Playtesting sessions at Alter Ego Comics and Games in Baytown, TX!
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Wednesdays, beginning 15 May 2019
The Imperium has been sending expeditions of would-be heroes across the ocean to the "Frontier" for 15 years now. Sent with a mindful of dreams and a bag full of gold pieces, these heroes all put their previous lives behind them to adventure.
Miguel, a human performer of some renown from the Northern District, currently performing under the name Pylas; Quin Stormfeather, an Avian cartographer also from the Northern District; Scruff, a human orphan child from the Lower District; Rykiri, a human ascetic from the Mountain District; Klaus, an elf from the Forest District; Cranwell, a Mountain Orc raised by human farmers in the Forest District; and Giles Slade, a human necromancer originally from the Swamp District; these adventurers and many others have taken up the call to the Frontier, for the prospect of personal glory and conquest.
The ride across the ocean was uneventful enough, the group as a whole noticing that the ship itself is not crewed by Imperium staff. A makeshift crow's nest, mimicking the one on top of the main sail but positioned just behind, holds a robed mage from whom a gust of wind pushes the ship towards its destination.
"Land ho!" the call comes from the crow's nest up top, as the passengers are corralled to the deck to disembark. A towering cliff that stretches to either horizon meets them, as a shelf is lowered to accept the new heroes.
As the adventurers rise to the top of the cliff, the sounds of a brass band can be heard from what sounds like a distance. Nearer to the top, it becomes obvious that the music comes from just over the edge of the cliff, most likely at the top. The music builds in crescendo as the top is reached, and the group is greeted with a squad of Imperium soldiers, all in black half-plate mail emblazoned with the Imperium emblem, a black fist clenching crossed lightning bolts, against a red burst. This emblem is also on the flags, against a field of royal blue.
The leader of the soldiers (denoted by the two horizontal stripes on his collar), who obviously drew the short straw for this assignment and is not happy about it, addresses the group, "Hello, adventurers, and welcome to Port Rockledge," his voice and demeanor do nothing to hide his disdain. "I am Corporal Westis, and this is a military port where you will be purchasing your equipment for your subsequent adventure."
He begins a preliminary explanation about the surrounding area, the mountains to the north and the plains to the south, and explains that Forestwall is the next town, gesturing to a horse and cart, to which the heroes will be provided transport. He then gestures to the Quartermaster's tent, where "you gear up and get out of my outpost". At that, he walks away and the soldiers escort the party along.
After gearing up, the adventurers load into the cart and are on their way.
The four hour trip to the village colloquially known as "Adventurer's Town" is comparatively boring, as the soldier driving the cart explains that this road is guarded and patrolled by the Imperium, and as such, is the safest area in the Frontier.
"Start lowering your expectations about Forestwall," he says, explaining that the town is barely above a peasant village, any "adventurer" with any talent is either dead or a townsguardsman. The cart stops just on the edge of town.
"Good luck!" calls the soldier as he turns the cart and heads back for Rockledge.
The group of heroes are left to disperse to the various "attractions" of the town: the Log's Bump Tavern is the first building seen on the side of the road, a wide building made of wood, across the road is what looks to be a small guard shack, there's a temple behind the tavern, at the bend of the road are two buildings connected by a tarp, under which is an open air bazaar, and across the road from this is another guard shack. The gathered heroes disperse, some going to the tavern, others to the temple, and still others meander their way down the road.
Miguel, Quin, Rykiri, and Scruff are left standing at the edge of town.
Rykiri decides it is a good time to hunt. He begins walking south, towards the forest several miles away. Scruff follows, if only for nothing more interesting.
"Perhaps we shouldn't wander too far from town," offers Quin, visibly twitching nervously.
The three begin to bicker, as Miguel makes his way to the tavern, just as he notices a group of four cloaked individuals heading towards there. They stop just outside, and begin to converse.
Miguel approaches, and upon closer inspection, notices that the group consists of three humans and a mountain Orc. He taps one of the humans on the shoulder, introducing himself.
"I'm called Pylas, how are you gentlemen?" he smiles, offering his hand out as greeting.
The bickering done, and having convinced Rykiri of the logic of staying with the group, Quin brings the other two towards the tavern.
"Um, how about you get the hell out of here?" One of the humans turns around and glares down at Miguel. "We're kind of in the middle of something, yeah?" He gestures a shooing motion, as the 9 foot tall Orc turns and growls briefly, before the two turn back and continue conversing.
Rykiri, witnessing this interaction, walks up to the Orc, tapping him on the shoulder. "Let's fight. You look tough."
Turning and growling again, Miguel directs the group into the tavern, and Rykiri reluctantly follows.
Inside, the group is met with a prominently displayed quest board in front of the entrance. The words "Ye Olde Quest Board" are scrawled across the top in letters barely legible, and the board is blank save for several tacks haphazardly piercing small slivers of paper that, presumably, at one time held quests to the now seemingly disused board.
Beyond the board lies the tavern, consisting of a bar along one wall, a raised section of tables and chairs along the opposite wall, and a stage against the far wall, with a quartet of musicians playing a rhythmic mash-up of some popular, though somewhat dated songs. The floor is filled with tables, most of which have full groups of patrons drinking heartily and laughing merrily.
A smile springs across Miguel's face, as he pulls his lute and begins to play, seamlessly joining the performance happening on stage. He makes his way to the stage through the crowd of people that largely parts way for him. Hopping on, he becomes part of the now quintet.
Scruff, the music ringing sickly in his ears, begins inspecting the stage in an attempt to find vulnerabilities for destruction. Nothing would be more entertaining, he thinks, than these pompous songbirds to crash and ruin their instruments. Disappointed at not finding any, however, he climbs onto a bar stool.
Quin and Rykiri head to the bar where the bartender is absent-mindedly cleaning a mug, distracted by the new addition on stage, as if he were simply late to their performance.
"I'd like to use this voucher, please," smiles Quin, offering the distracted man his ticket. "It says a leg of meat and a mug of ale?"
"Eh?" the bartender looks around blankly, temporarily unsure of his surroundings. He finds Quin, a pleasant smile on his face, hand out, holding something. "Oh. What's this, then?" He snatches the ticket from Quin, frowning, and stares at it. "Another one?!" He erupts into a rage. "This has got to be the third one today! Look around, boy, do you see the Imperium here? There's only the 'expeditioners' or the 'adventurers' or whatever they're calling them now. They come out here, and they can either hack it as a farmer, or they go out and die in some stupid way. The Imperium has forgotten about us out here, and I suggest you do the same!" He makes a show of tearing up the ticket and throwing it at Quin to the cadence of his last sentence. The pieces flutter harmlessly in front of Quin's mortified face. The din and revelry that was indicative of a somewhat successful Adventurer's Day crowd is replaced by a heavy silence. Even the band has stopped playing. "I hate Adventurer's Day! Just brings in another bunch of rodents to feed to the predator that is this 'Frontier'! And this one won't last an hour! Dweeda! Come take over the bar!" And with that, he opens, storms in to, and subsequently slams the door leading to the kitchen. Things can be heard slamming and falling and breaking beyond the door, mixed in with shouted curses.
A short, squat human woman pops up from a table, looks around nervously, but struts to the bar and finds a rag and a mug. Then with a fierce look around the room, shouts, "well, get on with it!"
The band immediately picks up again, as if a record had skipped and started again. Conversations picked up from where they were left off, and the din returned just as quickly as it left.
"I am sorry about that, sweetness," says Dweeda, who smiles up at Quin. "Have a mug on the house." She takes the mug, reaches below the counter and, wiping the side of it, stands up and hands it to Quin, who takes it with thanks and a smile.
It isn't long before the front door is opened again, this time darkened by four cloaked figures, though the one in the back stands 9 feet tall. The din again is silenced, the quintet muted, and a soft gasp is heard from Dweeda, who slips into the kitchen.
Pylas then takes lead of the quintet, saying, "Follow my lead, guys," and begins to lead the band, who follows him graciously. The newly arrived group move to a table directly behind the quest board, shoving aside some patrons who were sitting.
The environment in the tavern has noticeably changed. Despite Pylas's upbeat jams and his accompanying quartet playing joyfully, there is a palpable forboding in the air. The conversations turn to more recent events, and some talk can be heard about last Adventurer's Day, when a crazy band of men suddenly began screaming and killing people in the tavern.
"A lot of people died!" said one.
"That's before we had a Knight-Commander for the town guard," said another. "Now, I'm sure we're safe, that Commander guy sounds like he knows what he's talking about."
"But that was only last week!" said still another, panic dripping like hot butter in her voice.
"What are they doing?" A terrified shriek echoes above the din.
The four cloaked figures are standing, though their cloaks have been discarded. The humans are wielding daggers that glow with an eerie purple hue, while the orc wields a similarly glowing battle axe. "We bring glory to the True Mother!" shouts one of the humans, as each grab a panicking patron and plunge their blades into their defenseless victims. The tavern erupts in frightened screams, as everyone makes a mad push to the exit.
Pylas, without missing a beat, changes tempo to a faster, battle-appropriate theme, and the band follows, remaining on stage.
Scruff tumbles over behind the bar for cover, where he discovers Dweeda cowering under the bar in the fetal position with her hands over her ears and her eyes squeezed shut. "I won't hurt you," he says, grabbing a mug and filling it with ale. He finds the dropped rag, and lays it on the edge of the mug, half the length dipped in to the frothy liquid. "I'm also not going to drink this," he smiles as he makes his way to the other end of the bar, closer to the fray.
"Perhaps we shouldn't fight inside?" A horrified Quin looks around himself watching these brutes slaughter any they can get near enough to grab.
Rykiri dips and dodges between panicked patrons as he heads straight to where the orc is butchering helpless victims.
Pylas changes beat to attempt to calm the crowd. The murderers look around, and, after slapping themselves in the face, continue killing.
"It can't be helped, then," says Quin, drawing his bow and firing an arrow at the orc, hitting him in the shoulder.
The orc roars in pain, as he is attacked from behind by Rykiri. The orc turns and swings the axe down, missing completely as Rykiri dodges effortlessly.
Scruff approaches with his improvised molotov cocktail. He places it on the table near Rykiri, saying, "here use this, I don't know..." and retreats back to the safety of the bar.
Pylas then decides to change beat, attempting to influence the attackers to fight each other. The orc turns to look at one of his human companions, just as he is taken down by Rykiri. The other humans slap themselves and continue killing.
Quin then fires an arrow at the nearest human murderer, hitting him and causing a roar of pain.
Rykiri grabs the mug, and the orc begins climbing to his feet. Rykiri throws the mug, shattering it where the orc was, who jumps out of the way.
Just then, a robed man stands from the raised section of the tavern, presenting something in front of him, and chanting something under his breath. "Enough of this bloodshed! The Light banish you!" and suddenly the tavern is illuminated with an impossibly bright light. After a few seconds, the light fades, and only Dweeda, Scruff, Quin, Rykiri, the priest, and Pylas and the band remain.
Scruff emerges from behind the bar, and surveys the scene. On the floor lie 12 dead bodies, brutally slashed and gutted. The priest is on the floor, desperately searching for survivors. Scruff begins to "help", as an excuse to get close to the bodies and loot any valuables. Not much is found, but he does find some artisan's tools and a useless voucher from the Imperium for a leg of meat and a mug of ale.
Pylas changes back to a subdued tone for the lack of people in the bar.
"I'm Anduin, a priest of the Light here in Forestwall. It's good to see those who will stand up and defend others in the Frontier. As you saw, there's not much love for the Imperium here."
"Nor here," pipes up Scruff.
"Well, perhaps you may be able to help," continues Anduin.
Pylas stops playing, and the quintet is disbanded. The musicians wave their goodbyes as they exit the tavern. He approaches the group, and listens in.
"What's up, you got a quest?" presses Rykiri.
Taken aback, Anduin regards Rykiri with an intrigued look. "Well, I do, actually, but I see you're a hero who prefers to skip the pleasantries, so I'll cut to the quick, as it were. The temple has had some sacred texts stolen, and I believe that this cult of the Mother is responsible."
"Yes, they were shouting something about a Mother before they started hacking," Quin offers. "You're saying those men were cultists?"
A trio of townsguardsmen come in, and begin cleaning up and disposing of the bodies.
"Indeed, so it would seem," Anduin responds thoughtfully. "Hmm. We have had adventurers leave town to explore and never come back... and sometimes search parties are sent out for them, and they don't return... recently, though, the ones that do are homicidal. Perhaps this cult is indeed behind all this... End this, return the texts, and I'm sure the temple will reward you all handsomely."
Anduin bows and takes his leave, following the guardsmen out the door. No sooner do the doors close they open again, as Klaus and Cranwell walk in.
Seeing another orc, fear takes over Scruff. "Oh no, the orc is back!" Scruff screams and runs out the door.
"I think this one is shorter..." calls Quin, letting his voice trail off when he sees Scruff is gone.
"What did I miss? Is the fight over?" Klaus looks around, disappointed.
The party makes introductions, and while the niceties are observed, Rykiri slips out to gather information from the townsfolk.
Miguel begins a serenading song, singing romantic bars to Klaus, who reads his mind, gathering his perverted intentions.
Quin is the first to notice the absense of Rykiri. "Where has Rykiri gone?"
Eyeing Miguel, Klaus intones, "Who cares? There's got to be other stuff to do in this town." She turns on her heel and walks out, followed by Miguel, then Cranwell, with Quin bringing up the back.
Rykiri obtains a bit of information about some sketchy individuals named Jim and Jon Rosser, who aren't seen in town often.
At one of the buildings at the far end of the bazaar, a gathering of people are milling about outside. The door is open, and there is a light coming from inside. The group start down the road to see what the event entails.
Once there, Rykiri is seen moving about the crowd, talking to people. He approaches, attempting to talk over Miguel who is still singing to Klaus, and has been since the tavern.
She decides just then to climb the building, hoping to get a better view from the roof. Miguel follows her around to the side, watching her climb. Rykiri follows them both, observing her climb. Rykiri climbs after her, and stands next to her at the top. Her climb was graceful, beautiful in it's execution. His was a quick three step-up the side. She then backflips off the roof, landing gracefully. Not to be outdone, he performs a hand-stand, followed by a backflip, landing on his feet.
"Oh, let's just go inside," she says, grabbing Cranwell's arm. Pylas stands in front of the entrance, sets up his case, and begins plucking a tune.
A town guardsmen, also filing in with everyone else, sees the group coming around from the side of the building. "What are you doing over there?" He looks inquisitively between Cranwell to Klaus, then to Miguel, still singing.
Quin shuffles the group inside, mumbling, "Nothing, sorry, sir."
Rykiri takes this opportunity to slip away again, this time heading back to the tavern. Pylas collects his earnings and follows inside.
Once inside, it is obvious the people are heading to the left door in an office, behind which is a large town hall. Everyone is filing in and taking a seat.
Three men ascend to a sort of stage, with three chairs facing the assembled. The man in the middle is dressed garishly, with exaggerated colors and embroidery all about the seams. It even looks like he is wearing make up to enhance the lines of his face. The man to his left is an elderly man dressed in white robes, with holy symbols around his neck, leaning on a quarterstaff. The man to the right is dressed in half plate mail, with a leather collar, with three vertical stripes that look like they were hastily scratched in.
Klaus looks at the man in armor, attempting to read his mind. This man wants to address his lack of staffing for the town guard, hoping to enact martial law and enforce a draft of able bodied into service.
When the three men are in front of the chairs, everyone quiets down. "Assembled here today is the fifth town hall meeting for Forestwall. I am Mayor Pradwell, presiding, here also on town council is Temple Elder Craven and our newest member, Knight-Commander Walkman. We are gathered here to handle the increasing attacks from cultists."
"What do the cultists want?" shouts Klaus, interrupting as the mayor continued.
"Please, there will be time to address questions and concerns from the assembled, but first is the discussion of issue; another outburst like that and I'll have you thrown out."
Klaus sits down respectfully, nodding.
The mayor returns her nod and continues. "We don't know what the cultists want, other than to come in to our town and kill us. As a deterrent, our esteemed Knight-Commander has a solution to offer."
Knight-Commander Walkman stands and addresses the crowd. "Friends, citizens, I simply do not have the men to properly protect this town. Many able bodied citizens are simply lacking training to properly serve us all, let us initiate a draft. If we do not recruit enough men, we may have to enact martial law, for the good of all gathered here."
Mayor Pradwell smiles and gestures to the elder to his left. "And now, we'll hear from Temple Elder Craven. Elder?"
Elder Craven begins mumbling, but clears his throat and speaks aloud. "Our esteemed Knight-Commander's plan is sound. With enough men, this threat may yet be abated."
The mayor again nods and smiles, thanking the elder. "And now we'll hear from the citizen assembly," he says, looking hopefully at the crowd.
Klaus stands, raising her hand, and begins speaking, "We'll go and root out the cult ourselves. My companions and I are more than capable, and will return triumphant shortly. There is no need for martial law, and there is no need for a draft. Give us a fortnight to return."
Several others stand and shout things like "I'll serve the draft!" and "We're with you, Knight-Commander!"
After a short beat, the mayor nods, and speaks. "Then we vote. All in favor of implementing a draft of all able bodies in town to guard service? By show of hands."
The obvious majority raises their hands.
"Well, the motion passes then. Able bodies will report in the morning to the main guard shack. Let's all go home, unless there is any other business?" He looks around.
"What about us?" asks Klaus.
People have already begun filing out of the hall. "What about you? I will neither stop you from trying to fulfil your promise, nor will I fund such an expedition. If you are successful, we will act according to the situation. Until then, have a good evening."
Attempting to read the Knight-Commander's mind again, Klaus learns that he assumes that they will fail in their endeavor, giving him ammunition to further his plan for martial law.
While the rest of the party is in the town hall meeting, Rykiri heads back in to the tavern, in time to see a tall skinny man and a short squat man pinning something to the quest board. "Oh, what luck," he says aloud, startling the two men.
They both turn and regard him quizzically. "Uh, yes, what luck, indeed," says the taller one. They awkwardly leave.
Rykiri takes the quest flyer down and reads it. It is posted by Jonas Rosser, claiming his house is haunted or he has an unwanted visitor, and calls for a hero to help. There are directions to a farmhouse north of town, and a posted reward of 200 gold. Elated, he decides to take this back to the group.
He reaches the town hall just as the rest of the party is milling out. The sun has set, darkness consuming the skies. He triumphantly shows off the flyer he found, and the group decides to head north to complete this quest.
A feeble older human meanders by, and Klaus reaches out and seizes his shoulder. It is Giles, and the sudden movement startles him. "Come with us! I'm sure you could be of some help," Klaus laughs, and the six of them begin the trek north.
It is nearly midnight by the time the party reaches the house. There are no lights on.
The group approaches cautiously, while Rykiri confidently strides up to the door and knocks.
There is no answer. Cranwell tries the door, but it is locked. He knocks this time, harder. The door shatters inwards, clattering into a dark foyer. Miguel lights a torch, and the party heads in. Cranwell, Rykiri, and Klaus begin to search the house. The house itself is sparse, furnished with what looks like completely unused items, complete with a fine layer of dust. The only room that breaks this pattern is the sitting room, which has a fireplace and some well appointed furniture. Giles suggests burning the door in the fireplace. Cranwell finds a candlestick on the foyer side table, and is convinced that it is somehow important to the present puzzle.
Klaus goes outside, climbing to the roof to get a view. On her way down, the fire burns itself out, and Rykiri climbs the chimney to the top. While he stands on the roof, Klaus finds a switch behind the mantle inside the chimney, that drops out the floor inside the fireplace. Klaus attempts to listen for any thoughts down in the pit, but only hears a faint, "This will get them..." A rail is seen leading down. Rykiri comes down, and with assistance climbs out of the fireplace. Cranwell lights his candle and tosses it in to the hole, watching it fall and put itself out. Rykiri finds another candlestick, like the one Cranwell found, and is simmilarly convinced that it is of some importance. He lights it, tossing it down after Cranwell's. Miguel then tosses down his torch, lighting another, to see how far down the drop is. The torch falling reveals the drop to be around 150 feet. Rykiri and Cranwell then begin the climb down, seeing a platform at the bottom.
At the bottom, Rykiri and Cranwell search for a way to bring the platform back up to the top. They each find their candlesticks, and again are convinced that they are somehow the key to the platform. Klaus peers down the hole, and sees the two of them struggling, and climbs down into the pit herself. Once on the bottom, she effortlessly locates a lever that obviously controls the platform. Right as she throws the lever to raise the platform, Cranwell and Rykiri have each inserted their candlesticks into a crevice on the platform, and the platform begins to rise, cutting the sticks in half. Cranwell and Rykiri are impressed with themselves that they figured out the double-key configuration to raise the platform. Klaus shakes her head as she begins to search the huge underground cavern.
The only thing in this room is a 60 foot wide magical circle, runes scribed on the outside, and a unicursal hexagram inscribed within. The lines and runes burn with a purple fire.
The platform reaches the top, as Miguel, Giles, and Quin climb on to the platform and send it down.
Quin and Giles see the circle, and immediately know that this is a ritual enactment of a spell. It has already been triggered, and is in the resolution state: there's no stopping this. Klaus immediately boards the platform and sends it back up. Rykiri runs out and begins trying to disconnect the circle by disrupting the lines, to no avail. Cranwell draws his greatsword, and struggles with the decision to assist Rykiri or ascend the climbing platform with the rest of the party. The circle is rhythmically pulsing, no matter how much burning dust Rykiri removes from the circle.
Cranwell turns decides to get to the platform, while Rykiri finally succumbs to the futility of his actions and follows suit. As the platform reaches the top, the circle bursts with light and fire, and the smell of burning sulfur fills the chamber. As the platform comes to a close, two red eyes glow in the darkness at the bottom of the cavern, staring upwards as they ascend.
Left in the sitting room of the abandoned farmhouse, the group begins to bicker about what to do next. Quin wants to report back to Anduin with their findings immediately, while Giles suggests to Rykiri and Cranwell that they, as the better fighters, should go fight "that thing down there" and report back after. Miguel attempts to calm Quin, while Rykiri suggests returning to the house with town guards to assist in the coming fight.
"Perhaps it is friendly," offers Giles, with a forlorn look at Cranwell, "and it only seeks companionship."
"I don't think the guards will believe my story," laments Quin.
They bicker long enough for the room to begin to fill with smoke. The smell burns the nose, and the heroes' eyes are beginning to water. Rykiri, noticing, panics and jumps out the window, landing expertly outside, unharmed. The rest of the party moves outside through the broken doorway. Giles begins to feel the late hour, as it is past midnight.
Miguel sees Giles begin to sway with fatigue, and begins to sing a soft lullaby. Cranwell, noticing, picks Giles up and slings him across the shoulders. Rykiri takes a moment to feel sorrow for the lost gold on this quest.
Giggling incoherently, Giles nods his approval, "Oh, Cranberry, my noble steed, onward to town!" He maneuvers around to sit upright on his shoulders. "Hi-ho, Cranberry!" he shouts.
It is the dead of night by the time the heroes reach town, and are met with a passing patrol of town guards. Giles riding on Cranwell strikes a frightening outline in the dark, a four armed, 12-foot tall monstrosity, and followed by four minions, at first glance it seems another attack on the town is imminent. But when the party is bathed in the light of a street lamp they are revealed as what they are.
"Halt," calls one of the guards, rubbing his eyes and shaking the others to attention. "Who goes there?"
"There's something under the farmhouse!" slurs Giles. "It's gonna kill us!"
"Forgive my friend, he is woefully inebriated," cuts in Miguel, smiling widely.
"Well, get him to a bed so he can sleep it off," starts the lead guard.
"But what about the monster?!" Giles begins to gesture wildly.
"Uh," Quin interjects with a quelling look to the guard. "There is a farmhouse on fire, that's where we came from, and it needs to be reported."
"What? Fire?!" the guard snaps to. He gestures to two of his companions. "You two, head to the guardhouse, wake the Knight-Commander, send reinforcements," and, as they ran to carry out their orders, he looks at the remaining guard. "You come with me," and they take off in the direction of the farmhouses.
Feeling satisfied, the party heads to the tavern. Rykiri decides to set up a tent on the road, right outside the tavern, while Miguel and the rest of the party head inside.
Dweeda is seen lounging in a chair behind the bar with her feet up, snoozing. There is only dim light shining behind the bar; the rest of the establishment is dark. The sound of the door opening and closing rouses the homely maiden from her slumber, none too gently.
"Huh? Who's there?! Oh. You played with the band earlier," she recognizes Miguel. "What do you all want?"
"A room for the night to sleep off the long day, if you could spare one," intones Miguel. "I can pay with a performance tomorrow?"
"What's the matter? You didn't make any coin earlier? Must not be that talented, then, not sure it's worth it..." she is interrupted by a prolonged, seemingly painful yawn. "Listen, I don't really feel like haggling, so take this-" she tosses a key from under the bar at Miguel, "-and head up to the third door on the left, just up the stairs there. You will perform for the patrons tomorrow," she says with a finger pointed at Miguel.
"Of course," Miguel bows, and the party settle in to their room.
The night passes without incident, but not without dreams. Rykiri, Miguel, and Cranwell all suffer nightmares, hazy journeys through dark, stone-hewn corridors, constantly chased, terrified. After tripping and seemingly tumbling into an abyss, they wake up with a start right before hitting the bottom.
Quin and Giles dreams are calmer, more docile, featuring an exploratory, almost leisurely stroll down dark stone halls, until they reach an ornate door, and awaken before they are able to open the door.
Klaus was allowed to sleep in the bed, though, unbeknownst to the rest of the party, as an elf, she only needs four hours of uninterrupted trance, but she did appreciate the chivalry. After her rest, she climbed onto the floor to be big spoon to Cranwell, who was already bodily wrapped around Miguel, who was clutching to Giles like a teddy bear.
This is how they all awoke in the morning.
Rykiri is awoken suddenly by kicking at his legs. "Hey, you can't stay here on the road like this!"
The voice is a town guard, not even trying to be polite. Rykiri packs up and goes inside, meeting the rest of the party as they come down the stairs.
The tavern is scarcely populated, the only patrons are town guards either just finishing their watch or just coming in for it. They are all talking about the same thing: the farmhouse that burned down last night, and the four guards that have been killed.
Giles sits down with a group of guards, and begins asking questions about where the dead bodies are kept in town. The guards, creeped out, begin clearing out of the tavern, leaving only the heroes. Miguel, having promised another performance today, climbs on stage, and begins to play.
The group begins to argue about what next steps to take. Quin and Rykiri eventually decide to go to the temple and talk to Anduin, telling him of their findings. Cranwell and Giles want to go check out the farmhouse in the daylight. Each ends up going their own way, while Klaus decides to stay in the tavern. Miguel hops off stage, and Dweeda shouts after him, "I better see you back by the evening or never again!"
Rykiri and Quin walk into the temple, and are met with a smoky haze and a pungent aroma. The sanctuary has two rows of pews, facing the pulpit at the far end. A robed man, seemingly a priest, is walking forward, towards them, swinging a censer of incense, seemingly the source of the haze.
"Ah! Welcome, newcomers! Please, take a seat anywhere, we're about to begin." He reaches the end of the pews, smiles broadly, and gestures to empty seats. He then turns and begins to walk back towards the pulpit.
Quin suddenly feels a little light-headed, yet somewhat euphoric. He takes a seat with a smile stretching from ear to ear. Rykiri, seemingly unaffected, looks at Quin. His eyes are almost glazed over, and he looks like he's seeing farther than normal. "I'm fine, don't worry about me," Quin waves off Rykiri with a contented sigh, and begins listening to the priest's sermon, which has just begun.
"Today is a good day to walk in the blessing of our Saint of Travels, may his grace and wisdom befall us all," begins the priest, gesturing emphatically with his hands. "Yesterday was another bloody Adventurer's day, but our Saint forsakes us not, for we have been brought here to celebrate this day by his grace and wisdom, may it befall us all."
There are murmurs of agreement, and Quin finds himself nodding and murmuring affirmatively. Rykiri watches placidly, standing in the back.
The priest goes on for another hour or so, calling examples from the Saint's life to draw metaphor to how others should be treated upon one's travels, and how kindness is the Saint's virtue.
Finally, he wraps up, picking up the censer, and lighting it, begins swinging it down and up the aisle again, murmuring prayers to the Saint while doing so.
Rykiri approaches him as he makes his round. "I think this incense is a little strong, don't you?" he asks incredulously.
"This? Why, this is the holy herb of our order, we burn it in honor of our Saint of Travels, to bless our journey," intones the priest, a certain air about his voice that suggests he may not be paying full attention to the conversation.
"Well, my friend over there is acting kinda out of it, it's concerning," Rykiri points to Quin, who is quietly giggling to himself. "He also had a question for you, I think."
"Ah, he has just been gripped by the spirit! Come friend, tell me what insights you bring from our Saint," He moves to sit next to Quin, who absentmindedly philosophizes his thoughts, seemingly randomly, but with one breath.
"Wow," marvels the priest, who introduces himself to the two as Merka, Deacon of the Saint. "The Saint speaks through you and it seems his wisdom and grace has befallen you. I was told you have a question for me?"
"Uh, I, um, yes! I believe I do!" Quin struggled but ultimately succeeds in remembering his purpose for coming here. He reaches in to his pocket and pulls out his sketch of the magic circle from the bottom of the farmhouse basement, handing it to Merka.
A flash of recognition lights Merka's face, before falling back to a hazy smile, and says, "oh, yes, this, I think I can help you with this, how about you take me out there tonight? After evening services, of course, how does that sound?"
Rykiri and Quin pick up on the sudden change in demeanor, but agree to meet up after evening service. Still wanting to speak with Anduin, Quin approaches the curtain at the back, where two templar guards stand.
"I'd like to speak with Anduin, please," says Quin, addressing one of the templars.
"One moment," intones the guard, after a sidelong look at his partner. He disappears behind the curtain, returning after about twenty minutes with not Anduin, but an elderly priest, wearing the same holy symbol as Anduin's.
"Can I help you?" the elderly priest croaks.
"You're not Anduin," starts Quin, before he is interrupted.
"Anduin is otherwise disposed," interjects the elder, "with important work for our order, what do you want?"
"Well, uh," stammers Quin, "I wanted to show him this, and see what he thought of it? I believe we found a headquarters of sorts for the cult, and-" He holds out his sketch, as the elder cuts him off again.
"Cult?!" Again, the elder interrupts Quin. "That is just a rumor that has turned into a fancy excuse for the town hall to militarize." Still, he snatches the sketch and examines it. "Although, this is quite the nefarious spellcraft... Though nothing more than some delinquent, I'm sure. Rest assured, this will be solved amicably, this environment is just dangerous and maybe more town guard is all we need. If there's nothing else?" He doesn't wait for an answer before turning and disappearing behind the curtain. The two decide to head out to the farmhouse after the remainder of their party, stopping off at the tavern to bring Klaus.
Meanwhile, Giles, Miguel, and Cranwell have completed the journey to the farmhouses, and have reached the Rosser estate, the same building from the previous night. It is nothing more than a fence enclosing a pile of ash. Giles senses a strong Necromancy effect lingering here just past the fence. Neither he nor Cranwell is willing to cross the fence line, so Cranwell sets up a simple deadfall trap with some stones and a rope. Just then, a scream is heard.
It is coming from the neighboring house. The three heroes make haste to investigate, and find the front door wide open. As they cross the threshold into the house, another blood-curdling scream is heard coming from upstairs, followed by a loud crash. Cranwell rushes upstairs and into an open room, where he finds a woman curled into a ball in the corner, and the broken shards of what used to be some piece of furniture scattered across the room.
"Oh gods, please, take whatever you want just don't kill me!" The woman screams, taking notice of Cranwells's hulking mass ducking through the door. All three heroes suffer from a brief headache, but shake it off.
"I'm here to help," insists Cranwell, going to help her up. She only responds with more terrified screaming, so Cranwell grabs her and puts her kicking and flailing over his shoulder, and carries her out and down the stairs.
"Aw, she's alive," moans Giles, clearly disappointed.
"Who's the lady?" smiles Miguel, briefly forgetting the urgency at hand, and a sly smile on his lips. Having stopped screaming, the woman has become catatonic. "I guess we take her back to town, let the guards know what's up, eh?"
The group meet up together about halfway between town and the farmhouses, with Miguel attempting to calm the rescued woman with his music. Giles, on the other side, is telling her that the orc is brutally endowed and that she should be afraid that he hasn't been sated in weeks. She isn't sure if he's joking.
"Who is this woman, and why is Cranwell carrying her like a stuffed doll?" Quin's concern is obvious.
"Yeah, hey, how about you put her down?" Rykiri sounds annoyed that this even needs to be said.
Once on her feet again, Quin smiles at her, and politely asks her what happened. She then breaks down again, rambling that this morning weird things were happening at the house, furniture flying around the house and flinging itself into walls, and her husband ran out of the house, and she was seeing visions of horrible things that couldn't be real, so fast and intermixed with tears that Quin is nearly overwhelmed. After its all out, she introduces herself as Meera, and thanks the adventurers for their help and timely rescue, but she needs to go find her husband.
"You mean the coward who ran away from his wife? You should let us kill him. He sounds like a coward." Giles's morbidity causes Meera to leave quickly, no less appreciative.
The two groups reunited, they head back to town, sharing the information each found. It is decided the temple is the next place to go.
The party arrives back to town in time to see two men walk in to the temple; one tall and lanky, the other short and somewhat stocky. Walking through the door, the group is met with a smoky haze, as the afternoon services have started. There's no sign of the group's quarry.
Miguel takes a deep breath and smiles, the effects taking hold almost immediately. He sits down and takes in the sermon.
Klaus approaches the templars, and asks about the two gentlemen that just came in. "There are many people who come through the temple, it is said that all men should honor the gods," the templar says, staring forward.
"Well, how about you let me go back there and look for myself?" asks Klaus, eyeing behind the curtain to no avail.
"The uninitiated cannot pass through here," says the other guard, gripping his polearm tighter.
"All right, all right, it's fine, I got it," Klaus backs away and returns to the rest of the group. "He's back there, I'm pretty sure," she says, to no one in particular.
"Well, those dudes owe us our gold for that quest, I'm gonna go get it," declares Rykiri, heading towards the curtain. "I have business with Jim and Jon Rosser," states Rykiri, unblinking.
After a glance to each other, one of the templars says, "ok, give me a moment," and disappears behind the curtain. Ten to fifteen minutes later, he returns. "What business do you have?"
Rykiri produces the quest flyer and hands it to the templar, who examines it. "All right, I'll be back."
"I need that back," says Rykiri, indicating the flyer.
With a raised eyebrow, the templar returns the flyer, and retreats behind the curtain. twenty minutes later he returns with a message, "They wish to meet you at the tavern tonight to discuss this quest."
"All right, now we're getting somewhere," says Rykiri, returning to the group with the news.
With nowhere else to go, the group heads back to the tavern. When they arrive, they find Cranwell sitting at a table, listening to the quartet playing on stage. The tavern room is currently serving only a patron or two, sullenly drinking mugs of ale. Pylas climbs the stage seamlessly adding his lute playing to the melody. Giles, Quin, and Rykiri join Cranwell and wait for Jim and Jon Rosser.
After about an hour or so, Pylas takes the lead of the band, leading them in a rendition of some pop music for the time. At this point, Cranwell gets up and checks the empty quest board. Disappointed, he returns to the table. Rykiri heads outside and to the top of the roof to get a good vantage point of the temple. He watches the afternoon service empty out, and as the evening service begins to file in, he heads back inside.
Pylas announces that he and the band will be taking a short break. The quartet heads to the bar, where Dweeda has set out 5 mugs. Miguel asks the group, "So, what's the name of your band?"
Confused, the four men look at each other blankly, obviously at a loss for words collectively. "We're not really a band, we just play here for food and drinks and whatever tips we make," pipes up one, receiving nods of agreement from the others.
"Well, that simply won't do," pries Miguel, eyeing each of them in turn. "You play together, you should be a band! And a proper band has a proper name, eh?"
"We never thought of it that way," mumbles another, looking around to the others. "Let's do it! Today we become a band!"
The first one nods with affirmation. "We'll be called, 'The Supremes'!" The group raises their mugs in celebration.
"To the Supremes," they all toast, clinking their mugs and drinking heartily. Miguel flirts with Dweeda, successfully wooing her into agreeing to allow him to stay in her personal quarters tonight.
After another hour, the tavern begins filling up for the evening rush. Pylas, taking notice, calls the newly formed band back to the stage, their revelry concluded. "Ladies and Gentlemen! We are Pylas and the Supremes!" Pylas announces loudly, beginning a rocking jaunt that drives the crowd. Rykiri and Cranwell begin discussing which of them is stronger, the discussion quickly turning to vehement debate.
"Well, let's arm wrestle to settle it, then!" shouts Rykiri. "I'll bet you 15 gold pieces I'll best you in a bout!"
"I'll take 15 gold pieces to shut you up," agrees Cranwell. He thumps his massive arm onto the table. Unwavering, Rykiri sidles across from him and grasps the orc's massive hand.
They start, and after a brief struggle, Rykiri's arm hits the table. "I won!" shouts the orc over the din of the crowd, none of whom are paying any mind to the competition.
"All right, all right, let's go again, I got you for sure this time!" Rykiri looks determinedly at Cranwell, who shrugs and sits again.
"Now you're just giving me gold," mutters Cranwell, grasping Rykiri's hand.
The start, and the struggle, but after some resistance, Cranwell's arm taps the table. An uproar! Some of the patrons near by join in the raucus, cheering with Rykiri as he collects his gold pieces back from Cranwell.
"All right, all right, you got lucky, but I'll bet you 20 gold pieces you can't do it again!" Cranwell challenges Rykiri, and the crowd roars in approval.
"You're on!" Rykiri puts his gold on the table and holds out his hand. Cranwell follows suit, and the crowd surges.
Pylas sees this, and quickly puts his lute away. Taking off his hat, he holds it out, calling, "Taking all side bets, side bets here! The orc's got it by a long shot, but does the man have what it takes? Place your bets here!" The drunken patrons don't notice the oddness of this, and begin placing bets, dropping gold coins in the hat. Giles, taking interest, and seeing that bets on Rykiri stand to make a large amount of gold, he prepares a spell to afflict the orc, hindering his strength.
All parties hyped up, the match starts. Miguel gives some inspiration to Cranwell, rubbing his shoulders and offering encouragement.
The competition starts, and Cranwell is handily defeated, to a tumultuous bedlam of celebration and disappointment, depending on whom the individual bet. Miguel hands out winnings to those who bet on the monk from the Northern district. Giles and Miguel pocket 16 gold pieces each.
A booming voice opens the door and shouts in, "The town hall meeting is starting in 10 minutes, you'll need to head to the town hall to participate! Ten minutes!" And at that, the tavern begins to empty out.
The party follows to the town hall, while Rykiri goes to the temple to scope it out.
Making his way to the back of the temple, Rykiri finds some windows. In the waning light from the setting sun, he is able to look through one of windows, and make out what looks like either someone sitting at a table or desk, or a robe draped across a chair. Listening at the window, he hears what sounds like scratching on paper. Assuming it is someone at a desk by candlelight, he knocks on the window and waits. Within a few seconds, voices can be heard coming around from the corner. Rykiri dips behind the opposite corner, hiding from sight.
"...yeah, I don't know, the elder says someone was out here knocking on his window." Two templars come from around the corner, with torches held aloft. "Hello? Anyone out there?" His call is met with silence. "Must be going crazy, poor old man." The guards turn and leave. Rykiri, seeing no more value here, heads to the town hall at nightfall.
At the town hall, people are beginning to head inside. Filing in and taking seats, the townsfolk begin to quiet down as the three town councilmembers take the stage. There is an uncomfortable air in the room, people are tense and panicky, "so many deaths in the last 24 hours," whispers one, "and two houses burned down? Something needs to be done."
The silence is punctuated by the mayor clearing his throat. "In light of the recent events, we are convening the sixth official town hall meeting, I am, of course, Mayor Pradwell, presiding, with me are the town councilmembers Temple Elder Craven, and Knight-Commander Walkman. For those of you who don't know what's happened, two residences have burned down, and several of our town guard killed. Let us begin with our esteemed Knight-Commander." The mayor nods to the armor-clad man and steps back.
Knight-Commander Walkman steps to the stage determinedly. Grasping the pulpit with white knuckles, he takes a tentative breath, and speaks. "How many more lives are we willing to sacrifice to this cult? The attacks have only been getting worse, and will only continue to do so if we do not take action. It seems to me that the only way to resolve this cult issue is to impose martial law. The town guards will run the protection for the town, and will become a real presence throughout. In this way, we can ensure law and order in our town."
Murmurs of agreement spread throughout the crowd, as Quin and Giles exchange a look. "Too much life, indeed, has been slain in the name of this foul cult," the Temple Elder begins to speak. "I concur with our Knight-Commander's proposal. A fortnight seemed too long, as it were; let the town's militia do it's duty."
Mayor Pradwell stands and addresses the crowd. "Now, let us hear from the citizen assembly."
A hush falls over the crowd. The gathered begin looking to one another and around, wondering if anyone will speak up. Quin, seeing that no one plans on saying anything, stands. "Um, is martial law really necessary? How is disarming the populace supposed to help repel invaders?"
There are murmurs of agreement from isolated parts of the crowd, drawing a smirk from the Knight-Commander. "Anyone who wishes to be armed and fight for the protection of their town, can do so as part of the town guard. The only ones disarmed will be noncombatants. It is for safety, you see."
Miguel stands now, attempting to influence the crowd. "Surely this isn't necessary? We don't need to give up our weapons, do we?" About a quarter of the crowd nods in affirmation, while the rest sit in silence.
"Look, the fact is, too much death has visited this little town. The town guard must be empowered to handle this threat, both with willing men and women and executively speaking. If you have nothing to hide, and want to fight to protect, then there is no issue with this arrangement."
Rykiri arrives to the town hall as the mayor begins the final declaration. "Then let it be written in the town charter, there will be martial law. All citizens are to forfeit any weapons and armor to the town guard; any who wish to retain arms and armor may join the town guard. Guards will be quartered in residences while further accomodations are built..."
Quin, Miguel, Cranwell, Giles and Rykiri don't wait around for the rest. Slipping out quietly while a patrol of town guards file in behind to guard the door, presumably to confiscate any contraband from townsfolk as they exit.
Miguel speaks first. "This is bad, guys. I say we sleep the night tonight, and figure out what to do in the morning."
Rykiri agrees, and suggests heading to the tavern. He purchases his own room, while Quin, Giles, and Cranwell sleep in the room that Miguel had previously purchased. Miguel is the only one not sleeping tonight.
In the middle of the night, Rykiri, Quin, Cranwell, and Giles are awoken, each by a pounding on their doors.
"Town Guard, open up!" booms a voice from the other side of the door.
"They're here for our weapons and armor!" Cranwell climbs out the window and hangs on the sill.
Giles rolls his eyes and stands, while Quin goes and answers the door a crack. "Yes?" he asks.
The other two guards shoulder the door in, forcing entry to the room. "Is there any contraband we should know about?" The first guard asks, while the other guard goes looking through drawers and under mattresses. As he opens the closet, revealing Quin's items, including his rapier and longbow, Quin answers.
"Well, there are my items, there," he begins.
The guard that opened the door looks to the one speaking for confirmation. "Well that's contraband, that is, isn't it? We'll have to take those. You can retrieve them on your way out of town."
"What? Aren't you going to take my name and inventory the items? Isn't there some sort of procedure?" Quin begins to protest fervently.
"Yeah, yeah, it'll all be fine, just take it up with the guard shack." Satisfied with their contraband run, the guards wave off the protesting avian and head out of the room. Quin follows.
Rykiri, opening the door a crack, peeks out and says in a bored tone, "yes?" These guards also try to shoulder the door open, but Rykiri holds it firm. "I said, yes?"
"Open this door right now! Let us in!" They pound on the door louder. This draws the attention of the other two guards coming down the hall with Quin's weapons, Quin in tow. The other two guards help shoulder the door open, and the four of them pile into the room with the monk, who has his glaive strapped to his back. Two of the guards draw swords, pointing them at Rykiri.
"All right, that's enough of that, then. Let's all calm down, no one needs to get hurt." The guards spread around, surrounding the monk.
"I agree," says Rykiri, rolling his eyes. "No one needs to get hurt."
"Yes, so let's hand over that contraband on your back there, and we can be on our way." The guards are looking at each other anxiously.
"Yeah, that's not going to happen." Rykiri looks from guard to guard.
"Well, then we'll be escorting you out of town. On with it then, let's go." They gesture towards the door.
"All right then. Off we go," says Rykiri, walking past the guards through the door. They follow him through the door, and down the stairs. Rykiri reaches the door, and stops. "Would you put your swords away? Its rude to point."
"Get going, scum," says one of them, poking him with their sword.
"You shouldn't have done that," says Rykiri, turning around and reaching to disarm the guards with swords. In a blink, Rykiri is holding both swords.
"Hey! Get him!" the other guards shout as they move to tackle him. The guards holding Quin's weapons drop them, pulling their swords and attempting to subdue Rykiri, who is effortlessly dodging through them.
"So, I suppose I'll just take these," says Quin, collecting his weapons without notice from the other guards, "and take them to the guard shack myself." Quin strides to the door with his weapons in his arms and walks out into the twilight.
The streets are sprawling with patrols of town guards, one of whom approach Quin. "What're you doing with those weapons, citizen?" The lead guard's hand moves to the hilt of his sword.
"I'm on my way to the guard shack, to turn them in; you know, there's a disturbance in the tavern that may need your expertise," says Quin, as the sounds of a struggle are heard from the tavern, and the guards run off to investigate.
Inside the tavern, Rykiri manages to dodge the four guards accosting him, but, making it to the door, he throws it open and is met with another patrol of four guards, who all reach out to try to grab him. Giles has made his way to the top of the stairs and is watching. Each guard in turn fails to grab him, until the last guard manages to grab Rykiri's ankle and bring him down.
At the guard shack, Quin enters and approaches a small table, where there is seated a young man with a book in front of him. "Contraband forfeiture?" he asks, clearly uninterested in the interaction.
"Yes, and will I be receiving a receipt of some sort?" Quin questions.
"Of course, that's what the book is for." The functionary begins taking notes on a page with his name and the items received, and, after taking them behind a door, he reappears seconds later. "Here you are," he says, ripping a page out and handing it to Quin. "Are you sure you don't want to join the town guard?"
"Oh, no, no, I'm enjoying making maps. Oh, however, you may want to check in to the disturbance at the tavern, apparently there is someone resisting arrest?"
"Well, that's easily handled," says the functionary, reaching behind him and ringing a bell. Suddenly, two more guards come from behind the door, with swords drawn. "The tavern," says the functionary, without looking up.
"Come, I'll show you," says Quin, leading the way back to the tavern.
Rykiri manages to get his feet under him again, and dashes for the door again, making it out in time to see Quin crossing the street with two more guards, who bolt at him. Rykiri turns and scales the wall of the temple, standing atop it. The guards on the ground all begin shouting, attracting the attention of all the guards on patrol duty, some 20 or more.
Cranwell has climbed from the window, to the roof of the tavern, and is laying flat in an attempt to hide. Rykiri throws the swords down to the ground, and runs across the roof to the tavern's, then off and out of town. The gathered guards threaten and shout, telling him to not come back.
The tumult having died back down, Quin, Giles, and Miguel bed down for the rest of the night. Quin and Miguel are visited by a disturbing nightmare, where they fall down a silo shaped dungeon, a tower raised in the middle of the tube. Before hitting the ground at the bottom, a visage of a gaunt, near skeletal face rises, opening its maw to engulf the falling hero. They wake with a start.
The heroes awaken to find Klaus in the room, cleaning under her nails with a dagger. Quin and Miguel remark on the odd similarity in their dreams, and the team moves to the tavern area, Miguel hiding his rapier in his lute case before leaving the room. While eating breakfast, Klaus shares some information she uncovered as she explored the town the previous day. She then decides to go and join the town guard.
Her only weapons being easily concealed, she does so and heads to the guard shack across the street. Already can be seen work being done on the wall around town and a main guard shack. She walks in the guard shack door and greets the functionary at the desk.
"Hi! I'd like to join the guard." Klaus smiles, leaning on the desk and staring deep in to his eyes. "This is the place, right?"
"Uh, yeah, it is," he says, momentarily lost, then regaining himself. He looks for, then finds a large book and opens to a blank page. "Your name?" He finds a quil, dipping it in ink.
Klaus gives her name and asks when she can get started. Impressed with her eagerness, and after scribing the date and her name into the book, he pounds on the door behind him. "Raster! Got a new recruit, rarin' to go! She'll be on your morning patrol, then!" And, turning back to address Klaus, says, "Raster will equip you and give you the run down of the job, pretty simple, though; we're town guard, we guard the town. Ah, here's Raster."
A fierce looking man comes through the door, holding it open. "Well, come on, then, patrol starts in five minutes, gotta get you geared up, come on, come on," he gestures impatiently. Klaus flashes a smile at the desk guard and follows Raster.
Behind the door is a hall that leads to a forge, and behind that, barracks. The forge area acts as a cramped staging area, where guards bump into each other trying to put on armor and strap on swords. A small wonder why a bigger main building is being built, the influx of town guard recruits begs the necessity. "So here's your guard armor and a short sword. First day we're going for patrol, I'll explain everything you need to know out there, on patrol," Raster reaches through a throng of people to grab two more guards. "We'll meet you out front, get your armor on and strap your sword."
Klaus does so, and worms her way out to the front door. She isn't outside for a full minute before three more guards head out and meet her. "All right, we're your patrol for today," he says, and, seeing her initial intent to object, he holds up a hand, "and everyone starts as patrol. I'm sure you're an accomplished adventurer, but it's my job to see what you can do and where to send you after this. So, without further ado, let us begin." He begins walking up the road, and the other two follow suit. Klaus follows behind, and listens to her patrol leader as he tells her things like patrol schedules and duties while on shift. Nothing that she hadn't found out herself, but since martial law is in effect, town guards are technically always on shift. At any time, a guard can be called from off-duty, but typically guards are expected to patrol the town and the homesteads for about four hours a day. As they leave the town to head for the homesteads, Klaus notices Giles, Miguel, and Quin heading out of town to the east. Raster continues to talk about benefits of being a town guard during martial law, "...like, when you're out patrolling, or otherwise performing town guard duties, and you get hungry or thirsty. Knock on one of the doors of one of the farmhouses you're guarding, this new martial law makes them have to feed us, and if it gets dark, give us a room; hey, the Knight-Commander did pretty good, huh? Martial law ain't so bad after all, I guess..." and he goes on to explain that this extends to the vendors in town, but anything of use that was sold in the bazaar has been commandeered by the town guard. "Old Walkman wants to start calling us the town militia, and going out in force to expand the town. North, east, he tires living in the shadow of this dark forest that surrounds this town, and the game has been scarce lately..." Raster's mouth doesn't stop as they patrol the homesteads, explaining that town guards get a free meal at the tavern in the performance of their duties, but that's been a thing since the Knight-Commander was voted onto the council and placed in charge of the town guard. "Yeah, he insisted on the title. Said he was part of an order of Knights that has existed since before the Imperium, but I've never heard of them. Well, anyways, I guess he convinced enough people-- or the right people, if you get my meaning, --and so that's his title. He wants to expand big enough to actually start knighting us, I think, but I don't know how far he'll get. We've been here come fifteen years, but things are starting to happen fast, so maybe we'll see." The whole trip takes about four hours, and it is mid morning when they return to the town.
Quin stops and retrieves his weapons with no issue from the guard shack, before leaving by the east road. Following along the road, the trio travels for about an hour before they come to the end of the road, noted only by the stop of the paving job. At the end of the road are scattered tools, hammers and shovels for paving the road and about 50 feet away, machetes and axes, for clearing forest. The area is surrounded on three sides by thick, bosky wood. As it looks, these tools were just dropped or abandoned, haphazardly, presumably mid-work.
After Quin picks up a machete, shovel, and hammer, and Miguel picks up an axe and machete, the team heads back to town. Turning in their found items to the guard, they return to the tavern. Just before the sun reaches its peak, around midmorning, Klaus enters the tavern in town guard's leather armor. She sits down at the table with Giles, Quin, and Miguel, and they swap information over mugs of ale.
Klaus decides it best to seek the templars that investigated the house that burned down, to see what insight could be gained. At the temple, morning service is just letting out, patrons spilling into the streets. Klaus approaches the templars guarding the curtain at the back, addressing them coolly, "Hey, I'm part of the town guard, do you have any information about the farmhouse that burned down the other day? I know you guys sent some templars out to investigate, are they back yet?"
The two templars exchange looks and one responds gruffly, "Any information we may or may not have obtained will have been given to your superiors." He then looks forward, indicating the exchange finished.
"All right, I'm done with this town," says Klaus, turning away and walking out. The group follows. "I wanna head to the bazaar, gear up, get everything we can and get out of this miserable gods-forsaken town. I wanna take a look at that worksite to the east, see if we can't find anything there." Miguel and Giles agree, and Quin leads the way to the bazaar.
The bazaar is a motley buffet of mediocrity, with naught but shoddily put together tool kits. Approaching one of the vendors, Miguel flashes a charismatic smile. "Hello there, my good man. I am called Pylas, an entertainer of some renown, surely you've heard me playing at the local tavern?"
"I am called Gugo. Yes, I recall hearing you play quite expertly the past few nights, I do believe, with the quartet." The vendor replies with a sly smile. He rubs his hands together.
Honeying his words with charm and flattery, Miguel negotiates a discount on Gugo's over-priced wares. The discount works out to about typical market price. When Klaus asks about any herbs or anything other than the shoddy merchandise on display, Gugo looks confused. "The town guard has confiscated most of our wares, anything you should have need of you can get through your quartermaster, I'm sure."
"That's true, isn't it?" Laughing, Klaus makes for the guard shack.
Miguel buys an artisan's tool kit and an extra healer's kit, and Klaus fills up on healing herbs at the guard shack. Before he leaves, Miguel looks around surreptitiously. He leans in close to Gugo, and asks, "Hey, uh, do you... spice?"
Gugo looks around similarly, seemingly looking for unwanted eyes or ears. "Oh, yeah man, you holding?" He tries in vain to hide his look of excitement.
Miguel's disappointment shows visibly. "No, I was hoping you had some."
"No, but I hear that you can find some herb growing quite abundantly in the dark wood that surrounds the town; I'm sure you understand the peril in someone like me going out there, but you could, I'm sure, I'm sure... I would pay you top coin if you could retrieve some for me as well." Gugo's eyes are glittering, craving the chance to taste this vice once again.
Miguel's eyes become saucers. "Indeed, have no fear Gugo, I will obtain this herb and return!"
When Klaus reaches the guard shack, she is met with a bustle of activity. Much is being prepared in expectation of moving to the new main guard building. She finds her way to the quartermaster, where there is a man looking over a clipboard, presumably the quartermaster. Klaus approaches, asking about what she is allowed to take on assignment.
"Oh! Well, I see you have your armor, and they gave you a sword, have you got rations? You shouldn't need too many, unless you go on assignment, um, is your healer's kit full?" He struggles to maintain eye contact, Klaus has buckled her armor so her cleavage is distracting.
"Well, a few rations couldn't hurt, and a full healer's kit is always a good thing, right?" Klaus puts a hand on the wall, causing the man to turn and begin looking in the storage bin.
"Uh! Well, there's not very many rations, we'll have to resupply those, but I can get you some salves and herbs here, here you go, that should do it!" He turns and hands the pouches to Klaus, his eyes staring at the floor.
"That should do it!" Klaus says cheerily as she stocks her kit and slips back to the tavern, where she meets the rest of the group.
It is then decided that it will be best to make a trip to the worksite in the morning. Drinking in the tavern, Quin begins chatting up the bartender, who, it turns out, was one of the original settlers of Forestwall.
"Yeah, I remember when we first got out here, there was nothing. Nothing but the forest. Thick, dark woods they are. When we left Rockledge, we headed east until we got to the edge of the forest. It was several miles closer, then. Well, the light looking like it was, we decided to camp there. The next morning I awoke to sounds of felling trees. That night we had a temple. Turns out there was a small order of priests and templars that came, and a temple was their first order of business. Only, it seems now, come to think on it... Well, I liked the idea and rallied the people the next day to build what we're standing in. I was gonna use it as a headquarters for an adventuring company, but those dreams evaporated like morning dew... After we had built the rest of the town (the guard shacks are the newest addition) over the course of the next few months, with the help of new additions every week, we started trying to venture farther into the wood, clearing it to expand the town. Then people started dying. The adventurers that come to town every week, some of them go out to try to bring back the missing... they don't come back either. Sometimes I like to think that they found something better, and decided to abandon us; better than thinking them dead, I suppose. And now there's terribleness in the homesteads, and they sent some detachment of town guards headed north, past the homesteads, into the mountains. Supposed to be the best of the town guards, best trained... they've supposedly been training in secret for weeks for this. Well, they're due to return tomorrow, so we'll see." He looks grim, as he remembers all the death he's seen over the last fifteen years.
Before turning in, Miguel saunters to the bar, looking around suspiciously. "Hey, barkeep. Do you, uh... you spice?"
The bartender's blank look is all the answer Miguel needs. "Spice? Like, salt, or pepper? As much as I can, you know, I use what I have available, why do you ask?"
"Yeah, no, never mind, have a good night," Miguel turns away with a wry smile, and the four call it a night.
In the morning, the party sets off east, reaching the abandoned work site within about an hour. After a cursory investigation, Klaus finds tracks into the woods. The group decides to follow them. Along the way, Miguel and Klaus look around for some "special herbs". Sure enough, it seems to grow abundantly in the dark part of the woods, and they gather a large pouchful. Klaus loses track about an hour or so into the woods, but picks it up again and follows the trail to a small natural clearing another hour to the northeast, where another investigation shows that a camp was made here within the past few weeks, and an effort seems to have been made to not disturb the surrounding nature. No tracks leave the clearing.
Suddenly, rustling is heard in the bushes. Quin draws his bow and Miguel draws his rapier, both heroes scanning the treeline. Several arrow points protrude from the dark bosky wood on all sides, pointing inwards. These arrows are nocked into bows held by elves, about twelve of them, surrounding the heroes. Another walks out of the woods, eyes locked onto Klaus. He speaks in the Elven tongue, so only Klaus understands him. They speak back and forth rather heatedly at first, but Klaus gestures to her comapanions to lower their weapons, and the conversation seems to lighten as they do. Elven is a lyrical, flowing language, and Miguel has picked up a few phrases here and there.
At a break in the conversation, Klaus turns to the other three. "I'm going to go talk to him alone. Stay here, don't cause any trouble, I'll be back. If not, just leave the forest back the way we came in. Follow Quin's marks." And with that, she turns and follows the leader of the elves into the wood. Miguel retrieves his lute and begins to play a calming ballad. This seems to lift slightly the tense mood amongst the elves, who, not lowering their weapons, visibly seem calmer. After about ten minutes, Klaus returns gesturing to her party for an exit. "Let's get out of here. Now," she rushes, without a look back. The elves part slightly, allowing the group past and into the woods, back the way they had come.
Miguel, unable to help himself, asks an elf as he passes in broken Elven, "Do you spice?" Unfortunately, this particular phrase does not translate wholly into elven. What Miguel obviously meant was, "Do you partake in the recreational use of mood enhancing herbs?" but what he asked in elven, roughly translated to the Common tongue, is "Do you get enough spice in your diet?"
To which the elf responds awkwardly, "The spice we eat is sufficient."
Klaus, overhearing this exchange, chuckles and tells Miguel the phrase in Elven he should have said.
On their way out of the forest, Miguel does fill another large pouchful of herb, while the entire party feels the forest watch them...
Cranwell has grown tired of the roof. Sure, none of the guards have bothered him, but there's no food. He's seen the increase in guard patrols, and how quickly they built the main guard shack. They're already finishing the second stage of the wall around town, now it's just a five foot tall fence, but soon it'll be a fifteen foot tall wall.
Wolfgang, a bounty hunter from the Lower District, emerges from the tavern, stretching. He notices a commotion at the west entrance of town, and sees a man standing on the top of the fence, taunting guards. The man is cartwheeling, flipping, and sommersaulting along the fence, all seemingly effortlessly. Wolfgang decides this isn't conducive to a lawful society, and loads a rock in his sling, intending to knock the man down. The rock slings harmlessly by and the man turns. "You almost got me with that one! Try again!" He shouts as he twirls and flips along the southern fence. The bounty hunter slings another rock, and the acrobat on the fence actively dodges, continuing along the fence and whooping. Finally he reaches the east entrance, and vaults off of the fence, outside of town.
Cranwell recognizes the man as Rykiri, and, seeing his opportunity, runs and bounds from rooftop to rooftop and jumps off, landing on the outside of the fence, next to Rykiri.
The guards have gathered at the entrance, all shouting and yelling, warning him not to set foot in town. But Wolfgang also exits town, and stands face to face with Rykiri.
"Hey, that was fun, good show," snickers Rykiri, offering his fist for a bump.
Wolfgang pulls his manacles and tries to put them on the nimble acrobat, who pulls his hand free. Wolfgang, unhindered, makes to grab Rykiri, who dodges back. Cranwell, not appreciating the treatment of his friend tackles Wolfgang and slams him to the ground. Rykiri watches as Wolfgang stands.
"All right, you're up, ready for more?" Rykiri chastises Cranwell, telling him to butt out.
"Hmm. Well, you didn't attack me while I was on the ground, so I guess you're alright." Wolfgang puts away his manacles.
"Aww... I guess I'm not looking for a fight, either." Rykiri, visibly disappointed, looks at Cranwell. "Have you seen the rest of our group?"
"They headed that way," Cranwell points east, towards the forest.
"I can help you track them, if you need," offers Wolfgang.
"Sounds great, let's go," Rykiri turns cheerfully, as they follow the road east.
After an hour of travel, they reach the abandoned work site. Wolfgang determines through investigation about the workers and their tools. He finds a set of tracks leading into the woods, right where Rykiri has found a mark on the tree pointing inwards.
"I think we found your friends," says Wolfgang, determining that the mark was made recently.
They follow the marks in, but roughly half an hour into their travel, they meet up with the other half of the party on their way out.
"Oh, good, now we can start the party. Let's GO!" Klaus shouts something in elven as she turns the newcomers around and all but pushes them back out. Once outside, she explains the haste. "That was a tribe of elves that lives in that forest. Very territorial. Fifteen years ago they killed the humans that came clearing trees for building materials, and since then they pretty much kill any non-elf that comes into the forest. They didn't trust me at first, said I was wearing the human's clothes... anyways. And, since the game has been so scarce lately, they're really holding to their guns. Apparently, something bad is happening in the northern part of the forest, I think it's due north of Forestwall, and they think that's what's causing the game shortage. But I'm kinda interested in checking that out ourselves."
"We should take this information back," quips Quin. "That'll keep parties from being sent out here to die."
"But I'm not allowed in town!" complains Rykiri.
"You can hang out outside the gate. We won't be long anyways," Klaus smiles, "we'll be headed north. So hey, all this gear adrift... looks like a gift!"
Cranwell picks up a shovel. Suddenly he remembers the candlestick that was broken in the lift mechanism back at the farmhouse. He must have verbally commented about it, because Miguel grabs a loose branch and hands it to Wolfgang. "Can you make a candlestick out of this?" He asks, a sly smile on his lips.
"Uh, sure enough," Wolfgang replies, incredulous. A little bit of whittling with his artisan's kit produces a passable candlestick. Miguel then gifts it to Cranwell, telling him he never has to be without a candlestick again.
"Huh? Oh, b-blessings be to Lumiere..." murmurs Cranwell, entranced. Apparently, the orc has found religion in the candlestick. The demigod Lumiere was a warrior of light who served the Cursed Beast Prince. When the curse was broken, Lumiere left and travelled the world bringing the light of Semil to many. Semil eventually chose him as a paragon, elevating Lumiere to that of demigod.
The group returns to the town, and Rykiri hangs back. "I'll be right here, you know, waiting," he says.
Miguel and Wolfgang conspire together with Quin to try to get Rykiri back into good standing with the guard. As they approach the gate, two guards stop them. "Hold there! You're the first party to come back from this road! What news bring you?"
Quin speaks up. "We have information that needs to be brought to the Knight-Commander himself. We know why we're the only ones to return."
"To the Knight-Commander, you say?" asks one of the guards. "Of course, the Knight-Commander would welcome the first party to return from the East."
"Yeah, and also, what can we do to get our friend there back in to town?" Miguel jerks his thumb at Rykiri, who is meandering towards the fence, at the corner from the gate.
"Oh, yeah, no way, he's a troublemaker, we have standing orders to detain him if he's in town, but otherwise not to let him return," says the guard, his smile turning quickly to a stern frown.
"Well, what if he's manacled? We can appeal to the Knight-Commander directly if we need to..." Wolfgang takes his manacles out and swings them pointedly.
"Oh, well, I suppose that's different, then... Manacled, you say? We'll still have to confiscate his weapon," starts the guard.
"Of course, not a problem," says Miguel, "I'll be right back."
Quin, and Miguel approach Rykiri. "Hey, buddy," says Miguel. "You wanna go see the Knight-Commander? We might be able to appeal your presence in town."
"But you gotta wear those," points Quin, indicating the manacles in Miguel's hands. Quin has positioned himself to the side and behind Rykiri, waiting for a signal from the singer.
"Um, ok, I guess..." Rykiri doesn't seem totally convinced, but allows Miguel to slip on the cuffs. Once the manacles click closed, Miguel nods.
"We also need to take this," says Quin, as he removes the glaive almost effortlessly from Rykiri's back.
"Oh, what?!" Rykiri begins to protest as the weapon is taken to a guard, but as the rest of the party disarms themselves and forfeits their weapons, his anger subsides, and he allows himself to be lead to the main guard shack.
Klaus takes the lead once they reach the guard shack, informing the functionary at the desk that they are here to report some information directly to the Knight-Commander. "And him?" Indicating Rykiri, bound and looking sullen, the guardsmen's eyes look between him and Klaus, waiting for an answer.
"He is to be brought before the Knight-Commander for an appeal," informs Klaus, almost bored. Her sense of superiority is palpable when she asks, "Any other questions?"
The guard behind the desk palls. "Uh, no, actually, wait here please." He stands, and closes a door behind him. Five minutes later, he returns through the same door. "The Knight-Commander will see you now."
The party walks through the door held open by the guard, and are met with an office roughly half the size of the temple sanctuary, but quite spartan. In the middle of the room stands a desk, behind which is a chair, and in it is seated Knight-Commander Walkman. He looks the same as he does at the town hall meetings, except today he is visibly busy.
"I hear you have some information for me. The quality of the information will determine our conversation about this troublemaker you have bound here." His voice booms across the room, not even looking up from the papers he is reading.
"Good luck," says the functionary guard, closing the door lightly. At this, Walkman looks up.
"Well?" he asks, impatiently.
"Yes, well," Quin clears his throat, and begins telling him what was found at the work site to the east, and what happened when they went in to the forest.
"Elves?!" shouts Walkman. "Those savages, I knew it. We'll set them right, don't you worry about that. And a 'dark power' in the north? I sent a squad of my best guards out there to check it out. I expect them back some time today, so I'll have more information about that, and-" He seems to ramble on, until he notices the party still standing there. "Yes, yes, this is valuable information indeed. Now, what am I to make of this troublemaker here?"
"Well, he did embarass a large number of your guards the other day, perhaps they need better training?" Giles offers his opinion.
"None of these farmers that were conscripted in the last few days have really much training, we haven't really had the time. Normally, I do the training myself, but so much has been happening so fast... What, are you suggesting that this man trains my men? Let's see what he's got then."
He walks up to the shackled monk, while Wolfgang unlocks and removes the manacles. Wolfgang steps away as Walkman shoves Rykiri. Pivoting on his heel, he dodges with some effort. Not missing a beat, Walkman spins into a backhand, that Rykiri also narrowly dodges.
"Aha, promising," says Walkman, drawing his sword. "Now let's see how you handle this!" He brings the flat of the blade up in a sweeping strike. Again, with some effort, Rykiri dodges out of the way.
Landing and shifting his position, Rykiri strikes back at his opponent, striking him solidly in the chest. Another strike forces Walkman to take a step back. Walkman, satisfied, lowers his sword.
"You think you can teach that kind of movement to my men?" Asks Walkman, sheathing his sword.
"I doubt your men are disciplined enough," responds Rykiri, stretching his shoulder idly. "But I can try."
The Knight-Commander booms a laugh. "Haha! Well, anything you teach them will be an improvement. We'll start in the morning. You're part of the town guard, now! Lassiter out there will get you taken care of, logistically speaking. You're in charge of him," he points to Klaus. "Anything he does is your problem. Congrats on the promotion. Now get out, all of you."
He turns and sits behind the desk, as the party takes their leave. Lassiter, as the functionary outside is named, meets the party with a new set of leather armor for Klaus, with her new rank on the collar. One horizontal slash, scratched into the leather. She quickly changes, and hands Rykiri the old armor, who removes the badge from it, pinning it to the front of his tunic. "I don't wear armor," he shrugs.
Lassiter returns the glaive to Rykiri, who straps it on his back again.
Miguel leans in to speak something in Rykiri's ear. "Hey, teach 'em good, but not, you know, TOO good." He then stands up straight, bows and takes his leave, informing the group that "I'll be at the tavern, I think I'll play some more with 'the Supremes'!" Giles follows behind, leaving Cranwell, Rykiri, Wolfgang, Quin and Klaus. The female elf bows out as well, telling Rykiri, "I'll see you in the morning."
After Klaus leaves, it is decided to return to the tavern and to explore what's north of town the next day. All but Rykiri, who heads to the guards barracks, file back to the tavern. Quin and Wolfgang begin working on a weapon that will make catching people easier, however the work is complex and requires patience. They work until the sun goes down, producing a set of small gears and hinges for the weapon to utilize. Cranwell notices that the quest board has been taken down. Now nothing blocks the view from the front door of the tavern in to the sitting area. The party calls it a night.
Quin is visited by a dream that, while abstract and detail-light, instills him with confidence that they're headed the right direction.
Early in the morning, Rykiri is awoken by some guards returning from shift. "Hey, early morning training is starting outside, they're waiting for you."
Rykiri spends his morning training the guards in grappling.
While the monk is away, Cranwell and Quin head just outside of town, so the beastkin can assist in preparing the herbs that Cranwell gathered the other day. While they are out, they see another wood elf, not dressed like the native elves, in the distance, seemingly watching them.
"How'd you like to live for the first time?!" Cranwell calls to him.
The elf responds by nocking an arrow. "What do you mean 'live'?"
"Oh, please forgive and ignore him," shouts Quin, attempting as usual to dissolve the violence. "He speaks rather crassly."
Quin continues his work and the elf continues watching, until Quin has finished his work, condensing slightly from five large pouches to three. Afterwards, they head back in to town.
While Quin and Cranwell are on their field trip, Wolfgang continues working on his weapon, this time working to bore out the center of his quarterstaff. He finishes his work as Quin and Cranwell walk in, followed shortly by Rykiri.
"Well, off we go, right?" asks Quin, seeing those assembled.
"I think I'll stay here to continue working, I'm almost done," says Wolfgang, indicating the makeshift workshop in front of him. "You're just going to get some information, right? You should be fine without me."
"Sounds like a plan, we'll be back!" says Rykiri, already walking out the door.
Quin and Cranwell follow him. They travel north after retrieving their arms from the guards, spending about two hours walking through the farmsteads, to the edge of the forest. Here, a quick investigation from Quin reveals recent tracks, heading in to the forest.
"Hey, uh, that elf from yesterday is following us," Cranwell informs the other two.
He's right. Trying to remain hidden and out of sight, the elf follows at a distance.
"And?" asks Rykiri, running in to the forest.
"What the-- wait!" Quin ascertains the path the tracks take, and begins to follow them, into the forest. Cranwell follows. The elf comes over, easily following the party into the forest. Cranwell's investigation of the area informs him that he is, indeed, in a forest. Quin struggles to keep the party from getting separated for about an hour before having to find the tracks again. Despite the distractions from Cranwell and Rykiri arguing over which of their perspectives of the forest is more 'the forest', Quin manages to regain the tracks, following them for another hour, until they end.
The tracks end at the edge of a circular field of ash. The forest seems to fall away immediately to a barren clearing of ash and debris, surrounding what looks like a cave opening into the mountains. The ground slopes up sharply towards the mountain. Quin makes sure to mark this location on his map.
Among the debris are what look like old, rusted weapons. Cranwell walks in to grab one and inspect it. Rumbling from under the ground is revealed to be a skeletal hand, reaching out and grabbing for Cranwell. Rykiri, seeing this, runs in to help, and is himself attacked. The skeletons climb their way out of the ground and begin to attack, shattering from the attacks dealt by Rykiri and Cranwell. The elf jumps in to help, as two more skeletons appear, and a third attacks from below.
Quin, panicking, shouts at them to come back. After they've returned to the forest, the skeletons fall apart into inanimate bones.
Taking a shovel, the elf digs some of the top ash away, revealing dirt about a foot and a half down. The hole is inside the field, and the elf sticks his arm into the hole, attempting to trigger a skeleton attack, to no avail.
"What now?" asks Cranwell, idly.
"We should head back to town," offers Quin.
"What the hell is going on here?" asks the elf stranger. "Try to chop down that tree, see if we can bridge it."
"He's gotta go out and get attacked by the skeletons to do that," cautions Quin. "Perhaps it'd be best if we--"
"Alright, I'm going," interjects Cranwell, already hefting an axe to his shoulder. "Kill whatever attacks me, yeah?" Cranwell glances at Rykiri, already unstrapping his glaive.
Cranwell stands on the skeleton-field-side of a tall oak. Instantly, a skeletal hand reaches up to grab at him. The arm is shattered by Rykiri's glaive thrust, expertly timed. Cranwell begins swinging at the tree, somewhat awkwardly as the axe is not sized for his bulk. Every skeleton that begins to rise and attack the monstrous humanoid is struck down from a glaive thrust delivered by the monk from the mountains. Eventually, Cranwell is able to jump to the safe side of the tree, and together with Quin and Rykiri and their temporary elf companion, they are able to push the tree over, making a semi bridge into the field, ending about twenty feet in.
The elf hops on top of the fallen tree nimbly, and takes a few steps into the ashen wasteland. Immediately, a skeletal hand reaches out and grabs the tree, using it as leverage to climb out further, clawing it's way to the horrified elf, who hops back and off the log as nimbly as he ascended, saying, "This is odd, indeed."
Just then, the sun slips below the horizon of the west, having been hidden behind treeling for almost an hour. As it does, a humanoid dressed in what looks like dirty rags steps out of the cave. Accompanying the figure is some beast resembling a large cat, like a jaguar, leopard, or panther, that lets out an unearthly howl that raises the hairs of everyone in the party once it makes contact with the dusk air. Almost in sync with this roar, the humanoid stretches, throwing fire from their outstretched hands.
"I do believe that it is time to go, yes?" tries Quin, panick evident in his voice.
The rest of the group agrees, fleeing back into the forest the way they had come, cackling laughter echoing in the distance. They don't stop until they reach Forestwall, panting and out of breath. It is well after dark, and the night guard patrols are out in force. One such patrol approaches them as they come through the gate.
"We need to speak with the Knight-Commander," starts Quin. "We have important information to report."
"I think he's expecting you," says the lead guard. "I'll take you there myself."
After being led to the main guard shack and depositing their weapons, Quin and Cranwell are ushered into the Knight-Commander's office. At his desk, Walkman is closing books and putting away papers. He stops and stares imploringly at the avian as the door is shut behind him and Cranwell. "You're back alive from your expedition, what information do you bring?" Knight-Commander Walkman looks from Quin to the orc, his expression one of horror.
Quin tells the Knight-Commander of the barren waste at the base of the mountains to the north, a blighted stain upon the earth at the center of which was a cave. Quin takes out his map that he's been working on to show him. "Anyone that enters the area gets attacked by a skeleton that seems to climb from the ground."
"A skeleton?! There's a necromancer in that cave! It really IS a cult, isn't it?" Walkman stares in disbelief.
"Yes," says Quin. "No matter what, it seems as long as there is a living creature in the field, skeletons will continue to attack. They're fairly weak, however, they fall with one blow."
"That's good to hear," smiles Walkman, an eerie, glory-hungry smile. "Still, we'll need the support of the temple if we're to go about slaying undead and their necromantic master. I'll go to the elder in the morning. We shall put together a force to stamp out this threat, once and for all!
You have done well to bring me this information," he continues. "Come see me tomorrow after our morning training, we will set out for this necromancing cult cave, and we will end them for all time."
"We will do that indeed, Knight-Commander." Quin says, stowing his map. The two heroes turn to leave, and walk out the door and into the night. Quin looks around, suddenly wondering where the elf stranger has disappeared to. He realizes he must have lost sight of him around the farms, what with the panicked running.
Meanwhile, Miguel has seduced a town guard and a girl from the tavern on her way home, and they are cavorting in their room, with Giles and Wolfgang hiding in the closet. After the coital activities, Miguel leaves the other two participants passed out on the bed. Giles and Wolfgang then descend from the closet, murder in their eyes. Killing the two sleeping victims is easy, and Giles begins experimenting on the bodies, carving necromantic runes into the flesh. After a while, Giles realizes that they won't be alone for long, realizing his need to dispose of these bodies. Stripping them naked and tossing the clothes out the window into the alley behind the temple, Wolfgang picks a lock on the room down the hall. Luckily, no one is in there and that's where the bodies are stashed.
Quin arrives shortly after with Cranwell, and the four sleep.
In the night, Cranwell, Rykiri, Quin, and the elf stranger are all visited by dreams of a witch clad in dirty rags, cackling wildly, streams of fire spewing from her hands. Her face is gaunt and drawn, with deep dark circles under her wide, unblinking eyes. Everything in sight is on fire, and the flames are taller than she is.
Cranwell is unable to rest as a result, and wakes up fatigued. The elf, known only to a few as Fawn, is fatigued as well, having had his trance interrupted. Staying in a barn at a farmhouse in exchange for working as a farmhand, Fawn simply trances again until the mid-morning.
Fawn leaves a message with his host, to be delivered to an avian that is heading north, of his destination, also north. He awaits the party at the edge of the skeletal ash field.
Rykiri wakes up in the morning, refreshed but wary of his dreams of this fiery death witch. He resolves to train the guards in teamwork, so as to overcome this terror.
Miguel awakens, setting aside a bag of the herb that he gathered from the forest. He and Giles head to the bazaar, meeting Gugo in front of his stand. "Good morrow, Gugo, I've brought a bag of spice, as agreed."
Gugo smiles, as he rummages around and finally produces a bag of gold. "Thirty gold pieces sounds fair, yes?"
Miguel chuckles. "This was indeed treacherous to attain, you can't give me 40?" He honeys his words with some magic, while Giles afflicts him with a minor curse, sapping his judgement.
"You're right, forty gold would be more fair," says Gugo, dropping more gold in the bag, and setting it in front of the performer known as Pylas.
"Right on," says the singer, dropping the bag of herb on the stand and snatching up the bag of gold. Heading back to the tavern with a triumphant smile, he takes ten gold and gives it to Giles. "For your efforts," he grins.
They walk in to the tavern, where Quin has been brewing a tea with the herb. He has also added ale in with it, in hopes of combining the effects. Quin is pouring a mug for Cranwell as they walk in.
"What do you have there, Quin, it smells familiar?" Still chuckling from his pursuits with the bazaar trader, Miguel taps the table, indicating his desire for a mug of the "tea" Quin has brewed. Cranwell enjoys the brew, becoming slightly inebriated for an hour, but alleviating his fatigue. Miguel drinks his down, feeling the effects, and Dweeda even has a few swigs. The group enjoy a little downtime while they await Rykiri, with Miguel and Dweeda heading outside to smoke some of his "spice herb".
Wolfgang begins working on his man-catching weapon again, attempting to assemble the claw mechanism. after about three hours of work, he is unable to complete this step.
Despite his resolve to teach teamwork, his inability to work with his own team impedes him, so his lessons come across unclear. Afterwards, Knight-Commander Walkman addresses the trainees and other guards assembled. "There is a cave to the north of the homesteads, at the base of the mountains. It seems there is evidence that the cult that has plagued our town is holed up there! They defend themselves with a field of undead. Well, I have already spoken to the temple and the elders there have promised to send a platoon of templars to aid us. We will build a force to root out this cult! Who's with me?!"
Around twenty to twenty-five men raise their hands and swords, shouting their eagerness.
Rykiri decides to go track down the rest of the party, to inform them of this development.
Quin is impatiently waiting to get going. As soon as Rykiri walks in, Quin rushes out the door for the guard shack to meet with the Knight-Commander, Cranwell, Miguel, Giles, and Wolfgang in tow. Rykiri announces he will go find the elf that met them in the forest.
Knight-Commander Walkman is speaking with two templars, seemingly discussing tactics for the assault. Quin approaches him, heedless of the templars, who make a quick exit to join six others in the yard, all staging and getting ready for the march.
"Quin, it's good you came, and it looks like you brought a sizeable party, what fortune! I met with the elders this morning, and it went well, as you can see," Walkman gestures to the templars assembled. "A platoon of templars will march with us north, and we will root out this evil. You and your companions have been there already, yes? Scout ahead of us, I'll send some men with you, and we'll meet up with you." He selects a few guards that are milling around, calling, "You, you, you... and uh, you! You'll be scouting ahead with them. Gear up!"
As they pass through the homesteads, Fawn's messenger reaches Quin, letting him know of Fawn's destination earlier this morning. Four hours later, the party, complete with the town guard attachment, make it to the edge of the field. Giles detects the residual necromantic magic animating the skeletons. He is able to tell that this is a powerful necromancy effect. Quin notices Fawn hiding amongst the brush of the forest, but says nothing.
Rykiri, meanwhile, has headed east, searching for the elf stranger that accompanied them yesterday. He makes it all the way to the abandoned worksite, and peeking into the forest, decides to run full speed all the way to the desecrated ash waste to the north of town. He is able to make it about the same time the rest of the Knight-Commander's forces do.
The main force of guards arrives after another hour, after it is determined that the fallen tree is no longer there, and it seems that the area has extended a little farther into the forest.
Knight-Commander Walkman arrives at the front, shouting orders. Once he sees Quin, he barks for a report. When Quin tells him what he and Giles found, Walkman orders the assault.
"I think we ought to wait, perhaps form a plan, or--" Quin begins to caution Walkman.
"The gods themselves smile upon us with the presence of the templars!" shouts the Knight-Commander. "Forward, men! Let us bring about the end of this undead cult menace!" And without another word, the men all charge in.
Quin and the party remain back, watching skeletons en masse rise from the ground and attack. Swords flash in the waning sunlight, dusk approaching like a predator. The sounds of metal clashing against bone echoes on the air. Soon, pained screams erupt from guards who begin to fall to the clutches of the animated dead. Some guards, terrified, turn to try to run but are likewise slain by the dead. The force has barely made it a half the way into the fray, and already close to two thirds of them have fallen already. Only the Knight-Commander, six templars, and around ten guards remain alive and fighting.
Quin and Fawn have their bows drawn, watching for signs of danger to the party. The expedition seems lost...
Cranwell decides that he can help, and runs towards the fray. After two steps, a skeletal arm seizes his leg. Quin effortlessly shatters the arm with a shot from his bow. Seeing the folly of his sudden bravery, Cranwell turns and runs full speed back into the forest and back the way they came, not looking back.
The fighting continues, as Miguel uses magic to amplify his voice and begins singing a song to bolster the guards. The effect seems to be a boon for a while, as the guards push forward a little farther without losing more men. But the effect wanes, as several guards more and a few templars fall to the skeleton's attacks. Watching the guards, it can be seen the ineffectiveness of slashing at skeletons with swords. The Templars' holy symbols seem to be somewhat effective, but the men are still being overwhelmed by skeletons.
It has come down to about four men left; one town guard fighting as hard as he can, two templars, each brandishing holy symbols and attacking with longswords, and the Knight-Commander, shouting encouragement to the men as he throws down undead minion after undead minion.
Just then, the sun slips below the horizon as night falls. A spine-tingling roar echoes from the cave and spreads through the air. A large, dessicated skeletal cat bounds out of the cave and pounces on one of the templars, biting at his head, and pushing him to the ground. The other templar, seeing this, turns his holy symbol on the beast, only to have it swatted away by one of the cat's giant paws.
The last living town guard moves to attack the beast, only to be fell upon from behind by a skeleton. The second templar is tackled to the ground by the beast, as the cackling witch saunters out of the cave, laughing maniacally. The Knight-Commander, seeing the beast and seeing the witch, pushes the skeleton he's fighting to the ground, and charges for the witch.
Her laughter reaches a fever pitch as she raises a hand towards the charging Knight-Commander. A stream of flame spews from her hand, incinerating the Knight-Commander and the two templars, seemingly engulfing the beast as well. Once the flames disperse, there is naught but charred bones where the men once stood. The beast is crunching on the face of a fallen templar.
"What just happened?" Rykiri asks, staring agape at the scene before them.
The beast sniffs the air, and begins bounding straight for where the party is behind the forest line, the witch following at a lacksadaisical pace. Quin and Fawn hide behind trees, out of sight. Miguel attempts to hide behind Quin, while Rykiri stands his ground. Giles and Wolfgang take several steps back, attempting to prepare.
Rykiri, at the last second, decides to climb a tree to stay out of reach of those skeletal, bloody claws.
The beast arrives, and begins sniffing around. Having no trouble finding Miguel, cowering behind the avian and not hidden very well, it pounces at him, only to be caught and pulled back by Rykiri's rope and grapple hook from the tree. His life flashing before his eyes and deciding he'd like to add to it, Miguel turns and runs away towards town.
Quin, knowing that Miguel was behind him and is now running, senses how close the beast is. He attempts to slip away quietly, but snaps a twig underfoot. The beast immediately turns towards him and attacks, getting yanked by Rykiri again, and catching two arrows in the shoulder from Fawn. Being skeletal, one arrow ricochets off and sticks in a tree, the other sinks into flesh that sloughs off.
The cat roars in annoyance, while a scream from the witch can be heard, too close for comfort, just inside the skeleton field. "My baby!!!" She screams, and holds her hands out in front of her. Fire pours from her hands into the trees of the forest, in the area where the party is taking refuge.
Rykiri jumps out of the tree, wrapping the rope around a branch and trying to use it as leverage to pull the beast into the air. The cat is stronger than his attempt, and remains sure footed. All the trees in the area are beginning to catch fire, and Rykiri realizes that he can either attempt to string up this beast or run and avoid the flames. He chooses the latter, as the rest of the party books it south, into the forest, cackling laughter and the sounds of burning trees following them through the night.
They don't stop running until they reach the other end of the forest, the homesteads in sight. Looking behind them, they see no one following them. Fawn heads to one of the homesteads that has been giving him shelter in exchange for farmhand work, to both warn them and seek refuge. The rest of the party heads to town.
In town, a guard patrol approaches the party. Quin, as usual, is all business. "The Knight-Commander is dead. We need to see the mayor."
"Wait, what did you say?" The patrol leader is taken aback. "Dead? He can't be..."
Miguel snaps his fingers in the guard's face "Hey! Focus! You need to gather the leadership, call an emergency town hall, things are bad!"
Snapping to, the guard nods. "Yes, of course. You two stay with them," he gestures to the party, then points to a third guard. "You go inform the temple what's happened, I'll go wake the mayor." The two run off to do as they were bid.
Within ten minutes, bells begin to ring, signalling an emergency meeting to be held at the town hall. People begin milling around, some even coming from the homesteads. Soon, everyone is gathered in the town hall.
At the head of the stage stands three elder priests and the mayor. The assembly sitting are all murmuring with rumor and speculation. The mayor holds his hands up for silence.
"It has come to our attention," begins the mayor, "that our esteemed Knight-Commander Walkman has been slain on the field of battle, and all those that went with him."
The people begin to panic. "What happened?!" one shouts. "What shall we do now?" asks another. "We're all going to die!" quivers another.
"Now, now, all is not lost," intones the mayor, a slight smile tempting at his lips. He gestures to the party, saying, "These brave heroes survived the battle, and can tell us all what happened. Please, come up here and tell us." He ushers them onto the stage with a wave.
Pylas stands and begins singing immediately, a well-crafted ballad about the Battle of the Dead North, as he walks up to the stage with Rykiri, Giles, and Wolfgang in tow. Rykiri, tired of the singing attempts to shush him, but Wolfgang grapples him and pulls him away so Pylas can finish his song.
After his song finishes, there is scattered applause, as he has become somewhat popular in town. After the meaning of his words sink in, the applause dissipates, and the people are left with a somber look.
The priests and mayor all begin bickering at this point about what to do, the mayor asking if more templars can be deployed, while the priests whine that the majority of the templars were sent to deal with the threat, and they are left with only a small force; what if the undead attack here?
Giles approaches the group of elders with a slight smile. "Would you like to see what they look like?" He flexes his fingers as they crack with magical energy.
Pylas begins singing again, attempting to keep the public calm and pacified, while Giles draws up an illusory figment in the likeness of the undead beast that attacked them. Quin and Rykiri each hold an end of a blanket to keep this image hidden from the populace.
"This is dark, indeed," says one of the elder priests. "This will require study and planning to defeat, of that you can be assured."
Dissipating the illusion, Giles next draws up the witch. She stands before the priests, menacing with silent laughter, as Quin drops his end of the blanket, revealing the visage to the crowd. Her skin is gaunt, with dark bags under her eyes. Sinew can be seen between her jaw bones leading to her pointed ears, and her face seems to be falling off the bones of her face. All of her skin, in fact, hang like curtains from the bones of her body. The rags she wears loosely cover this decrepit form, and her bare feet are black with dirt and other detritus.
Pylas attempts to regain control with his voice, but to no avail. The mayor notices and shouts for everyone to go home and lock their doors. He turns to the party on stage, and with the elders, impolores them to go and deal with this threat. The priests promise to bless them in the morning, and provide them with as much assistance as possible.
"You wouldn't happen to have a library in the temple, somewhere I can do some reading and research on this threat?" Giles asks. "You know, behind the curtain maybe, where the 'uninitiated' aren't allowed?"
The priests look at each other. "We don't have a library, per se, but we can provide some books for you. Come with me, and meet with us in the morning before you go for your quest."
So Giles follows the priests to the temple, Quin in tow. Rykiri goes to the barracks and begins training all night, going through his unarmed martial arts forms.
"This is a treatise on undead creatures, documented over a century ago by the Archbishop Melekar. It discusses properties and weaknesses, and conditions for creation, this may be useful," says a priest, handing him a thick tome. He produces another tome, with runes on it that Giles immediately recognizes. "And this is a simple textbook on Necromancy and it's effects, written by a lesser priest of Drana, by the name of Kumar. I hope it, too, is useful. Please return these as soon as possible, these are very old books."
"Of course," smiles Giles, taking the books gingerly, eagerly excited to begin reading.
"And we will see you tomorrow... the blessings of the gods come best in the morning, and all the priests will be there to bless you from the gods."
Heading back to the tavern, the party attempts to prepare for the events of tomorrow. Giles begins reading the treatise by Melekar, learning much about the properties of various undead creatures, specifically their strengths and weaknesses. Fascinated by the material, he reads all night, learning, among other things, that skeletal undead creatures are resistant to slashing and piercing damage.
Wolfgang, with Quin's assistance, is able to complete the final component of his man-catcher. All that is left is to assemble the pieces, which he decides to do tomorrow. The two of them go to sleep.
Miguel seduces Dweeda, who takes some convincing after the events of the night. She eventually succumbs, and the two both sleep and don't sleep the night away.
Fawn leaves the homestead and scouts towards the skeleton field. He notices that the scorched area has extended farther again, and deduces that this happens every time the party travels to this site. He decides to try to find the wood elf tribe that lives in the forest and seek information from them.
Miguel, Wolfgang, and Quin are visited by dreams of the fire witch, cackling and surrounded by fire.
Giles reads the treatise by Archbishop Melekar all night, the preface teaching him about the basic anatomy of undead creatures, and the general conditions for spawning, such as desecrated ground, or simply being slain by another undead. The treatise presents undeath as a disease of the soul, the cure for which is true death, for a soul cursed with this affliction cannot travel to his or her god's domain for eternal rest. All undead, the preface notes, are vulnerable to direct sunlight to varying degrees, and are evil by nature, therefore the divine power from gods of good is their bane. The first chapter presents skeletons and skeletal undead, along with their resistance to slashing and piercing weapons. The second chapter presents zombies as reanimated, unintelligent corpses. They are constantly rotting, and they will fall apart after a time. The third chapter begins to cover a higher order of undead, starting with ghouls that, though rare, replicate only via spreading their "ghoul fever". Contact with one is enough to contract the fever, and if left unchecked, kills its victim, who rises as a ghoul on the next sunset. Giles finishes this chapter, and notices the morning has come. He heads downstairs, meeting Miguel, Wolfgang, and Quin in the tavern. Giles is noticeably exhausted from his lack of sleep.
Rykiri trains through the night, preparing for the upcoming fight. Visions of the blight witch flash through his head as he moves through his forms. As the morning dawns, he ends his training, just in time to take charge of the milling town guard recruits, seemingly lost with the news of the death of the Knight-Commander, and drum them into a training session. Part way through, Cranwell comes in as a guest and the two heroes spar for the class. After the match, Cranwell leaves and joins the rest of the party journeying to the farmsteads.
Giles, having studied all night, Miguel, calling himself only Pylas the performer, Wolfgang the bounty hunter and Quin the cartographer travel to the temple to receive a blessing from the priest elders. The temple is especially packed this morning, being Gaia's holy day, and there is a priest giving sermon at the pulpit about the mother and her love for all. When the heroes enter, the priest quickly concludes, preferring to call the assembly to the front to assist praying for and blessing "the heroes that will go and save us from this cult of blight!"
Once they're all gathered, the elder priests come and put hands on the heroes, praying to Semil and Gaia for blessing; protection in the face of adversity, guidance when wayward and lost, and light to shine upon their journey. Afterwards, the elders gift the four with maces, blessed from the gods for their quest, and a few vials of holy water, equally blessed. They also note how they wished that Cassandra, another elder, could be here, and how odd it is that they haven't seen her or Merka for a few days. Normally they stay in the clergy rooms in the back, but have been unseen.
"Keep an eye out for them in your travels, could you?" asks one of the elders. "I'd hate to see anything happen to them," he finishes solemnly.
"Of course we can," smiles Giles. "The books have been quite helpful, but they do require more study. I expect to bring them back upon our safe return," says Giles, head full of new knowledge from the tomes.
"Yes, of course, I am glad they could be of use to you," murmurs one of the elders, extending a wrinkled hand and grasping Giles's shoulder. "We shall see you upon your return."
After receiving their blessing, the four heroes decide to head for the burned down farmstead of Jim and Jon Rosser, hoping to find a secret entrance to the cave. Miguel leaves his lute with the temple, asking that it be blessed before they leave. The elders tell him that it will take some time; but Miguel promises to return. Cranwell meets them on his way out of the guard barracks, fresh from a sparring bout with Rykiri. Quin requests ten shields to be brought after training concludes. They arrive to the farmstead around mid morning.
Giles detects that the necromancy effect that was once here still is, though diminished. Rykiri arrives with 10 shields from the guard's quartermaster, as the group experiments with the field, testing its effects. It is shown that the field is no longer strong enough to kill outright, but with prolonged exposure, death may still occur. Cranwell is given one of the maces from the temple, but is still affected, and is unconscious when Rykiri arrives later. After some more experimentation, it is decided to head for the cave, the only option seeming to be a frontal assault.
During the group's experimentation, Wolfgang completes the final step for recreating his lost man-catcher, an exotic polearm weapon that grips an extremity of a humanoid with a sort of barbed claw that makes escape more difficult. It also stores a retractable spike in the claw end that fires from a button trigger in the handle. His complex, time-consuming project to replace his lost weapon finally complete, he envisions entrapping the blight witch with his new acheivement, for which Hoar be praised.
Before leaving for the skeleton field, Miguel sits and prays to Eltonias Jonas, for a blessing in the coming fight. After finishing, a driving tune hums from his rapier, and can be heard by all. Pylas the performer sings along, the story of a man who leaves his wife behind on a trip to other worlds, and how long it will be before he's back.
Fawn's trance is interrupted, and to stave off the exhaustion he trances again, into the morning. He then heads west in search of the nomadic tribe of elves he heard about from Quin. His journey takes into the mid morning, finding no sign of any nomads. Deciding this trip to be fruitless, he makes his way back to the field, in time to meet the rest of the party as they arrive there.
The group having gathered at the ashen field, they prepare to attack the cave. Scanning the area of the field, Quin, Giles, and the elf known only as Fawn see about thirty feet ahead, a metal grappling hook, scorched black, is laying on top of the ash in the clearing. Fawn points out that is where Rykiri struggled with the undead beast last night.
Wolfgang twitches towards his man-catcher as he looks to Rykiri, expecting him to foolishly run after it. To his and the rest of the party's surprise, the monk and the orc Cranwell both are asleep, their backs up against a tree with their legs out. Their arms are crossed identically.
Quin, emboldened by the slightly buzzing mace in his hand and the blessing he received from the temple priests, speaks up, "Let's go and get it."
More surprised by this audacious outburst, Wolfgang stares at Quin. "Really?" He asks, searching the avian's face for some sign of jest.
"Seriously," chimes in Giles, detecting the perverse corruption left by the blighting of the land. "We just saw an entire platoon of town guards AND eight templars from the "holy" temple, the same one, by the way, that blessed us and we can assume they got blessed, too, AND their Knight-Commander, all of them, killed by these skeletons!"
"Maybe we should come back tomorrow?" offers Pylas, thinking of his lute.
"No, they went down in one hit," interjects Quin. "With two of us maybe, yeah, the rest of you stay back here, Wolfgang and I can see if we can make it to that hook."
"Quin is right." Wolfgang steps up. "We should do this now. We're already here. Let's go, Quin." he looks at Quin as he draws his blessed mace.
Quin hands him a shield, and Miguel, known only as Pylas, stands and reaches his hand out to Quin. "Hey, give me one of those shields. I'm going, too." He draws his mace, and pats his rapier, equipped on his hip and still humming a soft ballad.
Giles scoffs. "Pylas, the performer. Do you even know how to use one of those things?"
"Do you?" counters Miguel.
Giles shrugs. "Have fun."
Quin smiles, and hands Pylas the performer a shield.
Together, Quin, Wolfgang, and Pylas begin walking toward the grappling hook. Almost immediately, three sets of bony hands reach out from the ground and reach for the heroes. Wolfgang gets seized by the ankle, while Quin and Miguel step nimbly aside.
Miguel's heart is racing. Seeing this skeleton climb out of the ground reminds him of why he didn't want to come out here in the first place. But he grips his mace with resolve, and listens to the song humming from his rapier, and swings it. A satisfying crack is heard as he connects with the skeleton, shattering a sectioin of the chest and ribs. The rest falls apart, disappearing beneath the ash.
Quin readies his mace, and strikes true as the skeleton that was clawing at him now climbs from the earth. It's skull is shattered, and the rest of the bones fall apart harmlessly, seeming to sink back into the ash and burnt debris. He looks up and sees Wolfgang struggling with a skeleton.
Grunting with effort, Wolfgang turns and sees a skeleton climbing out of the ground, arm seizing his leg. Swinging his blessed mace a little too wide, the skeleton is narrowly missed. It climbs out of the ground, releasing Wolfgang's ankle but striking at him. It hits his armor, leaving scratch marks in the leather. Just then, the skeleton crumbles from a blow to the legs from Quin, disassembling the skelton and sending the bones back to the earth.
"Let's go!" breathes Quin.
Together, they move again toward the hook. As Quin reaches for it, the three are attacked from beneath again. Again, Quin and Miguel are able to dodge the assault, but Wolfgang is grabbed.
Wolfgang swings the mace vibrating with holy power but misses his target. The skeleton climbs out and prepares to strike, but an arrow appears in the skull. It falls forward, sinking into the earth. Wolfgang looks and sees Fawn nocking another arrow.
Quin shatters the arm that is climbing out of the ground, shattering the form and sending it back to the ash. He turns and picks up the grappling hook, tucking it away in his sack. "That was easy," he muses.
Miguel seeing the skeleton climb out of the earth in front of him isn't as scary as it was at first. He swings the mace awkwardly, however, and just barely misses his target. Panicking, he swings again, knocking out the bottom of it's spine. The skeleton folds on itself and sinks into the earth. Miguel takes the time to strap the shield to his side and draws the rapier, switching the mace to his off-hand. "We got it... so, back to safety? Right?" Pylas is breathing hard.
"No, no, we gotta keep going, we made it this far!" urges Wolfgang. He begins moving toward the cave, Quin close behind.
Supressing a shudder, Miguel follows.
"I guess that's our cue," says Fawn, lightly stepping into the field towards the cave.
"Ugh," says Giles, rolling his eyes. He follows the elf into the field.
Fawn avoids an arm that reaches for him, planting an arrow into the head that climbs out. Fleet of foot, he catches up to the other three in little time.
Giles is grabbed by a skeleton, but he disrupts it with a surge of magic. The bones shudder apart, falling harmlessly to the ground. He shuffles forward, just a little behind the rest of the party. As the party makes it's way, Wolfgang gets better at avoiding being grabbed, and manages to land a few strikes on the skeletons. Miguel, inspired by the music playing from his rapier as he attacks the skelton foes, lands every hit, gaining valuable combat experience. Giles is knocked down once, but using magic is able to disrupt every one of his foes. By focusing on moving forward as opposed to staying and fighting the skeletons, the five heroes make it to the cave, none the worse for wear, and walk in.
They are met with a giant dome, of some sort, mirrored by a pit in the middle of the chamber. It is, in fact, a spherical chamber, sanded smooth, the only two entrances being the ones the heroes came in and on the other side of the sphere, leading deeper into the mountains. The path falls off into the pit, a good sixty feet across, and thirty feet deep. A ledge encircles the pit on the edge of the sphere, five feet at it's thickest and two at it's thinnest. Around the walls are placed torches, providing dim, shadowy lighting in the chamber. Giles, Quin, and Fawn notice a pod at the top of the dome, obscured by the darkness. As the party enters, a ball of purplish light rises from the center of the pit and floats in the center in front of the heroes, then expands, turning to four balls, three forming a triangle lower in the pit and one rising at the center, shining inward. A face appears, that Quin and Miguel recognize as Priestess Cassandra, the same Cassandra that the elders spoke of.
"Welcome, supplicants, to the initiation for the Cult of the True Mother. I am glad to see that you made it past our guard dogs, you must understand the unworthy cannot be one of us. My apologies, for I wish to greet you myself, but, important matters require my attention. A test is required, and at the end, a sacrifice, but perform well, and, ah, the glory and love that awaits you from the true mother... but fail, and, well, your bodies will be put to another use. See you at the bottom." She smiles, an eerie, somehow terrifying show of perhaps too much teeth, and the visage flickers out, as do the balls of light.
Before anyone has the chance to ask, "What now?", the pod at the top of the dome drops, freefalling to the bottom of the pit with a splat. Blood splatters out from the impact and the pod begins to unfold. The pod looks to have just been a contorted humanoid body, as the limbs pop with disgusting splotching noises into socket and the body attempts to stand. Giles, watching with fascination, recognizes this from an old book he read about this type of necromantic experimentation. It is a flesh golem, an undead construct, having properties of both.
Fawn steps to the side, nocks two arrows and fires both into is head. They sink in with a sickening squelch, as the body continues to unfold and wobble to its feet. Quin, stepping to the other side, takes out a flask of holy water, throwing it. It shatters against its body, sizzling where it struck. Giles begins a disrupt cantrip, while Wolfgang draws his man-catcher and prepares an attack for the golem.
Sure enough, the golem finally finds its footing, blood dripping from its body, which looks like a humanoid without skin, muscle and sinew and bone showing in the dim light. It bolts, heading straight for the party, scrabbling up the side of the pit. Just before it reaches the party, Wolfgang attacks with his man-catcher, seeking to trap an extremity. He hits, holding the construct at bay. He keeps his hold on his weapon as the golem slips back down into the pit, dragging Wolfgang along with.
Giles disrupts the golem with magic, and Fawn pumps two more arrows into the construct's head, and Quin splashes another flask of holy water on it. Miguel is singing, inspiring the party. Fawn sinks two more arrows, and the creature falls, inert.
"Gotta go for head shots," brags Fawn. "That's where you get the most damage."
"If it was alive, maybe," scoffs Giles. "It's just a construct made with necromantically animated corpse parts. I'd like to study it."
"Does someone have some rope?" Wolfgang, covered in blood and viscera, is still in the pit. He managed to stay on his feet on the way in, but the flailing golem flung blood everywhere. Quin and Fawn pull Wolfgang out of the pit with rope.
They do the same with the golem's body, breaking three arrows in the process. Quin and Fawn slowly begin trekking the ledge to the other side. Giles, crawling, narrowly manages to not fall. Pylas the performer, however, is unable to find footing and falls in, but is caught by Quin and Fawn.
Giles shouts to him, "I'm having a lot of success crawling!"
Wolfgang watches, as Miguel begins to crawl, only to begin to slide in as he falls. Fawn and Quin catch him again, and the elf frustradedly suggests tying a rope to the bard. He does so, only to be pulled into the pit when Miguel falls in for a third time.
Pylas the performer, smelling heinous from the viscera and blood covering his at one time decent clothing, he calmly requests, "Will someone just get me out of here?"
Fawn, equally drenched and splattered with blood, suggests a plan to have Wolfgang, still standing at the entrance to the spherical cavern, assist the performer out of the pit. He begins to convolutedly explain how he can assist Pylas out, while Wolfgang pulls the singer out, and the rope attached to him to pull himself out.
"Just throw me the rope!" shouts Wolfgang, frustrated as he watches Quin make it easily to the other side.
Giles, having finished crawling himself carefully to the other side, stands just inside the exit to this cavern, partially obscuring himself in darkness. "That's a twenty foot deep pit, how do you expect to lift our good bard, and your arms aren't long enough." He frowns with consternation, as he looks up to see two additions join from the entrance to the cave.
Their nap over, Rykiri and Cranwell awaken from their soft slumber. Looking around, and seeing the rest of their party has left, they look towards the cave, the same realization occuring to both.
The two decide to run for it. Full on sprinting as fast as they can, they narrowly manage to avoid being caught by the rising skeletons. They arrive panting to the scene.
Rykiri, assessing the situation, takes out his 25 feet of rope. Together, he and Wolfgang assist Pylas out of the cave, with Fawn assisting, and once the singer is over the rope is used to help pull Fawn out.
"I believe this is enough excitement for a bit, I believe I'll have a little sit down." Pylas shakes his head in horror, looking at the state of his clothes, distraught.
Rykiri runs effortlessly around the pit upon the ledge. Fawn shrugs and walks around, while Wolfgang watches. Cranwell attempts, but his size makes maneuvering the ledge awkward, and he, too, falls into the pit.
Quin and Rykiri assist Cranwell out of the pit, while Fawn makes his way around and turns to see Wolfgang making his way around the other side. This obstacle behind them, the party ventures deeper into the cave.
Rykiri strikes a torch, and Wolfgang does the same. The party travels down a corridor, some hundred, hundred fifty feet. It eventually tapers out to a large room, with an archway leading to what looks like a corridor running perpendicular to the room and entrance hallway. The room is pitch dark, other than the illumination from the two torches. The air here is thick and muggy, and small dust particles are visible in the air. At intervals, a rumbling is heard and felt, almost like heavy footsteps somewhere in the dungeon.
"Let's split up, explore both directions," suggests Fawn, standing near the left side of the archway.
"Maybe they expect us to go right, so we should go left." Cranwell starts heading to follow the elf.
"Don't think too hard, Cranwell, you'll hurt yourself," scoffs Rykiri. "We should go right."
"Yes, I really think right is the way to go," quirks Quin. "It just feels right."
"I'm with Quin," says Wolfgang, eyeing Rykiri suspiciously.
"It's shocking to agree with this muscle-headed monk, but I say we go right." Giles looks at Cranwell impatiently.
"Er, uh, yeah, I meant right." Cranwell stops midway and turns to stand with the rest of the party.
"We just fought through a field of rising skeletons and a flesh golem. What makes you think we should split up?" Giles questions Fawn.
"Yeah, you're right, let's go," subsides Fawn, following the group.
They pass through the archway and turn right. Quin hesitates at the archway, patting himself down, searching for something with which he can mark a trail for the bard to follow. Rolling his eyes, Fawn swipes some of the blood he and half the party are covered in from his clothes, and marks an "X" just inside the archway, indicating their direction. The elf follows the rest of the party, leaving Quin to catch up.
The floors and walls here are made of stone as well, but much rougher hewn, not smooth like the spherical entrance cavern. On the wall to the left are what could be called windows, about fifteen feet long and five feet tall, through which can be seen what can only be described as a stone tower, around a hundred feet away from the window. Connecting the tower and the walls surrounding it are stone bridges, connecting dimly lit archways leading into the tower at the ends of each. The darkness covers the center of the bridges, as the torch light is scarce.
The right wall is bare stone, but along the wall, maybe a hundred fifty feet down, is another archway. The corridor circles around to the left as one travels, connecting back to itself.
Suddenly, Quin notices a slight shimmer in front of his vision. "Hang on a sec, guys," he cautions. The shimmer seems to move, stopping over Cranwell. Quin draws his bow and trains an arrow on the shimmer, unsure what to make of it. "There's something here," he warns.
Giles looks closer at what Quin seems to be aiming. A necromantic aura reveals itself to him, floating around Cranwell's head and shoulders. "Oh! Uh, he's the necromancer. We gotta kill him!" Giles points an accusatory finger at the orc, who looks around, dumbfounded.
Quin attempts to clarify, "There is definitely something floating around him."
Fawn turns to face the rear of the group, drawing his mace and buckler, preparing for threats from behind.
Rykiri steps in front of Quin's bow. "Whoa, hang on, he's no necromancer," he says.
Wolfgang draws his mace, and looks around to the rest of the group for confirmation.
Cranwell feels his sword moving from it's sheathe. He reaches back and grabs it, looking around him. He draws it, looking around feverishly. "Did someone just try to grab my sword?!"
Fawn turns around and sees the orc with his sword in his hands. Dropping the mace and buckler, he draws his bow and nocks two arrows, aimed at Cranwell. "What's going on?" The elf looks at Quin for some signal.
Rykiri tries to position himself between Cranwell and both Quin and Fawn.
Giles and Quin see the shimmer move from Cranwell to Rykiri. Giles warns, "Watch out, he's casting a spell on you now!"
Rykiri feels a creeping feeling shivering up his spine, visibly shuddering.
"I told you, he's the necromancer!" Giles smiles, pointing fanatically at Cranwell. Secretly, he casts an Undeath spell on the aura, in an attempt to control it. Succeeding, he figures out this is merely a polter-geist, one that is little more than a nuisance. He dissipates the ghost, releasing the magic that bound it to this plane. "Don't worry guys, I got him. His magic isn't as strong as mine," he adds with a smile.
The party continues on. Fawn sidles up to Quin and asks quietly, "Are we not gonna talk about what just happened?"
Quin shrugs. "Giles has a dark, twisted sense of humor that none of us understand. I don't think he was going to kill Cranwell..." He allows his thoughts to trail off as they approach an archway on the left, leading to a bridge. The middle of the bridge is consumed with darkness.
Rykiri takes out another torch, lighting it. Cranwell holds his hand out.
"Oh, that's handy, let me have that light," starts the orc, as Rykiri tosses the old torch off the edge. It falls until it is swallowed by the dark abyss, with nothing escaping its maw, not even sound.
"That's a wasted torch," says Fawn.
"I wanted to see how far down it was," shrugs Rykiri. "It looks like its bottomless."
"You don't know it's bottomless until you hit the bottom," says Cranwell thoughtfully.
"Why don't you go down and find out for us?" jabs Giles.
"I wanna see what that tower is about," says Quin.
"Yeah, we can check out that room later," agrees Rykiri.
The group finally decides to weather the bridge. It is ten feet wide at its widest and stretches for a hundred feet, with no rails or holds. As they venture out, only the sounds of rumbling can be heard echoing throughout the chasm.
As the party reaches about halfway, the sounds of wings can be heard. Fawn looks up and notes four forms flapping with wings. The forms come into view from the torchlight and are revealed to be two each of two different monsters. One looks like a female humanoid, with large, feathered wings for arms and large, clawed talons for feet. Quin identifies her as a harpy, and the other, demonic looking, dark gray skinned flyers as gargoyles.
Fawn begins by firing two arrows at one of the harpy's wings. He succeeds, his effort slowing her descent slightly.
Quin prepares to strike a foe that comes too close, as he makes for the center of the bridge's width.
Giles begins a Harm spell for two of the assailants, a harpy and a gargoyle.
The attackers descend, attempting to grab at Wolfgang and Rykiri, who are holding torches. Rykiri tosses his up, and strikes at the gargoyle, hitting it. He fails to catch the torch as it falls back down, but it lands on the bridge. None of the other flying beasts are able to grapple the heroes, and they begin to ascend. Cranwell is attacked by, but grabs one of the gargoyles, and proceeds to slam it to the ground.
Quin attacks the gargoyle as it tries to get up, while Fawn fires two more shots at the harpy's wing, severing it and causing her to fall, shrieking into the darkness.
Wolfgang swings his mace, missing the harpy as it ascends for another fly-by run.
Fawn fires another two arrows, hitting the second harpy's wing. It snaps off as well, sending her shrieking into the darkness. He aims, and fires two at the gargoyle that tried and failed to grab at him.
Cranwell grapples the standing gargoyle, slamming it to the ground again. A sound like stone striking against stone is heard from the impact.
The gargoyle, stunned from the impact, climbs shakily to its feet. Quin moves in and strikes at its wing, attempting to break it. A few more strikes from Rykiri does it.
The sound of gargling stones is heard, a scream of pain from the gargoyle. Cranwell rips the wing off and Rykiri pushes the gargoyle off the bridge.
Fawn decides that a mace may be better to attack with. Switching to it, the monster starts to take flight. Wolfgang strikes at it, attempting to stop its ascent, but misses. Cranwell turns around just in time and grabs the leg of the winged creature. He pulls with all his might, slamming it to the bridge. The impact dazes the creature, who staggers to its feet. Unstable and wobbly, it is unable to resist the effects of Giles's Harm spell that knocks it back down. The rise and fall of its chest indicate this creature still clinging to life, and Wolfgang delivers the coup de grace with his man-catcher.
Quin knows that certain arcane wizard's guilds value harvested remains of certain creatures, such as a gargoyle's skin and its transmutative properties. "Or something like that," he muses, as he harvests a vial of what's known as 'gargoyle scale'. The skin, though it appears as normal skin as that of a humanoid, albeit tougher and a darker, grayer color, when harvested the skin flakes, resembling scales.
The party triumphantly crosses the rest of the bridge without issue, taking care to walk along the center of the bridge, which ends at an archway entrance to the tower standing in the middle of the expanse of this dungeon. The archway and that beyond it is shrouded in darkness, with almost a liquid texture. Materializing out of the darkness as a dolphin jumps out of water, a creature appears in the archway, slithering into view.
The creature is a naga, a snake-like being with humanoid hands and torso, but snake head and instead of legs, a slippery, serpentine tail. She wears an elaborate headdress, stylishly jeweled and prominently displaying the holy symbol for Drana, the Eternal River, goddess of Death and Magic, and a dark purple gown that flows with her tail as she swishes effortlessly across the bridge, past the other party members, directly to Giles. She is speaking the whole time, but her words sound like that of a snake, hissing and hushing, her tongue flicking this way and that.
Cranwell, brushed aside as she passes, reaches down to touch her scales, mesmerized by how smooth they look. Smooth, indeed, as Cranwell pulls his fingers away, oily, rubbing them together wondering what the substance could be. Immediately he drops to his knees in abdominal pain, crawling to the edge of the bridge and vomiting over, regretting his curiosity.
Giles is the only one who understands this speaking, though he hears her as though she were speaking the Common tongue. "Greetings, hero, supplicant of the Eternal River. Be wary of the task set before you; this particular soul has cried out to Drana for deliverance." She reaches Giles, reaching out and touching his forehead with her finger.
She imparts to Giles a vision of another party in another time, though it must have been recent, as the party is exploring the dungeon they are currently traversing. The party in the vision, however, make it to the bottom and are captured. In flashes the vision shows them all being tortured and experimented upon, many dying in the process. But one, one survived and was turned into a monstrosity. He escaped, injuring some of his captors and fled into the dungeon.
Giles is released with a gasp. Drana's herald looks at him, and says, "His soul must be delivered to the River. Do this, and receive favor in the eyes of our goddess."
Giles nods, at a loss for words. The naga's form dissolves to water and splashes away, but not before she says, in Common to the entire party, "Death comes for us all."
As the naga disappears, footsteps are heard from the other side of the bridge. "Wait for me, I'm coming!" shouts a familiar voice from the darkness, as the form of Pylas the performer appears, panting and out of breath. "What'd I miss?"
Fawn glares at Pylas, still covered in blood, but seemingly recovered.
"What did she say to you? What was that?" Quin asks Giles, ignoring Fawn's visual daggers.
"There's something in there, and we have to kill it." Giles responds, shaking off the impact of the vision and shrugging simply.
The party crosses the threshold into the tower, with Cranwell and Rykiri in front. Their eyes adjusting to the dim light, they find they are in a large room, with four support pillars placed equidistant from each other in the middle of the room. Between them hangs a stone candelabra, which provides the light in the room. Around the walls of the room are five other bridges, including the one that led them to this room, leading out of the room back to the silo. Rumbling footfalls are heard, as the party notices a minotaur, charging straight for them, horns pointed down for a gore attack. It is dressed in what look like torn rags, with a chain wrapped haphazardly around it's torso. It carries a large great axe.
Immediately, Fawn, Quin, and Pylas all sidestep to avoid the minotaur's path. Cranwell braces himself, hoping to catch the attack. He takes the brunt of the attack, and, underestimating the impact, is knocked prone. The minotaur raises its axe to strike down at the prone orc, but is quickly stabbed in the face by Rykiri's glaive. The axe slices down where Rykiri was miliseconds ago, and the fight is on.
Wolfgang maneuvers advantageously behind the bovine beast while Giles begins channeling mana. Cranwell stands and begins grappling the horned beast. Rykiri begins a trend that Fawn follows, attacking the creature's neck with slashing weapons, or the piercing composite bow in Fawn's case.
After a few hits, Giles has a sufficient amount of mana to begin Afflicting the creature, cursing his reflexes. Pylas begins singing an inspirational ballad to his comrades, bolstering their efforts.
Suddenly, a spray of blood spurts from a wound on the minotaur's neck, as Rykiri's glaive pulls away. Eyes filling with what looks like blood, the minotaur howls with rage.
Cranwell is unfazed, maintaining his grapple with the only beast that matches his size and ferocity. Giles uses the last of his mana to Afflict the minotaur with another curse, this time on his fortitude.
Quin uses his mace to sprain one of the minotaur's ankles, injuring it further.
Finally, after what seems like forever, the beast falls over, breathing heavy. Rykiri wastes no time, decapitating it with one swift strike.
The party, panting, takes a moment to relish their victory, after Quin meticulously skins the beast, carefully storing its hide. Giles, Wolfgang, and Pylas all take time to channel some mana. Cranwell and Rykiri work to remove the skin from the head, hollowing it out to just the skull. Giles begins to pray to Drana for the soul of this beast. After he finishes, he is given a vision of the herald of Drana, congratulating him on a job well done.
Giles and Wolfgang search the room, finding a simple wooden chest. Picking the lock with his thieves' kit, Wolfgang pops the top to discover a backpack, with two torches, two days of trail rations, a blanket and bedroll with a tent, a pouch with 16 gold pieces, and an old, leather-bound tome. The title and letters on the outside have faded, and the pages are old and dog-eared with use. Reading through some of the pages reveals that this is a historical reference book dating back the last few centuries.
Their rest completed, the party prepares to move on.
There are six archways leading out of this room, all seemingly decorated with scrawling, scribbled runes. Quin begins attempting to decipher their meaning. He brings them to the attention of Giles, who just began to read his new found book. As Giles stands to look at the runes, the elf stranger known as Fawn has lost his patience.
"You humans take too long deliberating. I'm going this way," he says, pointing at one of the arches, and begins walking.
"I'm coming, too," says Rykiri, falling in step behind the elf, and lighting a torch. The two walk out on to the bridge.
"No, wait, that--" begins Quin, but the two have left already. "I guess we go after them," he announces to the group, who all follow after them. Quin marks the side of the archway with an arrow, denoting their direction. The only one who doesn't follow is Cranwell, napping against one of the pillars.
The group makes their way to the halfway mark of the bridge, before the sound of flapping wingbeats reach their ears. Looking around, four gargoyles can be seen descending upon them.
Quin is the first to act, and he turns and runs back to the candelabra room through the darkness. Pylas isn't far behind him, as he drops his torch on the bridge and foots it back to the room.
Rykiri fearlessly draws his glaive and readies for an attack. Fawn and Wolfgang begin fielding attacks from gargoyles that swoop down and attempt to grab them and carry them off. Quin, having made it back to the room, pulls a torch from the wall. He then steps back out on to the bridge, waving the torch.
"Over here, fiends!" Pylas shouts from behind Quin. He moves a quarter of the way on to the bridge, about twenty or thirty feet from the rest of the party. He begins to sing, bolstering their actions.
Rykiri is attacked, but manages to knock the gargoyle down. They begin to grapple, Rykiri trying to stay in the middle of the bridge, and the gargoyle trying to pull towards the edge of the bridge. Rykiri head butts the gargoyle, hitting his foe like a stone wall.
Quin makes his way back to the party and begins hacking at a gargoyle that has Wolfgang grappled, while Wolfgang grapples another.
Giles casts a curse, affecting the gargoyles' strength, and depleting his mana reserve. He begins to channel more.
One of the gargoyles breaks away from Wolfgang, who lets it fly into the air, and turns to face the gargoyle behind him. After several strikes to the face and head from Fawn, one of the gargoyles, eyes rolling to the back of its head, stumbles and falls face down on the bridge. Rykiri trips over the fallen body as he is thrown backwards, landing prone on the bridge, the head butt taking more out of him than it would seem.
Quin takes a hack again at the wing of the gargoyle attacking Wolfgang, and the blade sinks in a bit. The stone flesh of the gargoyle's wing looking battered and torn, it looked like one more attack would do it.
The gargoyle that flew off swoops down on Wolfgang, who defends easily thanks to Giles's curse. Pylas continues singing, while Giles finishes channeling more mana. He then casts another curse, this time blinding the gargoyles.
Fawn takes his mace and swings for the head of the gargoyle that just tossed Rykiri, who still hasn't gotten up. A resounding crack is heard as the mace head hits home, concussing the winged fiend. Meanwhile, Wolfgang attacks his grappled foe.
Quin, sure enough, takes a second strike at the wing of the gargoyle and hacks right through, the scream of the gargoyle filling the cavern with the sound of grinding rocks. The gargoyle that failed to grab Wolfgang, now blinded, begins flying up and away in retreat. He doesn't make it too far before Giles casts a third curse, sapping the rest of the gargoyles' strength. Not strong enough to carry its own weight, the retreating gargoyle plummets to the darkness below.
Fawn, taking advantage of the blinded and weakened gargoyle, strikes true to the head, laying the stone creature out on the bridge.
Quin gives a gentle shove to the gargoyle that has lost its wing, enough to send it careening over the edge.
"Okay, back to the room, quickly!" says Quin, pointing back to the tower. "I'm not sure this is the right way--"
"We're already out this far, we might as well keep going," interrupts Fawn, already moving across the bridge towards the outer hallways.
Sighing, Quin nods to the rest of the group, as he harvests more gargoyle scale hastily and follows along.
Across the bridge, they are met with another hallway, much like the one in which the geist was encountered. "I wonder if this is the same hallway?" says Quin aloud, as he begins sneaking his way down the corridor, expecting to see his directional mark upon one of the archways that leads back to the tower.
Wolfgang sneaks along behind him, while the rest of the group treks along. The two scouts notice a group of short creatures, patches of wispy hair on their otherwise bald heads. Their noses and ears are long and hooked, and they speak in a chittery, almost indiscernable tongue. Seven of these creatures are walking along in a group, idly chittering on. Quin recognizes them as goblins, a race of creatures not well known in the world of men.
Quin sneakily sets a shield down in the middle of the corridor, an attempt to distract them and buy himself some time as he swiftly sneaks back to the party to inform them of his findings. Wolfgang, meanwhile, quickly sets up a caltrop trap around the shield, hoping to bring down some goblins in the upcoming fight.
Rykiri, waking with a start, looks around and sees the dead gargoyles and no one else. He assumes correctly that the group continued down the bridge towards the outer hallways and follows after them, meeting with them as Quin is approaching. "Wolfgang is setting a trap for some goblins that are coming this way," Quin informs, looking over his shoulder as he hears the goblins shouting and drawing weapons.
Sure enough, Wolfgang was discovered dropping his caltrops, and the goblins rushed him, screaming. Rykiri, acting before thinking, runs ahead to assist Wolfgang in the fight, stopping when he runs into the caltrop trap. "Ow, what the hell?!" he shouts, stopping his movement. Quin stands next to Wolfgang who has three goblins moving in on him. Two of the creatures approach and engage Quin, as two more engage Rykiri, who is rubbing the soles of his feet in agony.
Wolfgang takes a sling and uses it as a garrote as he quickly grapples one of his attackers around the throat, and attempts to use the small creature as a shield against the other two.
Quin stabs his rapier into one of the goblins' shoulder, drawing blood. His next thrust is through the creature's eye, and it falls in a splatter of blood. Fawn clubs one of them over the head with his mace.
Giles works up an affliction curse, sapping their ability to attack and defend effectively. Before the fight really even starts, five of the goblins lay dead. Fawn knocked one unconscious, and the last goblin, realizing his status as such, turns on his heels to run. Wolfgang hurls the corpse of the goblin he had previously been grappling at the escapee, tripping him and sprawling him on the stone floor. Quin rushes up and points his rapier at him, encouraging him nonverbally to stay awhile.
Quin leads his captive back to the group, as Fawn begins to wake the other. Giles drags one of the corpses away from the group, and begins weaving mana into the body with his hands. After a beat, the light in his hands fade, as the body of the goblin begins to twitch. With a sickening bone crunching sound, the goblin zombie shudders unnaturally to its feet, its eyes glowing with a pale purple, indicative of the mana forcefully tethering a portion of the soul to this undead corpse and animating it. Upon seeing this, the live goblins shudder in fear.
Rykiri, still in the field of caltrops, decides now to be the time to exit, and back flips out... forgetting to remove the caltrops still embedded in his feet. Landing on them in pain again, he sits down and begins removing them.
Quin takes one of his extra shields and gives it to the goblin, a tower shield for the small-statured creature. "For... me?" it asks, in barely comprehendable Common.
"Yes, for you." Quin looks down at the creature, who looks at Pylas, who uses some charm on the goblin, encouraging it. When it turns to leave, Pylas calls after him.
"Where do you think you're going?" he shouts.
The goblin stops in his tracks, turns timidly back around, and cowers next to the singer.
Fawn takes the other living goblin, and, using the chain he got from the dead minotaur, straps the goblin to his back. Turning the creature towards Quin, he says, "Give him a shield too."
Quin complies, and the party sits to take a short rest while they question their new goblin cohorts about the dungeon in which they all find themselves.
Giles takes the time to read the book that he found from the minotaur. Named only 'History of the Region', Giles deduces from what he reads that the book is over the past few centuries. The first chapter is about the kingdom of Ziegenhal, and it's humble beginnings in the northeast of the continent.
The goblins, like the members of the party, found themselves lost in the dungeon. Not sure where they came in, having lost members and joined up with other surviving groups, the last place they were safe was a room off the main corridor.
Quin, Wolfgang, and Fawn, after being disappointed with the lack of useful information, decide to scout ahead and see what's in the next room. Peering in, the room appears empty, save a pool filled with what looks like water in the middle of it.
After a long, concentrated look, Quin and Fawn surmise that the viscosity of the liquid is too thick to be water. There are what look like soft ripples across the surface, but no breeze to cause such a phenomenon. The rest of the party arrive, curious.
"That's not water," points Quin. Giles, his new undead minion in tow, looks past Quin at the pool, wondering. Tossing one of his extra shields into the pool as a test, it is revealed that the liquid is also acidic, as smoke rises from the shield as it sinks under the surface.
"Acid could be useful," says Fawn, retrieving a flask. "Not sure how to get some..."
Almost as an answer, the undead goblin shambles over to Fawn and holds its hand out. "Let's see about that," says Giles, eyes wide with curiosity.
Flask in hand, the goblin zombie shuffles over to the edge of the pool. It leans over to dip the flask in the pool, but an upsurge of liquid splashes and engulfs the goblin. Wordless, and mouth agape, it is pulled beneath the surface of the liquid.
"Ah, yeah, I think it's time to leave," says Fawn, turning and walking out the doorway, the rest of the party following.
They continue back the way they came to another room, as the avian, elf, and bounty hunter sneak in. At the far corner of the room, in the dark, sits a figure, preoccupied with something in front of them.
The three scouts approach as quietly as they can, but Wolfgang steps on a pebble that launches from beneath his boot and bounces off a wall.
Turning in a panic, a female voice is heard, "Who's there? What do you want?!" The creature resembles a child, but with eyes bigger than any humans', and pure black orbs. She looks from one to the next, studying them. Relieved, she puts what was in her hands behind her and speaks. "You aren't the ones following me. What do you want? I have nothing of value, hey, actually, maybe you can help me!"
She tells a quick story about how she is on the run from gnome-hating racist dwarves, having stumbled upon their community underground and found herself unwelcome. "I've been running ever since," she says, looking from Quin to Wolfgang.
Fawn has slipped into the shadows to continue approaching unnoticed, aiming to knock this newcomer out.
Just then, the rumbling that has been a low constant reaches a fever pitch, as the sounds get closer and closer. Panic sets in on the gnome woman's face, as a realization dawns upon her. "Oh no, the dwarves have found me," she starts. Standing, she looks towards the doorway to see two beasts appear, each with what looks like a saddle and metallic dome over the saddle.
The domes open, and out slide from each, a dwarf, gray faced and grim. "Give back what you've stolen, gnome, and there shall be no trouble."
The rumbling however has not stopped, and now is felt shaking under foot. Soon the shaking becomes a full on quake, as rocks and debris begin to fall from the ceiling. The party is assaulted from above, and everyone blacks out.
Pylas the bard is the first to wake, covered in dust and debris from the cave. He shakes himself off, and sees Wolfgang and Quin climbing out of similar piles of dirt. Pylas wakes the two dwarves, who see their beasts have died in the cave-in. They take off back the way they came, fearing separation from their village. Quin checks on the gnome, who is still out cold. Enough digging around finds him her bag, and some searching finds a large gem about the size of his fist, wrapped in cloth. When unwrapped, he sees the gem, a black rock so black it seems to drink in any light. He quickly examines it, guesstimating its worth at around five hundred thousand gold pieces. He pockets it, before waking the gnome.
The gnome, after asking which way the dwarves went, quickly takes her opportunity to leave, running off in the opposite direction.
Fawn awakes to a dead goblin chained to his back. Another dead goblin body tells the party their cohorts are no longer with them. Giles, wasting no time, raises one of the beasts of burden from the dwarves. Wolfgang and Fawn work to remove the saddle, and the mettalic dome from the leather.
The inner tower of the silo is no more, as are the bridges that once lead to it. A deep breath tells the party that outside air has flooded the dungeon. On their level, where once there was an archway leading to a bridge to the tower, there is now what looks like a dirt slide that leads down to the bottom of the dungeon.
Quin takes a slide down, fumbling not once, and lands at the bottom. Pylas is less graceful, tumbling and rolling and taking damage on the way down. He lands on his buttocks at the bottom. Wolfgang tries to climb down, but loses his grip and tumbles down as well. In fact, the only other member of the party who doesn't hurt themselves on the way down is Fawn, who rides the metal dome as a sled down to the bottom.
The bottom looks like a colisseum whose roof has caved in, with all the rock and debris littering the ground. Across the expanse, is a doorway with two huge ornate doors, both of which are blown inwards, hanging by the hinges. Pylas and Giles detect evocation magic, specifically eldritch residual. It seems this door was blasted open.
The party continues inward, entering what looks like a temple sanctuary, except the wooden pews that once lined the room two-by-two are now stacked haphazardly along the walls, most broken and shattered, but a clear path leading to the stairs at the back that lead around a raised dais with a pulpit. Behind the pulpit is a corridor covered by an ornate tapestry, torn asunder.
Past the tapestry lies a corridor with two doors on either side, with a fifth at the end. The side doors are untouched, but at the end of the hallway is a gaping hole in the stone, another blasted entryway.
Beyond the blown open doorway is a truly horrific scene. Lying in a circle are nine bodies, dressed in uniform gray robes, mutilated in similar ways; entrails lain out, blood everywhere, faces drawn in horror, limbs splayed out. Runes are scrawled in the spilled blood on all the walls of this room, at the center of which is a ten foot cube altar. The bodies encircle this stone altar, on top of which a book is open. Giles and Wolfgang detect that a powerful ritual was recently finished here. At the back of the room is an alcove that leads to a set of stairs. Despair and fear is palpable at the entrance to the doorway.
The other four doors lead to: a room with bunks and chests, the chests containing personal effects and some simple clothing; a library of sorts, three massive bookshelves lined floor to ceiling with tomes; a conference room, the only thing in this room being a huge oak table with ten seats; and a lab filled with beakers and alchemists tools and spellcraft components, where it seems much magical experimentation took place.
Quin marks the page in the ritual book, and takes it off the altar. He hands it and the gem to Giles, who looks at them both quizzically.
The party decides to sleep here for the night.
End of Act 1
The party awakens and begins looting the compound in which they find themselves. Fawn researches some alchemical recipes that can aid in their adventures: alchemist's fire, sunrod powder, tangle glue, and silent oil.
Quin spends half the day teaching Rykiri Dwarven, and the other half he spends reading the ritual book from a random starting page. He reads about someone called "Patience", and how the gods elevated her to save a village of farmers. The story reads from a religious standpoint, venerating Patience as a divine virtue.
Giles finishes reading through the undead treatise, gaining an advanced knowledge of the undead. He spends the rest of the day teaching Pylas the performer about spellcraft.
Fawn finds ten doses each of sulfur, spirit of wine, urea, phosphorous, ginger, myrrh, and salt. Also found are some herbal extracts, ten doses of each, namely aloe, and arkasu. There is one dosage of athelas.
The library is full of encyclopedic reference tomes and some notebooks that document the activity of the cult, from their experimentations to their inception and goals.
The day and night is spent in the dungeon, before everything of perceived value is packed up so that tomorrow they can leave.
Waking in the morning, the party decides to find an exit out. The dirt slide leading to the bottom of the cavern slopes slightly up to reach the lowest corridor level, before sloping up sharply to the top of the silo. Everyone is able to climb up to the corridor above.
One of the rooms on this level leads to a long cavern that, after about seven hours of travel, takes them outside.
The party exits a cave and are met with thick forest, the same trees as when they entered. Fawn and Rykiri begin to hunt, and Quin is certain they are east of the entrance they used, based on the maps he pilfered from the dungeon. He ascertains that there is a river further east, and that can be followed south to what may be a settlement. After they take a short rest, the group sets out on this course of acton.
Reaching the river after evenfall, the group decides to rest here and start again in the morning.
After an uneventful night's sleep, the group begins their trek south, following the edge of the forest. After about six hours, they arrive at a walled town, complete with parapets and guards.
"They built up alot, didn't they?" muses Rykiri.
"This isn't Forestwall," informs Quin. "But, it is a town, so let's see about restocking, eh?"
"Stay in the forest, out of trouble," orders Giles to his skeleton beast, who complies dumbly, lumbering off towards the forest.
The group approaches the gate.
"Hey newcomers!" greets one of the guards, a heavy set bovine beastkin. "Any news from the road?"
"We came from the north," begins Quin, "just the forest as far as we saw."
"Ah, good, good. Hey, haven't I seen that symbol somewhere before?" He points quizzically at Giles's Imperium robe, proudly displaying the fist of the Imperium. "I feel like I've seen it somewhere before..."
Giles looks around at his comrades and shrugs.
"Oh well." The guard gestures inside the gates. "The guilds hall there is where you wanna go for the tavern, any shopping you need, inns, all of that. That building there is the war college, has a library and a temple to Semil where you can worship. Hey, it sounds like Synchronous is playing right now in the main tavern, they're really popular here! Make sure to check it out, and welcome to Laventhrop!"
The heroes enter the town, and are greeted with the sounds of a performance playing from the large guilds hall. Entranced, Fawn, Pylas, and Wolfgang head straight inside, wordless.
"That's odd," says Quin, watching Fawn briskly stride towards a man-made building.
Giles, Rykiri, and Quin follow, and are amazed by the sight they see. The tavern hall is packed with people, while a performance is going on the stage. Three men are performing on stage, complete with lights, singing, and dancing.
"Come on, snap out of it," says Quin, before they can get too deep in to the performance.
Rykiri goes to find a room for the group, while Quin drags the affected party members from the tavern hall and to their rooms.
Fawn, determined to find the band that had enthralled him, spends the first several hours of the day asking frantic questions about the band. Come to find out, last night's performance was their last in the town, much to Fawn's dismay. Apparently, however, they left through the North gate, and Fawn pursues. After a half day of following tracks that he found and is sure belong to the band, he arrives after nightfall to a town east of Laventhrop, east of the river. Having been disallowed entry, Fawn decides to wait until morning.
Quin and Cranwell explore the guild hall building, finding an herbalist's shop to procure some more herbs. Quin also sells a good amount of the herb he has, and agrees to keep an eye out for rare, difficult to collect herbs for Naine, the proprieter of the shop. Cranwell spends all but a few gold pieces on a particularly powerful mushroom on display in the shop.
Pylas, mourning his separation from his beloved lute, decides to track down a music shop to purchase another. Rykiri follows behind and purchases a flute for himself.
The job boards in the guild hall are relatively empty, except for an old request for help with forest elf attacks at a lumber yard. The party goes to check it out.
Upon arriving, they meet with Jethro, who informs them that the request was made over a week ago, and up til then the yard had had issues with elves attacking from the forest. It seems as though this is no longer the case. The heroes suggest trying to open a lumber trade route with a town called Forestwall, just east through the forest. They offer to escort a party through the forest with merchandise, in lieu of the official request. Jethro agrees, and offers ten gold up front and forty on returning. If there is issue and the party's combat prowess is needed, ninety upon returning. The quest will commence in the morning.
The party returns back to the tavern, where Pylas makes a deal with the bartender to perform. He does, while Rykiri decides to perform with his new instrument. He's not half bad, and the two enjoy a meal on the house. Pylas convinces the bartender girl to let him bed her, and the rest of the party sleeps the night away.
The party awakens on a new day. They eat at the tavern (And Pylas appears from behind the counter, looking none the worse for wear,) and decide to head straight to the lumber yard. Once there, they accompany the group headed west.
After about three or four hours of travel through the forest, the group comes to a small clearing. A military brigade is clearing away forest from what looks like a dilapidated temple ruin. A soldier approaches asking what their business is.
"We come from Laventhrop, we're looking to set a trade route to Forestwall, I'm told it's through these woods," begins the driver.
"What's over there? Is there civilization?" asks the soldier, fishing for information.
"Laventhrop is a bustling town with a college and huge guildshall, and to the south is Harborswell, but we are simple lumber workers," answers the driver of the cart.
"Ah. Well, you'll have to come back after we advance. Forestwall is under the control of the Imperium military, and as this transition takes place, we'll thank you for your cooperation and understanding. So long as there is no resistance, all will be well and none will be harmed. Turn back now, and tell your rulers the masters are here." With a confirming nod to Giles, he adds, "Ah, mage, ensure the will of the Imperium is completed," as he turns and walks back to his camp.
The driver turns the wagon around, and begins the journey back to Laventhrop. The way back is pregnant with awkward silence. Upon return, Jethro walks up with a concerned look on his face, which turns to horror after the driver reports what happened.
"You all are from the Imperium?!" Jethro shouts betrayal apparent on his face. "There was no danger, and I'm a man of my word, so here's the gold, but you all need to leave here, now."
After receiving payment, the group heads back to town. Jethro seems to already have reported the incident, for as they approach the city gate, the guard stops them.
"Halt. We have received reports that spies from the Imperium are here to sell us out. That's not you, is it?" He gives a hard stare at Giles, who still wears his Imperium half-cape.
"Hey, you must not have heard me performing at the tavern last night. We're outcasts from the Imperium; no love for them!" Plylas honeys his words, convincing the guard successfully that they have no ill intent.
"All right, but be careful, the town is on alert," informs the guard as he allows them past.
Fawn, who has been waiting outside this new town until morning, makes his way inside. The guards at the gate don't have any helpful details, other than to go look at the tavern. He does, and is met with three familiar faces talking with what he can only assume is the bartender. He interrupts them, asking if he can talk to them outside.
"Oh, hey, you're a fan, eh? From Laventhrop?" asks one of the men.
"Yep, and I'm just SUPER excited to meet you," grits Fawn, hand twitching to grab a weapon.
"Yeah, hey, that's cool, but, um... how about you go away and come back later?" his eyes bore into Fawn's at his last statement.
Without another word, Fawn turns and walks out of the tavern. When he comes to, it is just before nightfall, and he walks in to the tavern as a band is finishing setting up on stage. A man approaches Fawn, asking if he'd like to purchase a ticket to the show.
"Uh, no, but give them this note, will you?" Fawn says, scribbling out, 'My friend from Laventhrop is talented and would like to join your band,' on a note and giving it to him, before turning and heading back to Laventhrop.
Meanwhile, back in Laventhrop, Quin and the rest of the party decide to go to the war college to inform the headmaster/standing general of the brigade about the Imperium forces gathering to the West.
Cranwell takes a bite of his super mushroom, has a bit of hallucinations and falls asleep.
Afterwards, the headmaster calls the head professors together to go meet with "the Oracle". The party is allowed to peruse the library, where Giles finds a book on Evocation, and Quin reads more of the ritual book. Finally, afterwards, the party sleep in their rooms in the tavern.
Cranwell awakens early, and decides to try to go herb-hunting in the woods. He finds five mushrooms in the wild, but has no idea what they are. Bringing them to Quin and dropping them on the book he's reading, he asks what they are.
Quin glances at them, determining that they are poisonous, and not fit for consumption. "They're hallucinogenic, just like that mushroom you had last night." Angry at the interruption, but hoping this will get rid of Cranwell's distracting, Quin lies about the nature of the mushroom.
Cranwell eats all five mushrooms. His bowels liquefy immediately and empty themselves into his pants. Cranwell howls in pain as he runs out of the tavern, a trail of diarrhea following him.
Quin, Rykiri, and Fawn, recovering from their fit of laughter, notice a man with a strange entropic aura about him walking towards the college. They immediately follow.
The man, who looks as if the muscles of his small framed body are ready to burst at any moment through his skin, looks as though he has not slept in months, his eyes red and bloodshot carrying bags that are dark as night. His hair is long and unkempt, covering his face with its wispy strands. He makes his way to the library, wear he converses with the librarian at the desk, inquiring for information. He speaks in measured, deliberate statements, as if it is an effort of focus.
"I'm looking for some information on the local geography. Are there any books here related to that topic?" He asks, seemingly calmly. Fawn is hiding awkwardly behind the desk, attempting to remain hidden. Quin, however is standing behind him, watching almost quizzically.
The librarian, a high elf woman who looks elegantly into her hundred-fifties, with her long, pin straight hair tied back into braids, smiled sadly. "Unfortunately, no, as a war college, this library is mostly dedicated to the education of the students and soldiers here, war theory and whatnot." Her smile was genuine.
"Surely you must have some information regarding the local area? Anything that's around here that's religious or old?" His eyes begin to widen as he speaks.
"No, unfortunately, the information we hold here is related to the information we wish to teach here at the college, that being war and magical applications for such."
Suddenly, the man bursts. "MASTER WILL NOT BE PLEASED!" he shouts, slamming his hands on the desk, leaving ham-sized imprints in the wood. "UNACCEPTABLE!"
Fawn moves closer, while Quin approaches quickly to try to appease him. "Hi! I'm a map maker, I may be able to help you find what you're looking for," he offers consolingly.
The man's eyes burn hot with the fury of the sun, as he bores holes into Quin. He grunts, seemingly trying to process what the avian has said. People in the immediate vicinity are watching the events cautiously.
"I'm somewhat familiar with the area, let me draw you a quick map." As evidence, he takes out some of his map scrolls, and leads the man to a table. He begins drawing a map of the forest as he knows it, but denoting elves that he knows aren't there. Finally, he draws the temple ruin where the Imperium soldiers are, leaving the soldiers out of the map.
"Here you are, that's the forest to the west of here." Quin smiles, feeling accomplished.
The man stares at the map for just long enough for the others to question if he can read. "There's temple ruins here?" He asks matter-of-factly, pointing to where it is indicated on the map.
"Yep, that's what we saw!" Quin's grin widens.
"Great, that's all I needed," says the man, tossing the map behind him as he purposefully strides out of the library.
Fawn looks at Quin incredulously. "I'm following him," he says, tailing the stranger.
Quin meets up with the rest of the party in the library, waiting for Fawn to return. Roughly six hours later, the mood is raised a bit, as rumors start to be heard, and people begin to get jumpy. Just then, Fawn bursts upon the table.
"We have to leave this town. The guy, he went straight to the Imperium, who looked like they were waiting for him. They led a path to the altar, where this huge demon came out of it, and started rallying the soldiers, I think they're coming here next. We have to go.
Quin looks around at the table. "But we--"
"It's time to go!" Fawn interrupts impatiently, his voice climbing in pitch and urgency.
"But what about--" Pylas the performer begins to speak, only to be interrupted by Fawn.
"No, it's time to go!" Fawn almost shouts, getting the attention of others in the library.
The party finally agrees to leave, purchasing a cart and strapping it to Giles's undead beast. Fawn leads the way to the town that he followed Synchronous to, reaching the gates just before nightfall.
After convincing the guards at the gate to let them through with the undead beast, Fawn and Pylas head wordlessly for the tavern, where music can be heard playing.
Arriving in the tavern, the party sees Fawn and Pylas seated, enthralled by the show. Quin wakes Pylas, who stands up and moves to the bar. Rykiri wakes Fawn, who attempts to throw a chair at the band, causing a scene. Rykiri prevents Fawn from throwing chairs, but Fawn then draws his bow and nocks an arrow.
Giles casts a silence glamer on the stage, stopping the music. Pylas begins to play a rocking ballad, while Fawn, frustrated with Rykiri's attempts to stop him, rushes the stage.
The band on stage, looking back and forth to each other, notice the charge. The flashily dressed man in the middle holds out his hands and there is a bright flash of light. Fawn rubs his eyes and rushes in, while Pylas switches to a driving rock song, inciting the people to riot. They do, and panic ensues.
Giles and Quin notice that the band is actually no longer on stage, replaced by figment copies of themselves. Quin manages to keep his eye on one of them as they make their way to the door, bottlenecking there. Giles uses this opportunity to try to Harm whom from the band that he can see, opting to harm an area where he sees them, hurting several innocent people in the process.
The people form a mosh pit, causing Rykiri to climb on top of people to move around effectively. While doing so, he punches out one of the civilians that bumps into him during the mosh.
Wolfgang, bumped and pushed by participants of the mosh, goes into a rage, and begins knocking people out. He grabs one of his victims and begins using him as a bludgeoning weapon. Rykiri sees this and attempts to stop him.
Giles notices the bottleneck at the door, and decides to test his new lubrication conjuring spell by covering a 20 foot area in front of the door with it. The bottleneck worsens, as people are no longer able to maintain their balance and begin slipping and sliding over one another.
Finally, several guards storm in, reports of bar brawling and people dying in their ears. They capture the party and lock them in the drunk tank. Giles, in rebellion, covers the bottom of the floor with his lube spell.
In the cell, stripped of their weapons and gold, the Sherriff of the guard explains their predicament. He also explains the backstory of the town, how they're all former slaves or descended from former slaves that the elves of the northern forest helped to escape from the coliseum on the other side of the desert. As a result, it is a tight-knit community that prefers non-violence. As such, they are to be banished into the desert in the morning, to allow the justice of the desert gods to find them.
Cranwell, meanwhile, has left a trail of bodily fluid behind him as he crawled deliriously from Laventhrop to Grafendelion, only driven by his powerful hallucinations. It's the middle of the night, and he awakens, starving, and slightly disoriented. After cleaning off in the river banks nearby, he learns from the guard on the wall that the city is closed until morning. Cranwell climbs the wall and initiates combat with four guards, who call for reinforcements.
The party in the cell here a commotion outside, and Giles takes the opportunity to cast a powerful harm spell on the guards inside. His first spell cause them to fall, and his next spell kills them. Raising them as zombie minions, they bring him the key and let the party out.
Rykiri and Fawn sleep through the breakout, but Rykiri awakens when he hears the rest of the party in the hall fighting. He shakes the bars in an attempt to break free, but finally ends up slipping through the bars with the lube Giles left behind.
Cranwell begins to get overwhelmed as reinforcements come from the jail just on the otherside of the wall. He jumps down and runs into the jail, barring the door. He finds the rest of the party in the contraband room, gearing up, having collected all the lanterns in the building. The guards begin banging on the door.
"Here," says Quin, handing the orc a pick axe. "Break through the wall here, and we'll get out."
The rhythmic pounding on the door stops. "Okay," says Cranwell, who begins working on the wall.
Suddenly, a heavy thud is heard against the door. "We don't have a lot of time," says Quin, eyeing the door.
A small hole appears where Cranwell is picking at the wall, just in time to hear another loud and heavy thud against the door. Splintering can be heard.
"Almost," says Cranwell, opening a hole the size of a small window in the wall.
Another resounding thud followed by splintering, as the door and bar are both broken in. "Now!" shouts Quin, throwing a lantern at the door. It shatters and flames erupt immediately, as shouts of surprise and alarm erupt from the guards on the other side.
"Got it," says Cranwell, a door sized hole now allowing exit through the wall.
"Just in time," says Rykiri, throwing another lantern into the flames, getting another yelp from the guards.
"Quietly," says Quin, as he slips out of the hole in the wall and into the night. The rest of the party follows.
The party heads to the gate, but during their flight, they are noticed by some of the guards, who give chase. Giles zombie minions crank the gate open, and Cranwell helps to lift it, and they narrowly manage escape.
"Well, I'm outta here," says Rykiri, walking south.
"I'm hungry," says Cranwell, his stomach rumbling.
"I bet you are," chuckles Quin, who hands the orc a trail ration.
"Let's go back to Laventhrop," says Giles.
"Agreed," smiles Quin.
It takes the party six hours to make it back to Laventhrop, just in time to catch the sun rise on the battle between the forces of Laventhrop's standing army and the invasion force of the Imperium, led by the demon Wrath. The battle looks taxing on both sides, yet definitively came down to the fight between a human looking woman and Wrath himself. The human manages to hold her own until Wrath orders a tactical retreate, disappearing into the forest with the remaining of his forces.
Rykiri, meanwhile, takes six hours to reach the beach. It seems the river feeds into the ocean at this point. He decides to sleep here.
Headmaster Diamonddew is conversing with this female warrior as the party approaches the battlefield. He distrusts the party at first, claiming that they left when the Imperium attacked. He decides to give them a mission to test their loyalty to Laventhrop.
The party is left standing outside the gates, conversing about what to do next. They dislike the treatment they've received, viewing themselves as the saviors of the town. Patience approaches, and coolly addresses a statemtent towards them.
"The headmaster would have you do something for him, by way of establishing trust. There is a student at the college who has been placed in charge of recruiting outstanding students to help fill our ranks against the enemy in our upcoming battle. Meet with Matthias Grimsley in the college, and assist him. Do this, and the headmaster will look forward to your camaraderie in the fight." With that, she turns on her heel and strides back to Diamonddew, who watched the whole interaction.
"I wonder where their supplies are coming from," wonders Wolfgang grimly, watching the supply carts passing through the gates to the camp.
"Think they've got a well?" asks Giles, following the bounty hunter's eyes.
"Wait, shouldn't we go meet this, uh, Matthias guy?" Quin asks. "I mean, the headmaster asked us..."
"Let's go talk to those guys there, we're gonna be helping out, then they can feed us and supply us, too," says Pylas the performer, heading towards the quartermaster tent, completely ignoring Quin and leading Giles and Wolfgang.
"Well, I'll go find him, then," says Quin, heading inside the gates.
Pylas, Giles, and Wolfgang approach the quartermaster, asking for water and rations. Chumley, a soldier on duty tending the supplies, brings them around to a large barrel and fills their skins. Wolfgang looks for a way to climb atop the barrel, but finds none. Pylas distracts Chumley while Wolfgang puts a hole in the barrel and they all slip away.
It doesn't take long before a cart comes from inside the gates to refill the water barrel. More water was brought than what was needed, and the cart sat until it was needed. Begrudgingly, the three head inside the gates, looking for where the cart came from.
Meanwhile, Quin is inside, asking around for Matthias. He is in the common room, going over a pile of papers with what look like profiles on them, statistics of other students.
"Are you Matthias?" asks Quin.
He looks up distractedly, "Who wants to know?"
"I was sent by Diamonddew and Patience, they said you need some assistance?" Quin looks at Matthias, who is visibly withdrawn. Of all the students, Matthias is the only one who wears his hood indoors. At all times, actually. He always looks distracted, but is not incompetent. In fact, his mediocre grades aside, he is the most powerful mage here, save for the professors. This position was given to him in an attempt to help pull him out of his shell and instill a little bit of responsibility. Its Semil's guess if it's working or not.
"Um, yeah, I was supposed to get some good candidates to replenish the ranks of those who fell, but, uh, there's so many people, and I was thinking about going, uh, to the, uh... I'm gonna take it to the Oracle, see if she can help, uh, wait, no, yeah, I'm going to the Oracle, wanna come with?" He trails off often and struggles to finish his thoughts.
"Yeah, I'll go with you to the Oracle," says Quin.
They travel through the halls to the Oracle's door, which is ornate with runes and designs on the front. As Matthias reaches for the door, it opens on it's own.
"Every time," he shudders, and walks into the smoke-filled room.
Intrigued, Quin follows.
"It took you long enough, you're only two or three days late. But where're your friends? You don't plan to take this journey alone, do you?"
Quin looks around until he realizes that the older elven woman is speaking to him. The room is filled with incense smoke, a soothing floral smell, dominated in the middle by a large stone table. Perched in the center is a large crystal ball, filled with swirling mists. Taken aback, Quin answers, "yes, I believe I'll go get them." Still somewhat dumbfounded, he turns and leaves.
Wolfgang, Pylas, and Giles have found a large barndoor-style gate at the back of the guild hall building. Knocking on it, the group stands back and waits. Wolfgang and Giles hear movement behind the door, but it stops and moves away. "Now what?" asks Wolfgang.
"How badly do you want to get in there?" asks Giles.
"Pretty badly," responds Wolfgang.
"Ok," says Giles, turning and blasting the gate with fire. The wall catches fire, and Giles moves far away so as to not be confused with being mixed up in this nonsense. It takes the men inside about a minute to notice the fire, and the door swings open widely.
"Oy, I was right! there's a fire out here! Quick, bring some water!" shouts one of the men. Four more run out with buckets, trying to splash water up on the fire.
"Did you have something to do with this?" accuses another man looking from Pylas to Wolfgang.
"What? No, we saw the fire and came running!" lies Pylas, looking around for Giles, who shuffles up just in time, conjuring water and putting out the fire.
"Wow, lucky you were here!" says the first man, looking around at his crew who are returning to work.
"Yeah, hey, no problem, is that the well back there?" Giles asks looking inside the door that's cracked just enough for the man to slip back inside.
"Uh, yeah, we filter rain water to refill it, and there's an underground lake that we access."
Seeing that there were plenty more men inside, Giles decides to leave this behind and go find Quin.
Quin is walking down the college walkway as Giles, Pylas, and Wolfgang round the corner of the guildhall.
"There he is!" smiles Giles.
"I'm glad I found you, the oracle said something about a journey for us to go on," starts Quin.
"How much does it pay? Because we lost all of our gold in the last town, if you remember," points out Giles.
"I, uh, I didn't ask," says Quin, remembering the events of the previous night in a rush.
"See, these are questions you need to be asking. Alright, take us to this oracle," says Giles, waving his hand in a circular motion.
Back at the oracle's door, Quin reaches to open the door, and it opens inwards with a hiss.
"Ahem. That happens every time, apparently," Quin chuckles nervously.
A voice calls from inside the room, "Finally, come in would you? Or are you going to make an old lady wait?"
After exchanging a glance amongst the four of them, they enter the room.
"Ah, so here you are, eh, not much to do at the well, was there? Heh heh heh," chuckles the Oracle.
"So, what's this journey you have for us, and how much does it pay?" demands Giles, gold gleaming in his eyes.
The oracle doesn't even look up from her ball as she starts laughing. Cackling, more like, as her gaiety builds, she grabs handfuls of crushed herbs in bowls around her and throws them into the table, their smoke mixing with the smoke that's in the room, causing vision to blur and eyes to burn and water.
Suddenly, Quin's vision is so blurry that he rubs his eyes. When he opens them again, his hands are not his own. He holds in his hands the ritual book, the same leather cover, but it looks almost brand new, as if it was just made today. Scenes begin to pass in front of his eyes, and everything is written in the book. This goes on for seemingly a lifetime, as his hands begin to wrinkle with age. At the end of the life, he sees a woman that looks eerily like the Oracle sitting across from him. She helps him fill in the last of the book, shutting it in time to be attacked by soldiers, dressed in red and black mail. The book is ripped apart page by handfuls of page, and the shack is set to blaze. With the last of their power as they drew their last breaths, the two cast a spell, shimmering magic protecting the book and its pages. They disappeared, and the shack burned down, crashing around the two, the vision fading to black. Suddenly, a light shines above Quin's head, and he is standing in front of a mirror. The view switches to that of the light, and two Quins are staring at each other. One runs off, out of the room and into a battle, soldiers and angels dressed in white tabards and mail, fighting soldiers in red and black mail. He lands some blows and fells some foes, but ultimately is put to the sword himself, and falls. Simultaneously, the other Quin in the mirror runs out of the room, to a kitchen, and hides in a pantry... which burns up and the rest of the building collapses on top of him.
Giles rubs his eyes, and opens them to see himself, controlling a massive army of undead. This army overwhelms and destroys the Imperium soldiers, while the soldiers of Laventhrop watch on in horror. At the end, three demons walk on to the battlefield, Wrath visibly the tallest among them. The demons make short work of the undead army, as an officer from Laventhrop, eyes glowing red, puts a sword through Giles's back.
Wolfgang is standing in the middle of a pile of dead Imperium soldiers, somewhere around twenty or thirty. He's in a rage, having just finished killing these men. Screaming, he sees Wrath approach. Roaring many magnitudes louder than Wolfgang, he belches fire on the pile, consuming everything.
Pylas shakes his head in an attempt to clear it, and realizes he is alone in the room with the Oracle. Her loose, silky robes barely clinging to her skin. She slips a finger under a shoulder and slips the fabric down her skin, enticing Pylas to come closer. She steps back to the door behind her, opening it. Pylas stumbles forward and follows her into the next room. This is a sitting room with another door, through which the oracles backs through, still curling her finger at the performer, who can't take his clothes off fast enough. They make it to the bedroom, and on top of the bed where they begin coital relations. Loud explosions can be heard outside, and fire can be seen from the window. It is clear the town around them is burning, and finally the building collapses on top of them, killing them both.
The party awakens, standing in the smoky room of the Oracle. She is still laughing, but is beginning to wind down. "This is where your paths will lead you," she intones, "if you continue upon them."
She goes to a shelf behind her and withdraws to items, a book, and a small box. She turns around handing it out to the group. "These items will help you upon your path. The future is not set in stone, rather, it flows like a river... not like it used to be. Use them wisely, to guide you on a better path."
"If you know what's going to happen, why not just tell us what to do?" Giles asks, annoyed at the mysticism and nuance.
The Oracle has already cast her gaze deep into her large glass orb, but she smiles and says, as if from far away, "My role is to provide the tools and show the path, and no more. You shouldn't wear that for longer than a day," she adds.
Rolling his eyes, Giles walks out, Pylas and the rest following.
They make their way to the library, where Pylas opens the box. Giles senses faint divination magic from it. Pylas puts it on and sees brief images of himself, dying in various ways. Death by dragon, death by drowning, death by falling, every couple of seconds a vision passes before his eyes for but a moment.
The group meets up with Cranwell, who was left to wander the town, and finally showed up to the library. They also find Matthias with a group of seven other mages, all arguing.
One mage in the group, Richard, contests Matthias as leader. Richard, after all, is the top student academically, and in line to graduate top of the class. "Grimsley is only here because his parents are rich and paid his way up front! He can do nothing wrong because the school get so much money from him."
"But the Headmaster put him in charge! It doesn't matter about anything else," another student retorts, blushing immediately.
"Hey, hey, let's everybody calm down, eh? He seems like a good guy, and he does have the Headmaster's backing, right?" Pylas interjects with a nod and a wave to Matthias.
"Who the hell are these adventurers, Matthias?" asks Richard, an incredulous look at Pylas.
"I don't know them, I only know him," he says, pointing at Quin.
"Sure you do, everyone knows me," says Pylas, pulling up a chair. Recognizing the mage he'd met before with Giles, who gave him the lubrication spell, he winks and points at him. "Giles, remember that guy?"
"How could I forget?" Giles pulls a chair right next to him, scooting closer.
The two groups begin to collaborate on their strategy for the morning, and decide that it may be wise to recruit some acolytes from the temple to assist. Pylas sneaks out with Cranwell and Giles's spell buddy to partake in the "giggle grass" that Pylas has obtained.
The group separates, Quin going with Matthias and Richard to the temple and Pylas leading the rest to the tavern, where he performs all night. The rest of the group from the temple end up there after about an hour or so and drinking commences in earnest. Several lewd activities carry on into drunken slumber.
Meanwhile, Rykiri awakens from his slumber on the beach. He runs to Laventhrop, a foreboding feeling in his gut, arriving some time before midnight. Patience is sitting cross-legged, meditating in front of the encampment outside the town. He approaches slowly, and as he does, she asks, without moving, "What do you want?"
"Only to meditate here as well, I haven't seen another monk in a while." Rykiri sits down, awaiting an answer.
She shrugs in response.
Rykiri begins to meditate, and notices that his consciousness is pulled into some other dimension.