A Rose In The Wind: A Saga of the Halmae -- Updated June 19, 2014 - Page 14
  1. #131
    Wow, StevenAC, that's awesome. I've also really enjoyed reading your PDF compiliations. You always do such a nice job. Thanks for the work and for sharing!

  2. #132
    Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)

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    Thanks StevenAC for your efforts. I have appreciated the collected Halmae stories as a resource for Halmaean theology in the past as well as re-reading the story hour.

  3. #133
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Rose screamed a warning. The two derro women were bearing down on her from the side corridor, swords at the ready. The party was now trapped between two groups of assailants. Chaos broke out as they each faced the battle in their own way:

    Mena, who had been frustrated at her inability to join Kormick and Tavi at the very front of the fight near the pit, now realized that she was the only person free to come to Rose's rescue. The two men couldn't disengage from their opponents, Twiggy was concentrating hard as she cast a spell, and Arden was hurt. So be it, thought Mena, running toward Rose. She threw herself between the two derro women and the cowering girl. The derro were on her in a heartbeat, and she glimpsed fresh poison on their swords.

    Arden had been leaning against the wall, taking a break. Her leg hurt, her arm hurt, she hadn't been so tired since the mines, and this wasn't her fight. It is your fight, some part of her insisted, but she ignored it. Let the freepeople take the blows. It's their problem. Then Rose cried out, Mena ran to her aid, and Arden remembered her words to the Defier the first time they had spoken together during the watch: "If I am allowed, I will help Signora Roseanna." It was her fight. She pushed off the wall and ran to join Mena near the side corridor.

    Savina, her heart pounding, strained to see past Twiggy and Corani. Beyond them, Tavi was balanced on the very edge of the pit, flanked by two derro warriors, blood streaming from his wounds. Next to him, Kormick had his back to the wall; the lizard-dogs snapping at his torso were too close for the Justicar to swing his hammers effectively. The archers rained arrows into the struggling bodies, and Tavi yelled as one of them struck home. It was horrible. And Savina knew she had to get up there. Mother Alirria, defend your daughter, she prayed as she pushed past Corani and Twiggy. "No! Let's have no suicidal heroics from you!" Kormick yelled at her, but she was already next to him. She prayed for his health, and for Tavi's, ignoring the crossbow bolt that shot past her ear. Then one of the lizards menacing Kormick wheeled around with a growl and launched itself at her neck. Its teeth tore into her throat and shoulder. Savina felt her blood gush.

    Mena was giving the two derro women a master class in advanced flail technique when the air around her rippled as a magical wave of force narrowly missed her. "Rose!" cried Mena, turning to see if the spell had impacted Rose, but Rose had dodged, Whisper herding her protectively away from danger. Mena turned back, straining her eyes to spot the spellcaster who must be farther up the side tunnel, but she could only make out a rippling in the air, a presence without a form. The two women had powerful backup. Though she struck out all the harder against them, Mena's heart sank: Three against one, and a magic-user among the three. Then Arden appeared out of the dimness beside her and drove her short sword with terrible accuracy straight into the second woman's shoulder joint, pulling it out again across tendons and bone to render the arm useless. Mena relaxed. Slightly.

    Twiggy felt shock as Savina staggered, her hand clutching her throat, blood pouring through her fingers. She was only trying to help! Twiggy's mind protested, even though she immediately knew that the thought was irrational. Many things in life weren't fair, all the innocence in the world couldn't save you, and not all famous battles had been won by the good side. Still, this didn’t have to be one of those battles. Twiggy stepped up behind Savina and cast an illusory ambush on the archers across the pit. Their rain of bolts ceased for a moment as her spell hit home resoundingly, causing all three to stare around in fear at invisible foes. One of them leapt up and ran screaming straight into the pit. Kormick flashed a brief grin at her. "You terrifying, terrifying girl," he grunted approvingly.

    Tavi raised his hand, summoning magic at the speed of thought, and a crossbow bolt heading straight for Savina careened off an invisible shield and fell into the pit. This is my fault. He spun and rained down fire from his sword on the derro in front of him, then shoved the creature backwards. It followed the crossbow bolt into the pit. How is it your fault!? It's not your fault! Two archers were still shooting, and two lizards and a derro remained on their side of the pit. He tried to see farther down the corridor, to glimpse what had become of Mena and Rose, but he was boxed in. If I'd killed those women instead of trying to lock them in. . . Another arrow buried itself in his arm. In frustration, he tried to strike a lizard and missed.

    Kormick followed up Tavi's missed blow with a resounding hit on the lizard, breaking its spine at last. He kicked it into the pit, out of his way. He had a bad feeling. Yes, they were grinding down their foes, but the toll was high: Savina, blood streaking her silly girlish armor, looked doomed. The remaining lizard had latched on to her leg with its fierce jaws, and Kormick whacked at the beast’s haunch with his warhammer, struggling to keep its attention on him. Until now, he'd held the thing’s attention a little too well, and was badly bloodied as a result. A crossbow bolt grazed his forehead, sending an aggravating trickle of blood into the corner of his eye. He guessed that, if he could see himself from afar, he'd have the numb, staggering look of a tough guy about to lose a street fight. Maybe he was the doomed one. "Get back!" he entreated Savina again, knowing that she wouldn't listen. Instead, the girl closed her eyes and then stood a little straighter as the wound on her neck closed. Having healed herself, she held out her bloody hand and called, "Alirria!" A blinding lance of faith killed a second archer. Faith, thought Kormick. I don't understand faith.

    Mena didn’t have time to wonder how things were going on the other front: although she and Arden had injured both of the derro women, they had suffered even more injuries themselves. Arden stumbled, bleeding freely from a deep cut. "Arden?" Mena asked, checking in, and Arden surprised her by smiling grimly. "I hate this pl –" she began, just as a wave of force from the hidden spellcaster slammed into her. Arden hit the ground like a stone and lay there, senseless.

    Tavi was calculating. Twiggy’s spells were taking care of the archer. Corani’s axe was taking care of – whack – correction, had taken care of the lizard-dog. We're almost done here. Can I go help Mena yet? He and Kormick were now flanking the remaining derro warrior. He sliced at it just as Kormick, blood-streaked, seemed to read his mind. "I've got this," the Justicar said. "Go help your sister." Tavi nodded his thanks and took off at once, hearing behind him the sound of the derro's death beneath Kormick's warhammer. Racing down the corridor toward his tutor, Tavi found that things were as bad as he'd feared: Mena was fending off attacks from two derro women as the slave lay crumpled limply behind her. One of the women dove in, aiming a killing strike straight at Arden's exposed throat. Heedless of the danger, Tavi threw himself over Arden's body, parrying the blow meant for the dying slave. Pain shot through his arm as the derro blade sliced his wrist. Then he lunged, plunging his blade into the derro woman's heart.

    Mena pulled Arden from the fray, pressed fingers to her throat, and found a faint pulse. Huff and puff, Twilight Bitch, she thought with grim pride at her student’s sacrifice and Arden’s resilience, but we will not break. She seized Arden by the shoulders. "Not here," she commanded. "They do. Not. Win. Here. Get up.” Arden’s eyes flickered. “Get--."

    "—up," Arden heard, and struggled automatically to obey despite lacking, for the moment, any sense of where she was or what had happened. She opened her eyes and saw Dame Filomena kneeling over her. "I was saying . . ." Arden groaned, and Mena nodded. "Trust me. I hate it more," she agreed, holding out her hand. Arden grabbed it and sat up. She gazed at the two battles around her: Mena rejoining Tavi in the face-off against the remaining derro woman; the Justicar and the others dodging crossbow bolts. It may have been her fight, but she wouldn’t be fighting more of it any time soon. She was too weak to stand.

    (DM’s NOTE: And that’s what Mena’s Inspiring Word power looks like…)

    Mena slammed the remaining derro woman on the back of the head with her flail. At last, the woman dropped, unconscious. Almost instantly, from up the hall, the hazy presence vanished and the door to the women's chamber slammed shut. The spellcaster had fled. Tavi raised his sword to execute the woman. "I should have killed you when I had the chance," he said. Mena stopped him. "She may know where the captives are," she explained. "We must question her."

    At the pit’s edge, Savina was finally ready to stop ignoring the Justicar, who really, really wanted her to get off the front lines. She was exhausted, the battle was nearly won, and she was reaching the limits of her healing power. But as she moved out of the fray, she heard a trio of sounds behind her: A scream from Twiggy—"Corani!"—then gurgling—then a thud. Savina wheeled and ran back. Corani had collapsed to the ground, dying, a crossbow bolt protruding from her neck.

    For Kormick, that was the last straw. Having struck down the pregnant lady dwarf with a lucky shot, the derro archer had a smug look on his face that Kormick simply didn't feel was justifiable, given that its side was clearly losing. Sure, Kormick's whole body ached, he was bleeding from multiple punctures, and everyone else was looking at least as ragged as he was feeling. But this guy looked smug. Kormick raised his warhammer and pointed it at the archer. "You," he said, pronouncing its death sentence. The archer's face fell. The creature squeezed off one last shot – it glanced off Kormick's leg, adding another trickle of blood to Kormick's collection – turned, and ran. Kormick jumped the pit and followed.

    Arden watched Savina and Twiggy rush to Corani's side. Savina glanced worriedly back at Arden, once, then looked away, laid her hands upon Corani, and concentrated for an unusually long time. Finally, she collapsed backward, drained, as Twiggy helped Corani sit up. Arden heard the Blessed Daughter tell Twiggy, "Give me a moment to rest… I can't do anything more right now... I'm so tired." What had happened was clear: with a choice between healing Corani or Arden, Savina had chosen Corani. Arden looked away. The Blessed Daughter did the right thing, she told herself firmly. Corani is pregnant, even more hurt than me, and hasn't asked for any of this, either. Getting angry about it would be unreasonable. Nonetheless, aware that this place would probably kill her if her mistress didn't help her, she felt her face burn with anger and shame. "Expendable," the Justicar had called her.

    Kormick entered the dining hall to see the formerly smug derro archer sprinting for a spiral staircase at the far side. Kormick didn't feel like running. At all. He planted his feet, raised his sore arm, took aim, and sent a crossbow bolt with spectacular accuracy straight through the creature's leg. It yowled and fell to its knees. "Now," announced Kormick, "we can take our time." As the derro dragged itself up the first few steps, Kormick sauntered across the room. He arrived at the staircase just as the derro reached the fourth step. Kormick leisurely traded his crossbow for a warhammer and took aim at the back of the creature's skull. Crack.

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  5. #135
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Quote Originally Posted by babomb View Post
    Poor Arden.
    Arden appreciates your understanding and sympathy. Anyone who sympathizes in such a way with Arden's plight is far less likely to find themselves a victim of soup poisoning.

    To be (grudgingly) fair about the Savina-heals-Arden bit, of course, Savina's triage is actually sensible. Arden's kneejerk reaction is "all freepeople are always out to get me"; she can't quite cut this off even when the evidence doesn't support it. (The healing bit was also especially dramatic at the table because both Corani and Arden were now down to one or zero healing surges -- I forget exactly, but we were hurting -- so we were both heavily reliant on rare non-surge-requiring powers.)

    It's too bad that Arden will never know (and would never guess) that Tavi has just saved her in a gloriously self-sacrificing, downright heroic manner from the derro woman's attempt to kill her with a coup de grace. That might have helped Arden's paranoia a little bit.
    Last edited by Ilex; Wednesday, 16th September, 2009 at 05:02 AM.

  6. #136
    As my father always said: "The trick to killing a man on a set of stairs ... is to let the stairs do most of the work."

  7. #137
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Quiz #2!

    The regular update will be delayed for one week due to a happy (but highly distracting) event within the group that deserves its own separate announcement. In the meantime, let's review (thanks to Baron Opal's inspiration) our Halmaean theology.

    This sidebar from the original Welcome to the Halmae story hour sums up the basics on the Halmae's four deities. Study it. Study it well. Then take this important quiz:

    1. At Rose's extravagant coming-of-age ball at the beginning of this story hour, Kormick distresses Intransigent the Just by referring to Kettenek's justice as what?

    (A) a pebble
    (B) a flower
    (C) a flame
    (D) a rat

    2. If he had been the least bit interested in not distressing Brother Intransigent, what more orthodox metaphor for justice might Kormick have used?

    (A) a boulder
    (B) a war horse
    (C) a sword
    (D) a kneecap

    3) To which of the Halmae deities was Mena devoted before she became a Sedellan Defier of the Wind?

    (A) Kettenek
    (B) Alirria
    (C) Ehkt
    (D) Euro

    4) In Lord's Edge, a visit to which Alirrian sect gives Twiggy an inspiring glimpse of the wider world?

    (A) The Givers of Life
    (B) The Receivers of Life
    (C) The Handmaidens
    (D) The Water Walkers


    If we can assume that Kettenek's favorite TV show is Law & Order, what are the favorite TV shows of Alirria, Ehkt, and Sedellus?

    Click on the letter to review the relevant section of the story: B, A, C, D.

  8. #138
    Quote Originally Posted by Ilex View Post

    If we can assume that Kettenek's favorite TV show is Law & Order, what are the favorite TV shows of Alirria, Ehkt, and Sedellus?
    Ehkt's is probably Survivorman.

  9. #139
    Gallant (Lvl 3)

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    Thanks, babomb -- good one! And an announcement:

    Fajitas has commented that there is a thin line between inventing a pantheon and inventing a religion, and that (despite our efforts to compare him to L.Ron Hubbard) he thinks of himself as having done the former.

    At the risk of sounding too much like the latter, we would like to wish the marital blessings of Alirria and Kettenek to Thatch and Jenber, who just returned from their honeymoon.

    YAY! Congratulations.

    Attached is a commemorating picture of the game group (That is: Bad Monkey Jeff, Eva, Spyscribe, Jenber, Thatch, Ilex, WisdomLikeSilence, ellinor, and Fajitas -- sadly, jonrog1 could not make it). Trust me, we dress up like this for every game session.
    Attached Files Attached Files  

  10. #140
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Slap. "Wake up."

    Mena crouched over the unconscious derro woman she'd ordered Tavi to spare.

    Slap, slap. "I said wake up."

    The derro woman's eyes flew open and she spat a curse in broken Dwarven. Mena hurled a curse back. She sensed rather than saw Corani lunge forward, longing to kill the captive, and Tavi hold her back. Beyond them, the rest of the party gathered, looking on.

    Mena kept her eyes locked on the derro's.

    "Do you have children?" Mena asked in Dwarven.

    The woman's eyes narrowed, but she said nothing.

    "Do you want them to live?" Mena asked, keeping her voice calm and even. She saw the flicker of fear in the woman's eyes and waited. The woman nodded.

    "Cooperate, and I give you my word that none of us will harm your children. Where are the dwarven prisoners?"

    "Some here." The woman's eyes darted up the side corridor.

    "With the spellcaster?" Mena asked.

    "Protects with spells."

    "Where are the others?"

    "Don't know." Mena raised her eyebrows and, at that small gesture, the derro cringed. "Don't know!"

    Mena decided to believe her. "I need to knock you unconscious now," she told the woman.

    The woman shied away. "Will not fight."

    Mena smiled almost sadly. Gods, this would be easier if the woman went back to cursing her. "That may well be. But you wouldn't take the chance either, if our positions were reversed, and I can't risk it."

    "Do you have children?" the derro whispered.

    There was no real answer to that, not that it mattered. Mena slammed her fist into the side of the derro's head. The woman drooped backward. "Give me some rope," said Mena. Someone passed it to her, and she bound the derro's hands and feet, gently but tightly. Then she straightened and found Corani watching her solemnly.

    "If we find our children alive," said Corani, "I will abide by the promise you just made. If not . . . "

    "Her children are innocent, too," said Mena. Corani looked skeptical. Mena looked her steadily in the eye and said without raising her voice: "And if you make a move towards any child, Corani, I will stop you myself by whatever means necessary."

    During the interrogation, Kormick had returned from the dining hall. He was wearing magical bracers that he'd stripped off a derro warrior's corpse, and he was carrying a few other items: a pair of vision-sharpening goggles, which he handed to Twiggy; a pouch of seventy gold pieces, which he added to the money that Savina already carried; and two healing potions and a salve, all of which he offered to Tavi.

    "Arden," Tavi said. Arden, who hadn't yet risen to her feet after her brush with death, looked up from where she was sitting against a wall just in time to catch the healing salve that Tavi matter-of-factly tossed her way. Her eyes widened, but Tavi had already turned away to consult with Savina about the potions.

    As Arden wasted no time applying the salve, Kormick turned to Mena. "This peaceful, non-violent reasoning you used with the captive," he commented. "It's exactly the sort of enlightened approach that might go over well in Dar Und. I'll remember to introduce it."

    Mena, not sure if Kormick was being obtuse or willful in defining what she'd just done as peaceful and non-violent, then led the way up the side corridor. They eased open the door that Tavi and Arden had opened earlier. The fire crackled in the derro women's recently deserted room and a chair still rocked slightly.

    Crash. The chair exploded into splinters. Mena gripped her sword and whirled to see Twiggy lowering her casting hand.

    "That'll teach it," observed Kormick.

    "It was moving," said Twiggy, jumpy and defiant. The longer we're in this horrible place, Mena thought, self-control is going to become an increasing rare and precious resource. Dungeons are a terrible terrible idea. Whoever thought that trapping heavily armed and nervous people in a confined space with only one way out would be a clever little challenge should be dropped down to whatever man-eating plants are populating the basement. We need to get out of here before we all lose control.

    Across the room was a heavy closed door, apparently barred on the far side. Tavi and Kormick put their shoulders to it. The door shook in its frame. Under their blows and kicks it flew off its hinges and crashed into the room beyond.

    Tavi and Kormick strode through the opening, weapons ready. Mena was on their heels. They stopped short as they saw that the room on the far side was a nursery, its walls lined with cradles and small bunks, carved toys scattered on the floor. Huddled in the corner were a number of children and a few infants, dwarf and derro mingled together. Between them and the party stood a shimmery, derro-shaped figure – the spellcaster.

    Mena stepped forward as the rest of the party joined Tavi and Kormick behind her. "We will not harm your children," she said. "We merely wish to reclaim those who belong to us."

The shimmer took a step forward. "Stay back," came a voice.

    "Send out the dwarven children," said Mena, "and we'll leave you and your children alone."

    "Swear blood," the voice demanded.

    Of course, Mena sighed internally. For all their mutual hatred, dwarves and derro apparently shared the view that honor and parentage were somehow related. Why an oath on my family? Why not anything else in the world? she thought, but she knew that if she didn’t comply, they’d never be able to rescue the children. She reached into the catalogue of her mind and recalled what she'd studied of dwarven oath-making. Then she looked around, found a small stone, and picked it up. "Arden, your dagger, please," she asked, and Arden gave her the weapon. Mena cut her own palm, smeared her blood on the stone, and tossed it onto the floor near the spellcaster. "I swear," she said, “by my blood.” Please, let that be enough without the name.

    The spellcaster's shimmer made a gesture and stepped aside. Three dwarven toddlers, one barely managing to carry an infant, moved forward tentatively, leaving only derro children behind.

    "May I approach to get them?" Mena asked.

    "You," answered the voice firmly.

    Mena stepped forward, knelt down, and took the infant from the toddler, who stared at her solemnly. She stood up, nodded once to the spellcaster, turned, and escorted the children briskly toward the door, bracing herself for a parting shot of magical force hitting her square between the shoulderblades. The rest of the party preceded her out of the room. The spellcaster did not stop them.

    As they passed through the doorway into the room with the fireplace, one of the other toddlers squeaked: he'd seen Corani. All three toddlers raced around Mena and ran to Corani, who tried to hug them all at once, greeting them: "Gulst! Ladini! Tothi! And is that Fulri?" The toddlers were all chattering, and Gulst was trying assertively to get Corani to hold him, throwing his arms – and his weight – around her neck. As she nearly toppled over, Kormick stepped in and swooped the three-year-old up in his arms.

    "No strangling the pregnant lady," he said. Gulst grinned at him uncomprehendingly, and Mena nearly laughed out loud as she watched the Justicar's face soften irresistibly into a warm answering smile. Kormick set Gulst down, bemused and almost self-conscious. "Behave yourself," he said, failing to sound stern.

    "Your cheeks are glowing," Tavi told Kormick, straight-faced.

    "Alirria has blessed you," added Savina, utterly serious. Mena had to admit, Kormick really did look much better: he was standing straighter, and somehow, his wounds no longer looked recent, but rather as if they were well on their way to healing.

    DM’s NOTE: The original module that I based this adventure off of calls for the party to emerge from the dungeon to take extended rests when needed, and then return to the caves. This works in context because the creatures are not all working together, and thus they might reasonably not discover that the caves had been invaded and people slaughtered during the eight hours the party spent napping.

    Clearly, clearly that was not going to work here.

    So I ended up making the PCs do this entire module without an extended rest.

    Since I knew that this was going to make Healing Surges and Daily Powers an *extremely* scarce resource, I decided to help them out by providing extra ones. Every dwarven prisoner that they rescued came with a power—some of them had Daily Powers, others had the equivalent of a Paladin’s Lay on Hands power (heal as if you had spent a healing surge without actually spending one).

    The dwarven children, they provided healing surges. I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t be inspired to keep on fighting after looking at those adorable little tykes with their big, dwarven puppy-dog eyes…

    "Yes, yes, of course, children are magical and precious reminders of our youth. If we're done here," said Kormick, "there's a door in the dining hall that I'm eager to break open."

    As they made their way back to the dining hall, Kormick tapped Savina on the shoulder. "I'd like a word with you, young lady," he said. "What you did in this last fight, running straight into the center of it, was very brave, yes? Very brave and very foolish. Never do it again."

    "I – I wanted to help," protested Savina.

    "Never, ever again."

    "But I – it makes me feel good to – "


    "But Alirria protects – "


    Savina said nothing more, but she didn't look cowed. If anything, her expression reminded Mena of the expression the young Giver wore when caring for patients: she looked sorry for Kormick.

    When they reached the dining hall, Mena was proud to see Tavi move instinctively to help Kormick with the barred door and Twiggy station herself on watch in a spot where a well-placed magic missile would take out anyone or anything – even a rogue rocking chair – that might dare to show itself on the landing at the top of the room's spiral staircase.

    Arden leaned against the wall, still weak. Despite the salve, she wouldn't last long if they kept up this pace. As Kormick turned and opened his mouth to summon her, Mena beat him to it:

    "Arden –"

    Arden jerked upright defensively, like any slave caught loafing. By the gods, Mena thought at her in frustration, when we're keeping watch together, we converse like friends. Please trust me. Aloud, she said, "Would you please guard the corridor we came from?"

    Arden relaxed. "Yes, Dame Filomena." She moved to a vantage point where she could see the second pit. She leaned back against the wall, caught Mena's eye, and soundlessly mouthed, "Thank you."

    Kormick and Tavi heaved the bar off the door and opened it.

    Mena joined the two as they crept down the short corridor beyond. It opened up into a room lit by a single guttering torch – a room containing a row of barred cells.

    In the second-to-last cell, someone moved. In the last was a lump of rags.

    Tavi called in Dwarven, "We seek the husband and sister-wives of Corani."

    A voice answered from the second-to-last cell with a mixture of exhaustion and pride: "I am Sertani, first wife of Kartan Rockminder. Who are you?"

    "Friends. We're helping Corani. Is anyone else here?" asked Tavi.

    "Only Ordren, one of our caravan guards, and myself," said Sertani. The lump in the final cell, a badly beaten dwarven man, stirred painfully and groaned in response to his name. "They took my husband first. They said something about the lower tunnels. Kartan – Kartan was defiant. But they took him anyway."

    Mena heard a rattle as Kormick lifted a keyring off a hook on the wall.

    "I would never tolerate such lazy, lazy jail-keeping in Dar Und," he said happily, and set about trying to find the key that unlocked Sertani's cell.

    "There were others in your party, correct?" Mena asked Sertani.

    "Yes," she said. "Our children were taken. I don't know the fate of Thurran, Kartan's eldest son. He is seven, and we must find him. There are four other children, toddlers and the baby –"

    "We found the four," said Tavi. "They're safe, down the hall."

    "Truly? Praise the gods." Sertani's fists clenched on the bars as she watched Kormick work.

    "Do you know what became of the other wives?" Mena asked.

    "Zerkai tried to kill herself, but they stopped her. She is pregnant and vowed not to let them have her child, no matter the cost. They took her and Jalissi. They also took Mirtal, our cook."

    "Mirtal," groaned Ordren, dragging himself upright to his knees. His face was nothing but bruises.

    Kormick got Sertani's cell open and she stepped out quickly.

    "They took Mirtal," murmured Ordren, now staggering to his feet, as Kormick went to work on his cell's door. "They took him . . . " Mena knew that in the polygamous dwarven society, young dwarven men, not yet advanced enough in years and craft to support families, often formed loving attachments to other young men. Ordren's worry was that of a lover. "Have you found Mirtal?" he asked, begging them with his eyes to say yes.

    "Not yet," said Mena. The weight of the work still undone suddenly felt heavy. So many people left to save, but how long until they were too weak to fight?

    With a rattle, the door opened, and Kormick reached out to steady the young dwarf, who managed to walk with some assistance. They all hurried back up the corridor to the dining hall.

    After a few minutes of reunion, Sertani turned to address the group. "We must find Kartan, Thurran, and the others," she said. "Corani has told me of your kind assistance; I would be grateful if you would continue to help us. If not, we go on alone."

    Mena looked over the dwarven party: four babies, a man weak from torture, and two women, one pregnant. So many innocents. How long until a misstep puts them in danger again? "I think," she said, "that we should go on alone . . . assuming we can find someplace safe for you to wait for us."

    "Absolutely not," said Sertani. Behind her, Corani nodded fiercely, and even Ordren looking up in outrage. "We have skills, we can help. More importantly, we have honor, and it's our family. I understand that our route lies up those stairs?"

    Mena sighed. Dwarven honor could be so . . . problematic. "Yes, but –"

    "Then respectfully, new friends," interrupted Sertani, "what are we waiting for?"

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