Playtesting sessions at The Next Level in Lake Elsinore, CA!

Click a button below to jump to your current day/act.

Act 1
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6

Thursdays, beginning 18 October 2018

Act I

Day 1

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.

Diathal, crown prince to the hidden elven kingdom in the Forest District, sick and tired of his life of secrecy and training, has left the relative luxury and comfort of the forest castle and has made for the Frontier. When he climbs into the transport wagon to Forestwall, a Feline Beastkin known only as Whisper of the Valley joins him. Armed with bows and an Imperium stamped voucher for a leg of mutton and an ale at the Log's Bump Tavern, they set off.

They arrive at Forestwall, a town also known colloquially as "Adventurer Town", after a six hour wagon trip. The road seems well-worn and travelled, but finally the wagon pulls up to the edge of town. It is late afternoon to early evening now, and in the fading light the town doesn't look like much, more like a little "blink and you'll miss it" village. The driver of the wagon barely slows down to let his patrons off before he turns around and spurns the horses back towards Port Rockledge. The group of about 10 disperse in slightly different directions towards the town, as Diathal and Whisper of the Valley head to the Log's Bump.

First thing the pair notices when they walk into the tavern is a large, ten-foot-wide by 6-foot-tall board just five feet inside the entry. In big, faded letters it reads across the top: "Ye Olde Quest Board". The board itself, however, is blank save tacks stuck in the board with little pieces of parchment still attached, remnants of posted quests since accepted. While studying the empty board, the pair become aware of the presence of a third individual clad in half-plate mail with a longsword and heavy shield strapped to his back. He mutters audibly "Well, that's unfortunate," with a glance to the other two and a wry smile. "Guess it's the ale and mutton for me, then," he says, as he makes his way to the bar. Our two heroes follow suit. The bustling crowd of patrons in the bar provide hampered movement but eventually the trio makes it to the bar. The place is fairly busy, a few empty seats here and there but mostly a full bar. The stage is occupied by a quartet of musicians, playing a lively tune. The bartender is less than happy when shown the voucher, stating "The Imperium ain't out here, it's jus us! Ain't nothing out here free, except death!" The newcomer attempts to assuage the bartender, buying a round for the trio and paying with a bag of gold. They then find a table near the bar to sit.

The armored newcomer introduces himself as Aardvark, a simple blacksmith from the Western District. He shares some information that he has picked up about the town:

The Imperium sent the military first to the Frontier; they secured Port Rockledge, a military outpost. Hence why all the equipment purchased was from the Quartermaster. Then the Expeditions started. The first adventurers were sent from Rockledge, and after about a half-day's journey, they came to a forest. It was getting dark, so they set up camp. The next day, they began sending parties into the forest. The scouts only travelled until the the camp was just barely out of sight. They decided this was a good place for a supply village, so they decided to build one. They began clearing trees for the buildings. After clearing a radius as far as the scout's trip, they began to build. They built a storehouse first (which is now part of the temple), they built guard posts on either end of the town, then they built the tavern. By the time the town was built, a week had gone by and another group of adventurers joined them. These newcomers contributed how they could, and after some time and more additions, the town came to almost bustle. Not forgetting what they came to do, they began to organize parties to explore deeper into the forest. But those that left never came back. Parties were organized to search for them. Those parties never came back. Terrified, the remaining "adventurers" turned the surrounding cleared land into farms, and expanded the tavern to accomodate more people. They expanded the guard shacks to accomodate more guards, as more and more adventurers came. Some went further into the forest and were never heard from again. Some settled down on a farm or as a blacksmith or as a priest at the temple, or, more commonly, as a Town Guard. The Town Hall was built later, a mayor was elected, now there is a council, the town has more or less come into it's own. The Guard is more like a band of thugs, adventurers who couldn't quite hack it but needed an outlet for aggression. Rumors are also surfacing about cult activity, and some attacks on the town have made the Town Guard a little more on edge...

As Aardvark finishes his historical monologue, the doors open to the tavern, and in walks a group of three hooded individuals. The tallest of them has to duck his head to make it in, while the other two remove their hoods revealing human men. The third removes his hood to show the scarred face of a Mountain Orc. Immediately, the crowd in the bar hushes, as the bartender begins to object. "No way! We don't take to them brutes in here, gonna end up losing half my tables! The orc sits outside!"

"Whoa, hey, I object to your profiling of my friend here!" responds one of the men. "We don't want any trouble, we're just tired adventurers looking for something to eat." He gives a smile that the bartender accepts after a moment of thought.

"Well, alright then... have a seat somewhere we'll bring you some brews," mumbles the bartender, all but inaudibly. The quartet begins playing again, as if a record had stopped and then resumed playing.

Whisper notices a man in white robes at the back of the bar. The heroes turn back to each other as Aardvark shrugs. "It seems that perhaps we should see what's deeper in the forest, eh? People around here seem terrified to go out there, mostly because there's no trace of them, and anyone that goes out there doesn't come back..." He jerks his thumb at the quest board. "Nothing going on here." Just then, a scream erupts from the front of the tavern. The three hooded individuals are now standing, and have thrown their cloaks to the floor. The bar wench that had just brought them their round of ale has her head split in half by a double-headed axe that seems to be smoking purple, the handle being held firm by the Mountain Orc. "For the glory of Lilith!" shouts one of the other men, as he plunges his short sword into a panicking patron.

"This won't stand!" says Aardvark, standing and drawing his weapon, and charging the closest attacker. Diathal leaps on to a chair and at the opportunity to shoot two arrows into the bartenders face. A splatter of blood covers the wall as the bartender drops to the floor. Whisper also draws his bow and fires a shot at one of the men. Missing, it hits the orc. The orc begins wading his way through the crowd, killing passersby on the way. The two men follow suit, splitting up to seemingly kill as many people as possible. A few people run out the front door to safety, as Aardvark swings his sword and strikes one of the attackers. Diathal fires two shots into the nearest attacker's face, dropping him. Whisper fires a shot at the man Aardvark is attacking, hitting him. Just then, from across the bar, a cry is heard, "The light shall prevail! Be gone foul evil doers!" and suddenly the tavern is flooded with light. When everyone's vision clears, the orc is seen running through the door. The rest of the bar clears out in short order, and the priest in white robes approaches Diathal. "Why did you shoot him the bartender in the face?!"

On the spot, Diathal thinks quickly and bluffs, "He insulted my elvish lineage, and for that he must suffer."

The priest narrows his eyes at Diathal and pronounces loudly, "I don't believe you. You'd better hope he isn't dead, or there will be trouble."

Whisper looks back and forth between Diathal and the priest, who goes to work applying first aid to the bartender's wounds. The elvish prince takes his chance to stealthily loot the dead body of one of the men, stealing his cloak and a small bag of gold, and finding a quest flyer in his pocket, directing the quester to a house on a hill that is purportedly possessed by a demon. He then stealthily exits the tavern, while Whisper introduces himself to the priest and offers to assist. The priest introduces himself as Anduin, as white tendrils of healing magic touch the bartender, as he applies salves and bandages. He begins to tell Whisper and Aardvark that these cultists have been attacking the tavern at least once a week for the last several weeks. Satisfied with the work done with the bartender (he'll survive, but he's blind in one eye and his memory's not so good any more, he slurs his words, and has effectively been demoted to busboy.) Anduin goes about tending to any other survivors, but finding none, he inspects one of the dead cultists. "I recognize this man, he left a few weeks ago on a quest to a supposedly demon possessed house... He seems to have been robbed of all his possessions..."

Whisper takes this opportunity to act on a thought. "Oh! Let me check the other guy, see if he was robbed too." Aardvark is helping the bartender to his feet Whisper 'checks' on the other cultist. He manages to remove a small bag of gold and his short sword, and says "Yeah, this guy was robbed of his stuff, too." Anduin then explains that he's been looking for some heroes to aid him in trying to root out the cult problem, and says Whisper and Aardvark look capable to possibly assist, and to meet him tomorrow at the temple for more details. Anduin then leaves for the temple, and Whisper and Aardvark meet with Diathal who is in the alley between the tavern and the temple, staying more or less out of sight.

Our heroes are left standing outside the temple as night begins to fall on the dinky town of Forestwall. Not liking the prospect of camping in unfamiliar terrain, Whisper, Diathal, and Aardvark discuss their options. Diathal is reasonably wary of going back to the tavern, but realizes that, in the confusion, there's a good chance only the priest saw what he did. Shrugging, he joins the other two as they make their way back to the tavern.

Upon arriving at the tavern, the heroes are met with an empty bar, save for a squat, sweating human female whisking around the bar, stacking stools on tables and sweeping. The former proprieter of the establishment follows behind her, dimly taking stools down from the table and sitting on them before getting up and continuing. Exasperated, the worker rushes back to him, sits him back down, and puts a rag in his hand. With her hand over his, she starts him wiping the table. "Stay here, Kason," she says, and he blankly nods, with a lazy smile on his face. She runs off again to continue what she was doing, returning every now and then to adjust him so he's wiping a different spot on the table.

Diathal supresses a chuckle.

Whisper attempts to flag down the barmaid and ask about a room, who shouts back at him, "If you want a room, as you can see, I'm very busy, I can't go to get the rooms ready. After this afternoon's attack, I'm the only one left alive..." She gives a furtive glance back to her former boss, "...capable, I should say. Poor Sadina..." Her eyes begin to well with tears, but as soon as the moment of emotion comes it passes. She shakes her head and glares angrily at Diathal. "They say it was an elf that shot Kason and nearly killed him. That wasn't you, was it?!" Her accusatory glare darts from his pointed ears to the bow strapped across his back.

Diathal, thinking quickly, attempts to bluff past her accusations. "No, I just arrived with the other adventurers."

"Of course you did, that was before the attack, it was you!" She steps forward, at least a foot and a half height difference between the stocky brunette and the elf, when Whisper intervenes.

"My friend, he... he gets excited, and start shooting before he look, you know? It's not his fault..." Whisper's words are cut short by the a chair flying at Diathal, who attempts to dodge but jumps into the path of the chair, knocking him to the floor. Kason takes notice and gives a standing ovation.

"Sit down, oh, look what you made me do!" She rushes back to Kason, sits him down, and goes back to running around and cleaning.

"Would you like, eh, help?" offers Whisper. He begins stacking chairs as Aardvark follows suit.

"...fine, help me stack the bar, clean your own rooms, they're 3 gold a night." Accepting the help, she drags Kason into the back behind the bar with another guarded look at Diathal, before she shuts the door and clanking is heard.

As the heroes are performing their duties, two figures walk into the bar and approach the quest board. Whisper notices the two pinning a quest and discussing the last takers not being quite up to the task. After they leave, Whisper goes and checks the board. Sure enough, there is a new quest hanging, describing the same haunting voices and possible demonic possession of the same house as the flyer Diathal found on the dead cultist. He rips it down and pockets it.

Their work done, the heroes turn in for the night, Aardvark paying for his own room, and Diathal and Whisper bunk together. Before hitting the hay, the Elf shows the Beastkin the short swords and cloak he found, and asks if they're worth anything. Whisper informs him that they look heavily used, and are of low quality.

Day 2

The next morning, the trio heads out into town, their destination the temple to meet Anduin. The door to the temple is heavy oak, and creaks slightly as it opens. Inside is a simple sanctuary, albeit a large one, with pews lined up in rows facing a pulpit at the back. There are large posts that delineate each row of pews, and hanging on each post is a light gray banner, with a blue sky and a road leading into the horizon at sunrise. The same banner, but bigger, is displayed over the pulpit, behind it hangs six other banners. There are temple workers milling about, scrubbing floors and walls or placing hymn books on the pews. Whisper asks one of the workers where the "priest that worships the light" is.

"Oh, you must be talking about Anduin, he is priest for the Sun God, Semil. I will go inform him of your presence." The little man gives a little bow and shuffles away.

At the back of the pulpit hangs a curtain, and from behind it emerge two robed figures, presumably priests, a male and female. The male priest carries a censer, and smoke is pouring from the bowl. Parishioners are coming in and sitting, as the woman begins to preach.

"Welcome, fellow travellers," she begins. "I am priestess Cassandra, and we gather today to sing the praises of St. Christopher, our patron saint of travels. May he smile upon your journey."

At this, the male priest begins walking through the aisles made by the pews, swinging the censer solemnly. The three heroes sit, patiently waiting for Anduin.

"We will begin by speaking on one's demeanor while travelling; be you good to those encountered on your travels, for this will smooth the waters for your boat."

"St. Christopher be praised!" calls the male priest, who seems barely able to contain his excitement of agreeing with the priestess.

As the man saunters past with the smoking censor, Diathal sits back in the pew so as to get more comfortable. For some reason, he is intently interested in the sermon. Whisper and Aardvark look around, bored. Just then, Anduin approaches from the side aisle, meekly waving. Whisper excuses himself, muttering to Aardvark to "keep eye on him".

"The light shine upon you, Whisper of the Valley, I am most glad you came," smiles Anduin, taking Whisper around the shoulders and leading him away from the pews towards the pillars. With a glance back at Diathal and Aardvark, he says, "I see your companion has chosen a more peaceful path?" He chuckles. "His path is his own, though, I would not leave him here with them for too long... odd ones, they are. But that is not why you came to see me. No?" He smiles, and leads Whisper further from the pews, to be standing next to a pillar. He begins, "The cult attacks began several weeks ago. As I'm sure you know, this town is populated by former adventurers, but adventurers still try to quest here. Well, the questers that go out, come back... changed. Usually much more violent, as you saw yesterday at the tavern."

Whisper reaches in to his pocket and pulls out the quest flyer from the night before, showing it to Anduin. "Two men came and post this last night. They say last adventurers not good enough. We find another like this on cultist in bar."

"Ah, this is a good clue!" says Anduin, almost squealing with delight. He takes him and leads him past the pillar, into the shadows behind, seemingly trying to hide from earshot. "That is why I wait in the tavern, to find adventurers who can stand up to this cult menace. If left unchecked, I'm sure they will be the cause of something dire. Several weeks ago, something was stolen from our sect here, something most dear, and I fear this cult is behind it. This book must not be allowed to reach the wrong hands... You must retrieve it, and return it to me, before the worst that I fear happens!"

"Of course, we are on it, we will bring back book."

Anduin smiles as if a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. "Thank you, be safe, and it's very important..." He pats Whisper on the shoulder and turns away to leave. "Oh, and don't forget about your elf friend there, he may not be ready for the journey he's on..."

Whisper looks at Diathal, who has a slackjawed smile on his face as he is completely enamored with what the priestess is saying. He walks over and taps him on the shoulder. "Come on, we have work."

Diathal shrugs almost imperceptibly, still engrossed in the sermon. With a look to Aardvark, Whisper grabs one of Diathal's shoulders. Aardvark grabs the other and haul Diathal from the temple and outside. After about twelve seconds, Diathal's pupils are no longer dilated and has gross motor control again. "What the hell happened?" he asks.

"We have work." Whisper says, as he takes out the quest flyer and points towards the residential area.

It takes a few hours of walking to reach the house noted in the quest, and just outside the fence of the property, Whisper and Diathal leave Aardvark to stand guard as they sneak up to the house. They manage to make it to separate windows of the house, and peer in. Diathal sees the dining room, fully furnished but sitting under a thick layer of dust. Cobwebs decorate the walls, and it seems that nothing in this room has been used in several decades at least. Whisper looks in and sees a sitting room, moderately appointed, but otherwise empty. They reconvene with Aardvark and share each other's findings. It is decided that they should approach the house.

Whisper and Diathal hide on either side of the door, bows drawn and arrows knocked, as Aardvark knocks.


With a confused look to the two non-humans, he knocks again, a little louder. This time, faintly behind the door, a click is heard, followed by the sound of clanking and heavy stones being dragged across each other, and then another click. Then approaching footsteps, then what sounds like locks unlatching. Finally, the door opens, and a short, stocky man opens the door.

"I've come about the quest!" proclaims Aardvark, a little too loudly.

"Ah, good... but, have you come alone?" inquires the man. He opens the door a little wider and starts to step forward a little.

"Er, yes, yes I am alone!" Aardvark lies, evidence of dishonesty all over his face.

Whisper drags his finger across his own throat, signalling the attack. Diathal lets an arrow fly, hitting the man in the shoulder. Aardvark barrels into the man, driving him back across the threshold and into the house. The door opens inward, and Whisper looks in to see the two of them scuffling five feet inside the doorway. The Beastkin darts in and notices a second, taller man standing just behind the door, drawing a stiletto to attack Aardvark. Diathal also enters the house and takes a position along the wall and begins shooting arrows at the shorter man. The man behind the door is advantageously positioned to flank Aardvark, whose skill with his armor keeps him alive while he takes the brunt of the two mens' attacks. Whisper drops his bow and draws his rapier, taking up a flanking position behind the shorter man, who becomes bloodied during the course of the fighting. The taller man calls him Jim, who is eventually defeated, and Jim collapses to the floor as the taller man turns tail and runs. Jim breathes his last as the other man makes it out the back door. Aardvark's armor is heavily damaged, but he is alive.

Left alone in the sitting room, the heroes search around the house, discovering that the entire house save the sitting room is layered in dust and cobwebs, indicating disuse for some time. They decide that their time is better spent searching in the sitting room, which they do for about an hour until they find a secret door behind the fireplace. It takes them a little longer to find the trigger to open it, but they finally do and the door opens to a shaft with a ladder leading down.

Looking down into the shaft, only darkness can be seen. After some quick discussion about a light source, Whisper produces a torch and lights it with flint and steel, while Diathal begins to descend the ladder. Whisper follows him, with Aardvark bringing the rear. The three are oblivious until they reach the bottom, where they find themselves in a 100ft wide dome-like chamber, dimly lit with torches every so many feet about a quarter way up the walls, where they see a giant circle, around which is postscribed runes, with some sort of unicursal shape inscribed within. The entire shape glows with the same purple light wielded by the cultists in the bar. Diathal tosses a rock into the center of the circle, to no effect. A slight feeling of nausea and weakness approaches for Diathal, but he forces it back down, but a wave seems to crash over Aardvark and Whisper. They find their actions hampered with a weakening sickness, as they attempt to search along the perimeter for any clues. Halfway to the other side the lines of the shape burst into flame, and begin producing black smoke that plumes upward. Diathal turns to Whisper, stating clearly, "I say we bail." Whisper agrees, as the smoke begins to fill the chamber. The three of them make their way back to the top of the shaft, but not before Diathal pauses to get a better look at the burning circle. Having only been briefly exposed to magic in any form, and based on the apparent evidence, he infers this is a spell circle. At the back in the sitting room, it is decided that materials need to be gathered to repair the damage done to their bows. Despite his nausea and seemingly growing weakness, Whisper suggests that tracking Jon is in their best interest, but fails to gain any progress past the back corner of the house. Tiring, he then offers to gather wood from the surrounding foliage. He returns to a the house, that has filled with smoke, Diathal and Aardvark unwitting. The three decide that this is no place to stay, and after tossing a lit torch into the house and watching it burst into flames, they head back to town.

The trip back is especially harrowing for Aardvark and Whisper, who cumulatively decide that their next destination is a bed in a tavern room. It is late afternoon, and Diathal, none the worse for wear, decides that their new information would be best brought to Anduin. He heads for the Temple. Opening the door, he is assaulted with incense smoke that has permeated the sanctuary. He takes a deep breath in, and is immediately engrossed in the priest's sermon. The priestess is nowhere to be seen, the censer is on a stand in front of the pulpit vomiting smoke out of it's orifices, as the priest preaches about going the extra mile for those you meet in your travels. Diathal takes a contented seat and listens. Diathal hears only the echoing of the priest's voice in his head, in a hazy surreal dreamstate. Numbly, almost as if it's happening to someone else, he feels hands on his shoulders. The haze swirls around him, and suddenly he is moving, and he feels violent rousing. He hears the priest's intoning voice say that the ultimate travel is to the mountain cave, at the bottom of the cavern, and next thing Diathal knows he is breathing outside air and he sees Anduin shaking him by the shoulders. It is almost sundown, and Anduin releases Diathal when he sees the elf regain himself. "Where are your friends?" asks Anduin, clearly concerned.

"The journey back from the Rosser house was too much for them, it seems, they are at the tavern inn," responds Diathal. He then recounts to Anduin everything that has happened to them that day, the fight with Jim and Jon, the cavern underground, and the spell circle that burst into flames. Diathal is unable to remember any important details about the circle, but Anduin is impressed nonetheless. He responds with a little history about Jim and Jon Rosser, and their father Jonas.

"Jonas Rosser was one of the first adventurers sent in the Expeditions," he begins, "and he brought his 7 year old son Jon with him. I'm sure you've heard the history of the town, but Jonas and Jon, after they settled into their farm manor that they built, they kind of secluded themselves from the rest of the town. Except for coming to temple once a week, no one sees them. Normally today is the day they come in for temple, but I actually haven't seen much of them for the last couple of weeks. Anyways, suddenly he has another son, and he's a toddler, but there's something not quite right with him. A little slow, some say, but he creeped most people out." He pauses. "I'm not sure I can say I'm sad to hear you killed him. If they're involved in this cult activity, you need to root it out, get to the bottom of it. I'm sure tracking Jon will lead you to Jonas, and we'll be one step closer to solving this cult problem." He looks Diathal in the eye and smiles. "It's good to see that you've begun the path to betterment, but I must tell you..." Anduin pauses and leans in close, so only Diathal could hear, "I would suggest avoiding the priestess Cassandra and her deacon Merka, they attract some uh, let's say 'odd' parishioners? Like Jim and Jon... Look, you've been dragged out of the temple twice today, don't you think that means something? Anyway, just be careful..." He shakes his head and steps back, looking at the sky. "It's getting dark, you should get inside." He bows a little, with a slight smile, adding, "The Light be with you." He turns and disappears behind the door to the temple.

Diathal makes his way back to the inn, and falls asleep to a nightmare. He is circling a stone tower, slowly spiralling down. The tower is itself housed in what looks like a silo, also made of stone, crawling with monstrous spiders. The walls of the stone silo have slits like windows, and through them floors can be seen, levels that continue down seemingly infinitely. Connecting the silo to the tower are stone bridges, spaced at intervals around the structure, flat stone slabs and no railings. He begins to fall faster and faster, the stone walls and details blurring together as an unrecognizable, phantasmal face rushes up to meet him. Just as he would fall into the mouth he wakes up.

Whisper is met with a nightmare as well. He stands in the shelves of what looks to be a library, full of bookshelves. He pulls book after book from the shelf, flipping through pages, but, finding them blank, tossing them and searching through more. Each book he pulls from the shelf is heavier than the last, but he struggles on, until the last book he inches off the shelf, and he falls forward with it, and wakes up.

Day 3

The trio wakes up refreshed, and Whisper takes the wood he gathered and begins to repair his and Diathal's bows. Diathal and Aardvark go downstairs to inquire about a forge from the new bartender. They find that the only forge is in the town guard shack, which has recently become more of a militia. The two return upstairs to Whisper having finished repairing the bows. They decide the next step is to inquire about the use of the forge.

Crossing the street to the town guards, there is a noticeable change in the local scenery. There are more town guards patrolling around, and there are renovations being made to the two guard buildings. A fence is being built around the town, and every building in town has an appointment of town guards. As the heroes approach, the guards accost them, informing them that only town guards are allowed to have weapons in town, too many attacks, and people need to feel safe. Faced with the prospect of losing their weapons, the heroes offer to join the guard on the spot. The new recruits are taken in to the guard building and given short swords, and Aardvark is given access to the forge, while Diathal and Whisper are instructed to patrol the town. They do so for an hour, asking around about the Rossers. This information confirms what Anduin told Diathal last night, and they decide to bring this information to the guardsmen, leaving out the fire and the fight. When they do, the sergeant begins to organize troops to send to the Rosser house. A party of four is dispatched while Diathal, Whisper, and Aardvark are tasked with tracking down the Rossers.

Our heroes decide to start from the Rosser house, and head that way, just behind the dispatched guards. They reach the house in time to see the team of guards standing on the burnt remains of the Rosser house. The only thing still standing is the stone fireplace that housed the secret entrance to the underground cavern. The four guards are poking around in the burnt debris. Suddenly, one clutches his chest and falls to his knees. He seems to be choking and coughing, as the others crowd around him. The man falls from his knees to his face, dead. Just then, a second guard starts coughing and clutching at his neck, staggering backwards. Diathal calls out to run, as the second falls over, dead. Another guard starts coughing, black fluid seeping from his facial orifices, as he falls to his knees, while the fourth runs towards Diathal. He makes it to the gate of the manor and keeps running. The heroes run after him, and they all end up back at the guardhouse, recounting the tale. The lone survivor is allowed to rest, and as it is approaching curfew, the three heroes decide to get a fresh start searching for the Rossers in the morning, opting to sleep in the small guard's barracks.

Day 4

Aardvark, Diathal, and Whisper of the Valley are awoken rather rudely in the morning by three somewhat groggy looking guardsmen, the only words said being, "Alright, it's our turn!" All around, other guardsmen are rolling out of bed, to be replaced by others just arriving. Our heroes gather their gear and head out, discussing where to go next.

It is decided that tracking Jon to Jonas and, hopefully, the rest of the cult, is the best bet, so they venture to pick up Jon's trail from the house. It is just before noon when the three heroes arrive at the burnt remains of Rosser Manor. Whisper points out a similar sight on the other side of the fence, another burned down house. Diathal wonders glibly to himself if the fire he started could have spread to the other house. Only Whisper's sensitive ears pick up a scream, carried by the wind. He senses the direction of the sound and urges his companions towards it. They find another wooden colonial farmhouse, with the front door hanging open. The screams are heard by the entire party now, and have reached a feverish pitch. The heroes rush in, and inside the house is scattered about broken furniture and glass shards. Stair railings are broken, but the sound of glass shattering can be heard coming from an upstairs room. The three bound up the stairs and upon entering the room are met with a man dressed in simple robes standing in the middle of the room leaning on a staff, over a prostrate woman who is covering her ears with her hands and shrieking. Aardvark takes action, charging and tackling the man. Whisper shouts, "Hey, what is going on here? We are town guards, we demand to know what you've done to this woman!"

Struggling under the weight of Aardvark, the man manages,"She is my sister! She is screaming because she thinks her house is haunted, and her furniture is getting destroyed, look at her vanity...!" He nods at the broken mirror shards on the floor in front of a pile of wood splinters that, assumingly, used to be a vanity. A similar pile is laying on top of what look like tattered sheets and blankets in the opposite corner of the room. ", uh, would you please get off me?"

Aardvark mutters an apology as he stands and helps the man to his feet. At this point, the woman seems to have cried herself out, and is just sniveling and whimpering, occasionally muttering things like, "...took us forever to get that..." and "...all my things..."

"Well, I'm Glim Nackle! My friends call me 'Stumbleduck'!" He smiles and looks around to the other three heroes, as if waiting for a response. Receiving none, he continues, "That's my sister. I've been staying with her since I came out on the Expedition last week. Her husband died, so I've been staying with her and helping her get around, you know... But just this morning, all this weird stuff has been happening. She woke up because she fell out of bed. Well her bed was upside down on the ceiling! She barely made it out from under it before it fell on her! Then shattered into a hundred pieces! Well that's when she started screaming, and then I came in here, and then the vanity flew across the room..." he gestures between the wood pile that would be the bed and the wood pile that would be the vanity, "...and almost hit me, and I thought almost at first that she threw it but then I knew better than that, but she was still screaming, and so then I come over to ask her what's wrong and then this fellow here tackles me!" He looks around again, smiling, and finishes, "And now we're here."

At that, a loud bang can be heard somewhere in the house, with the sound of wood splintering and glass breaking. "No, no! NNNOOOOOOO!!!" screams Glim's sister, as Diathal grabs her with Glim and they all run out of the room, and down the stairs. The layout is strikingly similar to the Rosser manor, and Whisper wonders aloud if they, too, have a "scary basement".

"I've only been here a week, you know," states Glim, "but you're more than welcome to look if you like!" He moves to stand with his sister, who is hugging herself and whimpering, the terror in her eyes obvious even to the blind. Glim considers briefly the possibility of this being the result of an undead haunting, but knows it is not.

Whisper, Diathal, and Aardvark, having found a similar secret entrance before, are advantageously placed to find one here, were it to exist. They search thoroughly, pressing and moving the same panels, yet nothing moves or budges to indicate a secret passage. They reconvene in the foyer, but Aardvark and Diathal suffer hallucinations, the elf prince in a forest ablaze, the blacksmith in a burning foundry. They both dodge from an imaginary falling object, both narrowly missing rolling into very real furniture. Whisper squints at Diathal, asking him "Have you been to chapel again today?" Glim, however, regards Aardvark, and looks back to his sister, who begins screaming anew, and dives under a table, literally the only structure not destroyed. Diathal rolls his eyes, as Aardvark throws the table away. Glim protests, "Hey, that's my sister, careful..." as another crash is heard coming from the dining room. She shrieks and runs out of the house. Glim looks around at the others and shrugs, running after her. Diathal, Aardvark, and Whisper follow. She has run to a neighbor's house, who take her in and wave Glim away, that they will take care of his sister, she's lovely to have around and they've heard about the horrible atrocities going on, and she'll be safe.

The four of them return to the house, while Diathal mutters, "Why don't we just burn it down?" Glim protests again, "It is my sister's house, let's see what's going on here, try to save it, yeah?" Upon walking in the house, Diathal and Aardvark are wrought with hallucinations again.

Diathal stands in the throne room of the palace he grew up in. In Elvish culture, the light never sets on royalty, but the throne room is not lit as it usually is. Upon the throne sits a shadowy figure. The elf prince draws his bow and fires, without hesitation.

Aardvark stands in the room in which he lived while in the Imperium working as a blacksmith. Upon the bed sits a shadowy figure. Confused, Aardvark draws a torch and begins to light it. He's struck from behind by an arrow.

Diathal blinks and sees the arrow lodged in Aardvark's armor.

"What are you doing?!" inquires Whisper.

"They are hallucinating," states Glim. "I might be able to help!" he mutters an incantation and waves his staff towards Diathal, protecting him from the magic of illusions. Diathal steps into the sitting room and back again, as Glim casts the same spell upon Aardvark, who follows Diathal, suffering no illusions. Laughter is heard echoing throughout the house, a high-pitched, cackling laughter.

"Show yourself!" shouts Diathal. The attempt at intimidation is met with renewed cackling, as Whisper calls out, "What do you want?"

The laughter begins to fade, and whispers accompany it, "...death...destruction...pain...suffering...fear..." to which Whisper responds, "is there anything left to destroy?" As the last of the laughter fades, one final whisper echoes, "...not enough friends..." and with that the stairs collapse into splinters.

The candelabra above their heads begins to sway. Glim attempts to dispel it, and succeeds, to a roar of rage echoing through the house. The candelabra then plummets to the floor, and Diathal, Aardvark, and Whisper dive out of the way. It crashes onto Glim, who is knocked to the floor.

"Now can we burn it down?" questions Diathal. The four of them leave the house, while Glim heads to the neighbors' to inform his sister. Diathal, without waiting, takes a torch out, allowing Whisper to light it with flint and steel, and tosses it in to the house. The kindling in the house ignites fairly quickly, and the three watch the house exits to see if anything comes scurrying out. Glim returns, and Whisper searches the house for tracks. He finds a pair of small tracks leading into the house from the direction of the Rosser Manor, and shows them to Glim, who deduces the house has been possessed by an imp. The group questions if they are prepared for a challenge of this sort.

It is decided to leave the house and attempt to pick up Jon Rosser's trail. Even with the burned down house and the trail itself being two days old, Whisper manages to pick it up, and tracks it to the woods surrounding the town, leading north. From there, the team manage to follow the trail through the woods and to a burned out swath of desecration surrounding a cave opening into the hills. The journey here took around 6 hours, and it is just sundown. At the far edge of the burnt out clearing is a figure that seems to be shooting fire and burning more foliage. Whisper and Diathal decide to leave Glim and Aardvark to sneakily investigate. As the two approach, they are able to make out that the figure is in fact a robed woman, barefoot and shooting fire from her hands and easily destroying 10 feet square of greenery. What's left is a smoking, blackened pit of cinders and ashes. After burning down the green, a twig snaps under Whispers foot.

"It sounds like I have company!" cackles a female voice. Her voice is ragged, like her robes, and her wild eyes hunt around to find her prey. "You can come out you know, I like new friends..." she begins to cackle again as she shoots flames into the woods again. Diathal, unseen and unheard, notches two arrows and aims at the flame wielder's face. At that moment, she howls, piercing the air with an ear-splitting banshee's cry. Aardvark and Glim look at each other with caution. The cry is answered with a similar call in the distance. Diathal lets the arrows fly, the shots hit home, and she howls in pain and rage. A rumbling is heard from behind, as a large skeletal jaguar bounds through the sparse wood. It joins the woman, who has transformed into a similarly sized and conditioned jaguar. Their skin and fur hang off their exposed bones like loose fitting shawls, and the rotted meat and flesh are purple and grey and in obvious decay. The two undead cats run off in the direction of the cave.

Diathal goes to where he shot the witch. He finds two broken arrows on top of the ashes.

Whisper and Diathal meet back up with Aardvark and Glim, sharing their experience and findings. The four decide to venture out towards the cave.

Just twenty feet out of the woods and into the burnt cinders and ashes that used to be the woods surrounding the cave, skeletal hands reach up from the ground, grabbing at the heroes' ankles. Everyone is knocked prone, but while everyone else is able to disentangle themselves and stand back up, Glim struggles under an animated corpse that has begun to climb on top of him. The others manage to extract him and they all turn tail back to the woods. Once inside, they turn back to see the bones shambling after them but collapsing and sinking back under the earth. Glim dusts himself off and decides to take a moment to sense for active magic in the area. The ashen clearing is rife with magically blighted land, exuding evil and death.

Pulling back several feet from the edge and making camp, the group sets up a watch schedule to sleep the night away.

The heroes dream vivid this night, as Diathal dreams again of his descent down to the bottom of a stone silo. This time, however, his dream begins by floating over the torched clearing, as skeletal hands reach out from the ground and lightly rake at his boots. There is an ominous foreboding feeling culminating as he enters the cave, and begins his descent to the bottom of the stone structure.

Glim's dreams are plagued with visions of the undead, dragging him kicking and screaming under the earth.

Whisper dreams of a fire witch, burning everything around him, as he transforms into a jungle cat, only to be engulfed in flames. Most of the fur and flesh burn off, and what's left is a sickly looking feral, skeletal beast that bounds off to join the witch, who likewise transforms into a sickly over-sized jungle cat and they cackle off.

Aardvark's terrors are less detailed, as he tosses and turns with only the feelings of immense terror.

Day 5

When the morning comes, the camp is packed up while Whisper sets out to gather wood for arrows. The wooded forest provides ample wood after a ten minute search. Diathal checks the area for animal tracks, but finds only the tracks of a large jungle cat, that walks as if not quite dead. He knows from seeing it before that this is the undead jaguar that they encountered the previous night. He notes how odd it is that these are the only set of tracks found. Checking the skies, he sees no chance for rain and the group sets off for the town, deciding more preparation is needed before attempting to enter the cave. Upon reaching the town borders at around high noon, the party is met with a ten foot wall surrounding the town, made of heavy wood, with guards stationed at the gates. So too, can be seen, are the guards along the top of the walls, longbows in hand, watching the perimeter.

Aardvark, Diathal, and Whisper, being town guards, are allowed to enter the town unmolested, and Glim, travelling with three town guards, is only eyed briefly before passage is allowed to him. Whisper heads straight for the guard shack, which is now dwarfed by the new constabulary that has been built. Many of the town's occupants have taken an active role in the town guard, mostly for sake of personal safety. This new building is where the majority of the guards are housed, where Captain of the Guard Ellery Windhowl holds office, and where the guard has begun training exercises. The auxiliary buildings now are mostly armory houses, where Whisper plans to make arrows from the wood he's gathered.

The rest of the group decides to head for the bazaar, to look for bludgeoning weapons, knowing slashing and piercing weapons to be ineffective vs skeletons. The town marketplace, referred to jokingly as "the bazaar", is a relatively small covered area between the Town Hall and the Mayor's Office. There are several guards here watching the area for any wrongdoing. Perusing through the wares on the tables, it is obvious that most of the things being sold are small trinkets and knickknacks, until towards the back of the area is found a table with some weaponry on it. There seems to be no one interested in this particular merchant's wares. The stand next to his, however, looks and smells like it sells sacks of excrement. In front of the shop shouts an animated Hill Dwarf, shaking her fist, obviously upset about the transaction. Glim glances at the weaponry stand, and comments that whoever picked up these items could have had the decency to let the body get cold. The dents and bloodstains on some of these items belie previous use. Diathal walks up and attempts to haggle with the merchant, stating, "We know where you got these, how about you let me try to keep you out of trouble?" He nonchalantly taps his town guard patch.

The merchant has a confused look on his face. "Those guards over there said my registration was fine, I don't understand what the problem is?"

Diathal points to a dented mace. "I need something blunt like this."

Again, the merchant shows his confusion. "Can't you get something better suited to your, uh, status...? At the guard shack?"

"Oh. Right then," stutters Diathal, simultaneously remembering and forgetting that he is a town guard. This whole time the dwarf and the merchant are in a heated debate, and as the party approaches, hears that it is about the price of a pouch of spell components. The merchant is asking above the average market value for the pouch, as it is "the freshest in the land". Glim notes to the dealer that it is not as fresh as he proclaims, and offers to buy it at a discounted rate. Feeling pressure from the town guard (Diathal and Aardvark, who, in reality, are merely standing there) the merchant agrees, and Glim purchases the pouch and looks at the dwarf. "Now, our party is in need of someone who knows how to use these, are you willing to come along?" The newcomer agrees, and Glim and the dwarf head to the tavern, while Diathal and Aardvark head in to see Whisper's progress.

The dwarf introduces herself as Odessa, a lesser mage from the Swamp District. She and Glim talk about magic while they await the rest of the party.

Diathal speaks with the quartermaster, informing him of his need of bludgeoning weapons. With an odd look, the quartermaster asks why he needs it. Diathal tells the story of the witch in the clearing and the skeletons that clawed at them from beneath the earth. With a panicked look on his face, he leads Diathal to the Guard Captain, who listens intently to the story.

"This is disturbing news, indeed," starts Ellery. "The quartermaster will prepare you with cudgels, for you must go and defeat this threat. It will take me a day, but I will gather reinforcements and follow you into the cave. Go now, scout the cave and we will follow you!"

Back at the auxiliary building, Whisper has finished making 31 arrows. Diathal and Aardvark arrive back, and, after each being equipped with a cudgel, meet at the tavern to collect the mages.

It is decided that, before they leave, they should inform the priest of their findings, the plan moving forward, and perhaps attempt to recruit him to the cause. Diathal alone goes into the temple, where the priest is performing a sermon on the Law and its important governance it holds in everyday life. He makes his way to the door to the priest's vestry, and knocks. After a few minutes, an altar boy answers. Diathal asks for Anduin, he has urgent news of the cult. After fifteen minutes of waiting, an elderly man appears with two holy knights. The older priest instructs Diathal to leave immediately, and that if he continues spreading these lies and attempting to incite a riot he will be happy to inform his superior of his actions.

Diathal leaves, and informs the waiting party of the conversation.

The group makes the return trip to the scorched clearing, making it there well after sundown. Whisper secures a campsite and a watch is established, with Glim, Aardvark, and Odessa sleeping first. Glim's sleep is untroubled, and he wakes well rested. Odessa's dreams are less than memorable, only registering slight oppression. Aardvark tosses and turns all night, as in his dreams he is fighting lone against a horde of skeletons, armed with just his sword and shield. No matter how many enemies he cuts down, more replace them. Eventually, he is overwhelmed and as a skeletal hand reaches for his face to claw his eyes out he is jolted awake. As a result, Aardvark does not gain the benefit of a full rest, and is groggy and exhausted. Whisper and Diathal next go down for the night, and while Whisper's sleep is relatively untroubled, Diathal has a similar dream as Aardvark, and wakes up just as exhausted.

Day 6

Diathal and Aardvark take a few extra moments before breaking camp to attempt to recover from their exhaustion, and the party makes for the clearing.

Upon reaching the clearing, Glim begins channeling mana for a protection against skeletons spell. He casts it on Aardvark, who makes his way into the torched clearing. Almost immediately, a skeletal hand attacks him from the ground, trying to pull him down. He easily sidesteps, and is met with a skeleton climbing out of the ground. Odessa targets the enemy with a sonic spell, causing the bones to fall apart and collapse to the ground. Diathal then moves to stand next to Aardvark. Aardvark moves a little farther into the clearing, and Whisper joins Diathal. Then three more skeletons shamble out of the ground, one each in front of the heroes standing in the clearing. Glim attempts to dispel the skeleton facing Diathal, but fails to channel enough mana for the spell, and suffers the backlash.

Odessa fires another ray of sonic magic at the skeleton in front of Aardvark. It falls apart into inanimate bones, freeing Aardvark to advance further into the clearing.