The Realms of Enlightenment: The Grey Companions
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  1. #1
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    The Realms of Enlightenment: The Grey Companions

    Okay, recently my PBEM game made the switch to 3E (finally). I've decided to post the group's adventures here for the possible enjoyment of others. I've got 15 sections that I will post, bringing the game up to date. After that, the updates will settle into a once-a-week schedule. The first nine posts use 2E rules but I think they're necessary to get the gist of what's happening in the game.

    The charcter stats are available in the Rogue's Gallery.

    Older write-ups (pre-board) are available for download as Word documents here, here, and here.

    You can also find the early adventures as .pdfs, repackaged with introductions, and reader blurbs. These represent the most complete chronicle of the campaign.

    Now, on with the show...
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Sunday, 2nd March, 2008 at 04:28 AM.

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    [Realms #179] A Gathering Storm

    After they had all eaten their fill of chicken pastries and lamb stew (which in Kirnoth's case wasn't much - he left several fatty gobbets of lamb in his bowl) the conversation turned from pleasantries to talk of strategy. At the first mention of it, Abernathy hurriedly began gathering plates and bowls, the signal to Gwaedry and Allylra that it was time for the family to retire to the kitchen.

    "Abernathy?" Ledare said to get the man's attention before he left. "Could you possibly show Draelond, here the way to the Day Room. Maybe he could pick out some libations for us all."

    Draelond looked a little puzzled, but he nodded and got to his feet.

    "I would be happy to-" the manservant began to protest, but seeing the look on the Janissary's face, he realized that the tactic had more to do with getting the big warrior out of the room and less with thirst. His face went blank, betraying not a hint of emotion and he bowed his head to Ledare.

    "It would be my honor," Abernathy said. "Please follow me, Goodman Draelond."

    The two men left and Ledare immediately leaned forward. "Draelond has offered his sword to help our cause," she told them.

    "Really? Why?" Kirnoth asked, a trifle surprised that anyone would want to put himself so readily in harm's way.

    "He says that he owes much to the king, and would be willing to assist us in our assignment," the Janissary explained. "He seems sincere, and quite sure of himself."

    "Well, he did help us once, already," Finian said. "He seems worthy enough."

    "I have no objections," Kirnoth put in with a nod.

    "What do you think, Ledare?" Ruze asked.

    Ledare considered for a moment, her eyes studying the tabletop and her trigger finger gently tapping her lips as she pondered. At last she looked up and nodded her head. "He certainly is strong," she admitted. "And we could use his help."

    "If Ledare approves," Ruze said, "that's good enough for me."

    Everyone looked over at Omrixx and the half-elf sat up in his seat. "I get a vote?" he asked.

    "Why wouldn't you?" Finian asked.

    "You are one of us, are you not?" Ledare added.

    "Being so new to your group, I questioned whether I would get to voice an opinion," Omrixx said. "But, if my opinion is wanted it would be to let this young human join us. More numbers will only help us in future confrontations, be it Nunzio or anything further."

    "Then it is settled," Ledare said.

    "I found something interesting when I was going through the stuff we found on Mice and Fendy," Finian began. "They might be even more appropriate now. Let me go grab them."
    He stood up and Omrixx got to his feet at the same time.

    "Let's grab everything, I'd like another chance to look at what we've got," he said and he and Finian hurried off into the Audience Chamber.

    When they both returned, Draelond had also come back from his foray to the Day Room. A two-gallon keg of Bone Hill Ale sat on the tabletop beside him. Ledare was explaining to him the nature of the King's mission and the uncertain path that lay before them.

    "We have to weigh our options," she concluded. "The king has charged us to deal with the skaven, which we have not done. That was primarily due to the fact that we lacked a plan and the manpower to pull anything off. We may be better equipped now."

    Draelond grinned and nodded. "I hope that I may live up to the faith that you all have showed in me," he said.

    "I think she was talking about all this stuff," Omrixx chuckled as he lay the double armload of miscellaneous gear on the table.

    "No, I was talking about Draelond, but all of this stuff might help too," she said.

    Finian put the gear that he was carrying on the table beside Omrixx's load and then pulled out two necklaces from the pile. Most of them recognized the mithral coin that was the symbol of the Grey Company as he held them aloft.

    "I think that these definitely should go to Draelond, for helping save us, and to Omrixx, who gave his away," the Archer announced. With a smile at Omrixx he added, "Provided he does not trade this one for a pile of magic beans."

    The half-elf's face darkened, however and through gritted teeth he growled, "I believe those "beans" saved us from Nunzio and I will be more prepared to kill him next time because of that wise choice."

    Finian blinked and lowered the two necklaces. "I was just teasing," he said.

    "Sorry," Omrixx muttered, not looking the Archer in the eye.

    "Well, I, for one, will accept this token with all due reverence," Draelond said. "I am truly honored to be counted amongst your number." He took one of the coins from Finian and slipped the leather thong over his own head, smiling broadly all the while.

    "It seems I am just in time," Abernathy announced as he re-entered the Dining Room with a tray of shining silver mugs. "A toast is in order."

    Abernathy distributed mugs while Draelond insisted on dispensing the beer and they all (except for Abernathy, of course) raised a mug to their newest member. No one noticed the half-elf do anything, but the mithral coin that Finian had laid on the tabletop when he'd gotten his beer had somehow migrated to hang around Omrixx's neck by the time they all shouted "Huzzah!"

    Once again, Ledare stopped Abernathy before he could slip back to the kitchen. "When will we find out about this secret transportation possibility?" she asked the manservant and Abernathy clutched the round tray in front of himself like a shield.

    "I will begin looking for all of the necessary references in the morning," he told her. "Master Mirelich keeps meticulous notes. It shouldn't take me more than a day or two to find what I'm looking for. Is that acceptable?"

    "I imagine we'll be busy over the next few days, anyway," she told him. "But I'm also curious to know what contingencies have been left by the Grey Lords in their absence?"

    The manservant sighed. "Very little, I'm afraid," Abernathy explained. "The Grey Lords are often absent from Grey House for extended periods on one quest or another so they left no specific instructions this time. They certainly didn't expect to die this time."

    Abernathy's face fell and in that moment, he looked very old.

    "I can't imagine that they are all dead," Ledare said, intending to lift his spirits a bit. "Perhaps they are fighting a bigger battle on some other kind of plane of existence."

    "Perhaps," Abernathy reluctantly agreed.

    "If that is the case, what could we possibly hope to accomplish by following them?" Ledare asked and Finian shrugged.

    "And if they are actually dead, I hate to say it, but we would do very little good in that case either," the Archer admitted. "I suggest we stay here and pursue an immediate assault on the sewer to find Nunzio."

    "I think it is possible the Grey Lords are fighting on another plane," Kirnoth told them. "But if they are or if they're dead, as Finian thinks, I believe our first obligation is to Grey Company. That is particularly true given that the skaven fit into the evil we would be fighting by going to Myth Drannor."

    "So you think," Ruze said, taking a long pull on his beer. "There is no strong evidence that the trouble in Myth Drannor is related to the troubles here. We KNOW there's a Chaos temple in Othelwood. We have no idea what awaits us in Pellham."

    "Ruze is right. After we take care of Nunzio and any other skaven, I say we head to Othelwood," Finian suggested and Kirnoth groaned.

    "Our focus should be on the troubles in Myth Drannor," the mage reiterated.

    "I'm afraid that the King's mission must take precedent," Ledare told Kirnoth.

    "I was not one of the original members to have been procured by the King, but I seem to be involved none the less," Omrixx spoke up. "And regardless of the path we take toward stopping this evil, the outcome should be the same as the King would desire, anyway. Yes?"

    Finian nodded.

    "I say we finish the King's mission first," Omrixx went on. "Finian is right, with the festival going on, Nunzio may be able to harm many more innocents, if that is his cause. Now would be an ideal time for him to strike with the festival's added populous."

    Heads nodded around the table and the elf let out a resigned but exasperated sigh. "Fine," Kirnoth acquiesced. "We deal with the skaven first, then go to Myth Drannor."

    Several of his Companions opened their mouths to protest, but Kirnoth raised his hand to silence them. "At least, that's where I'll be going, unless Abernathy uncovers information to change my mind," the elf told them. "I would love to have all of you accompany me, but I'll be going one way or another."

    "I will try my best to find out what I may," Abernathy told the assemblage. "I will spend tomorrow writing letters to each of the Grey Lords and researching a way to cover the distance between here and Myth Drannor."

    "Thank you, Abernathy," Ledare said and the manservant started to turn toward the door.

    "Wait, Abernathy!" Omrixx called and the man turned back toward him. "Could you take a look at some of this gear and see if you recognize their make."

    "I'm sure that that's beyond my-" Abernathy started to say and then his eyes fell on Fendathiel's matched scimitars. He picked them up and closely examined the bears carved into the hilts and pommels of both weapons. "Oh my," he said, sounding every bit as surprised as he looked. "I do recognize these. Masters Mirelich and Ocif made them for Mistress Cerakkean. They're called Scimitars of Doubling. When she got her current weapons Mistress Cerakkean must have given these to Fendathiel."

    "What do they do?" Finian asked but Abernathy just shrugged.

    "I don't really know," he admitted. "I believe they allow the wielder to use them both without suffering the usual troubles from wielding two weapons."

    "None of the rest of this stuff you recognize?" Omrixx asked again, holding up the spectacles and one of the wands for the manservant to see. Abernathy just shook his head again.

    "Give me those," Kirnoth said, accepting the spectacles from Omrixx. "I'll examine them before I go to bed. But right now, let's decide on a plan of action to get the skaven immediately."

    Ledare rolled her shoulders to work some of the kinks out of them. "Let's discuss it in the morning," she said. "Some of us haven't slept since night before last."

    Omrixx stayed up for a while after the others had gone to bed and copied another spell out of the tome Kirnoth had liberated from Andamacles' stronghold. Kirnoth spent a number of hours carefully examining the spectacles, the sets of keys, the two chests, and finally the various gems. He checked them all for any of the hallmarks of magical construction or any sign of enchantment whatsoever. There was none. They were all mundane. Disappointed, the elf contented himself by transcribing two new spells from Andamacles' tome to his own spellbook. He climbed the stairs to his room with the spells Stinking Cloud and Spider Climb waiting to be cast once his manna had recharged overnight.

    Sometime later they were all jolted out of a sound sleep by a brilliant flash of lightning that left a blurry white after-image burned into their fields of vision. They each sat bolt upright in their narrow beds with adrenaline coursing through there veins. The sound of rain or hail pounding down on the roof of Grey House soon followed and one by one they crept across their darkened rooms and opened the heavy shutters to look outside.

    It was raining hard outside, but there was something very wrong. As a gust of wind blew some rain drops against the pain of glass separating them from the outside, they each saw, to their horror, what was wrong.

    It was raining blood.
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:55 PM.

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    [Realms #180] Rat Catching

    They met in the hallway, disheveled from sleep but energized by the horror that they had each seen outside their window. "This has to be a sign of something bad!" Finian asserted and Kirnoth shook his head.

    "Little escapes your keen perceptions, does it, Finian?" the wizard groaned and rubbed at his bloodshot eyes.

    "He's right, Kirnoth," Ledare countered. "Whatever this means, it certainly can't be a good sign."

    "I do not remember," the Archer went on. "Have we had any prophecies of it raining blood?"

    "As I recall, there have been numerous references to blood," Ledare said after a moment's pondering. "But nothing specifically about blood raining from the sky."

    "I'm betting this signals the birth and it's taking place in Othelwood," Kirnoth suggested. "We should head there immediately!"

    Ledare shook her head. "I, for one, feel it necessary to stay and continue with the task of ridding the sewers of the skaven," she told the elf. "If I run off to Othelwood without first completing that assignment, I fear I will have to answer to the king."

    "Even if it means missing our opportunity to stop this evil at the source?" Kirnoth went on.

    "As much as I agree with you, that this blood must be a sign of the birth," the Janissary explained, "I can't just leave to pursue that unless I can make a connection in my mind between the two."

    The mage sighed.

    "For the little that I know about this situation," Draelond offered, "I agree with Ledare's point. Whatever we think about the blood-rain at this point is purely conjecture until someone can put hard and fast connections between it and the birth Mice spoke of."

    "We need to act immediately, but I do not know what is best to do!" Finian growled and slammed his fist against the doorjamb. "It is very frustrating."

    "I agree," Omrixx said. "But I'm in no shape to go anywhere until I've rested more and given my magic time to recharge."

    The half-elf looked at Kirnoth to back him up and the elf nodded. "I require more rest as well," he told them. "I would be of limited use if we go anywhere tonight."

    "Well, you two get back to bed then and the rest of us should meet now and put our heads together," Ledare suggested.

    "The King's charge is to deal with the skaven," Draelond said. "And as Ledare mentioned earlier, now that we have more manpower, perhaps an organized plan of attack might get us somewhere."

    "If we're going to go after the skaven," Kirnoth added. "Let's do it in the morning and stop letting them get in the way of other things we have to do."

    So Kirnoth and Omrixx returned to bed and did their best to rest although it did not come easy.
    The others gathered in the Library and went over the various clues and prophecies that they had collected over the last few moonsdances. They studied each intently, looking for any mention of a rain of blood. The closest they could find was a snippet of poetry:

    "As with plague the world becomes stained,
    Slaying the righteous of Light slowly waned,
    Seek then to free Her, a goddess unchained."

    "Plague isn't the same as blood," Ledare said after she read the passage aloud. "But blood-rain will certainly leave a stain on the world."

    Finian yawned. "Maybe," he groaned. "But it seems like a stretch to me."

    "It's the best connection that we've got at this point," the Janissary told him and he shrugged.

    "Uh huh," Finian said, getting out of his chair stiffly, "Well, if Omrixx and Kirnoth are going to sleep for a few more hours, I'm going to get a bit more rest, too. I plan to use one of those healing potions in the morning, but I may as well make the most of my herbal remedies until then."

    Ruze stood as well and nodded. "I believe that my time would best be spent in meditation," he told them. "I'll just fetch myself a snack from the kitchen and head up to my room."

    Ledare looked at Draelond after the others had left. "You can go too," she told him. "I'm going to stay up and try to find a reference to the name: Zagaroth. Mice'talla'burra mentioned him as the Queen's own son in her letter to Kirnoth and I know that I've heard it or read it somewhere else recently."

    Draelond stifled back a yawn and said, "I'll help you. It may go quicker with two pairs of eyes."

    Freeday, the 2nd of Wealsun, 1269 AE

    In the morning, the light from Orin's Shield fell over Barnacus and the members of Grey Company were shocked to see no evidence of the blood-rain that they had all seen the night before. Not only were there no bloodstains on the roofs and walls of the city, but everything looked more-or-less dry. It was as if the rain had never fallen - bloody or otherwise.

    Abernathy told them that he hadn't been awakened last night by any thunder or lightning and to the best of his knowledge, there was never any rain during Kakadiador. The Druids of Dridanis had an arrangement with the Fists of Cyr to keep the local weather pleasant during the three days of the festival. Whatever they had all seen the night before was, apparently, for their eyes alone.

    After Kirnoth and Omrixx had spent some time going over the spells in their respective books (which was taking longer and longer as their repertoire of incantations grew) and Finian had used one of the potions of Curing that Abernathy had brought back from the Argo Forest tower to bring himself back to within a hair's breadth of perfect health, they set off for the sewer entrance off Crescent Street.

    They took a circuitous route in order to avoid the throngs of fair-goers amassed in the plaza around the arena. Even taking the long way around (up South Gate Road, then west onto Wizard's Walk, north through the Temple District and onto Livermore Avenue before finally arriving at the west end of Crescent Street) they met many folk on their way to the fair. Most gave the group no more than a second glance although a few wished Draelond luck in today's events. Rather than argue, the big man just smiled and nodded.

    They reached the burned out house that concealed the entrance to the sewer temple just as a magically amplified voice was announcing the line-up for the second day of Kakadiador. With one last look at the bright sun of early morning they slipped inside and down into the cramped tunnels that ran beneath the street.

    They navigated the tunnels without incident, encountering no opposition along the way. Evidently their efforts to smash the cult had yielded at least some success. Draelond had to slip out of his chain shirt and wriggle and squirm a great deal to navigate the narrow fissure that lead from the sewer to the catacombs beneath them, but with only that small bit of difficulty, they made it to the worked stone tunnels of the temple itself.

    Aside from the usual sewer vermin, it too was empty and they traveled quickly through the silent labyrinth to the ladder that they hadn't explored. Nunzio's dried blood was still evident on the iron rungs set into the side of the cylindrical shaft and one by one, they made their way up it.

    After not too far, there was a door set into the side of the shaft, and Finian (who was in the lead) noted that the trail of dried blood ended there. He pushed the door open stepped out into a normal sewer tunnel such as they had seen elsewhere in the city. Water flowed away to the right down a shallow trough in the center of the passage. There were flat walkways along either side of the trough that were crusted over with black moss and rat droppings but were otherwise fairly dry. To the left, was a junction room and shafts of light were filtering down through a grill in the ceiling of the chamber. There was a splashing sound coming from that direction.

    The squeaking of rats was everywhere. The smell, while undeniably unpleasant, wasn't the typical sewer stench that permeated tunnels elsewhere. Rather, this was a horrible, charnel house odor as if they had just stepped into a slaughterhouse.

    Finian covered his mouth and nose with his hand and padded toward the junction room. Three other tunnels let onto the room, one in each wall. All of them were letting in various amounts of noxious water so that a constant flow fed away from the chamber. Once he got closer, he could see why the place smelled like a slaughterhouse; the water that flowed out of the chamber was running red with blood. As he peered into the junction room, he had a momentary feeling of deja vu. Blood was falling from the grate in the ceiling like rain. But unlike the grim spectacle of the previous night, lumps of entrails and torrents of gristle and bone accompanied this rain.

    The gruesome waterfall sluiced through the grate and fell into the pool below. There, fighting over scraps of intestine and other organs, were two of the largest rats that Finian had ever seen. They squeaked and snapped evilly at each other as they fought over the choicest bits. He managed to tear his eyes away from the horrible creatures long enough to notice that three more enormous rats sprawled atop a noisome nest of bones and torn cloth off to the right. A metal ladder was set into the wall behind them, leading up to the ceiling and an open trapdoor that gaped there.
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:47 PM.

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    [Realms #181] A Better Ratrap

    The Archer studied the trapdoor in the ceiling a moment longer before turning to head back to the others. As he did so, however, the arrows in his quiver scraped along the curved wall of the tunnel. It wasn't much sound, but the two enormous rats nearest him immediately stopped their fighting and trained their glittering eyes in his direction. He froze in the shadows. It was clearly of little use.

    With a shriek that was louder and more piercing than any rat's cry should have been, the two rodents came splashing toward him.

    Despite his hunter's instincts, Finian was unprepared for the sudden charge. Before he could even draw an arrow, they were upon him. He raised his bow and managed to fend off two rats; their snapping jaws clamped down savagely on the weapon. They were too close for him to draw his sword, and his hand went instead to the dagger at his waist. He stabbed outward with it and was rewarded with a dying squeal from one of the creatures as the blade sank hilt-deep into its left shoulder.

    The Archer let go of the dagger and the dead vermin fell into the water. Before he could turn his attention to the other rat, however, he heard a thunking sound and it reeled backward, transfixed by a bolt from Ledare's repeating crossbow. It was dead before it could let out a squeak of pain.

    Finian glanced back and saw that the others were advancing on his position. Ledare was in the lead with her hand crossbow drawn. Behind her loomed Draelond followed by Omrixx, Kirnoth and finally Ruze.

    The Archer smiled and turned back to the junction chamber. The grin rapidly fell off his face. The three rats that had been sleeping atop the noisome nest in the far corner were awake. One of them crouched at the foot of the ladder and one of them was creeping down toward the water. The third, a large specimen with tawny blond fur, reared up on its haunches and stared down at Finian with its nose twitching.

    "I don't believe it!" the rat said in the common tongue. "You! Coming here?"

    It started to titter then and as it did so, it began to change. Its forepaws began to lengthen and grow more massive, while its torso shrunk and flattened borne aloft by two humanoid legs. Only its head remained unchanged and the wererat, Rudivan, bared his sharp rat's teeth at the half-elf.

    "You're an even bigger fool than I thought!" he taunted. In response, Finian nocked an arrow and drew back. "You can't hurt me with that, fool!" the sneering rat man told him and Finian answered with a single word.

    "Silver," he said and let the arrow fly.

    It struck Rudivan in the left shoulder and embedded there, eliciting a squeal of pain and horror from the skaven. He immediately ducked down behind the partial cover of the nest so that Finian second arrow lodged amidst the tangle of bone. His grin restored, Finian drew another arrow, stepped off the narrow ledge and began to walk up the wall of the junction chamber using his Slippers of Spider Climbing.

    As soon as Finian stepped out of her line of sight, Ledare squeezed off another shot with her hand crossbow. The rat that she was aiming for ducked into the water an instant before the bolt struck and the shaft clattered uselessly against the stone wall.

    Having been warned that only silver and magic was of any use against the rat men, Draelond trudged grimly forward with Ravager ready in his big right hand.

    Kirnoth glanced at Omrixx and Ruze before starting toward the melee. "Let's get moving," he said to them as he pushed up the sleeves of his jacket. "We came here for a battle and I'd say we've found it!"

    Omrixx put a staying hand on the mage's arm. "Wait," the half-elf said. "We should conserve our magic!"

    "Since when are you one to be cautious?" Kirnoth replied

    "No one's been hurt on our side as yet," Ruze interjected, his hand resting on the ursine pommel of one of the scimitars he now wore at his waist. "Let's see if the day may be won without sorcerous aid."

    From his position half way up the wall, Finian drew back on his bow and released. The silver-tipped shaft cut a bloody groove in Rudivan's furry chest. The wererat cried out again in pain and let loose with a loud series of chittering squeaks. He was trying desperately to pull Finian's first arrow out of his shoulder, but was so far only succeeding in making it bleed more.

    Finian hit him with another arrow, but this one did little more than punch a hole through one of Rudivan's large ears.

    *We should go!* Gordigan spoke into Kirnoth's mind. *We should go now!*

    "What is it?" the mage asked his cowardly familiar.

    *That big old nasty rat man just called for help,* Gordigan responded fearfully. *And there's a lot of help down here.*

    "How do you know what he said?" the elf replied.

    *I told you I could speak the language of some animals a few times a day,* the duckbunny sighed. *You NEVER listen to me.*

    "Do you see where it went?" Draelond asked Ledare as the two surveyed the foul water swirling around their shins.

    "It's in here some-" she started to say when the rat thing sprang up behind them with a shriek. Its jaws snapped at Draelond ineffectually, but the warrior raised his sword expertly and dealt a heavy blow to the skaven's left forepaw. It squealed and fell back into the water.
    Ledare fired her crossbow but missed.

    Finian cried out as a hurled dagger sliced into his forehead. He had almost forgotten about the wererat guarding the ladder and for a moment, as blood trickled into his right eye, he was back in Strenchburg Junction, rescuing Grmnmral in a darkened alley.

    Blinking his blood away, the Archer ignored the other skaven for the moment and fired again at Rudivan. His arrow tore away a bit of flesh and fur from the rat man's left arm. The limb, which was already slicked with blood from the first wound jerked from the impact and then fell against the nest, stilled for all time.

    As he reached for a second arrow, he heard a voice above him. "You!" the voice hissed with all the malice and hatred that a single syllable can hold.

    Finian looked up through the grate above and saw a disturbing sight. In the room above him, stood Nunzio, wearing a gore-soaked leather apron over his fat, naked torso. In his right hand he held an enormous, bloodstained meat cleaver and from his left a woman's head dangled by its hair.

    Kirnoth hastily explained to Ruze and Omrixx what Gordigan had told him. "We may quickly be outnumbered," Ruze admitted and drew the matching scimitars from their sheaths. As he began trotting forward along the narrow path beside the river of sewer water, he added, "Wait here! I'll notify Ledare!"

    The skaven that Draelond's sword had injured tried to dart away to its left, but Ledare fired another crossbow bolt into the water beside its head and it darted right instead... directly into Ravager's path as the saw-toothed weapon came down. Draelond grunted as he drove the heavy blade through the lycanthrope's skull.

    The brown water around them began to fill with clouds of blood.

    Finian raised his bow and slammed an arrow into place with a single fluid motion. He had caught Nunzio flat-footed and he sighted up through the bloody grate. As he drew back on the pull, he heard a sickening CRACK-ACK as his bow, weakened as it had been at the start of the battle by the rats' chomping teeth, broke apart uselessly in his hands. He watched as the bits of wood fell into the water below.

    Above him, he heard Nunzio laughing.
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:43 PM.

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    [Realms #182] Soup's On!

    Ruze splashed over to Ledare and Draelond and began relating to the Janissary about the danger of which Gordigan had warned Kirnoth. Ledare listened intently, but ended up shaking her head. "It makes no sense for us to come this far again and then retreat," she told the Battleguard.

    Ruze's face betrayed no hint of fear when he stated the fact, "We might be overrun."

    "Okay, so a lot of rat-help is coming," she admitted. "I am tired of running, only to have to return in the future."

    "As am I, kitten," Ruze grinned and looked up at Draelond.

    The big warrior looked from Ruze to Ledare and nodded his head. "Agreed," he said. "Killing these creatures is, after all, what we're here to do."

    "Mother had convinced me to let you live until after the festival," Nunzio told Finian. The man tossed the bloody head down through the grate and it splashed into the water a dozen feet from where Ledare and Ruze and Draelond stood. "You shouldn't have come here, coward!" the fat man taunted.

    "We came back down here to finish the job, one-eye!" Finian sneered up at him. "Get your fat behind down here so I can kick it again!"

    Finian produced one of the throwing daggers he carried about his person and threw it upward at Nunzio. It flitted unerringly through the wide holes in the grate and struck Nunzio just above the bloody apron, squarely between his hairy breasts. The fat man grunted and then grinned down at Finian. "If that's the best you can do, half-elf, then killing you won't even be any sport!" Nunzio said as he pulled the dagger out of his chest and cast it aside. "Not that I won't enjoy it just the same."

    Finian was the only one close enough to see the knife wound close the moment that the blade was pulled free.

    Kirnoth watched Ruze and Ledare and Draelond conferring. Judging by their body language, they didn't plan to flee. "Looks like you've been outvoted, Gordigan," the elf said. He beckoned for Omrixx to follow him. "There'll be no retreat."

    *Noooo,* Gordigan whimpered inside Kirnoth's head. *We're all gonna die.*

    Kirnoth ignored the duckbunny's mewling and reached the mouth of the sewer tunnel in time to see Nunzio toss a woman's head down through the grate. The elf gasped in horror and moved his hands through the gestures of Force and Direction.

    "Come on up, coward," Nunzio beckoned his left hand. He held up the blood-slicked cleaver and licked the fouled blade. "There's room for you on my chopping bl- ahkkk! Ahkkk!"

    The fat man's words ended in two shocked cries of pain as blue-white bolts of force sizzled from Kirnoth's outstretched fingers into Nunzio's left leg. He jerked back with smoking holes burned into his thigh and knee.

    "You should have killed me when you had the chance, you stupid son of a b****!" Finian chuckled grimly. "I'm not alone this time!" The Archer started to make his way along the wall toward the trapdoor in the ceiling, drawing his longsword as he went.

    "Nunzio!" Ledare hissed and moved forward to get a better shot at the rat man.

    She sighted down the barrel of the repeating crossbow and squeezed off a shot before Nunzio staggered away from the grate and out of sight. Her aim was off, however, and she missed by a wide margin. "Dammit!" she hissed and holstered her crossbow. To Draelond and Ruze she commanded, "The ladder. We need to get up there. Clearly, he is some kind of leader. Maybe the "help" will scatter if we finish Nunzio off!"

    The two men obeyed without question, moving toward the mound of twigs, bones and torn clothing that was the skaven's nest. The Janissary followed, her silver-iron longsword already in her hand.

    Finian reached the nest first, however, and he saw the rat-thing hunched low beneath the ladder. It was curled into a protective ball and squeaking softly. Upon sighting the half-elf, it let out a frightened shriek and produced a battered shortsword from the pile of refuse on which it crouched.

    Finian, who already had his sword out swung first. There was something unsettling about fighting on two separate planes - Finian standing on the wall and the skaven on the floor. The Archer's swing missed by a large margin. The skaven thrust at Finian's foot with his shortsword, but instead struck the wall, chipping off the tip of the weapon in the process.
    This seemed to make the rat man very angry and he thrust at the half-elf again with his sword. This time he landed his blow, but the blunted weapon was unable to penetrate Finian's protective leathers. The Archer swung a return blow but missed.

    At that moment, Draelond attained the top of the rat nest and saw the two combatants trading swings beneath the metal ladder. Gripping his huge sword in both hands he struck at the skaven. His footing was unsure, however, and the sword contacted only air.

    The skaven dropped its sword and its limbs began to shorten as it took on a more rat-like aspect. It started to dart away down the side of the nest, but Draelond's sword landed a solid blow to its right forepaw, causing it to falter. Finian's longsword savagely pierced its left flank killing it instantly.

    Finian, Draelond and Ruze all stood atop the nest and as a group, they moved toward the ladder. Ledare was halfway to the top when she heard Kirnoth calling behind her. "What about the reinforcements?" the elf asked and Ledare paused for a moment before responding quickly.

    "You and Omrixx use your spells to prevent other rats from coming in here!" she ordered. "That might give us the time we need to take care of these vermin!"

    Kirnoth nodded and then looked around at the empty tunnels. "Where is Omrixx?" he muttered.

    Ledare's hesitation to speak with Kirnoth saved her from the torrent of boiling stew that Nunzio poured down through the trapdoor.

    Draelond and Ruze, who were still at the bottom of the ladder were able to avoid the worst of it. Draelond suffered only incidental splash damage and Ruze emerged unscathed. Finian, however, took it full in the face and fell, screaming, off the wall. The nest of branches and bones cushioned his fall so that he suffered only minor bumps and bruises, but the burns from the pot of soup were severe. Ruze dropped immediately off the ladder and hunched over the writhing Archer.

    Draelond looked up and saw Nunzio standing above him framed by the trapdoor. Gritting his teeth, the warrior began to climb. Nunzio tossed down the cast iron pot that had held the stew and it thudded against Draelond's left shoulder before careening off into the water below.

    Still the man climbed and Nunzio was too slow in closing the wooden door. As it came down, Draelond was able to put his shoulder against it before the skaven could slide a bar in place to secure it. The warrior threw it back as he watched Nunzio slip into the next room, which was lined with shelves.

    The room with the trapdoor was completely empty and featureless except for the trapdoor in the center of the floor and the single door through which Nunzio had fled. "Mother!?" the fat man was shrieking as he went.

    Ledare paused with one foot on the ladder. "Will he be okay?" she asked and Ruze looked up at her.

    "With My Queen's healing touch, he will be," the Battleguard said and gripped the holy symbol he wore on a chain around his waist. "Stop him, kitten. We'll join you shortly." He then turned back to his patient and began to pray while Ledare went up the ladder as quickly as she could.

    Kirnoth stood near the center of the junction room looking around from tunnel mouth to tunnel mouth for any sign of Omrixx.

    There was none.

    He began to hear a feint chittering - a squeaking sound that seemed to be drawing ever closer. He couldn't tell which direction the sounds were coming from since they seemed to be coming from all four directions at once.

    *They're coming,* Gordigan informed him, the familiar's voice filled with naked terror.

    Draelond pressed onward through the narrow, shelf-lined storeroom into the area beyond. There, he stopped.

    The room was lined with blood-flecked tiles on the walls and floor. The heavy metal grate that they had seen from below was set into the floor beside an enormous butcher's block that was heavily scarred from repeated blows from a cleaver and deeply stained from untold gallons of blood. The floor around it was slick with the stuff. The ceiling was low and festooned with hooks of various sizes from which hung the bodies of no less than a dozen men, women, and children. All were in various states of dismemberment. Draelond's mind could scarcely comprehend the level of madness and evil necessary to perpetrate such a thing.

    Ledare stepped into the room behind him and sucked in her breath when she saw what he saw. "Dear gods," she whispered, her eyes moving left, away from the gore-soaked abattoir to the rest of the room which held a number of coal-fed stoves and heavy stone ovens. there were things cooking there that she didn't want to think about.

    A set of rickety wooden stairs along the wall led up to the floor above.
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:40 PM.

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    [Realms #183] Soylent Green is People

    "Omrixx!" Kirnoth hissed into the darkness.

    There was no reply.

    "Well, you're on your own then," the mage muttered as he began to splash over toward the nest. "I have no time to worry about where you've disappeared to."

    *Does that mean we're getting out of here?* Gordigan asked, his voice filled with hopeful excitement.

    "No," Kirnoth said flatly and began to climb the nest of twigs and bones.

    Behind him, the tunnels were alive with the sound of many, many rats.

    "What is this madness?! " Ledare gagged, keeping her breakfast down by force of will alone.

    Draelond found that he had no answer, although madness is what it seemed to him as well. Perhaps he would ask this Nunzio what it all meant... after he'd impaled the foul creature on Ravager's blade. "I don't know what lies at the top of those stairs," Draelond said, motioning to the dilapidated staircase, "but I think we need to find out."

    "Agreed," Ledare nodded. "Let's press on quickly; the sight of this room makes my skin crawl."

    "I'll take the lead, but... uh... don't lag TOO far behind. Okay, Ledare?" the big man said as he stooped his head to avoid the rafters and crossed to the staircase. "Who... or whatever is up there surely won't be serving warm tea and pastries." Ledare snorted nervous laughter as she followed him.

    "You're starting to sound like Ruze with your reference to pastries," she told him. "How anyone can think of food at a time like this is beyond me."

    "Don't let my comments fool you," Draelond shot back as he glanced uncomfortably at the many pots of meat stew that boiled atop the charcoal stoves as he passed. "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to eat again." He tightened his grip on Ravager in one hand and grabbed the crumbling railing in the other - even if he knew it offered little more than a false sense of security at best.

    "Uuurrn," Finian groaned as Shaharizod's favor worked its healing magic on his blistered face. His eyes flickered open and locked onto Ruze's.

    "Oh, Finian, just what have you launched yourself into again?" the Battleguard chided. He clucked his tongue and shook his head. "You have to remember to not always lead head first into things, because I may not always be here to heal you."

    "It still hurts like hell," Finian growled and started to get up but Ruze held him down. "How does it look?"

    "Despite my healing powers, this will still be very painful, and I can do nothing about the scars that will remain," the cleric confessed. "Nasser-Ubeen, yes, could heal without scars, but, alas, it is beyond my powers."

    Finian nodded grimly and fished out the potion labeled 'Cure Critical', popped the top and brought it to his lips. He only took a swallow - roughly half of the vial - but it hit his stomach like peppermint fire that spread in the space of two heartbeats throughout his body. The pain from the boiling soup was gone. The pain from the fall off the wall was gone. The pain from the knife wound to his forehead was gone. In fact, he felt perfectly fine.

    He grinned. "Time to go find Nunzio so I can shove my sword up his a**!" the Archer said.

    "Get up the ladder!" Kirnoth shouted as he made his way up the side of the nest toward Finian and Ruze.

    Finian already had his hands on the iron rungs. "That's what I was just about to-" he started to say, but Kirnoth cut him off.

    "Just do it!" the elf urged. "And hurry!"

    Finian started up, but Ruze paused. "Where's Omrixx?" he asked and the mage shook his head.

    "I don't know," he admitted. "But we'll all die if you don't - Hello! What's this?" The elf pointed to an area of the nest that was thickly woven from strips of clothes and human bones with dried gristle still attached.

    "I don't-" Ruze began, but Kirnoth bent, grabbed hold of a branch and pulled aside a section of the nest that had been cleverly disguised to hide a secret compartment. Hidden within were three smallish chests.

    Kirnoth tossed the panel back into place. "No time!" he said and pushed Ruze up the ladder.

    The squeaking was getting very loud behind them.

    The stairs led to another storeroom. Sacks of flour were piled in the corner and a pair of floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with spices covered one wall. There was only one door and it stood ajar. The storeroom was dim, but there was daylight shining into the room beyond. Draelond crept toward the door as stealthily as he could despite the fact that his own clinking chainmail and the clatter of Ledare's Janissary plate must surely have announced their presence to anyone who cared to listen. The wood floor creaked and groaned beneath his weight. He pushed the door open with his left hand, keeping Ravager ready in his right.

    The room beyond was largely empty with only a narrow wooden shelf affixed to the far wall for decoration. A dozen high, wooden stools were pushed against the wall below the shelf. The room itself fell away to the right and there was a pair of narrow windows set high up in the far wall. It was from here that the light was coming and a barred set of double doors was set to their left. In front of the door was a high counter faced with more stools. A charcoal-burning stove sat behind the counter with several covered dishes resting atop it.

    Draelond stopped short again, a shocked expression growing on his face.

    "What is it?" Ledare asked as she moved around him. She looked over the place and her face went ashen. She recognized the place. They both did. There wasn't a citizen of Barnacus who wouldn't recognize the homey interior of 'Mom's Pie Shoppe', purveyors of the finest meat pies in the near Realms.

    Finian stepped out of the storeroom into the grisly abattoir and let out a startled cry at the sight that greeted him.

    Behind him, Ruze sniffed the air. "Is that...?" he muttered as he sifted through the contents of one of the shelves. "It is!" he cried and held up a smallish wheel of sickly-looking green cheese. "Emerald Moon chee-" He stopped as he glimpsed the room of horrors. The cheese fell from his nerveless fingers and rolled away across the bloodied floor.

    "Shaharizod have mercy," he whispered but Finian was already heading for the stairs up.

    "Come on!" the Archer said. "Nunzio can't get away!"

    Numbly, his face looking almost as green as the cheese he had discovered, Ruze followed.

    Kirnoth had reached the top of the ladder well before the first of the rats entered the junction room. There were just a few at first, and of normal size, but soon there were dozens and many of them were giants. They poured from the tunnel mouths, climbing over one another as they piled into the room. There had to be hundreds of them. They made for the skavens' nest and the ladder with a frightening level of organization.
    Kirnoth remembered all too well the terrible scream that Selejian had let out when the rats had swarmed over him.

    He cast Grease on the ladder.

    The rats that had reached it immediately slid off of it, only to be replaced by another, and another until Kirnoth realized that they would keep trying until his spell ran its course. They would pile madly one atop the other until they had made a pile high enough to reach the trapdoor, heedlessly crushing the rats at the bottom as the rats on top sought their prize. His flesh.

    He cast Stinking Cloud into the junction room.

    The noisome cloud filled the chamber and the agonized shrieks of a hundred stricken vermin rose up to assault his ears. Kirnoth slammed the trapdoor shut and slid the bar into place.

    "This can't be," Draelond muttered as he walked forward into the dining room.

    "I don't-" Ledare managed to say before she sensed something was wrong. She shouted a warning an instant before Nunzio leapt up from behind the counter, his meat cleaver whistling through the air above his greasy head.

    Ledare's silver-iron longsword flashed out and struck Nunzio a solid blow to the head, severing the top half of his left ear and opening a bloody gash across his cheek. Draelond brought Ravager up and cleaved easily through the man's groin, despite his hanging belly and the leather apron. Nunzio got a very surprised look on his face before he fell heavily onto the floor. He never even had time to cry out before he died, bleeding onto the floorboards amidst a snarl of overturned stools.

    Finian burst into the room followed by Ruze. They both had their weapons ready. The Archer took one look at what was left of Nunzio and lowered his sword.

    "Oh," he said.
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:35 PM.

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    [Realms #184] They're Selling Like Hotcakes

    Draelond stepped back from Nunzio's lifeless body as Finian rushed into the room followed closely by the pale Battleguard. The look of disappointment on the Archer's face surprised the Warrior as he had expected instead to see some sort of hideous disfigurement caused by the burning brew.

    "Gee, Draelond, what's the matter?" Finian grinned. "You look disappointed?"

    "Your face is-," the man began and the Archer patted his belt pouch and the healing potions contained therein.

    "Healed," he finished Draelond's sentence. "Boy, I sure am lucky. That will teach me to go first into battle." The look on Finian's face told them all that not even he believed that statement.

    Draelond quickly offered an apology of sorts. Indicating Nunzio's corpse, he said, "I'm sure you'd like to have had the pleasure Archer, but there wasn't much time to consider the ironies."

    "Dead is dead," the Archer replied, pausing to spit once on the wererat's corpse.

    Draelond raised an eyebrow at this before turning away. "Thank you, Ledare," he said as he wiped Ravager's blade clean. "Your warning may have saved me from becoming Mother's Sunday Afternoon Special."

    He chuckled nervously until he heard Ruze make a choking sound. The cleric was bent over, leaning heavily on the counter. His pale face had taken on a greenish tinge.

    "Are you alright, Ruze?" Ledare asked.

    "Uhhh..," he groaned, his mouth watering horribly. "I think I..."

    "Gee, Ruze, how many meat pies have you eaten from here?" Finian joked. "Kind of makes you sick don't it."

    In reply, the Battleguard convulsed as if someone had punched him in the stomach and promptly vomited his breakfast all over Nunzio's body and Draelond's boots. Cursing, the warrior hastily stepped away his face twisted up in disgust.

    "I'm sorry," Ruze managed to say before he convulsed again and sent another gusher of half-digested food onto the floorboards. His third convulsion yielded nothing. "I don't think I will ever eat again," he sputtered between dry heaves.

    Finian pressed his fist against his lips to hide his grin as he eyed Draelond's boots. "We really need to search this place carefully and be on the look out for 'Mother'," the Archer said. He pointed at the door. "We all heard Nunzio yell for her and if the door is barred, then no one has left."

    "I say we burn this place to the ground," Ruze suggested. His complexion was returning to its normal swarthy color.

    "I don't know if torching the whole place is the best idea..," Draelond replied. "But torching the rats... Now that's a possibility. I'm sure there's something here that would be useful in setting them ablaze."

    "Do any of you have any idea how to mix up something like that?" Kirnoth asked from the doorway of the storeroom. "This may be our best opportunity to destroy all the rats in one place. If there's a way we can blow them all up, then I vote for doing that."

    "I think that oil would do a good job if we want to burn them," Finian suggested. "I would think there would be some around a kitchen."

    "Don't be daft," Ledare said with a firm shake of her head. "We're not starting any fires. We'd burn down half of Barnacus."

    "Well, I'm all out of manna for the day," Kirnoth told them. "Could Ruze conjure up some kind of miracle to aid in the rat's destruction?"

    The Battleguard shook his head. "I doubt it," he said. "A miracle of that sort is beyond my skill. And anyway, I need to purify and sanctify the processing area down stairs." At the thought of it, the color began to drain from his face again.

    "Are you sure you're up to that?" Ledare asked and Ruze swallowed hard and straightened himself.

    "I cannot allow that to remain as it is. I need to put those souls to rest," he told her. "So I say back down we go."

    "We still need to search this place," Finian reminded.

    "I'll help with that," Kirnoth told the Archer. "I've no desire to return to that room of horrors."

    Finian nodded and suggested, "And let's hide Nunzio's body from sight. So if 'Mother' comes back, she may not know he is dead."

    "I'm not sure who 'Mother' is, but it seems as though leaving the body in plain sight just invites a rage attack," Draelond nodded. "Maybe catching her by surprise if she happens to return would be helpful."

    "Fine," Ruze said. "Draelond is the strongest and can carry Nunzio. My kitten, kindly come hither, so I may pass on my Queen's protections."

    Ledare rolled her eyes and stepped forward.

    "My Queen, blessed be thy sight," Ruze prayed, laying one his hand on his holy symbol and the other on the Janissary's shoulderguard. "Grant Ledare the power of thy protection from the blight of these foul and evil creatures."

    The room flooded momentarily with moonlight, and the air around Ledare seemed to retain a bit of that silvery glow even after Ruze had taken his hand away. "And now, I must do whatever is in my power to end this right now!" he exclaimed and headed for the storeroom and the stair down with Ledare and the heavily burdened Draelond following closely behind.

    Finian and Kirnoth searched the restaurant's ground floor carefully, looking for anything that would explain what was going on there. They found nothing out of the ordinary with one exception. The covered pies that were warming atop the stove behind the counter each had a curious symbol cut from dough, decorating the center of each top crust.

    "What do you make of it?" Finian asked and Kirnoth shook his head.

    "It's familiar, but I can't say where I've seen it before," the mage replied, holding his hand over his nose. The odor coming off of the warm pies, while it would have made his mouth water yesterday, today served only to knot his stomach.

    A sudden knocking at the door gave the two Companions a start.

    Neither Ledare nor Draelond recognized any of the thirteen bodies that had been hung around the abattoir. Of course, that wasn't surprising since they had all had their heads, hands and feet removed along with all of their internal organs. Ruze and Draelond carefully took each of the corpses from the meat hooks and laid them on the floor with as much dignity as the bodies' condition could manage. Ledare stared down through the grate into the junction room below. The chamber was empty save for the floating bodies of the dead skaven and dozens of drowned rats. There was no sign of any living creatures below at all.

    "My Queen, I am so sorry for the innocent and the weak that have been slaughtered," Ruze said as he began a prayer to speed the dead to Myrkul's halls in the afterlife.

    "Mom?" a voice called from the other side of the front doors. "I've come fo' mo' pies!"

    Finian and Kirnoth looked at one another.

    The knock came again - louder this time. "Come on, Mom! Open up!" the voice called again. "They're sellin' better'n I've e'er seen. I swear tha' jus' about everybody at the festival's eatin' yer finest!"
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:30 PM.

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    [Realms #185] Get Yer Meat Pies Here!

    The Battleguard was performing his burial rites over the bodies while the Janissary and her warrior Companion stood a respectful distance away standing a silent vigil. Suddenly, Ledare cocked her head toward the stairs. "Did you hear something?" she asked Draelond in a hushed whisper.

    The man nodded and bent to the Janissary's ear. "It sounds like voices," he said softly so as to not disrupt the spiritual ceremony. "I'll check it out."

    He turned to go and Ledare drew her sword. "I'm going too," she told him and Ruze's chanting stopped abruptly.

    "Why don't we all go," he said wiping his palms against one another. "I'm all through here."

    "That's it?" the Janissary asked. "All of Soriah's ceremonies always took quite a long time."

    "What can I say?" he shrugged. "I'm not Soriah."

    "Let's hide!" Finian suggested and Kirnoth nodded. They both rushed to dive behind the counter.

    "Wait a minute," Kirnoth hissed, laying a hand on the Archer's forearm. "What are we hiding from? He can't see us through the door."

    "Come on, Mom!" the voice shouted. "I can 'ere ye movin' about in there. Open up!"

    "My guess is this person calling for Mom is innocent and has no idea of the ingredients," Kirnoth told his Companion, his voice barely audible, even to the half-elf. "Finian, why don't you use the slippers to get a look at who is at the door without them seeing you."

    "Good idea," Finian said.

    "Why don't we just let him in and act like we are here wondering where Mom is too?" Ruze asked as he and Ledare and Draelond filed into the dining room.

    Ledare nodded. "I like that plan too," she said. "Let's pretend we are here for the meat pies."

    "Wait one minute, sir!" Ruze called out brightly toward the door.

    "Well, it's abou' ferkin' time," they heard the man on the other side of the door grumble.

    Draelond flexed his muscles and pressed his left fist into the palm of his right hand. "I could have a little... um... let's call it... 'discussion' with him to see what he knows about 'Mom' and the whole operation," the man suggested. There was little doubt that noone would be able to resist Draelond's 'debating skills' for very long.

    "How about we try it the non-violent way first," Ledare suggested and slipped her sword into its sheath. "Then if it looks like it is going nowhere, you can take over with your muscle?"

    Draelond looked down on her and his eyes fell on the Janissary symbol that clasped her maroon cloak around her neck. "Okay," he nodded. "But he'd better talk fast."

    Finian took up the stout bar that held the two doors shut and before he could do anything more, a hand on the rightmost door pushed it open, flooding the dim-lit interior of the shop with light from the street outside. A nondescript fellow of medium height and tawny-colored hair walked in immediately.

    "What took ye so lo-" he stopped short as his eyes moved over the assemblage. "Who inna nine hell's is you?" he asked, taking a half-step back toward the open doorway. Finian stepped up behind him and blocked the door.

    "We're just here for the meat pies," Ruze said with a broad smile.

    "O-oh," the man replied. From the expression on his face it seemed that he was trying hard to convince himself that that was the group's purpose. "Ye mean yer temp'rary 'elp, like me an' Simon."

    "Simon?" Ledare asked.

    The man jacked a nervous thumb toward the street. "My mate," the man said. "He work's the cart while I brings 'em in."

    "Bring them in?" Ruze asked. "Bring who in?"

    The man licked his lips and a false rubbery smile moved twitchily across his mouth. His eyes shifted uncomfortably from Companion to Companion. He was beginning to sweat. "Why customers, a course," he said and then he cupped a hand around his mouth and bellowed, "MEEEAAAT PIIIEES!!!! GETCHA MEAT PIES 'ERE!!!"

    "Yes, of course," Ledare said with a diplomatic smile. "How many do you need?"

    "Why alls ye got," he said, clapping his callused hands together. "It was a right reg'lar stroke a genius sellin' the pies at the festival! I kinna keep the cart stocked! None of us can!" He fumbled under his tunic and hands went instinctively to weapons. The man stopped and drew his hands slowly out from under his shirt. Sweat was now beading on his upper lip and forehead. He took another step back and bumped into Finian.

    "Say!" the man protested. "Wha' is all this? Where's Mom?"

    "Mother had to step out for some... ingredients," Ledare began and the man turned quickly to duck out past the Archer and slip into the street.

    Finian was able to block him long enough for Draelond to step forward and latch two hands on the man - one around his neck and the other in the waistband of his trousers. The warrior hauled him backward into the restaurant and Finian slammed shut the door. The bar fell into place with a THUNK of finality. "Oh, sweet Flor," the man was gibbering as Draelond reeled him around. "Have mercy! Mercy!"

    "Did you show mercy to those poor folk downstairs?" Draelond growled. He clamped his hands around the man's torso, one under each arm, and lifted him bodily off the ground.

    "I've got wha' money we've made so far t'day!" the man whimpered as he fumbled under his tunic for the bulging coin purse he had strapped there. He tossed it to the floorboards where it landed with a loud ka-chink. "Take it! Take it! Jus' dinna kill me!"

    Ledare and Ruze stepped up on either side of Draelond.

    "I don't think he knows anything," the Battlegaurd said and Ledare nodded.

    "Has Mother shared with you the extra special recipe?" she asked the sweaty man.

    "O' course not!" the man choked out. "I was only hired on Waterday. An' only to sell th' pies at Kakadiador. Nothin' more!"

    "He's lying," Draelond suggested and lifted the man a little higher into the air.

    "I ain't lying'!" he squirmed. "My real job's at the' Bellman's Guild! I'm a crier! Please, with Ibrahil as my witness, I ain't lyin'!"

    Draelond lowered the man roughly to the floor and he collapsed into a heap there, clutching his ribs where the warrior's hands had been. Ledare squatted down beside him. "Where are all the meat pies going?" she asked.

    "To the festival," the man moaned. "There's prolly a half dozen carts out there sellin' the pies. We come back 'ere to get more when we runs out."

    "And who meets you here?" the Janissary pressed.

    "Mom was 'ere this mornin'," he told her. "She an' 'er oldest both."

    "Nunzio?" Ruze asked and the man nodded.

    "That's the one," he said. "Great fat fella, him."

    "And you say, he's the oldest?" the Battleguard went on.

    "Ayuh," the man replied. "There's five of 'em altogether. All boys, an' the fat one's the' oldest."

    Ledare stood back up. "That still doesn't tell us where Mother got to and what this is all about," she said. "I can't believe this is just a lucrative business endeavor."

    "I wonder if there's some sort of a taint on the people who eat the meat pies even if they don't do it knowingly," Kirnoth suggested. "So when the time comes those people won't count on the side of good. Or something."

    "That is a very interesting suggestion, Kirnoth," Ledare said with a nod. She looked back down at the man on the ground. "Have you noticed anything different about the people who ate the pies you were selling?"

    The man shook his head but said nothing.

    "I do not so much think that eating the pies makes them evil, but could make people sick and kill them," Finian offered.

    "Mom's pies?" the man asked with a look of confusion. "Not likely. I've been eatin' pies from this 'ere shop fer years an' nothin's ever happened to me."

    The man's gaze suddenly fixed on some distant point and he looked even more confused suddenly. "But I did 'ear Mom mention that she'd whipped up a right special batch of pies for sale at the festival," the man told them as the memories slowly resurfaced. "Fit to herald the birth of a king, she said, whatever that means."
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:26 PM.

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    [Realms #186] No Pie for You!

    "If the pies are fit to herald a king, perhaps that refers to the birth," Kirnoth said excitedly.
    "I was thinking the same thing," Finian agreed.

    Ruze let out an expansive sigh and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "That suggests that the pies were not always fouled with human meat," he said. "Maybe just now to herald in She Who is Coming. That makes me feel better."

    "Let's cut open one of these pies with the special mark and see what is in them," Finian suggested, cocking his thumb toward the warming stove behind the counter.

    "Special mark?" Ruze asked, looking toward the covered pies.

    Before Finian could respond, the man on the ground cleared his throat and asked in a very small voice, "Did ye jus' say 'human meat'?"

    The Battleguard turned and scowled down at him. "Yes," Ruze said. "That's what's in Mom's special pies."

    The man chuckled nervously. "Mom?" he snorted skeptically. "Are ye daft?"

    "Maybe we should show our friend the 'body room'?" Draelond suggested. "Let him see first hand that he's been spreading unspeakable evil."

    "Evil?" The man sounded thoroughly confused. "We're talkin' 'bout pies 'ere, right?"

    "On your feet," Ledare commanded and the man started to rise. "We'll show you what Mom's been cooking up in her kitchen."

    "This is the secret ingredient fit for a king!" Kirnoth told him as the group ushered him into the abattoir.

    At the sight of the blood on the walls the man began to cry. When he saw the bodies he screamed and tried to claw his way out of the room directly through Finian and Ruze. Draelond stepped forward and laid hands on him, restraining him easily. "P-p-please!" the man sobbed.

    "We're the good guys here and we have no intention of killing you," Kirnoth told him.

    "Yes. We are working for the king," Finian added, pointing at the fat corpse lying off to the side. "We caught Nunzio decapitating a lady that is why we killed him."

    "Oh, dear gods!" the man cried out. He seemed near to the breaking point - as if his sanity was hanging on by the narrowest of margins.

    "But in order to stop mother, we obviously can't let you leave," Kirnoth added and Ledare gave him a disapproving look.

    "What can we do with him here?" she asked the elf.

    "We can tie him up," Kirnoth suggested. "Surely there is some rope or twine or something in the shoppe to tie him up with. And then we should then attempt to do the same with new vendors as they arrive for meat pies."

    The Janissary shook her head. "It would take too much to tie up all the prospective vendors," she said.

    "If we let him go he can go tell all of the meat pies salesmen to return the pies," Finian suggested. "Or, perhaps he could tell us where all of the pie vendors were and we could send Kirnoth to buy them all, so no one else would eat them."

    "Why me?" the elf asked with a tone of annoyance.

    "Well, you said you can't cast any more spells today so you'll want to avoid combat," the Archer explained.

    "I think it would be almost impossible for Kirnoth to go out and buy up all the remaining pies," Ledare said. "But you're right; he may not do much good with just his darts here."

    Kirnoth just glowered until Draelond spoke up. "I've not the experience of all of you," the warrior said, turning to face the group, "but tracking down the rest of these vendors in the City during the Festival seems pointless. I think we'd best be served to make sure that we stop the damage at the source and see to it that none of these carts get refilled. 'Mom' and the rest of her family are bound to return soon enough, and we'd be wrong if we didn't put an end to all of this as soon as possible."

    "I agree with Draelond," Ruze said. "I think we should stay here as he suggests and kill the source. It should be enough to just tell this wretch to stop selling pies."

    "Oh, yes! Yes!" the man said clasping his hands together and pleading. "Please jus' lemme go!"
    Ledare looked dubious but Finian snapped his fingers to draw the man's attention.

    "I want descriptions of all Mom's 'boys'," the Archer demanded and the man began giving a detailed description. From his words, the others were able to determine that one of Mom's sons was Lenicius, the skaven that Ledare and Kirnoth had dispatched at Selejian's studio. Another was Rudivan, the wererat that Finian's arrows had done in in the junction room below. It seemed likely that the other two had been the other two rat men that they had fought below, although none of the Companions had actually seen either of them in human form.

    Upstairs again, Ledare scooped up the bulging pouch of coins and handed it to the man. "Take this money you have made and do not sell any more meat pies ever," Ledare instructed. "The same goes for Simon."

    The man nodded his tear-streaked face and clutched the purse in trembling hands.

    Ledare gestured toward Draelond and added, "If he runs into you again he won't be as diplomatic as we are today. And if you return to this place without the money, Mother will certainly have it in for you."

    "I'm never returnin' to this twice-cursed place," the man spat on the floor. "Cyr, herself ain't strong enough to drag me back 'ere!"

    Satisfied that he was telling them the truth, they let him out and barred the doors behind him.

    "Now what?" Finian asked and Ruze nodded toward the covered dishes behind the counter.

    "You mentioned something about pies with symbols," he prompted and Finian quickly gathered them up, placing the pies on the counter in a row. One-by-one, Ruze uncovered them and scowled at the various symbols. All at once, the cleric hefted his warhammer and smashed the first pie. Brown gravy and bits of shredded meat sprayed in all directions from the sundered crust.

    "Shaharizod, this place is an abomination!" he wailed as he smashed each of the pies into bits and the others took cover to avoid the spattering pastry. "It seems I have walked into the horrors of chaos. Shaharizod, grant me your light to cleanse the taint." Huffing from his rush of adrenaline, he glared at the others.

    "So are you going to tell us what those symbols meant?" Finian asked, flicking a bit of piecrust off his studded leather jerkin.

    In reply Ruze said, "I will continue my blessings up here in an attempt to cleanse the taint."

    While Ruze, Kirnoth and Ledare remained above, Finian and Draelond went down to try recovering the three chests. Using Finian's slippers of Spider Climbing, it was a simple matter to walk down the wall and fetch them. There was no sign of any further opposition from the tunnels surrounding the junction chamber and the numerous rat and three rat-man corpses were completely inert.

    All three chests were locked and all showed signs of having been scratched at in an effort to open them. Someone had worked on the brass fittings with claws or the point of a knife, and the wood itself was gouged around the hinges and locks. One of the chests was noticeably lighter than the other two and only one of the heavy ones clinked with the sound of coins.

    Ruze chanted and traced symbols in the air as he paced the floor of the Pie Shoppe. Ledare and Kirnoth watched in silence. The cleric had just finished his cleansing when something heavy thudded against the front doors. An instant later it came again accompanied by the sound of breaking wood.

    A voice cried out from the street, "By order of the Watch and in the King's name, this shoppe is declared criminal! Surrender yourselves immediately!"

    The sound of a ram striking the doors came again and the bar that secured them made a splintering sound. It seemed unlikely that the doors would resist the battering for much longer.
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:20 PM.

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    [Realms #187] No Honor Among Thieve

    It didn't take Ledare more than a moment to decide on her course of action. "Hold!" she yelled through the door. "I'll remove the bar."

    "Hold up, men," they could hear the Watch Sergeant say and the ram stopped. "Open these doors in the name of the King!"

    "Help me with this," Ledare hissed to Ruze. She was working at the bar with one hand while she fished in her pouch for the King's writ with the other. With the Battleguard's help, she removed the bar and the guardsmen piled inside immediately.

    They were dressed in studded leather and armed with a mix of spears and broadswords. Their commander, easily identified by the breastplate that he wore, stepped forward as his men leveled their weapons at Ledare and Ruze and Kirnoth.

    "Gwias Batelstan of The Bellman's Guild has accused this establishment of both murder and witchcraft," the captain told Ledare and she held up the King's scroll.

    "We are on a mission from the king to rid the city of skaven," she explained as the guardsman carefully read the dispensation. "They have been crawling around under the streets in the sewers."

    "Aye," the man said, handing the scroll back to Ledare. "I had heard similar tales of rat men from Sergeant Griffith. He said that the King had dispatched a team of specialists to deal with the problem."

    Ledare wasn't at all sure that the term 'specialists' applied to her and her companions, but she accepted the term and moved on. "Our search for them led us here to this slaughter house," Ledare explained as she slipped the writ back into her belt pouch. "We managed to kill four of the skaven, but their leader is still on the lose."

    The Sergeant seemed very interested in this and turned to one of the armsmen who was already jotting down details of the exchange. "Did you get a look at him?" the Sergeant asked. "Can you identify him?"

    "It's not a him at all, Sergeant," Ledare said. "It is Mom, herself. We believe she may have bolted when we killed her sons."

    "Mom?" the man writing notes asked, looking up from his paper, slack-jawed. The Janissary nodded and the man went back to scribbling with his stick of charcoal.

    "She and her sons have been selling meat pies at the festival tainted with human flesh," Ledare said gravely and this time the note-taker actually dropped his paper as he startled.

    "Are you serious?" the Watch Sergeant asked, his face twisted with disgust.

    "There are carts with hired help selling pies in the street," she replied.

    "I know," the man said. "I ate one yesterday for lunch. I was planning to do the same today."

    "Aye," the note-taker concurred, his face gone pasty white. "We all did."

    "Don't do it," Kirnoth suggested.

    "We need to close down this whole operation quickly to prevent others from eating them," Ledare ordered. "Salvage any leftover pies for inspection. The individuals manning the carts are most likely oblivious to the contents of their wares, but they should all be carefully questioned."

    "Aye," the Sergeant agreed. He paused to spit on the floor before turning to his men. "Split up into two teams. Half of you head to the arena and confiscate all meat pies from Mom's Shoppe. The rest of you are to stay here and secure the area against the rat men's return."

    The armsmen started to split off and Ledare spoke loudly so that they all could hear her. "We are still looking for the one they call 'Mom'," she told them. "Get as much information from her as you can, but be mindful that she is not human and is capable to changing form."

    The group that was heading for Kakadiador voiced their assent and the Sergeant added, "Do not spread word of this amongst the fair-goers or we'll have a riot on our hands! Seize the pies and detain the sellers, but do not spread word of either rat men or cannibalism!"

    As they hurried off, the Sergeant turned back to Ledare. "I have to report this to Watch Commander Oxnard," he said. "I pray to Sato that we're in time to put a stop to this madness."

    As they headed away from the horrors of Mom's Pie Shoppe, Kirnoth protested the decision to leave Mom's capture to the Watch.

    "I believe we should try to locate Mother quickly before she gets too far away," he asserted, but Draelond had another suggestion.

    "I'm thinking we head back to Grey House, open the chests up and see if they contain anything of significance," the man suggested. He had a chest under each arm and Finian carried the third. "Then I think we should consider heading to Othelwood to prevent the birth of this 'king' that the drow's note and the pieman mentioned."

    "Yes," Finian concurred. "I want to search the chests, too."

    "I agree with Draelond and Finian," Ledare nodded. "Let's get those chests open."

    "But Mom could be getting away entirely while we waste time with these," Kirnoth maintained.

    "I assume by the scratch marks that the skaven were also interested in the contents," Ledare continued. "I bet the chests were stolen and brought back to the nest. Whatever they contain was important to them. And I think that makes them important to us."

    "Ruze?" Kirnoth asked. "You agree with me, don't you?"

    The Battleguard shrugged. "Actually, I choose to side with Ledare. She IS the Janissary," he said and Kirnoth threw up his hands in frustration.

    "I will try picking the lock if possible when we get back to Grey House," Finian said, looking at the brass keyhole with some interest.

    "Good idea," Ledare agreed but after a few moments' pause, Draelond cleared his throat.
    "I don't know all of the background well enough to make any distinct connections between the various individuals we've faced in the last days, but I recall that we found a keyring with three bronze keys on Fendathial," he conjectured. "Do you suppose they go to these same three chests?"

    "Using the three keys is a brilliant idea," the Janissary replied, clapping Draelond on the back.

    Abernathy threw open the front doors of Grey House as they crossed the courtyard. His face betrayed the worry in his heart. "Thank the gods you're all right!" he said as they mounted the front steps. "When Master Omrixx came running back here to collect your things I thought surely that something terrible had befallen you all."

    "Omrixx is here?" Finian asked, his tone hovering between concern for the half-elf he considered his friend and annoyance that his supposed friend had abandoned them all in the heat of battle.

    Abernathy looked confused. "Well... no," he replied. "I thought that he'd be with you. Isn't he?"

    "No," Finian said. "What did he say to you when he came back here?"

    "Just that there had been trouble and you needed all of the gear from Mistresses Mice'talaburra and Fendathial," the manservant said. "He collected it all, as well as several things from upstairs and headed back out. I assumed it was to bring it back to you."

    "Dammit!" the Archer hissed and sprinted toward the Morning Room where they had left all of the gear that Kirnoth hadn't yet examined for magic.

    "My spellbooks!" Kirnoth cried out with a start and ran for the stairs.


    All of it.

    Everything that they had taken from Mice'talaburra, Fendathial, and The Hand of Four that seemed even remotely valuable was gone. So too were all of Kirnoth's spellbooks - his own, Andamacles', and the spellbook of Charlay the Brown that Allenthe Thurgoodman had given him.

    Finian's ears had darkened to a scarlet that Ledare hadn't seen since he went sprinting our after the orc in the underground ruin where Soriah had died. Kirnoth just sat staring off into the middle distance. Without his spellbooks, his days as a wizard were over...

    "I- I AM sorry," Abernathy said for what seemed like the hundredth time. "He was very convincing and-"

    Ledare raised her hand to quiet him. "It wasn't your fault, Abernathy," she said. "Why would you ever have suspected this from him? After all, we brought him here, did we not?"

    "Do you have any idea where he might have gone with everything?" Draelond asked quietly, trying to be helpful without treading too heavily upon the group's betrayal.

    "Not really," Ledare said with a shake of her head.

    "He's very good at hiding," Finian said with restrained fury. "But I swear that one day I will find him!"

    "I guess we don't get to test my theory about the three keys," Draelond sighed.

    "No," Finian answered. "But we'll still see what's inside these chests."

    Twenty minutes later, Finian had opened the three chests with a set of finely crafted thieves' tools Abernathy brought him. As he and Draelond had initially surmised, only one of the chests contained coins - about 200 gp worth of mostly silver Crowns and electrum Eagles. The second held a carefully folded suit of fine leather armor and two well made, but unadorned shortswords. The last was by far the most interesting. Lying within like an odd-shaped bit of discarded snakeskin was a familiar leather glove - its surface heavily stained by dried blood.

    All save Draelond recognized it at once as Selejian's Glove of Petrification that had been stolen five days earlier by the wererats.
    Last edited by Jon Potter; Saturday, 16th November, 2002 at 04:15 PM.

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