast upon him; risking Seeker's life when they aren't even sure the spell will work, with Olaf in no immediate danger (Olaf's definition of danger, anway), strikes Olaf as a terrible idea.

“If you try to heal me,” Olaf asserts vehemently, “I will stab you. I’m dead serious! I don’t want you to waste your magic until I know it can affect me. If any of my arms DO necrotize and fall off in the night, Aelron can regrow them for me.”

Aelron, also drained from the fight, looks up with a vaguely bemused expression, but says nothing. Reluctantly, Seeker backs off and agrees to wait until morning. Olaf passes his anti-magic to Hhon-Harn for safe keeping.

Flynn has seemed a little more sullen than usual since the battle finished, and he insists on taking the rest of night’s watch himself. The smell from the trolls seems to have stirred up bad memories; he knows he won’t get any sleep.

In the morning, Olaf finds himself once again receptive to magic, and Seeker heals him before Olaf takes the anti-magic back.

Soon, the party is out on the road once again. Travel is rather uneventful until two days later when they see, in the distance, a towering column of black smoke. Fearing that a town has been attacked by raiders, the party hurries towards it. Sure enough, the source of the smoke turns out to be the still-burning husk of a small village. The ground is littered with corpses and splattered with blood, but other than hoofprints there are no immediate signs of the aggressors. The party splits up; Aelron puts out as many fires as possible, Olaf looks for more information about the raiders, Flynn and Seeker look for survivors, and Miaoyu makes a general sweep of the area. Before long, the party regroups, and Olaf breaks down what he thinks happened:

“My clan usually leaves townspeople alive when we go raiding,” he explains, “but if this clan was more violent or if the villagers fought back, it could explain why they killed everyone off. It looks like the raiders lost a couple of people, and once they finished pillaging, they took off, headed south. If we start going now, we might be able to catch up with them.”

“Do you want me to scout ahead?” Miaoyu asks, but Olaf shakes his head.

“If we wait for that, we might lose them. Let’s head out now.”

So head out our heroes do. A couple of hours' hard riding later, they come to a tall bluff overlooking the sea. A tiny footpath snakes down the face of the bluff to a beautiful, secluded sandy beach. And wouldn’t you know it, dragged up into that sand sits a big longship with a swarm of Dhar (a pillage of Dhar? Remind me to ask Olaf about that...) gathered around it, moving goods from a pile on the beach into the ship with the quick and easy efficiency of long experience.

Olaf decides now is the time for decisive action. Before anyone can object, he is rolling Athletics checks to, in three quick leaps from rock outcropping to rock outcropping, descend the cliff in a single round and stand before the other Dhar on the beach. It’s only when the raiders turn and draw their swords with easy confidence that he realizes he's made a big mistake.

See, Tam has two types of counters for enemies: smooth, round red tokens, which he usually uses to denote level 0 enemies, and jagged, angular red tokens usually used on special opponents, people level 1 and over. In this group of Dhar, there were two jagged tokens and the rest were smooth, so Olaf’s player assumed all the round tokens were level 0 and that he would have free actions against them. Had that been true, he would easily have been able to cut a swathe through them while the rest of the party supported him from above.

He was wrong.

These raiders are, in fact, all at least level one. All twenty-plus of them. And they swing smoothly into action, six of them shoving their weight against the longship to begin inching it out into the surf while the rest crowd around Olaf. One of them manages to introduce Olaf to his lovely, well-crafted sword in the first round. Olaf decides he might have misjudged his enemy and scrambles up the cliff to put some distance between himself and his enemies. By that time, the raiders have noticed the rest of the party at the top of the cliff. One, standing on the foredeck of the ship, casts a spell at the rest of the party. The air around them turns chill; moisture in the air condenses into shards of ice that whirl, jagged-edged, all around them; and the ground underfoot grows slick with ice. (“Hey!” says Aelron's player. “That's MY spell!”) It is indeed Winterfall, which means that this caster can natively hit second-level spells.

Oh dear.

The party scrambles away to a slightly warmer patch of air and start showering the raiders with arrows, spells, and the occasional insult. Seeker works to intercept the raider mage’s spells, but that only mitigates some of the attacks raining down on the party. Hhon-Harn takes a couple heavy hits from various ranged weapons and decides she’d rather go for a nice jog in a not-here direction. The raiders have taken to hurrying into the ship, abandoning their horses and cargo. Aelron charges Flynn’s arrow with an explosive, but Flynn overshoots and it goes off harmlessly to the side of the ship. Seeing that the raiders will be leaving soon, Flynn grabs an arrow from Miaoyu’s quiver and marks it, showing it to Miaoyu before he shoots it into the mast of the ship—just in case they want to find it later.

By this time most of the Dhar, having no immediate targets on the beach, have scrambled back aboard their ship. The last one left—a muscled young woman with blond pigtails protruding from under her skullcap and a wicked grin plastered across her face to match the wickedly sharp hand axes she carries—leaps onto the ship's retreating prow and, holding on one-handed, swings round to hurl one of the axes at Olaf, clipping him on the shoulder. She laughs and waves her remaining handaxe at him.

“You can keep that one!” she calls.

“I’ll return it to you someday,” Olaf shouts, waving a bronze dagger back at her.

She laughs again, but doesn't get to say much else; an eldritch bolt strikes her in the chest, sending her tumbling backward onto the longship's deck. Whether she survived the hit is not for the party to know; the ship pulls away rather swiftly, and even with the height advantage of those on the bluff, no one can see her rise before they are well out of range.

The party sets about looking through the raided goods, but doesn’t find much worth salvaging. They gather up the horses—a total of twenty-four in addition to their own small herd—and return to the village. They dig a mass grave and Seeker performs a funeral rite, and they press on.

That evening, Olaf sees a number of soldiers approaching, looking to be on routine patrol. He stands and greets their commanding officer.

“Be careful,” the officer warns. “There’s word of a group of raiders around here. We’ve been sent to check it out.” The officer’s eyes flick suspiciously towards their obnoxious herd of horses, and Olaf hurries to put his worries at ease.

“We ran into them, actually. They raided a village west of here. Killed them all. Two hundred villagers. We followed them to their boat to deliver them justice, but they got away. We took their horses. I hate to sound crass but... is there any way we could collect a reward?”

The officer hums thoughtfully for a moment. “Tell you what: I’ll write out something for you. Bring those horses to the guard captain in Brandt, and if our investigation bears out your story, she’ll compensate you. Can’t make any promises, though; those horses are evidence.”

It’s more than what Olaf was hoping for, so he agrees and the captain pulls out a sheaf of paper to write something down in the dim firelight. He passes it to Olaf. “Anything else?” he asks.

Olaf considers waking Miaoyu to see if she can get anything from the arrow Flynn fired, but decides against it. Worshiping Gilgadar is perfectly legal, and her divine magic could probably be reasonably passed off as arcane besides, but he decides he’d rather not take any chances.

“No,” he says. “I just hope you catch those bastards.”

The party continues on to Brandt for the next few days... and the rotting smell just won’t fade. The party tries a few magic tricks, bathing in streams, rolling around in dirt, but nothing works. At one point, Olaf strips down and scrubs himself with Scuzzbucket, even letting it eat his hair. Surprisingly, it’s a success. His skin is left rather raw and pink, but he doesn’t smell like death anymore. When he unwraps his arm, though, he finds something of a surprise: a hole has formed where the hid the antimagic, and the flesh surrounding it has turned ashen.

After a bit of a shock, Olaf takes it in stride. “Just one more day,” he reminds himself, and scrubs his arm with Scuzzbucket before rewrapping it with the antimagic back in place.

The next day, the party arrives in Brandt. Olaf immediately sets about looking for someone to take their excess horses and gets well-acquainted with bureaucracy. The others find themselves a nice bathhouse in one more attempt to rid themselves of that horrible, rotting smell.

Seeker does a bit of shopping in the rich district—for doggie shampoo. He finds a nice boutique and a salesman who’s happy to help him find shampoo that’s guaranteed to make his fur silky and get that horrible troll-stench out of his fur. Seeker politely declines the salesman’s ‘alternative’ services and proceeds to destinkify before going on to his other errands.

Miaoyu and Flynn both head to the poor district, but end up parting ways before long. Flynn seeks out a poker game to get a bit of pocket change and local rumors.

Miaoyu heads over to a local tavern called The Bottomless Mug, where she’s promptly greeted by the bartender. “Have you heard about our Bottomless Mug policy?” When Miaoyu shakes her head, he pushes a mug into her hands. “On the house,” he says.

She lifts the mug to take a sip—and finds it literally bottomless. The bartender bursts out laughing. “Gets them every time.” Miaoyu chuckles and gives the bartender a high five, and he passes her a real mug of ale this time. “So what brings you here?” he asks after she’s had a few sips.

“I’m looking for my ex. Have you seen an angry, purple elf? Goes by the name of Tsarae?”

The bartender’s face drops. “Oh. Her.” He jerks his thumb at the hallway behind him, leading to the inn’s rooms. “Second door on the left. Knock, then duck.”

Miaoyu gets up from her place at the bar and follows the bartender’s instructions, stepping carefully to the side after rapping on the door. The door opens and a dagger flies out, sinking into the wall beyond and then quivering there. A small elf with dark purple skin and a long, pale braid pokes her head out after a moment and catches sight of Miaoyu. “Oh,” she sighs, and gestures her inside. Miaoyu grabs the knife and follows.

This particular elf is a cave elf, a subrace of elves that live in the wilds of the Underdark (though they shouldn’t be confused with dark elves). They tend to be small in stature and have blue or purple skin tones; cave wolfmen are big, and more closely resemble bears than wolves. They’re semi-nomadic and are one of two subraces that have a cooperative relationship with their wolfmen, the other being low elves. Although they’re rare to see on the surface, they don’t face quite the same stigma a drow would: they have a significantly less sinister reputation, even if they’re a little less friendly than their surface-dwelling cousins—not to say that surface elves are the most outgoing lot.

“The wolves were a bust,” Tsarae says with a heavy sigh as she collapses onto her bed.

“Oh,” says Miaoyu stiffly. “Sorry.” Tsarae shrugs and the two endure a few seconds of awkward silence.

“So... want to stop a prophecy?”

“Depends. I....” Suddenly, Tsarae steps close and inhales deeply.

“Did—Did you just smell me?” Miaoyu stammers, then collects herself. “Oh. Yeah, we were attacked by some rot trolls.”

Tsarae pulls back, shaking her head. “Soap isn’t going to cover it up. C’mon, let’s go dunk you in the bay.”

Miaoyu considers it for a moment. “Okay.”

“And I’m putting fish heads down your shirt, too,” Tsarae adds as they leave.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party is conducting their own affairs. Aelron has headed up to the richer portions of the city to acquire a set of scented soaps and some nice cologne; he finds a lovely scent, stored in a hefty crystal bottle that could probably double as an improvised weapon. Practical and aromatic! After washing up—and feeling human for the first time in nearly a WEEK, thank you very much—he finds a jeweler and purchases a large, well-cut ruby with which to upgrade his staff. That in hand, he heads back to the inn to start enchanting.

Seeker, once he’s finished with a luxurious bath, also does more shopping. He goes to an elven silk weaver for some spell components: he plans to cast a divination spell on the amulet he recovered from the augur. Of course, he’s a wolfman going into a shop run by elves; it could end badly. Taking a deep breath, he ducks into the weaver’s shop, and rolls a reaction check. Fortunately, he does pretty well and the woman attending the shop maintains a polite demeanor, despite a slightly stiffer spine. Seeker gets the silk he needs and scurries quickly back to the inn.

Olaf, having defeated the evil forces of bureaucracy and acquired a bit of money for his efforts, sets about trying to find a talented blacksmith in Brandt. He meets a dwarven blacksmith named Lod and he shows her the shard of anti-magic metal. “You do specialty work, right?” he asks, and she looks over the chunk of metal, weighing it in her hands thoughtfully before nodding.

“Should be possible,” she answers in a thick accent. “I will contact you when it’s complete.” Olaf leaves her a hefty sum for “half now”, promising to pay yet another hefty sum later, when the shard has been integrated into a weapon, and is promptly shooed away. He leaves Lod to her work without asking a time estimate; he can see, with crystal clarity, the words ‘you cannot rush perfection' lurking behind her eyes.

Flynn, meanwhile, has been having a successful day of gambling. Not only has he been pulling in some decent cash, he’s been drawing out some interesting rumors from his gambling partners. People have been talking quite a bit about an ‘unending horde’ coming from the east and refugees fleeing ahead of it. Whenever Flynn tries to get to the source of the rumors, though, he’s told that they heard it from ‘a cousin of a friend of my sister’ or something similar.

At the bay, Miaoyu is learning several new things. 1) The bay is cold; 2) It’s also kind of disgusting; 3) Tsarae wasn’t joking about putting fish heads down her shirt.

“Did you have fun?” Miaoyu asks as she shakes out the fish heads and wrings out her shirt.

“You smell different now,” Tsarae announces. “Not better, but different. Like nature.”

“No,” Miaoyu disagrees, “Different is better. Anything's better than 'eau de death'.” Miaoyu spends a few moments trying and failing to get water out of her sopping clothes, then gives up. “So. Want to punch some Hurocs?”

“It’s not like I’ve got anything else going on,” Tsarae reasons.

“Great. I should introduce you to the others.” Tsarae makes an unethusiastic sound, but Miaoyu continues. “We’ve got two humans, a half-elf who’s on fire but not really, and a wolfman. Don’t worry, he’s nice,” Miaoyu adds at Tsarae’s ever-falling expression, “he likes to be scratched behind the ears.”

“They all like to be scratched behind the ears.”

“Really? Well, don’t worry. You might like Flynn. He’s an archer and... he gambles?”

Tsarae huffs. “I guess it could be worse.”

“That’s what I said!” Miaoyu agrees. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

And that’s how they find Olaf drinking at the tavern. He squints at Tsarae as she and Miaoyu sit down.

“You’re purple,” he observes.

“You’re not drunk enough,” Tsarae replies. “You can still discern color.”

Olaf narrows his eyes at Tsarae. “You wouldn’t happen to be one of those good-for-nothing, lousy, lying, spells-don’t-work Gilgadarites, would you?”

Tsarae gives Olaf a cool smile. “No.”

Olaf stares at her suspiciously and thinks hard. Well… she’s purple. Purple isn’t a Gilgadarite color, is it? Actually, he’s fairly sure Miaoyu said something about purple being completely un-Gilgadarian. Yeah.

Satisfied that this new, purple woman is being completely honest, Olaf turns back to his ale. Tsarae reaches over the bar, ignoring the bartender’s protests, and starts mixing up a drink, topping it off with something from a vial she pulls from her pocket. She slides it over to Olaf.

Olaf picks up the mug, but doesn’t drink from it, a suspicious look crossing his face.

“Don’t worry,” Tsarae says when he glances at her. “It probably won’t kill you.”

After a moment of contemplation, Olaf decides not to accept drinks from random purple people and puts the drink down, returning to his ale. After a moment’s thought, he pours some on Scuzzbucket; the poor little guy deserves to get smashed, too.

Tsarae shrugs and grabs the mug back, downing it in a single draw. She waves off Miaoyu’s concerned glance. “Cave elves are immune to poison.”

At that time, Seeker returns from his shopping trip and freezes when he sees another elf seated at the bar. Miaoyu waves him in. “You can unfreeze.”

Seeker reluctantly steps forward, extending a paw. “I’m Seeker. Purifier of Larlon.”

Tsarae gives him a once over. “A mage?” she says, a bit of scorn in her voice.

Seeker tilts his head. “What else would I be?”

Tsarae scoffs and turns away, but Seeker is nearly elated. “That might be the best conversation I’ve had with an elf in... a long time,” he mutters as he takes a seat next to Olaf.

By this time, Olaf has reached a new height in drunkness, and most of the other patrons, bartender included, have begun to move away from the dangerous loonies. Olaf begins sobbing over the deaths of the villagers; Miaoyu and Seeker try to reassure him, but he seems inconsolable with all the wonderful stubbornness of drunken oblivion.

Eventually, Flynn returns from his gambling and Aelron comes downstairs for a bite to eat, but they agree to postpone any decision-making until the next day; Olaf is far too drunk for any proper discussion. Tsarae is thoroughly unimpressed by Aelron, but finds Flynn almost acceptable. Seeker returns to his room to cast his divination spell.

The next day, the party reconvenes (after taking any necessary hangover cures). Other patrons are still avoiding them. Seeker draws himself up to begin speaking, but the party notices something off about his stance.

“I cast the spell last night,” he says. “I got results and I....” He holds up a scrap of paper for a moment, then passes it to Aelron. “I got glimpses of three moments, the most recent first.” Aelron reads it, then passes it onto the next person until the whole party has had a chance to read it (sans Tsarae, who reads over Miaoyu’s shoulder). It goes as follows:

1) Seeress – ‘Ah, the wolf has arrived. I should test them.’
2) Seeress – ‘Just what I need. Kurush will be pleased.’
3) Alfirin – ‘I hate him!’
The party extends their sympathies but Seeker pushes on. “We need to deal with the Huroc first,” he reasons. He glances at Tsarae. “I guess we should bring you up to speed. Aelron, if you’ll show her—” He stops when Olaf catches his eye and shakes his head slowly. “Um. Nevermind?”

Miaoyu rolls her eyes. “We have a sun dragon egg that’s supposed to hatch. It’s part of the prophecy.” Olaf shoots her a glare.

“Then why don’t we smash it?” Tsarae asks.

“That’s what I said!” Miaoyu exclaims. When Tsarae stands—presumably to acquire the egg and proceed to the smashing—Miaoyu adds, “But I was sort of outvoted.” Aelron has gone tense, one hand stealing toward his staff, but no one seems to have noticed, barring possibly Tsarae.

Tsarae slides back in her chair. “Oh, so you’re still ‘discussing’ things. I told you, sometimes things need to get done.”

Olaf stands, his chair clattering to the floor. “You know what? I’m sick of this. I’m going to fulfill the prophecy. I don’t even care anymore. What do I have to lose?”

“Them?” Tsarae says, gesturing to the rest of the party.

Olaf falters for a moment and Seeker takes advantage of his hesitation. “We need you. You’re clever and strong.”

Miaoyu seems to shake herself out of a daze. “You’ve saved us a lot of times.”

Olaf scoffs. “There’s not a single thing there that a two-bit mercenary couldn’t do. What use am I?”

Tsarae digs around in her pockets for a moment and tosses a coin out onto the table. “Well, there’s a bit. Does anyone have another? We can hire a mercenary and be done with it.”

Seeker gives the coin a skeptical look. “I don’t think we can hire a mercenary for that much,” he says.

Tsarae shrugs. “He must be worth more than two bits, then.”

“Oh, let’s just be done with this pep-talk party already,” Flynn cuts in. “I’m glad you’re finally taking the time to reflect and actually think through your actions and character and all that—really, I am—but when you’re done wallowing and remember what you’re really like and driven to do, let me know and we can move on. In the meantime, let me just say this: If you don’t like who you’ve been, be better.”

Then Flynn stands and leaves the tavern, and the rest of the party falls quiet for a bit. Olaf slides back into his chair.

A moment passes and Seeker stands, coming around to Olaf’s side of the table. “I’ve been thinking,” he says. “What if we don’t try to mess with the Huroc? What if we get evidence that they’re here? We can unite Drougant!”

Something lights up in Olaf’s eyes and he leaps to his feet. “Let’s be heroes!” he agrees, and he and Seeker begin talking excitedly until Flynn returns some time later.

“You still moping?” he asks Olaf as he unrolls a map. Olaf shakes his head; he's ready for action. “Oh, good,” Flynn says coolly. “I have information.”

The map shows the eastern portions of nominally-Drouganti land. There's a relatively narrow band of arable terrain that runs east-to-west between a set of mountains to the north and the Peri Sea to the south. Two rivers run from the mountains to the sea, one originating well to the west of its eventual destination, the other running almost directly north-to-south. There aren't many towns marked out on this map; most of Drougant's actual civilization is built up to the west. The easternmost river, the north-to-south one, marks the nominal edge of Drouganti territory; beyond is a vast land claimed by both the nation of Aurebesk and the Kingdom of Drougant, but policed and patrolled by neither.

Flynn runs his finger along the northern mountains, pausing on Demonsbreath Pass. “The north is calm, no word of Huroc there. All I've heard is that the Fey in the area are quiet. If that seeress can be believed, the Huroc are coming from here.” He points at the eastern no-man's-land beyond the river. “Let’s look along here and see if we can find anything to bring back.”

Tsarae leans over to look at the map. “I’ll look along here,” she says, indicating the northern section of the area Flynn pointed out.

“Makes sense,” Seeker says. “You two can find each other, right?” Miaoyu nods and Tsarae straightens.

“We can meet back here on the first of the third month. I’ll head out now,” she says and turns to leave.

“Take care of yourself,” Miaoyu calls after her.

Arrangements are made quickly: Olaf and Flynn commission a ship to sail the party to the east a ways and also provide passage back. Olaf also arranges for Hhon-Harn, Keegan, and their horses to stay in Brandt for a month and return to Hangtree if the party takes longer than that to return. He also pays shipping and handling to Lod, should it take her longer than a month to forge his anti-magic dagger.

Before long, the party has gathered onto the ship and set sail to try and find the Huroc.
Another chapter from the backlog! We promise to try to get the others up ASAP! We've got fun things in store for you all.

ReaderAt2046
2014-04-05, 03:59 PM
I have a theory on what happens if you sunder the egg's fate: a massive backlash of raw destiny, turning probability on its ear for miles and days. All arrows miss their target for pi minutes, every unmarried person in a certain village proposes to their sweetheart and gets accepted, an interplanar accident causes frozen turkeys to fall on and destroy every vampire on the continent, that sort of thing.

Mechanically, this could have affects like turning every attack roll in a certain battle into a natural 20 for a round, having all damage rolls be maximized (or minimized), etc.

Dawnflame
2014-04-06, 02:49 AM
That sounds like an awesome climactic scenario! Maybe we'll yet see if we can bring it about. Aelron is extremely uncertain about any such thing, of course, as sundering a normal dragon's fate will probably not do favors to the environment it protects, but (since this dragon doesn't seem to be connected to an environment) I don't think it'd hurt much in this case. And were that to happen, it would make for a very, VERY interesting battle.:smallbiggrin:

Fayd
2014-04-06, 09:56 AM
The counterpoint being that if the environment that this dragon protects is the sun itself... well... I'll just leave that hanging.

AverageSparrow
2014-04-06, 09:34 PM
The party acquires transport up the coast aboard a somewhat-less-than-perfectly-lawful transport vessel, as those tend to have the fastest transport times. Captain Ian asks the party to stay in their cabins for the duration of the trip, especially during the night.

Seeker furrows his brow and opens his mouth to inquire as to why, but Flynn holds up a hand.

“Don’t ask,” Flynn advises. Then, to Captain Ian, he recommends: “Don’t tell.”

Aelron feels vaguely offended, but doesn't know why.

With that matter settled, the voyage passes quickly and quietly. A few days later, the ship reaches the mouth of the easternmost river, the border over which the Huroc are supposed to have crossed (be crossing? Cross at some point soon? Who can tell with these augurs...), and most of the party is set ashore on the riverbank. As Flynn, Miaoyu, Seeker and Aelron are climbing into the launch, Olaf begs off.

“I’m going to head along the coast with Captain Ian a bit further,” Olaf says. “There are a number of Dhar settlements along here. I’m going to see if they’ve heard anything.” When Seeker begins to sputter worried sentence fragments, Olaf hastens to reassure him: “I should be fine; Dhar take guest rights very seriously.” Olaf's player was out of town for a business meeting this week, and thus Olaf himself was otherwise engaged.

Once ashore, the remainder of the party tries to determine which direction to head. Miaoyu attempts to use Locate Object to find Huroc holy symbols or war banners, Gilgadar is unable to assist. (“Reply hazy, try again later.”) After a few minutes spent thinking in circles trying to guess where the Huroc might be, the party finally decides to move up the river until they get results. If the Huroc HAVE reached the river, their path should be very clear and easy to find. If they have not, that should be reasonably easy to determine as well, and will indicate that a more easterly search is needed.

During Seeker’s watch the first evening, he hears a low, rumbling sound, originating back towards the river—almost as if something was making waves. That, though, doesn’t make much sense: waves, at least anything like ocean waves, don't naturally occur in rivers. Seeker wakes Aelron, but he can’t hear what Seeker describes and can’t tell him more than what Seeker has already surmised.

Come morning, the party continues north and vaguely east until they reach a very small town. Built well away from the river around a spire of rock, the town is quiet, slow-paced, and watched over only by the decaying remnants of a stone keep that gravity will, one of these days, seduce off the top of the rock spire. The party decides to take a look around and Flynn gets to chatting with one of the older townspeople.

“Anything interesting happen around these parts?” he asks.

The old man shrugs. “We’ll, it’s been pretty peaceful since the Aurbeski last came and destroyed our town and reduced everything to a pile of hot ashes. I haven’t seen anyone burn to death all year, so it must be a pretty good year.”

All of Flynn’s other inquiries give him the same general jist of quietness, with varying degrees of bitter wariness.

Eventually Flynn rejoins the party, the rest of whom were simply loitering nearby, as nothing resembling a public tavern could be found. “Is anyone other than me thinking we’ve been fed a load of hogwash about this prophecy?” he asks sourly.

“For what it’s worth,” Miaoyu says, “Gilgadar told me there was a prophecy.”

Flynn nods thoughtfully, and Seeker mutters to her, “Thank you for being honest.” Miaoyu gives him an awkward nod.

The party decides to go to the keep for a better view of the area. Up close, it's easy to see that the 'mortar' used in the construction of this building wasn't worthy of the name; gaps in the stonework allow clear view inside in obviously unintended ways, and it looks like sneezing inside the building might knock one or two stones out of the wall. Aelron raps on the door and after a moment a hatch slides back and the mayor, an elderly man, peers out at them.

“Hello,” Aelron says. “We’re passing through on the way to investigating a possible Huroc invasion. Have you—”

“Haven’t heard nothin’,” the mayor says.

“In that case,” Aelron says before the mayor can slide the hatch closed again, “can we go to the top of the tower and get a better look at the surrounding area?”

The man grunts his approval and opens the door for the party, leading them up to the tower. “Now if you don’t mind,” he says, “I’m going back to my dinner.”

Seeker casts a spell on the party to enhance the range of their eyesight; Aelron's Vision of Color enhances detail, and Miaoyu and Flynn begin surveying the area. Aelron, whose Spot mod is less than stellar (certainly lower than Miaoyu and Flynn's specialization of Awareness) whips up a quick elementalist ritual to 'grow' the stones of the tower into one another and reinforce its structure.

Eventually, Flynn and Miaoyu make out two pillars of smoke in the distance. Because the smoke is white rather than black, they surmise that it’s campfire rather than fires from pillaging, but it appears as if the Huroc have two camps—large ones, too—assuming these fires are from the Huroc at all.

Seeker and Flynn go about trying to spread word of a possible Huroc invasion. Seeker takes the theatrical route, standing in the town square, shouting about everyone’s inevitable doom. Flynn tries the more subtle approach, simply spreading rumors as he sees fit. Regardless, though, neither of them seem to impress the locals.

The party stays the night in town, finding spare rooms individually in the homes of townsfolk, and resumes their journey in the morning, heading directly east toward the pillars of smoke. Well, toward where the pillars WERE anyway. The journey is quiet without Olaf along, conversation reduced to terse scouting reports from Flynn and Miaoyu, quiet musings and occasional snippets of song from Aelron, and occasional sermons from Seeker.

As they walk, Flynn notices a strange pattern in a strand of trees. All around them, there is fairly dense tree cover; it's not quite a true forest, but little enough light penetrates the tree canopy that when a pure column of it falls in any one place it seems... odd. In the center of the pool of light is an empty circle of toadstools and short, apparently well-trimmed grass.

Miaoyu snaps her fingers as she sees it, grimacing as she tries to pin down her own memory. “Oh, I don’t quite remember what that is, but it’s definitely a fey thing,” she grumbles.

“It’s a pixie dancing ring,” Aelron supplies with a smile. “Moderately powerful arcane site with, as you say, definite fey leanings. Direct exposure to its magics without proper preparation—such as by stepping into the circle unwarded—can have any number of strange effects. I recommend we avoid it.”

And avoid it the party does, carefully stepping around it and leaving it behind.

The campsite is quiet that night, though occasionally the chatter of what sounds like tiny voices can be heard off in the shadows.

About an hour into the next day's march, Seeker's healer sense tingles: someone has placed a disease marker, a divine beacon that any confirmed Larlonite can sense. It's nearby, roughly one mile to the north of their path. No one argues with a change of course, and Seeker leads the way unerringly to a small farm.

The farm is a fairly simple affair: two small tilled fields, two small log cabins meant for human habitaion, and what looks to be a barn. There is the suggestion of a pasture on the far side of the barn and houses, fading into the treeline a few tens of meters away. Something's off, though. The fields look as though they haven't been worked in weeks; weeds grow rampant around their edges and even among the crops; there are no animals to be seen or heard, either in the pasture or the barn; there is no smoke from the chimney of either building, and there are no audible voices or signs of recent humanoid movement. The place looks deserted.

To Flynn and Miaoyu, that just screams “trap”.

Miaoyu slips off from the rest of the group, finding a nice clump of hedge from which she can watch unobtrusively and provide covering fire if necessary. Flynn, with Aelron and Seeker kept firmly and definitely behind him, goes up to the door of the nearest hut and knocks, stepping quickly aside in case the door is trapped. For a long moment, nothing happens. Flynn knocks again, harder this time, and faintly, he and Seeker can make out a raspy almost-voice on the other side of the door.

“We’re coming in,” Flynn calls out. Keeping up against the side of the building, he pushes the door open. Seeker, standing well back from the building, peers inside.

The structure has all the common features of a home: a fireplace, a dining table, and a bed. There's a quivering lump under the covers, occasionally emitting low, pathetic-sounding moans and wheezes. Seeker steps inside and moves to the bed, Flynn following, Aelron taking up position at the door. Seeker keeps up a steady stream of murmured comforting words (“We're here to help, everything will be all right,” etc.) as he places his hand on the lump of blankets and casts Phoarduk’s orison. Whatever is under there, it’s alive, which means this is less and less likely to be a trap with each passing second. Seeker pulls back the covers and finds a human male in his late teens. He casts Diagonsis and finds that, in addition to dehydration, malnourishment, and a variety of more mild conditions, the boy is plagued. He casts Restoration and clears the plague from the boy's system. He signals the all clear to Flynn, then settles in to tend to his patient. Flynn and Miaoyu move toward the second building while Aelron remains behind to keep an eye on Seeker..

The door to the second cabin is locked, but it's not exactly Fort Knox. Flynn kicks the door until the bolt snaps out of its housing, and cautiously swings the door inward. The place is empty. It looks like this might have been a building simply used for storage of tools and supplies, but if so there aren't any stockpiled here now.

Flynn moves on to the final structure, a small barn. The sickly reek of rotting flesh over stale hay fills the stagnant air of the barn, rising from the maggot-ridden corpses of a couple of cows and a goat. Behind the barn, Miaoyu finds seven graves, all marked with simple, whitewashed stones. These graves all look extremely recent.

The party regroups and Seeker does a quick Diagnosis on himself and his friends, just in case... and it's a good thing he did, because they're all plagued now. He decides to hold off on curing the plague until they're away from the farmstead, as it seems to be airborne and he doesn't want everyone to just catch it again. Miaoyu does a quick search of the first cabin for any valuables that the boy may want when he recovers; she finds a small purse behind a loose brick in the fireplace, but little else aside from that. When she's done and Flynn has carried the patient out of the hut, Miaoyu puts each building to the torch and Aelron uses ritual magic to ensure that the fires rage hot enough to extinguish any remnant of the plague, but don't spread to the nearby trees and trigger a conflagration.

Once they've put a reasonable distance between themselves and the farm, the party turns to Seeker. He casts Restoration on himself, Miaoyu, and Aelron—but as the spell to cleanse Aelron ends, he collapses, unconscious. Higher level divine spells draw from reserve hit points, and once those are gone, they draw from actual hit points. Despite being the thicker-skinned of the casters in the party, Seeker doesn't have many hit points, and each of those castings took 3d6 from him. And he rolled high every time. He's in the negatives, and out for the count.

Aelron, the party's backup healer, does a quick inspection. “He seems fine. Normal pulse, normal breathing, all that. No actual damage I can see. Possible minor head trauma from collapsing like that, but he's got a thick skull. He just needs to rest and get his strength back. It's happened before to divine casters and I'm sure it will happen again.”

“Well,” Flynn says resignedly, “I’ll just be over there.” He points at a cluster of trees a few tens of meters away and makes a solitary camp there. He carves a plague marker into one of the trees and settles in for the night.

“I’ll keep scouting,” Miaoyu says. “I’ll go out about a day and a half toward those smoke columns and then head back here.” She starts off, but then thinks better of something and turns back to Aelron. “I'm not taking Lajiao out into the unknown with me. Look after her?” Aelron nods absently, still trying to get Seeker's unconscious 8-foot bulk rolled onto his bedroll, and Miaoyu sets Lajiao down and points her toward Aelron. “Stay with him, okay? I'll be back in a couple of days.”

“Baaaaa,” Lajiao affirms warily, and with that, Miaoyu is off.

She makes relatively good time with the remainder of her afternoon, and finds a relatively good spot for a campsite, a cleft in a rock face with a decent view of the smoke columns. From this height she can see that the columns are rising from a pair of glowing camps: one an amorphous blob of firelight, the other a more patterned, precisely arranged set of glows slightly further away. She ALSO sees a column of black smoke rising from between the two camps before the sun sets. Fighting between the camps? Fire that got out of hand? Impossible to say at this distance. The night passes fairly uneventfully; Miaoyu hears what she thinks may be wolves, but they don’t come near her ‘camp’.

The next day, Seeker has recovered enough to perform basic tasks, but he and Aelron agree he needs at least one more day of rest before he can tend to Flynn. They spend their day tending to the young plague victim, helping him keep up a slow and steady intake of food and water.

Miaoyu, meanwhile, has approached enough to actually see the Huroc (or what she hopes is the Huroc, anyway... or maybe she doesn't, because that is an AWFUL lot of people out there). They appear to be moving in two distinct groups: one, the leading group, a vast, amorphous, disorganized mob of humanity, and the other, trailing them at a slightly more sedate pace, a regimented force marching in three columns. At the limit of her time and not confident enough to take a closer look, Miaoyu simply marks their location and direction of movement onto her map before turning around and heading back towards her companions.

That night is much more eventful than the last. Seeker hears a high-pitched giggling followed by a rhyme that basically comes down to, “You’re a walking disease magnet! Why don’t you infect someone else?” One failed will save later, Aelron wakes to Seeker shouting himself hoarse, hurling insults in Pack and Drouganti and every other language he knows at some unknown fey critter in the darkness at the edge of camp. Aelron sighs, gets up, talks Seeker down slowly, and takes over the watch.

At that same moment many miles away, Miaoyu wakes to find some sort of animal with glowing, yellow eyes towering over her. In a flash, she draws a dagger and stabs it just below the eye. It lets out a yowl and hurries off, deciding that this particular prey is too much effort. Miaoyu wipes her blade off and goes back to—oh, who are we kidding? She isn't going to sleep until she sees the rest of her party.

The next day, Miaoyu rejoins the group, and Seeker professes to feeling a bit better.

“I think I can heal Flynn now,” he says. “Then we can get going. If we hurry we can make the rendezvous with the ship and Olaf.”

“Forget the ship,” Aelron insists. “We need to make sure we end this plague here and now WITHOUT getting you killed. Wait one more night. Then you can take care of Flynn and we’ll know you can handle the journey.” Aelron is adamant because his player knows—as does everyone at the table—that Seeker is still in range of dying outright if he rolls high on his 3d6 to cast Restoration. Explaining to Olaf why they had to leave Seeker's corpse in the middle of a forest a hundred miles from anywhere sounds like ZERO fun to Aelron.

And so the party waits another night, and Flynn is asked to make a fortitutde save. Fortunately, he succeeds, which the party later learns means that he avoids Toughness drain. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean he’s not suffering ill effects. He spends the night shivering and vomiting, with no chance to rest. Still he’s had it much worse—like that time he was hung. This is no big deal, right?

The next day, Seeker has regained enough reserve hit points to be safe in Aelron's estimation and rushes to cast Restoration on Flynn, who thanks him meekly. Aelron burns out the area in which Flynn sat and stewed, and everyone is back in camp, cleansed of plague. Unfortunately Seeker is unconscious again, however, and the party must rest for yet another day, seriously putting their chances of reaching the ship in jeopardy.

To make matters worse, the rescued plague victim's condition is not improving. Even if the party had a full-blown hospital ready to hand, they'd have a hard time saving him; as it is, he probably won't survive a journey to anyplace with medical facilities more advanced than “walk it off, you big wuss”. To put in game terms, he failed enough Fort saves to reduce his Toughness to a two, which means his Toughness modifier is negative. His base HP at this point is -2, which means he technically CAN'T reach a stable point. While it would be theoretically possible to heal the toughness damage, it would require a ritual the caliber of which was used to cure Baroness Hangtree, and they just don't have the proper magical foci with them for such an endeavor.

“What about a makeshift ritual?” Miaoyu suggests. “Can you use what we have here just to stabilize him until we can reach Brand?”

The party rifles through their things, but components are in the lacking. Aelron scratches his head. “The only thing I can think of is transferring vitality from one of us to him. But....” He trails off and shakes his head. “That's not really solving the problem.”

“And that faerie circle?” Miaoyu asks. “Do they ever do anything good?”

Aelron shrugs. “Sometimes faeries take people away to their realms. They might be able to do something for him. I say might.”

“It may be our only choice,” Seeker muses.

“I hate to say it,” Flynn interjects, “but I don’t think we’re talking about saving him anymore. Hurting one of us, or giving him to faeries? I think the best we can do is just make him comfortable.”

The camp is quiet for a moment. “Let’s head out,” Seeker says.

Seeker carries the boy in his arms until they reach the small village with its newly-strengthened keep. Seeker searches around for anyone who would be willing to put him up for his final days. Eventually, a local Femtan offers to take him in. Seeker hands her the purse Miaoyu found in the fireplace.

“Take this. It’s not much, but we found it in his home. We had hoped to give it to him to help him start over. It seems fitting for you to have it.”

The Femtan thanks Seeker and Flynn describes the gravestones that Miaoyu found in the farmstead so the boy can be buried per family tradition.

With that taken care of, Miaoyu and Seeker, as the fastest of the party (a full ten feet per round faster than Flynn and Aelron), rush to the rendezvous point in hopes of making it in time to keep Captain Ian and Olaf from leaving without them.

Fayd
2014-04-09, 10:25 AM
I have to say, that was HARD for a dedicated healer to accept.

The_Werebear
2014-04-09, 01:08 PM
I was getting the most hilarious text messages in my hotel room about how the session was going. Especially from different opinions and viewpoints about what was going right and wrong.

AverageSparrow
2014-04-23, 06:39 PM
Here we must rewind a bit to detail Olaf's adventures during the rest of the party's debacle during Marked.

Captain Ian sails Olaf a bit further east, dropping him at a small Dhar settlement along the coast, well away from the river, to do a bit of coastal recon. Dhar ships patrol (read: raid) all up and down this coastline, so if the Huroc are moving near the shore, the Dhar should know, and Olaf hopes to capitalize on their knowledge.

The hold he arrives at is a small cluster of buildings centered on a sturdily-built longhouse, hiding in a small inlet. Captain Ian's cutter drops Olaf on the dock, the bosun promising to see Olaf in a few days before returning to berating his swabbies as they pull back toward the ship. The dock is relatively quiet, but the sandy beach at the center of the inlet is crowded with Dharric longships beached for unloading or minor repairs.

Olaf is met at the end of the dock by a couple of burly men. “What's your business here?” one asks brusquely.

Olaf smiles. “I seek information about the nearby coast, and a conversation with your chieftain. In return I bring information of my own, and coin to pay for my boarding until that ship returns.”

The enforcers just shrug. “Chief's in the longhouse. Keep those weapons sheathed and you won't have to talk to us again.”

Olaf nods and the two wander away, one down the dock and the other back toward the beached ships, leaving Olaf a clear path to the longhouse.

Inside, it's a madhouse; crates of supplies from the offloading operation on the beach are scattered haphazardly on every surface, men and women are rushing everywhere, seemingly without any sort of coordination, a small group in the corner is drinking and laughing boisterously and occasionally breaking into song, and apparently a few seagulls got in somehow, as they're perched on the rafters above squawking down at everyone below, occasionally diving toward any unattended item to see if it's food. One buzzes Olaf as he steps up to the only seemingly ordered spot in the room, where a well-dressed man with a massive axe strapped to his back stands surrounded by a small crowd of people who quietly await his attention. He joins the queue, and eventually the man looks to him.

“Ah. You must be our visitor. Welcome to our humble longhouse.”

“Many thanks, sir,” Olaf replies. “I am Olaf Hollow-Chest, and I'm looking for a bit of information.”

The man's expression brightens a bit at the sound of Olaf's accent. “Information, eh?” he asks. “Well, I'll be happy to sit down with you and see what you need, but at present we are somewhat...” he glances around, fishing for the word. “...busy.”

Olaf nods sagely. “I'll be here for a couple of days. At your convenience.”

The man laughs. “Over dinner tonight? We just need long enough to get this place cleared out and squared away and I'll be happy to talk.” Olaf nods and smiles gratefully. “Well then, I'll have someone find you a room to stay in and we'll call you for dinner.”

A few hours later, Olaf returns to the longhouse, and it's a completely different place. The boxes and supplies have been removed; the three long tables are full of people and, more importantly, stacked high with food and drink. A few men in one corner of the room are playing instruments; men and women with iron collars or cuffs stand as unobtrusively as possible along all the walls, holding pitchers, ladles and trays. The chieftain sits at the head of the longest table, his axe propped handle-up against the armrest of his enormous wooden chair, a smile plastered across his face and a great plate of some sort of roast fowl resting before him. He gestures Olaf closer, to an open spot a few spaces down the table.

As Olaf finds his seat, the Chieftain gestures to the man at his left hand, who stands, places his hands together, and says: “Let us pray.”

“O Ocean Witch, great mistress of wind and wave, we thank you for delivering home to us our brothers and sisters this day, and for the bounty with which they return. In your name we pray and in your service we sail. Amen.”

The room holds dead silent for a moment.

“And now,” the priest says, looking up and down the tables with a glint in his eyes, “Who wants to know?”

Priests of the Ocean Witch can cast an augury that will foretell the tenor of the target's next sea voyage; it is this service the priest is offering.

Olaf, of course, stands. “I would know,” he says.

The priest nods to him, grinning. “And with what will you pay?”

Olaf pulls a conch shell from his tunic. “I know the name of a great merrow in the service of our Lady the Ocean Witch. I will call him and introduce you if you will foretell for me.”

There is a moment of breath-holding silence before the priest booms a laugh. “I accept!” he cries. “Let us go meet your merrow!”

Olaf and the priest step out of the longhouse while everyone else tucks into their food with a will. Olaf leads the way toward the surf, where a few isolated repair crews are still at work on the nearest longboat. Once they've reached the water, Olaf shows the priest how to form the symbols that make up his merrow friend's name, then dips his head under a wave long enough to blow it himself on the conch.

With a great thunderclap of sound and a wave that nearly washes Olaf off his feet, the 8-foot-tall merrow that Olaf met along the coast of Drougant appears, seaweed-draped, with a toothy smile on his face. “Little Dhar friend!” he cries. “Wrestled any more bulls lately?”

Olaf stands proud in the surf and returns a laugh of greeting, waving his Horns of the Conflagration to show the priest what he's talking about. “No bulls, sadly. I did wrestle a gryphon, though!”

“A gryphon? Truly?” the merrow asks. “Most impressive! They are powerful beasts.” The merrow looks around at his surroundings, at the Dhar camp just off the shore, and the extremely nervous longboat repair crews edging back toward it. “Why have you summoned me hence?”

Olaf introduces the priest of the Ocean Witch, as promised, and the priest and the merrow proceed to have a booming-loud conversation about how hilarious it is for the Witch watching mortals drown and die at her whim, in horrible and fantastic ways. Pretty much everyone in earshot is horrified, but hey, that's religion for you.

Eventually the merrow departs and Olaf and the priest return to the dinner; Olaf's augury is given as: “Your trip will end safely, but not in the place you expect.”

That's not ominous at all.

Since the chieftain is mostly done eating by then, Olaf asks a few questions regarding the state of the coastline, and whether any raider ships have spotted anything that might be a large group of people moving cross-country, then eats himself while the chieftain answers. The chieftain's answers are long and verbose, but the upshot is that the Dhar haven't seen anything but the occasional group of travelers from Aurbesk, who may or may not be fleeing from a large horde of Huroc, but probably aren't. It's a bit discouraging, except for the fact that the rest of the party is, very nearly at that moment, spotting the columns of smoke that mark the Huroc camps.

Olaf whiles away a couple of days assisting the Dhar with ship repair and chatting with the Ocean Witch's priest before Captain Ian's ship returns to pick him up. It's a trip of a mere couple days back to the river-mouth rendevous point where the rest of the party is waiting.

Or, would be waiting, if not for that whole plague fiasco.

The river mouth is deserted, even after a thorough search. Captain Ian is set to sail away, the terms of his contract fulfilled, until Olaf nearly doubles his fee to convince him to stay until sundown.

Thankfully, it is just a few hours before sunset that Seeker and Miaoyu arrive. Seeker shoots up a magical flare (“Handy trick, that; remind me to thank Aelron.”) and the cutter comes to retrieve them.

Olaf is waiting in the boat when it nudges up to the shore and his friends step aboard. He looks between the two of them, confused. “Wait, what's going on? Where are Flynn and Aelron?”

Miaoyu waves to the trees. “They're a few hours behind us. We... had some trouble on our trip, and decided it'd be best to get someone here as soon as possible. They'll be along.”

Seeker growls and grimaces at the phrasing 'had some trouble', but nods as Miaoyu takes her seat.

With proof that the party is, in fact, on its way, Captain Ian agrees to wait until the next morning. Late in the evening Aelron and Flynn arrive and are similarly escorted to the ship, very glad to be done hiking.

With the group reunited, Flynn sits everyone down to consider options. “All right,” he says, “We came out here for proof that the Huroc are coming. We know approximately where they are now, but we didn't get anything like proof. We need to get close enough to find something we can use, which means getting far enough north fast enough to intercept them.” He gestures Captain Ian closer and leans over the map. “The fastest way for that is if you'd be willing to give us a lift up this river we're at the mouth of, here.”

Captain Ian glances down and around, wary. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m transporting rather delicate goods with a deadline for delivery. I don’t want what I'm transporting to spoil.”

“What are you transporting?” Seeker asks.

Captain Ian sighs. Flynn facepalms.

“Fresh fruit, if you must know,” Ian returns finally.

“If it's simply getting back before the cargo spoils that concerns you, I can extend its lifespan greatly with just a couple of spells,” Aelron offers diplomatically. “Turn your hold into an icebox, and the cargo will keep nicely.”

“Refrigeration?” Miaoyu asks. “That was invented in Qen, you know.”

“Yes, we know,” Flynn says with a sigh. “Refrigeration, central air, library classification—it’s all in Qen. I hear it’s filled with myths and tall tales, as well.”

“Of course. We invented those, too.” The joke seems to fly right over Miaoyu's head—or maybe she’s telling one right back. It’s hard to say.

Flynn rolls his eyes and turns back to the crude map the party has been navigating by, trying to determine their best route to intercept the Huroc. “I’ve got to say, I wish Nüwa was here,” he comments, remembering her spells that could generate highly detailed maps of an area. Miaoyu makes a disgusted noise and he sighs again. “Yes, we all know about your hatecrush,” he says dismissively. Miaoyu sulks.

Flynn turns to Captain Ian. “Well, how about it? We'll scrape together what payment we can and upgrade your hold for cold storage if you can lift us up the river a ways.”

“Look,” Captain Ian says to the party. “I appreciate the offers, I really do, and if this were any other river, I’d take you up on it—but this river is controlled by the Bene.”

The Bene (pronounced 'Beh-nay') are a family of nobles out of Aurbesk. They own the biggest and most trusted chain of banks and trading companies in Aurbesk, operate out of the city which takes its name from them, and are currently bankrolling Drougant’s Gilroy family—the same Gilroys who command Haddon's Eagles, the mercenary company that makes up the majority of Drouant's royal armed forces. The Bene are a big deal—the big deal, you might say—and a name known far and wide. For a bit of context, Miaoyu knew the name Bene before she left Qen; they’re one of the very few foreigners allowed trade freely in Qennish ports. No one wants to piss off the Bene, and the party quickly ceases their attempts to negotiate with Ian, although Aelron still applies a cooling spell to the cargo hold, mostly in thanks for his waiting to pick up the whole party.

Soon, our heroes are bidding Captain Ian and his crew fair sailing and trudging right back up the river. Travel is uneventful for several days, passing the ruins of what must have once been a village and interminable miles of wide, sluggish river. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. One evening, as the party settles in for camp, we roll for camp comfort and camp security (camp comfort determines how well rested we are at the beginning of the next day, and whether mages can prepare spells, while camp security determines who gets a surprise round on whom during any night encounters)... and we toss out one of our lowest security rolls in party history, matched up with an incredibly high comfort roll.

What this means, of course, is that the party is so busy shouting puns and insults across the camp at one another that they don't even notice their surroundings.

We got incredibly lucky.

Instead of getting coup-de-grace'd by bandits in the night, we wake the next morning in oblivious good cheer, all our belongings still neatly in their places. It's not until Olaf begins breaking down the camp after breakfast, while Seeker and Aelron run through their spell preparation routines, that Olaf notices a neat web of bootprints encircling the camp. There were people—multiple people, it would seem—circling all around the camp in the middle of the night, and none of the people on watch noticed a damned thing. Further searching reveals that the tracks lead back to the river, where Olaf finds an impression in the mud that he recognizes as the mark a rowboat makes when it gets dragged ashore and then pushed back into the water again. Judging from the bootprints—heavy, well-shaped and crisp—the people were probably military scouts, most likely Aurbeski. Fortunately, they were well-disciplined.

The party fights off shame and forges north. Fog starts coming in from the river around evening, so the party goes to high ground to make their camp. It’s about that time that the party notices something odd: there are no sounds of animal life. No singing from birds, scuffling from rodents, not even the chirping of crickets.

“How can there be no crickets?” Flynn asks, but no one has any answers, and the fog has come in too thick to move camp.

The next morning, the fog is still thick around the camp, but everyone can see that something is different. The fog has obscured view of pretty much everything except the tops of trees, but there's something else—several somethings else—protruding from the fog in the direction of the river. They look like columns of some sort of stone, and they certainly weren't there last night.

“I say we turn around and go the opposite direction,” Miaoyu says. (“How did you become an adventurer with that attitude?” our DM asked. “Oh, right. You’re a runaway.”)

Of course, between Aelron's curiosity and Seeker's worry that someone over there might be hurt, the party ends up heading right toward the rock spires, determined to figure out what exactly is going on. The fog is so thick, though, that they can only see about ten feet in front of them

“Maybe we should tie ourselves together,” Seeker suggests, “so we don’t get lost.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” says Flynn. “If we get into a fight, we’ll be trapped”

“Yeah, I might need to bail,” Miaoyu agrees. The entire party stops to stare at her. “I mean... tactically relocate.”

Seeker shakes his head. “You’re the most cowardly brave person I know.”

“I think you mean 'sensible',” Flynn corrects. Seeker shrugs.

Finally, the party reaches the river and can get a good look at the rock spires. Aelron identifies the rock as feldspar, which is notable for having semi-translucent variations known as sunstone.

Remember what the sun dragon egg is made of?

Olaf heaves a weary sigh. “I want to declare, in no small terms, oh f*ck.”

The party persists in their curiosity, though, and Olaf agrees to get a sample of the feldspar for Aelron to examine. The party ties together their ropes, creating a makeshift harness for Olaf; he unwraps the bandages around his arm and removes a few of his daggers. He dives into the cool river, swims to the spire, and levers off a few pieces without incident. Soon enough, he’s handing the bits of feldspar to Aelron.

“Why don’t you try making one into a totem?” Olaf suggests. “It might reveal something about their nature.”

Aelron closes his eyes and imbues elemental energy into the stone. The nature of the stone itself shapes the enchantment... and the chunk of feldspar lights up in his hand, creating a five foot radius of light, roughly that of a candle.

“I’m going to go back for another look,” Olaf says. “Could you...?”

Aelron taps him and Olaf’s sight becomes vastly improved thanks to Vision of Color. Aelron tucks the glowing shard of feldspar under one of the shoulder straps of Olaf's harness to provide him extra light in the fog.

Olaf swims back out to the nearest spire, takes in a deep breath, and dives. Feeling along the rock to its base, he finds the point at which the spire protrudes from the riverbed. From what he can see and feel, it looks as if this spire, and by extension probably all the others, is a single, toothpick-shaped shard of feldspar that was simply embedded in the riverbed and left there; he was wondering whether the entire river bed might be feldspar and this simply a projection, but that does not appear to be the case. Olaf swims back once again and reports his findings. “I was thinking of climbing to the top, maybe get a better view or at least get a better idea of what it is.”

"I’ll go with you," Miaoyu says. She nods at the climbing gear Olaf is pulling from his pack. "I know how to use that, and an extra pair of eyes might help."

Just as Olaf and Miaoyu are getting ready to wade into the water, Seeker hears something the rest of his companions obviously don’t: a low, uncomfortable noise that’s more a rumbling he can feel than a noise he can hear.

"We need to get away from the water," Seeker shouts.

"I said that back in the camp!" Miaoyu grumbles as she and Olaf fall back to the rest of the party.

Things begin to emerge from the water. On the triangle of Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?, they are somewhere between Animal and Mineral. Roughly four feet tall with bodies and limbs of feldspar, the creatures have three legs and roughly ovoid bodies. The limbs all attach near the top of the creature's body, holding the body off the ground between them. Each limb ends in a grasping claw, and at the center of the body is a mouth that glows the color of—you guessed it—sunstone.

“Well isn't that just wonderful,” Aelron mutters, reaching for an Incendiary.

“Nothing is ever simple,” Flynn sighs as he wills his eldritch weapon into existence.

"O, sweet Laeros," Olaf cries, hurriedly picking up his daggers, "they’re coming for samples now!"

Two of the elementals attack Olaf, and one manages to grab his thigh and twist painfully, tearing deep into the flesh; until he’s healed, Olaf will bleed one hit point per round.

Two more attack Flynn and Seeker, the latter getting a nasty chunk taken out of him. Miaoyu dodges her attacker and bounces an arrow off its forehead, but it turns out that rocks are generally unfazed by projectiles.

Seeker has picked up a new trait that will serve him well in this fight: Empathetic Healer. Any time he heals someone else, he also receives a point of healing for die of healing the spell uses. He throws a heal to Olaf to stop Olaf's bleeding, receives a point of healing himself, which stops his bleeding, then drops a Circle of Protection.

Flynn and Olaf pair up to fight together. Eventually, the elementals begin to swarm Olaf, and he signals Flynn to step back.

"Alright, Aelron!" he shouts. "You know what to do! Light me on fire!"

And Aelron obliges him by throwing an incendiary. It detonates underneath one of the elementals, roasting that one and two of its companions. Next, he uses Burning Hands, and glowing cracks begin spiderwebbing across those three elementals. Flynn manifests a glaive and swings at one of them; its limbs, already unstable, shatter, and it falls to the ground, inert.

Miaoyu, meanwhile, hasn’t been faring well. She's mostly been running around behind Olaf and Flynn's line, trying unsuccessfully to avoid attacks from the elementals flanking Olaf while remaining in the Circle of Protection, and occasionally taking potshots at elementals. She’s managed to acquire the bleeding status twice, and has learned that it stacks. She calls out to Seeker as she runs by and he preps a healing spell for her—but he can't hit her touch AC as she sprints past. He's holding out his own paw, though, and Miaoyu offers up her hand for a healing high-five. She tries to return the favor by shooting an elemental off Seeker's back, but her low attack rolls mean that she nearly hits Seeker instead.

“Sorry,” she mumbles. “Must be the blood loss.”

One of the elementals comes after Aelron to avenge its comrades, and he’s badly wounded. It doesn't take much to badly wound Aelron; he's only got 15 HP. For comparison, Olaf tops out over 40, and even Seeker almost has 25. Fortunately for Aelron, Seeker hurries to heal him and Olaf protects him from any further attacks. Once he’s back on his feet, Aelron drops one of the elementals closing in on Seeker, and Flynn brings down yet another. The last remaining elemental decides to flee, but Miaoyu rushes after it and shoots it with an arrow, and it crumbles into the softly lapping shallows.

The party takes a moment to catch their breath. Aelron collects bits of stone from the elemental with the intent of enchanting his staff further to make it light up on command. Seeker finds fluid within the elementals that he suspects can be used as a coagulant, which he can use in the future to stop ongoing damage. Now that they’ve had a chance to stop and listen, both Miaoyu and Flynn can hear the rumbling that Seeker heard earlier, but neither can place what it is.

The party, utterly fed up with feldspar, continues north. The fog begins to thin and eventually clear away entirely. Once the fog is entirely gone, however, the rock spires vanish with it. Strange, to be sure, but no one really wants to question it too hard. Feldspar sucks.

It’s then that the party decides to try to cross the river. Unfortunately, only Flynn and Olaf have put ranks into Athletics, the skill that encompasses things like running long distances and swimming. Seeker doggie paddles across with only a little bit of difficulty. Miaoyu recalls a lovely story to help motivate her as she crosses: it was about these two lovers who swam out to each other and met in the middle of a river. Of course, she remembers too late they both ended up drowning and once she does she starts slipping under the surface of the water. Fortunately, Flynn happens to be swimming by and he stabilizes her, holding her up until she's calmed enough to keep swimming, and she makes it to the other side.

Aelron, on the other hand, refuses to deal with something as undignified as nearly drowning and whips up a spell to let him walk across the water.

Once everyone has crossed, the party makes camp and builds a roaring fire to help dry out their things. During Miaoyu’s watch, she manages to spy the two Huroc camps in the distance, and figures it'll be about a day's march to reach them.

And the next day, they do indeed get within a few miles of the camps. At the top of a hill a few miles distant, Flynn calls a halt, sets down his pack, and gestures Aelron, Seeker and Miaoyu forward.

“I've been thinking,” he says. “There are obviously two camps out there, but why would the Huroc split their forces like that?” His sweeping arm encompasses the two still-marching forces kicking up colossal dust clouds in the near distance.

Aelron frowns. “One camp civilians and one camp militants?” he suggests.

Flynn shakes his head. “I thought of that myself, but then, wouldn't the militants be in the lead? Plus, these are Huroc; if what we've heard is true, they won't HAVE many non-combatants, if any at all.”

“So what's going on, then?” Seeker asks.

Flynn glowers out at the two marching forces. “I don't know, but I have a guess.” He sighs and turns to Miaoyu. “You're the eagle eye. Tell me what you see.” He gestures to Aelron and Seeker, who nod. Aelron places Vision of Color on Miaoyu, and Seeker works up a minor diamond magic spell to enhance her distance vision.

Mioayu blinks, squints, and focuses first on the leading force, then on the trailing. After a moment, she snorts. “You're gonna love this, Flynn. They're not both Huroc forces.” She points to the lead force, the barely-congealed mob of humanoidity. “Huroc.” Then she points to the following force, three columns of obvious soldiery marching in good order across the dusty plains.

“Aurbeski.”

Flynn chuckles sadly. “Nothing's ever simple.”

Olaf steps up to the group, having finally settled his pack. “What'd I miss?”

Aelron smiles grimly, pointing. “Looks like that force back there is three Aurbeski battalions 'escorting' the Huroc out of their territory.”

“This just gets better and better,” Olaf grumbles. “Shall we investigate, or just dive right in?”

“I’ll do some recon in the Huroc camp,” Miaoyu says. “I’ll see if I can get any information about plans or direction. I’ll look at the make-up of their groups, too; if they’re diverse enough we can slip in and pretend we’re one of them.”

“We can go to the Aurbeski camp,” Seeker says, indicating himself and Flynn. “I should be welcome there and we can get some information.”

“I'll stay here,” Aelron says with a quiet sigh. “I don't think we want to take the egg into either of those camps until we know more, and with two giant armies to scare off the wildlife in the region, I should be safe enough here on my own.”

Nightfall comes and the party begins to split up for their respective tasks. As Miaoyu is preparing to leave, Olaf approaches her. “I’m coming, too. Is that okay?”

Miaoyu sighs. “That’s fine. I’ll try to keep you in my sight and if I think we need to leave, I’ll tap you on the shoulder. And I know this’ll be hard for you—but try not to talk. It’ll probably give you away.”

Olaf gives her an amused look. “I had a thought, actually. What if we could get the two armies to fight each other? The Huroc won’t stand a chance against a disciplined army, and even if they win, they’ll be crippled.”

Miaoyu shrugs. “Sure, but I don’t know how to make that happen.”

Olaf winks. “I’ve got an idea.”

And so, the two groups set out. Flynn and Seeker approach the Aurbeski camp with little trouble. Once their intentions are declared, they’re shunted to a Captain's tent; the Captain hears out their story, mostly believing Flynn's bluffs and misdirection regarding Seeker's REAL reasons for wanting to explore the camp, and they’re cleared to go to the Larlonite tents.

Larlonites of the Order of Saint Mila are battlefield medics and trauma healers. Their order attached its members to the Aurbeski military, and they make it their business to see that as many soldiers survive to see their families again as possible. Seeker introduces himself and, after some awkward cultural fumbling—Seeker goes to shake hands and they go to kiss cheeks (which in and of itself is personally amusing; his native culture, elven/wolfmen, actually do the cheek kissing/scenting thing, but he’s been around the Drouganti long enough that he’s adapted)—he’s welcomed warmly. Through a bit of idle chatter, Seeker and Flynn learn that the Huroc have been ravaging the Aurbeski countryside for years, ever since they came from “the root of all evil”, the Illian Kingdoms. All three Aurbeski armies were put together to drive them out, but only after they devastated more territory than any loyal Aurbeski cares to admit.

“But on the path that you’re driving them, they’re headed straight for Drougant,” Seeker says, concern in his voice.

“Oh?” replies the head healer, a wry smile on her lips. “Well that’s quite unfortunate, isn’t it? But by that point it won’t be our problem, so I’m afraid we can’t help.”

One could say that Aurbesk and Drougant don’t have the friendliest relationship.

Meanwhile, about eight miles away, Miaoyu and Olaf are having their own adventures in cross-cultural relations. While Miaoyu slips into the shadows, Olaf marches straight up to the camp until he’s halted by a pair of sentries.

“What do you want?” one asks.

“I wish to join my brothers in spiting civilization and living as Kurush wants us to!” he says. The guards glance at each other.

“Bah, let him through,” the second guard says. “If he’s a spy, so what? He dies.” And with that, Olaf's in. You talk about strong security arrangements....

Miaoyu takes a moment to find a nice patch of shadows in the camp and shadow-walks past the perimeter. Now that the two are both inside, they get a better feel for the camp. Firstly, the Hurocs are mainly of Illian and Dhar descent—and they are seething. It’s clear just from the atmosphere that the Huroc don’t like being pushed around, and they’re definitely not afraid of the Aurbeski.

Unfortunately, both Miaoyu and Olaf have a bit of trouble understanding the Hurocs' dialect: it’s some sort of hybrid Illian-Aurbeski-Dhar abomination, but even with knowledge of some of those languages it’s difficult for them to understand. It’s somewhat like translating English and German; they’re related and maybe you could figure out bits and pieces without studying the other language, but for the most part, you’re lost.

Just about everyone in the camp is armed; men and women alike wear armor and carry weapons of some variety. There doesn't seem to be a standardized set of weapons and armor, though; everyone appears to maintain and choose their own gear, and the sheer array of weapons is dizzying. Even the children are armed, and every single one walks with the arrogant confidence of a schoolyard bully. And they’re tall. Goodness, are the Huroc tall. Miaoyu, standing at a meager 5’2”, finds the best way to blend in with the Huroc is by keeping her hood up and letting them think she’s a child. Olaf, though, isn’t having such a reasonable reaction to his shortness. He’s instead filled with fury and decides that something needs to be done about it—he marches straight to the center of camp, Miaoyu following along all the while. In the center of camp, Olaf sees a large, important-looking (if battered) tent and barges in. Miaoyu finds a hole in the tent's fabric and watches from outside.

Inside the tent: off to one side is what looks to be a very non-portable bed with two scantily clad women lounging on top of it. At the back of the tent is a desk with various maps and papers scattered about it with two men leaning over it, and four more men scattered about. Olaf stomps to the center of the tent and drives his glaive into the floor. He immediately has everyone's attention. One particularly imposing man raises an eyebrow at Olaf and Olaf recognizes his air of authority.

“You are the leader of this camp?” he asks.

“Yes,” the man says. “I’m Alderik. You’re new. What are you doing here?”

Olaf approaches boldly, ignoring the others in the tent entirely. “I have received a vision from an augur of Kurush,” he says, and begins to unwrap the bandages from his arm.

“Oh, no,” Miaoyu murmurs from outside the tent. “No, Olaf, no, no, no...”

“I am meant to bring you to a fleet of ships and lead you to your promised land. But I need more time to secure my fleet—and I need you to buy it by destroying the Aurbeski army!” At this he raises his red right arm and Alderik’s eyes, which had previously been only mildly interested, light up with excitement.

“I recognize the mark of Kurush,” Alderik intones solemnly. Then he breaks into a wide grin, unsheathes his massive sword, and holds it high above his head, almost tearing another hold in the tent's roof. “We attack at dawn!” he crows. The Hurocs in the tent cheer and Alderik turns to Olaf. “Will you join us in battle, brother?”

Olaf rushes to bury his panic at the question and says the only thing he can: “Of course!”

And with that, we called it a night.

Fayd
2014-04-24, 09:42 AM
That was a fun cliffhanger to wait a week on, let me tell you!

The_Werebear
2014-04-24, 11:44 AM
I spent the entire week after this one getting "what the heck were you thinking?!"

Fayd
2014-04-24, 02:26 PM
To yourself?

The_Werebear
2014-04-24, 02:43 PM
Mostly from Dawnflame, with a little bit from Cade. Tam was too busy smirking at me, I was kicking myself, and my other roommate basically said, "So, you chose to get yourself killed?"

AverageSparrow
2014-04-27, 04:46 AM
Olaf approaches Alderik and his officers boldly, staring Alderik down. “I have received a vision from an augur of Kurush,” he says, and begins to unwrap the bandages from his arm.

“Oh, no,” Miaoyu murmurs from outside the tent. “No, Olaf, no, no, no...”

“I am meant to bring you to a fleet of ships and lead you to your promised land. But I need more time to secure my fleet—and I need you to buy it by destroying the Aurbeski army!” At this he raises his red right arm and Alderik’s eyes, which had previously been only mildly interested, light up with excitement.

“I recognize the mark of Kurush,” Alderik intones solemnly. Then he breaks into a wide grin, unslings his massive double-headed axe, and holds it high above his head, almost tearing another hole in the tent's roof. “We attack at dawn!” he crows. The Huroc in the tent cheer and Alderik turns to Olaf. “Will you join us in battle, brother?”

Olaf rushes to bury his panic at the question and says the only thing he can: “Of course!”

“Dammit, Olaf!” Miaoyu hisses.

For the moment there's nothing she can do for him directly; Alderik is hollering for servants and wenches, and his officers are gathering around Olaf to observe the sign of Kurush's favor. Resolving to come back later once the others are done satisfying their curiosity, she hurries off to find the communal stew pot. She casually saunters up for a bowl of stew and stirs in the rat poison she purchased way back in chapter 5. Exactly how effective it will be when diluted is questionable, but a certain party member who will remain unnamed didn’t exactly give her the chance to get the fancy poison, so it’ll have to do.

Meanwhile, Alderik has gotten started on the standard pre-battle procedures: “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”

Olaf, ever so burdened by that particular mandate, joins in. The festivities are going smoothly and he’s enjoying an ale near a bonfire, when Alderik suddenly lunges. Not at him, though, but a small woman behind him. Alderik pulls Miaoyu nearly off of her feet and into the fire light.

"Who are you?" he demands.

Before Miaoyu can stammer out a reply, Olaf cuts in: “No, no, it’s cool. She’s—she’s my spy.”

"Spy?" Alderik echoes, his expression turning even more severe.

"No, it’s okay. She’s lucky. Really lucky. I met her—you won’t believe this—I met her while tracking a bull, of all things. She can find anything. I sent her to go look for weaknesses. So… anything to report?"

"Um… well, the fires are very bright. Someone could get… noticed," Miaoyu squeaks.

"Right, but maybe you should check out the enemy camp, like I told you."

This is, apparently, convincing enough for Alderik, and he releases Miaoyu and returns to his drink. Miaoyu hurries over to Olaf and they step away from the quickly-resuming party to speak privately.

"What are you doing here?" Olaf demands quietly. "You need to warn the Aurbeski!"

"I know," Miaoyu snaps. "I was trying to sneak you these." She presses three small braids into his hand: the healing braids that Seeker makes for the group.

"Thanks," Olaf says as he pockets them. "Now get out of here. I’ll try to sabotage the Huroc."

Miaoyu sighs. "Just don’t screw up."

"I think I already have."

"Don’t screw up more.” She puts a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll miss you."

Olaf gives Miaoyu one of his trademark smirks, glancing to her bow. “Please do.”

Miaoyu rolls her eyes and departs for the Aurbeski camp. Olaf returns to Alderik's side with a big grin plastered on his face. “Qen! They pretend to be all law and order, but they’d give up their grandmother for a few coins.” Alderik laughs along with Olaf, and the celebration continues as if Miaoyu's intrusion had never occurred.

Miaoyu makes it out of the Huroc camp without trouble and manages to travel the eight miles to the Aurbeski camp in two hours. When a patrol spots her, she holds up her hands to show she is not immediately armed and is ‘greeted’ by a pair of over-caffeinated guards.

"What do you want?!" One of the guards says, keeping a crossbow trained on her.

"I’m here to warn you that the Huroc are going to attack you tomorrow?"

That’s enough to earn the guards’ attention and Miaoyu is escorted to the captain of the guard to explain herself.

"Right," says a tired-looking captain. "Given that you’re an outsider, will you take the Oath of Turmlar?"

"Yes," Miaoyu says, and casts the orison (for the first time in the campaign) before commencing her report. "I was spying on the Hurocs and this little Dhar man with a red arm walked in and started talking about a prophecy to bring the Hurocs to their promised land, but he needed them to attack you guys. Anyway, they’re going to attack at dawn, I poisoned their stew, and, also, they might have a dragon…."

At that, the captain very slowly lowers his pen and puts down the sheet of parchment he was taking notes on. “Well, this is above my pay grade. I’m going to take you to one of the generals. She’s not going to appreciate being woken up, so don’t mess around.”

Moments later, a bleary-eyed general is glaring at Miaoyu. “So that is this about?”

"Okay, so I was spying on the Huroc…." And Miaoyu proceeds to explain it all to her. The general takes the information in grimly and only bats an eyelash when Miaoyu starts giving her directions to the egg.

"You know where it is?"

"Yeah. My party sort of… has it. Sorry. Anyway, if there’s anything I could do to help, if be happy to."

"What are your skills?"

"Well, I’m pretty good at sneaking around. Hence the spying. I’m also good with a bow. Hence the… bow."

"Uh-huh. Have you ever worked in the military before?"

"No."

"Well, if you really want to, you can report to Captain Sigizmund of the Fifth Army Auxilleries. As for your reward…." The general pulls out a slip of paper and writes out a bank note with a considerable sum on it, straight from the Bene bank vault.

"Thanks. Well, I have a few scratches I want to have looked at. Can I go to the Larlonite tents?"

The general nods and orders someone to show Miaoyu to the tents; as she’s leaving, she overhears the general order a patrol to head to the party camp. When she arrives at the Larlonite tents, most of the patients and healers have fallen asleep—except for two very familiar individuals.

"Hey!" Miaoyu says cheerily when she sees them, smiling bright. "I didn’t think I’d see you two again. Do you remember me? We met a few months back…." She draws up next to the two of them and drops her voice to a near-whisper. "We are so screwed."

And thus, Flynn and Seeker are filled in on the evening’s exciting events.

Flynn facepalms, growls, “Dammit, Olaf.”

Miaoyu smiles halfheartedly. “That's what I said.”

Seeker frets. Outside the tent, the three of them can hear the Aurbeski camp coming back to life.

"Look,” Miaoyu sighs, “I’m going to rendezvous with Aelron, let him know what’s going on and that a patrol is coming for the egg."

Seeker’s ears prick. “Wait a minute, the egg!” He rouses the head healer and asks, “Do you have any wool?”

Before long, Seeker has a bundle of wool and he and Miaoyu are ready to head back to Aelron's camp. “I’m going to stay here,” Flynn says. “I might be able to help in the battle. I’ll meet up with you guys later.”

Miaoyu and Seeker take off, actually passing the very patrol headed for their camp on the way. Miaoyu gives its bleary-eyed commander a jaunty wave as she and Seeker skate by. Once they've reached the camp, Seeker shakes Aelron awake.

Being shaken awake by an anxious wolfman: not as fun as it sounds.

“I need the egg,” Seeker says hurriedly, once Aelron has stopped panicking. “I have to cast Stasis on it.”

Still taking deep gulps of air to get the adrenaline out of his system, Aelron hands the egg to Seeker, who begins his hour-long ritual immediately.

Eventually, Aelron turns to Miaoyu. “What’s going on?” he asks.

"Olaf’s an idiot," Miaoyu replies.

She recounts everything for the fourth time that night. When she gets to the part about Olaf unwrapping his red arm to show to the Huroc leaders, Aelron holds up a hand for silence, reaches into his pack, and pulls out a bottle of Illian whiskey. He pops the cork, takes a long draught straight from the bottle, shudders a moment, then gestures for her to continue. Once she's finished her tale, he sighs, pulls out a small inkwell and bit of parchment, and begins writing.

By the time the Aurbeski patrol arrives almost an hour later, Seeker has completed his ritual and Aelron has finished writing.

"We have it handled!" Seeker says as their captain approaches. "I cast Stasis on the egg—it should be fine."

"And what exactly does that do?" the captain asks. Seeker begins to launch into an explanation, but the captain holds his hand up. "How about you just write out a report that I can bring back to the general?" Seeker sets to work on the report, and Aelron hands the captain the parchment he's been preparing.

"This is everything we know about the egg," he says. “I'll do my best to keep it out of the way and safe from the Huroc once the battle starts.” The captain thanks him, then thanks Seeker for his report, and orders his patrol back to the Aurbeski camp.

Miaoyu, Seeker and Aelron settle in to get at least a few hours' shut-eye.

At the Huroc camp, the party is going strong. Olaf makes an effort to get as many people in the party as possible and to keep it going as long as possible, hoping to put the Huroc at a disadvantage in combat due to hangovers and lack of sleep. Unfortunately, this results in him getting wenches thrown at him (sometimes quite literally, courtesy of Alderik). Initially, he plots to start a massive naked conga line through the camp… but his failed will save foils that plan. Some of those wenches are quite attractive, after all.

Two hours before dawn, Olaf is shaken awake by Alderik. He and the other warriors prepare for battle. “Do you have a shield I can borrow?” he asks Alderik.

Alderik takes him to a small armory and hands him a shield with the crest of a diving bird of prey. “I got this one in the Illian kingdom,” Alderik says with a laugh. “Some stupid crusaders.” (Point of interest: the crest matches that of Cade Rentyr and his family. He was one of the PCs in the Doomriders campaign, and his player is the one behind Flynn. Looks like one of his descendants met a sad end.)

Olaf takes it and considers it for a moment, then claps Alderik on the shoulder and says, “I’ll make its owner proud.” He even managed to make the deception check.

By dawn, the Hurocs are on the field and advancing on the Aurbeski. Fortunately, the Aurbeski took Miaoyu’s warning seriously and are ready and waiting. They've dug a trench, set up some barricades, and are in battle formation as the Huroc begin their advance.

Olaf is at the front of the Huroc horde, alongside Alderik, and soon finds that even if he didn’t want to advance, the people behind him keep pushing him forward. He sends out a mental prayer, O Laeros, o Laeros, please make sure civilization wins today.

Around the same time, Miaoyu and Seeker are praying to their gods as well. They, along with Aelron, found a nice hill a safe distance away from the battle. “I was thinking,” Miaoyu says to Aelron, “we could light their camp on fire. It would be demoralizing and they’d lose supplies. On the other hand, there’ll be noncombatants there; probably children and the sick and prostitutes.”

Aelron eyes characteristically light up at the mention of fire, but he loses enthusiasm at the mention of mostly defenseless targets. He considers for a moment, staring out across the forming battle. It's obvious he doesn't want to just leave Olaf and the Aurbeski to their fates, but he does have the egg to worry about... “If I take an hour, I can get war-magic level fireballs.” He offers Miaoyu a smile. “Let’s use the Huroc’s ignorance of our presence and take them by surprise.”

"A sneak attack?” Miaoyu's eyes are almost shining with tears of joy. “I'm so proud of you, Aelron!”

Aelron mock-scowls at her as he pulls out the sunstone shard he recovered from the feldspar elementals. “Don't push it.” He begins his ritual while Miaoyu and Seeker alternate between looking on and watching the unfolding battle.

The Huroc reach Aurbeski crossbow range and break into a charge. Barked orders from the Aurbeski commanders send a hail of bolts whistling through the air. The Huroc raise shields, catching or deflecting arrows where they can; a few fall with each volley, but not enough. Another barked command from the Aurbeski line, and the next volley of crossbow bolts is interspersed with war-cast Ruby tower spells.

The Huroc have mages of their own, though, and they were waiting for this. Huroc mages counter or ward away most of the Aurbeski spells, safeguarding their soldiers as the charge continues to eat up the distance to the Aurbeski line. A counter-volley of Ruby magic from the Huroc meets prepared counterspells and wards around and above the Aurbeski, and the sky above the two armies flickers with tongues of fire, shards of ice, bolts of lightning, and currents of pure arcane wrath.

Crossbow bolts continue to pour into the Huroc formation, but it isn't enough. The Huroc charge reaches the Aurbeski line, carries through the trench and up its far side, and contacts the waiting Aurbeski pikes. It is as Olaf watches Alderik deflect crossbow bolts with his sword hilt that he remembers the blessing he received from a Lady of the Snowstorm. He petitions her for a blizzard, right now, in the middle of summer, right above the Huroc.

And wouldn’t you know it, a strange, dark cloud begins to form over the Huroc host.

Another idea pops into Olaf’s mind. A bad idea, yes, but that’s exactly what he needs right now. He turns to Alderik. “Last one to the Aurbeski generals has Kurush’s disfavor!”

And then Olaf charges out of the trench, away from the Huroc infantry line, and straight into a tangle of Aurbeski soldiers, shield first, trying to push them back. It doesn’t work. Then Alderik does it. And it works. And then he kills eight of the soldiers. In one turn. And that’s when we realize he must be at least level 7—and keep in mind that the max level in this system is 10. On the bright side (if it can be called that), the Aurbeski begin to surround them, cutting them off from Alderik’s soldiers.

Olaf decides to press his luck. “Come on! We can press through!” For better or worse, though, Alderik manages to keep Olaf in check and forces him to pace himself as they plunge deeper into the Aurbeski army.

Elsewhere, Flynn has joined the Aurbeski crossbowmen and started taking potshots at the Huroc. He notices a couple of idiots trying to advance towards the generals and sighs, almost affectionately. “Yep, that’s Olaf.”

It’s around that time that snowflakes begin to fall, curling on a biting wind that has no business anywhere this side of the year. Flynn shakes his head. “That’s probably Olaf, too.”

Aelron finishes gathering energy. The shard of sunstone he's been channeling into is hovering in the air before him, glowing like a small sun. Slowly, carefully, Aelron cups the glowing shard in one hand, gathers his will, and with a blast of arcane force, hurls the gem into the midst of the Huroc right flank.

For a long moment, nothing happens. The gem's glow disappears into the Huroc soldiers, and Seeker asks, “Did they counter it?”

Aelron just smiles. “Wait for it.”

The spell erupts with volcanic fury, flattening the center of the Huroc's right wing with a ferocious fiery concussion. A wing of Aurbeski cavalry, hovering off to the side of the battlefield, sees the Huroc in disarray and sounds the charge. Banners flying, lances leveled, they slice their way into the Huroc flank.

Aelron turns to Miaoyu and Seeker. "We need to move," he says. "They know we're out here now, and they'll be targeting spells back at us. And if I want to do that again, I'll need more components."

"We can ask the army for rubies," Seeker suggests.

Aelron shrugs agreeably. "I’ll find a new spot. You two move quicker than I do; go get the rubies. Miaoyu, make sure Seeker can find me once he has the gems."

Miaoyu glances at Aelron's distinctive robe, fixing its details in her mind. “Yup. Got it.”

With that, the three of them split. Getting gems from the Aurbeski isn’t easy, though. When Seeker finds the Bene treasurer, he’s reluctant to just fork over precious stones to random adventurers.

"Wait!" Miaoyu says, and starts digging through her pockets. She pulls out the bank note she received the night before and holds it out to the treasurer. He suddenly becomes much more accommodating, and moments later she and Seeker are off to rendezvous with Aelron, five plump rubies clinking in Miaoyu’s pockets.

Aelron starts another fireball ritual immediately and although the spell isn’t blocked by a counterspell, it doesn’t have quite the impact of the first fireball. Aelron stops to think for a moment, while the other two make their own plans.

"Since I’m not of much use here," Seeker says, "I’m going to see if I can help at the medical tents."

Miaoyu nods. "I’ll stay here and help Aelron; if the Huroc decide he’s too much trouble, he’s going to need backup, and I have spells perfect for a quick getaway."

Seeker bids his companions farewell, and Aelron comes up with a new plan. He pulls out the ice troll horns the party collected some time ago. “Want to bet I can give that snowstorm a boost?”

And boost it he does—from miserable right into hateful. Shards of ice and flurries of sleet rain down from the center of the storm, right over the Huroc's front line, slashing at exposed skin and coating the ground underfoot in treacherous ice.

At the frontlines, Olaf finds that he and Alderik can actually see the Aurbeski generals. Hoping his advice is as bad as he thinks it is, he shouts, “Let’s take them! If we fall back, they’ll brace themselves!”

Alderik laughs. “Kurush truly favors you!” It’s a shame, really. If things had been different, they might have been friends.

At that moment, Alderik is shot by a bolt—a very familiar-looking eldritch heavy crossbow bolt. Olaf glances around, but he can’t pick Flynn out of the crowd. Alderik is still on his feet, though, and shows no signs of stopping.

Olaf and Alderik charge into the Aurbeski masses, and Olaf takes a spear thrust to the chest during the charge, reducing him to exactly 0 HP. He decides that now is as good a time as any.

The soldier on the other end of the spear currently in Olaf's midsection is already dead, cut down by one of the other Huroc. Olaf drops to a knee—fairly easy acting what with the bloody stab wound and all—and drops his sword. With his off hand, he clutches the haft of the spear, while his weapon hand, hidden by the shield his off-hand carries, darts to his wrist-sheath for a dagger. “Alderik!” he calls.

Alderik comes to his side immediately, rolls him onto his back to inspect the wound. “You’ll be fine,” the big man grunts, making to pick him up. “Just need to get you back into the ranks.”

"No, no, I’ve taken one of these before," Olaf says, mostly truthfully. He straightens a bit, reaches up with his shield arm to grasp Alderik's shoulder and pull him close. "I need to... I need to tell you something—” He gasps in pain, and Alderik leans down, perfectly into range.

With a vicious smile, Olaf whispers into Alderik's ear: “Laeros is the true god.”

Before Alderik has a chance to process that, Olaf's hidden hand comes darting out to bury a dagger in Alderik's neck. Alderik, impossibly, is already recoiling, and Olaf only scores his shoulder, just under the collarbone. Alderik stumbles back, hefts his axe up and swings it into Olaf’s chest.

Olaf coughs up blood, smiling redly. “Your army is trapped. Civilization will win this day. For the greater—”

Alderik swings his axe again, and Olaf speaks no more. Across the battlefield, Flynn notices a pause in the action and has just a second's glimpse of Olaf's head rolling across the ground. The battle resumes within moments, and he rushes off to the medical tents for healing. He finds Seeker there, tending to the injured.

"Where at the others? We might need to get out of here pretty soon."

"They’re off lobbing fireballs. Is Olaf available for extraction?"

"He won’t be a problem anymore," Flynn says carefully.

Seeker looks up, worried. “What?”

Flynn sighs, says gently, "He went down swinging."

Seeker stammers for a moment before anger crystallizes his features. He glares out the tent flap toward the Huroc lines. “May they die cold… alone… and unmourned!”

Seeker decides to take a more active role in the battle and begins casting counterspells. Flynn finds himself stuck with the job of babysitting the squishy pacifist; someone has to, or Seeker will end up a rug in Alderik’s tent. On the other side of the battlefield, Aelron is taking a similar approach, but instead of countering spells, he’s countering counterspells. With Miaoyu’s help, he’s able to find a good location to set up, and then, when the Huroc launch a counterspell at a particularly nasty Aurbeski fire spell, Aelron counters the counterpsell. The fireball lands in the middle of a Huroc reinforcement squad, burning it to a cinder and scattering its survivors.

Despite everyone’s efforts, though, the battle slowly comes to a stalemate. The Huroc shattered the Aurbeski center and encircled their right flank, and though the Aurbeski left held, it can't stand alone. The Aurbeski begin to retreat and the Huroc lack the coordination to give chase across the horrid terrain the snowstorm has left in its wake; it’s estimated that the Huroc now have about fifteen thousand soldiers, while the Aurbeski are down to ten thousand. Aelron and Miaoyu retreat back to their camp. Flynn and Seeker, however, have other concerns. They came to the Aurbeski camp hoping to bring someone back to Drougant to testify to the approaching Huroc horde, but the Aurbeski force is very soon going to be out of reach. In desperation, Seeker notices a tall man at the healer’s tent and says, “You! Come with us!”

The man glances around for a moment. “Me? Give me a good reason why.”

"We need you to help us prove to the Drouganti that the Huroc are coming,” Flynn says flatly.

The man thinks it over for a moment, shrugs, and says, “Fine. Let’s go.”

The three of them meet with Aelron and Miaoyu at the camp, and for the first time, everyone gets a good look at the newcomer: a very tall man with black hair and pale skin. He is armed with a kite shield and spears. He’s armored in a breastplate and wears a sealskin cloak trimmed with fur. “My name is Sir Gavin of Tidehollow,” he says, and half-hearted greetings come from the others, who offer brief introductions in return. As you may have guessed, Gavin is Olaf’s replacement character; because Olaf’s death was anticipated, his player prepared one in advance.

"We lost Olaf," Flynn tells Aelron and Miaoyu.

“Dammit, Olaf,” Aelron mutters mournfully. He reaches into his pack, pulls out the whiskey again, and pours shots for each of them. They raise their glasses together, and everyone who knew Olaf says something.

“May he find honor in the beyond,” Aelron wishes, tossing back his shot.

“I was hoping we’d all get out of this alive,” Miaoyu mumbles, swirling her drink slowly.

“He was a dear friend, and will be missed,” Seeker states.

"This Olaf was a friend of yours?" Gavin asks mostly rhetorically after a long moment of silence. "I lost many friends as well, today."

"He tried to kill the Huroc leader,” Flynn informs Gavin. “Got a good stab in, too. Wasn’t enough."

"Well, he sounds quite brave. I’m sure he was a blessing to our forces."

The party exchanges a few awkward glances until Seeker finally says, “Actually… he was sort of on the Huroc’s side.”

Gavin’s expression slowly becomes wary and Aelron adds, “He was supposed to spy on the Huroc but instead he… decided to try out infiltration.”

Gavin stares blankly for a moment, then smiles a little. “Sounds like a wonderfully brave idiot.”

"He was an idiot,” Flynn says, finally breaking his silence. “But he's dead now, and he died trying to be a better man, so we'll speak no more ill of him.” The group falls silent.

"Maybe we should talk somewhere else," Miaoyu says eventually. "The Huroc might decide to look for stragglers."

The party moves a fair distance away from the battlefield and beds down for the night.

The next day, the party starts heading west, back towards Brand, and attempts at conversation are made. A few stories of Olaf are told to Gavin, in tones alternating between affection and exasperation. He’s given the cliffnotes version of the party’s interest in the Huroc; the augur, the red hand, the prophecy, and general concern for the welfare of others. In turn, Gavin tells the group a little more about himself.

"Do you subscribe to any religious beliefs?" Aelron asks at about midday.

"I’m a Turmlarite by choice," Gavin tells him. Aelron raises a brow at his word choice.

"I don’t mean to pry, but would that mean you’re worshiping someone not of your choice?"

Gavin hesitates and Miaoyu adds in, “If it makes you feel less weird, I’m a Gilgadarite.” Gavin takes a half-step back and Miaoyu shrugs. “Figured we should just get that out of the way.”

Gavin regains his composure. “By blood, I am an initiate of the Ocean Witch.”

Miaoyu rolls her head to the side, curious. “Does her priesthood often pass by blood? I’m not familiar with anything like that.”

Gavin shakes his head. “Oaths were made on my behalf, and I am compelled to uphold them.”

That evening, the party has a hard time finding a good campsite and ends up making theirs in two inches of water. Gavin casually plops down and goes to sleep, much to the bemusement of Aelron. Miaoyu nudges Aelron casually.

"Don’t make faces. You slept in the campfire up north, remember?"

Aelron shrugs Gavin’s oddness off and whips up a spell to create a dry patch for their bedrolls. At daybreak, Gavin spears a few fish (he eats his raw) and Miaoyu cooks the fish for the others; with Olaf’s demise, she now possess the solitary survival rank in the party.

"I tried to poison the Huroc, by the way," Miaoyu says once everyone’s been served; discussion of poison seems to be acceptable table conversation to her. "Looks like it didn’t matter much, though. I’ll need to get something stronger in the future."

Gavin looks at her with open shock. “But that’s so… dishonorable!”

"Gilgadarite,” Miaoyu says flatly, as though this explains everything.

"Just because you want to sunder fate doesn’t mean you can’t have honor!" Gavin exclaims.

Miaoyu shakes her head, taking another bite of seared fish. “The only fair fight is the one I win.”

"But that doesn’t make sense!" Gavin cries. His protests fall on deaf ears, however, and he eventually gives up.

Around noon that day, the party becomes aware that there’s someone on their trail: a group of twenty Huroc outriders. Miaoyu immediately begins looking for a suitable hiding spot for the party, but Gavin turns to fight.

"We can’t take them," Flynn hisses when he sees Gavin sizing up the enemy. The rest of the party nervously eyes the steadily-closing gap between themselves and the Huroc.

"Honor is great and all," Miaoyu says, "but if we fight now, we’re done. Most of us haven’t recovered from the battle yet."

Gavin looks at his companions’ pleading and tired faces, and his resolve falters. He nods and Miaoyu leads everyone to a tiny cave. Gavin insists on sitting at the entrance to protect them, and Miaoyu hurriedly rubs mud all over his shiny, shiny armor. Gavin is not amused.

“It’s a good look for you,” she says hurriedly. “The kind of look that they won't see.”

Twenty tense minutes later, the Huroc have passed by, and Miaoyu and Flynn are both reasonably certain they won’t return. The party slinks out of the cave and continues west.

That night, Gavin reveals one of his other secrets—he’s a trained operatic tenor. He lulls the party to sleep with his loud but soothing songs.

The next day, the party arrives at the town with the shoddy little keep on the rock. With the Huroc forces so near and outriders in the area, they decide to press the issue of evacuation. For better or worse, it’s officially an Aurbeski town, and as a knight, Gavin has some authority.

Gavin knocks politely at the keep door. The mayor opens his little hatch and glares out at him.

"Mr. Mayor, I’m here to order an evacuation of this town. Huroc forces are nearby and a threat to the lives of your people."

The mayor grimaces and grumbles something in response. Gavin opens his mouth to say something, but Flynn cuts in.

"We’re not going to stay here to make sure you evacuate. If you don’t do it, you’ll be overrun. We can’t waste time on you."

The mayor shoots Flynn a glare. “I’m aware, thank you. It’s just been a while since the Aurbeski have tried to raze our village. We’re out of practice. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an evacuation to plan.” The hatch slams shut, and the party takes that as their cue to continue along.

The next day, the party hears angry sounds coming from the ocean, which Gavin identifies as whales. Being adventurers, they feel the need to investigate every little thing, and head down to the beach. In the sand is a solitary whale bemoaning his bad luck, and out in the ocean is a group of orcas heckling him. “We’re going to eat you!” they shout.

The beached whale flutters his fins when he sees the party. “Oh! Oh, help me into the ocean! I just need a push. I can totally outrun these guys.”

Of course, the whale is speaking Pack, one of the many animal languages in this world. Only Gavin and Seeker can understand them, though; the others are left shifting around awkwardly as Gavin makes strange noises at the whale.

"Are you positive? They ran you into the beach before."

"Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That last time was a fluke. I’ve got this."

Gavin shrugs. “Okay.” He gestures to Seeker to help him, and together they push the whale into the ocean. Gavin casts Buoyancy on the whale as it departs, hoping to give the poor thing a chance.

Seeker tilts his head at Gavin. “You said you’re a priest by blood. Does that mean one of your parents was one too?” Realizing he may have overstepped his bounds, Seeker sputters. “You don’t need to say anything if you don’t want to. Sorry.”

Gavin sighs and wraps his sealskin cloak around himself. And then Gavin isn’t there anymore. Or rather, he’s not human anymore, but a seal. Gavin is, in fact, a selkie, a sort of ocean-dwelling fey (often depicted as female) who seduce knights and have children by them, before returning to the ocean and abandoning the knight to the trials and tribulations of single fatherhood. Things were different with his mother, though: she took the kids with her, and raised them as full-blooded selkies.

During his reveal of his true nature, Gavin can’t help but hold his breath; he’s used to being rejected and ridiculed for his heritage. Instead, the party just looks him up and down, shrugs, and offers a few mild responses like, “cool” or “that’s neat”. They’ve all seen too many odd things to be fazed by a little bit of shapeshifting.

That evening, the party is lulled to sleep by the screams of the previously-beached whale being ripped to shreds by the orcas.

The next day is the first of the third month, the day the party was meant to meet with Tsarae in Brand. Miaoyu uses locate object to find Tsarae, and it seems she’s running behind as well. Not able to do anything about it, the party keeps their course.

At nightfall, the party comes to a walled coastal village—looks like a Dhar hold. The watchman glares at them from over the wall. “Whatcha want?”

"Passage," Gavin declares.

"Whatcha got?"

"Passengers, and the blessing of a certain nameless being who watches all voyages."

The watchman straightens and signals for the gate to be opened. “Come in!”

Soon, the party is seated at a table at an inn, eating a meager supper. Once Gavin has finished his, he composes himself and asks, “So who wants to know?”

A strange silence falls over the inn as the sailors glance at one another nervously. Finally, a Dhar boy in his late teens approaches Gavin. He reminds the party a bit of Olaf.

Gavin casts the Augury of Winds and Waves to see how the boy’s next voyage will turn out. “A good voyage,” Gavin determines after a long moment and the boy grins broadly.

The party arranges for a ship to Brand and beds down for the night. As they are all laying out their things and preparing to lie down, however, Aelron catches a glimpse of Gavin gazing out the window, silhouetted against the moonlit beach beyond. Struck by the image, he pulls out a clean bit of canvas he’d been saving for a painting, and memory prints the image into it. He moves quietly to Gavin's side and hands him the canvas. “Welcome to the party,” he says.

The next day, the party finally makes it to Brand. Flynn goes off to find an inn for the night and Miaoyu and Aelron go to the blacksmith Olaf commissioned to work the anti-magic shard. Lod blinks up the two of them when they arrive.

"You are not the Dhar," she observes.

"Unfortunately, Olaf lost his life a few days ago," Aelron says. Lod shrugs.

"That’s too bad. But I know you two. I have your dagger. It is very difficult, your metal. Hard to work. It is not my finest piece, but it is a good dagger. Less dangerous to the holder now. You can take it, or I can keep working on it, maybe make it better?"

Miaoyu and Aelron look the dagger over. The balance is good, and it makes the wielder at least partially immune to spells, both good and malign. The biggest problem would be healing, which would be greatly reduced. Miaoyu considers taking the dagger, but when she realizes that Tsarae would not be able to track her through Locate Object, she declines. Aelron takes it, on the reasoning that he shouldn’t need to worry about getting healing too much.

The dagger is christened, appropriately enough, Olaf's Razor.

Seeker and Gavin head to the local temple to hire Brigiians to deliver messages. One of their spells, Firecasting, allows instantaneous communication between fires so long the conversation’s participants are on the same plane. Gavin sends a note to his liegelord, explaining what has happened, and Seeker writes to Malcolm Marshtide, notifying him of his knight’s death.

Eager to get word to the baroness of recent events, the party continues on to Hangtree, and Miaoyu leaves a note for Tsarae asking her to meet them there.

Arriving at Hangtree, however, presents another hurdle: telling Keegan of Olaf’s death. We’re spared the details, but Keegan is obviously devastated and retreats to his room. Hhon-Harn is less distraught, and simply shrugs it off before gathering her things and leaving with her horse. (All said, though, Hhon-Harn got a good deal out of this whole affair: partial plate, experience, a horse, and a decent grasp of Common.)

Flynn finds that the Baroness is out of town, apparently on a quest to conquer the country of Forscythe for the king. Given that she may be returning soon, that Keegan is still way too distraught to travel, and that they’re still waiting on Tsarae, the party decides to wait for the time being. To honor Olaf, Olaf's shield with his crest is hung upon the wall, the images still shifting with their animation enchantments.

That’s all, folks. Let’s say goodbye to our dear friend Olaf and give Gavin our best wishes. In addition to Olaf, we also lost the Combusti-Bull horns (and boy will we miss those) and Scuzzbucket. Olaf’s player speculates that Scuzz will be stuck in a loop, and keep repeating Olaf’s last words until the Huroc get annoyed and finally kill the poor thing.

Fun Fact: Olaf died one day away from the in-game anniversary of the party’s first meeting.

ReaderAt2046
2014-04-27, 07:08 AM
RIP Olaf Hollow-Chest. Thou shalt be missed.

I have to wonder what this will do to the Prophecy of Kurush, with its Chosen One slain and the Huroc badly weakened.

AverageSparrow
2014-04-27, 07:28 AM
RIP Olaf Hollow-Chest. Thou shalt be missed.

I have to wonder what this will do to the Prophecy of Kurush, with its Chosen One slain and the Huroc badly weakened.

Miaoyu actually rolled a check on that, but since I couldn't find an organic way to put it into this chapter, I'm going to put it in the next one assuming I don't forget.
The prophecy is effectively wrecked, with Olaf both dead and his fate technically sundered. Still leaves Aurbesk and Drougant in a bad position, though, since no one's going to be leading them to a fleet of ships any time soon. How the party tries to solve that particular problem is answered in the next couple of chapters.

Dawnflame
2014-04-29, 01:07 PM
Got the next chapter written and edited, just waiting on the last two party members' approval to post.

It's funny how you don't realize things about your character until you back them into tight corners and see which ways they jump. The more I write Aelron, the more he moves from the "wizard" archetype toward "druid".

Fayd
2014-04-29, 06:27 PM
In memoriam Olaf, another character with your name:
http://25.media.tumblr.com/af2a77b49f78adbfa07a3e810213b5a4/tumblr_mx9o6uO7Ce1shcqoxo1_250.gif

Dawnflame
2014-04-29, 06:30 PM
Quick, someone find the "You must construct additional Qui-Gons" poster.

Tam_OConnor
2014-04-29, 07:06 PM
http://i.imgur.com/zCbM8WX.jpg
Dawnflame, check Pictures/Photos/Funny/Idiot's Lantern. Filename begins with n55. The picture source was within you whole time.

See also, Tam responds to the siren call of picture requests, and maaaay have forgotten his OotS board login.

AverageSparrow
2014-04-30, 06:42 PM
As the party's first evening in Hangtree comes to a close, Gavin approaches Flynn.

“You seem to be the Baroness' right hand. Perhaps you could arrange a room for a visiting knight?”

Flynn glances up from the map he's studying, flicks a desultory glance in Gavin's direction, and points wordlessly toward Olaf's old room in the clubhouse.

"Your pardon," Gavin demurs, “But would not a room in the lady's manor be more... appropriate?”

Flynn points again at Olaf’s room. “I won’t have you staying in the house while she’s out.”

"But proper etiquette dictates that visiting knights stay in the..." He trails off, fuming, as Flynn simply arches an eyebrow.

“You Aurbeski have strange concepts of proper etiquette,” Flynn says, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he turns back to his map.

Grumbling all the way, Gavin resignedly claims Olaf's old room as his temporary quarters.

On his way back into the clubhouse's bunkrooms, he passes Aelron, Keegan, and Lajiao, sitting in Keegan's room. Aelron is prestidigitating tears out of a handkerchief and holding it back out to a still-sobbing Keegan while Lajiao headbutts the boy reassuringly. Keegan has taken news of Olaf's death hard. Seeing Gavin passing by, Aelron tucks the handkerchief into Keegan's hand, pats him on the shoulder and murmurs, “Find me if you need to talk, any time. I'll be in my room.” Then he steps out into the hall and moves briefly into step with Gavin.

“My sympathies, friend,” Gavin offers. “No child his age should have to grieve for a father so.”

Aelron misses a step, then chuckles sadly. “Father? No, my good knight, Olaf was no one's father. Just a dear friend. Remind me sometime to tell you about our misadventures in New Drougant City the first time we stopped there. For now, I need to get to work on my staff. Enchantments don't complete themselves, you know.”

Now thoroughly bewildered, Gavin shuts himself in Olaf's room to wonder what sort of utter lunatics he's agreed to accompany.

A few days later, when the party is gathered 'round the table in the clubhouse eating breakfast, a messenger arrives with a note for Flynn. He accepts it and bids the messenger wait by the door; the seal on the heavy envelope is that of Hangtree herself. He slides his plate out of the way and breaks the seal, pulling out a small leaf of parchment scrawled with a brief message to him, and yet another envelope, this one addressed to the King of Drougant himself, also bearing Hangtree's seal.

Flynn reads the letter to himself over quickly and lets out a laugh. “Apparently,” he informs everyone, “Baroness Hangtree now controls the capital of County Forscythe. Captured it with no casualties, even. That's gotta be some sort of record. Unfortunately for us, this means she will be staying in Forscythe until the King can appoint a new Count. If we want to talk to her directly, we'll need to go pay Forscythe a visit.”

Miaoyu moans and begins scrambling for parchment and a quill. “Tsarae is gonna be so annoyed,” she mutters, penning yet another note directing Tsarae to where the party has gone gallivanting off to this time.

Flynn recruits a Brigiian messenger to take Hangtree's missive to the King, then gathers everyone up for a hasty departure.

On the plus side, it's something for Keegan to do besides mope. He seems almost happy to be leaving the clubhouse, even if it DOES mean he has to keep the party's bewildering herd of horses fed, watered and moving in the right direction.

Forscythe is only a couple days’ travel away, but naturally they don’t reach it without a random encounter. The second night out of Hangtree, during Seeker’s watch—it’s always during Seeker’s watch, have you noticed that?—that ten bandits appear around the camp, looking slightly less than amiable. Seeker howls the moment he spots them and casts Circle of Protection, warding the camp.

Flynn is on his feet and out of his tent in a flash; always nice not to need to pick up your weapon. He puts an eldritch bolt at the feet of one of the bandits, their first and only warning. “We’re not easy pickings,” he calls to them. “Look elsewhere.”

Inside the tents, the others are scrambling to get ready. Miaoyu and Gavin hurry out of the tent, both unarmored but bearing weapons; Aelron lingers in the tent, feeling vulnerable without his armor and not wanting to reveal himself quite yet.

As the eldritch bolt fades from existence, however, the bandit leader sneers at Flynn. “That's not even a real weapon, is it? Get 'em, boys!” Apparently he failed to notice the very real hole the bolt made in the dirt at his feet.

Three bandits go for Gavin, but they’re uncoordinated and Gavin is nimble and holding a shield. He manages to keep them all on one side of him so they can't flank and divide his attention, and parries or blocks all of their attacks.

Two bandits creep out of the shadows near where the party's horses are tied up. They reach up to the first two horses in line, untie them and begin attempting to lead them off. Unfortunately for them, these are Flametongue and Dawnrunner, Aelron's notoriously testy mounts. “Hey Aelron!” Flynn shouts. “Brigands are going for your horses!”

"Ohhh, they did not just!" Aelron seethes, sweeping out of the tent and into the camp. The bandits couldn't have known how seriously this particular party takes horse-theft, or how temperamental Aelron’s horses are, but if they had there's no way they even would have attempted this raid.

Three bandits are closing on Flynn and Miaoyu as Aelron steps from the tent. Miaoyu sidesteps into the shadows to clear Aelron's path, and a cone of intense flames bursts from his hands to char the rapidly closing bandits. Only one manages to dodge the flames, but he comes out of his mad scramble just in time to see Flynn's eldritch glaive scything down at him. None of the three live through the experience.

Miaoyu reappears in the trees at the edge of the camp, where the bandits currently struggling with Aelron's horses had been hiding, crossbow loaded and ready; she puts a bolt deep in the shoulder of the bandit attempting to lead Aelron's riding horse away. The bandit, terrified and confused about being attacked from behind, drops to the ground, trying for cover.

Gavin hurls his spear—his only actual weapon—at one of the bandits in front of him. That bandit dies, but his two companions, now facing an unarmed man, grin and close for the kill.

Three of the remaining bandits—the ones who didn't manage to make melee contact with the party in the first round and have just watched their companions get slaughtered mercilessly by a bunch of half-awake maniacs and mages—decide to reconsider their life choices and run away as fast as they can. The two horse thieves are a bit unnerved, but hey, if they get the horses they can run faster, right?

With his front cleared, Flynn whirls to the bandits converging on Gavin and sends a bolt hissing in their direction. It goes over their heads, but the distraction is more than enough for Gavin; he lunges between the startled men, picks up his spear, and body-checks one of them into a tree trunk. The two of them decide this is way more than they bargained for and hightail it into the trees.

With the battlefield otherwise empty of combatants, Aelron rounds on the horse thieves, who are still struggling valiantly to get his horses to calm down enough to mount. “Get. Away. From. My. Horses.” He levels his staff and sends a bolt of arcane energy sizzling past Dawnrunner's mane; it strikes the uninjured bandit just above his collarbones and hurls him to the ground, where he manages one feeble twitch before darkness claims him. At the same time, Miaoyu puts another bolt in the bandit she wounded previously; he, having just recovered enough courage to return to his feet, crumples to the ground again as the bolt explodes through his neck, showering Flametongue with a spray of arterial red.

With all the bandits either dead or run off, the party searches them for loot (they didn’t have the decency to have anything worthwhile) and disposes of their bodies.

The next day, they pass by the pomegranate grove, and with encouragement from the party, Aelron stops by to visit the dryad. Since he’s carrying Olaf's Razor, Aelron doesn’t have to worry about making a will save; he is immune to spells, and the dryad's charm counts as a spell effect. The dryad doesn’t remember him—they have incredibly short memories—but while that's a bit of a disappointment, Aelron shrugs it off fairly easily. He offers to share what remains of his Illian whiskey with the dryad in exchange for a lock of hair, and the dryad accepts. Nothing like having a good time and getting some rare components.

The party passes into Deepspring county and then finally Forscythe. When they reach the keep, it’s flying Hangtree’s banner and the field around it is curiously unscathed. The only evidence of bloodshed is a single pike with a head on top mounted over the front gate.

A nervous guard hails the party and lets them into the courtyard, where they find the newly-promoted Sergeant Ranolf—one of the fighters that helped the party clear out the pirate cove in chapter two—waiting to meet them.

"Welcome to Castle Forscythe," he says solemnly, stepping forward with arms outstretched to either side in a gesture of greeting. He holds the post for a moment, then snorts once, and suddenly both he and Flynn dissolve into riotous laughter.

"So,” Flynn asks a few minutes later, once they've both recovered, “Whose head is that on the pike?"

Ranolf smirks. "That’s Countess Forscythe. She made the mistake of accepting a duel with Hangtree."

As Ranolf leads the party through the castle to meet with the Baroness, he tells them of how Forscythe was captured. It’s a fairly short story: the Baroness simply gathered up twenty troops and marched straight to the castle. After she won the duel, Forscythe county was happy to reconsider their stance on independence, and the Baroness is currently the occupying general until the king can find someone else for the job of count or countess.

Ranolf brings the party to the dining room, a high-ceilinged, banner-draped chamber with fireplaces on its long walls and high windows along its back. Sunlight slanting in through the windows illuminates Baroness Hangtree seated one chair to the right of the County Seat at the high table. She smiles as Flynn enters and stands to welcome them.

“Dear Flynn, welcome! So good of you to join us!” The smile they share is positively conspiratorial. “And Seeker, Aelron, Miaoyu, good to see you are all well. But who is this with you?”

Gavin steps forward, then kneels. “My lady, I have the honor to be Sir Gavin of Tidehollow, knight of Aurbesk, until recently serving with the Seventh Regiment attempting to march the Huroc out of Aurbeski territory. I have accompanied these folk hence to testify in Drougant as to the presence of said Huroc, at the behest of the Larlonite.”

Hangtree nods formally. “Welcome, then, Sir Gavin, to County Forscythe. I am Baroness Hangtree, Interim Countess Forscythe. Thank you for joining us. I fear your testimony may be necessary.”

Once Gavin has stood and all are adequately welcomed, Hangtree gestures to the table before her. "Please, sit and help yourself to whatever food you desire—and I mean that: the countess had a habit of hoarding food, it seems."

The party takes the time to enjoy the food, but soon they get down to business and report all that happened on the party's ill-fated (or ill-un-fated?) trip to uncover the Huroc.

"I’m sorry to hear of Olaf’s death," she says. "He was a fine man. This is definitely worthy of concern." She leans back in her chair and withdraws into thought. “With Olaf dead, where does the prophecy stand?” she asks after a moment.

“It’s wrecked,” Miaoyu says. “Olaf’s fate was already shattered and he drove the last of it into the ground when he tried to kill Alderik. For now, I think it’s safe to say we don’t need to worry about it being fulfilled. The Huroc are still a problem, though.”

"I had an idea," Seeker says eagerly. "We could try to convince the rebels to join us against a common enemy." At the Baroness’s skeptical look, he tries to explain a bit: "The logistics aside—"

Hangtree makes an abrupt chopping motion with her hand, overriding him. "No. You cannot say something like ‘let’s work with the rebels’ and follow that with ‘logistics aside’." She launches into a short rant about the importance of logistics, before finally subsiding and shaking her head. “Look,” she finally says. “Even if we COULD get the rebellious baronies and counties on our side, it wouldn't do us any good. Their forces, the armies they actually control, cannot leave their lands; I bent the rules rather heavily bringing twenty of my own men into County Forscythe as an 'honor guard'.” She grimaces. “Drougant doesn't HAVE a standing army under the control of the crown; all armed forces are baronial, or county-specific, and forbidden to leave their territories. Which means the only way to raise an actual army in Drougant is mercenaries.”

“Hence Haddon's Eagles,” Flynn says, “And all the mercenary bands that the rebels are employing.”

“And the Map-Tappers,” Miaoyu puts in.

“Okay,” Seeker says, not quite willing to give up yet, “But the rebellious counties have enough money to HIRE those larger mercenary groups. If we can sway them to our side...”

Aelron shakes his head. “Even IF we had a plan that could do such a thing—and I've not yet heard one proposed—all the mercenaries are on the wrong side of the country. The rebellion is a month or more west and north of us as armies march, well past New Drougant City by this point. The Huroc are nigh-directly east.”

Hangtree looks directly at Seeker. “I know you wish to help your wife, but for us, Drougant must come first. I am sorry, but I see no way that pursuing an alliance with the rebels can aid us in deflecting the Huroc. It might save lives, but that will be for nothing if the Huroc cannot be deflected.”

Miaoyu turns to Gavin. “What about Aurbeski aid? If Drougant can put an army together, will Aurbesk be willing to coordinate for an attack on the Huroc?”

Gavin smiles tightly. “Doubtful. Where was Drouganti aid when the Huroc were ravaging our countryside?”

Flynn lifts an eyebrow. “Who raided the up which rivers recently, again? Just wondering.”

“Enough,” Hangtree interjects, looking sharply at Flynn. “We have our differences; that is enough. Perhaps if we can FIND an army, the Aurbeski will be willing to discuss coordination. Until then, such speculation and argument is pointless.”

Gavin grimaces. “I... have a suggestion. I can't pretend I like it, but it is a possibility. We could appeal to the Bene. They could fund your mercenaries, but their price would be steep.”

Miaoyu looks over at him in consternation. “We're broke anyway. How does that help us?”

Gavin shudders. “The price would not be exacted in gold.”

Flynn frowns. “I think I'll pass on finding out exactly what that means. It sounds like a direct military confrontation with the Huroc is probably not going to happen. Is there another strategy we can pursue?”

Aelron shrugs. “We try to find a way to do what the Aurbeski were doing: redirect the Huroc, give them something that's NOT Drougant to chase.”

Now it's Miaoyu's turn to frown. “Maybe, but then where would we send them? South is no good; that's a bloody ocean, and we haven't got the boats. East is a no-go; we can't have them going back into Aurbesk—”

“We can't?” Flynn murmurs, sounding vaguely disappointed. Hangtree glowers at him. Miaoyu elbows him in the ribs. Gavin stoically pretends not to notice.

Miaoyu continues. “We can't have them coming west into Drougant... so where do we send them?”

Flynn pulls out his map, a new smile on his face, and points. Under his finger is a narrow valley marked Demonsbreath Pass, which winds its way up from the coastal areas of Drougant, through the continent's central mountain range and out onto its northern plains. “Here,” Flynn says, “The same place the Aurbeski were leading them: Demonsbreath Pass.”

Aelron smiles in appreciation. “Pitting Huroc against Kadashari? It has a certain elegance to it.”

“Kadashari?” Miaoyu asks, perplexed.

Seeker stirs, growling. “Heretics,” he says shortly. “Demon worshipers. They're most of the reason that Demonsbreath Pass retains its name.”

“Using the Huroc to clean out the Kadashari certainly strikes me as a wonderful idea,” Aelron says, “But what happens once the Huroc either get bored or clear the pass and come out on the other side? If we don't deal with them, they WILL be back to haunt someone eventually. If not Drougant or Aurbesk, some other civilized nation.”

“Would that not be someone else's problem?” Ranolf puts in.

Aelron turns to glower at him. “Do not allow your duty to Drougant to distract you from the fact that every life is valuable. If we half-ass this job and the Huroc destroy another nation because of it—or worse yet, come back later to hunt us down—what will we have achieved? I do not intend to pay a blood price for Drougant's safety. I intend to see the threat the Huroc pose ended, one way or another.”

For a long moment, the silence is thick and heavy as a down comforter.

Gavin breaks it, glancing speculatively at Hangtree herself. “What if we could bring down the Huroc leader? Would he agree to a duel?”

Miaoyu nods. “Oh, yeah. Alderik loves to fight. Any excuse will do, I'm sure.”

“My lady is strong enough to make the attempt,” Flynn interjects, “But how can we be sure that the rest of the Huroc will hold to whatever word Alderik gives? Even if we could manage to beat him in a duel, we don't have an army standing behind us to threaten the rest of the Huroc with once he's gone. Ten to one they'd invade anyway, regardless of what anyone promised upon the outcome of the duel.”

Seeker looks down at the map. “There are plenty of more... natural dangers in Drougant,” he notes slowly, tracing the Corpse Copse and pointing to the ruins of Old Drougant City. “What if we could lure the Huroc into one or more of those?”

“Luring someone into Old Drougant or the Corpse Copse would require heading into them ourselves, and that's a dangerous proposition,” Hangtree points out.

“Besides which,” Aelron states, “Feeding an entire army of Huroc to a forest that is famous for turning people into ghouls doesn't sound like solving the problem to me. It sounds like turning the problem in to a roving army of ghouls.”

“Or maybe they'd clear out the Copse for us,” Miaoyu says with a shrug, “But whichever side wins is still a huge problem. We can't guarantee that any of these things will cancel out the Huroc, so we're back to not actually solving the problem.”

“Besides which,” Flynn points out, “It's unlikely the Huroc would chase us exclusively to any of these locations. They'd hit towns along the way, and kill thousands of people, and most likely kill us before we could lead them anywhere. Casualty count would be enormous.”

“Then it sounds like, if we're going to fight, we have to do it my way,” Miaoyu says. “From darkness, quietly, hitting where the enemy is weak and never exposing ourselves to their strengths.”

Gavin frowns. “Such a war is dishonorable.”

“Beats the hell out of pointless death,” Miaoyu says flatly.

“Unfortunately,” Hangtree breaks in, “Most of Drougant's soldiers are trained in what we might charitably call 'honorable combat'. They don't have the skillset required for guerilla warfare.”

Aelron shakes himself. “And I almost forgot! We still have the egg!” He pulls it from his pack, a massive sunstone crystal slightly warm to the touch, wrapped for the moment in Seeker's stasis spell. “If we bring this thing anywhere near the Huroc at the wrong moment, it might hatch and blow whatever plan we have.”

“When does that spell run out?” Flynn asks, looking to Seeker.

“The twenty-sixth,” Seeker says heavily. “We've only got a few days left.”

“Aelron,” Flynn says slowly, “You are a... student of the Mother of All Dragons, yes?” Note the careful avoidance of both 'worshipper', which might suggest sanction where none exists, and 'cultist', which might offend.

Aelron nods hesitantly.

“Could you... speak with the dragon when it hatches? Convince it to join our side?”

Abashed, Aelron takes a moment to think. “I... well, maybe. Little is known of young dragons, though I imagine it might be more open to persuasion than an adult dragon, as human children are more impressionable than adults. I am uncertain how my patron would respond to attempts to brainwash a young dragon, though, and more importantly, this egg is already known to be a relic of Kurush. I have no idea what THAT will mean for the dragon itself when it hatches.”

“Way too much uncertainty in all of that to form plans around,” Hangtree mutters, and everyone has to agree.”

“I could try giving the egg to the Mother of All Dragons,” Aelron suggests. “She would be... best qualified to raise it. That would remove it from this plane without killing it and get it out of the way.”

Miaoyu rolls her eyes as she takes a sip of ale.

“What would you need to do that?” Flynn asks.

“Mostly just a portal. A planar weak point. The ones that the Mother of Dragons can access are usually in areas of unspoilt natural beauty; WE want one that doesn't already have a dragon living in it.”

“Wolfhead Woods should suit your needs,” Hangtree says, peering at the map. “It's only a few days' travel from here.”

“Oh, goodie,” Miaoyu mutters, “Another trip to the Dead Unicorn Forest.”

Yes, it’s back to the forest where Olaf killed the unicorn. Provided that the area is useable, Aelron should be able to consecrate the area to his goddess and open a portal for her to take the egg, if she so desires.

While that potentially solves one problem, the party still has no idea on how to handle the Huroc.

"What if there was some sort of symbol the Drouganti could rally behind?" Seeker asks. The Baroness ponders the suggestion for a moment.

"Drougant lost its Laerosian Regalia some time ago. If it could be recovered and given to the king, certain parties might be... more inclined to recognize his rule."

When Laeros rose as the god of civilization, he was given magical gifts by thirteen other gods. Laeros in turn bestowed each of these powerful gifts upon the leaders of the world's civilizations. For example, Femta gifted the Throne of the High King, which became the symbol of the Thousand Kingdoms; it’s said that when someone who is worthy sits upon the throne, they are blessed. (Of course, no one has been found ‘worthy’ yet, and the throne has a nasty tendency to kill any unworthy who sit upon it.)

For Drougant to lose its regalia is no small thing; some theologians have argued that losing it has thrown Drougant out of favor with Laeros, resulting in all the squabbling and backbiting for which Drougant is so lovingly known. If they are correct, regaining the regalia, whatever it is, and presenting it to the King of Drougant could, in theory, help stabilize the nation, or at least rally the people long enough to fend off the Huroc.

But how in the name of the gods are they supposed to find something that’s been lost for centuries?

“Miaoyu?” Flynn prompts.

"Give me a minute," she sighs. Miaoyu relays the request to Gilgadar, and then he tells her to hold on and after a few minutes of awkward silence, she hears his voice in her head again.

"Okay, the thing about other dieties’ religious artifacts is that I can’t get too close to them or they get a little… nervous. I don't have a location yet. It's gonna take me a while to find that without it upsetting anyone. In the meantime, though, I can tell you what you’re looking for."

And then he tells her, and Miaoyu breaks the minutes-long silence with a sudden laugh. “Okay, here’s a good one,” Miaoyu says in response to everyone’s puzzled expressions. “The relic for Drougant? It’s the Sword of Loyalty! Oaths made on it are unbreakable.”

Flynn and Hangtree simply stare stonily; they see no humor here. Seeker just seems puzzled. Aelron coughs politely and turns to gaze out the window, the noise covering what might have been the barest hint of a snicker from Gavin, who seems to be having trouble keeping a smirk off his face.

After a moment, Miaoyu clears her throat and continues on. “Anyway, Gilgadar needs some time to pin down its exact location. I’ll get back to you guys on that.”

The day has grown late and the party retires to their rooms, planning to head out to Wolfhead Woods the next day; they all relish the nice, comfy beds while they can.

At breakfast, Miaoyu finds a nice little surprise tucked under her plate of eggs: a note and a map, presumably from everyone’s favorite god of thieves. She unfolds the note and it reads as follows:

On the Throne waits the Sword. In the hands of the Faithless King is Fidelity.

The map is that of Old Drougant City. A river snakes from the northwestern corner to the southeastern, widening at the very heart of the map. A small island is marked in the middle of the river there, and in the middle of the island is a rectangle labeled ‘throne’. Miaoyu sighs; she’s not surprised, but she’s not excited by the prospect of venturing into Old Drougant City by any stretch. She pushes her plate to the side and spreads out the map on the table and places the note on top. “Guess what I found?”

"Where did you get that?" Seeker asks.

Miaoyu looks up at him with a wicked grin, winks, and turns back to the map. Everyone takes a turn looking over the note and studying the map.

Old Drougant City was the capital of Drougant until about 200 years ago, when a dynasty fell and took the city with it. There are about a million rumors about what exactly befell Drougant City and why, ranging from godly wrath to natural disaster, to magical experiments gone awry, to demonic invasion. It’s no one's idea of a vacation destination, or even a safe travel route; even experienced adventurers think twice before venturing into its ruins. Whether or not the ‘Faithless King’ mentioned in the note is the king that fell with Drougant City is anyone’s guess, but it’s an intriguing possibility. Either way, it seems fairly definite that if they want the sword, they need to head straight to the center of the city.

“Well,” Flynn says with a sigh, “If we manage not to get ourselves killed on the way, legend has it that there’s a lot of coin left in the king’s vaults. Maybe we’ll fund our army yet.”

It’s a problem for another day, though. For now, the egg is the priority. Fortunately, Wolfhead Woods isn’t far from Old Drougant City anyway. The Baroness gives the party three soldiers to take as support (including our beloved Sergeant Ranolf) and they set out.

Miaoyu jogs back inside as they're preparing to leave to remind the Baroness of something: “If you see a grumpy cave elf, please tell her where we’re headed and point her on her way after us.”

After a couple of days of travel, the party reaches the edge of the Wolfhead Woods. With a few days to spare, the party beds down and plans to investigate the forest for a ritual location the next day.

Naturally, it’s not that easy. During Seeker’s watch (we’re starting to get suspicious that he’s making weird things happen), he notices silvery flickering in the treeline. While it doesn’t look like an immediate threat, he and his watch partner, one of the Baroness’s soldiers, wake everyone quietly. Soon, everyone is armed and armored and they spend a good ten minutes watching the strange flickering. When nothing happens, Gavin offers to investigate, with Flynn a few steps behind in case he needs support.

“My name is Gavin of Tidehollow,” he says as he moves toward the treeline. He can’t seem to get a fix on the silvery flickering; at one moment it’s far back to the right, the next it’s nearby and to the left. He waits for a long moment, expecting something to happen, but aside from the flickering, all is still. Slowly, a feeling of betrayal overcomes him. He glances at Flynn and shrugs and they both return to the camp.

“Nothing happened. I just can’t help but feel like whatever it is, it’s been betrayed,” Gavin says.

“That’s probably because of this,” Seeker says, and pulls the alicorn out of his bag. Flynn shouts a protest, but it’s too late: Gavin is asked to make a will save, and he fails it.

Gavin snatches the alicorn out of Seeker’s hand, nearly shaking with fury. “How dare you? I can scarcely believe that you—a Larlonite with vows of pacifism—would condone the murder of an innocent and pure creature!”

Seeker’s ears twist back in a show of distress. “It was to save the life of another—to break a curse.”

“So you exchange one life for another? Well I hope the life you saved was well worth the life of this unicorn and the suffering it experiences now!”

Seeker’s hands flash up as he attempts a dispel, and Gavin lunges forward to disrupt his casting—but too slowly. The charm breaks on Gavin and he’s left momentarily dazed. “I... I’m sorry. I’m not sure why I got so angry.” He makes to give the horn back to Seeker, but Flynn takes it instead.

“I think maybe it’s time we give this back,” he says, and turns on his heel to approach the forest. Gavin moves to go with him, but Flynn waves him back. “I should do this alone. I technically have the best...,” he clears his throat, “credibility.” Gavin stays a few paces behind, but keeps Flynn in sight, should the unicorn spirit become hostile.

Flynn enters the treeline and begins speaking. “Your sacrifice saved a greater life than mine. Your death is among the greatest of my many regrets. Know that the one who killed you is dead and gone; rest in peace.” He places the alicorn on the ground and takes a couple of steps back.

For the first time, the silvery flickering stops and manifests in front of the alicorn, taking on the shape of a large, hornless unicorn. It touches its muzzle to the alicorn, and the alicorn itself vanishes, reappearing in ghostly form upon the spirit in front of Flynn. The spirit looks up at Flynn, studies him a moment, then lowers its head and charges forward, its horn piercing directly through Flynn's chest. The momentum of its charge, which should have carried Flynn at least five paces back, vanishes upon impact, dropping Flynn flat on his back; the unicorn, discorporeating more with each passing moment, canters through Flynn and loops around toward the forest before vanishing entirely.

Flynn is starting to sit up by the time Gavin, followed swiftly by the rest of the party, makes it over to him.

Gavin rushes over to Flynn to make sure he’s okay. “I’m sorry—it looked like it was just playing. I didn’t think it would hurt you.”

Flynn waves off his concern and stands. “It's not that bad.”

Aelron and Miaoyu gasp. Seeker growls. Gavin blinks.

“What?” Flynn asks. Then he notices they're all staring at his chest, and looks down. “Oh. Well, that's a first.”

The unicorn's horn put a hole straight through Flynn's chest, missing his heart and lungs by what must be millimeters. The entire party can see straight through him. Strangely, though, the wound isn't bleeding, and Flynn himself feels perfectly fine.

“Just as well,” Seeker grunts as he steps forward to heal the wound. “I always thought you and Olaf were more alike than you knew.”

The healing spell leaves behind a pearlescent scar. It seems we have a new Hollowchest in the party—one that can cure poisons once per day and has a constant, passive detect poison ability.

Once everyone is satisfied that the hole in Flynn’s chest isn’t about to kill him and that the unicorn ghost isn’t about to seek further revenge, everyone returns to bed or watch as appropriate. Seeker pulls Gavin aside before he returns to his tent. “I just wanted to say, your criticism, compelled though it was... I struggled with that for a long time.”

Gavin shakes his head. “I would have done the same thing. Loyalty is paramount.”

Morning finally comes, and the party heads to the unicorn grove after asking Ranolf and the others to make camp at the forest edge with Keegan. The grove actually appears to be more filled with life since the unicorn’s death: the grass is thicker and more luxuriant. It would seem that unicorn blood is a great fertilizer.

Since they have some time, the party agrees that it would be best to check if there are other, better places to open up a portal to the Dragonmother’s realm. Miaoyu and Seeker pair up and take the planar hound skull to look for places where portals may be ready to manifest; they head west. The other three go east, using Aelron’s knowledge of magic and the planes to identify places themselves.

Seeker and Miaoyu don’t have much luck or excitement, aside from having to dodge a group of passing bandits. The other three have more results, however. After a bit of searching, they hear the telltale clash of weapons, but from the rhythmic sound, it’s likely training, not battle. Normally, they would just continue around the training location, but as they draw closer, they realize that the grass is lush and the trees are straighter; this is likely the location of a portal, or at least an ideal place to open one. Gavin volunteers to get Miaoyu and Seeker and in the meantime, Flynn climbs a tree to see if he can learn anything himself.

Gavin uses one of the party’s dog whistles to catch Seeker's attention, then howls a message in Pack. He explains that they found an ideal place for the ritual, but that it’s likely being occupied by bandits or some similar group. Once Seeker deciphers Gavin's strange accent, he and Miaoyu return to the rest of the group and use the planar hound skull to confirm the presence of a portal at the center of the strange camp.

Miaoyu goes in for a better look. In the midst of many trees are a number of tents and shelters, and an unexpectedly large group—about 50 people in total. They’re wearing actual armor, too, things that look professionally made and like they might actually turn a blade. They’re disciplined, too, and diverse both in race and class, with even a few noncombatants in the mix. Their levels range quite a bit, too; some are level 0, but others are level 1, 2, and maybe even higher. If they’re bandits, they’re not like any that the party’s ever encountered. What they are exactly, though, is hard to say; they don’t seem to bear any standards or symbols or even shared colors.

At the center of the camp is a large, standing rock, and Miaoyu’s best guess for the center of the portal. She sees one person, a mage, both enter and leave some sort of opening the rock hides from view, but she can’t determine where it leads, so she returns to the group and shares what she found.

The party tosses around the possibility of nicely asking if they can use the grove, but since there’s no way to ensure that the group won’t try to pull a fast one (or to reassure them that the party won’t do the same), the idea is discarded. As ideal as the location would be, it’s just too risky to try, so it’s decided to use the unicorn’s grove at first light.

At dawn, Aelron starts preparing for the ritual by consecrating the grove to the Mother of All Dragons. It’s an eight-hour ritual, though, so the party members finds different ways to distract themselves. Gavin and Flynn, being disciplined and responsible fighters, take up watch, with Flynn in a tree and Gavin on the ground. Miaoyu, not being a disciplined and responsible fighter, decides to make a tiny house out of twigs. Seeker takes to watching Aelron work, and would have helped if he could have.

The eight hours begin to draw to a close and Miaoyu’s house is coming along quite nicely, when suddenly it collapses. After a stunned moment, she looks up and finds Tsarae glowering at her.

“Oh, hey,” Miaoyu says. “Sorry. We sort of got... pulled off track.”

Tsarae keeps glaring and Gavin bounds up, spear in hand, ready to act at any sign of hostility. From his perch in the tree, Flynn shouts down, “Relax! That’s the other Gilgadarite we were supposed to meet.”

Gavin lowers his spear and relaxes a bit. But only a bit. “Greetings. I am Sir Gavin of Tidehollow.”

Tsarae studies him for a moment before turning back to Miaoyu. “What happened to the other one?”

“Oh, Olaf... didn’t make it. We lost him to the Huroc, but we wrecked the prophecy.”

“And we’re about to wreck it some more,” Aelron adds as he wraps up his ritual.

“So,” Miaoyu says, “learn anything interesting?”

“Well, the Huroc weren’t where you said they’d be,” Tsarae says, shooting Miaoyu a dirty look. “Other than that, some Kadarashi are coming down this time of the year. Knew some of them.”

“Knew some of them?” Seeker echoes. Tsarae raises a brow and he grumbles, “Just making sure I heard right.”

Gavin changes the subject: “Once we’re done with this egg, we just need to stop the Huroc somehow.”

Tsarae shrugs. “If the prophecy’s wrecked, what else is there to worry about?”

Gavin stares at her. “The lives of thousands?”

Tsarae shrugs. “There are worse losses.” At Gavin’s mounting fury, she sighs and decides to elaborate. “Let me use a metaphor you surfacers will understand. When you harvest wheat, you put the good grains in storage, and leave the bad grains in the field so they will fertilize the soil and make it rich and help the next harvest be strong.”

“There’s only one problem with that metaphor,” Gavin deadpans. “All the grain is dead.”

Tsarae waves her hand dismissively. “All metaphors break down if you examine them too closely.”

Gavin lets out a frustrated sigh, and Aelron calls out to him, “Just let it go. There’s no point arguing morals with someone who doesn’t have any.”

“Exactly!” Tsarae says brightly. “He gets it.”

Right about that time, the consecration is finally finished and the presence of the Mother of All Dragons fills the area. Gavin feels a gentle but firm ‘push’, as if a request to leave the vicinity; he departs quickly, keeping his back turned to the now-sacred place politely. The Gilgadarites are used to feeling like they don’t belong, but leave regardless, and Seeker, although perhaps the most welcome in the area, also leaves. Flynn, still in his tree, is far enough away that he doesn’t need to move.

Miaoyu and Tsarae find a nice place to wait while Aelron begins communing, Seeker and Gavin not far away.

“Want to play a word game?” Miaoyu asks Tsarae.

Tsarae glares. “You’re just going to keep bugging me until I say yes, aren’t you?” Miaoyu grins and Tsarae sighs her consent.

“Okay, Tilly Willy likes grass but not bushes. Tilly Willy likes wood, but not plaster; boots but not shoes. Feel free to join in once you figure it out.”

Tsarae glares. Miaoyu keeps listing things that Tilly does and does not like.

Communing with a deity is risky. Ask the wrong questions, say the wrong things, improperly address the entity whose attention you have called, and you can find yourself dead, or worse, cursed. Some deities are, of course, worse about this than others; Turmlar and Brigii are honorable beings. Nunantii, on the other hand, is better avoided. The Mother of Dragons is a protector of natural beauty, and as such can take a harsh view of mortals. Aelron walks a fine line between valuing and needing civilization himself, and serving as a protector of the wilds for his patron. While she is not as vengeful as Nunantii, the Mother of Dragons can be insistent in her own way.

Like now, for instance. As the communion begins, Aelron sits silently and allows the Mother of Dragons to search his mind and memories to find that which brings him to consecrate a grove in her name. Once she has satisfied herself about his reasons for calling her, she prods him mentally. Speak.

“I pray, my lady, O Mother of Dragons and protector of the untamed, take this egg which I present you,” he murmurs. “Kurush's followers have leapt the bounds of prophecy, and now it is up to mortals to restrain their violence and curb their wrath. This egg is a wild element, one that mortals cannot account for, bound up in sundered fate as it is. Please, see fit to remove it from our hands, that we might face the Huroc without worry for it or ourselves.”

There is an un-sound of pondering, as if a mountain were humming to itself in deep thought, that comes from all around and nowhere at once, but does not leave the clearing. And what do I or the wilds gain from this transaction?

Aelron closes his eyes. “You have seen firsthand what mortals can do when backed into a corner. If Drougant, or any other kingdom threatened by the Huroc, grows desperate enough, the destruction they could unleash upon the wildlands I am bidden to protect would be catastrophic. As for you, personally... that egg is a relic of Kurush. I and my fellows have no want of it or use for it. Keep it for yourself, and know that even mighty Kurush cannot use dragons for his own purposes if My Lady does not wish it.”

And then, just as suddenly as she arrived, the Mother of Dragons has made up her mind.

A twig snaps behind Aelron, and, seemingly of its own volition, his head turns, glancing over his shoulder. A small white rabbit has frozen in fear at the sound and stares back at him before darting away into the brush. By the time Aelron turns his head back to the grove, the egg and the presence of his goddess are gone. He stands, take a deep breath, and offers a prayer of thanks.

During Aelron’s watch that evening, he hears strange cackling from the woods, of the non-sinister variety. He scans the treeline, but can’t make anything out, so he peeks into the tent to see if Tsarae has taken a night outing; he finds her fast asleep.

Aelron takes another moment to see if he can locate the source of the laughter, but, finding nothing, he continues his watch without incident.

At breakfast, the party begins discussing their plans for Old Drougant City (after Tsarae and Miaoyu have ceased bickering about the twig house for a while; “There was going to be a whole village!” “It wasn’t structurally sound!”). They decide to head to the nearby town of Scarlet to stock up on supplies, gather information, and send Ranolf and his men, along with Keegan, back to Hangtree.

“Do you want to come on a stupidly suicidal mission with us?” Miaoyu asks Tsarae.

“We could use every good sword arm we could get,” Seeker adds.

“Don’t try to convince her,” Aelron advises him. “Just let her make her decision by herself.”

“He learns quick,” Tsarae quips, smiling over at Miaoyu. “I’m impressed.” She mulls it over for a bit and finally shrugs. “Sounds interesting. I’m in.”

Fayd
2014-05-01, 05:41 PM
So, friends, readers, have ye predictions for where things are headed? What do you think shall become of our... heroes? Or, do you have any questions for us?

Lord_Burch
2014-05-01, 06:56 PM
So, friends, readers, have ye predictions for where things are headed? What do you think shall become of our... heroes? Or, do you have any questions for us?

Doom. Someone is doomed. Notice I didn't specify what doom, nor whom, so I win in any scenario.

:smallbiggrin:

Fayd
2014-05-01, 08:32 PM
Actually, it is theoretically possible for you to be wrong. Were Miaoyu (or Tsarae) to sunder the fate of absolutely everyone, nobody would be doomed. Feasible... I dunno. But theoretically possible!

AverageSparrow
2014-05-01, 08:34 PM
Actually, it is theoretically possible for you to be wrong. Were Miaoyu (or Tsarae) to sunder the fate of absolutely everyone, nobody would be doomed. Feasible... I dunno. But theoretically possible!

Joke's on you. Miaoyu doesn't have that spell anymore and won't get it back until we level again. Pretty sure Tsarae doesn't have it either.

Lord_Burch
2014-05-01, 08:48 PM
Actually, it is theoretically possible for you to be wrong. Were Miaoyu (or Tsarae) to sunder the fate of absolutely everyone, nobody would be doomed. Feasible... I dunno. But theoretically possible!

But unless it passes on to children, then the children will still be doomed! Unless they also have their fate sundered. Eventually, though, someone, somewhere, will be doomed.


Joke's on you. Miaoyu doesn't have that spell anymore and won't get it back until we level again. Pretty sure Tsarae doesn't have it either.

Sure, but assuming she makes it to the next level, it's still possible. Though it would still be a feat to pull off. I'm also sure someone (or a group of someones) will decide not to have their fate sundered, and it won't end well for Miaoyu.

Drakefall
2014-05-02, 03:15 AM
Clearly what needs to happen is for one of the party to go all Paragon Shepard and yell at the Aubreski and Drougant governments until they feel bad and decide to work together to defeat the Huroc. :smalltongue:

I'm guessing the more likely plan, however, is to find the excalibur and use it to either rally Drougant behind the current leader or put Hangtree in charge or somesuch?

The_Werebear
2014-05-02, 09:37 AM
At the moment, I think everyone has a slightly different variation.

I may be making some slight assumptions, but I'll list them as best I can. If I'm incorrect in assumptions, post over me guys :smallamused:

Gavin: Get the Sword of Oaths, go around person to person if need be and make them swear on it to drive out the Huroc, crush any distractions, and then see about wrangling his own side into helping. He has no doubt that if the Droganti manage to unify an army to fight, then the Aurbeski will send one out of duty (and also shame, raw shock, desire for revenge, opportunism, and making sure the Droganti don't think about reclaiming any territory with that army)

Flynn: Much the same, though without as much sarcasm and annoyance with Droganti customs and much more doubt about the wisdom of letting the Aurbeski over the Droganti border

Aelron: Much the same, though without any sarcasm at all.

Miaoyu: Prophecy is wrecked, so its pretty much all just clean up. Cruising, looking for treasures to steal and fates to break. I don't know if she's planning on fatebreaking the sword either to see what will happen.

Seeker: Get sword, use sword to bring the Sable Confederation back into the Droganti fold, thus impressing his wife into going back to him, saving the Kingdom from the Huroc with suitably heroic action, put his life back in order.

Fayd
2014-05-02, 11:33 AM
My goals are a touch more... nuanced than that.

Get the sword, use it to halt the rebellion and bring the Sable Confederacy into line with the rest of Drougant and thus have the chance to actually have a conversation with his wife, face to face, to learn what happened. If it can be repaired (and if what he suspects happened actually did happen, that may be possible), then he will begin the long process of repairing his relationship. Seeker will live to be at LEAST 400, assuming he survives the campaign, so what's 10 or 20 years spent rebuilding a relationship?

AverageSparrow
2014-05-02, 03:01 PM
You're not entirely right on Miaoyu's goals, but it's a pretty reasonable assumption regardless. She's pretty satisfied that the prophecy is done for, and she is partly in this for the hell of it. The thing is, she figures that fate doesn't want Drougant to stabilize and unite (at least not right now), and the idea of a couple of Gilgadarites helping to bring order to a country is about the funniest thing she can think of. Mostly, though, she's just happy to be travelling with Tsarae again.

Cade Rentyr
2014-05-03, 03:55 PM
Not that much less sarcasm and annoyance, though exasperated but resigned acceptance might be more accurate. Flynn's well aware that the Drogaunti political system is messed up and full of holes, he just doesn't see a better alternative anywhere nearby (including Aurbesk). He also personally doesn't care much about Aurbesk coming over the border because he's so apolitical; the only reason he's personally concerned about the Huroc doing the same is because they'd come raping and slaughtering (he doesn't even really much care about the pillaging). Officially, and as far as he'd admit to anyone, the only reasons he's still involved is because he still owes Aelron and Miaoyu favors and because Hangtree is interested and involved.

The Connish stereotype is undying loyalty to one's immediate superiors, while giving not even a rat's butt about the faceless entities above or beyond. Flynn readily admits that this is a terrible mindset for responding to national threats, but as far as politics go he subscribes to it anyway.

Fayd
2014-05-08, 04:23 PM
I'll admit, I was expecting more of a reaction to the most recent title.

AverageSparrow
2014-05-08, 04:40 PM
The party beats feet toward the town of Scarlet to prepare for their totally-not-suicidal jaunt into Old Drougant City. Scarlet is a decent-sized town just south and west of the old city's border, one of the closest jumping-off points with enough civilization to provide the supplies the party will need.

En route, Flynn tells Gavin stories he’s heard about ODC, from undead birds of prey with wingspans wider than Dhar longboats are long, to curses that turn people inside out and force them to feast on one another. (At one point, Tam told Cade: “I know you’re just making this stuff up, but these are actually stories Flynn has heard.” So reassuring!)

The trip from Forscythe to Scarlet actually carries the party very close to the city's border along a road typically used by only the most daring of trade caravans. Maybe it’s because ODC is on everyone’s mind, or maybe it's because some evil enchantment draws the eye, but no one can help staring toward the ruins as they ride past. The city is cloaked in unseasonable fog, and Miaoyu's and Flynn's keen eyes can just barely make out the crumbled and bent remains of two towers along the wreckage of a stone wall.

They make Scarlet with surprisingly little trouble and get a few rooms in a tavern whose sign features a gaudily-colored nine-headed hydra above the words 'Buy one, get eight free!'. Seeker steps into the tavern first and stops dead in his tracks: the bartender is an elf (named, as the party later finds out, Yvanna). For better or worse, Seeker isn’t left to fret for long: Gavin didn’t expect him to stop and barrels right into him. They both tumble into the tavern magnificently. A few of the patrons chortle and Yvanna glances at them curiously before returning to bartending (and liberally sampling her own ale). It’s an adventurer tavern; Yvanna has had plenty of wolfmen patrons.

Once the party gets settled in, Aelron and Seeker go to their rooms to begin producing magic items, Flynn begins collecting information, Gavin orders a real meal, and Miaoyu and Tsarae settle in to get drunk.

Flynn finds out about a group of seven adventurers that went into Old Drougant recently and even more recently returned, though they had been trimmed down to a mere three (and whether that was courtesy of ODC’s denizens or a few judicious knives in the back to increase treasure shares is unclear). Apparently these treasure-hunters were quite successful; they spent the better part of a week in Scarlet, spreading gold around liberally and telling tales of all kinds before they left. Many of the stories contradict each other, or seem to be exaggerations of iterations that came before, but one consistent feature is wolf-spiders attacking them during their second or third day into the ruins.

When Flynn relays the story to the party, Miaoyu shudders (who's surprised?); both she and Aelron have read about these creatures. The story goes that long ago, Drougant was threatened by the Queen of Chaos (“Sounds like it still is,” Gavin mutters). One of the Queen's most loyal servants was a spider-fiend named Miska. Miska and its ilk had the venom and webs of spiders and the pack tactics of wolves, as well as an immunity to fire. Aelron's not too fond of that last part of the story.

Eventually, a band of heroes brought the Queen of Chaos down with an artifact called the Rod of Law, which then broke into many pieces, but this is where Miaoyu’s and Aelron’s stories diverge. In Miaoyu’s version these heroes were compared to Qennish people: law-abiding, morally upright individuals and pillars of their respective communities. Aelron’s version paints the heroes as misfits and societal outcasts who weren’t always moral in the conventional sense. Once she learns of this, Miaoyu is more than a little amused at the Qennish government’s blatant censorship and pesters Aelron for more details from his uncensored version.

After a few days, Aelron finishes his enchantments: his staff now glows passively, emitting light as a candle at all times unless covered, and can be commanded to shed brighter light for a few hours per day or brilliant radiance for a few minutes. One of Gavin’s spears has been temporarily enchanted to return to his hand when thrown. Seeker and Aelron have restocked everyone on healing braids and incendiaries, respectively, but a few people want more permanent magic items. Aelron and Seeker can create disposable (single-use or limited-use) magic items with nothing more than the energy of a spell, but a permanent magic item requires something solid to hold and shape its magical energy. The enchantment on Aelron's staff is shaped by the ruby and sunstone mounted on its head, as well as the runes traced into the staff itself, and the enchantment on Seeker's robe that keeps it from staining is literally woven into the fabric; these magics are permanent unless the item gets irreparably damaged. The enchantment on Gavin's spear, by contrast, had no material component provided when it was placed and will fade over time, but it's also a simple enchantment that Aelron can refresh at any time, so they're not worried about it.

Seeker stays behind in Scarlet to research a new spell, but everyone else, including an extremely reluctant Tsarae, heads out into the wilderness and away from ridiculously good offers on booze.

The first few hours are spent with the the non-mages showing random finds to Aelron. After an entire afternoon and evening of 'Is this good?' 'No.' 'How about this?' 'Still no.', Aelron takes them all back to Scarlet and sits them down in one of the Hydra's booths.

“Okay,” he says, dropping his spellbook and a few pieces of parchment on the table. “Before we go do more searching, we need to determine exactly what enchantments people want. That'll determine what materials we go searching for.”

“I was hoping for a talisman that might provide protection from acidic substances,” Flynn says.

“I want something that'll grant me increased stamina,” Gavin supplies. What his player is looking for is an increased reserve hit point pool, which will allow him to perform more combat maneuvers.

Aelron ponders for a moment. “I'm not sure about what sorts of things we might find locally for acid resistance,” he says, scratching down notes on a piece of parchment, “But increased stamina should be fairly simple. Heartwood from a dryad's tree should do quite nicely.” He smirks. “Dryads have pretty good stamina.”

Much eye-rolling ensues.

"Didn’t we pass a heartwood tree that had been chopped down on our way to the Rusted Stele?" Miaoyu asks. "Someone covered it with molten iron."

Turns out it's a really good thing we're doing this journal. None of us would have remembered that otherwise, and we'd have been detouring back to the dryad's grove near Hangtree.

Fortunately, the journal is a thing, and Scarlet is actually pretty close to where the whole debacle with the Redcap happened (if you recall, the dude who stole our horses was leading them to Scarlet to sell). Miaoyu navigates back to the stump, and Gavin and Aelron both take a piece of the heartwood, earning a generous +5 to their reserve hit points (a 33% increase for Aelron, poor bastard).

On the party’s way back to Scarlet, they find a peculiar orange flower growing from the tiniest cleft in an enormous boulder. Once Aelron takes a moment to examine it, he’s pleased to find that Flynn’s wish has been granted: this particular flower, when dried and set into an appropriate enchantment, will serve as a decent base for an acid-resistance amulet.

The party makes their final preparations. Flynn’s magic cloak, Olaf’s Razor, and Lajiao are all sent with Keegan, their horses, and the soldiers back to Hangtree. Flynn procures rations and a mule to carry them (affectionately named Git-Yankee, because all of Cade's mules have apparently been some sort of Git, and Githyanki jokes never go out of style), and Miaoyu, Gavin, Aelron and Seeker all purchase rations to keep on their person, just in case. Seeker also finishes and refines his new spell: he calls it Compassion, and it will link his and his target's hit point pools, allowing him to share damage with whoever he targets.

Finally, as prepared as they feel they are going to get, the party ventures into the western fringes of Old Drougant. They could probably push forward and make it to the island marked “throne” on Miaoyu's map in about a day, but then they'd have to camp out ON the throne, and no one is particularly anxious to do that. For this first day, they'll be sticking to the outskirts, in a district known as Far Drougant, where nobles from outlying baronies and counties kept manors that enabled them to remain close to court without taking up residence in the city itself.

Gavin looks to Tsarae. "Are you going to scout ahead?"

Miaoyu doesn't give her the chance to answer. "I’m going to insist that you stay with us."

Tsarae rolls her eyes. “Yes, Mom.”

"You’re going to have to switch it up, Tsarae," Gavin says, grinning. "I saw that response coming a mile away."

Tsarae gives him a withering Look of Disdain +2, but doesn’t deign to respond verbally.

A few hours into their trek, the party comes across a grove. It was obviously once a well-manicured garden or park, with a ring of hedges and willow trees grown to form a dome with a large skylight. It has long since grown wild; only one humanoid-sized ground-level entry point remains, and even that has a thin screen of willow drapery nearly covering it. The skylight is still present, but lets in much less light than it probably should, barely illuminating the interior.

Miaoyu and Tsarae both approach, Miaoyu directly before the entrance and Tsarae covering her from an angle. Miaoyu lets her eyes adjust for a moment to the dimness, and peers around. There are stone benches that were probably once arrayed symmetrically but have since been dragged around a bit, and in one case knocked over; and a fountain—long since dried—at the far end of the grove. Oddly enough, all the branches and hedges on the inside of the grove appeared to be covered in some sort of white film. It takes a long moment for Miaoyu to recognize what she's looking at, but it dawns on her when she spots a big round clump of similar white film deposited next to one of the benches: that's a clutch of spider eggs, and that means all the white film is... webs. The entire grove is a giant spiderweb.

Miaoyu turns on her heel, grabs Tsarae, and makes the stealthiest getaway at a dead sprint that Old Drougant will ever not notice.

Gavin looks askance at Miaoyu's hasty retreat. "So what did you find?"

Miaoyu makes a very distressed sound in her throat; she doesn't seem to be capable of speech at the moment. Tsarae rolls her eyes.

Flynn grimaces. “Spiders.”

After a short debate, the party decides to keep on moving, although Gavin and Aelron express some concern about leaving a grove full of known angry beasties directly in their line of retreat.

As afternoon fades into evening, and still nothing has attacked them, Gavin catches Tsarae’s eye. “You know, I’m starting to think the legends about this place are completely overblown.”

The Look of Disdain returns.

Shortly thereafter, the party finds something that might do as a safehouse. It’s a rather charming stone manor, impressively built to still be standing after 200 years, though obviously just as neglected as everything else. The doors have rotted away, giving the party free access to the interior. As they pass the threshold, they notice a faded emblem over the doorframes: a griffin perched atop a mountain. It seems that this palace once belonged to Griffin’s Peak, one of the baronies that is now in rebellion.

The antechamber into which the party slips was obviously once opulent and richly appointed, designed to awe and impress guests. The room is a massive circular chamber, at least thirty feet high, with four doors leading deeper into the manor. Sweeping stone staircases with marble balustrades curve around the chamber's rounded side walls, eventually meeting to form a towering balcony that overlooks the entry. Though some of the carvings have been damaged, the eagle's heads at the end of each balustrade and the gryphons-in-relief etched into the balcony rim are still evident enough. The chamber's rear wall, under and behind the balcony, is curious: while it’s clearly solid and opaque, the party gets a strange impression of shapes hidden behind it; the marble is thin enough to be allowing light through.

First, the party decides to go through the manor and ensure that it’s safe and empty. They leave Git-Yankee and the watch goat in the antechamber and poke through each of the doors. The two more impressive and opulent doors each lead to a wing of the manor; those the party leaves closed for the moment. The more understated, plain doors lead down into a basement, and the party decides to start there. They take the left-hand servant’s door and head down single-file, the passage illuminated by Aelron’s staff. The stairway lets out to a long, dark hallway, and Aelron increases the illumination of his staff further. The hallway runs between two enormous chambers whose walls are lined with the rubble of collapsed ovens and sinks; the wreckage of tables, utensils and crockery is strewn about each room in long columns. The party begins methodically searching through the hall, sticking close together. The hall is quiet, and the party begins to relax. A clash makes everyone jump, but Seeker just gives them a sheepish grin. “Sorry. Big feet.”

Everyone starts teasing Seeker for his clumsiness, and is just about to descend into pun-madness when another clang startles everyone. This one is not from Seeker or his big feet. Everyone falls silent instantly. It takes a moment to track the sound as it bounces off the walls, but they finally pin it down: there are two doors in the hall that lead back up to the antechamber, and two that lead elsewhere. The clang came from one of the doors that leads elsewhere, and of course it came from the door on the far side of the room from the party's current location.

Gavin throws himself into a sprint to approach the door before it can open and line up an ambush; Tsarae follows at a distance, circling around to keep her line of sight clear and avoid a half-collapsed table. The rest of the party follows in a gaggle.

Just as the light from Aelron's staff fully reaches the wall, the door swings open and a creature stoops through it dragging a massive club. It’s a hairy monster with pointed ears, shaggy body hair, and a rich, full-bodied scent. Most likely, it’s a demigob, a creature that is created when goblins begin to eat other goblins. Through the door can barely be seen another pair of the creatures, slightly smaller than the first, though still more than large enough to be getting on with.

Gavin rushes forward, attempting to stop the big gob in the doorway and trap his buddies behind him. Aelron lobs a fire spell that detonates near the door frame's top corner and singes the demigob’s ear. Seeker fulfills his traditional role by standing in the center of the group and casting Circle of Protection. Miaoyu attempts to distract the demigob by yelling at it, but her efforts go ignored. She tries to shoot it, but rolls a nat 1—apparently she forgot to string her bow yet again. Fortunately, Tsarae picks up the slack. She goes at a wide angle, yelling at the gob. Her disdainful, mocking shout does what Miaoyu's panicked cursing couldn't: the gob follows her movements, almost against his own will, as he tries to swing at Gavin. The distraction is just enough; Gavin manages to get his shield up and braced with both hands just as the club comes down. There is a horrid splintering crash, but at the end of it Gavin is still standing and unhurt.

Unfortunately, Gavin’s hopes to keep the other gobs trapped behind the door are not to be realized: they both push through. Miaoyu throws a rock at one and hits it in the eye, blinding it temporarily. Is she part hobbit? Her luck with attack rolls suggests not, as her followup bowshot clatters off the ceiling. Gavin decides to join in the fun and games of hurting enemies both emotionally and physically and taunts the first gob: “Hey, stupid! Your mother’s a turnip!”

Some people have no decency.

On the other side of the room, Tsarae takes a moment to begin activating Turtle Style, which allows her to harden her skin and boost her AC. The more time she takes to activate it, the higher the AC boost is; in this case, she’s taking a full round, which means maximum armor boost. Considering that all three opponents look perfectly capable of crushing her with a single swing, it seems like a wise course of action.

Aelron tosses another incendiary, but this one gets swatted away by a back-swinging club and detonates to so much noise and flying wreckage. The gob it was aimed at, however, decides not to take any chances. He rushes forward and swings hard at Aelron's midsection. The Dwarven chain distributes the blow a little, but it's still a terrific body blow, and Aelron staggers backward into Seeker's waiting healing spell while Flynn steps between the mages and the gob. He gives the gob a good stab with his glaive at the same time that Aelron returns fire (heh) with Burning Hands, but the stubborn thing refuses to go down. It IS starting to smell like a really tasty barbeque in here, though.

Miaoyu, feeling a bit uncomfortable standing so close to the smoking gob, darts into the Circle of Protection and takes another shot with her bow. Which she once again fumbles with a nat 2. She begins to reconsider her choices in life, especially the ones about which weapons she uses (and, as a player, which dice she rolls).

With her skin hardened against any incoming attacks, Tsarae rushes forward and attacks the third gob, though to little effect. Gavin changes targets to support her, but rubble stops him from helping her more effectively. “Tsarae! Close up!”

Unfortunately, the orders she’s used to receiving are in Elven, and not quite so formal; assuming he’s just jabbering, she holds her ground rather than drawing closer. Gavin’s desire to stay close to Tsarae comes from the fighter’s co-op trait: when standing next to another fighter, Gavin gets a bonus to his AC. Gavin, however, has far more traditional and defense-oriented military training than Tsarae, and a different co-op trait; Tsarae’s gives her bonuses to to-hit and damage when attacking the same target as a fellow fighter, but she sees no particular need to stay adjacent. Fortunately, Gavin switching targets is what activates her co-op trait: she takes another stab at the gob and this time gets a very satisfying spray of blood for her efforts.

Through the chaos of battle, several of the party notice something: the watch goat is bleating from upstairs. There’s a brief moment of confusion. Miaoyu starts heading for the stairs as fast as she can, and Aelron goes to support her before remembering that he is the party's only current source of light.

"Just light me up!" Gavin calls when he sees Aelron hesitate. Aelron stops briefly to cast the spell and Miaoyu hurries on ahead.

Unfortunately, Miaoyu's movements catch the attention of the gob that attempted to put an end to Aelron, and he chases after her. He catches her at the bottom of the staircase and bashes her across the back, knocking her prone. She tries to roll over and face him, but he's stepped above her and his legs are pinning her in place, keeping her from rolling far. He's raising his club for a killing two-handed swing, smiling and grunting hungrily...

Miaoyu barely catches a short whizzing noise, and then suddenly the gob's entire body twitches, and the club, held over his head, carries his weight back and over, away from Miaoyu. He crumples to the ground as Aelron calls out, “I’ve got you covered, Miaoyu." She nods her thanks, then scrambles back to her feet and hurries back up the stairs.

Finally, she reaches the first floor landing and she cautiously peers out the door. At first she sees nothing out of the ordinary. Then she notices a goat-sized blood splatter. Then she catches a glimpse of something with far too many legs for her to be comfortable with. She contains her urge to shriek and rushes back downstairs, where the battle has been happily under way.

"Tsarae," Gavin snaps, "get close to me so I can cover for you!"

With him finally making sense, Tsarae steps delicately over the rubble and to his side, just in time for his other side to be clobbered by the biggest gob. Fortunately, the others are on top of it. Flynn and Aelron give it some lovely new holes, and Seeker heals up Gavin.

It’s right about then that Miaoyu makes her way back to the party. She catches Aelron’s eye. “The watch goat won’t be a problem anymore. But whatever’s up there will be.”

There’s no time to discuss it, though. Miaoyu hurriedly rejoins the battle and takes a shot at the gob Tsarae’s been working on, exploiting the rogue co-op ability that grants them both bonuses when working together against a single target. Miaoyu finally makes a solid hit on an enemy! While it’s howling in pain, Tsarae darts under its guard and gets a knife into its midsection a time or three. It stops making much noise after that, aside from the thud as it falls to the floor.

The last demigob, realizing its friends are gone and that it’s not doing so well either, makes a mad dash at Flynn. The gob is raising its club for a swing when a flurry of arcane bolts sizzles past Flynn's flank and riddles the gob with smoking holes. Aelron steps up next to Flynn, twirls his staff once, and smiles. “Thanks for getting in the way.”

Flynn just snorts. “Showoff.”

Miaoyu fills the party in on what she saw while Tsarae takes a moment to slit the gobs’ throats (always double tap) and everyone heads upstairs once again.

The party heads for the stairs they used before, but Tsarae heads for the door at the opposite end of the hall, looking for a flanking angle. Miaoyu makes to go after her, but stops when she realizes her Vision of Color has expired; Tsarae can see fine in pitch darkness, but she can’t. Then someone taps her on the shoulder, and she looks up to see Aelron with his lighted staff, heading after Tsarae as well. Since Gavin is still lit, he can light the way for himself, Seeker and Flynn, while Aelron keeps Miaoyu company.

Both groups reach the main floor at roughly the same time, but they quickly find that the antechamber is empty. Long streaks of blood lead out the door from the positions where the mule and the watch goat had been tied up, still slick and shining in the dimness. The mule's pack harness and all its equipment are gone, though thankfully a few things slid loose during the abduction: there are a few days' worth of iron rations scattered around, and some mule feed. What use feed without a mule no one can quite say, but better to have it than not.

It's not horse theft, but these spiders just ate Git-Yankee. There is only one possible response to such an affront from this party.

Fayd
2014-05-09, 11:16 PM
So, remember the thing where TheWerebear was getting the random and confusing messages? It's my turn!

Dawnflame
2014-05-10, 06:31 PM
Fayd spent this past Friday away from the table, presumably doing something unimportant like spending time with his fiance, planning their wedding, or visiting with his parents on Mothers' Day weekend, or something like that. So the rest of us fortunates who were actually playing got to send him text-message updates describing what we were experiencing. When Sparrow and I write the journal, I'll see about including a list of the messages we sent Fayd and pointing out in the narrative the times at which they were sent, because it'll probably amuse SOMEONE, and because Fayd will never let it drop until we tell him anyway. Oh, and we're not actually describing the events of the session to him until the journal hits, so all he knows is that Seeker nearly got lucky at least twice.

*wolf whistle*

*rim shot*

Fayd
2014-05-10, 10:56 PM
I was also away doing a minor thing like graduating from law school.

Very well. I shall wait.

AverageSparrow
2014-05-15, 06:38 PM
The party decides to continue their search of the castle, going from top to bottom, central to lateral. Miaoyu and Tsarae search the balcony above the threshold, but find it empty except for some creaky, mostly-destroyed old furniture.

On the ground floor, Aelron and Seeker are marveling over the craftsmanship of the chamber's rear wall, which appears to be amazingly thin translucent marble; it allows the afternoon sun to permeate it, glowing with the shadows and shapes of topiaries out in the rear garden. As impressive as it is, it’s a definite security concern; while it would take a bit of effort to smash down or cut through, it might prove a failing at a critical moment, and the party makes a note not to put their backs up against it.

There are still the two wings to search, left and right off the main entry chamber. Miaoyu selects the left wing first and pushes the door open. It creaks horribly, unceasingly, the entire time Miaoyu gently presses against it, and everyone winces at the sound. Nothing else seems to notice the noise, but that does absolutely nothing for the party's paranoia. The door opens upon a small foyer containing the wreckage of a crystal chandelier that fell to the ground decades ago (to judge by the dust layered over it) another curving staircase with a sweeping bannister, and a single heavy, well-decorated doorway leading further into the wing on the first floor.

Seeker offers Miaoyu a bit of oil he has on him, and she carefully oils the hinges on the heavy door before attempting to open it. The door gives a single staccato pop of sound as the hinges unstick, and then glides open in utter silence.

Miaoyu smiles back at the party, puts on a curious face, and cups a hand behind her ear, as if to say, “Can you hear that?” Then, with a contented sigh, she faces forward again and continues scouting.

Behind the double-doors is a long hallway with three sets of double doors on its right wall, which ends in yet another closed single door. Miaoyu begins searching each room one by one while the party waits in the hall to cover her. The first set of double doors is unlocked, but hides nothing especially notable. The room behind it has some furniture (though all the cushions, pillows and cloth drapery are missing), some tattered remains of old clothing, and little else. Miaoyu roots around long enough to find a small, understated jewelry box and pocket it.

The next door is locked and Miaoyu takes a moment to pick it while Tsarae lounges next to her.

“You're never going to tease that thing open,” Tsarae whispers.

Gavin eyes Tsarae. “Think you can do better?” he asks.

Tsarae scoffs. “Of course not. What's the point?”

Miaoyu grumbles something about “No locks in the Underdark,” and “bloody distractions”.

Tsarae shrugs. “A good swift kick usually does just as well as all this nonsense,” she asserts, sweeping her hand to encompass Miaoyu's efforts with the lockpick.

With a sharp click! the lock pops open and Miaoyu stands up. “Ah,” she says with a triumphant smirk, “But now no one will ever know we were here.” She swings the door open with a flourish of her wrist and looks into the room—just as Tsarae breaks into uncontrollable giggling.

The room is completely empty.

Miaoyu's expression goes from gloating to raging in a heartbeat. "You have got to be kidding me!” she grates. “Who locks an empty room?!" She steps to the closest wall in the room and delivers it a good swift kick, accompanied by a stream of hiss-whispered Quennish profanity. After a few moments, however, Miaoyu regains her temper and considers the situation. Deciding that it actually is pretty funny, she closes the door and takes a moment to re-engage the lock.

The third door is unlocked but, like the first room, only has a few pieces of furniture left, and the windows are broken.

In each of the three rooms, there were entrances to tiny servant passages, so the party takes a moment to investigate them. The first one is pitch black, so Tsarae, being the only one able to see perfectly in the dark without aid, searches it while the rest of the party checks out the next one, which is well-lit.

The servants' passage runs beneath the sweeping rooms of the wing above it, cramped and narrow and barely lit. It appears that at one point it led back to a central location underneath the antechamber, but a collapse has blocked the way (and also the light, which is probably why the one passage Tsarae went down was pitch-black. The way is clear in the other direction, however, further into the wing, and so the party follows that.

The passage emerges through a cleverly concealed door into a broad, brilliantly-sunlit room that caps the end of the wing. One wall is almost entirely constructed of windows and looks out over the side and rear gardens of the manor. Aelron notes a spell layered across the panes of glass in the window that merges the panes together, strengthening their surfaces and providing support for their immense weight (that's some thick glass). Another sweeping staircase swirls around the inner surface of the room, providing yet another access to the second story. The room is empty of both portable valuables and notable enemies, and so the party returns through the servants' passage and returns to the interior hallway just in time for Tsarae to rejoin them.

"Nothing in there except for a couple of very dead people," Tsarae says.

"How did they die?" Gavin asks.

She shrugs, nonchalant. "Dead is dead. What does it matter?"

"It matters because I don’t want a couple of angry ghosts after us because they didn’t get proper funeral rites,” Gavin says crossly. Seeker’s ears twitch.

Tsarae’s face remains one of stony apathy. Gavin looks like he's about to launch into a tirade when Miaoyu speaks up hurriedly.

"Why don’t you two tend to the dead while we check out the second floor?" she suggests diplomatically.

Gavin clamps his jaw shut, nods, and departs with Seeker for the servant’s passage. It's dark down in the tunnel—Aelron's light spell having worn off by this point—so Gavin ignites a torch and, after some searching, finds the skeletal remains of a what looks like two humanoids that appear to have had their knees bashed in. Who did the bashing—intruders or especially cruel nobles—is unclear, but either way, they died slowly and in pain.

Seeker performs some simple funeral rites, and he and Gavin rejoin the rest of the party. The next floor is fairly boring, though Miaoyu finds a lovely sapphire tucked away in a pile of rotten wood that might once have been a chest of drawers and pockets it discreetly. That's more difficult than it sounds, since the sapphire is at least four inches in diameter.

With the left wing searched and declared pretty much secure, the party moves into the right wing. This wing appears as a mirror image of the first, a long small stairwell leading into top-floor and ground-floor hallways, three rooms to each floor, and a sun room at the far end. As soon as the party opens the door into the stairwell, however, they notice two things: faint squawking and a horrible stench.

They follow the both to the door leading into the sun room, take up position at the end of the hallway—fighters in front, mages in the middle, rogues in the back—and Gavin swings the door slowly open.

Once, this room must have been the equal of its mirror image on the far side of the house, but it's seen some hard living since. The floor, the banister rail, the window sill, and every piece of furniture remaining in the room is completely caked in a filth that appears to be one part feathers, one part bones and three parts excrement. Small nests, mostly made of the fabric-lined or cloth-crafted parts of the manor's furniture, dot the room at intervals, though they are no cleaner than anything else. The stench is absolutely rancid; the smell is an awful combination of litterbox, birdcage and decaying carcass, and the room is sealed, baking in the afternoon sun.

The room's occupants are, if anything, even worse: there are somewhere between a dozen and a score of them, creatures with torsos roughly the size of an eight- or nine-year-old human child. They have normal-sized (if hideously ugly) heads weaving and bobbing at the end of foot-long rubbery necks, overly-muscled chests, four-foot-long spindle arms that end in wicked hooked talons, and a coat of wispy, feather-light hair (hairy feathers?). Most of the creatures are preoccupied rooting through the filth that covers literally every horizontal surface, though several are fighting amongst themselves. All are shrieking profanities with the precision and apalling vocabulary of post-grad language professors, and all look up as Gavin swings the door open.

These creatures are male harpies, better known to the layperson as halflings.

Somewhere above, Gavin and Flynn can see another creature flitting around, likely a female: the actual harpy of the brood.

Gavin decides to take a diplomatic approach. He holds his spear out and says, “My friends and I are reclaiming this manor! The door is back this way. We'll give you until tonight to gather anything valuable to you and leave!”

One of the halflings hisses, then looks up. “Mother-wife!” Yeah, apparently harpies are like THAT. “A man is here! He wants to take our home!”

From above, the harpy lands on a pile of filth-encrusted debris, her movements ungainly and her face very ugly. Utterly revolting, you might say. It is as though her face couldn't decide between nose/lips and beak, and settled for the worst aesthetic combination of the two it could come up with.

"This is our manor now!" Gavin tries again. "Feel free to leave by any means necessary."

The harpy looks Gavin up and down, her face a rictus of distaste. She can't see much of the rest of the party, so she settles for telling off Gavin. She utters a single sentence describing what she and her brood are going to do to Gavin once they've subdued him. It is easily the most profane sentence the party has had the displeasure of hearing since it came together, a detailed litany of derogatory terminology and disgusting metaphor, which, combined with the foul stench, is nearly enough to leave the party retching.

Fortunately, Gavin makes his fort save.

"I was raised by imprisoned sailors, you witch!” he bellows in reply. “Now, I’m going to count to three, and if you aren’t gone by three, we're going to start killing."

The harpy isn't having any of this counting nonsense. “Cleanse them!” she shrieks, and her brood scurries to the attack.

The halflings scamper into the hallway, squeezing past Gavin and Flynn to surround the party entirely. They claw at everyone, but only manage to connect with Flynn and Tsarae in the opening flurry of blows. Flynn and Gavin work together to take down the halfling that attacked Flynn. Aelron pulls a cryo-spell-grenade off his belt and rolls it across the hallway to rest between a couple of harpies. Unfortunately they seem smart enough to understand what it is and avoid it, and it detonates mostly harmlessly, while one of the harpies sinks a claw into Aelron's shoulder in retaliation.

At the back of the party, Tsarae strikes down a halfling as it swings for Miaoyu, then the one that attempts to take its place. Unfortunately, it leaves her flank open, and a third harpy screeches triumphantly as it sinks a claw into Tsarae's forearm. As the rest of the swarming halflings close on Tsarae, she grabs the halfling's delicate forearm with her other hand, snaps it in half with a sharp jerk (eliciting a squawk of pain), and kills the halfling with his own claw, before picking up her weapons again and growling at the once-again-wary halflings.

Seeing two of his companions taking damage, Seeker hurriedly casts a healing spell on Aelron and shouts to Tsarae, “You’re better than this! Are you going to let these things overwhelm you?”

Seeker has a trait named Inspiration that lets him heal his companions from a distance by ‘inspiring’ them to do better. And while Tsarae wasn't exactly inspired for the battle itself, she was definitely inspired to teach Seeker a lesson later.

Aelron throws another grenade and reduces two of the halflings to a foul-smelling crisp (“Oh, wonderful!” Tsarae shouts, “Now it smells like burning birds**t!”) and Gavin and Flynn take down yet another halfling with the power of teamwork (but mostly with repeated stabbings). Suddenly there is only one halfling left in the hallway, plus three still stuck in the sun room with the harpy herself.

Miaoyu, feeling determined to get a kill in for herself (she's once again been missing with every roll), decides to try something tricky. All the remaining enemies are up by Flynn and Gavin, and Seeker and Aelron are in her way, so she needs to get some altitude. She puts a foot on the base of a statue along the side of the hallway, levers off that to clamber onto Aelron (who has just lowered a shoulder enough to become a convenient next step up), and, with just the perfect moment of balance, uses Aelron as a firing platform to shoot the remaining halfling in the hallway while standing head-and-shoulders above the rest of the party—nothing like a perfect roll on an acrobatics check.

Aelron—who doesn't seem to have actually noticed Miaoyu landing on him and then jumping off again—digs out another grenade and tosses it into the nest. The halflings cheer at the sight of something shiny and dive after it... just in time to hold it up at about eye level before it explodes. None of them survive, and the stench gets—no one thought this was possible—even worse.

Gavin bursts into the nest and catches sight of the harpy. “Now it’s your turn!”

The harpy seems less than enthused with that idea and takes exceedingly clumsy wing, flapping in a most ungainly manner for the door at the top of the stairs. Taking an educated guess at the harpy's planned exit point, the party turns around and begins rushing toward the central chamber, but the harpy is deceptively fast waddling along the ground. She drops to the ground in the inner stairwell and scampers into the central chamber, then scoots toward the main door, well ahead of the party.

“Oh, no you don't,” Miaoyu growls. She puts on a burst of speed, reaches the base of the stairwell in record time, and—in her second successful to-hit roll of the session—puts an arrow through the harpy's neck, dropping her in a single well-placed shot.

Seeker stops to cast Diagnose on Flynn, Aelron, and Tsarae: they were the only ones hit by the halflings, and he worries that they’ve gotten bad infections from it. It's a good thing he did, as apparently halflings can transmit STDs by touch. Fortunately, only Flynn was affected, and he’s cured with a simple Restoration spell; Aelron managed to make his fort save, and Tsarae has an innate resistance to disease. Now our heroes only have to worry about the god-awful stench attacking their nostrils.

"As shi**y as this is," Flynn says philosophically, "it beats the crap out of the plague."

Once everyone has been given a clean bill of health, Tsarae steps forward and gives Seeker a solid slap for his words during the battle.

"Okay, I deserved that," Seeker mumbles, rubbing gingerly at his stinging muzzle.

"Yes,” Tsarae growls. “‘Do better’? I killed three. How many did you kill?"

"None."

"Exactly. Maybe you’re the one who needs to do better."

"I’m a pacifist!" Seeker’s ears flick self-consciously. "Well… technically."

“‘Technically’,” Flynn repeats. “You use that word so much I think you’re starting to abuse language as a whole. Now let us contemplate whether language is alive and capable of being abused. In silence.”

That glorious silence lasts about three seconds. Tsarae nudges Miaoyu. “I saw something shiny in there,” she whispers.

"So go get it."

Another moment of silence as the two of them glance at the filth-caked room.

Tsarae looks back at Miaoyu. "…You first."

"I’ll get it," Gavin says resignedly. "Just point where."

And so Gavin bravely plunges into the heart of the harpy nest, all for the sake of a shiny. The journey isn’t pleasant: there is literally crap everywhere and Gavin gags as he trudges through it. Finally, he reaches the shiny that Tsarae indicated and pulls out a broken, solid silver sword with lapis lazuli embedded in the hilt. He brings it back to Aelron, who looks it over, but can’t find any enchantment on it; and Gavin can tell from the balance (or lack thereof) that this sword was intended as a purely ceremonial piece.

Meanwhile, Flynn surveys the nest for any other interesting items and comes across a folio-style journal with a lock and Griffon’s Peak’s seal. Miaoyu takes a look at the lock and confirms that it would be easy to pick. Both she and Aelron know, however, that the biggest concern would be opening it without damaging its contents; if this book is in fact from an inhabitant who died with Old Drougant, then it's over two hundred years old, and books that old just don't seem to hold together very well.

"Ysilarites could open it and preserve it for us," Seeker says. "And they can do it better and longer than I could. I’ll hold onto it until we get to a city."

The party gets back to exploring the right wing. Aelron uses prestidigitation to move the crap in the nest into a corner and Gavin picks up anything of value left behind, mostly just very old, absolutely filthy silver and gold pieces.

There’s only one thing of interest remaining in the right wing: a solid marble statue of a griffin on the second floor. Miaoyu looks it up and down, turns to glance at Seeker: "The Gryphon’s Peak guys were pretty full of it, huh?" At the mention of Gryphon’s Peak, the statue’s eyes begin to glow. Miaoyu yelps and hurriedly hides behind the nearest doorway. After a moment, she notices she hasn’t heard Seeker dying horribly and peeks around the corner.

"I think you said a code word," Seeker says as he inspects the statue. "It must be a golem of some kind. I’d be willing to bet that more information about it is in here." He holds up the folio.

"If we can find out how to activate it, it would make a good guard for this place," Flynn points out.

Once the search of the right wing had been finished and everyone regroups, they head back into the basement. The party quickly checks the door that they left unopened earlier that day and find only a room that had once been meant as food storage, and is now a vast and well-stocked dust repository. Then the party marches through the door that the demigobs came through. It leads to a staircase that empties out into yet another room, this one much smaller than the kitchens above. Furniture and other detritus are stacked up in what looks like a nest or bed-pile, presumably used by the demi-gobs, and in the middle of the pile is a large, bronze disc, about two inches thick and six feet in diameter. Seeker takes a closer look and finds that the bronze is pliable and soft to the touch; think memory foam. He casts Identify on it and learns that the disc is a magical hospital bed: those who rest on it recover two additional hit points per rest. Unfortunately they also sleep the enchanted sleep of the dead, and are thus very difficult to rouse (and take a penalty to camp security). Also, the disc weighs a bloody ton—one-hundred fifty stone in game terms, bearing in mind that an average human with ten strength in this system has a carrying capacity of five stone.

The party clears the gobs' room of debris and barricades the door. They set up double shifts on watch and enjoy the healing effects of the bronze disc.

The next day, they find one of the demigob’s bodies to be gone. Well, that isn’t foreboding. The party grabs the harpy bodies and places them around the manor grounds, hoping their ungodly stench will help repel predators and scavengers. Once that's done, Gavin motions—and is vigorously seconded by Aelron and Flynn—to clear out the spider grove they passed on the way in.

“Those spiders killed Git-Yankee,” Flynn points out. “They need to pay for that.”

The grove itself is a short walk from their chosen manor, only an hour or so away. No one actually wants to go INTO the grove to fight the spiders, so they decided to try drawing the enemy out with a bit of heavy artillery. Tsarae and Gavin form up between the rest of the party and the grove to make an impromptu front line; Seeker and Aelron stand behind them, ready with spells, while Flynn and Miaoyu ready bows in the back. Aelron pulls out a grenade and side-arms it into the grotto. The grove's interior lights up briefly golden, and weird warbling chitter-howls of pain echo on the afternoon air. A moment later the trees begin to shake as the grove's denizens come out to meet this brazen attack.

Spider-wolves come pouring out of the grove, skittering up and around the trees, crawling out of the main stairwell, and raising a great hue and cry. Each one has a slightly different physical composition, but most have the thorax and legs of a spider, the head, eyes, snout, ears and nose of a wolf, and arachnid mandibles instead of a lower jaw. Those mandibles appear to be dripping something green and sticky.

Miaoyu makes that sound in the back of her throat again and shoots one that is advancing on her. A bit to her own surprise, not only does the shot hit, it stops the spider's momentum dead; the creature flips onto its back and curls up, dead. Flynn takes down another that appears to have wind-sprinted toward the party from the treeline.

Once a few of the creatures reach Gavin and Tsarae, the battle becomes a slaughter; these wolf-spiders are level zero, which means the three fighter-classed people can kill multiples in a round. Gavin stabs two and then hurls his spear at a third; Tsarae sprints off to intercept one headed toward Miaoyu, then hurls a dagger back into a second to keep Aelron clear; Miaoyu looses another arrow and brings down another spider wolf and Aelron whirls his staff at the last one, silencing it with a hail of arcane bolts. Once the party is sure there aren’t any more eight legged freaks still skittering about, Tsarae, Aelron, and Gavin go into the grove for a closer look, while Flynn, Miaoyu, and Seeker keep watch outside.

With Aelron's staff actually in the interior of the grove proper, it's a bit easier to see. There are several egg clusters scattered around on the ground in the open central area of the grove, and several web-wrapped unknowns suspended in the trees around the grove perimeter large enough to be humanoids. “If you’re alive,” Gavin shouts to the wrapped probably-bodies, “struggle mightily. Or feebly.”

He scans the webbed bodies, but doesn’t see any movement and after a moment, he ventures further in. Aelron begins dropping his grenades into the egg clusters, flash-frying their contents.

At the back of the grove, set upon what used to be a stone bench, Gavin finds an altar. On investigation, he realizes it’s dedicated to the Princess of Spiders, who also happens to be the Unseelie counterpart to the Ocean Witch. It suggests that either those spider wolves were much more intelligent than they appeared, or an attercop was living among them; Miaoyu finds neither prospect thrilling.

There are a few odds and ends on the altar, most of them black and spider-shaped or spider-stylized, but the only thing of real interest is a bronze-capped scroll. Feeling compelled to taunt the Princess, but also unable to desecrate the altar under the strange compulsions of fey ‘politeness’, Gavin snatches the scroll.

"Aelron," he says, seeing that the mage has finished his work on the eggs, "would you be willing to do a quick sketch for me?"

"Of course. What do you need?" Aelron begins rooting around in his bag for a bit of parchment and some charcoal.

"How about a picture of a spider on a sinking ship?"

Aelron snickers. From the entrance of the grove Miaoyu shouts, “Whatever you’re doing, it better not piss off the Princess of Spiders. If I wake up with any arachnids on my face, I’ll make you suffer.”

"Relax," Gavin says. "It’s really just a friendly hello, that’s all.” He lowers his voice and murmurs to Aelron, “For a given value of friendly."

Aelron just shakes his head with a small smile, then hands Gavin the rough sketch; it shows a ship, cracked in half amidships and sinking fast, with spiders or spiderfolk waving for help from aboard the prow and stern. Gavin adds a caption to the bottom: The tides come further inland every year. Then he sets the drawing on the altar in place of the bronze scrollcase and turns to leave.

"Alright, let’s burn this place down," Miaoyu says, shuddering.

Everyone exits the grotto and Aelron begins prepping small ignition flames around the grove, readying to ignite it in multiple points and burn all the webbing to ash. He lays in small spells that will keep the source flames going for hours, returns to the party and raises a hand, ready to cast the ignition spell. With one last casual glance into the grove, he takes in the walls of spider webbing, the once-beautiful trees, the half-wrecked statuary, and the—

Walls of spider webbing?

"Wait a second,” he says, lowering his arm and looking to Seeker. “What phase is the moon in?"

Everyone looks at Aelron curiously for a long moment before Miaoyu ventures,"Tonight’s the last night of the full moon. Why?"

Then, all at once, everyone gets it.

"Elven mail!" Seeker exclaims, his tail wagging a bit. "I can’t believe we didn’t think of this before.” He leans into the grotto to get a better look at the amount of webbing. "With only one night left, I probably can’t harvest all of this, but I’m sure I can get at least a couple of suits’ worth, maybe more if I work fast."

"We should head back, then," Flynn says. "If we have to harvest the silk by moonlight, I’d rather we all rest up."

The party murmurs its agreement and heads back to the manor. Miaoyu glances at one of the spider wolf corpses. “I’m almost sure the one I saw eating the mule was bigger than these,” she says, mostly to herself.

Back at the manor, Gavin, Seeker, and Aelron begin discussing how to further secure the place, while Flynn and Miaoyu do a sweep to make sure nothing has wandered in during their absence. Miaoyu gets a perfect awareness roll and a nice boost to her paranoia when she slowly becomes aware that big, spider-like things are lurking just out of her direct line of vision.

"Something’s out there," she says with a shudder. "And I don’t think I’m imagining it."

"We haven’t checked the garden or the surrounding grounds, have we?" Seeker asks. "Let’s go check and see if there’s anything out there."

There’s little of interest in the open areas of the garden. The garden itself is as overgrown as one might expect and there’s a nice marble-floored gazebo (insert inane jokes, Sound of Music references, and bad puns here), but no sign of arachnids. Giving up, the party goes back inside.

"Maybe we should take a look at this," Gavin says, holding up the scroll he swiped. Miaoyu looks it over for traps and finds it clean, but Aelron determines it has some sort of Diamond spell on it. Worried that the spell might be reporting on their movements or listening to the things they say, he opens the scroll to investigate further. The scroll has a single question written across it in a beautiful and elaborate script: What is the spell you seek?

Definitely not a spy scroll.

"I have an idea!" Seeker says eagerly. "The wolfman curse!"

Miaoyu and Flynn share a glance of resigned trepidation. Gavin shoots a questioning look at Aelron, who replies with a tiny shake of his head. Tsarae facepalms.

Aelron is first to find his voice. “You’re not the only one who cares about the curse, Seeker,” Aelron says, “but first off, if the spell that can cure the wolf-man curse even exists, do we know its name? Can we describe it adequately for the scroll to find?”

“You misunderstand,” Seeker says. “I don't want to find the cure, I want to find the person who cast the curse in the first place. Find him, and the we can end the curse forever.”

Aelron blinks. “That seems even more reckless. What if the scroll points us at a deity, or even a demi-deity? What if the scroll's magic burns itself out trying to divide by zero or something and it blows up in our hands? Somewhat more realistically, what if this scroll has a limited number of uses? This is a valuable tool that we can't avoid to waste chasing what is, at this moment, a pipe dream. We may need it later for something related to our current mission.”

Seeker’s ears flick in disappointment, but he nods. “I understand. At least let me Identify it?” Aelron hands the scroll to him. One spell later, the party learns that the spell on the scroll will reveal the location and name of a mage who knows the spell requested. The party agrees to wait on using it, and returns downstairs to rest.

On first watch, Gavin turns to Aelron. “You mentioned that Seeker wasn't the only one who cares about the curse. The way you said that made it sound like you care. Why is that, though? You're a human, aren't you?”

Aelron smiles at him. “Elf, actually. Elven mother, wolfman father.”

Gavin blinks at him. “You... are a male, right?”

Aelron raises an amused eyebrow. “Yes.”

“And yet you're not a wolfman?”

“Mom got away from my father before the pregnancy was too far along, and hid out in the City of Brass. We're still not sure what happened exactly, but...” he shrugs. “The current theory is that the wolfman curse got... overwritten by prolonged exposure to elemental fire magic. We're still not certain, though. I have a special spell my mom helped me with to keep the ears rounded; if I let them grow out I attract way too much attention.”

Gavin blinks. “Huh.”

Aelron smiles ruefully. “I do care about the curse. I want to know if it is removable, and if I still have some latent form of it that will pass on to any children I might have. It seems unlikely I'm going to have children at all but... it's always good to know exactly how careful one needs to be.”

Gavin grimaces. “That I understand.”

The rest of their watch passes in companionable silence.

Come evening and moonrise, the party wakens again and sets out. It's full-blown dark by the time they reach the grove, though the full moon shining down does provide enough illumination to make the hike a fairly simple affair.

“I’m going to keep watch outside,” Miaoyu mumbles, and Flynn joins her. They set up torches well away from the grove to extend their lines of sight out into the darkness, and Aelron casts Vision of Color on them before entering the grove. Everyone else enters the grove and Seeker begins carefully collecting the silk. Aelron wraps up the head of his staff to prevent the glow from interfering, and does his best to assist Seeker while Flynn, Miaoyu, Gavin and Tsarae keep watch.

Suddenly, the party hears a series of clicks and howls from all around the grove—spider wolves sounding off before an attack. Gavin lets lose a series of warning barks: If you try to attack us, you will lose packmates.

This warning seems to have no effect, however, as a large spider-wolf lumbers into sight on the far side of Miaoyu and Flynn's torches. It's nearly four times the size of the spider-wolves they fought before—it seems that those spider-wolves were actually spider-puppies, and now the pack is looking for revenge for their young. The spider-wolf apparently has a pretty good handle on how far humanoid senses normally extend in the darkness, but it fails to account for Vision of Color and is just on the edge of their extended vision. They both loose arrows to take it down, but before its legs finish twitching, several more spider-wolves rush out and scurry over or through the trees, entering the grotto. Seeker, Aelron, and Gavin are all bitten, and Gavin fails his fort save; he’ll lose 1HP per round until healed by magical means.

Knowing Seeker will have his hands full with healing very soon, Miaoyu takes a deep breath and shadow walks up to Gavin... right in the middle of a formation of angry spider-wolves. She quickly administers coagulants from the feldspar elementals, stopping Gavin's bleeding, and looks up to see how the other party members are doing. Flynn is taking shots at one of the spider-wolves from the grove entrance and Aelron is unleashing blasts of flame at the two creatures nearest him, but she can’t seem to locate Tsarae, who had been loitering near the altar before the ambush.

She doesn’t have the time to worry, though. Seeker and Aelron are both bitten again and this time they both get poisoned, and Aelron is no longer on his feet. Miaoyu rushes to administer more coagulants, while Gavin cuts down one spider wolf and takes up a guarding position. Seeker heals Aelron to get him back on his feet and Aelron takes his revenge by roasting one of the spider-wolves with an incendiary.

Across the field, Flynn has earned the attention of the spider-wolf he’s been shooting and it advances on him menacingly. He switches to a glaive and is readying to hack into it when Tsarae leaps out of the shadows and fully onto the creature's back swords-first, robbing it of its last hit point.

Gavin has become a one-man shield wall, defending and intercepting to protect Miaoyu, Seeker, and Aelron. Deciding that she’s no longer needed in the immediate area, Miaoyu makes a weak shot at the nearest spider-wolf and shadow walks to the back of the grove. Fortunately, this takes a lot of pressure off of Gavin, who now only has to worry about defending Seeker and Aelron. Unfortunately, three of the spider wolves remain, and all of them are clustered around him.

Tsarae’s sword finds its way into a nice, crunchy spider head next, bringing the remaining count to two spider-wolves. Gavin breathes a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he slurs. “Sorry if I sound a bit hoarse. The poison made my face numb.”

The victory is short lived: one of the spiders lunges at Aelron and Gavin throws himself in the way to intercept. He’s bitten and poisoned for his trouble, and brought to 0 HP.

Despite this, the last two spider wolves decide they’ve had enough and begin retreating. Aelron, Flynn and Miaoyu take parting shots, but none connect in the darkness, and no one wants to pursue these things outside the grove. Flynn rushes over to Gavin and kneels beside him, moving his hands to place pressure on an open wound in Gavin's side. As soon as he makes contact, a silvery nimbus of light forms around his hands, transfers to Gavin, and diffuses. Seeker, confused, Diagnoses Gavin, and finds the poison cured. Flynn blinks. “Well, that's new.”

Once everyone has been seen to, Gavin begins double tapping the spider-wolf corpses, and Miaoyu musters up her courage to harvest a bit of poison from one of the spider-wolves' mandibles. (And true to form, her initial check is very poor, but her reroll is much more successful. Nothing like a bit of dissociation to get the job done.)

Seeker goes back to harvesting spider silk and Aelron takes a look at the spider wolf corpses to see if he can make anything useful out of them. And make something useful he does: he enchants one of the spider legs to grant spider climb to its bearer at half their normal move speed.

"You’d probably get the most use out of this," he says to Miaoyu. He holds up the leg and Miaoyu flinches a bit. He gives her an apologetic smile. "Once we get back to civilization, we’ll find something nice to wrap it in." Miaoyu digs in her bag and pulls out an old cloth and has Aelron wrap it up for her before she takes it.

"Thanks for rushing in to cure me, by the way," Gavin says to her. "I know you don’t like those things."

Miaoyu shudders. "Don’t mention it. Seriously, don’t. I don’t want to think about it."

"I think I’ve got all I can," Seeker calls. "Should be enough for two suits."

Miaoyu’s out of the grove in about half a second, and the party heads back to the manor for rest.

The_Werebear
2014-05-15, 10:05 PM
We talked with Tam later about the spiders in this encounter. If we had gone in only during the night, we would have fought both groups at once, and the fight with the big ones alone was very close. If the little ones had been eating attacks and doing nibbles, then it very well could have gone the other way. The poison, by the way, did one HP of damage per round for 15 rounds. Gavin has 32 HP (and 37 reserve that he couldn't draw from while still taking damage); Aelron has 15. If AverageSparrow hadn't been so quick on the poison cures, I would have dropped that encounter, and Aelron might have been killed by a blow I couldn't intercept.

So, very close. I'm going to be sad when we're out of DoT cleanse powder.

Fayd
2014-05-17, 08:43 AM
Speaking of, I really should try to figure out a way to get that effect more permanently. I mean, I guess I DO have it; bleeds are fixed with a healing spell or Femta's Orison, and I can use my divine magic to heal poisons, but at 3d6 reserve HP a pop for the poison, it gets expensive. Fast.

IslandDog
2014-05-17, 09:06 AM
Speaking of, I really should try to figure out a way to get that effect more permanently. I mean, I guess I DO have it; bleeds are fixed with a healing spell or Femta's Orison, and I can use my divine magic to heal poisons, but at 3d6 reserve HP a pop for the poison, it gets expensive. Fast.

Is there a write up somewhere for the campaign world/system you're using? It seems really fun! (I know its homebrew :p)

The_Werebear
2014-05-17, 02:02 PM
Tam is the one who drew up the system. We have documents for it, but they're a little out of date. We're due for an overhaul at 4th level. We can see if he's willing to put it out before the internet, or if he wants to wait for a little firmer iteration to be available.

AverageSparrow
2014-05-17, 03:56 PM
Is there a write up somewhere for the campaign world/system you're using? It seems really fun! (I know its homebrew :p)

I've been meaning to post a more complete overview on the world itself. I'll see about getting that done, and maybe including some notes on the mechanics as well. The system is constantly undergoing changes, though.

AverageSparrow
2014-05-28, 08:33 PM
The morning after the spider silk collection excursion, the party wakes up to Miaoyu and Tsarae huddled together, talking in low voices.

“What are you doing?” Seeker asks, scratching an ear. Miaoyu looks up.

“Trying to get an idea of how much this is worth.” She holds up the huge sapphire she found and conveniently forgot to mention. Seeker gapes at it, tongue lolling; Flynn and Gavin are still waking up, and merely blink at the thing, uncomprehending. Aelron, however, is suddenly wide awake. When you're a Gemstone Tower mage, a sapphire of that size is like a piece of your wildest fantasy come to life. “Now, I’m not one hundred percent sure,” Miaoyu continues, “But this should be worth... let's see...” Miaoyu purses her lips and stares off into the middle distance as she concentrates. “Rounding to the nearest whole number, carry the two...” She grins and glances back briefly at Tsarae—who rolls her eyes at the theatrics—then faces the rest of the party again: “Approximately all of the money. Really, all of it. If we split it up evenly between us, we would all have more than enough to comfortably retire for the rest of our lives. Even you, Seeker.”

“Gems that big usually have names,” Flynn notes. “It could be very valuable to Gryphon’s Peak if that's one of their named stones.”

“We’ll take it to a jeweler,” Miaoyu decides, and no one seems to think it's a terrible idea. “Get a proper estimate, find out if it’s important, and hopefully get some money out of all of this. In the meantime—what’s on the agenda?”

Warding is on the agenda. Seeker charms some stones with a spell that will fill trespassers with a sense of foreboding. Miaoyu and Tsarae move a few boxes into the front room and impatiently open them with crowbars, and Flynn and Gavin scatter bits from several harpy corpses around. The idea is to present the area as if it has already been looted—not entirely untrue—and to discourage more curious wanderers with a nice push out the door from the warding spell.

Gavin is still wounded from fighting the spider wolves and requests a couple days of rest to heal. The party agrees readily; the spellcasters want to re-prepare, and everyone else just wants to NOT think about spiders for a few days. By the second afternoon, though, Tsarae is getting antsy.

"We’ve been here for days," she says. "Can’t we get back to killing things?"

Gavin gives her a cool look. “I need a little more time before we go out again. I need to be at full strength so I can protect everyone.”

Tsarae rolls her eyes. “I’m touched.”

Gavin’s nostrils glare. “Yes. You are. Severely.”

Tsarae studies Gavin for a moment before turning to Miaoyu with a frown. “I liked the other one better.”

Before long, the Gavin is back to fighting fit. The party's objective for this particular excursion into Old Drougant City is to establish a forward base (or, preferably, a chain of safehouses), find a path through the ruins to the Throne, and get back out alive.

The first leg of the journey is uneventful, though the party does come across a strange... iron formation resting in the fields about half a mile from the gate. Everyone moves closer to check it out. Brief examination shows that the formation is made up of individual iron bars woven together in a pattern with no discernable function. Eventually, the party gives up trying to figure it out and continues trekking.

About half an hour later, their road intersects the crumbling ruin of the city's perimeter wall. The wall was built atop a ring of hills that surround the lowlands on which Old Drougant was built, so little can be seen over the walls or through the gate aside from rolling fog. Gavin and Flynn, however, are quick to examine the gatehouse itself and noticed something rather alarming. All that remains of the gate is what appears to be half a portcullis: a bunch of crisscrossing metal bars with spikes on the lower end that slot into small holes in the roadway when the portcullis is lowered. The other half of the portcullis is nowhere to be seen, and appears to have been torn off by something INSIDE the city. The crumpled heap of twisted iron bars found by the roadside appears to have been explained: it looks as though something with an immensely strong grip grabbed the portcullis, ripped half of it away, crumpled it like so much wastepaper, and hurled it away.

Gavin stares at the crumbling gatehouse, slack-jawed, then rushes to a nearby hill. He squints his eyes, glances from the wall to the crumpled iron heap in the distance, holds up his hands and tries to wrap his mind around how the iron could have landed half an hour's walk away.

"How?" he asks plaintively, mostly rhetorically.

"Whatever it was," Flynn says from the ruins, measuring and gauging, "its hand must have been at least a yard in width."

Aelron takes a moment to think. A hand capable of stretching three feet across, strong enough to rip a portcullis apart and hurl it a half-hour's walk away...

"It might have been a dragon," Aelron supplies slowly, then stops for a quick spellcast. "But if it was one, he or she is no longer here now. Hmm. Seems a bit more likely it was a troll or a giant, something of that nature.”

“The Drouganti can’t even build a city right,” Gavin grumbles. “This one’s filled with monsters.”

The party pauses its travels to explore the remains of the gatehouse. Only one of its two towers remains standing, but from its summit the party has a good view into Old Drougant City proper. There isn't a whole lot to see up there; the land slopes downward into impenetrable mists. In the distance, the party can glimpse the Throne, a basalt island protruding well above fog level in the center of the river, smack-dab in the middle of the city.

Miaoyu and Flynn also spot two other interesting things: there's a small gap in the fog off to the east where there appears to be a fire glowing, and a small column of smoke winds its way upward before dispersing. A supernatural fire, or some sort of local inhabitants? And off to the north, there's a tower that looks like it should long-since have tumbled to the ground: the building it was built onto appears to have mostly crumbled away, leaving only a small spiral staircase leading up to the underside of a bulky, wide, three- or four-story stone tower. There's no way that a tiny little staircase pillar like that could support the entire tower above it, and yet... the tower is still upright and, barring the damage to the structure below it, surprisingly intact. It almost looks like it's floating, hovering, above the city streets.

This naturally intrigues Aelron, who convinces Gavin and Flynn that, if it could be secured, it could serve as an excellent forward base, so the party returns to the road and sets course for the floating tower. Concerned that they’ll get lost, Aelron writes up a quick little rhyme on a scrap of parchment. “Memorize this, then hide it somewhere in here,” he tells Miaoyu. She takes a moment to capture it in her mind, then finds a loose brick to hide it behind (and hilariously rolls perfectly on her roll to disguise the hiding spot; as soon as she's walked away from it, not even she can seem to remember where she put it).

Into the mist they go! And surprisingly, there’s nothing lurking within its depths. The party passes without incident, whistling casually as they crunch through the rubble to find...

Nope, sorry, couldn't finish that with a straight face. Of course the party gets ambushed by the undead.

A group zombified corpses, looking relatively fresh as far as corpses go (the flesh hasn't begun to rot away yet, the lower extremities aren't horribly discolored and black, etc), shamble out of the fog and moan hungrily.

Thanks to one of her feats, Tsarae is never surprised. By anything. Ever. With her paranoia cranked up to eleven because she's literally in a ruined city full of monsters, the appearance of a zombie hit squad is almost a relief from the hyper-tension of wondering when the first attack will appear. While the rest of the party is still grabbing for their weapons, she casually decapitates one of the undead, maybe even sighing with satisfaction while she does it.

The rest of the party gets their feet under them Gavin is first to take his turn. His player looks to the DM. “Is my significance sense tingling?” he asks. He wants to know if the zombies are level ones, and if he'll have to kill them one at a time.

Tam smiles grimly. “It is not.” That means they're level zero creatures, and he can, if he rolls well, kill three in a round.

“Oh, good!” Gavin charges as best he is able across the rubble- and puddle-strewn roadway the zombies have selected as their ambush point and buries his spear in one zombie's chest. The creature looks down in vague surprise as the necromantic light begins to fade from its eyes, and then Gavin swings his spear around, dragging the corpse's fall into the path of the still-lurching zombie next to it. He withdraws his spear with a truly disgusting squelch, then, as the second zombie trips over the first, stabs through them both and pins them to the ground.

Behind him, Flynn has drawn up short and points at a pair of shamblers that are closing on Gavin's left flank. A pair of well-placed bolts brings them down, collapsing them into twitching heaps on the broken flagstones.

On the other side of the group, a pair of zombies has stumbled down from the ruin of a building and managed to close with Miaoyu. One of them scratches her arm, and, deeply offended, she shoots it down at point-blank range. Aelron flicks his staff at a the second one, and it falls with a smoking crater in its chest. Tsarae dashes around the two of them to fire forward at the last zombie, which hadn't managed to close with Gavin yet. Her shot connects solidly, and the corpse drops to the stones with a thud.

Tam swears at his dice, then at Tsarae, bemoaning her tendency to kill his encounters almost single-handedly.

Seeker quickly checks Miaoyu for infection—she's clean, thankfully—and heals her scratches.

“Thanks,” Miaoyu says, smiling grimly. “Now we just need to take care of the big one.”

The entire party, until a moment ago in the process of sheathing or cleaning weapons, is suddenly brandishing them again. "Big one?" Seeker echoes, ears flicking.

Miaoyu points at a half-fallen building almost dead ahead of them. Two of its walls have entirely collapsed, one inward and one outward, and only half of the ceiling is still in place. Miaoyu points at the shadows under the remnants of ceiling, indicating the darkest recesses of the corner dimness. “It’s right….” She stops, peers closer, glances around nervously. “It was there. It looked like a wolfman, but bigger than any I’ve seen.”

Aelron glances about hesitantly. “It was probably the necromancer directing these zombies. Mindless undead like that don't set traps on their own.”

“Yeah, but enormous wolfman?” Gavin asks. “That sounds really ominous.”

Aelron shrugs. He still looks nervous, but his voice is detached, clinical. It would appear he's hiding from his own panic instinct behind a shield of... book knowledge. “The term 'wolf-man' is a generalization that encompasses a variety of creatures, from male elves suffering a deific lycanthropic curse to magical shapeshifters to supernatural beasts with greater-than-average intelligence. Some forms of were-creature have a half-creature-half-human form, which tends toward oversized. It's not unreasonable for this to be an actual werewolf in half-human form, rather than a wolfman.”

“Wonderful,” Tsarae mutters. “Werewolves. Did anyone bring any silver?”

Miaoyu casually flicks a silver coin at Tsarae.

Tsarae catches it, flips it across her fingers, and then makes it magically vanish. “That's kind of you, but I meant silver weapons.”

Seeker cautiously approaches the building and sniffs the air. “I can’t get a scent. If there WAS something here, it hid itself well.”

No one's doubting Miaoyu's word that there was something here, though. Aelron and Seeker are quick to assure Miaoyu that scent can be masked through both magical and mundane means, and Tsarae just laughs. “I'd be more astonished to find there wasn't something larger behind that attack,” she says, and given their surroundings, the party has to agree.

With no way to track the mysterious wolf-figure, the party continues on, and around noon they reach the floating tower. Miaoyu and Tsarae do a quick stealthy sweep of the area to make sure there isn't anything nasty waiting in the ruins, then give Aelron the all-clear. He steps forward and activates spellsight, peering up at the tower.

The tower lights up in his vision like a lighthouse beacon; the intact structure above is absolutely covered in spells. Almost all of them appear as what Aelron would recognize as Sapphire tower magic: defensive wards, preservative spells and protective magics, layer after layer, ward upon ward, all running together like melted wax, solidifying into a single uber-ward spell. Whoever owned this tower dumped an utterly fantastic amount of money and resources into making sure it was a very safe place.

Most magic degrades over time. Spells cast by a single individual and without any ready supply of energy to draw upon will cease activity if their caster dies. Unfortunately for these wards, Old Drougant is a hotbed of wild magic, and its energies are doing the integrity of the old spells no favors. Fortunately for the tower itself, the wild magic doesn't seem to be damaging the spells themselves so much as merging them together; the tower's wards have merged into a single giant spell that provides a multitude of benefits to the tower it protects: first, it has locked the tower at a single point in space, holding it up off the ground despite the fact that the required structural supports have long since crumbled away. It is also temperature- and humidity-contolling the interior, while also providing some more esoteric effects that Aelron can't quite determine.

Seeker takes a moment to do a ritual to ensure the stairs will hold under the weight of a person, while the others shift around in paranoia, waiting for an ambush. The fog is wrapped thick around the ruins of the building under the tower, and Miaoyu picks up on the distinct sounds of chitinous, many-legged chittering.

Gavin, lounging against one of the half-collapsed walls, smiles over at her, attempting to reassure her. “You know, sound is a strange thing, especially in a fog like this,” he says, waving at the soup that almost obscures the buildings across the street. “I once heard a crab clacking its claws together and it sounded just like this. And there was only the one!”

Miaoyu tries hard to believe his story. She wants to believe that Old Drougant City has some phantom crab that makes oddly spidery sounds. It’s just that her will save won’t let her. Gavin lifts a hand and makes a gesture like a claw clacking. Miaoyu’s lip trembles.

"You’re a monster," Tsarae scolds Gavin, but there’s a shadow of amusement on her face.

Finally, Seeker finishes stabilizing the stairs (“How did you do that, by the way?” the Werebear asks. “You're an internal mage, aren't you? Aelron would just reinforce them with more stone, but what did you do?” Fayd just smiles. “I gave them a pep talk!”) and Gavin steps forward to be the first to climb them.

"If it can hold me, it can hold anyone," he reasons.

Gavin takes the steps two at a time until he reaches the opening leading into the lowest floor of the tower above and the wall of shimmering blue that obscures it.

"There’s a barrier here," he calls down.

"Like what?” Aelron shouts back, “A wall of furniture?”

"No." Gavin pokes the barrier, attempting to determine what it is. It feels real, but not like any substance he's ever encountered. Presence without texture, a solidity of absence.

"Then what?" Flynn calls back.

"Blue?” Gavin answers uncertainly.

Aelron sighs and sets off up the stairs. As soon as he reaches the top he can easily confirm that yep, that’s definitely magic. He spends a couple of minutes studying the barrier, but can’t find any immediately obvious way to dispel it without bringing the tower down: it appears that the wards have settled into a cylindrical shape completely enclosing the tower, and will deny entry to anyone who doesn't have an appropriate passphrase. They're gonna need a different skillset to get through this.

"Miaoyu,” Aelron calls down, “Can you take a look at this?"

So up goes a third person (she has to pass Gavin on the way up, and she rolls an Acrobatics check to swing around him, out over open air, gripped like a dancer in his arms unitl she's back on solid ground) and Miaoyu takes her turn in examining the barrier. She pokes it a couple times, then leans close and presses her face against it, trying to see in. She tilts her head, then brings up both hands as if making a telescope with them. That does the trick, apparently: “I can see something!” She gives Aelron a grin. “Books. Lots of them.”

The hunger and longing in Aelron's eyes is a startling thing.

Miaoyu asks Gavin to boost her up so she can climb the tower and try to look in from the top. One successful acrobatics check later, she's clinging to the side of the tower, rod of spider climb clutched tightly in one hand, trying desperately to ignore the fact that she's holding a spider's limb in her hand.

"Just remember," Gavin calls to her. "Crab." He makes the clacking gesture again. Miaoyu scowls and decides to ignore him, focusing instead on the climb. In moments she's at the top of the tower. The roof has long since blown away, but rooftop access isn’t possible: there’s another blue barrier. She's not surprised, so she scales her way back down and confers with Aelron.

“I can't see a conventional way in; the wards appear to be a solid wall around the interior space. I could try shadow walking in, though."

Aelron frowns. "Are you sure it’s not warded against that?"

Miaoyu hesitates: she’s reluctant to give away trade secrets. “It’s extremely unlikely. What I do isn’t something that’s well-documented. I sort of step into the demi-plane of shadows, then back out.”

Aelron blinks at her. Such a thing could be warded against, certainly, but Aelron's never heard of such short-range dimension hopping before. If it's truly as well-kept a secret as Miaoyu thinks it is, it's probable that whoever owned this tower is unaware of that particular vulnerability. He shrugs to her. “You're probably right. At your leisure, then. Just be careful.”

Miaoyu goes back to the main entrance of the tower, finds some nice shadows, and dimension-hops inside. The tower interior is five stories tall, and every available wall space on all five floors is lined with bookcases. Rolling ladders provide access to the taller shelves. There are easily thousands of books, scrolls, tablets and other receptacles of the written word here.

Suddenly, Miaoyu remembers where she's seen a warded tower like this before: the Ysilarite library in Brandt looked almost exactly like this. The party has stumbled across a two-hundred-year old library tower, preserved by warped wards, sealed off from all the rampaging monsters and full of books. Aelron hasn't looked this happy since the last time they stopped by the dryad's grove.

Meanwhile, the others have been amusing themselves in the rubble of the building's first floor. Gavin and Flynn pick through the rubble, looking for anything of note, and eventually they find something. It looks like a brooch or large necklace, a silver disc with a red center and, faintly etched around the silver rim, markings that appear to be two serpents intertwined: a symbol of Ylsilar, god of knowledge and poison. Gavin makes his way to back up to Aelron, who is still studying the barrier.

"What do you think the odds are that this is exactly what’s needed to get through that barrier?"

Aelron considers. He's seen librarians wearing symbols like that before. "Pretty good, I’d say."

Miaoyu steps out of the library and the party discusses how to proceed with the talisman.

"My concern," says Aelron, "is that if we touch that thing to the wards, it will deactivate them, and the entire tower will collapse."

Flynn tilts his head thoughtfully. “If we’re worried about that, then I think it would make most sense that the person who tries it be capable of being out in an instant.”

Miaoyu is already shaking her head by the time the others turn to her. “I need to see the shadows I’m teleporting to, and at the barrier, I don’t have a clear line of sight to anywhere but directly below me. Even if I had a larger field of vision, this fog is probably too thick to get a good distance away.”

"I’ll do it," Gavin says with a great sigh. "If anyone can survive tons of stones and books crashing on their head, it would be me."

No one can really argue that—Gavin has by far the best AC in the party, and despite his low hit point rolls, one of the higher hit point totals as well. The rest of the party retreats a safe distance away (although Seeker does risk standing closer than the rest, just in case Gavin needs immediate medical attention). Gavin touches the brooch to the blue barrier.

The barrier shimmers, turns an alarming, angry scarlet for a moment, then returns to its original hue. Gavin feels a horrible crawling sensation over his skin. Desperately, he jerks up a sleeve: scales have formed in patches. And they seemed to be rotting.

Gavin, much like Olaf before him, has acquired the disfavor of Ylsilar and a lovely case of scalerot. Gavin’s case of disfavor has an extra punch to it: -4 on fortitude saves against poisons.

Gavin comes storming down the stairs to the great surprise of the party. His face is red with anger and he’s sputtering out expletives.

"I can’t believe that a thief can enter the library without so much as a slap on the wrist but when I attempt to enter honestly, this happens!"

He rounds on Seeker. “You! You’re of the same church. Maybe you’ll have more pull than someone who only follows in spirit. I want to know what happened.”

Seeker takes a moment to help Gavin calm down (he only partially succeeds) and settles in for an attempt to commune directly with his god. Seeker has tried this in the past with little success. Gilgadar speaks directly with Miaoyu and his other priests because he has rather few of them, plenty of time on his hands, and few requests for aid to accommodate. Larlon, on the other hand, is a mainstream, socially approved deity worshipped directly by the entire medical establishment and prayed to by anyone who falls ill or gets injured; responding personally to everyone who petitioned him would be overwhelming even for a god.

And that’s exactly why Seeker is so surprised when a voice that he knows to be Larlon's, a voice that bears the weight of ancient wisdom and worldly knowledge, answers his communing probe with a crystal-clear, “Yes?”

Seeker sputters in surprise before collecting himself. “I’m sorry to bother you, my lord, but you know the mind of the Younger Scholar better than I. One of my companions attempted to enter an abandoned library legitimately, with a token that we thought would grant access, and earned their disfavor. Is there any insight you can offer me in this situation?” Seeker offers up his own memories of the situation, showing Larlon the finding of the tower, everything Aelron has told him about the wards, and everything the party was able to deduce about the amulet.

Seeker gets the vague impression that Larlon is stroking his beard while he thinks. “It seems likely that this was an automated instance of disfavor. If I had to guess, I’d say that the token was actually an ID badge or a library card. It might not have actually belonged to a librarian. Whoever it belonged to, they must have had books out at the time Old Drougant City fell. If you go to a Ylsilarite temple, I’m sure something can be done to correct this error.”

Seeker thanks Larlon for his help and then relays his advice to the party.

"Are you saying that Gavin was just hit with over two-hundred years’ worth of someone else's library fines?" Miaoyu asks, her voice a mixture of amusement and sympathy. Seeker nods woefully. Gavin fumes.

"Let’s keep going, then," Gavin finally sighs.

“Gavin,” Aelron says, “We should fall back. With wolf-spiders around, and Tykanria-only-knows-what else lurking in the shadows, a vulnerability to poison is an unacceptable ri—”

Gavin cuts him off with a glare. "We came here with a job to do. We are going to finish it, and then we are going back to Brandt to get rid of this infernal itching. Now come on.”

The party leaves the tower behind and resumes their course to the Throne. After an hour of travel, they come to a bridge that will allow them to cross the river. They're about halfway across when they notice that the stone pillars supporting the bridge are… swaying.

Flynn fires an eldritch arrow into the bridge. The arrow bounces off of it and sails though the air before dissipating. Curious, he picks up a rock and tries to skip it along the bridge. He succeeds.

Aelron is staring at the bridge through Spellsight, looking around wonderingly. There's magic all over the bridge, and it's like nothing he's ever seen before. He's rooted to the spot studying it, but not offering anything like advice.

Gavin tries his own hand at testing the bridge by throwing his returning spear into the stone. It sinks in as if he'd thrown it at a brick of rubber, not a rock. After a moment, it returns. Gavin jiggles it a little to make sure it’s kept its solidity (it has) and says, “I’ll go ahead and check out out.”

Gavin steps tentatively forward. The paving stones under foot squish a little under his feet, and he’s bouncing like a child on a trampoline as he walks. The end of the bridge spills into a courtyard centered on a fountain of still-flowing water. Gavin heads toward the fountain, as it seems to be strangely drawing his eye.

As he gets closer, he realizes that the water is… wrong. It oozes more than it flows from the fountain's upper reaches to the lowest basin, and the water in the basin wobbles like gelatin instead of rippling. Gavin reaches into his pack and pulls out an old, chipped mug to scoop up a bit of 'water', careful not to touch it with his hand.

Keeping the mug in hand, Gavin starts heading back to the party. At some point he misses his footing a bit thanks to the bouncy nature of the ground, and notices his mug wobble.

With a shout, Gavin throws the mug on the ground (the water and mug separate, each bouncing away wildly) and begins running back to the others, terrified of becoming a noodle-person. As he runs, he bounces higher and higher until he reaches solid ground with an undignified crash.

"I wouldn’t touch the water, if I were you," he advises. The party carefully crosses the bridge and passes through the courtyard until the bounciness wears off and the ground returns to normal solidity.

In the late afternoon, they arrive at the business district. It’s in comparatively better shape, with some of the buildings still standing. Because night will likely come upon them sooner than expected, the party selects the hippodrome in the distance as their shelter for the night.

As they approach the hippodrome, the party hears the distinct scream of a horse. This isn’t like most horse screams, though. It’s not the sound of prey being hunted down, but rather that of a triumphant predator.

"You know, I’m remembering an old folklore book I read ages ago," Miaoyu says. "Something about nomads making deals for an extraordinarily fast horse. It would seem like a good deal at first, but when they put the horse in the pasture for the night, they’d wake up and find all the other horses dead and eaten by the horse they brought back."

Everybody shudders and they all glance across to Aelron, who nods. “I remember one of my professors mentioning these things. Don't remember what he called them, but they exist: predatory horses, usually solitary predators. Magical creatures, though reports of what magic they usually employ vary wildly. The one thing the stories have in common is that they're not particularly picky eaters: the unwitting commoner or soldier is as likely a snack as the unwitting wildlife.”

With that bracing anecdote ringing in their ears, the party enters the hippodrome.

A hippodrome, for those who aren't ancient history buffs, is a horse-racing arena in the style of ancient Greece: an oval stadium with a sand floor. A pair of pillars in the sand near either end of the oval arena, massive terma, mark the points around which horses or chariots must turn. This particular hippodrome has a wall linking its terma, splitting the arena roughly into two parts. Up in the stands is a long counter, probably where bookkeepers would have sat taking bets and handing out rewards. Several dark doorways lead off the sand and down barely-visible ramps, presumably into stables underneath the arena.

On the sand itself, not far from one of the doors, is a massive bloodstain. It trails off into the nearest tunnel, as though whatever lost all that blood was subsequently dragged below.

“I think we found our horse-villain,” Gavin murmurs.

Everyone agrees that they need to investigate the bloodstain and the ground around it, see if they can find any corroboration of their theory. Most of the party jumps down onto the racetrack: Gavin and Tsarae take the lead, while Miaoyu and the mages hang a few paces behind them. Unforunately the blood stain is on the far side of the arena, so they'll have to go around one of the terma to reach it. Flynn opts to remain in the stands, following the party around the rim of the stadium on its lowest level.

It is as Gavin and Tsarae round the terma, Tsarae trailing her hand casually along the marble of the pillar, that they cross what would have been the race track's finish line. Aelron and Seeker detect a massive surge of magic, feel more than see it closing about their minds, and hastily throw up mental barriers, blocking outside influences. The spell, whatever it is, rolls over them but cannot inundate them, and washes away, leaving them unscathed.

The rest of the party, without any warning, is not so lucky.

Six ghostly horses appear on the starting blocks, and Gavin, Tsarae and Miaoyu hurry to mount theirs: they have a race to win. Flynn, in the stands, is suddenly holding a betting ticket and cheering at the riders below. This particular horse race features three teams of two riders each: Miaoyu and Tsarae are together on the red team, Gavin is with a ghost jockey on green, and the final team, composed of two ghosts on ghostly mounts, is blue. Flynn, naturally, has bet everything on the blue team.

Aelron and Seeker exchange a horrified glance before the starting bell rings. All the riders are shouting at them to clear the track, but there's nowhere to go before the horses are upon them.

"Outta the way!" Flynn shouts down. "Get in front of the reds!"

Seeker and Aelron attempt to dive for the central wall, but Gavin still has to pull his horse up short to keep from trampling them, putting him in a dismal last place while Miaoyu and Tsarae take the lead.

Tam, at this point, is asking for periodic acrobatics or athletics rolls from each rider to determine progress down the course. Tsarae, of course, rolls brilliantly, and leaps out in front of the pack. Sparrow, after a wonderful start (and history of lucky acrobatics checks), begins rolling horribly, and falls behind quickly. The blue team and the ghost of green team form the majority of the pack, with only one of the blues able to keep up with Tsarae, but all of them well ahead of Miaoyu and Gavin.

Seeker and Aelron stand and take stock of the situation quickly.

“Charm?” Seeker asks.

Aelron nods grimly. “Looks that way. Pretty elaborate one, too.”

“Dispel?”

“Yep.”

Seeker takes off at a dead sprint after Gavin, whose horse is still trying to regain its stride after tripping over Seeker. Just as the horse begins to pick up speed again, Seeker reaches range and fires off a Dispel Magic, aiming for Gavin. Unfortunately, in his haste, he hits the horse, not the rider. Gavin tumbles to the ground, bruised and furious. He staggers to his feet and sets eyes on Seeker, yelling angrily:

“You killed my horse! How dare you interfere with the race?!”

Seeker hesitates when he sees the angry gleam in his friend’s eye and hurries to cast Suggestion. “I suggest that you stand down.”

The spell is a success: Gavin no longer wants to beat Seeker into next week, just give him a good talking to. Seeker begins falling back to Aelron, and Gavin, apparently ignoring Aelron's presence, advances. It only takes a moment for Gavin to move into Aelron's dispel range, and without a horse to block the shot, Aelron hits easily.

Gavin stops in his tracks and blinks, dazed for a moment, then looks around. “So. A race, huh?”

Aelron grimaces. “So it would appear.”

Back in the thick of things, Miaoyu’s now in last place with Gavin's removal from the race, but Tsarae makes up for it: they might lose the team portion of the race, which averages the times of both riders on each team, but Tsarae may very well win the race for herself—if only it wasn’t for one of the blues constantly on her heels.

The racers are just coming around to finish their first lap as the three uncharmed party members scramble atop the dividing wall. Seeker gestures Gavin forward. “We'll dispel her and the horse, you grab her.” Gavin nods, gauges the height of the incoming horse and rider, holds out an arm for Miaoyu and braces himself atop the wall.

As Miaoyu comes galloping toward the finish line, Seeker casts Dispel Magic. Her horse vanishes from underneath her and she falls almost smoothly into Gavin's arms. Miaoyu pushes herself out of his grasp and regains her footing, face flushed with anger.

"What’s your problem? You get your horse vanished, so you start doing it to other people? That’s not very sporting! Just because I was going to start shooting at the other riders—"

Aelron casts Dispel Magic, smirking.

Miaoyu blinks. “Oh. Were we…?”

"Charmed?" Gavin offers. "Looks like."

"Shall we rinse and repeat with Tsarae?" Seeker asks.

“Sure, but I'm not catching her,” Gavin says. “She has a tendency to land pointy-bits-first, and I've no desire to be a pincushion.”

Miaoyu winces. “Just try to hit her with the first dispel, okay?”

"I’m sure this will hurt her more than it’ll hurt you," Seeker says.

Miaoyu gives him an exasperated look. “Do you even know how many knives she has? This is definitely going to hurt me more.”

Tsarae is still leading, with one blue team horse and the remaining green team horse right behind her. Bracing herself for the catch, Miaoyu leans out from the wall to watch Tsarae close on the finish line.

Aelron and Seeker prepare their dispels and fire as one. Unforunately for them, both their spells appear to bounce off Tsarae's horse. Tsarae remains charmed, and her horse continues to be at least semi-corporeal. Gavin and Miaoyu manage to latch onto Tsarae and drag her to the ground as her horse crosses the finish line, but as soon as Tsarae has her bearings, daggers appear in each hand.

And then the spell ends. Tsarae blinks in confusion, then tucks her daggers away—though she still looks cross—and the ghostly horses and jockeys vanish.

Even though Tsarae won the singles race, the blue team won the doubles. Flynn takes his betting card and turns it in at the long counter above. He’s handed a hefty bag of coins, and then the charm is lifted on him too. He takes a peek inside the bag—it’s filled to the brim with freshly minted gold coins, each one stamped with the date it was minted... 200 years ago, before the fall of the city.

Flynn joins the rest of the party on the racing track. Seeker asks Tsarae, “So how does it feel to win?”

She frowns. “I don’t think I like these sports.”

"What are sports like in the Underdark?"

"For my people? We don’t have them—no time. In other places?” She shudders. “You don’t want to know."

With that delightful thought, the party presses toward one of the dark tunnels leading below the racing track. Aelron blesses everyone with Vision of Color and they find themselves in a vast stable. There are no cannibal horses in sight, but there is a corpse of an ill-fated attercop. He has bits of flesh ripped from his body as though something was taking bites out of him.

Night is falling, and the party has no way of setting a trap, and their scents will likely give them away if they remain down here. They head back to the stands, find the old box seats, and camp in one of the boxes, high above the track.

The night is not destined to be a peaceful one. Miaoyu and Tsarae are on watch when they hear a horrible scream from the northeast.

"It’s probably nothing," Tsarae says. Another scream joins the first, then another. Miaoyu winces. "Just ignore it," Tsarae pleads. "Let’s just worry about ourselves."

Miaoyu wavers for a long moment, then, with a pained expression, shakes Gavin awake. “What is it?” he mumbles groggily. Then he hears the screams and sits bolt upright. He grabs his spear and starts helping Miaoyu wake the others, Tsarae protesting all the while.

"This is a bad idea. Those people are being attacked because they weren’t careful. They screwed up. If we go after them, we’ll get killed too."

"Probably," Aelron agrees, unfaltering.

"The screaming has been going for six minutes now. This is a trap, or worse, someone who likes to toy with their prey. Or worse than that: both."

"It’s likely," Gavin says as he heads down the stairs, Aelron right behind him.

Tsarae rounds on Miaoyu. "Where did you find this guy? Was there a discount offer on idiot knights?"

"Well, we didn’t pay for him, so… yes?" Miaoyu fidgets anxiously with her pack, carefully not taking a side in the debate.

Tsarae lets out a frustrated sigh. Seeker begins following after Gavin and Aelron. “You can stay here if you want to. Alone. With the demon horse.”

Tsarae reluctantly steps in with the rest of the party, Miaoyu close behind.

Old Drougant City is covered with dense fog at night and the party has trouble seeing much at all. They follow the direction of the screams as quickly as they can, but as the party reaches the door leading out of the hippodrome complex and into the streets, the horrible shrieking ceases.

Gavin turns to Miaoyu. “Do you think you can guide us there?”

Miaoyu hesitates. “Probably. It sounded close, maybe five blocks away. But Gavin, I don’t think this is a good idea. We can barely see through this fog.”

"I understand how you feel, Gavin," Aelron says gently. "But you and Flynn haven’t even had time to put on your armor. And if we get separated in this fog, we’ll get picked off one by one with no way to find each other. I hate to say it, but with no remaining sign that anyone is still alive out there, risking ourselves is no longer worth it. We can look in the morning."

Gavin fumes for a long moment, visibly upset and shaking. “Fine,” he says after a long moment. “I’ll leave this alone. I’ll let these lives go unsaved so we might save more in the future.”

Gavin turns on his heel and storms back to the campsite. Seeker begins to say, “I’m sorry,” but Gavin cuts him off with a snarled, “Don’t.” His foul mood lasts him all night: he doesn’t sleep and instead takes the time to don his armor. Come morning, everyone takes their breakfast rations, and Gavin herds them out to investigate the screams.

Miaoyu and Tsarae take point, trying to pin down the origin of the screams, while the others fall back.

"I’m sorry for my harshness last night," Gavin says to Aelron and Seeker. "In truth, the elf’s lack of concern for anyone’s life other than her own bothers me, and has me on edge."

Flynn, who had been scanning the surroundings for any movement in the area, snaps his gaze on Gavin at that comment. “Try living it,” he snaps. “Try living with the constant need to survive, then talk to me about regrets.” He storms away.

"As harsh as it is," Seeker adds, "I can understand her pragmatism. She grew up in the Underdark. Notions of nobility are... uncommon—or at least different—there, to say the least." Aelron reluctantly nods his agreement.

Gavin sighs at the mages and approaches Flynn. “At least—” he begins.

Flynn cuts him off. “Take your self-righteousness and shove it up your ass.”

"—your lady loves you," Gavin continues doggedly.

Flynn scoffs. “No. I am beyond love.”

"Then take your self-pity and—"

"Self-pity?" Flynn rounds on Gavin. "No. You want to do this now?" He takes a threatening step towards Gavin. "Let’s go."

Seeker rushes between the two right then. “Don’t you think this is escalating a bit far?”

"Stop fighting, you guys," Miaoyu calls from ahead of them. "We’re here."

'Here' is an enormous of opera house. The facade has four tall windows and an ornate set of double doors. Or, it did. One of the doors has been cracked in half and the windows are smeared with blood on the inside. Everyone takes a deep breath and peers inside.

To say that the atrium is covered in blood is... actually not much of an exaggeration. There are a few scattered bits of what once were people, the remnants of an expedition's supplies... and lots and lots of blood.

Flynn falls silent and steps away from the door, taking up position to watch the street. Tsarae steps to his side, then thinks better of it and finds a shadow to skulk in. Gavin moves over next to Flynn to watch as well, and the silence grows tense and brittle.

Seeker turns to Miaoyu. “Do you want to take a look first, before we start leaving tracks through things and disturbing the scene?”

She nods, then slips into the atrium. The room is at least three stories tall here, with a crystal chandelier still hanging from the ceiling in fairly good, if blood-spattered, condition. A wide marble-floored atrium, probably once covered with expensive carpets, leads to a sweeping curved double-staircase that encloses a balcony, beyond which are entrances to the opera house itself. She takes a few moments to scan the area before noticing something in the floor.

"Look at this," she murmurs. "Marble flooring, but it had claws strong enough to make gouges."

After a moment more of surveying the area, she waves Seeker in, pointing at one of the few remains that is identifiable as a piece of a person: it's the remnant of an arm, torn off the body just above the elbow joint, and missing most of its hand. “Look at this. It was bit clean off, wasn’t it?”

"I wouldn't say 'clean'," Seeker qualifies, “But yes, it appears to have been twisted off in a manner consistent with a biting attack. There must have been several people camped here. But I can only see pieces belonging to two distinct people. The rest just have been… eaten, maybe, or dragged away.” He glances back at the door. “Though the lack of blood smears on the street makes me think 'eaten' is more likely.”

"It was big," Miaoyu says. "Look at those scratches on the pillar.” She gestures to one of the pillars in the balustrade of one of the twin staircases. Along the near side of the pillar, the side facing away from the stairs, something has gouged claw marks out of the pillar. Those marks are a good ten feet off the marble floor, though. “It had to have been at least twelve feet tall, maybe fifteen. Lots of muscle to make this mess." She glances at Aelron. "Know anything that matches that description?"

Aelron scratches his head. “It’s not much to go on. Could have been that big wolfman you saw. The sorts of werewolves that have hybrid forms...” he shudders. “They don't leave much behind.” He shakes his head. “Trolls, a small-end giant... Vampires have supernatural strength... but wouldn't they want to consume this much blood, not just rip people apart?”

"Might have been a necromancer," suggests Seeker. "Or a cultist. Nunatii accepts blood sacrifices."

Miaoyu shakes her head at that. “I’m not saying that plays are the most reliable sources of information, but in the ones I’ve seen, Nunatiians prefer strangulation or suffocation. At their most gruesome, they pour hot pitch down people’s throats. A bloody mess isn’t really their thing.”

Aelron nods. His voice has gone clinical again. “Nunantii tends to like his sacrificial victims awake and aware. In horrible pain, yes, of course, but still lucid enough to recognize where they're going and why. This sort of slaughter doesn't leave its victims in the desired state. A scene like this is more appropriate to Ashur or Farkas.”

Miaoyu shakes her head. “Regardless, I'm through with my inspection. Let’s start looking around, see if we can find any information in their personal affects.”

Flynn steps in then, still very quiet, and follows a sweeping staircase up to the balcony, surveying the area. Seeker finds a suit of plate armor. Although it has blood smears on it, it seems as though the armor wasn’t being worn when the attack happened: the adventurers had settled in for the night and were surprised by their attacker. He hauls the suit outside. It can be resized for someone in the party.

Aelron finds a bird bone with magical runes etched into it. It takes him a moment, but he recognizes it as an artifact used by a rare breed of mages: binders. Binders were once common in the Varaz kingdom, but after they fell, the practice became obscure. Some odd traditions still practice it, however, and Kadarashi are known to pick it up from time to time. In this particular case, the bone can be broken to cast a circle of Protection Against Undead. The fact that it is still intact suggests that their attacker wasn’t undead… or they didn’t have the chance to use it.

Seeker finds a gold ring with an enchantment on it: it grows warm when law officials are near. He hands it to Miaoyu as she’s scooping up a silver sword amulet. “You might find this useful,” he whispers, and explains its abilities to her.

"Sounds like they were my kind of people. I feel bad for them. Whatever hit them was beyond cruel."

After one more sweep of the room, it seems there’s nothing left to recover. The party files out of the opera house, and as Flynn exits, he punches the door, hard.

"Want a weave on that?" Aelron asks after the opera house is some distance away, gesturing to Flynn's bruised knuckles.

"Hmm?" says Flynn, the first bit of communication he’s made since they uncovered the gruesome scene. "Oh. No, I’m fine." After that, Flynn seems to be more-or-less back to normal.

Deciding to continue on toward the Throne, the party marches next into an ordinary-looking courtyard, lined with rampant shrubberies and overspilling flowerbeds, centered on a Hawthorne tree. They’re walking through quietly when Miaoyu suddenly stops, looks around, and narrows her eyes.

She glances at Aelron and Seeker. "Do you feel that?"

"What do you mean?" Aelron asks.

Miaoyu hesitates, choosing her words carefully. “My shadow-walking is... off. It just feels wrong. Like if I use it, something bad will happen.”

Aelron falls quiet for a moment, focusing on his own magic. After a moment, his eyebrows rise in surprise. “You're right. This area is saturated with wild magic, and all magic used within it will be unstable. Any spell or ability we use here could have... unforseen consequences.”

"Best be in our way, then," Flynn says. They leave the courtyard swiftly, and once they’re outside of its sphere of influence, Gavin marks a stone for Miaoyu to Locate later, should they need to find the area again.

Finally, they arrive at the Throne. The Throne itself is an island of volcanic rock. Three enormous slabs of stone, perhaps the remnants of volcanic flues, form a tripod over the island, standing awesome sentinel. Below them, a castle nestles into the rock, carved out of the very island's bones. As it is, there’s no ferry to a centuries-long abandoned island, so Gavin slips on his cloak and turns into a seal, accepting both Vision of Color and a consumable spell item he can use for a speed boost from Aelron.

The travel to the island is pleasantly free of horrible lake monsters (although there are some creepy-looking fish) and Gavin arrives at the Throne's ferry docks safely. He surveys the area, but finds it rather plain, simply a stone quay with a shaped stone path leading up to a yawning gate that opens into the island's core. Satisfied, he shapeshifts into a seal again and returns to the party.

"It should do. There’s a dock that I can tie a rope to and maybe ferry you all across in a trip or two, whenever we decide to go.”

“Not today,” Seeker says. “We need to get you taken care of and see what we can do about this journal, and I need to work on the elven mail.”

“If we sell the gem, we can get some better equipment, too,” Miaoyu adds.

“And I can do a bit of enchanting,” Aelron seconds.

And the party wants to reach level four before taking on whatever’s awaiting them. Details.

So the party makes a strong, quick push back to their manor and returns in time for nightfall. They go to sleep with plans to return to Scarlet in the morning.

Fayd
2014-05-31, 11:24 AM
That... was a high tension session.

Cade Rentyr
2014-06-03, 11:37 PM
That... was a high tension session.

For some of us. :smallsmile:

Dawnflame
2014-06-07, 05:25 PM
It was a high-tension session for ALL of us until Tam asked Cade and Werebear to drop out of character to confirm they weren't actually yelling at each other. Once they laughed it off and confirmed that they as players were fine, it got a lot easier... though the scene in the lobby of the opera house was still rather disgusting.

@islanddog: Next time we have a session, I'll see if Tam will let me take a photo of his world map. If that works out, we can do a continent-by-continent overview of the world and give a bit of its history and background, and attempt an explanation of the metaphysical and extraplanar aspects of the world. Tam gave one to me once, and mostly it made sense, but it also included quite a bit of abstraction and diagramming, so I'll see what I can do about translating it to something understandable in text format.

AverageSparrow
2014-06-07, 09:39 PM
For this chapter, Fayd was away from the gaming table. We took the opportunity to send him extremely confusing and misleading text messages regarding what the party was doing, which I will include at approximately the points we sent them in [brackets] with the name of the sender listed.

For instance, we started off with [“Ye gods I hate the plague.” -Cade]. Now, Flynn wasn’t suffering plague at the time, but he definitely wasn’t lying.

Our noble adventurers return to Scarlet and the Eight-Headed Hydra Inn. Miaoyu promptly challenges Tsarae to a drinking contest. Guess who wins. If you guessed ‘the lady with a trait called Hard Drinker’, you guessed right. Apparently Miaoyu doesn't cheat in drinking contests with other Gilgadarites. By the end of the night, she’s having trouble walking straight. Or walking at all. Tsarae alternates between laughing at her and making sure she doesn’t hit her head on any sharp corners.

Before they get too deep into their drinks, Aelron asks for Miaoyu’s rod of spider climb. “I’ll fix it up for you,” he says. “Try to make it a little less... spidery.” He takes the horrible mandible of evilness and purchases a nice cloth to wrap it in. As he’s returning to the inn, he finds a lovely patch of creeping ivy climbing a brick building and pulls a patch of it free, wrapping it around the cloth and affixing a simple enchantment to keep the leaves fresh for a time. He returns it to a lightly buzzed Miaoyu, who proclaims that it’s the most beautifully disguised awful spider-thing she’s ever seen.

Flynn notices a small group of adventurers loudly talking about their plans to go into ODC and become rich. He casually joins their conversation, telling them of all the unspeakable horrors he and his friends faced—not a word of it lies, though he does leave out the high points of the expedition. When he gets to the part about the spider wolves, a strapping young dwarf gives Flynn a skeptical look. “Pigeon crap,” she says.

Flynn raises a brow. “Really?” he turns in his seat and calls to Miaoyu, who’s somewhere between ‘drunk’ and ‘no, really, really drunk’. “You want to tell them about those spiders? About the people we found in their webs? The poison?”

Miaoyu trembles, lip quivering and tears springing into her eyes. Tsarae pats her on the back and pushes another drink into her hands, giving Flynn a dirty look (mostly for show, as she knows what he's trying to accomplish). Flynn turns back to his audience, shaking his head sadly. “She ran straight into a group of them. Hasn’t been the same since.”

The adventurers look mortified. Flynn’s job here is done.

Meanwhile, Gavin approaches the inkeeper. “Can you have a tub of hot water and a scrubbing wench sent up to my room?” he asks.

The inkeeper scowls at him. “Scrubbing wench?” she deadpans.

Gavin blinks. “You don't have scrubbing wenches?”

The inkeeper smiles without mirth and slides a long-handled, rough-bristled brush across the bar to him. “Have fun,” she says. ["Note, the eight headed hydra does not have scrubbing wenches." -Werebear]

Gavin takes a bath, trying to scrub off the rotted scales. It’s a valiant effort, but futile. The only thing that’s going to get rid of those scales is Ylsilar’s forgiveness.

Come morning, the party sets out for Hangtree to recover their horses. They meet a group of soldiers—Scarlet's militia, though even the word 'militia' may be somewhat generous for these men—who are heading to the Wolfhead Woods to kill or capture bandits. Aelron offers them the blessings of the Mother of Dragons and the party warns them of the strange group of militants they encountered in the Wolfhead Woods.

That night, Miaoyu is on watch when she hears a group of people approaching.

“Hail,” says a man, just out of the firelight. “My name is Dorn, and these are my companions. We saw your campfire and wondered if we could avail ourselves of your hospitality?”

Miaoyu hesitates, scanning the group. They stand in the darkness, but she guesses there may be about twelve of them, all armed and armored but none with weapons in hand.

“Your answer, ma’am?” Dorn prompts.

After a moment Miaoyu says, “You can wait for me to confer with my party, or you can keep on moving.”

“We will wait,” Dorn says.

Miaoyu shakes awake Gavin, then Flynn. “About a dozen people are asking to join with us,” she relays once they’re alert. “What do you think?”

“Let them join us,” Gavin says, and Flynn nods silently. They both leave the tent and greet Dorn and his fellows, and everyone steps into the light.

Dorn himself is a dwarf, and his companions are a grab bag. They’re mostly dwarf and human (some of which look to have a bit of dwarf blood) and one elf. They’re a great mix of classes, too, and Gavin and Flynn take a moment to arrange watches, ensuring that at least one person from their party is on watch at all times.

After everything is sorted out, they alert the rest of their party to the fact that there are new folks in the camp. Aelron doesn't even wake up all the way, merely murmuring that he's fine with it and rolling over. Seeker takes it in stride, getting up to check if any of their new companions need healing, but Tsarae is immediately on edge.

“What were you thinking?” Tsarae asks Miaoyu as she starts to don her armor.

“Sorry...,” Miaoyu offers helplessly. Tsarae shakes her head and grabs her sword. Outside, she finds a nice tree to lean against and stays up for the rest of the night.

Aelron is the last on watch. Tsarae is still awake, for a given value of ‘awake’. She tends to nod off for moments before shaking herself awake. Aelron digs through his bag until he finds the gift that Seeker made for the party for Midwinter. Aelron waits until Tsarae looks lucid and approaches her carefully.

“I have a item for you—a band that will help you recall pleasant memories as you sleep. It may help—”

“Pass,” she says. “I appreciate the effort, but pass.”

“It’s enchanted with an alarm,” Aelron lies. “It’ll wake you up if anyone tries to get within five feet of you.”

“That’ll happen pretty definitely,” Tsarae says. “Look, I’ll be fine. I get like this when I’m around new people—ask Miaoyu.”

“I’m just worried about you getting enough sleep,” Aelron says.

“I’ll be fine. I’ll take... what are they called? Cats? Cat naps.”

“Okay,” Aelron finally relents and returns to his spot next to the fire.

There was some curiosity amongst the players regarding whey Tsarae didn’t make any rolls to tell if Aelron was lying regarding the alarm enchantment. Cave elf culture is obscure and diverse, but all of them have one defining factor: the clan is more important than the individual. To sabotage one person is to sabotage the entire clan, and could possibly end in tragedy given how vicious the Underdark is. Tsarae has adopted the party as something of a pseudo-clan. Although she and Aelron are by no means birds of a feather, she trusts him and is invested in his welfare.

There's also the fact that Aelron just doesn't usually lie.

Fortunately, no one’s throats are slit come morning. The party takes time to get better acquainted with their companions. As it turns out, Dorn and Company are headed to Hangtree too. They’re interested in seeking the Baroness’s employ as mercenaries, guards, or whatever else she may need. Scarlet was once a barony in its own right, but was rather rudely absorbed into Forscythe county a few years back. Now that Countess Forscythe is dead and Baroness Hangtree has assumed temporary control of the region, it’s quite likely that these Scarlet natives are looking to put a bit of pressure on Hangtree—in the politest, most helpful way possible—to reinstate Scarlet’s independence.

These adventurers are meant as sort of ‘backup’ characters. If for any reason our characters aren’t viable (death, distracted by shiny objects, or something is happening in Hangtree while the party is away) we can draw from them as necessary. The only notable one at the moment is Bekki, a male dwarf who’s short, and extremely touchy both about being short and his name, which is a perfectly respectable dwarven name, thank you. (“Dibs!” TheWerebear declares, laughing.)

Fortunately, with so many well-armed and experienced combatants banded together, nothing on the random encounter chart feels like trying its luck against the party, and they arrive in Hangtree without further incident. Goodbyes are said (or glared, in the case of Tsarae) and the two parties split. The Scarlet adventurers head up to the Baroness’s manor and knock politely on the door.

Flynn answers. “Hey,” he says.

There’s a bout of confused pointing and head scratching until Flynn deigns to inform them that he's Hangtree’s gopher and explains that the lady will be out for a while—but he has a few quests he can offer them, working them into the patrol schedule and having them clear out minor issues in and around the town.

Once that’s taken care of, the party gathers up their horses, Keegan, and Lajiao and heads for Brandt; Aelron also grabs Olaf’s Razor, but keeps it in one of his horses’ saddle bags.

Gavin pulls Keegan aside. “I’m going to try to keep this simple. I’ve been told that Olaf was training you to fight, mostly with a staff. I fight with spears and I can expand on that training, if you so desire.” Keegan nods. “Okay. And for what it's worth... I lost friends to Alderik too. We share that.” Keegan's second nod is much harder and grimmer, out of place on the face of a twelve-year-old.

It turns out that Keegan has been trying to keep busy in the party's absence: he's been going on patrols with Sergeant Ranolf and the Hangtree city guards, familiarizing himself with travel in a military unit, movement through the countryside, and soldierly duties. For a twelve-year-old, he's doing remarkably well, and seems to be something of a mascot to the guards.

The first half of the journey to Brandt is uneventful, aside from Gavin dispensing some friendly Ocean Witch priest's advice to a few local fishermen. The second half of the journey is a little more exciting. The party is only about a day and a half out from Brandt, traveling along the coast, when a beautiful, haunting melody washes over them from the waterfront, and everyone is asked to make a will save.

Gavin shrugs off the enchanting music; he learned to sing from sirens and mermaids, and as beautiful as it is, he’s not as affected as others. Aelron and Tsarae similarly shrug off the call—but Seeker, Flynn, and Miaoyu are immediately taken by the sound, and each attempts to make for the beach.

At this point, Fayd got a flurry of texts:

"You caught a likely looking fish. Congratulations." -Werebear
"Seeker's a real chick magnet tonight!" -Averagesparrow
"No one expects the Seeker Inquisition!" -Cade
"...Oops" -Dawnflame

Fortunately, Seeker and Miaoyu were on foot. Aelron manages to grapple Seeker (a tricky task, given he doesn’t want to tear Seeker’s enchanted stole or robe) and says, “Think of your wife, Seeker! The woman you love!” Seeker ceases struggling as the enchantment relinquishes him. ["I might have caused major property damage." -Dawnflame] ["Oh, and you might need to make some minor repairs to your clothing. It might have gotten damaged when you were grabbed. We are lucky your robe didn't come all the way off. -Werebear]

Tsarae’s answer to charm spells is more blunt: she grabs Miaoyu, shoves her to the ground, and sits on her.

Flynn, however, was on a horse—he goes careening towards the shoreline, Gavin giving desperate chase. Gavin manages to grab the reigns of Flynn's horse, drawing it up short. “All this Connish stubbornness is useless if you give up now!” Gavin shouts. It’s enough to put a chip in the spell, and Flynn manages to get ahold of himself.

Tsarae isn’t so lucky. There’s just enough shadow over Miaoyu that she’s able to teleport a short distance away and take off towards the ocean again. Tsarae sputters out a few curses and lunges after Miaoyu, grabbing her wrist and trying to yank her back. With a bit of a struggle, Miaoyu breaks free again and keeps heading toward the as-yet-unseen mermaid.

“I didn’t expect them to do this sort of thing outside of a tent,” Aelron says aside to Seeker, grinning as he begins weaving a dispel.

Gavin, unaware of Aelron’s actions, shouts out to the mermaid, “That’s lovely singing! I wonder if you could win a contest!”

At the same time, the dispel hits Miaoyu and she stops in her tracks, a bit dazed. The singing stops then, too, and a splash echoes up from the beach as the mermaid retreats back to the ocean: they’re terribly shy.

With no one in any immediate danger of drowning, the party makes its way safely to Brandt. Seeker immediately secures an inn, then purchases space at an elven weaver's shop (as previously agreed-upon with the DM) and sets to work on the elven spidersilk armor. Tsarae goes off to loiter with intent. For everyone else, it’s off to see the Ylsilarites.

The library of Brandt is a small cluster of buildings centered around a tall stone tower, all adorned with gargoyles that glare down menacingly at any passersby. The tower is easy to find, thankfully, and the party marches up smartly. Aelron knocks on the door, and after a few moments a young initiate opens it.

“Yes?”

Gavin speaks first. “Hello. It seems that through some mistake, I was cursed with the disfavor of Ylsilar. You see I—”

“Building to the right,” the initiate says, and begins to swing the door closed. Flynn puts a hand on the door to keep it from closing. She frowns at him, but raises an eyebrow. “Yes?” she repeats. He holds out the folio the party found in the Gryphon’s Peak manor.

“We’d also like to discuss having this document opened and duplicated, and get a look at its contents,” he says. The initiate opens the door wider, now with something resembling a pleasant expression on her face.

“This way, please,” she says.

Gavin goes his separate way, then, to the next building over. This building is blocky and squat where the tower grows gracefully from the ground, and the door is plain and unadorned but for a knocker made to resemble a snake head. Another initiate opens the door at his knock. “Who seeks to curry favor with Ylsilar?” she asks.

“I, Gavin of Tidehollow. was in Old Drougant—”

The initiate holds up a hand for silence. “I am not the one you must tell,” she says, then gestures him inside and leads him into the complex. He’s shown to a small, windowless room, adorned only with a bench. He takes his seat, and the door swings closed behind him, a lock loudly sliding into place.

After a few tense minutes, the viewport slides open, then the door unlocks and creaks open. A frail-looking old man studies Gavin for a moment.

“I understand you have... sinned,” he rasps.

Gavin draws himself up and finally gets his chance to explain. “My companions and I were investigating a library we found in Old Drougant City. Not realizing that it was consecrated to Ylsilar at the time, I attempted to enter using this token,” he holds out the snake brooch, “and found myself in Ylsilar’s disfavor. Given that this was a misunderstanding, I had hoped we could resolve this quickly and with little hassle.”

The man plucks the brooch out of Gavin’s hand, eyes narrowing. “We must investigate your claims,” the priest says carefully. “I shall return.” The door swings shut again, though it is not bolted this time. A few long minutes later, the old man returns, a tiny black snake in the palm of his hand. “The records on that amulet corroborate your story. We appreciate your efforts in the city, and the information you bring us. Now, if you please....” The man holds out the snake, and it rises up, tasting the air with its tiny tongue.

Gavin pauses for a long moment, then stiffly leans forward and kisses the snake on the head. ["Gavin got lucky too... just with the wrong species." -Cade] A strange scratching sensation comes over his body, then vanishes. He straightens and begins checking his body for scales. They have all but disappeared, only slightly-raw patches of flesh marking where they used to be. Gavin sighs in relief. “Thank you. If you ever come across the soul of the person who was in possession of that brooch, please, do me a favor—flay them. Now, regarding that library, I’m sure that my party would be happy to retrieve the books for you. And, one more thing—if you could put a good word in for me with the Turmlarites?”

The old man looks a bit taken aback at that request, but nods and gestures for one of the initiates to join them. “Please escort this young man to Head Librarian Siobhan. He has a matter he would like to discuss with her.”

The others, meanwhile, are already speaking with Head Librarian Siobhan. She is a portly woman who wears a beautifully patterned snake draped over her neck. She carefully studies the folio as Flynn explains to her how the party acquired it. “I must admit, your story is quite impressive. We can safely open and transcribe the contents of this journal for you within a few days. Would you like to pay in advance to have a copy as well as the original, or would you like to donate the original to the library?”

“If we donate the original, will the library be willing to provide the original if we need proof of the copy’s authenticity?” Flynn asks.

Siobhan nods. “Although additional fees may apply.”

“Before we go,” Miaoyu says, “you should know that we found an abandoned library in Old Drougant City. It was still being protected by its old ward spells, but they had all sort of run together and were denying us access. The books still appear to be in good shape, though, and there must have been thousands. We could acquire them for you, if you want, or escort one of your librarians there.”

Siobhan pets her snake as she considers this. “Acquiring those books again would be greatly appreciated and beneficial to all. Seeing as it would be impossible for you to bring them all back in one trip, we will compose a list of valuable and lost books that should be prioritized if they can be located within the library. We will also craft tokens for you all to pass through the barrier without penalty.” (As if on cue, Gavin enters the room at this exact moment and a disgruntled look crosses his face.) “Both items will take a couple of days to complete. We won’t be sending an initiate to accompany you, however. I mean no offense by this but... if one of your number were to perish in Old Drougant City, it would have a less significant impact on our order, and you could easily be replaced by others.”

Well, no one can say Ylsilarites are liars. Wait, no, that's not true. Ylsilar is the god of betrayal and the son of the goddess of lies. But this particular Ylsilarite definitely isn’t sugar-coating things, and sometimes blunt honesty like that is refreshing.

With that taken care of, the party sets off to do whatever it is that needs to be done, but no one has a more pressing concern that Gavin.

“I’m going to ask the Ocean Witch to release me from her service,” he tells his companions. “And maybe finally realize my dream of serving Turmlar instead.”

Being released from service to a god is a rare thing, but not unheard of. More easy-going or chaotic deities are willing to allow their priests to leave them, provided a special service is performed for them first. Aelron's probably never going to be released from the service of the Mother of Dragons, but luckily for Gavin, the Ocean Witch is exactly the kind of goddess willing to do this for her priests, assuming she doesn’t kill them for asking.

The party gives him various well-wishes and promises for a lovely funeral if he doesn’t return, and Gavin departs for a nice, isolated patch of beach, just outside the city walls. He wades into the ocean and silently requests an audience with the Ocean Witch.

What do you want? she sighs in his mind, a distracted tone in her voice.

“My lady, I humbly request to be released from my service to you.”

The voice in his head suddenly takes a more interested tone. But I thought we had something going! she cries, fake sobs echoing through the waters.

“I made these oaths when I was young and stupid,” Gavin says gently.

Are you calling me stupid? the Ocean Witch demands. Are you saying that I manipulated you into serving me? You make me sound like some sort of predator!

“You are, my lady,” Gavin says.

Don’t bring facts into this! Still, you have been faithful and you didn’t really want to make the vow in the first place—a personal failing on your part—so... I’ll let you go. Bring a virgin and sacrifice them on the shores.

Gavin gapes in horror.

What? Is that not your thing? No one ever does that anymore. Are virgins really that hard to find these days? She sighs. Okay. Option two is to convert someone into serving me. But I get the feeling you won’t like that either, seeing as how you’re so hung up about not wanting me in the first place. So! Option number three! Smiting my enemies! You’re good at killing things, aren’t you? That’s what I liked about you in the first place. Now, give me a moment.

The Ocean Witch falls silent, but in the back of his mind, Gavin can hear what sounds distinctly like someone turning the pages of a little black book, punctuated by the occasional mumble from his goddess. Hate... Hate... Hate... Oooh, he's cute, I should look him up. Kill. Screw, then kill. Kill while screwing. ["Who knew the Ocean with was a Tweenie Queen? Like Maeve, except maybe a little more reasonable maybe." -Cade] And on and on in that vein. Finally, she speaks again.

So how do you feel about spiders? The Ocean Witch is a fey goddess of the Seelie courts. Her Unseelie counterpart? The Princess of Spiders. It looks like she’s feeling a bit competitive at the moment.

“We’ve actually already dispatched a spider grove, my lady. It had a shrine to the Spider Princess, so I stole the spell scroll on the altar and replaced it with a picture of a spider on a sinking ship. I captioned it, The tides come further inland every year.”

Deplorable! the Ocean Witch cries. I love it! But I’m going to need a little bit... more. Anyway. Princess of Spiders. She lets out a whistle. I mean, I can’t tell if I want to kill her or sleep with her. I mean—ohmygod so hot. What was I talking about? Right! I have a list of a few shrines and altars to her inland. If you could desecrate or convert or consecrate or all of the above, that’d be great. Oh, and if you could maybe drown one of her cultists in some salt water? I’d consider it a special favor. So... I’m still a little pissed at you, so don’t get in a boat for the next week or year. Not until you get this done for me. But you can keep your spells for now.

“That is very generous of you, my lady,” Gavin says.

I’m a giver, she agrees. Unlike you. So yeah, just drown a few spiders and we should be good. By the way, if you’re into mermaids, I can hook you up! Or merrow. Are you a merrow sort of fellow?

“No thank you. But consider the task done.”

Good! Otherwise I was going to smite you. Okay, so come back in three days and I should have that location for you. Kisses! Bye!

Rather abruptly, the godly presence that had filled the waters vanishes. Gavin begins to wade back to the shore and then the city. A few yards away, a young couple is eying him suspiciously. Not too many people just carry one seemingly one-sided conversations with the ocean.

Gavin heads back to the inn where he finds the party (sans Seeker, who is still off weaving) enjoying some drinks. Or rather, Tsarae is enjoying drinks rather liberally and the rest of the party is watching in awe as she downs them all without seeming to suffer any effect. Even Aelron, in his years at the towers, never saw anyone who could drink like this. Though Miaoyu could drink this well while casting Cheat, Tsarae is just drinking stoically. “The surface has much better alcohol,” she muses as Gavin approaches. “All we ever had was fermented mushrooms. Have you ever had those?” She shakes her head. “Awful stuff.”

Gavin sits at their table then and all attention turns to him. “Well. Looks like we have a quest.” He fills his friends in on the Ocean Witch’s demand. Miaoyu makes that sound she always does at mention of spiders.

“Don’t be like that,” Tsarae says. “We’ll fight some spiders, you’ll say, Oh no, I have spider goop in my hair! Wash it out for me! and then you and I will have a romantic moment....” Miaoyu rolls her eyes.

“It will be fun,” Gavin agrees eagerly. Then he leans over to the passing barmaid. “Give me a glass of whatever you have with the highest alcohol content.” She returns a moment later and Gavin passes the drink to Tsarae. “What do you say, help me out, find a good fight, a round of drinks afterward?”

Tsarae responds by taking the drink, lifting it in Gavin’s direction, and chugging most of it down. She coughs. “What is this?” she demands, a note of admiration in her voice.

“Cleaning fluid!” calls the bartender. “Use it on the hinges when they get rusty.” Tsarae nods appreciatively and takes another drink.

A few moments later, she’s having trouble sitting up, and pondering exactly what colors and time really are. Looks like Tsarae’s finally found a way to get smashed without a few hours’ warm-up first. Miaoyu obligingly helps her with walking, drinking, and really anything more advanced than breathing.

The next day, Aelron, Gavin, and Miaoyu head to a jeweler and Flynn goes to the bank.

At the jeweler’s Miaoyu presents the storefront attendant with the sapphire she found at Gryphon’s Peak and explains where she found it.

“We were curious to know if it has any significance beyond its worth,” Gavin adds.

The attendant looks at the jewel with eyes as wide and glittery as polished silver dinner plates. “I will inform Lady Danica that you require an appraisal,” he says, though the effort it costs him to tear his eyes from the gem looks like at least 3d6 reserve HP of heroic effort.

He disappears for a few moments, returning with a woman dressed in silk finery and carrying herself with an air of command. This would be Lady Danica, who owns the jeweler's shop they're standing in. She greets the party, confirms their story, then vanishes into the back to study the jewel. As they wait, the attendant shows them to a small parlor and provides a luncheon. After a few hours, Danica returns.

“I apologize for the amount of time this required,” she says. “I had to make a couple of trips to the Church of Laeros to confirm that this gem is not, in fact, any sort of heirloom belonging to Gryphon’s Peak or any other family. It isn't, it seems, so it's merely an enormous sapphire. I am, however, quite happy to pay you all full-price for the gem or negotiate any other deal, as you see fit.”

It takes a bit of time to work out the details, but the party ultimately decides on the following deal: they will give the gem to Danica and she will pay the group 60% of its worth, effectively investing 40% of the gem in the store. In return, they will also get large discounts on any future purchases from the store (an especially good deal, considering that Aelron’s primary spell components are gems) and always the possibility of a future quest, should Danica require their services in any capacity.

At the bank, Flynn turns in the coins he acquired at the charm-induced race and the coins Aleron and Gavin collected in the harpy’s nest. The bankers are quite pleased to have the racetrack coins back: they’re a historical curiosity now, especially in mint condition. The coins from the harpy nest are simply taken back out of circulation; they're ancient and still smell vaguely of bird droppings. Flynn gets some more modern coins for his troubles as well as the blessing of Waerdun, the god of commerce, which gives him advantage on all Trade checks—including his Trade: Gambling skill.

From there, the party splits up to work on individual tasks. Because he plans on taking some of the elven chain, Aelron takes Miaoyu's Rod of Spider Climb back, breaks it down, and weaves its enchantment into his old dwarven byrnie for her, doing a bit of extra work to expand on the ivy theme and hide the spider elements. When he's done, the armor has a single sapphire in the center of its chest, ivy-shaped tracery skirling around the ribs, shoulders and arms, and a single emerald in the center of the back, from which the ivy tracery emanates. The spider leg has been broken down into smaller pieces and hidden among the ivy, and is now almost unnoticable.

Flynn decides to make use of his blessing and goes gambling in the seedier part of town. He earns a few extra coins here and there, but what really matters is that he hears rumors of a sort of ‘scoundrel’s night’ coming up where some of the local lowlife can get together for a good time without the scrutiny of the law.

Miaoyu and Tsarae (annoyingly hangover-free from her Hard Drinker trait) do a bit of pranking and robbing. Miaoyu follows people ominously as they go down alleys and herds them to Tsarae, who jumps out to frighten them. Sometimes, they try to punch her, which means Tsarae gets to have a brawl while Miaoyu cuts their purse. They make a decent sum and have a few good laughs. Ah, romance.

Next session, look forward to the shocking return of one of the most devious minds our party has ever encountered!

AverageSparrow
2014-06-07, 10:51 PM
The party continues their visit in Brandt, but unbeknownst to any of them a great and terrible force of chaos has arrived in port. A fleet of Qennish warships is making its way into the harbor and, as the first ship sidles up to the dock and extends its gangplank, unleashing riotous disorder upon the unsuspecting Drouganti—Nüwa has arrived!

And she’s terribly hung over. “Can’t we go back to the Peri Isles?” she whines. “The high was fun. Coming down is a drag.”

Next to her, her assistant, an Aurbeski lady named Allison, jots down everything Nüwa says—Nüwa hired her to do that, after all. “The rear admiral threatened to leave us behind if we didn’t board the ship, my lady. I’m afraid that if you wish to return, you must acquire your own vessel and crew.”

Nüwa sighs dramatically. “Fine. Well, I guess I have to settle for the next best thing—shopping!”

She happily prances off the docks and in the direction of the ritzy parts of town, decked out in an elaborate dress and headdress. All around her, rumors of extravagant Qennish visitors go flying in every direction.

Ignorant of fiend that now lurks in their city, Gavin and Miaoyu go out for a bit of shopping of their own. They first stop by Lod’s blacksmithy. Gavin presents her with the full plate armor they found in the opera house. “I was hoping this could be resized for me,” he tells her. Lod looks up at him with narrow eyes, gives him a once over, looks at the armor, then nods.

“Should be possible,” she says. “Give me seven days.” Gavin pays her half up front and she takes the armor into the back to begin her work.

With that taken care of, they find a bowyer so Miaoyu can get her hands on a masterwork bow. The bowyer takes her measurements and tests her pull strength, and promises to have it done by the next day.

Just as they’re leaving the shop, a young couple saunters past. “Can you believe it?” the young lady asks the man she's walking with. “Qennish ships in our port? And their sailors are all over the docks.”

The young man simply grins. “Good night to be a courtesan.”

She slaps him.

Gavin lifts a brow, turning toward Miaoyu. “That’s strange, isn’t—”

Miaoyu is gone. Gavin scratches the back of his head, checks behind a few objects in the immediate vicinity, but can’t find his companion. At a loss, he returns to the inn and comes across Flynn enjoying a lunch.

“So apparently there’s an armada of Qennish ships that just arrived in Brandt,” Gavin tells him.

Flynn swallows his most recent bite. “Huh. I imagine our Qen is about to get very uncomfortable.”

“Strange,” Gavin says curiously. “You’d think she might enjoy some time with her own people.”

“Do you enjoy spending time with other Selkies?” Flynn asks mildly.

Gavin is brought up entirely short by that. “Perspective is terrifying,” he decides eventually. “Well, I’m going to go to the docks in a little bit. Maybe I can convince the Qen to help us with our Huroc problem.”

Flynn frowns. “If what I've heard is correct—and I've been picking up rumors about this fleet for the better part of the day—these ships are part of the Dragon navy, the group responsible for defending Qennish ports and coastlines from invasion by hostile forces. This is about as far north and west as a Dragon fleet has ever been spotted, and it's rare to see them even here. If you see anything alarming, call one of us.” Then he leans back with an easy smile and a shrug. “And if you see Miaoyu all tied up when you get there, I’ll be in the market, restocking our rations.”

Gavin updates Seeker and Aelron on what’s happening, and Aelron volunteers to accompany him to the docks.

The two reach the portion of the docks now overrun by Qennish sailors. In talking with a few of the sailors and listening to ambient conversation, they learn that the vessels in this fleet were sent to escort some important personage on her vacation—an annoying personage who has the entire fleet itching to leave her dockside and forget about her. Unfortunately they have to restock on supplies before they can sail, so they're stuck here until at least the day after tomorrow.

Gavin and Aelron find it relatively easy to request an audience with the Rear Admiral Bohai, the man in charge of the fleet. A small Qennish launch ferries them out to where his boat rides at anchor in the midst of a small swarm of warships. When they board his ship, the soldiers that greet them ask them to surrender their weapons, which both do without complaint. The soldiers then escort them belowdecks and lead them into the office of the Rear Admiral.

As offices aboard warships go, this one is both large and extremely well-appointed, lined with bookshelves and paintings, centered on a large square table that is currently covered in maps and charts. A wiry man with dark hair and a dagger beard looks up from behind the table, glancing from the two strangers to his crewmen with mild curiosity.

“Locals, my lord Admiral,” the marine says by way of explanation. “They wished an audience with you.”

“Very well,” the man behind the table says, leaning back in his extremely-comfortable-looking chair. “I am Rear Admiral Bohai,” he informs them. “Who might you be?”

Gavin answers for them both. “I am Gavin of Aurbesk, and this Aelron Firemind, mage of the Gemstone Towers.” Gavin bows at the waist and Aelron inclines his head with a slight smile.

“Of Aurbesk?” Bohai asks. “Are you a representative of the Bene, then?”

Gavin barely manages to hide his cringing at the mere mention of the Bene family, let alone the suggestion he may be associated with them. “No, I represent Lord Tidehollow, who has few connections within the Bene family. May I ask, Admiral: have you heard of the Huroc?”

“Yes, I am acquainted with your barbarian heresies,” Bohai says, completely serious. Aelron rolls his eyes.

Gavin continues: “You may be interested to know that a large Huroc army has assembled between Drougant and Aurbesk. They were slated by prophecy to acquire boats and take to the seas. Their activities there may ultimately effect Qen.”

Bohai waves his hand. “Rest assured, we will maintain the neutrality of the sea should they enter the waters, but I am afraid that we dare not interfere with your internal political affairs. It would simply violate too many of both our ideals and yours.”

Gavin’s frustration has nearly reach its limits at this point and he manages (barely) to politely excuse himself. Once he and Aelron are a safe distance away from the docks, he begins grumbling vaguely about “stick-in-the-mud, reactionary politics”.

“Oh, I hate the Qennish,” Aelron says. “The indoctrination of the populace, the censoring of historical and religious texts... it's an entire country where everyone is so concerned with being Qennish that they don't have time to worry about being factual. Makes the true study of magic utterly confounding.”

"Every country has its flaws, Aelron," Gavin says. "Your country used to be part of a slave-trading empire."

In Brandt's slums, Tsarae is totally not about to anything less-than-legal when Miaoyu appears at her side.

“Sooooo, a bunch of Qennish people are in town and I was thinking: the best place to avoid a bunch of stuck-up law-lovers is to go to that scoundrel get-together Flynn told us about.”

Tsarae nods sagely. “You speak wisdom. And I need more booze.”

“I bet they have booze there!” Miaoyu says eagerly. “Good booze! Illegal booze!”

Tsarae scowls. “Why would anyone make booze illegal?”

Miaoyu shrugs. “I don’t know. People are weird. Now let’s go!”

Soon, Scoundrel’s Night is upon Brand. Gavin, Flynn, Seeker, and Aelron all go together. Aelron took some time to clean up and has donned a half-mask; Gavin is doing his best to remain incognito, with a mask over the upper half of his face, and a guardsman's cloak over his ever-present seal skin cloak. The facade of the building that Flynn leads them to is... run down. The wood looks rotted, the windows are boarded up, and a grimy, apparently homeless man sits on a rickety box next to the door. The four of them pause. Flynn had been led to believe that it would be a formal affair: no weapons or armor permitted and collateral taken at the door to ensure no ‘mishaps’ occur. In return, there would be entertainment of all sorts, and an abundance of food and drink. This doesn't look like that kind of place.

As they’re pondering, though, an elegant, masked woman approaches the homeless man and hands him a clinking sack of coins. The man stands, his posture suddenly perfect, and bows politely, opening the door with a flourish for the lady. Inside, they catch a glimpse of a lavishly decorated parlor, lit with warm, golden lights, punctuated by servers with trays of various types of tasty beverages on trays and carts moving through the room.

Reassured, they approach the man and hand him their respective collateral before being shown inside. The interior is even more beautiful than they initially thought: the rotting exterior was apparently a glamour, because no such dinginess exists inside the building.

Seeker catches sight of entire skewers of meat and can barely contain his excitement. Miaoyu and Tsarae, having arrived earlier, are at the bar. Miaoyu offers a wave to her friends, but Tsarae is entirely too fixated on the assortment of drinks in front of her to notice their arrival.

Flynn, of course, makes his way for the gambling tables immediately, Gavin close behind with the intent of acting as his bodyguard. Flynn strikes up a game with the masked woman they had seen earlier (who, Flynn is able to deduce, is an Aurbeski baroness), a bandit chieftain, a Dhar smuggler named Vikloft the Clever, and a Qennish man in his fifties—it turns out even law-abiding Qens enjoy a good, illegitimate game of chance now and again. Bohai pointedly does not recognize Gavin—despite his distinctive jawline and feeble disguise.

Speaking of mischievous Qen, Nüwa finds her way into the den of iniquity as well. She heard some rumors and thought it sounded fun. Allison urged her to dress down while in the more dangerous portion of town, so Nüwa deigned to leave her headdress and other jewels behind and keep her bodyguard close on her heels.

At the bar, Tsarae is sinking into a comfortable state of drunkenness. “I love the surface,” she tells Miaoyu. “I can drink this without worrying about waking up dead. I mean, we’ve got our drinks too, but wolves? They don’t know how to enjoy it. They just get smashed for the sake of getting smashed, and then there’s a big orgy. That’s wolfmen for you. Too much pack in them, not enough person.” She scowls suddenly at her drink. “What do you think that says about me?” Miaoyu doesn’t get a chance to answer—Tsarae veers off into her own theories and ponderings about herself and eventually just stares deeply at the bartop. Figuring she’s not going to get much beyond a one-sided conversation at this point, Miaoyu pats her arm and leaves to mingle.

Around the same time, Aelron approaches what appears to be a modest dance floor. He casts about for a dance partner when he hears a woman behind him say, “Aelron?”

He turns. “Nüwa,” he says, weakly; he can’t help but remember the amount of magic items he bribed her with the last time they met. If she notices his lack of enthusiasm, she doesn’t acknowledge it. Soon, they’re enjoying a dance, with Nüwa leading. Aelron may be a competent dancer, but he doesn’t have anything on Nüwa’s years of practice and skill. Unfortunately, their dance is somewhat impeded by Nüwa’s bodyguard standing a little too close, glaring daggers at Aelron.

“So where’s everyone else?” Nüwa asks. “Band-aid, the archer guy, Miaoyu, and Lutfisk man?”

It’s at that moment that Miaoyu suddenly becomes aware of a familiar, ‘shrill and grating’ voice. She hears Nüwa ask about the ‘Lutfisk man’, and remembers her impression that Nüwa and Olaf were deeply in love.

Miaoyu rushes to the dancing pair and grabs Nüwa by the shoulders. “I’m so sorry—I know you loved Olaf, but—he’s—”

Suddenly, a strapping Qennish man is crowding Miaoyu away from Nüwa. Miaoyu stutters and glances at Nüwa anxiously. She waves a dismissive hand. “Don’t mind him. That’s my bodyguard, Mr. Crankypants.”

“Hi Mr. Crankypants,” Miaoyu offers weakly.

“My name is Meng,” Mr. Crankypants says.

“Meng! What a lovely name! You know, I knew a guy named Meng in my hometown. He was my best friend... and....” And yes, we did roll to see if this was the same Meng, but for better or worse Miaoyu’s just full of crap. She overcomes her temporary anxiety and pushes past Meng to speak with Nüwa again. By this point Aelron has given up dancing and gone to see if the barkeep knows how to mix drinks in the old Ruby Tower style.

“Oh my god,” Nüwa gushes. “I missed you!”

“I missed you too! I missed trying to kill you!”

Nüwa says something in agreement, but Miaoyu doesn’t get much chance to process it: Meng is hedging her away from Nüwa again. Nüwa puts a reassuring hand on Meng’s shoulder. “No, no, she means in a good way!”

Meng appears unconvinced, but takes a step back. At that time, Nüwa catches sight of Seeker, munching away on a goat leg and prances over to him, collapsing on the sofa in a casual but elegant heap.

Seeker nearly chokes on his food, but manages to swallow it down and takes a hearty drink from his wine glass. “Nüwa?”

“Hi there,” she says, doing her best to turn on her seductive charm. “I haven’t seen you in a while. And I’d like to see more of you....” She leans close, batting her eyelashes at him.

Seeker sputters. “I’m married!” he protests.

Nüwa shrugs. “So am I.” She looks over her shoulder at the ever-present and ever-dutiful Allison. “Who am I married to again?”

“Bianca Benechuss, my lady,” Allison says.

“Right. Anyway, I don’t see what the big deal is—we’ve all got to experiment and find out what we like sooner or later, right?”

Seeker is staring at her, jaw dropped open. “You’re married to a Benechuss? As in one of the branches of the Bene family?”

At that moment, Miaoyu joins them, a platter of drinks in one hand, and Tsarae in the other. They take their seats at the sofa next to Nüwa and Seeker. Tsarae eagerly grabs another drink as soon as Miaoyu sets the platter down.

Seeker looks to Miaoyu. “She’s married to a Bene.”

“A Benechuss,” Allison corrects gently.

“Really?” Miaoyu asks. “When did this happen?”

Nüwa shrugs. “I’m not really sure. Sometime when I was tracking you down, I think. When I came back, it turned out I had been married off.” She notices Seeker’s puzzled gaze. “It happens sometimes. It’s just a political marriage. But my husband—wife? Allison, who did I marry again?”

“Bianca Benechuss,” Allison supplies.

“Right. My wife left me a huge amount of money to keep me busy, so I decided to do some vacationing.”

For those of you who don’t recall, the Bene family is the elite family of Aurbesk. While they don’t technically rule Aurbesk, their money funds so very much of Aurbesk's functioning government that they might as well rule outright. They also fund Drougant’s Gilroy family, who, in turn, fund what is technically the Drouganti king’s army. Suffice to say, they have their hands in a whole lot of cookie jars. The Benechuss are a branch of the family that aren’t tied to the Benes in any any official capacity. That means that if someone in the Benechuss family screws up, the Benes can deny any attachment to them. If someone who is married or adopted into the Benechuss name does well, they might expect an heir to be married into the Bene line proper as a reward. In the case of Nüwa’s marriage, two things are being accomplished. By having a Benechuss marry a Qennish woman, the Benes have secured an ‘in’ with Qen, which may be advantageous in the future. However, by establishing a same-sex marriage they can be assured there are no heirs, and more pointedly, that the Qennish can’t gain a foothold in Aurbesk. By marrying a commoner, they’ve guaranteed that all the political power in this marriage goes to the Bene family; Nüwa lacks status in Qen and has no political savvy (or ambition) to make any significant or foreseeable headway in either country.

Seeker is still slack-jawed and reeling from this revelation. Tsarae finishes her drink and as she’s reaching for her next one, she happens to look up. “Whoa,” she says, sidling towards Nüwa. “I’m going to have to take you to a back room.”

Nüwa flushes lightly and says, “Is this going to be my first extramarital affair?” at the same time that Miaoyu says, rather flatly, “What?”

Tsarae gives Miaoyu an annoyed look. “What do you mean, ‘what’? You’re welcome to come too.”

Miaoyu sputters. “You can’t sleep with her! She tried to kidnap me!”

Tsarae tilts her head thoughtfully. “So if I kidnap you and her, will that take care of everything?”

Suddenly, Meng is crowding in again, looming over tiny little Tsarae. “What?” she demands, and when he doesn’t relent at her fierce glare, she backs away from Nüwa, mumbling.

The group starts to dissipate then. Seeker indulges Nüwa with a dance and Miaoyu keeps Tsarae engaged in conversation until Tsarae grows frustrated and simply finds a couch to pass out on.

Flynn, meanwhile, has been enjoying an appropriately challenging game with his new friends, and making a decent amount of money at it. Finally, he says to Bohai, “You know, I’ve heard a lot about the Qennish tiles game. If you have the pieces on you, I’d love to learn to play—for small stakes, of course.”

As it turns out, Bohai does have a lovely set of lacquered wood tiles with him. Qennish tiles is a game that is difficult to master, especially for outsiders. There are hundreds of pieces, each representing different provinces, branches of government, noble houses, and so on. The thing about the game that makes it so difficult to learn is that the value of the pieces change to reflect the political climate in Qen. That means even if the theory behind the game is understood, those who aren’t up-to-date on the politics will either be at a loss as to the piece values or easily duped by those who are more savvy. For example, Miaoyu is proficient at the game, but her political knowledge is seven years out of date and would struggle to defeat even a less-skilled opponent. On the other hand, once you understand how the game works, you effectively understand how the Qennish government works.

Bohai takes his time to teach Flynn and their fellow players how the game works and the current value of each piece. He’s a good teacher, but no one can seem to get one over on him. Whether that’s due to his sheer skill or careful manipulation of the others’ ignorance is unclear, but regardless everyone has a bit of fun and it’s a good end to the evening.

Soon, the party regroups and begins heading back to the inn, Miaoyu dragging along the passed-out Tsarae and Nüwa promising to meet up with the group the next day.

The night passes and everyone recovers from the wonderfully strange Scoundrels’ Night. Just before noon, Nüwa arrives at the party’s inn with Meng and Allison in tow.

"I’ve decided that I’m going to travel with you guys again," Nüwa says seriously. "I missed it. I mean, Qen is nice and the Peri Islands were a blast, but I need a bit of excitement, and you guys seem to find it in droves." She claps her hands together. "So I’m going to get my gear together, finish setting up my apartment, and we can set out as soon as we’re all ready!"

"Shouldn’t you write to your wife and let her know where you’re going?" Gavin suggests once he’s wrestled his frustration into submission. "You are an ambassador now."

Nüwa sighs theatrically. “Very well. Allison, tell Brianna that I’m going on a wondrous adventure.”

"Vacationing in inner Drougant," Allison intones as she jots down notes. "Very good, my lady. And your wife is named Bianca."

Gavin’s eye twitches. “Anyway, I’m meeting with the Ocean Witch again tonight. We’ll know our destination later.”

Miaoyu leans close to Nüwa. “You said you have an apartment. Are you going to be busy tonight?”

"No," says Nüwa. Tsarae, who had been giving Nüwa and Miaoyu positively indecent looks for the duration of the conversation suddenly looks interested.

"You will be now," Miaoyu says. "We’ll bring the booze."

"An extramarital affair!" Nüwa squeals in delight.

Gavin looks on, aghast that anyone could be so dishonorable. “Aelron, I’m beginning to question my loyalty to my country.”

Can anyone blame Gavin, really? Feudalism, the ideology that Gavin subscribes to so strongly, is dying quickly in Aurbesk and being replaced by capitalist-leaning mercantilism, all thanks to the Bene family. Now he's faced with an outsider who outranks him and—insult upon injury—shows no respect for the sanctity of her marriage vows or the gravity of her political position. Nüwa would point out she never made any such vows, and WHAT political position, but Gavin doesn't have the chutzpah to actually say it to her face.

Aelron pats Gavin’s shoulder sympathetically. “Do you want a drink?” Gavin nods sadly.

Aelron spends the rest of his evening listening and nodding sympathtetically to Gavin, while occasionally exchanging eyerolls with the bartender. After a while, though, Gavin gets past the “I love you man, I love you,” stage and into something even wierder.

"You know, Aelron," Gavin says, with all the seriousness an utterly wasted selkie can muster, "you’re pretty damn... pretty. I don’t say that about most guys, but you’re all right." He wiggles his eyebrows. "If you don’t mind me asking, can I have your, uh, favor?"

Aelron, who had been saying something to the bar patron on his other side, glances over at the word “favor”, thinking that Gavin is talking about the favor of his deity. For a flustered moment he's about to reach out and place a blessing on Gavin, until he sees the odd spark in Gavin's eyes. Then it's a will save versus bursting out laughing, which fortunately he makes. “I’m flattered,” he tells Gavin gently, “But I don’t think now is the right time. Here, though—” Aelron cuts off a small lock of his own hair, pulls a length of ribbon from somewhere and secures the lock to Gavin's wrist as a bracelet. “Take this as a symbol of my support and affection.”

This is, approximately, the point where our DM decreed that in this world, everyone is bisexual by default.

Not long later, Tsarae, Miaoyu, and Nüwa get together for their “appointment”. Miaoyu earns the party some XP for her endurance.

Meng, however, is not pleased with this arrangement. He glowers when Miaoyu stumbles across him while recovering the various bottles she and Tsarae brought with them.

"Hey," she says brightly, "do you happen to have any of those little umbrellas people put in drinks?"

Still glowering, Meng produces a box of said umbrellas and places one in her drink. Angrily.

"You don’t have to be so glum. Have a drink for yourself too!"

"I won’t drink while my lady is in the presence of two potential threats," Meng says.

Miaoyu makes a face. “We’re not dangerous. We checked our weapons at the door.”

"And you could have smuggled poison in," Meng insists.

"But we took off our clothes. There’s really only one place left to smuggle anything after that, and that sounds uncomfortable."

"Twenty percent of assassin deaths are caused by that," Nüwa says as she pulls on her dressing gown, face serious.

"She already checked there anyway," Tsarae mumbles sleepily into her pillow.

By this point Meng is seething. He focuses on Miaoyu again. “Let me ask you this: are you, or have you ever been, a ninja?”

Miaoyu looks thoughtful. “I wanted to be one when I was a kid.”

"That’s all I need to hear," Meng says and turns toward Nüwa. "My lady, we can have this woman executed under Qennish law."

Miaoyu sputters, horrified, and Nüwa looks scandalized. “We’re not going to kill her! I was going to take them shopping as a thank you for not robbing me!”

Meng shakes his head, jaw clamped. You can practically see the steam blasting out of his ears.

Fortified with booze and reassured by the presence of Aelron's token around his wrist, Gavin meanders down to the beach to commune with the Ocean Witch again.

Yes, that's right, he's drunk-dialing a deity with the persona of a vengeful teenager. This'll go so well.

Of course he makes a pass at her: “I wouldn’t mind sinking your ship, if you know what I mean.”

The Ocean Witch laughs. Aren’t you bold? But no, I’m a little cross with you still for taking off, with your sculpted chest and flowing locks…. Wait, why am letting you go again? Oh, right. Because you’re a bitch. A chorus of fish eagerly agree on his worthlessness.

"Don’t be like that, baby!" Gavin hiccups. "I love you. We just can’t take our relationship in that direction."

Whatever. I can do so much better than you anyway. Now, about that little favor you owe me: I’m sending you to a lovely little place called the Webs of Death. It’s just a little jaunt off of Demonsbreath Pass. I want you to go there, kill the cultists, and desecrate their altar with twenty gallons of salt water. Oh, and here’s the catch: I’m taking away your spells. No conjuring salt water for you—you’ve got to carry it.

"M’lady," Gavin slurs, "I most surely don’t question your infinite wisdom, deep as the sea, but twenty gallons is heavy. Like, really heavy. If I didn’t have to carry so much, I could get this done quicker… teach those spiders a lesson they’ll never forget."

The Ocean Witch hums thoughtfully. Oh, fine. I’ve always had a soft spot for you. Ten gallons, then. Now go away, and don’t talk to me until the job is done.

Gavin is left alone again, and he glances around to see if anyone noticed him shouting drunkenly at the ocean. He’s alone this time, it seems, and he stumbles his way back to the city.

The next day, after he’s sobered up, he fills everyone in on the details of the quest. The lack of enthusiasm is resounding.

"If I’m going to do this, you’re going to owe me a favor," Flynn says.

Gavin nods. “Of course.”

"Me too," Miaoyu says.

"No," Gavin says immediately.

"Then good luck at the Webs," Miaoyu says and begins to rise out of her seat.

Gavin sighs. “Fine. Name your favor now.”

"No. Look, I’m not going to ask you to do anything dishonorable. I probably won’t even call it in. I just need to know that if I need you, you’ll be there."

Gavin relents. “Okay. That’s reasonable—as long as it’s not dishonorable.”

Miaoyu gestures at Tsarae behind her, who had been watching the exchange carefully. “Her too.”

Gavin nods. “That’s fine.”

Soon, it’s agreed by the entire party that Gavin will owe them each one favor in return for their help. They’re going to prioritize Gavin’s quest before returning to ODC (gotta level up!), and possibly even see to formalizing his conversion to a Turmlarite.

Still, they won’t be leaving any time soon: plenty of enchanting needs to be done. Meng and Allison are joining the party as well. Meng to do his job as bodyguard, and Allison to record Nüwa’s every word, and perhaps to provide legal insight or tutoring for Keegan. Of course, this brings the party to a caravan-sized ten.

Shortly before they leave, the party returns to the Ylsilarite compound to uncover the most secret contents of the journal they discovered!

It belonged to a concubine. No words of power or dark secrets are contained within, just some gossip. From a historical standpoint, it’s quite fascinating. From an adventurer’s standpoint, it’s about as useful as a clump of dirt.

Without further need to delay, the party sets course north, for Demonsbreath Pass.

The first night out, the party finds a nice, secluded area to camp out. During Gavin’s watch, he hears a voice call out: “Who goes there? Who tresspasses on our lands? Identify yourselves!”

Gavin stands up straight and peers into the darkness. “We are Nüwa Benechuss, and guard; Sir Gavin of Tidehollow; Flynn of Hangtree; Aelron Firemind of the Gemstone Towers; and Seeker, Purifier of Larlon! And Miaoyu. And Tsarae.”

(TheWerebear had since promised that next time formal introductions are required, he’ll introduce his Gilgadarite companions as ‘the priestesses Miaoyu and Tsarae’. A technically true statement, although one that may lead people to believe they’re orthodox Laerosians rather than a couple of cultists.)

The people who accosted Gavin begin to sputter and back away. “What are your names?” Gavin demands. “Please, come forward! If these are your lands, I’d love to make your acquaintance.”

The party wakes up from Gavin’s shouting, but the bandits have fled and aren’t a problem for the rest of the night.

A couple of days later, though, the party hears the sounds of battle and finds a trade caravan under attack by a group of mounted bandits.

Gavin begins to charge, but as he does so, Miaoyu, Flynn, and Aelron all attack from range. Nüwa and Tsarae both advance before making their shots, Nüwa with throwing daggers and Tsarae with a bow, and Meng stays close to his lady’s side.

By the time Gavin reaches his target, the bandits have been alerted to the incoming threat and two close in on him, while another two shoot at Meng and and Nüwa. Those archers aren’t a problem for long, though: Miaoyu and Aelron take two out, and Flynn drops another. Gavin skewers one of the bandits attacking him and Tsarae, riding hard to catch Gavin, dispatches the other with a flourish of her sword.

The remaining bandits quickly decide that this is way more than they bargained for and turn tail. Given that they're mounted and that most of the ones who escape are already on the other side of the caravan from the party, little can be done to catch them. Seeker rushes to the caravaneers and heals a badly wounded man, and the others come in close behind. The leader of the company approaches Gavin.

"Thank you. Thank you so—" The man stumbles when Gavin removes his helm and reveals his Aurbeski heritage. Then he takes in the Illian Tower mage, the three Qen, the cave elf, and a Connish man, to say nothing of the wolfman patching up his fellow caravaneers. Not a single one is of clear Drouganti heritage. To his credit, the leader’s pause is only momentary, and he continues with his heartfelt thanks.

A few days after that, the party comes to a field lying fallow with a big oak right in the middle of it. It’s odd placement for a tree; most are uprooted so as not to interfere with plowing, but it’s clear that this has been here for some time. In fact, it seems to have an aura of timelessness about it. Naturally, the entire party stops to stare at it.

"It could be touched by the fey," Aelron says. "It’s not a dragon, though; I don’t sense one nearby. Maybe we should investigate. The field’s lying fallow. It might be preventing people from working."

"Not necessarily," Miaoyu says. "It’s normal for a field to lie fallow for a while. It’s a three field system: one is fallow, one is growing, one is harvested. It’s really quite efficient." She stops when she realizes everyone is staring. "What? I was running out of books to read at the library, so I read a Farmer’s Almanac or two. Or ten."

"I’d still like to get a better look at it, just in case," Aelron says, so a portion of the party walks up to it. Until the angry pixies start swarming out, glaring at the intruders. They decide to leave it alone then.

That evening, Seeker notices something strange while on watch: the mist is growing ever-thicker and more impressive, and he can hear a strange rumbling at the edges of his awareness. This has happened twice before, and last time the party got into a nasty tangle with feldspar elementals. Seeker wakes everyone promptly and informs everyone is what’s happening. The thing is, it’s nowhere near the place they were last time. Whether this is a coincidence or something else is unclear, but after a few tense minutes, nothing seems to happen. The party returns to bed for a little more sleep. When they break camp, they proceed carefully, and by dawn the mist is lifted.

The party reaches Foxflag county the next day and heads for the small town that surrounds the keep that is the county seat. They find rooms at one of the local inns and Gavin asks around for rumors about the Webs of Death. He learns, eventually, that the Webs are an old battle site from the First Faerie War, until it was taken over by spider-cultists who, it’s said, turn corpses into marionettes to kill their victims. Cheerful!

Next Time: The party gets jerked around!

In the meantime, please join us in giving Seeker's and Nüwa's players well-wishes: they were married this past Friday.

Dawnflame
2014-06-08, 12:51 AM
Way better than the chapter names I thought of. Very nice.

Fayd
2014-06-08, 08:26 PM
Guilty as charged.

Dawnflame
2014-06-10, 10:10 PM
Rules revamp and update time! Much of what I present here, especially spell descriptions and mechanics, is copy-and-pasted directly from documentation that Tam has provided for our use. All such documentation has been minimally edited for clarity, but remains as close as possible to the spirit in which it was originally presented, and credit belongs to the DM, not to me.

At the end of the last session, our party leveled up, and Tam rolled out all of the changes to the rules he'd been holding in reserve. Many game mechanics changed, including modifications to the skill system, added traits, removed traits, altered traits, new feats, revamped feats, etc, but since we haven't actually put out a lot of the prior rules, going into more detail on those changes won't actually give you a whole lot of useful information.

What I CAN give you is an overview of the changes to the Divine Magic system. Compare to Sparrow's post (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=16036496&postcount=11) on page one of the thread for what each god originally granted, and you can get a sense of some of the directions the campaign and system are moving.

First I'd like to touch on Favor and Disfavor. Deities, like the great cosmic voyeurs they are, are always watching, especially if you're near one of their favored mortals (priests) or holy sites. Mortals who act in accordance with the will of a deity will find themselves watched over by that diety, protected from harm and aided in their endeavors. Mortals who act against the will of a specific deity will find that deity opposing them at every turn, hindering their actions and sending its minions and initiates against them. These are Favor and Disfavor.

The party has encountered both in the course of the campaign: Olaf obtained Kurush's favor (advantage [roll 2d20 and take the better] on Strength checks or Strength-based combat maneuvers) a few times and his disfavor (disadvantage on Strength checks and Strength-based combat maneuvers) once. Miaoyu had the Disfavor of Femta (Food has no taste) for the better part of a year before she ate some Qennish food and realized that it wasn't just horrible Drouganti cooking.

Favor and Disfavor can be granted directly by a deity, or by an Initiate with the Benediction and Malediction spells. Favor usually fades after 1 month or three sessions, whichever is greater. Disfavor usually fades after 1 year or ten sessions, whichever is greater. Disfavors can be removed by making appropriate sacrifices to the deity.

Initiates are, by default, in a state of favor with their deity. If an initiate behaves in a way their deity does not like, favor may be withdrawn as a warning. In the case of more petty or vengeful deities, no warning may be given, and they may default straight to disfavor. If an initiate is not in favor, they cannot cast mysteries or miracles. If an initiate is in disfavor, they cannot cast divine spells at all.

Initiates with an expendable favor can expend it once per session. They retain the passive benefit at all times.

Ashur (Slaughter, Fear, Bestial Cunning, Predatory Undead, Violent Death)
Favor: Whenever you kill a creature, you heal hit points equal to the damage dealt by the killing blow.
Disfavor: You are always hungry, and never full. Only the flesh of intelligent beings will satiate you. Reduce natural healing by 2hp unless you have eaten intelligent flesh today.

Bright Queen (Romance and True Love, Patron of the Gemstone Towers)
Favor: You can see when people would be well-matched. Expend to reroll a reaction check.
Disfavor: Everyone's affection for you is diminished. No one will fall in love with you, and friends will keep you at a distance, and view you with suspicion.

Brigii (Horses, Loyalty, Messages, Speed, Fire)
Favor: Increase your tactical speed by 10ft, and overland speed by 1mph. Apply this increase to all movement types, and to mounts you ride.
Disfavor: You are at disadvantage on all checks made during chases.

Dark Queen (beauty, illusions, lust, reflections, vanity)
Favor: You do not scar, or scar attractively. +2 on all reaction checks.
Disfavor: It is impossible for you to get laid. This can be due to either physical impossibility--as from crippling deformity--or from social impossibility--no one will willingly jump into bed with you, and no one can be paid or coerced into it.

Farkas (assassinations, hunting, stalking, wolves)
Favor: All cold damage taken is reduced by 5 points or 25%, whichever is more.
Disfavor: You are at disadvantage on all checks made during chases.

Femta (creation, dwarves, fertility, food and drink, smithing)
Favor: You perform domestic or crafting tasks while asleep. The quality of your sleep and work are not in any way diminished. Expend for advantage on any Emerald or Trade: Craft check.
Disfavor: Food has no taste (no comfort benefit from good food), and you cannot benefit from consumable magical or alchemical items.

Gilgadar (cheating, defying fate, greed, luck, seeking, thievery)
Favor: Your odds improve in games of chance. This manifests as a 25% tilt to your side in games of pure chance, and advantage on all checks related to gambling.
Disfavor: You are caught stealing something, even if you don't try to steal anything.

Kurush (physical might, sunlight, victory)
Favor: +1 on all feats of strength. Expend to automatically achieve a roll of 12 on a feat of strength.
Disfavor: You gain disadvantage on all Twitch and Toughness checks.

Laeros (civilization, humanity, nobility, order)
Favor: +2 morale for allies. Expend to automatically achieve a roll of 12 on a Protocol or Streetwise check.
Disfavor: You cannot gain audiences with any of your social betters.

Larlon (healing, life, longevity, wisdom)
Favor: No penalties from aging. Expend to automatically achieve a roll of 12 on a Lore or healing related check.
Disfavor: Your standard healing rate is reduced by 2 hit points.

Lo-Tenger (earthquakes, plains, oceans, sailors)
Favor: +1 hit point per level.
Disfavor: N/A; Lo-Tenger does not have a disfavor. However, Lo-Tengerem know that they must look out for themselves, and are fierce in pursuing grudges against those that they feel act against Lo-Tenger.

Mother of All Dragons (art, color, dragons, unspoilt nature, innate magic)
Favor: You are unhindered by natural terrain. If you have the trait Elven Grace, you are at advantage on all visual Awareness checks.
Disfavor: You cannot pursue spell research. Reaction checks against dragons are automatically treated as a 2.

Nunatii (ambition, black magic, fell deeds, fiends, undeath)
Favor: +4 reaction checks with fiends and other servants of Nunatii.
Disfavor: You are under the evil eye, and take 2 points of damage per action when below zero hit points, rather than 1.

Ocean Witch (sea winds, waves)
Favor: You suffer no ill-effects for drinking salt water.
Disfavor: A small saltwater rainstorm follows you.

Olanorn (battle, competition, personal prowess)
Favor: You can use Intercept as if you were a fighter gaining at least +6 AC from armor. If you already fulfill those conditions, the reserve cost is reduced by 1d6.
Disfavor: If an adjacent ally takes damage, you take one point of damage.

Phoraduk (death, dreams, endings, graves, peace)
Favor: You sleep well, improving your standard healing rate by 2.
Disfavor: You sleep poorly, reducing your standard healing rate by 2.

Rihissa (execution, judgment, punishment, revenge)
Favor: You gain advantage on all Awareness and Insight checks to notice criminal acts.
Disfavor: Blood you shed is indelible. Out, darn spot, out I say!

Sanselie (maps, planning, strategy, tactics, vigilance)
Favor: Gain Deep Pockets as if you were a rogue. If you are a rogue, Deep Pockets can be used on any item less than a stone in weight.
Disfavor: Regardless of your abilities and equipment, you contribute a -4 to your side's initiative.

Turmlar (courage, knighthood, obedience, valor)
Favor: You are shielded from harm by Turmlar's hand, giving you +1 on AC and all saves.
Disfavor: You count as though you had two fewer levels for the purposes of determining vulnerability to Tiger Style and Magical Might.

Tykanria (darkness, lies, memory, secrets, silence)
Favor: Your senses become more acute, allowing you to operate in darkness at up to short range without impediment. Expend to ask Tykanria a question.
Disfavor: Light sources you light or carry only shed half as much illumination as they otherwise would.

Waerdun (commerce, labor, travel, wealth)
Favor: Gain advantage on all Trade checks.
Disfavor: You buy items at twice their normal price, and sell items for half their normal price.

Ylsilar (betrayal, libraries, poison)
Favor: Resist poison 5 points/25%, whichever is more. Expend to make a Trade: any sage check, as if you had mastery in the skill.
Disfavor: Your scales begin to rot off. If you don't have scales, you grow scales specifically so they can rot off. -4 on all saves verses poisons.


Every deity grants a suite of spells that their Initiates can use to ask questions, draw the deity's attention to a person or place, and pinpoint targets for smiting. Note that Divine spells are not limited by any number of spells per day, but by either casting time or cost. Orisons and Blessings cost nothing to cast besides time. Mysteries cost 3d6 Reserve Hit Points, and Miracles cost 5d6 Reserve Hit Points.
Augury
Blessing of all deities
Range: Personal
Duration: Instant
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Target: Personal
Effect: The caster consults with their deity on a topic related to the deity's portfolio. Answers can range from the specific to the prophetic. The Mother of All Dragons will provide information about the natural world; Gilgadar will assist his initiates in locating items; Sanselie will provide information and maps to aid her initiates in tactical and strategic thinking; Larlon will answer questions regarding health and wellness, or methods by which to cure afflictions.

Benediction/Malediction
Blessing of all deities
Range: Short
Duration: Instant
Target: Creature indicated
Effect: The target is marked with a deity's favor or disfavor (see above for details). Creatures out of favor with a deity cannot cast that deity's divine spells. Servitors of the deity may be dispatched to punish a creature in disfavor. Creatures in favor with a deity may find the deity acting on their behalf more often. Initiates can sense the favor or disfavor of their deity and associated deities when viewing a creature.

Dedicate
Mystery of all deities
Range: Touch
Duration: Varies between 1 day and permanent; see below
Casting Time: 1 hour
Target: Object touched
Effect: The touched object and accompanying location become dedicated to the deity that grants the spell. The deity has a greater awareness of the location, and can act more directly there. The duration depends on what is being used as a focus. Generally, the more permanent and powerful an object, the longer the duration of the dedication. Anyone entering the area can sense the dedication, though not necessarily its source.

Wrath
Miracle of all deities
Range: Long
Duration: Instant
Target: 50ft radius circle
Effect: Everything within the area of the spell takes 5d6 damage. There is no save to mitigate the effects of this spell. Creatures in the favor of the deity take only half damage. The deity may elect whether or not to harm objects associated with them.


Each deity also grants a suite of spells to make their initiates more effective at enforcing their will and protecting their interests in the world. I will list here only those spells to which the party has access. Remember that Divine spells are not limited by any number of spells castable per day, but by either casting time or cost. Orisons and Blessings cost nothing to cast besides time. Mysteries cost 3d6 Reserve Hit Points, and Miracles cost 5d6 Reserve Hit Points.

Larlon
Age Without Wisdom
Miracle of Larlon
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Target: Creature touched
Effect: The target instantly ages 5d6 years. They suffer all the physical penalties from aging, but gain none of the mental bonuses.

Disease Marker
Orison of Larlon
Range: Touch
Duration: 10 days
Target: Touched lintel or property marker
Effect: This orison inscribes a faintly glowing broken white disk on the touched object, and is used to denote the possible presence of infectious diseases. Purifiers of Larlon can sense the placement of this orison, to a distance of ten miles.

Longevity
Miracle of Larlon
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Target: Touched creature
Effect: The target has their physical age reduced by 5d6 years, to a minimum physical age of their physical prime (around 20 for humans and elves, 15 for beastfolk and 30 for dwarves). They do not lose any benefits from aging, but do lose all penalties.

Quarantine
Blessing of Larlon
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 day, or until dismissed
Target: Touched closed structure
Effect: This blessing creates a filmy white barrier that settles around the touched structure. The barrier allows for the slow transfer of air, but for anything else to exit through the barrier, the barrier must first be broken. Despite the translucent appearance, the barrier is as tough as seasoned wood, and must be hacked open. The caster is informed when the barrier is damaged or breached and where. A Purifier or someone permitted by a Purifier may enter the quarantine without damaging it.

Restoration
Mystery of Larlon
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Target: Creature touched
Effect: This mystery removes most negative effects related to bodily and mental health. This mystery could remove a person's cataracts, but it would not prevent the formation of new cataracts. It could not regrow a person's eyes. It can be used to dispel the negative effects of a 1st level spell. At 4th level, it can affect up to 2nd level spells. At 7th, 3rd level spells.

Speed Recovery
Blessing of Larlon
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 day
Target: Creature touched
Effect: The target's natural healing rate is increased by 2 hit points per recovery interval.

Time Heals All Wounds
Mystery of Larlon
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Target: Creature touched
Effect: The target cannot benefit from healing magic. They still heal naturally.


Gilgadar
Obscuring Mists
Blessing of Gilgadar
Range: Close
Duration: 10 minutes/level
Target: Indicated item or four 10ft cubes of mist
Effect: If cast on an item, the item cannot be detected by spells of less than 3rd level. If cast on an area, it is filled with impenetrable mists, such that anyone in the mist can only see to a distance of one foot.

Odyssey
Miracle of Gilgadar
Range: Close
Duration: Permanent
Target: Indicated creature
Effect: The target can never find their way home, no matter how hard they strive. They are consumed with homesickness, which may lead them into increasingly irrational attempts to get home. This curse cannot be broken by mortal means, except by the caster.

Plague of Thieves
Mystery of Gilgadar
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Target: Creature touched
Effect: The target is continually harassed by thieves. If they own anything of value, thieves far and wide flock to take it from them. They can't so much as leave the house without an attempt being made to pick pocket them. This curse doesn't guarantee that the individual thieves will be successful, but sheer numbers are likely to accomplish that. The curse is broken when the target owns nothing (but not if all of their items are being held in trust).

Repurpose
Orison of Gilgadar
Range: Touch
Duration: Until the task is completed, up to 10 minutes.
Target: Held tool
Effect: A held tool becomes better suited for a task at hand. The DM determines where the tool falls on the scale below. Advance it one step to the right.
Wildly Inappropriate [-6] -> Inappropriate [-4] -> Improvised [-2] -> Basic [+0] -> Masterwork [+2].

Seek
Blessing of Gilgadar
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 year
Target: Touched creature
Effect: The target is aided in their search for something, be that a specific person, an abstract concept, or even something as simple as treasure. Only one seek can be active on a person at a time. Once per session, the target can make a reroll when in direct pursuit of what they seek.

Sunder Fate
Miracle of Gilgadar
Range: Close
Duration: Instant
Target: Indicated creature
Effect: The target is freed from all curses and negative effects, as well as from all responsiblities. Kings lose their crowns, soldiers are removed from the chain of command, and prophecies must find a new chosen one.

Unbound
Mystery of Gilgadar
Range: Personal
Duration: 1 round/level
Target: Caster
Effect: The caster is immune to immediate consequences from breaking the laws of the land. A person under the effect of this mystery could murder someone in broad daylight and not be pursued by guards. This spell does not offer immunity to personal or emotional consequences. So if that personal the caster is murdering is right next to their best friend, the best friend would be able to object.


Mother of All Dragons
Draconic Introduction
Orison of the Mother of All Dragons
Range: Personal
Duration: Instant
Target: Caster
Effect: The caster learns the titles and name of the local dragon (if any). This spell then informs the dragon of the caster's titles and names.

Life of Unrewarding Drudgery
Mystery of the Mother of All Dragons
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Target: Touched creature
Effect: The target can no longer see color, and can no longer appreciate art and beauty. They usually sink into a deep despair given time, though some may be more resistant to the effects of the curse. The target also loses any color in their appearance. Disadvantage on all Awareness, Deception and Rhetoric checks.

Mana Aurora
Miracle of the Mother of All Dragons
Range: Touch
Duration: 3 sessions
Target: Creature touched
Effect: The target can cast a chosen 1st level spell once per day. If caster and target are both 7th level, they can cast a chosen 2nd level spell instead. The appropriate Mage skill is not required. Limit of one per creature.

Regenerate
Mystery of the Mother of All Dragons
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Target: Creature touched
Effect: A lost limb, eye or other extremity regrows of the course of a week. Generally, relearning how to use a limb takes a week after that. Alternately, encourage the regrowth of vegetation, over the course of a week.

True to Art
Miracle of the Mother of All Dragons
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Target: Creature touched
Effect: An aspect of the creature becomes permanently enhanced, as they move closer to their artistic ideal. This can have a wide variety of permanent and powerful effects. This miracle can only be used once on any particular creature.

Unspoilt Totem
Blessing of the Mother of All Dragons
Range: Touch
Duration: As long as that totem is carried and fresh
Target: Natural totem
Effect: The caster turns a natural item into a minor magical totem. The totem could be a plant sprig, an uncut gem or any number of items, so long as it is emblematic of unspoilt nature. The totem grants the bearer a bonus depending on what manner of item it is. Uses range from the practical (various plants giving bonuses on saves against certain diseases) to decorative (dye sources coloring the hair of those that bear them). Doesn't count towards magical item cap when used by the initiate.

Vision of Color
Blessing of the Mother of All Dragons
Range: Touch
Duration: 10 minutes
Target: Creature touched
Effect: The target can see color to a greater degree. Creatures that see in black and white can see in color. Creatures that already see in color can see slightly outside the visual spectrum, as well as having a much better sense of different colors. The effective radius of light sources is doubled.


Sanselie
Battlefield Awareness
Mystery of Sanselie
Range: Personal
Duration: 10 minutes
Target: Caster
Effect: The caster gains an uncanny awareness of their allies and enemies. They can sense the exact position of allies within short range, and the direction and distance to allies farther away on the battlefield. They gain a +2 on all Awareness checks to locate enemies for the duration. Additionally, the caster knows the current and total hit points of allies and enemies.

Happy Coincidence
Miracle of Sanselie
Range: Personal
Duration: Instant
Target: Caster
Effect: The caster just happens to have the perfect item on hand for the situation at hand, be it mundane, or a disposable or permanent magical item. Or rather, Sanselie thinks its the perfect item to have on hand. The caster may need to ponder. After the situation has passed, the item is used up, or returned.

Hurried Preparations
Blessing of Sanselie
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Target: Creature touched
Effect: The target can don or doff armor as a half action this round. If used on the caster, they can don or doff their armor as part of the casting.

Perpetual Ambush
Mystery of Sanselie
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Target: Creature touched
Effect: Whenever the target enters combat, they are always surprised. If they are ambushed, they automatically fail Awareness checks to detect the ambush. Even when engaged in a duel, they are caught off guard by their enemies, and grant their opponents a surprise round.

Perfect Logistics
Miracle of Sanselie
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 month
Target: Military unit commanded by touched creature
Effect: For the duration, the unit commanded by the target operates as if it were a small band. That is, they can live off of all but the most hostile land, move at full speed for individuals, and do not suffer the usual casualties from sickness, fatigue, and the like.

Restful Watch
Blessing of Sanselie
Range: Close
Duration: 1 day
Target: A camp of up to 20ft radius
Effect: The inhabitants of the camp are at +2 for Camp Comfort and Camp Security.

Watch
Orison of Sanselie
Range: Personal
Duration: Instant
Target: Caster
Effect: The caster knows the time to the nearest quarter of an hour.

AverageSparrow
2014-06-11, 08:47 AM
On the topic of notes, I finally stopped being lazy and completely rehashed the subpar 'world notes' on the first post (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=15997785&postcount=1). My intent while re-writing it was for it to serve as a quick reference for readers. Next time we mention, say, Nunatii or the Lovas and you can't quite remember who or what that is, you can glance through the world notes. That said, I was aiming for brevity. It's not meant to be in-depth, just a quick explanation or reminder.

If you see anything in the journal or the world notes that strikes your interest, feel free to ask for more information. I'll either update the world notes to include that, or we'll make a separate post on the matter as necessary.

AverageSparrow
2014-06-12, 06:04 PM
Between Aelron and Seeker's adventures in crafting, Flynn's gambling winnings, Gavin's repartee with the Ocean Witch (now unofficially known as the Wicked Witch of the Wet) and Miaoyu and Nüwa's bedroom athleticism, the party has enough XP to be level four (except Nüwa, who is now a level 3 mage/rogue). This means new feats for Flynn, Gavin and Miaoyu, access to second-level spells for Seeker and Aelron, and more sweet, sweet blessed hit points all around. Also, since this is still the first play-test of this game system, the players have uncovered many places where the initially developed rules needed refinement. Tam logged all those planned changes, and implemented them in one fell swoop as we leveled up. We all just filled out brand-new character sheets, because let's face it, it was easier that way.

Several character traits that literally the entire party had selected (thinking here of Multi-talented, which let us have training in cross-class skills at level one) were removed, and their benefit simply granted to all characters as a baseline. A few new traits and feats were introduced, brainstormed by players and DM either during the campaign itself or during discussion of the campaign between sessions. Bonuses granted to skill rolls from ranks in a given skill were reduced, making it harder to meet and exceed ridiculous DCs, but most of the broad-category skills were given additional utility (trained characters can make an Acrobatics check to negate damage that would normally only be halved by a reflex save, or make a Swordsmanship check to take a five-foot-step and reposition after an attack). The Initiate skill and its accompanying magic saw yet another balance-related overhaul; placing ranks in Initiate now requires certain character background and actions (varying greatly based on the god in question, of course; Initiate of Turmlar requires being a landed knight, while Initiate of the Mother of Dragons requires spending fifty percent of one's income on projects of which the deity approves). Tam re-made the divine spell list as well; the benedictions and maledictions of priests now have various potent in-game effects, priests can now consecrate areas to call their diety's attention to specific places, and each god's spell list saw at least a minor retouching.

It took us an inordinately long time, between the character polishing, the selection of new feats and spells, the incessant punning and the very very dirty jokes, but eventually we finished our new character sheets and got down to adventuring.

The party leaves Foxflag heading north, crossing into Demonsbreath Pass. For the first time, they are truly in the foothills of the mountain range that spans the continent, and the going becomes tougher and rockier with each passing hour.

It's only a few hours outside of Foxflag that they reach the first fork in the path: one direction is obviously a side path, probably leading to a small hold or farmstead, while the other continues north into the pass. Gavin stops and peers down the small path, then turns to the rest of the group.

“Does anyone have any idea what's down there?” he asks.

The rest of the party gives him blank looks. Allison, riding up from behind, glances down the path and shrugs. “From the lack of spiderwebs, I'd say it's unlikely our destination will be down that path.”

Gavin frowns. “Probably true, but I don't want to leave possible encamped enemies in our backfield. How far is it from here to the Webs of Death?”

The party looks around at one another, then back at Gavin. Aelron speaks for all of them. “None of us has ever been to the Webs of Death. We could estimate it, but without a map....”

Miaoyu starts. “Wait a minute! Nüwa, you're a Sanseliean! Make us a map!”

Nüwa nods agreeably, dismounts, sits down at the fork in the road, closes her eyes, and holds a quill over a sheaf of paper. After a moment, the quill quivers between her fingers, leaps from her hand, and begins moving of its own accord, etching out a map. A few minutes later, the quill jumps off the page, hovers in the air a moment, then begins to descend, clearly no longer enchanted and about to smear ink all over the map. Nüwa's eyes snap open and her hand, held perfectly, icily still for all ten minutes it took to complete the map, darts forward to snatch the quill almost delicately from the air before it can touch the page. With the deftness of long practice, she cleans the quill, caps it, tucks it into her pack, stands up, map in hand. She smiles broadly as she presents it to Gavin. “Sanselie's compliments.”

The map is downright intricate, with a beautifully traceried scale in one corner and forest density at least suggested by distance between tiny trees. The Webs, in the map's upper left corner, actually aren’t that far off; Gavin and Flynn estimate roughly a day and a half's travel, given the mountainous terrain. There are a few villages marked on the map, each roughly equidistant from the webs, so the party heads to the closest of them to drop off the horses, Allison, and Keegan.

The village itself is small enough that it doesn't even have an inn. Given that Nüwa's pocket change is enough to buy the village outright, its inhabitants are more than willing to put up Allison and Keegan for a few nights in their own homes and stable the horses in private barns. Gavin decides to talk to the villagers, see if they know anything about the Webs of Death, but he doesn't want to just come right out and admit what the party is up to either, just in case this is a village full of spider-cultsists.

Gavin tells the villagers, in an appropriately long-suffering voice, of how newly-married city-girl Nüwa wants to have a grand adventure, and they have been hired as her escort. She is to be taken into the forest, shown around, allowed to hunt game, and brought back safely. At first, the villagers offer tips on where to look for which kinds of animal, but eventually Gavin takes a few of the hunters aside and tells them that Nüwa probably won't be satisfied with anything less than a ferocious magical beast. The hunters cringe and sigh. The forest to the north, they tell him, is rife with fey creatures. They avoid it, as they have no desire to tangle with such things, so they can't tell him much aside from that, but the message is clear: the area around the Webs of Death is dangerous for more reasons than simple spider infestation.

The party leaves the village on foot, trekking through the hilly forest. Aelron, who has picked up the trait Elven Grace to replace Multitalented, and Tsarae, who's had Elven Grace all along, actually move more easily through this dense growth and rocky terrain than through normal, open plains. It's as though the trees part to grant them access, the rocks form perfect staircases beneath them, and even the wind lends its strength to their passage. The rest of the party, by contrast, is slogging through the woodlands as befits a bunch of city-folk: slow and surly, scratched and thwacked by branches at every turn, tripping over loose rocks that held Tsarae's and Aelron's weight perfectly not a moment before, and just generally not having fun. Eventually they send Tsarae and Aelron ahead to scout, because at least that way the two of them won't be waiting impatiently at the top of the next daunting rock wall, having climbed it like it was a freaking horizontal surface, grinning down as they watch the rest of the party struggle in their wake.

As they venture deeper into the forest, however, Aelron and Tsarae return, subdued and a bit shaken. A strange and ominous feeling starts at the base of everyone's spine, like they're all being watched. Aelron and Seeker have both encountered this phenomenon before: they are approaching a convergence of ley lines, a geographic point which is also a magical nexus, a location fraught with power. Miaoyu and Aelron go on at some length about the legends that surround Demonsbreath Pass: that not far from where they stand is the site of the first battle in the world, a territorial conflict between dwarves and boarfolk. That battle, and the wars fought there since, birthed and nurtured Olanorn, dwarven god of battle. This is also, according to legend, where the First Faerie War began.

Everyone gets a little quieter and stops complaining so much about nature. A battlefield that birthed a god is not a good place to be attracting attention.

The party decides to time their arrival at the Webs for mid-morning the next day. They find a place to camp in the unnerving woods, double up the watches and prepare for what they hope will be a quiet night. Gavin asks Miaoyu and Aelron for a bit of deific back-up: they both have new, very helpful divine spells that will hopefully provide Gavin with a much-needed edge. Aelron casts Mana Aurora, which grants its recipient the once-per-day use of a single spell. Gavin will be able to cast Detect Illusion once a day for the next three sessions as a spell-like ability. Miaoyu gives him Seek, which grants the target one reroll per session while in pursuit of a specific task or goal.

Flynn wonders aloud when the last time was that a priest of the Ocean Witch accepted benedictions from followers of Gilgadar and the Mother of Dragons.

That night, while Gavin and Tsarae are on watch (and carefully ignoring one another), they see an orange glow moving through the forest to their west, heading south. They wake Nüwa and Miaoyu (and, pointedly, not Meng).

"We’ll check it out," Miaoyu says, stretching and checking her weapons while Nüwa laces her boots. As Miaoyu straightens, she notices Gavin staring at her. "What?"

"You’ve turned kind of… shadowy," Gavin says. And she has: her skin, normally a shade of amber, has turned dark and dusky; it’s hard to make out her outline against the night sky. Miaoyu’s gained a new trait, Color Shifting, that gives her advantage on stealth checks.

Miaoyu doesn't seem to realize what he's talking about and gives Gavin an indulgent smile. “If you’re trying to scold me for my profession…”

Gavin sighs, annoyed, and grabs his shield, holding it up for Miaoyu to look into. She squints, but can’t make out anything other than vague shadows. “Needs polish,” she says quietly after a while.

Gavin stares, flips the shield around to face himself. He can clearly see his own reflection. “I’ve been polishing it all night!”

Miaoyu raises a brow. “Maybe you need a better brand of polish. Nüwa might lend you some cash to buy it with. Or maybe talk to Aelron, I hear he's good at polishing hard things to a sparkly sheen.” Miaoyu smirks and winks at Gavin, vanishing into the night before he can recover his thoroughly-lost composure. Nüwa follows close behind, stifling a snicker. Gavin fumes and Tsarae continues to keep watch, totally not smirking at Gavin’s frustration.

Nüwa and Miaoyu approach the source of the glow (remember the glow? That thing that Miaoyu and Nüwa were woken up to investigate?) from different angles. What they find is a tall, elf-like creature, clearly some sort of fey being, six feet tall and radiating light. He is escorted by several red-skinned hobgoblins, and at his heels is a stooped, cadaverous servant, probably a kobold or gnome.

Nüwa, close enough to get a good look as the being passes by, guesses that this would be a gemstone faerie, a Sith, a being with which Aelron would dearly love to become acquainted for a variety of reasons, but her train of thought is cut off when the fey lord turns and looks right at her.

Nüwa freezes, then carefully slinks back, trying to make herself small and unthreatening. Her efforts are successful: the fey lord turns away dismissively without alerting the rest of his entourage (who, thankfully, don't seem to have noticed), and continues on his way.

Nüwa and Miaoyu regroup and return to camp to report, and they and Gavin conclude that the being isn't likely a threat to the camp. Nüwa goes back to bed with Meng none the wiser.

Until breakfast, that is. Miaoyu and Nüwa sit close together, snickering together about how they totally didn’t do any late-night recon.

"Don’t worry, Meng," Gavin says. "I would never let them go off and do something fun—I mean dangerous. They definitely wouldn’t be sent off to get a look at some glowing fey lord. Nope."

Either Gavin is an awful liar, or he's enjoying this.

Meng seethes. He can't do his job if his charge won't even stay asleep in one place properly. Poor guy. Fortunately, he has good emotional control and doesn’t start decapitating people, though he looks ready to take a swing at Miaoyu.

The Webs of Death are only about two hours' travel away. The party does a last check of all equipment, breaks camp and marches. About an hour and a half out the majority of the party stops; Miaoyu and Tsarae venture ahead quietly to do a little reconnaissance.

About twenty-five minutes later, Miaoyu pushes aside a branch in her path and nearly faints. Directly ahead of her, a small stream is flowing past in a relatively wide bed. The bed itself is roughly ten feet below her level, and maybe twenty yards wide. About fifty yards upstream, the bed curves into the shade of a rocky arch, possibly the remnant of a hillside that the stream eroded its way under in the distant past. On the far side of the stream bed, a huge rocky hill rises to meet the top of the arch.

The entire area between arch, streambed and hill is a forest of spider webbing, great crisscrossed cables of the stuff strung between anchor points, supporting latticeworks of fine strands that glint in the late-morning sun. The hill and the stone arch are wrapped in a faint gauze of webs as well. Nothing can move on or near that hill without alerting every arachnid inside it. Miaoyu takes a deep breath, fights down panic, and begins taking notes.

There are several ominous-looking cocoons suspended in the webs. Most appear roughly human-sized, though one looks large enough to contain a giant and two others are only barely smaller. Miaoyu notes their locations, diagrams the riverbed and hillside, and is putting away her charcoal pencil and notepad when she finally spots a cave entrance hidden amidst the strands of silk. The opening is at least fifteen feet off the floor of the riverbed, a human-sized (if only just) gap in the rock. She draws that in too, then signals Tsarae to withdraw.

Upon returning to the rest of the party, Miaoyu pulls out her diagram. “Found it,” she says grimly, glaring at Gavin. “It just had to be a stronghold of the Princess of Spiders, didn't it?”

Gavin sighs. “I already owe you a favor,” he says, “And for whatever it's worth, I wish the Ocean Witch had chosen a different task too, but I'm afraid that may be part of why she did it.”

Miaoyu snorts. “Oh, I know. Gilgadar is a chatty drunk.” Gavin blinks, nonplussed for a moment. Miaoyu turns to Aelron, pointing at the cocoons. “I think these might be the zombie-marionette things we heard about.”

Aelron nods thoughtfully. “That seems likely. You could use the cocoon to hold a contingent spell that will release its recipient and animate it only when an opponent is detected, which means the corpse is exposed to less wear and tear before being sent into combat.” He grimaces. “Clever bastards.”

“Do we want to try getting rid of them before we go in for an attack?” Miaoyu asks.

"Definitely," Gavin says. He glances at Aelron. "That in your wheelhouse?”

Aelron smiles, showing far more teeth than is usual. "Probably. If Dispel Magic doesn't work, copious amounts of fire usually does the trick."

"Let's see if we can get close enough to try something a bit more subtle first," Miaoyu suggests. "The rest of you, just hang back by the edge of the stream bed and rescue us if it looks like we're gonna be turned into lunch."

The party moves to the edge of the stream bed where Miaoyu first sighted the Webs. Most of the party remains above in the edge of the trees while Aelron and Miaoyu try to approach quietly.

“Follow me,” Miaoyu whispers to Aelron as the two of them drop into the streambed. “Step where I step and stay behind me.”

Aelron nods and quietly activates Spellsight. If there's any magic in the webs, hopefully he'll spot it before it can do anything horrible to Miaoyu.

Their first target, the largest of the cocoons, is right near the outer edge of the webs, within relatively easy reach. If they can just get to within thirty feet of it, Aelron can inspect it for magic and determine if it is, in fact, a spidersilk-wrapped zombie. Then, hopefully, he can dispel it, and they can try for a different target.

They manage to cross the small tendril of flowing water at the center of the stream bed without issue and advance toward the edge of the webs, but the moment they get close enough for Aelron to actually check out the largest cocoon it all goes to Hell. The cocoon is practically dripping necromantic magic, and Aelron misses a step as he stares at it. The clatter of stones on the streambed draws attention, and suddenly Miaoyu is squeak-choking again.

Spiders. Lots of spiders. A whole host of them, each roughly human-sized. They lurch into motion from innumerable hiding spots throughout the web, crawling quickly toward Aelron and Miaoyu and the source of the noise. They glare menacingly down at the intruders, chittering and clacking their mandibles menacingly. It's not an outright attack, it's a threat display, a warning: leave if you value your innards.

Gavin sees Miaoyu panicking and Aelron in vastly over his head and decides that now is not the time for sneaking. He charges. He takes the drop down to the streambed in a single bound, shoulder-rolls to his feet and sprints across the intervening ground to the edge of the webs, where the foremost of the spiders is so shocked to see him that it doesn't even attempt to dodge. He sticks his spear into its abdomen, but it's tougher than it looks: the spider hisses angrily and remains stubbornly alive.

Seeker rushes forward to stand between Miaoyu and Aelron and the small cluster of spiders nearest them. This might sound foolish, but Seeker actually has higher AC than either Miaoyu or Aelron, and more hit points to boot, and his job is to keep the rest of the party alive. Nüwa and Meng follow a bit more sedately, and Nüwa begins hurling daggers at the spiders nearest the edge of the webs.

Aelron recovers from his shock and, as Gavin goes sprinting past, begins casting Dispel Magic. He doesn't have the spell prepared, so he's casting it out of his reserve hit points, and he's casting it as a full-round action so he can apply metamagic to it, so it's going to take time to weave the spell properly.

Miaoyu takes a shot at a nearby spider and gets a solid hit; the spider, an arrow protruding from one of its eyes, rises up on its rear legs and waves its front limbs and mandibles at her threateningly. Before it can lower itself to all eights and charge, an eldritch bolt streaks out of the trees, over Aelron and Miaoyu, burying itself in the joint between the creature's abdomen and thorax. Carried over backward by the immense momentum of the bolt, the spider topples onto its back, twitches and squeaks a few times, then stops moving. Tsarae hurries towards Aelron, Seeker, and Miaoyu, boosting her AC on the way with Turtle Style, cursing Aelron's careless feet and Miaoyu's stupid bravery.

And then Tam reveals the true horror of this encounter. One of the spiders... excretes a thick stream of webbing in Gavin's direction, and it sticks to his arm. That spider wraps its end of the thread around two of its forelegs and yanks. Gavin rolls a fort save and fails. The spider tugs him forward, into the shade of the massive stone arch and, more importantly, into the forest of webbing. Then a second spider does the same thing, tugging him further away from the party. And then a third spider just hurls a glob of sticky webbing at his feet, rooting him to the ground. As he’s struggling to pull free of the webbing, Gavin catches a glimpse of movement: more spiders are moving further back under the archway, heading in his direction. “Another wave is coming!” he shouts.

Nüwa and Seeker are both dragged, shrieking and cursing, closer to the webs. Nüwa manages to stay a safe distance away, but Seeker is pulled into the webs themselves, mere feet from the enormous necromantic cocoon.

Nüwa's daggers fly wildly, missing pretty much everything but webbing; it's hard to throw knives accurately while you're sobbing with terror. Fortunately, Meng stays resolutely close to her, holding his dao ready for any dangers that come within range.

Aelron finishes his dispel and hurls it at the necromantic cocoon. His magic contacts the webbing and begins unraveling it... but apparently the spider cultists were ready for that move. The entire party looks on in slack-jawed horror as the cocoon bursts like an overripe fruit, and from within pours a wave of thousands of tiny spiders, each containing a small charge of necromantic magic. The miniscule creatures swarm out in all directions, sprinting away from the cocoon, but the magic with which they have been imbued begins killing them quickly. Unfortunately, both Gavin and Seeker are far enough into the webs that the tide of spiders washes toward them. Seeker makes a Relfex save and leaps backward just far enough, but Gavin is anchored to the ground and cannot escape. The little creatures scurry up his legs, leap to his arms and chest, and bite and scratch until they die. All told, having made his fortitude save to reduce damage, he takes 4 points, but it's a rather nasty shock.

Fortunately, Gavin doesn't really care about nasty shocks. “A tide of spiders cannot stand against the Knight of Tides!” he shouts. And then the Werebear gets a fun idea and turns to the DM.

“Do corpses count as zero level creatures?” he asks. Tam nods, willing to allow it.

If Gavin can't do something about the cocoons scattered through this enormous web like mines, he will get dragged through each of them by these annoying spiders (which the party has taken to calling Yankees) until he dies from the sheer frustration (or possibly becomes a spiderling snack). Fortunately for Gavin, he gets three attacks per round against level zero creatures, and the corpses inside each cocoon off which the spiderlings are apparently feeding are zero level.

Gavin hurls spears at the nearest three cocoons. Each explodes into a wave of spiderlings, but he's far enough from all of them that the spiderlings die before they can reach him.

Meanwhile, everyone else has retreated to the edge of the webs, out of yanking-range. Seeker is out in front, daring the spiders to try that on him; Miaoyu and Tsarae hold the right flank, keeping a wary eye on the far side of the streambed as they hurl projectiles into the Yankees attacking Gavin; and Meng and Nüwa have the left, staying just to the right of the stream so they have half the streambed to spot anything approaching from their side. Aelron and Flynn stand in the center, free to reckless-attack and hurl damage at anything that moves. Miaoyu, Flynn, and Tsarae all assault a single Yankee with arrows and put it down.

One of the spiders retreats into the cave, and four others flee into the forest. While they may have suffered morale failure, Aelron and Miaoyu know a little bit of lore regarding spiders that suggests otherwise: the bigger a spider’s web, the smarter the spider. The party begins to fear that they are calling for reinforcements, but even if Gavin weren't mired in a deadly spiderweb trap, they couldn't actually stop that many spiders from fleeing all at once.

Aelron has had enough of these spiders, their pulling, their immobilizing, and their necromantic shenanigans. He channels for a moment, infusing his spell with as much explosive power as he can manage, and unleashes his first-ever second level spell. A hungry ball of licking flames bursts to life deep within the web and expands to a whopping twenty-foot radius, popping four cocoons like kernels in a roasting pan, and catching four Yankees in its blast. Two of the Yankees, caught flat-footed, scream in spidery agony as they burn. The other two duck behind anchoring strands of webbing and live, though the tiny hairs all over their bodies appear to have been singed off, and they are wreathed with smoke. Miaoyu targets one of those and lands a solid hit, but the creature merely turns and hisses at her. Tsarae fires at it as well, and her arrow pierces entirely through the creature's head (critical hit, almost max damage). The Yankee dies. Tam curses Tsarae's luck against his own encounters, and the party curses her kill-stealing.

Turns out the spiders WERE going for reinforcements: Gavin and Miaoyu spot at least six bigger spiders approaching. Imagine a spider whose thorax and abdomen are roughly the size of a horse's torso, slung between legs with enough span to hold the creature comfortably above a ten-foot-wide gap. Miaoyu is squeaking again. Three are approaching from the forest to flank the main party while the others are coming out of the cave and over the arch, about to converge on Gavin.

Gavin takes one look at the developing tactical situation and decides that he needs to be back with the rest of the party about two rounds ago. He hurries to the stream and splashes into it, wrapping his cloak around himself and turning into a seal. The stream is shallow and narrow, but his swim speed is far greater than his land speed, especially in these godforsaken spiderwebs.

Miaoyu is having a significantly less focused reaction. “Spiders!” she chokes out. She alone of the main group has spotted the incoming threat, but she's not having much success communicating about it.

"We know, Miaoyu," says Aelron, quite exasperated and unsure what’s suddenly gotten into his companion.

"Bigger ones," she sobs.

"How can there be ones bigger than these?" wails Nüwa as she continues to blindly hurl daggers at any of the Yankees who come too close.

Seeing that she’s not going to get any help from her companions, Miaoyu turns to the only other person who might help her and points in terror at the spiders advancing through the webs. “Gilgadar, do something!”

Gilgadar yawns loudly. Apparently he was dozing. “What? What's the fuss now?” Then he follows Miaoyu's pointing finger. “Oh. You mortals and your fears of spiders, I swear...”

Time stands still.

A trapdoor opens up in the fabric of reality, a strange-looking gap in the air up by the apex of the stone arch, at least twenty feet across. An enormous pair of hands reaches through it, still pulling on gloves as it appears. One the hands are fully gloved, they form into fists and smash down on four of the Yankees still hanging in the webs, pulping them.

“Ugh,” Gilgadar mutters in Miaoyu's mind, “I hate that squishing sensation.”

The hands retreat, peeling off the gloves as they go. They vanish momentarily, only to return with a fifty-foot-tall broom, which they immediately begin flailing through the webbing. The broom's head and handle sweep through layer upon layer of meter-thick anchor strands of spiderweb like it was all gossamer, pausing only to swat at the larger spiders still lingering in the area. The larger spiders are tough enough that broom swats aren't going to bring them down, but they're not enjoying the experience, either: they shriek in pain as the broom's beanstalk-sized bristles press them into the stone, cracking carapace and crushing limbs.

“Let me just get this out of the way...” Gilgadar murmurs, more to himself than to Miaoyu.

A twenty-foot wide dustpan drops from the opening in the air, crashing to the ground, flattening two of the necro-cocoons with almost-comical pops. The hands then shake the broom, dislodging all the webbing from the handle and bristles, and sweep all the detritus—dead spiders, torn webbing, and several feet of topsoil and solid stone—into the dustpan. One of the hands reaches down and grabs the dustpan's handle, and then both vanish into the hole in reality, which seals behind them.

“There,” Gilgadar says to Miaoyu. “That's the worst of the web gone. You and your friends should be able to take care of the rest.”

And that, dear readers, is what happens when you give an arachnophobe access to a spell called Divine Wrath and put her in the presence of way too many spiders: wrecked webs, smeared spiders, and one panting, panicked priestess tilting her head sideways in awe. 5d6 is a lot of damage.

Reality resumes.

The entire party stares in shock. Where there was a forest of webbing anchored on a rocky streambed, there is now an open space above a rock-lined crater. Water flowing from whatever source feeds the stream begins to pool in the crater. Miaoyu regains her composure and feels a little extra weight in her pocket. She reaches in and finds four silver coins that weren’t there before; they were ‘minted’ from the traces of silver Gilgadar found in the ground as he swept it up. On one side, Gilgadar’s grinning face; on the other, a squished spider. Miaoyu returns them to her pocket. They probably won’t function as currency, but they’re nice souvenirs.

No time to discuss that, though. One of the larger spiders has perched at the top of the streambed on the party's right, above Tsarae and Miaoyu; it almost seems to be waiting for something. Flynn makes his Awareness check to see it and pivots that direction, but the bolts he sends its way goes wide. Tsarae doesn’t see it at all, and contents herself with shooting one of the few remaining smaller spiders. Nüwa prepares herself for any enemies that might come closer, and Seeker drops a Circle of Protection, encompassing everyone but Gavin, who is still too far out.

Two larger spiders are waiting on the party's left side as well, crouched at the top of the ledge between forest and streambed. Their eyes glitter with malice as they watch the party huddle closer together. Aelron spots those and turns toward them, preparing to bring up a wall of fire between the party and those spiders if they begin a charge.

The three large spiders in the midst of what was the web converge on Gavin. Two of them find range and each one stabs twice. Gavin is in seal-form at the moment and not wearing armor, so three of the shots connect. The stream runs frighteningly scarlet. Gavin, barking in pain, slides nimbly down the stream to the party, shifts out of seal form, and adopts a defensive position next to Seeker and Aelron. Even after completing his shapeshift, he's still bleeding.

Two of the Yankees that ran into the forest come into view on the left bank. They latch onto Meng and drag him toward them, out of of the Circle of Proteciton and across the stream.

That seems to be what the big spiders in the trees were waiting for. One can reach Meng without having to leave its perch, though he who manages to get his shield up in time to ward off its blows. The one on the right bank rushes Miaoyu and Tsarae, swinging once at each and clipping Miaoyu. The other left-bank spider springs down and begins skittering toward Nüwa, and two of the three within the web circle around to join it. The last moves toward Seeker.

Aelron narrows his eyes, trying to gauge the timing, and then casts Wall of Fire as no fewer than three spiders charge in on the party's left flank. Unfortunately, with Meng pulled out of position and Gavin still retreating from the webs, he doesn't have a great place to put it. If he places it in its original planned location, Meng will be cut off from the party and probably roasting to death. In order to deny the charging spiders an open attack lane at Gavin's back and Nüwa's low AC, he's going to have to move the wall a bit, and even then it will still singe Gavin and Meng. “Sorry, boys,” he murmurs.

With a massive whoosh of displaced air, a ten-foot-tall wall of shimmering magical fire appears just across the stream from Nüwa. The spiders approaching from that direction lurch to a halt, one of them barely in time to avoid colliding with the roaring flames. None of them has the courtesy to collapse in a heap of twitching limbs, but they have to back out of range of the wall before they can continue advancing on the party, so Gavin is spared four more attacks on the round.

Gavin flinches as the wall bursts into being, blasting a few more hit points off him. Then the spider moving in at him from the webs swings at him and connects solidly, putting a spike-ended limb through his shoulder with a sickening crunch.

Seeker darts out of the Circle, tags Gavin with a healing spell, and rushes back in. Wolfmen and elves have access to a trait that lets them (to borrow some terminology from D&D 3.5) use a standard action anywhere in the middle of a double-move, and he's making the most of it now. Gavin blinks off the pain, stabs the spider that attacked Seeker unsuccessfully a moment ago, trying to draw its ire, then steps away from the wall of fire until it's no longer searing his skin.

Flynn fires at the spider that just punctured Gavin. He's picked up a new feat, Ghost Hunter, which, among other benefits, allows him to ignore an enemy's Armor bonus once per session. His eldritch bolt flickers as it approaches its target, and suddenly, without ever penetrating the chitin shell on the spider's upper surface, it is burrowing its way out of the creature's guts, spraying ichor onto the streambed as it ricochets off a rock. The spider collapses, its eight eyes glassy as marbles.

Aelron knows he needs to buy Gavin more time, so he fires off his last-remaining second-level spell, Winterfall. Shards of ice plummet from the sky, slashing and freezing at the large spiders that are trying to move around the wall of fire to reach Gavin, and coating the ground between Gavin and Gilgadar's crater with a layer of treacherous ice, forcing them to move slowly to keep their footing.

Meng takes a stab at the large spider hanging above him and bloodies its nose (or... whatever), then steps sideways and a few steps back, out of range of Aelron's wall of flame.

Nüwa is furious. No one hurts her bodyguard.

With sudden skill and deadliness, Nüwa begins hurling her daggers at the spider hanging above Meng. Nüwa has picked up a trait called I Am Not Left Handed. When in combat, she can perform skill checks, saves, and attacks at disadvantage (roll 2d20 and take the worse) for as many rounds as she desires. She can then ‘switch hands’ (a la Inigo Montoya and Wesley in Princess Bride) and perform at advantage (roll 2d20 and take the better) for as many rounds as she stayed at disadvantage. Her player’s plan was to save up for a boss of some kind, but saving a friend is a noble cause. Together, the two of them give that spider hell. It ends the round bleeding from a new spear wound, with two daggers protruding from just below its eyes.

Miaoyu and Tsarae focus on the large spider that has barged into their flank. Miaoyu, face to face with a version of her worst nightmare that outmasses her by a factor of five or six, misses badly, but Tsarae sinks a few inches of cold steel into the spider's abdomen and shouts at it angrily. She has its full attention.

Shards of ice continue to hammer the ground in front of Aelron and Gavin, and the wall of fire roars merrily. Tam counts out squares of movement for the spiders that are still gunning for Gavin in various directions, but there's no way they can a) get out of Winterfall's area, b) avoid the Wall of Fire and c) be in attack range of anyone in the party. Given that Winterfall did 4d6 of damage in its first round (it won't continue to do that, but the spiders aren't privy to that information), the spiders don't want to hang around in it, and decide they've had enough. They edge back out of the ice slick Winterfall has left, then turn tail and clamber back up toward the trees.

Aelron dismisses the wall of flame and Meng sees his chance to get to safety; he turns and runs to Nüwa. Nüwa unleashes a fan of enchanted daggers that scythes through the spider up on the ridge, and it jerks and slumps, rolling off the ledge and into the streambed with a dull thud.

Seeing its allies abandoning the field, the spider engaged with Tsarae and Miaoyu turns and flees as well, vanishing into the trees.

By this point, it was about 2:30 in the morning, and we called it for the night, with the promise of continuing into the cavern to find the spider cultists next session.

Up Next: Exactly what you'd expect.

Fayd
2014-06-16, 09:25 AM
Nothing quite like comedic overkill, eh Sparrow? :smallbiggrin:

AverageSparrow
2014-06-16, 04:16 PM
Hey, it's only overkill if all the targets die. Since some of the giant spiders lived, I would say that my spell was totally appropriate for the situation.

Dawnflame
2014-06-17, 12:54 PM
Comedic overkill would have been dropping Tsarae's Wrath, then Aelron's Wrath, then Seeker's Wrath, then Gavin's Wrath all in quick succession.

Another broomjus bashing, a hosing with dragonfire... what would Larlonite wrath look like, anyway?... and then flooded and drowned in seawater that might or might not contain angry sharks. THAT, my friends, would be comedic overkill.

The_Werebear
2014-06-17, 05:37 PM
It's a pity, but Gavin doesn't have a Wrath. He only has 2 points in Priest.

AverageSparrow
2014-06-17, 07:14 PM
Same with Tsarae. She prefers to kill steal the old fashioned way.

Dawnflame
2014-06-18, 04:22 AM
Alas for the comedy that could have been.

But seriously... Larlonite Wrath. Would Larlon descend from the heavens and literally talk your ear off? "Back in my day we didn't have all this fancy magic!" "OWWWW!"

Or maybe it's more of a "Get off my lawn, you damn kids!" scenario, with Larlon appearing on his divine porch and unloading a holy twelve-gauge into the area targeted by his initiate.

Fayd, you're the Larlonite here. Thoughts?

The_Werebear
2014-06-18, 08:19 AM
"You've angered Larlon. Your liver fails as all your old battle wounds open up and start bleeding again."

Fayd
2014-06-18, 11:32 AM
Either what The_Werebear said, as every illness you have ever had or every wound ever suffered comes back to the fore, or everything within the area of effect suffers the ravages of time within a moment; creatures grow, wither, die and decay to dust, plants grow, sprout, flower, wilt, and compost.

Alternatively things just... die. (Though that sounds more like Phoraduk). When life abandons them, what have they left but death?

AverageSparrow
2014-06-19, 06:03 PM
The party takes advantage of its temporary reprieve to heal up and get organized. Gavin makes use of his new feat, Unicorn Style, which allows him to heal people with a touch once per day. Being a selkie and a trained singer, he accomplishes his healing by humming or singing notes that resonate with his target. Miaoyu finds this a little creepy, if helpful, but Seeker is fascinated by his abilities.

As Seeker launches into a detailed inquiry regarding Gavin's abilities and training, Tsarae nudges Miaoyu, gesturing to the crater left behind in Gilgadar's wake. “How did you do that?”

"I asked,” Miaoyu replies. Then, to clarify: “Politely." Suddenly, Miaoyu can’t help herself: "You know, if you were polite every once in a while, people might do things for you, too."

Tsarae gives Miaoyu a hurt look and turns away, snarling: “I’m not talking to you.”

Miaoyu panics. “I was kidding! I’d never ask you to be polite! I like it when you’re mean—it’s charming!” Blatant lies, or a really strange relationship? Hard to say with these two.

Tsarae just sniffs disdainfully. Nüwa, who finds domestic troubles far more interesting to eavesdrop on than academic discussions of esoteric magical abilities, shakes her head at Tsarae. “You can’t just ignore her,” she says indignantly. “She loves you! Love can never be ignored.”

Tsarae huffs. “What do you care? I’m still taking to you.”

"And you can’t tell her what to do," Miaoyu scolds Nüwa. The three of them quickly dissolve into a full-blown shouting match. Eventually even Seeker can't hold his train of thought together over their volume, and he and Gavin approach.

“What's this?” Gavin murmurs to Aelron, who's been trying mostly successfully to track both conversations.

Aelron shrugs. “Either they're about to tear one another's clothes off, or they're about to tear one another apart. Difficult to say.”

Gavin rolls his eyes and steps forward. "Excuse me,” he says loudly, his voice suddenly sharp and commanding. “Everyone, if I could have just a moment.” Nüwa, Tsarae and Miaoyu all turn to stare at him. “Thank you. Now, Nüwa, do you still want to help me?" he gestures back at the spider cave.

She nods. “Sure. Of course.”

"Miaoyu?"

She cringes and glances at the spider corpses and tattered webbing. “Only just.”

Gavin prompts Tsarae with a glance. She shrugs noncommitally. “It’s something to do.”

"Good. Then until this is finished, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t kill each other."

Nüwa and Miaoyu immediately launch into scandalized protestations, and Tsarae gives Gavin a look that very clearly says I hate your ignorant guts. “I’m not going to kill them,” she deadpans.

Gavin sighs with satisfaction and gestures back toward the cave entrance. “Good. Now you’re angry at me instead of each other. Let’s go.”

Nüwa and Miaoyu stop in mid-protest and glance at one another, then at Tsarae. After a moment, they nod grudgingly. “You have to admire his tactics,” Nüwa observes sagely. Aelron offers Gavin a stealthy fist bump and an appreciative smirk.

The party files into the cave and and down a steeply twisting ramp. It would be a spiral staircase, but instead of stairs it just has spider webbing; keeping your footing in here is laborious, to say the least. At the base of the ramp, the passageway widens and abruptly forks off, leaving the party with a choice: left or right? This deep underground, the party has only two sources of illumination: an amulet hanging around Nüwa's neck, and a crystal at the head of Aelron's staff. Both of the passages before them are pitch black; Aelron's light is tiny, and Nüwa is near the back of the party.

Gavin holds up a hand for a halt. “Aelron,” he calls back, “A little light on the situation?”

Aelron raps the base of his staff on the ground lightly, and the glowing crystal at its head suddenly increases its output to match Nüwa's amulet. Then he focuses for a moment, gathering energy, and throws a light spell on Gavin's armor. And, just in case, he also blesses everyone with Vision of Color, doubling the effectiveness of all their light sources.

With the light they have, the party can see that the left tunnel opens into a cavern of indeterminate size while the right tunnel simply disappears into blackness. They decide to investigate the cavern, not wanting to leave possible places in their wake for spiders to mass for an attack; they turn left. The going is rough. The floor is covered in sticky webs that reduce the entire party to half-speed. Or, it would, except that Tsarae and Aelron are displaying typical elven refusal to acknowledge terrain as a factor in combat.

The cavern the party comes to is rather small, only about fifteen feet long and maybe thirty wide. It's a bit higher-ceilinged than the tunnels branching off it, though. It has two passages leading further into the hillside, the passage back to the surface, and a lot of spider webs on every surface, but no other occupants. One of the passages forward leads straight ahead; the other branches off to the right and then twists almost immediately into shadow.

“Which way?” Gavin asks from the front of the column.

“Left,” Flynn says. “Deeper into the cavern on the same path.”

“Right,” Tsarae argues. “We're looking for a central chamber. These are spiders. The nexus of the web is always at its heart.”

“We need to find the center eventually,” Flynn agrees, “But I'd rather clear out everything else in here BEFORE we find it.”

Suddenly, Miaoyu starts choking on thin air, pointing upward. Everyone follows her gaze, and lo: concealed in the deep shadows of the stalactite-ridden and web-covered ceiling are two additional branching tunnels.

"Looks big enough for a person to get through," Seeker says.

“That'd be 'they look,' Seeker,” Aelron corrects mechanically. “There's another one to your left.”

"Oh,” Seeker says. “So there is. Hmm. Think we can climb up there?" He glances at Miaoyu.

"I am not going up there," she says resolutely. Not even the DM teasing extra XP can persuade her.

And that's when the whisper of clacking claws begins up in the ceiling. Miaoyu hears it first and quails, pointing repeatedly and insistently up at the tunnels. Flynn takes aim, but can't see anythin