Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 44
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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 4c: Returning to the Castle

    The effect was instantaneous. Ice exploded in a great geyser of black water, churning up a froth that caused a chain reaction across the ice. Spider web cracks appeared in a halo around the creature and then gave away completely, sheering a hunk of ice downwards into the rushing moat. The lobster-fish monstrosity slipped down one side and out of sight.

    “Thank Althares,” said Kham. “We got—“

    The thing broke water at the far end of the chunk of ice, rising with a great whooshing noise. It rose vertically, towering overhead, blocking out the sun. The claws reached forward. The beast, in all of its monstrous glory, fell onto the ice with a shattering crash, narrowly missing Kham. It drove the far end of the ice underwater; the river sucked hungrily at it.

    “Kham!’ shouted Ilmarė. “Hold on!”

    “To what?” Kham shouted back. The tentacles whipped from side to side. Kham floundered backwards away from it.

    Kham clung to the top of the ice sheet for dear life, even as it began to tilt downwards.

    Thoron, im toltho le!

    The tentacles snapped irresistibly at everything: great chunks of ice fell into the insatiable maw, blindly churning away.

    Something tugged at the back of Kham’s jacket. It was a golden eagle, its claws deep in his collar.

    The creature’s great head weaved side to side. The ice was at a treacherous incline, slippery with water.

    Below Kham on the ice, the thing lunged again, shifting weight so that the ice listed to the side. Water from the moat splashed upwards, soaking Kham’s legs.

    Dril shook himself out of his stupor. The paralysis had worn off. He looked around for his rifle.

    The beast lunged again. The tentacles licked at Kham’s heels.

    Dril seized his rifle. He braced himself and aimed, taking a bead at an opening in-between the thing’s carapace when it bent over the ice.

    Kham clambered as far from the thing as he could. He was forced to climb higher and higher as the ice slowly sank beneath him.

    Dril fired.

    With a muffled boom, the lobster-like creature was suddenly blown apart in a geyser of green. A gigantic convulsion slipped the thing’s mangled body into the river. Relieved of its weight, the ice snapped back into a horizontal position, hurling Kham onto dry land.

    Vlad, Dril, and Ilmarė stood over him.

    “He saved my life,” said Vlad.

    “And mine,” said Dril.

    Ilmarė shook her head in disbelief. “You have to be the stupidest human I have ever met.”

    He threw one arm over his face to shield his eyes from the falling snow. “That’s because I’m not human,” gasped Kham.
    Last edited by talien; Thursday, 27th March, 2008 at 11:11 AM.

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 5a: The King in Yellow

    The main door was open, with light and the sounds of merriment spilling out into the night. Once inside, a portcullis dropped down, followed by the main castle door slamming shut.

    “The fate of the Duchy of Moratavia is now in our hands,” said Dril.

    As the warmth of the castle welcomed them, the strangeness of it was oddly repulsive. The ceilings vaulted thirty feet above them. The stonework was mostly black, and everywhere yellow candles flickered, casting a haunting illumination.

    “This hall is definitely larger than I remembered,” said Vlad.

    Suddenly, mist erupted from a wall. It swirled and caressed like a living thing, soundlessly moving over the stone. When it cleared moments later, the wall became an archway.

    “Let me guess,” said Kham, “that’s our invitation.”

    Vlad entered and his companions followed. Beyond the archway lay a spiral stairway leading upwards into a tower. Hanging on either side of the archway were a pair of heraldic banners. Their dimensions and quality denoted that they were the banners of a king. A single, enormous Yellow Sign was in the center of each banner, contrasting with the rich sable material.

    “Welcome back!” called a merry voice from behind them.

    Kham spun, both pistols leveled at…a jester in a yellow mask.

    The jester’s clothing was rich and parti-colored in black and gold, decorated with jingle bells. He wore a hat with three long tips and his shoes were curled upwards at the toe.

    “Clowns.” Kham didn’t lower his pistols. “Why did it have to be clowns?”

    “Oh, you’ll get used to things like that,” said the jester. “Please, follow me. The King wishes to see you. I’m to guide you to the feast hall, otherwise you might get lost. And we can’t have that now, can we?”

    “No,” said Ilmarė slowly. “We can’t have that.”

    The jester led them along a winding course, up and down stairways, across halls, and around several turns. As he pranced ahead of them, the jester chatted about the acts and courses of the feast they missed. “The best has yet to come. You arrived just in time!”

    “Can you hear that?” Ilmarė cocked her head to listen.

    It soon became apparent that the sound traveled throughout the castle, echoing from everywhere and nowhere at once. They could hear carols, musical numbers, singers and choirs, toasts and laughter, even the stamping of dancing feet.

    “Young Cael,” shouted Adolphos’ herald, “Bard of Lost Carcosa.”

    The jester leaped up and down, clapping his hands. “Oh he’s my favorite! Have you heard his story yet? It’s the rage all over the kingdom.”

    “Ah, crap,” said Kham.

    “No?” asked the jester. “Well, you’re going to love it, I promise you. Hurry now, if we move quickly we can get there in time for the end!”

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 5b: The King in Yellow

    Cael spoke of several traditional tales as they traveled to the feast hall. His voice was clear and strong, skilled and youthful.

    “Cael is quite skilled,” said Ilmarė, “and apparently much younger than we thought.” She grabbed one of the candles.

    After each story there was much applause and toasting to the bard’s health.

    “What are you doing?” asked Vlad.

    The hot wax was easily crushed in the elorii’s hand. “Old Mother Esther survived Umor’s Tale only because she could not hear. We must deafen ourselves if we are to survive. Quickly now!” She balled up two pieces of wax and put them in her pointed ears.

    Cael’s voice changed, sad and world-weary. “Hear me now, gathered host, as I tell a tale of sadness, beauty, and loss. I speak now the tale that should not be spoken, the tale of He Who Should Not Be Named. I speak now the tale of Lost Carcosa and the coming of the King in Yellow.”

    Dril and Vlad grabbed candles and plugged their ears with wax.

    The crowd hushed. Kham didn’t move, listening intently.

    “Kham?” asked Vlad. “Why aren’t you using the wax?”

    “There’s only one way to figure out this thing,” said Kham. “I think I have to experience this story for myself.”

    “What?” asked Dril.

    Kham nodded to the jester, who waited expectantly. “Lead on,” he said. “This is one vassal who is tired of taking orders from his King.”

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 5c: The King in Yellow

    The tale was hauntingly beautiful and horrible. When Kham listened to Cael narrate, each voice took on a distinct tone until they were completely separate entities in his mind.

    The King in Yellow dealt with the inhabitants of a decadent alien city, adjacent to Aldebaran, which was prominent in the night skies. The main characters belonged to the royal family of the city, including the Queen, Cassilda, Camilla, Uohot, Thale, and Aldones. Most of the play dealt with their squabbles over the line of succession to the throne of Hastur.

    “Mother,” said Thale, “must the Dynasty die only because you are bored? Only a word from you, and the Black Stars would rise again. Whatever your soothsaying, Alar could not stand against them; you know that. It would be—it would be an act of mercy to the people.”
    During one such squabble, the royal folk heard a stranger in a pallid mask who openly wore the abhorrent Yellow Sign and who, carried by byakhee, recently arrived in the city. Coinciding with the stranger’s arrival were visions of an illusionary ghost city on the opposite shore of the Lake of Hali, a city whose uppermost towers appear to be obscured by one of the planet’s twin moons.

    “A stranger!” said Cassilda. “Now living god, hear that. You all have the mists of Hali in your brains. I know every face in Hastur, and in Alar, too. Camilla, how many people do you think there are in the living world? A spate of handfuls, and I’ve seen them all.”
    The Queen and her children summoned the stranger before them. Their haughty questioning of the masked being elicited much confusing allegory but few coherent answers. He claimed to provide a means of averting the arrival of the King in Yellow, or the Last King, through the masquerade.

    “Not so fast,” said the stranger. “I would not kill you, or myself. I propose a masque, if you will pardon me the word play. All will wear exactly what they choose, except that all will also wear the pallid mask. I myself shall wear the Yellow Sign, just as I do now. When you are all convinced, the masks shall be doffed; and then you may announce the Succession, all in perfect safety.”
    Later, at the masked ball, everyone unmasked except the stranger, who revealed that his pallid mask was no mask at all.

    “I am the Pallid Mask itself,” said the Stranger. “I, I, I am the Phantom of Truth. I came from Alar. My star is Aldebaran. Truth is our invention; it is our weapon of war. And see—by this sign we have conquered, and the siege of good and evil is ended…”
    The ghostly city of Carcosa and the King in Yellow appeared in flames. The Stranger, claiming to be the Phantom of Truth, sought to repel the King in Yellow, but was easily cast aside. The hoary, tattered Yellow King informed them that only one city would exist on the shores of Hali, and that city was Carcosa.

    Kham squinted in disbelief as a child stepped out in front of him on a stage. His companions, the jester, the castle…all were gone.
    “I am not the Prologue, nor the Afterword,” said the child. “Call me the Prototaph. My role is this: to tell you it is now too late to close the book or quit the theatre. You already thought you should have done so earlier, but you stayed. How harmless it all is! No definite principles are involved, no doctrines promulgated in these pristine pages, no convictions outraged…but the blow has fallen, and now it is too late. And shall I tell you where the sin lies? It is yours. You listened to us; and all the same you stay to see the Sign. Now you are ours, or, since the runes also run backwards, we are yours…forever.”
    Last edited by talien; Saturday, 29th March, 2008 at 12:52 PM.

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 6a: The End

    They arrived at the entrance to the feast hall, a feast hall made from the wood of a scarred oak, as the horrible tale ended.

    Ilmarė took the wax out of her ears and drew her bow. The others did likewise, although there was no sign of Kham.

    Cael sighed. “So spoken, so ends my tale. And so too ends all else.”

    After the echo of the last word faded, the hall erupted into screams of madness. Mists and shadows filled the room.

    The jester bowed deeply, sweeping his arms toward the macabre scenery that had transformed the feast hall.

    “See, we are just in time,” he said merrily. “I have brought you to the King, as I promised. I present to you The Last King, The King in Yellow, He Who Should Not Be Named…my master, and yours.”

    The jester peaked up from his bow and suddenly collapsed, like a marionette whose strings was cut. It lay motionless at Vlad’s feet.

    Dril raised his rifle, but he wasn’t sure what to aim at.

    A handsome Ardakene elorii walked towards them as he exited the hall. He was dressed in a brown tunic embroidered with the Yellow Sign, and a multicolored cloak. He was weeping, wiping his tears as he exited. Behind him, a menacing figure coalesced from a plume of mist filling the center of the room.

    “So Cael was an elorii in disguise all along,” said Ilmarė. “What have you done?”

    “I just wanted to say goodbye to the oak before I left this guise,” said Cael. “I sacrificed three human lifetimes protecting this duchy from horrors like that!” He pointed at the King in Yellow raging behind him. “Duke Adolphos promised me it would stand until I passed, but he cut it down to make a feast hall for his drunken warriors! The sacred Oak, center of the Order of Belisarda, cut down to make a feast hall! For months I waited for an apology and it never came!”

    Vlad blinked. “An apology? We have it here!” He dug the scroll out from a pouch at his belt and handed it to Cael.

    As the elorii read the letter, it was as if a great weight lifted from him. The range and despair that haunted his eyes faded. But then fresh screams erupted in the feast hall behind him.

    The King had no face and was twice as tall as a man. It wore pointed shoes under its tattered, yellow robes, and a streamer of silk appeared to fall from the pointed tip of its hood. It morphed and changed, at times winged, at others, haloed.

    Cael turned to see the King in Yellow and the color drained from his face. “What have I done? I broke my vows, I betrayed the Order of the Twelve Oaks…in the name of all that is good, what have I done?”

    “You’ve got to do something!” said Dril, keeping his rifle trained on the swirling mass of yellow cloth at the center of the hall.

    Behind the King in Yellow, the wall of the feast hall vanished. Instead, there appeared a huge sculptured shield, in a shape suggesting a double-headed axe of onyx, upon which the Yellow Sign was chased in gold.

    “I fear it is too late to stop this,” said Cael.

    “You were once a defender of Milandir,” said Vlad. “I understand how hard it can be to protect people who don’t appreciate you. But if you fail now, all of Moratavia—maybe all of Onara—will be lost. The Unspeakable One took advantage of your rage. You brought him into this world…you’re the only one who can send him back!”

    The young man looked over at Vlad and took a deep breath. Suddenly, he stood taller; fear and uncertainty drained away from him. He was once again Cael, a bard and a Knight of the Order of the Twelve Oaks. When he spoke, his voice rang out clear and true.

    “We have but one chance. There is a magic I know that can banish the King in Yellow from our world. The risks are great and I will require your help. I cannot do this alone. Even with your help, the magic might fail.”

    Just then, Kham charged out of the confused mass of nobles and servants with Fleshripper held high, screaming like a madman at the top of his lungs.

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 6b: The End

    Dril blocked Kham’s blow with his rifle.

    “Now what? I don’t want to hurt him!”

    “He’s gone mad!” shouted Cael. “He heard my tale. The King in Yellow has taken him!”

    Ilmarė bit her lip. “I will try to reach him.” She put her bow away, closed her eyes, and lifted her hands up.

    In the midst of all the madness and grief, the elorii’s voice rang out.

    Anírach únad egor gurth hen,” sang Ilmarė. She knew Kham wanted nothing more than death.

    Kham paused, uncertain, the blade still in his hands.

    “Join hands in a ring around me!” shouted Cael.

    Cael began chanting, the words racing from him.

    Han cenin vi chen lín,” sang Ilmarė. She could see it in Kham’s eyes.

    Cael gasped for breath between chants, speaking the words clearly and unbelievably quickly.

    Egor ú-erin le devi,” sang Ilmarė. She could not let Kham harm them.

    In moments, Cael began to wither. His strong form twisted and shuddered, feeding the magic he summoned. “It’s not enough,” he shouted. “We need one more!”

    Ilmarė released Vlad’s hand to reach out to Kham. He slowly lowered Fleshripper. The elorii gripped Kham’s wrist. Vlad took the val’s other hand.

    Tellin men achae,” sang Ilmarė. They had come too far.

    Suddenly, there was a tugging on their very souls. The air crackled with energy. Cael spoke faster and faster and the room started to spin. Mists arose all around them, lashing like serpents, but they were unable to approach the ring.

    Gerin men anann,” sang Ilmarė. They must hold together a bit longer.

    As the power of the spell surged, it felt as if their hearts might burst. Cael stood vibrating in the center of the circle, barely able to hold himself upright. Yet his voice never weakened and the chant never wavered.

    Kham’s arm twitched. He was muttering feverishly to himself. A titanic battle struggled in his mind. Ilmarė knew that if he let go of the circle, the spell would be ruined and they would all surely die. She kept singing, a beautiful accompaniment to Cael’s sturdy baritone.

    Rago! Ú-erich leithio,” sang Ilmarė. Kham could not let go.

    Suddenly, the King in Yellow launched himself at the circle. Razor sharp yellow strands lashed out. Eyes filled with madness and menace bore down on them, but the awesome power of the King in Yellow was turned aside.

    Ú-erich o nin gwanno,” sang Ilmarė. She pleaded with Kham not leave her.

    You cannot turn me back, Cael Greybeard,” shrieked a ghostly voice. “You opened the way; you invited me into your world. Such an invitation cannot be rescinded. Moratavia is mine! Carcosa is mine!
    The King in Yellow reached up and drew away the Pallid Mask. “Look upon me, foolish mortals. Look upon me and despair! I am your King now!

    “Don’t look at it!” shouted Cael as he finished the spell.

    The yellow tatterdemalion danced about in rage, thwarted. Its prize, the Duchy of Moratavia, was lost. The King in Yellow screeched a horrific howl as all that had come to pass was undone and it was hurled away from Onara and back to Carcosa.

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Conclusion

    Kham awoke slowly, days later, in bed within the castle of Duke Adolphos val’Tenson. Vlad, Dril, and Ilmarė stood over him.

    “He’s awake!” exclaimed Vlad. He sat down on the bed. “How are you feeling?”

    Kham blinked. “So it was all a dream?”

    “Not quite,” said Ilmarė. “It seems we all collapsed just after we were summoned to deliver an apology to the oldest man in Milandir.”

    “Collapsed?” asked Kham. “I wasn’t even drunk!”

    “Others undertook the task for us,” said Dril. “They said the old storyteller died in his sleep the night before.”

    “And the villages?”

    “Derek’s Holding, Dunover and Brighton are whole and intact,” said Vlad. “I visited myself to be sure. The peasants are all tilling the land and living their lives as if nothing happened.”

    “But something did happen…didn’t it?”

    “You’ve been out a long time, Kham,” said Dril. “My guess is that whatever we did warped reality. The King in Yellow is gone. For a little while, anyway.”

    Kham stared at the elorii. “I…you…” He struggled to come up with a wisecrack. “Thanks.”

    Ilmarė said nothing. She just smiled at him and patted the val on one hand. “Stupid human,” she whispered.

    “We’ll leave you be,” said Vlad. “You’ve been unconscious for days.”

    Alone with his thoughts, Kham moved to rub his forehead when he noticed something.

    It was a scar, almost a brand. On the back of his hand was a mark in the shape of an acorn.

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    Chapter 24: Cut Throat's Gold - Introduction

    This is one of a series of adventures in Tales of Freeport, "Cut-Throat’s Gold," written by Graeme Davis and (loosely) set in the Arcanis setting. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

    Our cast of characters includes:

    • Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
    • Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
    • Bijoux (fihali druid) played by Melissa Tresca
    • Calactyte (ss’ressen barbarian) played by Joe Tresca (http://www.creepyportfolio.com)
    • Ilmarė Galen (elf bard/fighter) played by Amber Tresca
    • Kham Val’Abebi(val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
    • Nauris Drilian (human rogue/ranger) played by Mike Best
    • Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster
    • Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

    This adventure is notable for the fact that it had nearly every player in the campaign, which makes things alternately confusing and exciting. Unlike previous adventures where I was surprised by how many PCs showed up, I was ready for them this time.

    The PC levels ranged from 5th through 7th level (the adventure is for a party of levels 4-7), but I boosted every monster’s stats in anticipation for a much larger party. I used all the Challenge Rating calculation rules and was pleasantly surprised to discover they really do work. By the end of the adventure, things were grim and we finally had our first PC death. I’ll let you guess who.

    This adventure is essentially a series of battles with not a whole lot of plot thrown in. As a result, the PCs took over (with eight people, they’re practically their own adventure!) and I let them run free with the role-playing. Then I beat the crap out of them with everything the Sulfur Marsh had to offer. Or not offer, as the case may be.

    I’ve also learned the beauty of using terrain and weather to seriously disadvantage characters. When coupled with a monster or five, it turns a bad situation to worse. But that’s okay, there’s eight PCs, they should be able to handle it, right?

    Probably the biggest challenge in running this adventure was convincing everyone to go. You’ll see that Dril doesn’t particularly like ss’ressen (as well he shouldn’t), that Sebastian sympathizes with the racial biases against them, and that Calactyte really doesn’t care one way or another. This is Cal’s adventure—it’s his home village, after all—but it doesn’t mean he is necessarily in control.

    I used Saltmarsh from the DMG II, placed it in Milandir at the edge of the Sulfur Marsh, and renamed it Sulfurmarsh. The rest fit perfectly, right down to the lizardfolk embassy and the lizard-friendly inn. I use the DMG II more than I use all of the other core rulebooks combined.

    A few things I learned: Death Masters (from the first volume of the Dragon Compendium) kick ass. Entombers are hysterical. And all those necrotic spells from Libris Mortis are really, really nasty.

    P.S. Did I mention Death Masters kick ass?

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Prologue

    A beautiful elorii and a man dressed in a dark blue overcoat stood outside The Lizard’s Boat, an inn and tavern. An intricate sign built to resemble a sailing ship that had caught on fire hung above the main entrance. Magical flames danced on the faux ship, making the sign particularly easy to spot from a distance. A half-dozen small lizards were perched atop the sign, snatching moths that were attracted to the flames.

    “This place stinks,” said Ilmarė.

    “Tell me about it,” said Kham. “That’s sulfur you’re smelling. That means,” he patted the many pistols beneath his coat, “the ladies have to be quiet for awhile.”

    “That explain why the guards were so hesitant to let you in.”

    Kham peered over his green lenses at her. “I think it had more to do with you than with me. I haven’t seen many elves around these parts.”

    “Sulfurmarsh is a little backwater spit hole,” said Ilmarė. “If there are no elorii here, I’m sure it’s by choice.”

    Kham shrugged. “This isn’t my turf.” A large Milandisian and a smaller Altherian with a rifle strapped across his back strode up to them. “Judging by the faces of those two, it’s not theirs either.”

    “Well?” asked Ilmarė.

    “No luck,” said Vlad. “The shopkeeper wouldn’t sell us any potions at all, much less anything else.”

    “I tried to impress upon her the importance of the hero who stood before her,” said Dril, annoyed, “but the damn woman wasn’t interested.”

    “Did you show her the dolphin pin that Thralen Vodric gave you?” asked Kham. The look on Vlad’s face jarred his memory. “Oh wait…I forgot. Never mind.”

    “That’s about as useful as letting her know that he saved Moratavia from becoming part of Carcosa,” said Ilmarė. “Nobody but us remembers that.”

    A messenger finally broke the uncomfortable silence. “Message for Kham val’Abebi from Sulfurmarsh Sendings.”

    “That’s me,” said Kham. He peered over his lenses at the boy.

    “I was instructed to go directly to this location and speak to no one else,” said the messenger. He handed Kham a small scroll.

    Kham flipped him an imperial. “Thanks.” He unrolled the scroll and scanned it. Then he cursed.

    “What?” asked Vlad.

    “It’s a message from Thuron. They’ve lost track of the baby ssanu that hatched in Freeport.”

    “Good riddance,” said Dril.

    Kham caught himself before he unleashed an angry retort. Instead, he just tucked the note into his belt and entered the Lizard’s Boat.

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    Cut Throat's Gold - Part 1a: Starting the Adventure

    The Lizard’s Boat was a fairly clean and comfortable establishment. Lizard motifs continued inside the tavern, with carved lizards on the bar and walls, and lizards painted on the dishes and tables.

    Dril took it all in, his hands never leaving the hilt of the scimitar that dangled at his side. “There’s far too many lizards here for my liking.”

    “BRIIIIIIIIBIIIIIIT!”

    Ilmarė checked over her shoulder to confirm that Kham was still behind her.

    “Excuse me!” A dark-kin in one corner of the tavern put a gloved hand to his lips.

    “Sebastian!” shouted Vlad. He walked over to the smaller man and vigorously pumped Sebastian’s hand. “It’s good to see you again!”

    Sebastian smiled at them all. “And you.” He nodded towards Dril. “I see you’ve brought a friend.”

    Dril nodded back. “My name’s Nauris Drilian. My friends call me Dril.”

    Vlad patted Dril on the back. “Dril helped us defeat the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign.”

    “Then you’re my friend as well,” said Sebastian.

    Kham sat down next to Sebastian and kicked his feet up. A one-handed elorii female brought over three mugs in one hand. Her hair was cut extremely short and the tip of one of her ears was missing. She wordlessly placed the mugs down on the table.

    “Thank you, Kailee,” said Sebastian.

    Kailee flashed Sebastian a brief smile. Then she returned to the bar.

    “Still popular with the ladies I see.” Kham gulped the contents of one of the mugs. “And elorii ladies no less,” he said specifically for Ilmarė’s benefit.

    Ilmarė snorted but merely sat down on the other side of Sebastian. Vlad and Dril joined them.

    “Where’s Beldin?” asked Vlad. “I thought he was sent ahead of us?”

    “He was.” Sebastian looked sideways at a lone dwarf at the bar.

    “Is that a lizard laying underneath the bar?” asked Ilmarė.

    “Yes,” said Sebastian. “That’s Sticktongue. He’s both bouncer and mascot.”

    Kham twitched. “I think one of the lizards just crawled across my leg.”

    “Charming.” Ilmarė sniffed tentatively at a mug and then pushed it away in disgust. “If one touches me,” she fingered a knife at her belt. “I’m going to stab it.”

    “That’s why I brought Calactyte here,” said Sebastian. “Kailee is a friend to all reptiles and to the Black Talon ss’ressen in particular.”

    Dril rose from his chair. “Ss’ressen? You’re friends with a lizard?”

    Vlad put one hand on Dril’s shoulder. “Relax. Cal’s a friend.”

    Dril slowly returned to his seat, perturbed.

    “Why is Beldin sitting by himself over there?” Kham took another swig. “Beldin!” he shouted to the dwarf. “Get over here!”

    The dwarf slid off his stool and grumpily stumped over to the table, axe in tow.

    “Guys, guys, guys,” said Kham. “Come on.” He slid a chair over to the table by hooking it with one foot. “You two have to kiss and make up.”

    Beldin sat down on it with a huff but refused to look at Sebastian.

    “Listen,” said Kham. “I understand you’re mad at each other. But Sebastian, Beldin swore an oath to Jarel to keep a secret, and you have to understand that means he’ll make a loyal friend.” He took another swig. “And Beldin, I know you’re mad that Sebastian never told you that he belongs to the Shield, but maybe he was doing it to protect you.” He took a long gulp, completely finishing the contents of his mug. “As for me, I…” Kham stopped talking. He blinked.

    “Oh dear,” said Sebastian. “I’m afraid this is going to be a big one.”

    Kham held up one hand. His eyes started to water.

    “Big what?” asked Vlad.

    “It’s the Blue Frog Brew.” Sebastian moved his seat away from Kham. “It’s flavored with sweet marsh blueberries. It causes extreme—”

    “BRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIBBIT !” Kham’s burp was so loud that it blew Ilmarė’s hair back. The val gasped for breath afterwards.

    “—gas,” finished Sebastian.

    The elorii glared daggers at Kham. “Thanks for the warning.”

    “That,” Kham wiped his lips with the back of one hand, “is some nasty stuff. I get the frog part. But why do they call it blue frog?”

    Vlad struggled to keep from laughing. The back of Kham’s hand and his lips were entirely blue.

    “Never mind.”

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